TranscriptDevReady Transcript E02 – Mellonie Francis

Listen to the full episode here: DevReady Podcast E02 – Mellonie Francis

Andrew Romeo:
Hi, welcome to the DevReady podcast. My name is Andrew Romeo, I’d like to welcome my cohost as well, Anthony Sapountzis. Today we interviewed Mellonie Francis. Melanie is the co-founder of Find Book Beauty and began her tech journey as a non-tech. She really didn’t have the capacity to deliver in technology. And through these podcasts you’ll learn about what approach she took to actually get to the outcome of now having a MVP in the marketplace, and continuing to grow that product and looking to raise capital behind it. During that journey, Mellonie had some twists and turns and trials and tribulations, in terms of working with advisors and different tech teams, and eventually as she would say, got lucky, but I would say had more experience. Founds a team that she could get along with, that actually knew what her vision was and were able to deliver upon it. Enjoy the podcast. Mellonie shares some fascinating insights and I’m sure you will get a lot out of it.

Andrew Romeo:
Hi guys, welcome to the podcast. Andrew and Anthony here and we’ve got a special guest, Mellonie Francis with us today. Melanie, thanks for joining us.

Mellonie Francis:
Thanks for having me, Andrew.

Andrew Romeo:
Mellonie first started her journey in digital with Find Book Beauty, that’s the start up that you went into, so love to just have a bit of a chat about that and your journey through that process and what sort of learnings you found. So, tell us a bit about Find Book Beauty.

Mellonie Francis:
Okay. Find Book Beauty is the same as, similar to Airbnb, but for beauty services. I always think, one word explanations is the best way to get things rolling, but essentially we help beauty professionals and specialising with independent beauty professionals, helping them get customers, manage those booking and giving them a platform to collect payments and protect them from those late cancellation fees.

Andrew Romeo:
Okay. So in terms of that product now that’s operational or is it still in startup sort of mode?

Mellonie Francis:
Yes, it’s been operational for the last two years. So I first did an MVP, a very basic MVP using Squarespace and some other plugins that I would research up about and start plugging in and paying lots of monthly fees to get that working. And then we did a custom build on that, on using a full Laravel framework, with WordPress as well, just for the blogging part and full customised platform for the full R. It’s a booking engine capability as well. So, yeah, we launched that last year in November, so it’s had 12 months now in product, in bookings and everything.

Andrew Romeo:
Okay. So it was the full custom build just to move away from a monthly fee that you’re paying, or was it to try and set up another business with the booking engine? With the product?

Mellonie Francis:
Well, the thing is, with the plugins, it just wasn’t working the way I wanted. So for example, I still had to manually pay out each person. I didn’t get the benefit of automation. So now obviously I have the full payout set up those, all those benefits like Stripe and everything, you wouldn’t be able to do the connects and everything like that on the Squarespace sort of side. It was just, very early stage MVP product limitations. Yeah.

Andrew Romeo:
Okay, cool. So when you interact with Squarespace, so was that done by yourself or did you have some people helping you do that?

Mellonie Francis:
I did it myself and I had, my sister is a software engineer as well, she was studying at the time, she wasn’t any tech . She helped with some HTM, because we wanted to customise as well, the Squarespace. And then I started really getting into it and reading a lot of forums and applying the plugins and finding plugins, as I was seeing her do it, I was trying to mimic her behaviour a lot, I didn’t really know that I was even into tech, because I didn’t even know how to build a website, let alone what was Squarespace at that time. And she said, you can just use this thing to get it up. And then I started really getting into reading a lot of forums and realising a lot of people in Dev, that’s what they see, they’re .

Andrew Romeo:
A lot of research. It’s all about research and asking questions. No, A lot of research, how long you’ve been developing anything? probably.

Mellonie Francis:

code over there and pushing it into the and going, “is it going to work or isn’t it going to work?”

Andrew Romeo:
Yeah. That’s exactly the process. Until you’ve done it a few times and that little bit of code works, .

Mellonie Francis:
Yeah they’ll be like, “it’s broken.” I’m like, “oh my God, I’ve broken the whole side,” they’ll be freaking out.

Andrew Romeo:
And you just lift a common route or something very simple.

Mellonie Francis:
Yes. But that’s fine because I’ve seen people now in my team also do that as well. So now I’m not feeling so bad about myself that I’m not, that.

Andrew Romeo:
That happens to everyone. That’s just development. That’s what happens.

Mellonie Francis:
Yeah. Yeah.

Andrew Romeo:
So when you went down the, alright, so you got this square say site, you’ve got some limitations around what was the sort of jump into let’s build something custom. What made that decision come about? Was it the limitations or was it your sister sort of guiding the fact that, okay, we can probably do this better?

Mellonie Francis:
Yeah, I think for me at that point I felt like that MVP product was good but I really couldn’t test out the payout, the payment which is what investors really care about is, are you getting bookings and then the other problem was that every time we go to booking we would have to call the artists and see are they free. And then there was this whole manual process to it and I was working full time at the same time and I was doing this at night. So it’s not like I could just call at a normal time and go, hey, this person is free at this time. It would be a lot of back and forward. I did consider, things like shared tribe, everyone was saying all that might be the way, but I think everything seemed it had, that I was reading, it had its limitations. It could never get you to, it can never get you to really test what would be the product in the way I saw it, which was very much like Airbnb.

Mellonie Francis:
So that’s why I was like, okay I think I have to go to customer out because I’d had a few bookings. So it proved up in the MVP, I’d done a lot of questionnaires as well where everyone was saying 90% of the market was saying yes we would use this product. So for me it was, I really need to get a real MVP with real ability to collect money rather than tell people, yes I did this booking which was not captured within a data. So from an investment point of view as well that you need to show, yes the data is there and I am collecting, not just in excel that I was like.

Andrew Romeo:
custom process here Is wonderful, follow it all through. Get it. Okay. So now you’re in that position. You’re basically all right, we need to build something for ourselves. What was your next step? Did you go out and find a development team? What did you do?

Mellonie Francis:
Yeah, that was one of the hardest things. So me and my sister, we started basically googling everyone in Australia.

Andrew Romeo:
Okay.

