The sales process noise

We started Populi because small colleges didn't really have anywhere to turn for good software that doesn't slaughter the budget. Over time, we've tweaked and tuned our business to reflect our other principles—principles we formed in part just to be contrary to the way business is done in the college software industry. We hope that we're cultivating a simpler, more honest, and even refreshing way of doing business.

For instance, we've always believed in just telling you what we charge. No nonsense, no mystery, no "sit-through-a-pitch-first" hoo-hah. To our knowledge, none of our competitors publish their prices (most of them won't even publish pictures of their software). From what many schools have told us, you have to get deep into the sales process to get a basic price quote. And then the sales process wears on as the quotes get modified and the options get haggled over. The fine print and terms of service sprout as many configurations as the software. You need lawyers and consultants to figure out what you're actually buying.

We self-consciously decided long ago that we wanted no part of this. We just don't want to contribute to the sales process noise colleges must endure when they look for new software. Our website reflects that principle. If you want to find out  what we offer, what we're up to, how to get a hold of us, how the service is holding up, or what our Terms of Service are (among other things) you can, easily. And if your curiosity's piqued, you can just as easily sign up for a live demo.

But we still have to contend with how laborious the industry has made procuring college software. Recently, one college went with Populi not just because it was the best software they had seen, but because other vendors wouldn't cough up a price quote without weeks of the sales process din. Even though some of their prices came in lower than ours (outsourcing support and development overseas is cheap), the work it took to get a number out of these companies told the college what it needed to know about them.

Another school told us that a competitor—one of the big guys with all the big-company overhead—had "underbid" us by a pretty serious chunk of change (when projecting the cost over the minimum five-year contract the competitor required). Of course, our competitor was leaving a few things out that the college still had to negotiate for. Things like a user interface, which, last we heard, would run the college around a hundred grand. That attractive five-year price quote wasn't for an actual information system so much as it was for a database with no way for the average user to... well, use it.

Maybe we're just being naïve, but we honestly do think that if we're daring enough to ask you to pay us to handle your sensitive data, we ought to earn your trust. And so we figure that simply telling you about us upfront seems to be the best way to start that.

Populi makes college management simple. Hopefully we can help make the sales process simple, too.

Populi on the iPad

Unless you've been living on a boat in the middle of the Pacific with a broken radio, you're most likely aware of Apple's new iPad, which—as of last Saturday (April 3)—is now available to the public. One first-day-adopter, a new customer of ours, told us this morning that "Populi (like everything else) is GORGEOUS on the iPad."

Since we're not in this business to plug Apple products (though it's worth noting that most everyone here uses—and loves—Macs), here's the Populi plug: Populi looks good on the iPad because it's built according to web standards. Web standards are standardized technologies that make browsers and websites work better, look better, and stay more secure (among other things). As the web becomes a bigger part of our day-to-day lives, standards-compliance becomes more necessary—especially for critical software that handles information-intensive things like college management. We saw this early on, and from the get-go, Populi was built to be standards-compliant.

As a result, Populi runs beautifully on standards-compliant browsers* like Chrome and Firefox... and, of course, Apple's own Safari—the built-in browser on the iPad. So our customer's report makes perfect sense. We're actually pretty excited about the iPad's potential in the classroom, and since Populi won't require any jerry-rigging to work on it (it doesn't even require an app), the device could give students and faculty access to everything they need from the program.** We'll see what happens.

*It'll run on Internet Explorer, too... but since IE is not standards-compliant (less secure, more buggy, and slower) we don't recommend it.

**Populi will also work on the iPhone and iPod Touch. They have Safari built-in as well (though the viewing experience is tiny), and there's also the Populi iPhone app (get it here).

Some astonishing numbers

This one's interesting to us because Washington State University is only about ten miles away from the Populi office... and because the numbers are so huge. According to this story in WSU's Daily Evergreen (the campus newspaper), the University is about to embark on a two-year, $15 million project to upgrade the "core information systems" to make things like the course catalog and student accounts accessible to students. One Michael Corwin, formerly of the University of Texas, will pull down $140,000 a year overseeing the project. Previously, the University had requested $1 million to "study their options".

We looked at our pricing page and roughed out some numbers for the 25,000+ student University. Figuring they'd go for the "Large" pricing plan, WSU could have Populi for about $1.3 million a year, and in 11 years, they would have spent what they're spending just to get their new system set up.

Now, we're not exactly aiming Populi at the State University market, but we did want to share our "same-planet-different-worlds" moment with y'all... especially that request for a million bucks just to study the options. We're sure Mr. Corwin's gonna earn his salary, and we're willing to admit that $15 million will get you some software... but 1,000,000 clams just to see what's out there? Astonishing.

Quick new update: Attendance Reporting

This one didn't quite make it in with our most recent release, but here it is now: we just released Attendance Reporting! Now you can view summaries of attendance stats for all your courses in a given term. Go to Academics, and under Term, click Attendance. Drawing on the attendance records taken in individual courses, the table shows you each student and how many presents, tardies, absents, etc. they've accumulated that term.  Filter the table down to see students who fit particular criteria (over a certain number of absences, for instance), and export them to a spreadsheet or email them all with one click. We've found that a lot of schools needed this sort of tool, and we're pleased to get it out there to them.

New Features: Bookstore and Credit Card Processing!

We're pleased to announce the release of a whole new section of Populi: the Bookstore. And hand-in-hand with Bookstore: Credit Card Processing!

Bookstore gives you all the tools to run your college bookstore, online and at the counter. Anyone can shop at your online storefront;
students can also link to it from their course reading lists. Promote your featured items and generate Buy Now links that you can integrate with your other websites. On the back-end side of things, you can customize  your categories, manage inventory, process orders, and check sales reports. The incredibly simple Point of Sale interface can run off a USB barcode scanner and credit card reader. All your sales get plugged right in to Populi Financial, with the ability to split out sales, shipping, and tax among your different accounts. And students can charge their Bookstore purchases to their regular Populi Financial accounts.

Before you can use your Bookstore, you'll need to take care of the settings (we walk you through those in the help desk). To get started on that, go to https://yourcollegename.
and click on Admin. Once it's all set up, all of your users will be able to navigate to it directly just by clicking the Bookstore link.

Meanwhile, you can get a feel for the working product with the Demo Bookstore. This shows you what the customer sees; if you have a login to the Demo site, you can poke around the Admin features and Point of Sale.

Of course, Bookstore wouldn't go very far without credit card processing. Populi directly integrates with Chase Paymentech merchant accounts, so your students can pay tuition and fees online and your Bookstore customers can pay by plastic. The revenue gets directly plugged in to your chart of accounts. Set up a merchant account, give us the info, and you're good to go. We've got a pretty great deal set up with Chase Paymentech: it skirts the setup fees and other junk you hate (we sure hate that kind of stuff) and qualifies your college for much better pricing than you could get on your own. Contact Brendan O'Donnell for more details.

If you already have a merchant account with another provider, we also integrate with payment gateway accounts. can link up with just about any merchant account out there, and it can bridge between your merchant account and Populi.

Additionally, we've released the usual round of minor tweaks, interface polish, security enhancements, bugfixes, and so on. Our users can read all about it in the Release Notes in the help desk.