Episode 165 | Our 5 Biggest Mistakes From the Past Year
[00:00] Mike: This is Startups for the Rest of Us: Episode 165.
[00:16] 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 Mike.
[00:20] Rob: And I’m Rob.
[00:23] Mike: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s the word this week Rob?
[00:22] Rob: I’m pleased to announce that Drip is now out ranking motelyfool.com for the term Drip and I didn’t think I was ever gonna get above that. Drip was on the second page for that phrase for a while and then it climbed up to number 10 and now it looks like as of today in an incognito browser from my current location, ranking for Drip isn’t gonna get me a lot of customers. It’s just gonna make it so that when people hear the product name on the podcast and don’t hear that the domain name is different because it’s getdrip.com, it will help them find it. It would be great to rank number one for that, not for the true organic traffic that it will get but just for the ease of finding me in Google.
[01:04] Mike: I’m looking at it now and you’re actually listed number 6 right below them. Ilovedrip.com is the first one.
[01:11] Rob: I know. I need to look at that site and figure out what they’re talking about.
[01:14] Mike: I think its things to do in Orlando. It says Drip is Orlando’s best kept secret. You now the Blue Man Group? I think it’s something kind of similar to that.
[01:22] Rob: Yeah. So that will be a tough one to outrank. They have quite a bit of authority and history in Google at this point.
[01:28] Mike: Yeah, most likely.
[01:30] Rob: How about you? What you been up to?
[01:31] Mike: Well I started working on some of the MicroConf sponsorships so I’m still trying to get the rate card all straightened out but that’s coming along pretty well and once that’s all done, then I just go out and start contacting the sponsors from last year and see if I can drum up any new sponsors for the conference.
[01:46] Rob: Yeah and that’s microconf.com if you are interested in coming, it’s the conference for self funded startup founders and it is gonna be probably in mid April is what we’re looking at the Tropicana. