Episode 105 | How to Pick a Platform Partner
- Pre-Launch Traffic Strategies for Startups: Part 1
- Pre-Launch Traffic Strategies for Startups: Part 2
- Pre-Launch Traffic Strategies for Startups: Part 3
- Amazon Web Services
- Microsoft Azure
- Google App Engine
[00:00] Rob: In today’s episode of Startups for the Rest of Us, Mike and I are going to be discussing some rules for looking at technology platforms, stacks, frameworks and API’s. This is Startups for the Rest of Us: Episode 105.
[00:20] Rob: Welcome to Startups for the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers and entrepreneurs be awesome at launching software products, whether you’ve built your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Rob.
[00:30] Mike: And I’m Mike.
[00:30] Rob: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. Well, I am glad that I have CrashPlan installed in my laptop. As of what about an hour ago, I’ve jumped online to look at the podcast outline you’d created and my laptop won’t boot up. It just locks up at the Window start screen. So, I’m messing around that I’m sure I’ll be able to fix it this evening but if I’m not stress about it like I’m more worried that I’m going to waste 3 to 4 hours screwing around either reformatting the hard drive or whatever but it really is so different than 5 or 10 years ago where like all your data was on a local disk and you didn’t have it anywhere else or you had like a 2-month backup somewhere but between Dropbox and CrashPlan which runs every night and upload my personal stuff and business stuff up to your cloud somewhere it feels — it feels much better.
[01:18] Mike: Yeah, I feel like I’m — I’m kind of in the same boat. I have probably like several different ways of like backing up all my stuff. So, I have — I have Dropbox running for a bunch of data and I have a SugarSync subscription which backs up another set of data and then I have Backblaze which takes an entire machine backup. And then I also have Acronis running which takes a full system snapshot like every night as well [Laughter].
[01:39] Rob: That’s the way to go. You know, as long as it doesn’t impact your performance, the computer performance day to day, it really is nice to have — have some options. What I wish though, you know, so I now how — have a spare router at all times on deck because I’ve now had two brownouts or thunderstorms in the past 6 years that have blown routers but I’m considering like getting an on deck laptop because I’m losing a bunch of time this afternoon. I guess I have this desktop sitting here but as soon as my wife gets home, she’s going to need it. But what do you — what do you think about that? Do you have a spare router and do you have a spare laptop?
[02:12] Mike: But I have extra switches laying around for exactly that purpose like what I do is I have everything going in to my cable modem and then from there, it goes in to my network and I have first thing that it hits is actually one of my servers. So, I can plug it in to either directly in to a switch or in to my server. Like my server I have behind — basically access another wall between, you know, my network and the outside world but I also zip for like VPN and everything else. So —
[02:39] Rob: Right, I got it. Yeah, this router — all the NEC routers that I use have firewalls built. They have a hardware firewall built in and maybe its software. I don’t know but it’s — it’s built in so I have that as well. I don’t have the VPN capability although there’s certainly routers you can buy with that.
[02:53] Mike: Right but I — I mean I do have extra switches and I don’t know if I have an extra wireless router around but I know what you’re saying and then in terms of extra spare laptops and stuff, I have a couple of spare laptops laying around. I think I have 1, 2 — I have 2 spare laptops on top of my regular one and then plus I have a desktop and —
[03:10] Rob: Yeah.
[03:10] Mike: Yeah, you know, I mean I have a whole army of machines here. I can hire like 30 people and every single person will have their own machine.
[03:18] Rob: Not need to scale up. Yeah, and I mean it seems wasteful to have just a laptop sitting around on deck at all times but I really want to get to the point where when this happens because what, this happens like once a year, you know, and I basically lose a day of productivity when I never — when I don’t have that day to give up. And so I’m trying to figure out a way where I can be completely virtual. I would just love to be able to step to the left and log in to this other laptop or this desktop and just not even notice the difference and that — that day is not here even with Dropbox and CrashPlan. I’ll get my data back but it’s going to take a bunch of time for me to, you know, sort this out.
