inkrato

The last two years in review and what’s next

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Background

I started inkrato a couple of years ago around the idea of reviving and commercialising an open source project I’d created a decade earlier.

The idea was a web based Software-as-a-Service app for people to easily manage and organise doing things together, like many of the existing project planning tools on the market but for a wider audience.

It was a horizontal product, which is always trickier to pull off than a more focused vertical proposition. The users were community groups and organisations of any type, shape or size, with the ability to have both private and public instances.

This ultimately contributed to how difficult the idea was to get across and how difficult it was to get the product fit right.

Bootstrapping

In what was a sure-fire recipe for failure when it comes to finding funding, I had no experience, few relevant contacts, and was still burning myself out at my day job.

Despite having a working beta with a few hundred active users, gained entirely through organic growth, and being invited to various pitching events I wasn’t able to secure investment to take it any further.

I already new before I’d started that I didn’t have enough money to allow me to bootstap all the way through to a commercially viable release, but I thought I’d see how far I could get on my own dime.

I quit my job to focus on inkrato full time and spent a few months balancing between between developing the idea and building the product.

Trial and error

Almost as soon as I’d started, I was asked to setup instances for folks who’d seen it for them to try out. This included for private companies and some community groups, including Friends of the Earth and Labour Digital.

From these I learned a lot about what was wrong the the product, both UX issues that were easy to address and wider issues with the nature of the product and exactly who it was for that would prove tricker to resolve.

It was clear the product fit was still not right. It seemed like most people actually wanted something much simpler with far less features, to the point of being very different from the original proposition.

Having gone over this dozens of times I wasn’t able to tell if I was conflating what might work better as multiple different products and was struggling to see the wood for the trees.

Halt and catch fire

I’d been offered bespoke work based on what I’d been doing but had turned it down as I was verge of moving out of London and selling my home to downsize and give myself enough capital to finish what I’d started.

Serendipitously, events took an interesting turn and for personal reasons I ended up staying London where I spent the best part of the next 2 years at the BBC in News Labs, ultimately heading up some interesting work.

Success and failure

Over the last 2 years Inkrato as company has been commercially successful, however the origional product has languished at the expense of lucrative bespoke development work and there hasn’t been significant development on it since 2013.

I considered releasing the original LAMP codebase as open source, but I didn’t want to support it and shuddered at the prospect of people using it unsupported. I should also note it was built to be run as a scalable SaaS platform rather than to be self hosted, making it somewhat awkward to install.

In a few weeks in 2015 I knocked up a ‘lite’ version in Node.js and released it on GitHub as Inkrato Community Edition under the MIT licence, meaning anyone can do whatever they want with it.

While this new version is much simpler and doesn’t have feature parity with the original it means I can retire the original while still providing some continuity for existing users.

It can be deployed on the Heroku hosting platform with just a click and is much better suited to customisation and self-hosting; it’s also much easier to support.

Inkrato as commercial entity will continue, with a continuing focus on bespoke and vertical development but at this point I don’t have any immediate plans to ressurect the original product idea.

If you want to know what I’ll be doing next, I’ve written about that too.

Written by

Software for news and media and civic tech. Cat herder. Director at Glitch Digital.

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