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Acuity Scheduling: a free interface makes small businesses more down-to-earth

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I've never owed anyone anything; my project has been making money since day one. Having investors will force you to raise the price but I only want to keep it down. Because I always look up my mom as the standards—it has to be something that she is able to afford.”

Identifying what tactics your competitors are using seems vital. Yet “when I came up with my pricing, I didn't really compare to my competitors,” says Gavin Zuchlinski, who launched Acuity Scheduling, an online based appointment scheduler. Instead, the 27-year-old founder chose to set up the lowest price. “Because I always think about whether my mom can afford it; I want people to generally use it for free.”

The business voyage departed when Zuchlinski was studying software engineering in college. He found out his mother, who solely runs a massage therapy business, felt managing appointments was frustrating. “She had to spend a lot of time going back and forth with clients to figure out when is a good time to make an appointment,” says Zuchlinski, “So I designed a few basic services where clients can go online to make schedules.” It was in 2006 that the initial version of Acuity Scheduling was delivered at his mother’s therapy office in Strasburg, Pennsylvania.

Later, while Zuchlinski began his full-time job at the National Security Agency in Maryland, he didn't give up developing his startup project. His schedule, however, became hectic with endless job duties. After doing the “mentally challenging” NSA work for over six years, Zuchlinski decided to concentrate on his own “scheduler” and moved to New York.

The scheduler currently offers a 14-day free trial for users to experience the interface. There are three different pricing tiers for users to choose from: free with limited customization, monthly $10 professional option for businesses that only need a single staff, and premium account that charges $19 per month with unlimited experience, including sending appointment notices and reminders to customers.

Until now, Zuchlinski promoted the brand through word-of-mouth. “Most of the people who heard about Acuity Scheduling searched keywords like ‘online scheduling’ on Google. If you look on Twitter, you’ll also find lots of people talking about Acuity,” says Joseph McKeating, founder of Pulsar Strategy, a Brooklyn based PR and marketing firm that has been working with Acuity. Word of mouth alone created “organic growth” of 10,000 subscribers between 2006 and 2012, and “it’s getting bigger and bigger.”

2013, a year we just said farewell to, was a productive period for Zuchlinski. “Every year I make a New Year's resolution; I was hoping to grow it (Acuity Scheduling) a lot (in 2013),” he says. Before the ball dropped, his wish had come true. The total number of signed-up users, with a team of just four, has reached 50,000, four times greater than previous years, according to the team’s internal database. Acuity Scheduling continues to focus on small businesses, many with five or fewer employees.

“We target at people with small practices who save time and energy by having their clients schedule by themselves, such as massage therapist like my mom,” says Zuchlinski, “Life coaches, lawyers, dental offices, you name it, and they are the kind of people we want to help out.” In the end, the $19 a month plan pays off. Based on the statistics that calculated by Zuchlinski, Acuity has now scheduled over $38 million worth of appointments.

As one of the current users, Teresa Taylor from High Velocity, LLC, says: “I have tried many programs over the past few months and this one (Acuity Scheduling) is by far the most reasonably priced and easiest to navigate and it has all the features I need for a small fitness studio.”

GetApp, an independent application reviewer for business applications, gave Acuity Scheduling a score 9 out of 10 in its apps marketplace. Rakesh Sharma, editor at GetApp, described that Acuity Scheduling “helps increase bottom line and streamline process by integrating appointments into the customer discover process” in his tech review about the schedule maker.

Facing the potential opportunities, Zuchlinski said, “I’m really good at getting people who are already looking for it (online scheduling), but I’m also working on getting people who could benefit from it but aren't aware it's an option yet.” Awareness is the challenge that Zuchlinski is undertaking with his seven-year-old startup.

January opens up a new chapter and a new year; it allows us to ring out the old and to ring in the new—people summarize the impact of the previous year and set goals for the coming one. This year, Zuchlinski looks forward to raising awareness of Acuity Scheduling. One of the things he is doing with Pulsar Strategy is delivering bi-weekly growth advice to guide small business owners. So far, they have sent a Do-It-Yourself Public Relations Plan, a plan for getting media placements and best practices for increasing positive online reviews.

For 2014, the former NSA engineer revealed his resolution: “I’m hoping to keep Acuity growing; to make it easier to use. I’m also hoping to learn some French.”

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