[03:51] Mike: Yeah, I think you’re best bet would be to do something similar to what I do where I’ve got my entire machine being backed up to — I have it actually backed up to a local drive but I also have an external NAS device that I could backup the entire system to. And it would just store differentials everyday or every couple of days or whatever and if I need to go back to another instance of the machine from several days ago or a couple of weeks ago, I can probably do that. And with something like Acronis you can — depending on how you want to do it, you can back up to the exact same hardware which means you either pop out the hard drive and put a new one in and you restore back to that machine or if you have another physical piece of hardware that you would prefer to restore to, you can do that as well even if it’s slightly different. Basically all you need to do is you just need to switch out the hardware’s obstruction layer and mostly software packages that do that kind of backup have the capability to do that for you.
[04:44] Rob: Nice when someone starts that as a service, call me.
[04:46] Mike: [Laughter]
[04:48] Rob: So I was in Pasadena this weekend with the family. We went down and saw the Space Shuttle Endeavour. They retired Space Shuttle and they flew it all across the country and so and then they took 72 hours. They drove it like four or five miles an hour of down through LA from LAX to this — basically, it’s a science center and just awesome. If you’re ever in LA, you should take your kids there because I moved in Pasadena for five years and never went and this thing, it’s a free science center and it’s one of the best I’ve ever been to and I’ve been at at least half a dozen across the country and in Canada as well. So, it was a lot of fun. I also got to hang out with — with Jason Roberts and his wife and kids.
[05:23] Mike: Oh, cool.
[05:24] Rob: It’s a lot of fun hanging out and talking tech, man. You know, there’s just so few people that I ran in to day to day that I’m able to sit down and just engage in like pretty quickly get deep in to like conversation about serious things, you know, like what we do for a living and have someone understand when — when you talk about a really detailed concept about marketing or about a new idea and actually get realistic feedback and it was lot of fun. He’s a kind of — where I always I leave the conversation about — how long we’ve been talking, I leave feeling like we’re in the middle of a conversation. You know I’m saying? Like we — I have so much more to say but it’s like, “Well it’s been we just had a two and a half hour lunch. We have to leave, you know, I got to go pick my kids up.” It was really cool.
[06:06] Mike: That’s awesome. So, hey I came across a couple of different technology blogs say offering advice for choosing technology and both of them misspelled one of the technologies that they were recommending. It was just really bizarre to me that they were able to make recommendations about things that they — and I’m not sure whether it’s just a misspelling or what but it seems had to believe that somebody could make a recommendation about something like a specific distribution of Linux and then misspelled that distribution of Linux.
[06:35] Rob: Yeah, it’s hard not to discredit when people do that. Just like when I’m hiring people like I would send people e-mails or send them a message on oDesk when I’m thinking about hiring them. And if they reply back with like all lower case text with no punctuation and they’re using a letter ‘U’ instead of ‘Y-O-U’, that is a huge, huge red flag for me and I know the person can be, you know, super intelligent and might just be a style thing but I instantly basically discredit them like it’s a major red flag for me. And I feel like the same thing with this technology. If you misspell it, you’re right. You could just be bad at spelling. It could just be a typo but that — that is not both well for my confidence in your recommendation.
[07:14] Mike: Right and to be clear, this was — this was an actual blog post. It wasn’t like it was a transcript. Like I would understand if things come up in our transcript and I’ve seen it come up before where it’s just clearly misspelled and because it’s a transcript, you know and we are using a transcription agency, I don’t expect them to know the spelling of all these different things and that’s, you know, that’s one thing. But this was an actual blog post that was somebody was trying to convince you, “Oh, these are the things you should look at and this why you should use this particular thing.”
[07:45] Rob: So I have an answer to one of our most frequently ask questions and that question that we both get on the podcast and I also get when I do public speaking and just, you know, I feel like it kind of floats around a lot is, “How do I get traffic to my landing page if I put up a landing page?” And Dan Norris from Informly which is inform.ly, he wrote a 3-part case study of 13 pre-launch traffic strategies that he’s used to market his startup Informly that hasn’t launched yet. And so it’s a 3-part post and it’s really in-depth. He gives like the actual conversion rates, how many visitors he got and it’s really cool. It’s on my blog, softwarebyrob.com. The third part just went live today and so that is actually the new place. Whenever — because — seriously, I get this question whether it’s in the podcast or I get it multiple times per month and that’s my new answer is to go look at this case study because Dan did a bang of job of running through the — all the topics.
