Proposable founder and CEO James Kappen has enjoyed immense entrepreneurial success due to his unique ability to recognize an issue adversely affecting an industry and to create an innovative and practical solution in relatively short order. With Proposable, Mr. Kappen recognized that sales forces across all industries were continuing to utilize an approach to sales proposals that was desperately in need of significant updates and upgrades, which led to the creation of his proposal template platform Proposable.com. The web-based software platform enables sales professionals to create, deliver and track sales proposals, and it also allows team members to see sales performance data and receive useful feedback quickly and easily.
Mr. Kappen, a resident of Santa Barbara, California, had experienced some of the difficulties faced by sales professionals during previous endeavors, including a local print lifestyle publication and an online bidding platform. While Mr. Kappen views those initial ventures as failures, he nonetheless saw each as an opportunity to grow and become a better entrepreneur with better ideas. In founding Proposable and overseeing its continued growth, Mr. Kappen has seen countless professionals generate immediate increases in sales in a far more efficient manner through the use of the platform.
A graduate of the University of California, Mr. Kappen was so motivated to succeed as an entrepreneur that he sought special permission from the school’s administration to take a double course load in order to complete his education a semester ahead of schedule. As if to foreshadow his future success as an entrepreneur, Mr. Kappen was the winner of the Sproutbox Business Accelerator Program in 2009, and he has delivered time and again on that entrepreneurial promise in the time since.
How did you get started in this business? What inspired you to start this business?
My own frustration with sales proposals sparked the initial idea, and I was inspired by the possibility of making a significant difference in the way people do business.
How do you make money?
We offer Proposable as a monthly service with several different plans tailored for various types of businesses, and we collect a monthly fee depending on which plan the customer selects.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
The business as a whole was profitable by our second year of operation.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
Yes, but I was convinced of the problem that Proposable solved, so I knew it was just a matter of time before more people took notice. The key was patience and perseverance to keep moving forward even though at times I did feel like giving up.
How did you get your first customer?
We offered a free trial of our services to a number of prospective clients, and many people tried it out. Many of those first companies really saw the value in what we were trying to do, but our product was still very nascent, so it really took a few years before we had a solid customer base and a product that we were confident in.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
One marketing strategy that has shown success has been to integrate with CRM software products such as Salesforce and Insightly that have a similar customer base as we do. These integrations are promoted through the “add ons” pages of these products and we continue to get leads once people on those platforms see our integration and sign up for our free trial.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
Hiring is one of the toughest things for me to do, particularly since we are always looking for just the right passionate individuals who will fit in well with the culture we are trying to create.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
Like most entrepreneurs, I’m never happy with the current state of our product and am consistently dreaming and looking for ways to innovate and move the product forward. I imagine if I didn’t have that attitude, someone else would come along that did, and their product would shoot out ahead.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
My most satisfying moment was the first time one of our Proposable customers called to let me know how big a difference our platform had made in their operations. It’s a call I have received quite often since then.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
We’re always looking to expand and to find new ways to help the global sales force do business.
What business books have inspired you?
Tony Hsieh‘s “Delivering Happiness”. What I liked most about it was the fact that it addressed so much more than just starting the business. He really boiled down the art of growing a business into the simple practice of offering customers a better experience than your competition, and if you do, you will turn them into fans and eventually succeed.
What is a recent purchase you have made that’s helped with your business?
I’ve been looking into creating more opportunities for team building lately, so I’m hoping to invest in some kind of excursion in lieu of work sometime soon.
How do you unwind outside of work?
I like to express myself creatively through music, so I have a recording studio in which I spend a lot of time when I am not at Proposable.