Mellonie Francis:
And then we started searching for, we started looking at if we liked their website first and if their websites looked really good or not. And then we started, and then because my sister was a software engineer, I was very lucky. So she actually put together a documentation with wire framing that she’d drawn up because she learned that first semester of uni.

Andrew Romeo:
Nice.

Mellonie Francis:
That was probably the first thing you learn. So she put together this really nice document saying, this is what we want to achieve and these would be the features. And it was easy to understand. And she started sending that around, to a lot of the development team in Sydney, in Melbourne as well. We reached out to … And then some people came back and some people didn’t because the development teams, I think we were reaching out to, they either very big or they didn’t take it seriously. So I would think many people maybe don’t get responses when they do reach out to development teams for these kinds of projects because Alice looked much more serious than a non tech person would look, what I would put out, which would be a couple of lines, and we had put out a document saying, and we’d even said this is a deadline we want you to submit by.

Mellonie Francis:
Which, and it got back some responses and we started meeting with those people. And it was, the prices were very, very varied and very high. So we obviously talked to Appstar, at the time because Appstar was such a big company back then. We got quoted, anywhere from 250,000 to 500,000 with Appstar.

Andrew Romeo:
Okay. Yeah. Big numbers when you’re looking at a startup, right? And just try to build an MVP. Yeah. Get it.

Mellonie Francis:
Yeah. So that was like, okay. So I didn’t really know what to expect at that time because you don’t know how much does an app cost as a non tech and either did my sister. And then we also got quoted, 60, we also got quoted in the middle of that. So there was a lot of different variations in that. The next-

Andrew Romeo:
Do you understand why the variations existed or you’re pretty much known as to could’ve been?

Mellonie Francis:
No, I didn’t know. I don’t think as a non tech person you can really understand. Now I can reflect and I would ask different questions such as, “how many people you’re going to have in my team, who are you going to put on, how much time?” I was kind of, I could see that in Australia there was not going to be any dedicated team at all projects. It was going to be days that were going to be allocated. Now reflecting back, I understand it in a different way, but back then I just thought, different people had different prices. At that point I started becoming, asking about the framework that they’re going to use and I was pushing WordPress like crazy. The smaller firms not Appstar obviously because they’re in the mobile.

Andrew Romeo:
Yes.

Mellonie Francis:
But WordPress was being pushed a lot to me and I always, I was very reluctant of WordPress because I was kind of, in my mind I was like, well Airbnb didn’t use WordPress, so why am I being pushed, WordPress and if WordPress was so good, why didn’t we have the top e-commerce and marketplace app that I’ve known use WordPress? So, but I was being, saying that, WordPress can do everything, WordPress can absolutely do everything now that I look back. But it wasn’t the right, framework for the kind of product I wanted, the kind of customization I wanted. The backend would never look like what I needed for my business, but I was being definitely pushed that way because people were very used to working on WordPress. So when you’re building out these kind of ideas that are unique and everything, and you’re sometimes approaching development companies that only do websites, they don’t have the potentially these kind of experience .

Andrew Romeo:
They right? So, and you mentioned that there, they will push what they’re used to doing. So but for us, we’re .NET and app developers. So predominantly the frameworks we’re working is .Net because it’s what we know and that’s what we’re proficient in. And we’re predominantly targeting more of a corporately world. So that’s where we position ourselves. So come to us, you’ll probably get a .NET application wrapped up with a React Native application. That’s our pocket and that’s what we’re efficient in. If you’re going to a WordPress developer, yes. They’ll basically say, yeah, we can do it in WordPress. And they can, they deliver it in WordPress. But if you’re looking to build an MVP, it may be an option for you because it’s, but you need to be prepared to say, okay, we’re going to build an MVP, but maybe might have to scrap this in a year or two. They’ll build a scalable model. That is an option for a startup. It is.

Anthony Sapountzis:
And then If you’re approaching web developers to develop your platform, then you’re going to be focused around that and any sort of web-based CMS that they work with.

Andrew Romeo:
Yeah, that’s going to be their focus.

Anthony Sapountzis:
Because a big difference between what we see as development and what they say is development.

Andrew Romeo:
Yes.

Mellonie Francis:
Exactly. I think at that time I had no idea why, now I know that WordPress, if the backend would never suited me. The benefit of WordPress and I love WordPress with what it offers for e-Commerce solutions or businesses but what I needed, the kind of data I needed, I needed a ghost Logan from the back and I wanted it to be really easy for me to, have those kinds of features. And that was a very custom thing that I was looking for, that journey I was looking for. So and I think with me now, I look back, maybe I wasn’t even clear very much, what that was. It’s always hard for, anyone at the beginning when they’ve got an idea or they want to do something, it’s easy to say, oh, they’re just pushing WordPress on me. Maybe it was also my part of how it all looked wasn’t clear because you were about to go through the journey of doing that wire framing, right? You don’t absolute know, but yeah, that something happened I was confused about, I think every non-tech founder will be confused or what frameworks do I use? What do I do? I think you got to trust the team that you end up choosing to lead you down .

Mellonie Francis:
I think that’s really important that that team that you choose, if they’re experts, they will guide you and you just need to choose the right team. And that choice is about chemistry, about who you feel comfortable with. It doesn’t, it’s not about who I think is the most tech, savvy or anything like that. Because that was the big learning was for me was that, I did make wrong choices in going with teams because I was like, oh, I’m non-tech. I have to trust other people to make that decision. But business comes down to always that relationship and the one that you can trust and the one that you can gel with, is probably the one that’s going to take you through and get that execution right.

Anthony Sapountzis:
Yeah. And that relationship is key. You have to get that right. You have to be comfortable with a team you’re working with and they have to be able to be comfortable with you as well.

Mellonie Francis:
Exactly.

Anthony Sapountzis:

solve problems as they come up and do what’s needed not just push an agenda, what you’re saying some of them were.

Andrew Romeo:
And it’s important that you can have trust in the team that you’re working with because there are going to be challenges that come up where things don’t work. Don’t go to plan. And you have to have that trusting relationship where you can share openly and say, listen, this is not going in direction, we think we might have to change tack here and it has to be a working collaborative relationship. So if you’re looking to build some tech, that’s some of the advice I put out there. Look at some collaborative relationship they can share. Good point, Mel, that you made there. Because in the end it is a very collaborative thing, especially in the startup world. You don’t really know what you don’t know. So you’re defining the product as you go. So you got to be open to be flexible, your team has to be flexible too. So if you’re engaging with the team that’s rigid and just wants to do X, Y, Z and doesn’t want to change, that’s can be problematic as well. So it is a fine balance there.

