SimpleCrew Updates Gets A Makeover

Over the last few weeks, I implemented a redesign of our marketing and sales page here at

This is the 5th design we’ve implemented for the site since first launching it in February 2012, and with it has come the most significant structural change to the website so far. Namely, I built this version of the website using a website builder tool for WordPress called OptimizePress, but more on that later.

Here’s a look into some of the past designs of the SimpleCrew website, and some insights behind the inspiration, design, and development for each.

The first design we implemented in February 2012 was a simple one-page email capture:

This was our site before we had a product available for testing, when the app was just an idea. In fact, as you can see, back in 2012 the original name for the app was “FanMobilizer” – an homage to a marketing agency for artists and bands that I’d worked with before (FanManager)

From our friend Dan Schwartz, a real estate wholesaler, we learned early on that the app was going to be useful for industries outside of entertainment, so we changed the name to SimpleCrew to reflect the broader potential.

The original website design was inspired by the GroupMe website. Both featured a one-page scroller, a rich, descriptive product graphic, and sign-up inputs on alternating sides:

Starting out in 2012, I’d played with HTML a little bit, but I had no experience with CSS or WordPress. I designed a mock-up of the site in Photoshop, and then sent it to Mike to hack together in WordPress.

We recognized that Mike’s time was better spent building the actual app as opposed to the marketing site, so I started to play around with WordPress, and by the time the first version of the SimpleCrew app went live in October 2012, I was able to implement a new design on WordPress:

This design featured a fixed header, with pricing, sign-up, and log-in fixed along the top, a descriptive graphic in the middle, and input fields horizontally along the bottom.

A few months later, I slightly modified this version:

I kept this design for the longest so far – it stuck with us for almost a full year from the beginning of 2013 to the beginning of 2014.

At this time, I was still designing in Photoshop, and painstakingly hacking a theme together and placing images using custom CSS and HTML in WordPress.

It took a couple days to put together a single page. And once I had pages together, I really wouldn’t want to touch them for fear of breaking the custom CSS I was hacking together for each page.

It was a really slow process to make any changes or to ship new landing pages, so I started experimenting with Twitter Bootstrap and in March this year, I implemented this design using Bootstrap on top of WordPress:

Bootstrap looked great and was faster to use than customer coded HTML and CSS, but ultimately it was still using HTML inside WordPress which is messy, and it still took a couple hours to ship new pages.

Then in May this year, my friend Anton showed me OptimizePress – a website page builder for WordPress.

With OptimizePress, I’m able to build a ship pages in a drag-and-drop editor in minutes. It saves a lot of the deploying time, and is extremely thorough and flexible so I can pretty much get everything I need from it.

Here’s what the SimpleCrew website looks like today:

Now, I’m using a Vimeo Pro widget to put a tour video on the front page. I also have a new “customers”  section under the home page for social proof, and created a new Testimonials page where I share some testimonials from out customers.

I’m really happy with the current version of the site, and especially with OptimizePress. With the new setup, I don’t have to mess with HTML or CSS beyond a couple tweaks if I want anything customized beyond the (quite flexible) customization options already build into OP. And I can ship new pages in a matter of minutes instead of hours or days.

Click around the site and the blog here, and let me know what you think. And if you have any questions about OptimizePress for your website, let me know. I’m happy to help!


SimpleCrew Updates

Key Android App, Database, and Server Updates

Over the last week, we’ve shipped a couple key Android App, database, and server updates to SimpleCrew.

The updates addressed a couple of the most urgent scaling issues we’ve faced to date.

Here’s a look into the recent updates, and the problems they addressed.

System-Wide Server Crashing – Android App and Server Update.

In our update a few weeks back, I disclosed a heavy load issue on our server that was causing system-wide crashing.

During this time, some users were experiencing login issues, photo upload failures, and slow connections.

Over the past few weeks, Mike identified the issue as a flaw in an old version of our Android app where, when a photo upload failed due to low service coverage, the app would get into a never ending loop of re-posting the photo to our server.

At the time, since the server was forced to accept any photo being uploaded, the never-ending upload loop would cause the SimpleCrew server to crash and be inaccessible to other users.

Mike made a number of server updates to combat the self-destructive mobile app, and using insights from our analytics/tracking system Mixpanel, we were able to identify which user’s Android apps were stuck in infinite loops, and contacted them directly to ask them to re-boot their apps.

Finally, we contracted a mobile app developer to update our Android app and resolve the issue completely. The updated Android app was released this weekend. Download it in the Android Market.

1000+ Photos Issue – Database Update.

This was an interesting issue that some of our biggest customers were expeirencing when their campaigns would reach 1000+ photos.

Our original database design (MongoDB for the techies) was not optimized for querying large numbers of photos.

The design was optimized for more flexibility, but as we came to find, it would eventually break down when campaigns reached 1000+ photos.

Over the last few weeks, Mike was able diagnose the issue, and built updates to the database schema design and application.

Then, this weekend – the trickiest part – Mike was able to migrate all the existing campaigns to work with the new system.


These scaling issues presented some of the most urgent challenges we’ve faced so far in our (brief) history, so many thanks to those of you who’ve been patient with us and helped us with feedback as we worked through them.

Today, you guys are submitting over 1,000 photos on our system every day, and your campaigns are reaching 1000+ photos with greater and greater frequency.

Though the issues were frustrating, we reminded ourselves that in the grand scheme of things, scaling issues are an indcation of a useful product being used.

For that, we’re thankful, and will continue to work hard to make SimpleCrew the best solution for your business.

– Alan VanToai


Business Lessons Learned from Atlassian

I like picking out heroes in business (and in life). People and companies whose mindset, actions, and achievements I respect and admire.

Folks like Paul Graham37Signals/Basecamp, and Instagram – these guys have been there, walked the path, and have left plenty of inspiration on everything from product features to marketing copy to business strategy.

Today, I stumbled across a Forbes article chronicling the rise of another badass company that’s firmly in this camp for me: Atlassian, a software company that makes collaboration, project management, and communication tools for enterprise companies.

These guys have turned the traditional sales/marketing model for the enterprise market on it’s head:

Unlike the model of behemoths like Oracle , or even contemporaries like Workday or Box, Atlassian chose to minimize costs by not investing in sales staff or marketing, focusing instead on research and development. It simply sold their competitively priced products on the website.

“We felt if we could sell something at a reasonable price and sell it on the internet then we’d be able to find a market there. And that’s what worked out,” Farquhar said.

Like many start-ups, early sales were from friends of friends and acquaintances. But the company knew it had broken through when, without solicitation or any human interaction, the credit card information for a purchase from American Airlines came through.

Sales and marketing will continue to play a huge role in how we push SimpleCrew forward, but it’s inspirational to see Atlassian pushing the boundaries of whats possible with just a maniacal focus on product and development.

That, and they just seem like a cool bunch of guys and girls. Hero status confirmed.