Valentine's Day 1995 was a day that will forever live in infamy for me. By some miracle, I'd gotten all the work done. But it was done at the expense of my academic and social lives, and Josh was predicting we could double our sales for the following year. Our procedures were clearly not scalable enough. It was time to retool.
We started from scratch, and redesigned our business processes again. The magic word was subcontractors. Each one was in a different place geographically, but they were all coordinated over the Internet. (More on that later.)
First, we got rid of the bubble-in forms and our ScanTron machines, and switched over to plain-paper surveys that students filled in with their own handwriting. We hired a data entry company in Orange, CT to enter all of these handwritten answers into the computer for us. This company had an army of retired secretaries in their Rolodex, ready to be called in on a day's notice, so they could handle almost any volume we could throw at them. This was much more scalable than one person (me) with a single ScanTron machine. Plus, it had the added benefit of being more convenient for our customers. Previously, schools had to contact us in advance and ask us to ship blank ScanTron forms to them. With the plain-paper method, we could just send a single copy of our survey to schools, and let them make as many photocopies as necessary.
Next, we hired a company in Beltsville, MD, to print the computer-generated output for us. This company specialized in high-volume printing and shipment. We could send them a bunch of huge (2,000 page) text files, and fax them a sheet of information telling them where it was supposed to be shipped, and they'd print the file and ship it to wherever we told them to. We hired a small printing company down the street from the output company to print our custom stationery, and send it to the output company.
We hired an answering service in Rockville, MD, to answer our 1-800 number for us. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, someone would be available to take calls from customers. They had a script that let them answer common questions. If a customer only wanted to know how to sign up for our service, the answering service would mail them one of our information packages. If someone asked a question that the answering service operators couldn't answer, they'd happily say, "Just one moment, let me transfer you to technical support!", and they'd transfer the call to my dorm room in Baltimore, or Josh's apartment in New Haven. It was so cool!
My job was to get all of these subcontractors to work together. I redesigned our processing software (yet again) to do just that, using the Internet to coordinate everything. According to my plan, schools would send their completed surveys to the data entry company in Orange, where the retired secretary army would type it into their computers. The data entry computers in Orange would then transfer the raw data to my computer in Baltimore, along with information about the customer. When my computer would receive this information, it would read the customer's preferences and the students' surveys, and accordingly generate an electronic (not paper) copy of the school's Compatibility Lists. This electronic package of Lists would then be transmitted -- again over the Internet -- to the output company in Rockville. My computer would also automatically generate an instruction sheet for the output company (telling them name of the file, the address it should be shipped to, etc.), and fax that sheet to output company.
We set up a web site at www.amour.com to advertise our business. And, once again, we completely redesigned our mailing. Remember, we had eliminated the step where schools needed contact us and ask us to ship ScanTron forms to them. So, now, we could do more than just try to convince schools that our service was the best of its kind. Our mailing could loudly proclaim, "This package contains everything you need to start your fundraiser -- right now!".
Now we were ready.
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