Anthony Sapountzis:
And budgets are important and cost but it’s not solely related to who’s going to give me the cheapest development, which we see a lot of people coming to us as well.

Mellonie Francis:
Exactly. I think, you know what happened with me was, so because I was non-tech and my sister’s patience and love for me was running out pretty quick , I think, if you’re not paying someone for that help, it runs out pretty quick. And I think, looking back you shouldn’t depend on that free help for far too long because it becomes a burden on that person no matter who they are, even if they’re your blood. So I had to, at that point when I came to finally making that decision of who I go with, she was, she wanted to focus on her uni. So I had to, I was scared to make that decision because I was so confused by all the frameworks and what people were saying. So I had to actually engage a tech advisor to come on board with me and start taking these interviews and help me choose a team.

Andrew Romeo:
Right. Yeah. Good move. Because yeah, try to decide on something you don’t know is very challenging. So, what sort of advice did you get on board? Tell us a bit about them.

Mellonie Francis:
So I bought, he was sort of a CTO level for, he’d manager, offshore teams in IT before he was quite, senior in his, he was into the more project management at this time in his career I would think. And probably left. I reckon he would’ve left behind programming maybe 20 years ago now looking at these. So-

Andrew Romeo:
Did you find that challenging? That he wasn’t up to speed with the technology itself?

Mellonie Francis:
I found that he was very good at creating the documentation that would be able to and set up in JIRA, which then would enable the programmers to really understand what to do.

Andrew Romeo:
Okay.

Mellonie Francis:
That’s what really and he would be able to review code, but when you review other people’s code, everyone codes a little bit differently. He can say that looks pretty clean or that looks okay, just comment it out. But he could look on a high level, but he wasn’t, he was by no means at that point in his career, a programmer. I think the stacks had moved on. He wasn’t able to tell me, the stack that I was offered was CodeIgniter stack, one of my first built, on my first custom built, because I had to build it the second time by the way, because my programmers wasn’t able to deliver, which my tech advisor found me. So they use-

Andrew Romeo:
On that there. So what were some of the challenges that you found? Was it the technology it was picked? Was it the team that wasn’t able to deliver? What was the challenges that you found?

Mellonie Francis:
I think the team was not capable and maybe the framework is obviously the, a bit older framework now that I got an advisor on that much later, that there was better frameworks and better means being able to build it quicker. There’s more libraries available in Laravel for example and much more quicker to put together pieces. So better as in more improved. But let’s talk about, so my advisor came on, my tech advisor came on and because I was paying him a large sum, he said, “look, we can go remote because I’m here. So I’ll manage the remote team for you and I’ll find the remote team. We don’t need to use Australian team right now because I’m here.”

Andrew Romeo:
Okay. Yeah, get it.

Mellonie Francis:
So I’ve got the Australian person that’s tech, oversee the, so I, obviously me I didn’t have the confidence to go direct with this. I’ve never been through it. But now that I’ve got this person that I’m paying a large consultancy fee to, I thought that would make sense. That, and I think Andrew, you’ve done that and you said, people have engaged you to look over teams that are working overseas, so that they. I think that’s a great way for founders, if they do want to go off shore, if they don’t feel comfortable, they can use someone else. And I was looking for that kind of structure. So that’s what I used and he found me a team in Kolkata, India.

Andrew Romeo:
Yes.

Mellonie Francis:
And I was very excited about working with Kolkata because they spoke Bengali, which was the same language that I had been, had in my family home. So I thought, oh well communication won’t be an issue. That’s a great barrier. I can talk to them in my own language.

Andrew Romeo:
Yes.

Mellonie Francis:
But it didn’t matter for whether you speak the same language or not. Because what ended up happening, it wasn’t a communication issue because I could speak to them in my own language. It was, I think they picked up a lot of junior developers and put the dedicated team together for me. And these guys would just, stuck on, maybe they didn’t, they didn’t put the right team. They didn’t have a JavaScript developer and that was quite important in how things moved and they were just always stuck on, things like booking tools and how to do customization as per my vision they will always stuck, they were just trying to find solutions that were already developed from the galleries that were, in that framework, that kind of, they just didn’t have that technology experience. I think experience was lacking in most of my.

Andrew Romeo:
Yeah, we find that a little bit. We’ve been exposed to that, like you mentioned. We’ve been brought in and advised on projects that go on pretty sour with overseas tech teams and the ones that generally don’t work, are the ones that bring on little to no experience developers, they’re very junior. They jump into stuff that they don’t really know. One example was a unity project. This company had never done any unity development game, development before and they said, oh, we’ve got a senior guy and we ended up finding. Yeah. This senior guy had three or four years experience in what was a and he had no unity development experience. And then he’s managing two juniors underneath him and it’s no one has any experience on these teams.

Anthony Sapountzis:
So let me first ask is a lead unity developer, you’re being touted as.

Andrew Romeo:
Yes.

Anthony Sapountzis:
So we’ve also seen the less qualified people being brought into teams like you had experiences of that. We’ve also seen from Eastern Europe, highly experienced teams, who just ignore us.

Andrew Romeo:
Yes.

Anthony Sapountzis:
So they know what they’re doing, but they ignore us.

Andrew Romeo:
Yeah.

Anthony Sapountzis:
and then they communicate. So either communicate and they don’t know what to do or you can’t communicate and they think they know what to do.

Andrew Romeo:
Yes.

Mellonie Francis:
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah that’s so interesting. That’s so interesting that you say that. That’s what I experienced as well in, even with my developers, in my top developers, it’s like they don’t need to talk.

Andrew Romeo:
They don’t want to talk probably.

Mellonie Francis:
But we need to talk to understand what you are and where you are.

Anthony Sapountzis:
Yes, that’s yeah, difference between a purely dedicated developer and someone that’s more of a BI, a business analyst, project manager, consultant who can step out a bit and understand what the code means with what the requirements are.

