The EstiMate Story – or, why we’re so passionate about all this pricing stuff.
You may or may not know that EstiMate was born out of my own frustration when I was running my basement sign shop from 1993-1999. I had grown up in the sign industry, in my mother’s own basement sign shop, and throughout the late 70s and all of the 80s I watched her struggle to price her work. The phone would ring, she would answer and listen to the customer’s description of the sign they wanted made, and then she would say: “just a moment, let me go figure that.”
She would drum her fingers on the desk for a while, all the while staring at her “calculator on the ceiling,” and then she would get back on the phone and say, “that’ll be $500.”
Fast forward to 1993. I just left my job at the newspaper designing advertising, and got my hands on my mom’s old Gerber IVB. I had two fonts: Helvetica and Brush Script. I read everything I could get my hands on about marketing, and went around town putting flyers on car windows advertising magnetic signs for $49.95 per pair. Orders started coming in and all of a sudden I had cash in hand and my business was born.
Little did I know, I was losing money on every pair that I sold.
For a couple of years, I continued on selling my work based on what my mom would charge, or by asking around on the Letterville BullBoard (the primary online forum at the time for signmakers) to see what other people were charging for similar work. After a couple of years, even though I had built a customer base and had steady work, it seemed like I was just barely keeping my head above water.
Then I got lucky and got my hands on a stack of old SignCraft magazines. In the May/June 1989 issue they published an article called “An Accurate Hourly Rate Is The Basis For Effective Pricing,” written by Jeff Cahill. I can still remember exactly where I was when I read that article, and how I sat up straight and realized that I had just found the answer to my problems.
I followed his instructions to the letter, and then set about reworking my entire business around the philosophy of profitability over quick cash. The result? Within a year, I had a viable business running and was not just making ends meet, but was actually able to take a family vacation! I knew I had turned a very important corner.
EstiMate Was Born
So it occurred to me, why not write a software tool that would allow me to price my work quickly and get quotes out the door that I knew would make the amount of money they needed to, and automate that whole side of my business? I had just read Michael Gerber’s book The E-Myth and was inspired to automate things. As a result, I set about writing EstiMate, and over the course of three years got it running in my shop. I started talking on the Letterville website about my new program, and found out that a lot of people in the sign industry needed the same thing.
As a result, in December 1998 I started a website and began offering pre-orders to my Letterville friends for an April 1999 release. Amazingly, in those four months, I received 16 pre-orders for software sight unseen. On April 15, I shipped the 16 pre-orders and EstiMate was born.
The Tradeshow Circuit, Or: Making It Fly
Within two years I closed my sign shop in favor of selling EstiMate as my primary line of work. I probably held onto the shop about six months longer than I needed to, because I was so afraid of losing my “back up plan.” To this day, I very much miss making signs, and maybe someday it is something I will do again. For now, however, my focus remains on leveling the playing field for the sign industry and continuing to bring this fantastic product to market.
It’s been a long haul. We went to over 50 tradeshows over the course of the next seven years until the Internet usurped tradeshows as the place to learn about new products and information. We sold EstiMate hand over fist and I got to meet thousands of amazing people who were all excited about his fantastic industry.
To The Future… And Beyond!
I’d just like to say thank you to the thousands of people I’ve met so far that have been so supportive of this project both with their words and their dollars. We couldn’t have gotten here without you!
I’d also like to say thank you to the incredible team members that I have been able to work with over the years: Nancy Peterson, EstiMate’s current vice president and all around right hand woman; Phillip Komar, our technical support magician; Jacqui Ackerman, who for many years ran the customer service desk; Johnathon Bakan, who did technical support for many years and had the uncanny ability to make you feel as if he’d handed you a nice hot cup of tea when you called for support; Scott Cutcher, who helped me widen my mind to new marketing possibilities; my mother Myra, of course, who came with us to show after show after show; and many others who have graced the EstiMate office.
Finally, to my son Ivan, who EstiMate helped raise and who is now pursuing an education as an illustrator and graphic designer – my hat is off to you!
Who knows what the future holds? We have a lot of very exciting ideas for expanding EstiMate and our product line, and look forward to bringing you new products such as our DiamondMine™ business analysis tool among others.
Thanks for reading, and as always, Happy Pricing!