[08:43] Mike: Cool. So what else is —
[08:44] Rob: In fact —
[08:45] Mike: … going on?
[08:45] Rob: Last thing quick HitTail update, just wrapping up the first integration that’s going live since — since I acquired it and we’re integrating with Basecamp. It’s a pretty simple integration. We have a To-Do list in HitTail. We’re just integrating with the Basecamp To-Do’s and it was going to go live late last week but you do some weird thing and you have 500 To-Do’s and certain page locks up, Ajax, you know, issue. So, we have a little bit more troubleshooting to do but that should go live this week and I’m interested to see what impact that has because I’ve said last week, it’s not that a bunch of HitTail people use Basecamp that we know about, it’s that we want to basically be able to kind of market to the Basecamp audience and to be promoted through Basecamp’s Twitter feed and they don’t have a product blog anymore but to be on their Basecamp integration’s page and to see what kind of impact that has. So, luckily it hasn’t been a ton of effort on our part so we don’t need a huge amount of signups in order to justify but I’ll definitely be updating that in the coming weeks. And we have 2 or 3 other integrations already sketched out if this one goes well.
[09:48] Mike: So are you going to make the decision to move forward on those other integrations base on how this goes or you just going to kind of do one or two with those extra integrations kind of regardless?
[09:57] Rob: Yeah, we’re going to do at least two of those others because the – those other two are much more in our — kind of in the wheelhouse of customers who would use HitTail so their marketing platforms like HubSpot, you know, they have an app area and it’s people who are already trying to create content and market their apps and such and so, HitTail is a natural fit for that. Basecamp, the reason we did it first is, number one, because it’s the quickest. It was just not a lot of work on our end and it’s the first integration we’re doing so I really wanted to kind of cut our teeth and learn how to launch it and learn how to kind of get everything going because we have to get OAuth going and there is no ASP, Classic ASP libraries for that.
[10:36] Mike: Really?
[10:36] Rob: So —
[10:37] Mike: Imagine that [Laughter] —
[10:38] Rob: So, we had — we had some work around there but — so we put in — put in some work to get that done and we’re hoping that we can, you know, rip the investment with the — the next couple integrations and that even if this one doesn’t work out and more like maybe an issue of target market and you know, we figured the next — next couple will be — will be solid.
[10:54] Mike: Yeah, I mean that’s a good idea to at least as you said cut your teeth on a couple of them just to figure out where the — the problem areas of your application for doing those integrations are going to be as well.
[11:06] Mike: So, today we’re going to be talking about how to pick a platform partner and essentially this is going to be a guide for how to evaluate whether or not a technology or a solution provider is going to be a good partner for you long term. And the problem is that sometimes it could be really difficult to evaluate the solutions of a specific vendor or specific platforms. So, a lot of these are guidelines. They’re not really hard and fast rules and generally what you’re looking for is for red flags and the absence of red flag is something of a green light but obviously you can’t just take a blanket statement and say, “Well, I didn’t see any red flags based on, you know, what we talked about in this podcast episode so everything is going to be fine,” you know, there’s always going to be the potential for downstream something to happen where things are just not going to work out. And sometimes your hand is just going to be force to go in a particular direction due to price constraint or a specific technology that you’re using or timeline but basically, you’d just want to make sure that you are aware of what you’re getting in to.
[12:02] So, some of the things that we’re going to be talking about today are there’s three different types of platforms that we’re really talking about and the first one is a true platform. So, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft’s Azure, Windows, Linux, Google’s app engine, iOS, OS X, those types of things. The second one is technology stacks and frameworks. And this really falls under things like databases, program and languages, the model framework. For example, jQuery, MVC, Ruby on Rails, et cetera. And then the third category is a company or a product API. So, things like Twilio, Twitter, Facebook, Google, PayPal, Stripe or any other payment processor, Basecamp, et cetera. Companies that have an API that they have made available for their products that you could leverage to either do an integration point or to truly build upon the product that they already have.
[12:55] Rob: We’re just going to group all of those things you’ve mentioned in to one big bucket, right, and we’re calling anyone who provides any of those things platform partners.