Mellonie Francis:
I want to give one tip, I guess while we’re talking, what was the issue that I now look backwards to that team because I trusted blindly, but that team lead or the seat, the person of that team that was the CEO of that IT agency, he was non-tech. Okay? So as in non-tech to the point that I think it was just a business person, he didn’t have the ability to set up, maybe , he didn’t have any kind of, when I look back tech, but what I was attracted to because he was a founder of a particular business already, I thought, maybe he knows and he’s done his own product and that’s what everyone’s always attracted to, that someone’s executed before.

Mellonie Francis:
So that’s why I went with him. But what I soon realised was that I would definitely recommend, if you went with a IT agency that at least, one of the CEOs and one of the CTOs, they should be a programmer with a business acumen or they’ve got a partner in business as well. Me and my business partner, yes, I’m the business person but I understand tech and he is a tech person, a programmer but he understands business. The IT agency I went with originally, he was just a business person, he was just, knew how to buy time. That was-

Andrew Romeo:
this year, so that’s selling time. Okay, get it. Yeah.

Mellonie Francis:
Yeah. Yeah. So that was, I think maybe I relied so heavily on my advisor at the time to pick the right team and it’s a luck thing, as well. It’s not, I can’t blame him. He thought that he was putting a good team together. But yeah, that was something I would give other people that just make sure that at one of the CEOs or one of the really leads that are in, that are going to be part of your project management team are, a programmer and someone that you get along with as well.

Andrew Romeo:
Okay. You said luck there? I’d sometimes, I don’t believe that it’s luck. I think it’s more, you don’t know what you don’t know and given that state where, your advisor’s more of a project manager, he wouldn’t know the capability of what’s being delivered. Sometimes you don’t know the questions technically to ask a person or a technical person, to get an understanding of the level of quality-

Anthony Sapountzis:
Especially if it’s been a long time since he was a developer.

Andrew Romeo:
Yes, there’s obviously a gap there clearly that he was out of the development framework for quite a long time. So yes, great person to have on board but also, with the way we operate and I think we mentioned you, we’ve got some overseas developers now but we’ve got some really experienced tech guys in our business in Melbourne. Seven, eight, 10, 12 years plus development experience that actually design engineer everything and pass it over. So then a developer knows exactly the steps and what they need to do and how they need to do it and we can actually qualify and verify what’s delivered. So there’s a different level when you can actually qualify what you’re getting back. So if you don’t know standards, you don’t understand how things should be developed. You don’t know, there’s talking about continuous improvement in your youth development. People aren’t learning, people aren’t evolving the way they deliver. It can’t pick up on that, then you’re going to have a lot of challenges. So.

Mellonie Francis:
And if you do have a team of juniors like that has been given to you that you’ve taken on, they need to have a senior who is a tech lead to help them when they’re stuck. So what was happening with this team was, they would get stuck, right? And be like, I’m stuck on this situation. And they couldn’t turn to their CEO in their business because their business, that person wasn’t a programmer. Right? And they couldn’t turn to me. But what they could turn to was my advisor and everyone would turn to him. But he hadn’t been in the, hadn’t programed at that point. And he’d give guidance and he would say research this or research that, but right now for example, with my business partner or with my tech team leads, they are seven, eight years experienced. They’ve come across so many, they’ve built so many programmes, enterprise level programmes that they can sit and give, someone needs to be able to give the juniors, maybe that team that I had wasn’t so bad with the right person-

Andrew Romeo:
Yeah, right management. Right? Yeah.

Mellonie Francis:
because when you get stuck as a programmer, you need that. You need that assistance to be able to push you back and tell you how it works and give you some drawings that you know, this is how you need to resolve it. And then you can probably continue on because when you get stuck as a programmer, you could get stuck a week or you could get stuck for an hour and you could get . So that was the big learn for me that.

Andrew Romeo:
Okay. Yeah, not very good.

Anthony Sapountzis:
Yeah, you need to have that expertise you can rely on and call back to just a different way of thinking or they’ve already had that problem before and being able to help you solve it.

Mellonie Francis:
Exactly. And that’s why I think, I don’t love the freelance model myself because that one person, if it’s building for you and you think that’s cheap and that’s good. I don’t know what that one person, if they’re stuck, they’re sick or whatever happens to them. What could the risk of I got, screwed from a three person team and imagine, I just couldn’t imagine having that one person and that one freelancer will definitely take on multiple jobs. It will not be your project only that they would be, so they would be spreading themselves one person across multiple things. So you would potentially get very little time. So I’m always very now wary of freelancers and one person teams or two person teams because yeah, It’s just kind of, yeah, I’ve not had a great experience and I had a bigger team than that. You know?

Andrew Romeo:
Yeah.

Mellonie Francis:
When I first went to do my MV.

Andrew Romeo:
So some good learning there in terms of, yeah, some tips there as well. We’ve got a team that’s got some expertise. They’ve actually delivered some products. They’ve got some quality experience within their teams. They can have juniors like you said but yeah, you need someone that’s got some expertise, that’s got years of experience and delivered.

Mellonie Francis:
Yes. Yeah, at least seven plus I always think is a good number in my mind now after.

Andrew Romeo:
Well, when you get to that level, you’ve seen a lot of things, you solve a lot of problems and it’s not about the technology anymore. It’s about the problem solving. So, provided that you’ve got those problem solving skills, you can go and find a solution and you know how to actually think about a solution. I think that comes up a lot with you [Anth] where, a couple of our junior guys and our junior guys are three or four years experience. We don’t have anyone less than that at the moment. But they might ask, they might get stuck and then Anthony just knows another way to just think about it or Gordon in.

Anthony Sapountzis:
Yeah, just someone seeing something different or they haven’t considered that because they’re just going down the one path.

Andrew Romeo:
Yes. Yeah. It’s all about just someone that can think-

Anthony Sapountzis:
And that happens to me too. I can get stuck on the same path just because that’s how I think

Andrew Romeo:
Yes.

Mellonie Francis:
Exactly. Exactly.

Andrew Romeo:
Okay. So yeah. So now you’re in a position where you’re basically tried all these teams, you’ve gone overseas, that didn’t work. What was your next step? So you’ve got this three, four man team that you’ve managed that failed CodeIgniter they’ve gone to Laravel. How did you approach the next team that you went about.

