The nature of work in America is changing.
This we know from the numbers– the Freelancers Union estimates that there are as many as 53 million independent workers in the U.S. The entrepreneur has become our cultural hero, sort of like a phoenix rising from the ashes of recession.
When PocketSuite co-founder Yang Forjindam conceived his app, he was considering this workplace evolution, the gradual shift from corporate stability to work that is increasingly sporadic, temporary, and independent. He developed PocketSuite, a business and client management app, specifically for sole proprietors, America’s growing class of small-business owners and ‘solopreneurs’ who are service-oriented, and often on the go.
“For example, photographers, home cleaners, dog cleaners and personal trainers,” Forjindam explains, “the app helps them manage their calendar, schedule appointments, and get paid. The client gets an invoice over text message and they can pay them right away.”
Relaunched in November of 2014, PocketSuite has garnered over 10,000 downloads and impressive recognition. Forbes voted PocketSuite “best app for solopreneurs” and Apple recently added the app to its featured list, under Small Business Collections: Invoicing and Scheduling apps.
But don’t call the apps early success beginners luck.
“My background is in enterprise software,” say the San Francisco-based Forjindam.
He joined a business software start-up called NetSuite in 2000, after graduating from Stanford University with a masters in Smart Product Design, a branch of mechanical engineering. At the time, NetSuite specialized in creating business management software for small enterprises, but as the company grew, eventually going public in 2007, they shifted away from small clients to larger corporations. That shift created a gap in the market that Forjindam recognized immediately.
“Smart phones had just launched and the main reason [NetSuite] never went after the small guys is that they were mobile. They didn’t spend a lot of time on the computer. NetSuite required a computer to use,” he recalls. “I thought, I bet we can build apps that are just as good for managing a smaller business as Netsuite is for managing a larger business.”
Forjindam followed his gut and left the company in 2012. He knew he was on to something, but the idea for a small business app that could service America’s rising entrepreneurial class was still half-formed. That is, until a chance conversation with his house cleaner.
“We have a cleaner who comes by every three-to-four weeks. It’s always hard to know how much we owe her because she doesn’t really send us invoices. The price changes. The schedule changes,” he says.
One day, Forjindam offered to build the woman a simple app that would automate text messages to her clients, reminding them of appointment times and invoice amounts.
“So that’s how it started,” Forjindam says. “I put two and two together.”
After Forjindam and his co-founder Sam Madden released a beta version of the PocketSuite in November 2013, they discovered that demand for their new app extended far beyond the home cleaning industry.
“We put it in the app store thinking that home cleaners would like it and download it because that’s who it initially was designed for, and it turns out, the people who were finding it and downloading it were photographers and notaries– just different types of professions that we never anticipated and they all have different expectations.”
Forjindam took PocketSuite through several iterations before its relaunch in November. Whereas most entrepreneurs encounter difficult raising seed money to develop an app like PocketSuite, Forjindam was lucky. His former bosses, the founders of NetSuite, became his first investors.
“That was a pretty big boost of confidence. They were saying, ‘We trust you. You did a great job here. This market, this is not something we want to go after’.”
NetSuite’s founders weren’t focused on the small business class but they inevitably recognized the investment opportunity. Plenty of attention falls on tech startups, nascent companies that are eager to scale and attract millions in seed money, but those entrepreneurs are far outnumbered by the burgeoning class of freelancers, small business owners, and the ‘solopreneurs’ who are building a brand and business of one.
While it is hard to pin down a precise number of how many of these independent workers exist in the economy (MBO Partners say 30 million, while the Freelancers Union projects 53 million), experts do agree that the pool of independent talent will only grow, a great reality for companies like PocketSuite.
Forjindam, who is Cameroonian-American, was born in Paris and raised in his native Cameroon before immigrating to the states at age 10. He admits that his experience as a founder of color are different from those who surround him.
“You learn not to expect the benefit of the doubt in any circumstance,” he says. “You realize you need to use every angle you can, and every relationship you can to make an introduction. Completely nail everything that is within your control. If you show up to an investor pitch with amazing reenue and growth metrics, you will most likely get funded.”
In spite of potential obstacles, Forjindam’s advice for aspiring entrepreneurs with an unwavering vision is to place caution aside.
“Everyone has a different threshold of readiness,” he says, “but if you’re thinking, ‘I need to do this. The world needs this’, I think you should just do it.”
The PocketSuite app is available for iOS devices in the Apple store.