[13:02] Mike: Yes. So, the first thing to keep in mind when we’re going through this is that there’s a difference between something that where you’re building an integration point between your product and their product versus someone who’s truly a platform provider where you are completely dependent upon them providing the service and this is the difference between like you said earlier in this episode, you doing an integration with Basecamp where you’re not completely reliant upon Basecamp with the exception of where that particular integration versus something like Justin Vincent’s Pluggio application where he’s completely reliant upon the Twitter API being available for him to leverage in order to make his product function.
[13:44] Rob: Right or even if you think about HitTail, it’s reliant on Google and other search engines passing certain information in their search query string. So, it’s not an — it’s an API of sort. It’s not necessarily a sanctioned one but if they all change that or they suddenly stop providing them information, HitTail really is based on their platforms functioning that way.
[14:03] Mike: That’s right. So, we have five guidelines that we’re going to go through. And the first one is that the vendor or the technology place well with others. The first part of it is especially true when you’re talking about service providers. Basically, you’re looking for somebody who isn’t going to steal the ideas of the people who are building on their platform or steal their revenue streams and I’ve seen companies out there where you’ll build a product on their platform or you’ll build a complementary product for their platform and then they’ll look at them and say, “Hey, that’s a great idea,” and then they go ahead and they either try to work with you to work out some sort of a partnership or arrangement where there is a revenue sharing but if that doesn’t work out for whatever reason, they’ll just say, “Well, you know what? We’re just going to implement that ourselves and we’ll take all the revenue.” And because they’re the ones selling that platform to begin with, they basically have first crack at the customers for that revenue. So, they can essentially push you completely out of the market and I’ve seen companies do this.
[14:56] So, what you’re looking for is people who are not going to do that and Microsoft in the 90’s, I think was a company that was really feared for this type of thing. People did not want to go head to head against Microsoft or anything. And Yahoo is kind of the prime example as a company that said, “No, we are not a technology company,” because being a technology company meant that they were going against Microsoft. They wanted to be known as a media company and that works great for a long time. It really kept them out of the sights of Microsoft. But there’s a lot of other companies that you have to be careful around when you’re making these types of decisions and Microsoft today is a lot more partner-focused than they were back in the 90’s.
[15:33] But today, I think in my opinion if you look at company like Apple, you have to be a little bit careful about them primarily because of the extreme secrecy around what Apple does and I think just recently even with iOS 6, the Apple came in and said “Well, Google has been providing the maps for us the longest time and we’re going to ax that. We’re going to create our own maps app.” You want to be careful about vendors who are going to come and swoop in and essentially try and replace you.
[15:58] Rob: Is this also like Twitter when they bought bunch of — couple Twitter clients and then they basically capping API usage so several of the other Twitter clients that are still out there can’t really grow that much?
[16:09] Mike: Yeah, that be — that be one of those in my mind. I mean because obviously they want to make money in some way shape or form off of this other — the Twitter client that they bought but in another way, they’re basically reducing the level of competition by limiting what those other Twitter clients can do on their platform.
[16:26] Rob: Right and it seems like in the 90’s, Microsoft was known as a predator and so, you’ve kind of — you threaded lightly and you expect that they might come after you if you entered the space that they would feasibly entered. With Twitter, it wasn’t really — I don’t think it was really telegraphed before maybe six or eight months ago that they were going to do the changes they recently made to their API’s. But I think until a company has a business model, until they have revenue, until you know how they’re going to make money, they could pivot at any time and basically, knock any of their partners out of the water and that’s essentially what’s happening with Twitter is now going after this advertising revenue model and they’re realizing that they want paid tweets and some other things where they need to control the client experience. So, that decision to go after that forced their hand and kind of made them pushed out their partners who were using the API.
[17:18] Mike: Right but there’s definitely ways to go about that without killing your existing partner. So, for example, they could have said, “Well, we’re not just going to accept any new partners. Nobody else can build on it.” If you are an existing partner you already have an API, you have an API key that you can reach in to our dataset, that’s fine. You could continue doing it.
[17:35] Rob: That’s basically what they’ve done.
[17:37] Mike: No, they haven’t. Actually, they put limits though on how many API calls those companies can do.
[17:44] Rob: Any they already had limits before. They’ve just changed the way they were calculated and then they said you can have no more than like what is it, a hundred thousand unique Twitter handles if you have like a client now or you could have twice as many as you have now. So, you’re right. There is a hard limit now and there wasn’t before.