Mellonie Francis:
Yeah, so I had to, so I learnt the programming. I learned to review code in that amount and then I had to fire everyone and it was the most depressing. I was so scared. What do I do now? I’ve got this code and yeah, I didn’t, I was so, and someone told me about Upwork at that time. So at this point I was like, okay, I might try this other method but I was so shit scared at this time going, what do I do? But I’d spent so much money in this advisor and in this tech team and I’d lost, a whole lot of money, not small money, we’re talking, close to $50, 000 at this time had gone from my pockets. So there was no way-

Andrew Romeo:
You’re not the only one that’s gone through that. So yeah, its pretty to think that there’s so many stack founders that or non-tech founders that are looking to build product and just spend it on the wrong teams, building the wrong things and just, it’s completely wasted. But there’s one thing you can get out of it. There’s a learning experience that you’ve actually paid for and which will step you forward to the next step. So.

Mellonie Francis:
I think that’s the best way to look at it, is I learned a lot and the resilience of being able to go again on the same product, I think is. So I went to Upwork first and I put out my tender on that because I was very clear on my storyboard. So I had the whole, everything had been written very clearly with designs attached to each story. And I received full, 200 or something applications, something ridiculous. And I didn’t trust anyone because I’d been so burned. So I just kind of asked all the top, I don’t know 20, that if anyone would do a free trial for me and everyone obviously refused, thinking that’s mad but then this one person was, okay, I’ll do your free trial for a week or something. And I was, okay, because I just wanted to see and test them out because I was so scared to lose anymore money. And he ended up, the fact that he did the free trial gave me so much confidence, confidence and then we ended up getting along.

Mellonie Francis:
And I don’t know, it was just like the fact that he was the only one that was willing to understand the situation I was in. So I knew then at that point already because so many people had reviewed the code that the code was unusable and that we would have to, rebuild from scratch. And he did show me some fixes of the, CodeIgniter, he showed me some stuff, gave me confidence and then I ended up just going and just taking a punt and saying, you know what, let’s see if this works or not and I will pay him when, he reaches this objective and this objective and this objective, which was kind of what I was kind of doing with my previous team but this was kind of, I think i was just like, oh if it fails, it’s not going to be as expensive as it is on my first go.

Andrew Romeo:
Okay.

Mellonie Francis:
I was just trying to protect myself at this point. Do I think Upwork is great? No, I think I got lucky at that point. I think it was, I have so much bad luck that something had, gone in the right direction that I’d found a good partnership. And I think that partnership was only good because we were, we became friends in that development and we became trusted. And we had a good chemistry, good connection, good understanding. He knew what I’d been through, was very empathetic, two worlds losing all that money me being, and he wanted to show that the programme is, there are good programmers out there and he wanted to present the tech as a tech team, a better tech team or the tech community. And he was very passionate about tech community. And there was just a couple of things he said, which I really think that, sometimes you’ve got to listen out for when you’re choosing that right partner. Things that I would never have expected from anyone in Pakistan. He was from Pakistan.

Mellonie Francis:
And it was my least preferred country because but originally Bangladesh and Pakistan didn’t get along but you’ve got to push all that stuff to the side and think about chemistry. And he said to me that he was very focused on trying to get a team. He had a very small team, three or four, and he was trying to get a balance in women and females in his team. Which really appealed to me that someone from there is trying to do that and he’s I always try and get my QA in one programmer if I can, to be women so we don’t have biassed in our programme and that’s something that, he was really passionate about.

Mellonie Francis:
And he just kind of dropped that in, as in a very normal conversation. Not trying to sell anything, but it was just like and I really liked that, that I felt, wow, he’s thinking so much beyond, it showed me who he is as a person and what kind of person I’m dealing with. And it gave me confidence and he ended up actually getting my custom build up and launch within three months, which was exceptional, exceptional for the amount of features I think that the platform has. Maybe because some of it was already built, you could see some of it. That’s why it was looking back so fast because I don’t want anyone to again come to me and say build my marketplace in three months, in three months features. But he did an exceptional job.

Mellonie Francis:
He was an exceptional programmer. He went to a top university there. Very experienced team. Everyone had five years plus that had three, three programmers dedicatedly working with a QA. So I had a JavaScript programmer, I had a front end and then I also had a two backend programmers with five years. So you can see the kind of quality team I had, who were very experienced in the Laravel view JS at the front. So just to really, top quality team that just sat there and went for it and punched it, punched it out, and they put all other projects to the side to really help me get these get this launch. And I love that.

Mellonie Francis:
I love the dedicated model when people do work for you that dedicatedly and they’re not take anything on other projects. So it was really successful in the product that went out is something that, is people look at and go, wow, I can’t believe that was built in three months. And so yeah, they did really well. I do think Andrew, I did get lucky on Upwork, I did say that.

Andrew Romeo:
Oh it’s a bit of luck, but you would have had some experience in the learning. So that first week you would have been assessing based on what you got previously. You’ve obviously been putting out some more information around JIRA and what your expectations were, if your product had been more defined.

Mellonie Francis:
Exactly.

Andrew Romeo:
So you’ve got to understand that that is also important. So that week, maybe you’ve got the wrong person again, but you probably would’ve picked it up pretty quickly given the fact that what you’ve been through. So yeah, sometimes it’s luck, but it’s also lack of-

Mellonie Francis:
I think you’re right Andrew. Now if I used Upwork and I know how to screen, I know what questions I would ask, I was very, very specific at that one week that we had the free trial, that one thing that they needed to be resolved was the calendar functionality, which that team was stuck on for almost two months. And I wanted to see the delivery of the calendar functionality working very smoothly. And they, that meant they needed a very good JavaScript programmer onboard and they had that. So if they didn’t have that, maybe they couldn’t, right. I think giving tasks where I’ve found things that were challenging was an experience that let me give one task and let me see if they can achieve it. And that was from project management, learning how to test teams for outcome.

Andrew Romeo:
Yeah. And it’s all about skill based. The only thing that you may get a little bit stuck with there is not knowing how long things should take. What gave you the opinion that it would take a week to fix this? That would be the biggest question I ask, because some people may not know how to assess that.

Mellonie Francis:
Yeah, I knew that it couldn’t be done in a week. Right? So I knew that it was going to be longer but the fact was can he show me progress? And so if he resolve that in a week, maybe that’s too much work because it was, a pretty, that was one of the hardest functionalities I knew. But the fact that he was able to show progress and show this has been fixed, this has been done. So you could assess that this person can get there because if they have achieved this in one week, it’s probably other 10 days left until they can really finish it. So that’s what I was assessing. And I think this is from experience in tech and seeing the journey three, four months before. And how that previous advisor was, testing them and everything. I think it’s an experience thing that comes with, okay, they’ve gotten here, this is the last leg of it. It’s only just a few more tweaks there but the functionality is coming and something is happening when I press that. So, that’s an experience thing I think.

Anthony Sapountzis:
So at this point you’ve lost the advisor as well?

Mellonie Francis:
Yeah, the advice that was gone as well because I, I felt he told me not to buy that team and keep going with that route and I just like we’re not on the same page anymore. And then he actually agreed that I’d become, I was able to control the programming and JIRA so well that he didn’t feel he was adding any more value.

Andrew Romeo:
Okay. So he actually educated you in that space and you’ll be able to take over his sort of step. Interesting.

Anthony Sapountzis:
Okay.

Andrew Romeo:
Okay. Yeah. Very good.

Anthony Sapountzis:
All right.

Andrew Romeo:
So the advisor is no longer here. He wanted you to stick with the team. Sometimes you have to cut your losses though. So I think commend you for actually taking the punter and actually doing that. So cutting your adviser and then also cutting the team and then starting from scratch. So it’s a huge risk that you took but in the end was it? I think your other options were sticking down the same path, where you knew that you weren’t getting what you expected. So yeah, sometimes you just got to cut your losses and move forward. So, if you’re not getting good tech and you’re not getting good development, generally what’s been, you mentioned the , the code had to be pretty much scrapped, and we’ve seen this time and time again, where the level of the quality makes it more problematic to actually stick with the code. So yeah, examples are the codes, basically what you’ve coined spaghetti code with, everything’s all over the place. You’ve got copy and pasted features and functions all over the place. There’s no reason to anything. You haven’t got any automated testing in your codes. There’s a lot of red flags if you don’t have any sort of structure. And, sort of following protocol. There’s no protocol being followed. So-

Anthony Sapountzis:
There’s just code’s written. Underline how it’s implemented and if it’s the right things and if they’ve understood the requirements correctly.

Mellonie Francis:
Exactly. I think there was a lot of copy and paste. There was so many bugs that would come again and again from one little chain. And I think it’s not fair on the new team. The new teams will always say, “yes, we can try and fix it.” But now you’re just going down the same rabbit hole potentially. And you can’t hold anything responsible to the new team because they’re just going to always blame the previous code.

Andrew Romeo:
Yeah. It’s the coach’s fault. Yeah. That’s what we were given. But in reality I mean, people need to be aware that if you’re handing over a code that is pretty much, should be scrapped, you’re just trying to hold onto what you’ve invested into in the past and it’s going to cause a lot more trouble moving forward. So you need to really say, okay, we’ve got a good quality team here, they can deliver. They’re telling us the code isn’t great. It’s just causing more hassles than it’s worth. It basically hasn’t delivered an outcome really yet, so what’s the likelihood of delivering one now? You just got to reassess where you’re coming from, then I think it’s really, really important to take note of what people are telling you. So if you’re getting that feedback, listen.

Mellonie Francis:
Yeah, yeah. It’s, and even what now I see, it’s easy for programmers to say it’s not the code that I built and that’s why it’s taking me longer to decipher, it’ someone else’s. I’m saying, honestly, that’s what my own team could say about the person sitting next to them, that they’re sitting next to that hope programme. You mentioned they’re sitting next to each other and saying, he built it, and that’s your team lead. He built it. Now, that’s why it’s … So imagine if it’s another team and that they can, I think I did the right decision, but I also had the code reviewed by four other teams who told me that the code wasn’t usable. So I had pretty good confidence and those teams, well I also considered Russia and Ukraine as development teams, because I’d heard they were so excellent in their programming at that time. So I considered every avenue and I knew that the code was not usable. And that was by four teams that had confirmed that.

Andrew Romeo:
Yeah. And that’s, yeah, taking a step back and getting not just one man’s opinion. So it’s, yeah, good to get a few teams to actually step in and have a look at the code so the more-

Mellonie Francis:
Yeah. And if you have to pay for that, for someone to look at that, I think it’s worth it to get that comfort, if you’re not-

Andrew Romeo:
Yes. You can only make that decision-

Mellonie Francis:
You’re not technical yourself and you want to make sure that is it, so I think sometimes, when you’ve spent that kind of, if you’re building something, these kind of big level, enterprise level, you’ve just got to be ready that there’s going to be out of pocket expenses that you can’t imagine.

Andrew Romeo:
Yeah. You just have to have confidence to make those decisions.

Mellonie Francis:
Yeah. Yeah. And if you, yeah, if you need to pay a little too get those opinions, to give you validation to move forward with what you want to do, then I think sometimes I’ve had to do that.

Andrew Romeo:
Yeah. So what’s the next steps for Find Book Beauty? What are, so you’ve obviously got an MVP, you’ve got things that are actually live and running, are you continue developing that. What are you doing right now?

Mellonie Francis:
So right now Find Book Beauty, after we launch the first four months, we just were focused on the product, continuing to improve as we found out how users were coming on, any kind of issues that they were having. I started pitching the idea and then most recently we’ve just signed, brought on a co-founder, because I from Find Book Beauty, what happened was as I was pitching the idea on the stage, people started approaching me saying, hey, can you build me a marketplace like to Find Book Beauty.

Andrew Romeo:
Get it. Yeah.

Mellonie Francis:
And your tech team, but we don’t want to use your tech team unless you’re involved, because you’ve used them and that’s actually something I was never expecting, because my whole thing was, Find Book Beauty all the way. And that’s my baby. So I didn’t expect that in the launch of, at the point of December, that I would be approached to be contracted out to then, build other marketplaces and help other founders or help other business owners to launch tech. That was not at all planned. It just happened to land on my lap and it was good contracts. There wasn’t small amounts and I just took the leap that sometimes this can happen in life where some things come.