[17:59] Mike: Right and that’s kind of what I’m getting at there as they basically taken a very adversarial approach to what previously with their partners and the people who helped them grow to the point that they are at now and now, those people are probably struggling at this point to just try and figure out, “Okay. Well, what can I do? How do I make money off of this that, you know, I’ve already invested whatever amounts of money and time in to this particular platform,” and the provider is kind of shocked, you know, maybe there’s not a whole lot that they can do about it.
[18:27] Rob: Probably, now that they’ve done it, people are really weary of Twitter and there are maybe like a — they are not as predatory as Microsoft was in the 90’s but I think they should be viewed with caution, right? A lot of people are now not building stuff on Twitter’s API because they know they can change it at anytime. But before they started making the changes, I don’t know if that they telegraph that much.
[18:45] Mike: So, I think you’re right. I mean that beforehand it would have been very difficult to make the call and say, “Oh well, Twitter would have, you know, is going to eventually screw you down the road.” I don’t think that that’s really a conclusion you could have justifiably come to. I think that by looking at the number of API changes that they made, you could say, “Well, they’re not necessarily — they don’t care as much about the partners that they have because they were breaking things quite a bit from what I understand but I could definitely see how somebody could look at that and say, you know, this isn’t really a good business proposition for us because they keep breaking things for us and they don’t necessarily care about that. And it’s not so much that they would have — you could look at said and well, Twitter is going to become predatory as just — they just weren’t playing well with others which is a little bit different and that’s kind of the real focus with this particular — the first one as they play well with others.
[19:37] Mike: The second guideline for choosing a platform provider is that you find a company that really stays true to their core focus. And some companies are chasing multiple revenue streams or you know, in Twitter’s case, they weren’t chasing any revenue stream, it wasn’t obvious but in the case of companies where they’re chasing multiple revenue streams and they’re really not committed to anyone of them, you have to be at least a little bit cautious. There’s nothing inherently wrong with chasing multiple revenue streams but as buyer or a prospective partner, you should definitely be aware that without some level of commitment from them, they’re going to be less likely to be bothered by issues that you could consider critical to your business. One way to help to filter out the types of companies that stay true to their core focus is that the companies that you’re working with, they don’t try to be everything to everyone and you know, some types of customers are just not going to be right for them and sometimes the partners are not going to be right for them. And if you ask them, they’re going to be honest about it and tell you that upfront.
[20:33] And instead of trying to adapt themselves to meet your needs and do absolutely everything that you need or that you are looking for, they’re going to be able to just be honest with you and say, “Look, that’s not something that we can do right now.” And they may couch it a little bit and say, “You know, we may look at that in the future,” but those are the types of answers that you’re going to get from most people who are going to be honest about it. And if somebody comes back and says, “Oh yeah, we have that slated for next quarter,” and then next quarter comes along and then it doesn’t come out and then it gets push a quarter and gets push another quarter. Those are the types of things that tend to bring up flags when you’re evaluating these thunders.
[21:08] Rob: So, the danger here is that if a company isn’t staying true to their core focus, that they could easily move in to your area. Is that the issue?
[21:18] Mike: Well, that’s — that’s part of it. The other risk I think is that they go in a completely different direction and they just stop supporting whatever it is that you were doing. So, as an example, you can take a look at Fog Creek where they started building CityDesk and you know, they were selling CityDesk back in 2000, 2001 timeframe and then they started selling FogBugz. And they came out with version 2.0 of CityDesk and then they essentially dropped it. They never did anything else with it ever again and if you go to their website or you search around for it a little bit, you can still find it today and it looks like they still have in oral form for it but that product hasn’t been updated in probably close to 10 years at this point.
[21:54] So, because Fog Creek is a company was going after a couple of different revenue streams and then one of them took off the risk that I was talking about was essentially they have two or three different products or a company has a couple of different services and one of them takes off, chances are they’re going to double down on that one and if it happens to be the one other than one you’ve chosen, then you’re essentially out of luck. There’s not much you can do about it because they’ve just abandoned the one that you were relying on and it won’t make anymore forward progress.
[22:23] Rob: And this is a similar danger to building something in — if you build something in Visual FoxPro years ago or VB6 and then Microsoft up in — updates it, you know, .NET and kind of leaves your old coding paradigm in the past and all your — your framework they don’t — they don’t really update the language anymore.
[22:41] Mike: I think Microsoft is notorious on this front just because they come up with new types of technologies and you know, especially when it comes to new ways to access data or new frameworks, it could be really challenging to try and pick the winner I’ll say because they may decide, “Oh well, we’ve got millions of users and you know, only 200,000 of them are using this so we’re going to drop that.”
[23:03] Rob: Yeah, I think there’s an advantage to adapting technologies. It’s funny it’s that balancing act. If you adapt them too early, then you have the potential of dropping on something that never takes off. But if you adapt them too late, then you have these technologies only have a certain lifetime, right? I mean if you look back to where — where web pages were original built dynamic web pages in late 90’s, it was C++, CGI Scripts. Then it was — there was Perl and there was this couple of years of — it was like ColdFusion, Classic ASP 1.0 and PHP came up around then and then really PHP is now on 5.0 which is totally different. If you still had old PHP 1.0, it probably wouldn’t even run anymore. So, you had — would have had to move that up. There were desktop apps in VB6. Those got cut off at the knees when .NET came out in 2002. And so if you’re too early in the curve, something you can honestly really pick one bad, right and then take a nosedive and you really get a lot of support for it. But if you wait too late, the thing could basically not be — be use by many people anymore.
[24:04] And it’s not bad of a technology, I mean here I own HitTail. It’s in Classic ASP which hasn’t been updated since, as far as I know, 2001 or 2002. So, it’s at 10 or 11-year old of web technology which is just a crazy statement to say. But it’s not the end of the world that we’re dealing with that. I mean everything still works. The app still works. It’s just that there’s no community around it and if we run in to a hard problem and the solution is not online, we’re really at the mercy of spending hours and hours troubleshooting it. As well as the fact that there’s no ego system there anymore to develop things as — things like OAuth or integrations with, you know, REST API’s weren’t around when Classis ASP was built. And so that’s a trail off you have is that an old app will still continue to work but when you want to update it, you want to do cool and new stuff with it, you probably will have to use a newer language to then tie back in to it.
[24:54] Mike: Well, the other interesting this is that because ASP is obviously on the down swing at this point is that looking forward, I mean how many more versions of — of Windows servers are still even going to support ASP.
[25:08] Rob: Yeah, and I think Windows 2008 server didn’t have it in by default.
[25:12] Mike: It’s not.
[25:13] Rob: Yeah, I think it was the first year where they — you actually had to go in and install it yourself.
[25:17] Mike: I’m going to look at Window server 2012 to see what’s in there but, you know, that’s something you may have to deal with at some point in the near future.
[25:25] Rob: Uh huh, true.
[25:29] Mike: The third thing to look at when you’re trying to choose a technology provider is that if it’s — especially if it’s a service provider that they take steps to be safe with and secure with your data. And this — as I said, it applies to a lot more to the platform service providers rather than to integration partners or to just technology providers. But you have to make sure that if, for example, there’s a data breach, they’re going to notify you and they’re going to let you know that there’s something wrong. And if they don’t notify you, then there’s something fundamentally wrong with that company and you really need to be careful about using them in the future. And I think that you can look kind of all over the internet for different companies who’ve ran in to these situations where they have a data breach and either it shows up on some web page somewhere and they just don’t tell anybody about it or they just kind of, you know, do that several weeks after the fact.
[26:20] And I think we ran in to that at one point with our mailing list provider. People started complaining that their e-mails were getting spammed and you know, come to find out it was — it took probably three or four weeks that we found out that our e-mail provider had a data breach and that was exactly what they did. They didn’t bother to tell anybody. They just put up a web page several weeks afterwards because people have been complaining so loudly and there was never an apology. There was never a notification of what was going on. It was just, “Oh, yeah, this happened,” and that was it. And I think you and I just kind of said, “No, that’s it. We’re done at this point.” And we moved everything off of them and then went over to MailChimp.