Mellonie Francis:
And so I flew over to Pakistan, met my team that had done that, done Find Book Beauty to see is this something viable that I can invest into? That we can actually grow? And doesn’t make sense, what’s kind of the infrastructure over there. That was something, and I wanted Find Book Beauty to have its own IT tech team, anyway. It would be a huge differentiator for me in the market to be able to have my, Find Book Beauty, have a tech team that could continue to develop it or any kind of issues that it had that I had that on hand.

Mellonie Francis:
So when I went there I saw the environment. I got a little bit more closer with the programmer and the founder of the firm there, they only had three or four people at that time, that was the full team that built Find Book Beauty, and we hung out for seven, eight days. I went there and then I came back and we decided, yeah, we’re going to do it. And we’d already landed the contract. It was just me confirming that I wanted to take this journey from bank, my career was in banking and I thought I was going to be the founder of Find Book Beauty and that was just going to be the only thing that I would focus on for the next 24 months, to all a sudden, bam, we’re running like an IT agency and then we deliver it.

Andrew Romeo:
That’s a bit of a shift isn’t it?

Mellonie Francis:
Yeah, it was kind of a bit, but I think I love the whole journey of building product. Because I had such a bad time, but it was such a big learn, it would be kind of not, it wouldn’t be fair for me not to continue to do the thing that I’ve learned, which I love, is designing every wireframing, I love that, and then taking it through and setting up the projects. I think I love that. So it just happened to be, but now that became a pretty real business all of a sudden, in the start of the year. And then Find Book Beauty, I lost a little bit of distractions for those two months, because all of a sudden this is falling on my lap.

Andrew Romeo:
shift. Yeah.

Mellonie Francis:
Yeah. And I didn’t want that because I want Find Book Beauty to be very successful. So I put out the no, I put out an ad basically saying I’m looking for a founder in that, and that took two, three months to actually do and lockdown and then the founder came on. So I’ve been talking to her for three, four months and she came on about two months ago into the business, and she’s now at least, is someone constantly thinking about Find Book Beauty every day and I’m there as well, but at least I’ve got some person that’s actually running that team of people and helping move that. So our focus obviously for Find Book Beauty is now that the product is all good, all very scalable. We’ve got plans to launch Find Book Beauty into Pakistan, because I’ve got access there and it’s a 300 million population. We want to see the tech at its scale, because Australia is a very small market.

Andrew Romeo:
It is. big numbers here, is it.

Mellonie Francis:

. So 400, so we’ve got about 450 users right now in Find Book Beauty. We continue to scale and pick up users every month on month, we are going for increasing bookings. We’ve had an increase in bookings since it’s launch, every month. We’ve seen slight, slight increases. But, in marketplaces it’s a very chicken and egg game. You’ve got to have , focus here and then come back and focus there and be like, oh, I can’t get bookings on this. I have artists in Hobart. Okay now I’ll have to pick up Hobart, then I can advertise. So it’s a long way to gain sometimes. So the gain here is that we just want to quickly get some more traction, to show investors and raised in that.

Mellonie Francis:
So we’re hoping to start our race next year. So we’ve continued to fund it ourselves. So my founder has also put in, so we’ll continue to bootstrap until we feel we’re at a stage that we’re happy with the performance. So you always want to hold back raising until you can’t feed it anymore. And I don’t think we could ever feed this giant. It’s very expensive, with the tech and everything to grow with. But we plan to raise in it, but right now we’re very focused on acquiring as many users as we can and increasing our bookings per month so we can show a great trajectory to .

Andrew Romeo:
So now. you’ve had people now approach you around building marketplaces similar to what you’ve done and you’ve taken a leap and said, all right, let’s win a contract and you’ve won a contract. Now are you building team, using the same team? What have you done? And I know that probably , which is a business that actually helps businesses develop product now. So tell us a little bit about that and where you’re at right now?

Mellonie Francis:
Okay. So once we won the first contract, we had a very small team of three people. And one thing, what we did was we moved office straight away, because they were in a co-working space and I really didn’t like the space that they were in. So we took out an office so we could be independent and build our own culture and our own kind of relaxed office. So that’s the first thing we did, which ended up being, I don’t know, very smart idea, because it ended up costing some of the team members who weren’t happy with moving further away from office. All of a sudden I’ve got this team that I thought was going to follow suite and we’re giving a better environment to now having to recruit.

Andrew Romeo:
Okay. So the last team is the largest moving basically?

Mellonie Francis:
Yeah. Pretty much. I’ve got this huge contract now. And now I don’t have stuff all of a sudden to support and I don’t have the FPB team, the amazing team that I thought is going to build this amazing product. Though, I all of a sudden go into recruitment and I find recruitment very, very difficult at the beginning, because when you’re studying a company, people don’t know about you. That company had been existing, but we just rebranded to Rareiio. That’s not knowing so much in the market. That was hard. But we recruited, we recruited, we made some errors, recruited again, became really good at recruiting, recruited the HR manager, before recruiting anyone else. Then we did that a few times, a few big rounds of recruitment, letting people go because they weren’t well and then recruiting again.

Mellonie Francis:
And now we are a team of 16 people altogether. So that’s, I think it’s the huge achievement in very short timing, so those eight months to nine months to grow. So that project is one, that project is delivered at the MVP. And then we moved that project that I would want into custom build, which continues and will be released. We then start looking at the projects that my business partner had worked on already for the past five years. He’d already had a business, right. So, I wasn’t coming in and we went establishing from he had strong portfolio.

Andrew Romeo:
Yeah. At least you’ve got something there. Yeah. So yeah, that’s very, very good to have that credibility. So you still obviously just started very with the main tech guy from the original company. the team members and then started again rebuilding. So you still have that expertise within the team?

Mellonie Francis:
I still had the pro, yes, exactly. I had the business, I had the guy.

Andrew Romeo:
Yeah, you had the guy.

Mellonie Francis:
He’s my, yeah. So his name’s Mohamed, and he was my business partner and we were going to, we were like, we’re going to do this, with or without anyone. We’re going to build the exceptional team we wanted to. So I have him. So me and him only have each other at some points. And then we hire a HR manager. She sucked. And then we hired another one. She’s amazing. Now that we’ve got these three, the three of us doing recruitment all the time. We then convert some of his other projects that he had, had been servicing for five years. And I start looking at how to service those projects better. So how he’d been servicing them is just giving them a couple of hours and I start talking to those clients and they were all USA clients, and I start convincing them to come on a high up plan, which would be less for them per hour, but start giving them more dedicated service, better service.