[26:57] Rob: Which was a painful transition that was AWeber which is surprisingly enough because AWeber has been around for a long time. I would expect that they would have behave better than that but it was — it was pretty shocking and that was, what, two or three years ago that happened. And it’s obviously, it’s painful to move your mailing list because you just, you know, you’re so in trench in to that API. You have the interface down. You have the form embedded. I mean there’s — it’s not a trivial move but that was enough for you and I to decide to — to move everything over to MailChimp.
[27:24] Mike: Right and that’s just a level of trust. I mean if you don’t — if you can’t trust them to do the right thing, then you definitely need to start looking elsewhere.
[27:32] Rob: Right and it’s not that they got breached, it’s just that they didn’t tell us they got breached and we had to wait for complaints to come in from our prospects and customers saying they were getting spammed essentially by, you know, using specific e-mails they had set up for our stuff and I’m so glad that was over.
[27:48] Mike: Also a part of being safe and secure with your data is that if they lose your data and by lose, I mean, you know, the data gets corrupted and they’re not willing to do whatever they can to try and help and they’re not staying in communication with you to let you know what’s going on, that’s a really bad sign. And again, this just goes back to the red flags and looking for things that — signs of things that could go wrong in the relationship down the road and some of these things obviously, you can’t know them in advance but you can search around and find history on companies that had been in business for a while and see what the — the reaction from their users has been over — over time.
[28:24] A lot of these companies have — there’s websites out there where you can go and find reviews and what other people’s experiences are with them. Don’t necessarily trust all the marketing stuff that’s on their website. Go out and find a legitimate third party reviews. Not to say that the reviews on their website aren’t accurate but they are obviously not going to publish things that cast them in any sort of a negative light as well. I mean you — that’s just not something you do on your own marketing material. But if there are user submitted areas, if they have forums, definitely look through those forums and see if you can find out how they would respond to those types of things.
[28:58] Rob: Twitter is probably not a good place to go to see who they have been responding to and look at those conversations.
[29:02] Mike: I think the only down side with Twitter is that you only get so much history there. I mean you’re only going to be able to look back so far. Really what this comes down to is just are these companies willing to own up through their mistakes and everyone makes mistakes and it’s not a big deal that people make mistakes. It’s really how they respond to those mistakes and you know, just keep in mind not everyone customer is a good fit for every single vendor.
[29:26] Mike: The fourth guideline we have is that they’re not stuck in the previous decade. Many people make judgments about a company base on their website and to some extent this is good because if you look at a website and it looks like it hasn’t been updated since the 90’s, chances are it probably hasn’t. And if the technology is visually stuck in the last decade, you have to wonder what’s going on under the hood and how long some of that code has been there. And not that code goes bad but problems change over time. And if the company has been changing everything under the covers overtime, then chances are that that front end UI should have as well. And if the front end UI isn’t changing, it may be an indication that things underneath the covers are not changing to meet the needs of new customers.
[30:06] Rob: Right and I think it depends on the business they’re in, right? If you’re looking at someone that’s providing you with, well I mean like an app like Twitter or like some cutting edge social type of thing, you expect to have a fairly modern UI and you expect to have modern REST API’s, not things that are, whatever like web services from 2001. Whereas if you’re dealing with someone or maybe you’re getting government data for something for housing prices or for some old metric that, you know, some — maybe the company is been up for 20 years, you’re going to give them leniency and they — they can have a website that looks older, an API that maybe was built in the late 90’s and you’re going to give them a little more leeway because, hey, they haven’t updated it and they may not have had a reason to do so.
[30:46] So, I mean I think an interesting look is if you look at MailChimp versus AWeber who we’re just talking about, AWeber API is old. They haven’t really updated their UI in years and I think they retain a lot of the customers that they’ve always had but I think if someone comes at the MailChimp website and looks around, they — there’s a very different feeling. There’s a lot more of a hi-tech startup like these guys are constantly updating their app versus AWeber which is more like I’d say very consistent. It’s a more classic aged app. I mean that’s only a bad thing if — if you want new features to be rolled out constantly. I think there’s these pluses and minuses on both sides. But I have heard complaints from people who are still using AWeber that they wish there — there were some new like split testing and you know, features that MailChimp has rolled out that they wish AWeber would get on as well.
[31:34] Mike: And the fifth guideline for choosing a platform provider is that they are able and willing to help you. If they’re honest and willing to tell you when they’re not going to be a good fit for you or if they have documentation and resources that are available that they can point you to and they will help you in the right direction, then they’re probably going to be of good fit for you. But if they are willing to yes you to death and do anything it takes to land you as a customer and then you find out after the fact that they just really weren’t a good fit or that you weren’t a good fit for their services, that’s obviously a bad sign. And you’re going to have to dig a little bit. Chances are good you’re going to have to get on their support.
[32:11] You’re going to have to ask them some questions. Ask them straight forward and say, “You know, will this work in your environment and if so, how is it intended to work?” If you have any questions about how it’s suppose to work or how your product is going to integrate in to their platform and they’re not able to give you satisfactory answers, I mean they don’t necessarily seem knowledgeable about it, either ask for somebody who’s a little bit higher up or you know, take what they’re saying with a grain of salt. Do some additional testing and this might even be a good opportunity to outsource some of that work to oDesk and see if somebody can build a very, very quick prototype using the technology and the ways that they’ve outlined to see if it actually works or not.
[32:47] Rob: In terms of them being able and willing to help you, how does that play in to something like Open Source Software in to like the Google app engine where there isn’t really support?
[32:58] Mike: Well, I think that those types of things when you’re looking at Open Source Software or anything, I mean is there a community behind it because if that community is there, then chances are good that they’re willing to help you but there are — and I can’t think of one off the top of my head but I can imagine that there is probably an open source community out there where there are very close and very not helpful [Laughter] I’ll say and you try building something would whatever the software is and they’re just like, “Oh, you’re doing it wrong. You have no idea what you’re doing just go — so go away.” I can’t imagine that there is very many of them because I wouldn’t — that they would last very long or get very big but I can imagine that there are might be a couple out there that are kind of on a bleeding edge and there’s just like we don’t have time for you, just leave us along figure it out yourself.
[33:42] Rob: Or if it’s a community that’s really small or virtually non-existent I could see that’s like kind of like not having support available.
[33:42] Mike: Yeah, there’s a difference between having dead air and somebody just being not helpful. I could see dead air being much more prevalent than something like, you know, just people just saying, “No, go away.” Really what you’re looking for is are they willing to try and make whatever it is that you’re trying to do work, you know, are they offering solutions or are they offering places you can go for a help. And not to say that they’ll do it for you but they’re trying to make your life easier as oppose to making you jump through hoops.
[34:15] Rob: Is there any way to tell before you integrate with them whether they’re going to be able and willing to help you because like you said they might yes you to death before the sale and then once you get in to it, you know, you build the thing and then they’re not very helpful. How do — how do you avoid that?
[34:28] Mike: Well, I think they’re building prototype is a good way to do it and for prototype you don’t necessarily have to build everything that you’re looking to do. Just try building one piece of it and if it’s something like doing and a lot integration and that’s just one piece of the entire thing and you think that that’s going to be a problem area, work on that one piece or go to oDesk and outsource it to somebody and say, “Hey, I need you to make this work,” and take a look at the output and see if, you know, is it remotely readable? If the person had to jump through hoops in order to get it to work and you know, if you put them in touch with the vendor and they’re not able to help or unwilling to help, then, you know, that says something about what level of support you can expect in the future.
[35:08] I think the big key is making sure that you don’t spend a lot of money before you kind of get in to it and I’ve heard horror stories from people about spending 15, 20, 30, $50,000 before — before they even get something installed and then having to do all these customizations and then coming to find out, “Oh, by the way, this isn’t going to work because of such and such bug that’s unknown issue.” So, I think that wraps up how to pick a platform partner and as I said before the things to keep in mind are when you’re evaluating the vendor, make sure that they play well with others, make sure that the company is staying true to their core focus, make sure that they are taking steps to be safe and secure with the data that you’re putting in to them or onto their services and make sure that they’re not stuck in the last decade and the fifth one is to make sure that they’re able and willing to help you.
[35:59] Mike: If you have a question or comment, you can call it into our voicemail number at 1-888-801-9690 or you can e-mail it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our theme music is an excerpt from ‘“We’re Outta Control” by MoOt, used under Creative Commons. You can subscribe to this podcast in iTunes by searching for startups or via RSS at startupsfortherestofus.com where you’ll also find a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.