Mellonie Francis:
Because what was happening is they were just using that one team to service a couple of hours here, a couple of hours there and no one was really potentially happy under that model. Whereas now I start converting those projects into, hey, we’ll give you a dedicated top senior developer that will work for you and for your business. And they were real estate agent, CRM tools, real estate agent, something like domain.com, kind of in USA, that he’d built from scratch. And he built this particular project since he was about, I think my business partner was 14, when he picked up this project. So he had this project and built this over from one strand of code to it being where it was. So we converted that. So we started converting some of his old customers into much more bigger clients. So they became more high value clients.

Mellonie Francis:
So that’s what I always like to do, is check your current book to see what’s there. And that’s something I’m good at is relationships and customer relationships. So we start giving them more value. After that we started actually creating obviously a website, but the portfolio of work he’d done that he’d never displayed anywhere. So we started showing that off to people. I started showing off my designs. So I hired a designer and I started doing a lot of UI/UX work, and if it was sometimes a mock up, I would do that. And people started picking up on that, on social and I started getting approached through social, so social being , people really liked the styling of my designs. It’s quite out there. So then I started getting work through the design efforts that I started putting out there. At the same time, remember I’m working full time as well.

Andrew Romeo:
Interesting. So you work, what do you do? What were you doing you still working full time? .

Mellonie Francis:
I’ve always helped businesses get access to finance. So I’ve always the FOS and so it was helping a lot of businesses get to the next level of growth, giving them capital and saying what they’re going to do if that capital needs, if the bank is comfortable. So I was always in banking, so I started obviously telling my network at that time that I’m doing this kind of stuff. And through that I got a few other leads and projects, because someone was like, “oh, this person needs an eCommerce site. Do you think you can do it?” And I was like, “yeah, I think I can do an eCommerce, I’ve done a marketplace, I think I should be right.” So it wasn’t, so everything that we were being approached on was custom work and it was never, hey, just build me a website, because we were never pitch in that kind of work. And my business partner never wanted to do that kind of work.

Mellonie Francis:
I love doing the branding work, but it was always something that had customization is where we really like to work and he loves to work on, whether, even if it’s building a custom WordPress theme, and pushing in commerce, but some kind of complexity is always there.

Andrew Romeo:
It’s a challenge that you’re looking to solve, right? So we’re in the same sort of boat. Custom development is always a challenge and it’s ideation, problem solving and it’s pretty inspiring when you can take ideas and then deliver upon them and have an outcome that you deliver. So really hats off to you for going on the journey and actually following it through, because some people might have said, no, I’m just sticking with Find Book Beauty. Opportunities that came to you now you’ve actually ran with. So I think that’s, yeah, hats off to you. Clearly you’re an entrepreneur at heart, so you’re looking at always evolving and learning and growing. And that’s one of the mindsets that you will need if you’re going to jump into any sort of startup or tech development. If you don’t have that, you’re going to find a lot of challenges because you never know where you’re going to be.

Andrew Romeo:
So you basically ended up with code, investing 50 grand into code and most people may have stopped there. And then you went again and then you founded a team, on your own and then basically we’re able to deliver the product on MVP. Now you’ve got users coming on board. And then you took another dive. And actually put yourself out there again. So what I for your Mel, is you put yourself out there and you figure it out as to, how you can actually deliver it. So anyone that’s looking to jump into a tech project, especially non-tech, be aware that you will need to learn and evolve and upskill yourself during that journey. It’s a big journey. Especially if you’re coming from non-tech background.

Andrew Romeo:
But then if you look at the journey from the other end if you are a technical guy and you don’t have that business acumen or that end, you need to learn that or you need to bring people that can actually help you on that end. There’s two parts of this. There’s great tech and there’s actually something that tech and getting customers on board. And if you can’t do both, you’re going to be, either one having great tech and no one using it, or two, having a great idea and no tech to actually support it. So well done for reaching out and actually finding people that actually deliver it and really cool journey that you’re on right now.

Mellonie Francis:
Thank you, Andrew. Thank you. Thank you for opportunity to speak on it and it was great to share.

Andrew Romeo:
Yeah, no, I really appreciate it. I know that a lot of people get some value out of this. Just seeing what sort of challenges that may come your way. I think one of the key points that I got out of this was, when you were presenting Find Book Beauty on a stage, people came up to you and asked you, can you help me do this? If you look at what they did, they basically found someone that actually had done this before, that had been through the journey, that had had the problems before and solved them. So if you’re actually a non tech looking for someone to deliver a product, do the same thing, go find someone that’s had that journey gone through that experience. And we’ll be able to guide you down that path, because if you’re just going at it blind and just hoping that you find the right team, the right advisor, sometimes it doesn’t work out. Yeah. In terms of this story, gives you a bit of insight as to what may go wrong.

Anthony Sapountzis:
You try and leverage what someone has done before. mentioned early with a junior and a senior developer, the junior ones should leverage what the senior developers know to get ahead.

Andrew Romeo:
Yes. So Mel, we’ll wrap it up there. Thanks for your time and sharing really, really good story in terms of your tech journey, so, really appreciate it. And if anyone wants to reach out Mel is where , what’s your website if anyone wants to reach you?

Mellonie Francis:
I’ll reach out on rareiio.com. R, a, r, e, i, I, o dot com. And you can look on Mellonie Francis as well. M, e, double l, o, n, I, e Francis, on LinkedIn as well.

Andrew Romeo:
Yeah, will be sharing the set on LinkedIn, so you’ll be able to get some details about Mellonie.

Anthony Sapountzis:
I will put them in the comments once we post it

Andrew Romeo:
As for Find Book Beauty obviously, tell us a bit about that. That’s predominantly used targeting Pakistan, you’re doing some trials here .

Mellonie Francis:
Find Book Beauty is in Australia only right now only. So for 12 months. Yeah. So it’s findbookbeauty.com, Find Book Beauty.

Andrew Romeo:
Yeah, Find Book Beauty. Yeah, I think I keep pronouncing it fine, and I put the D at the end, but find beauty. Perfect. Mel, well thanks for sharing your journey. Appreciate it.

Mellonie Francis:
Thank you guys.

Anthony Sapountzis:
Thanks for your time.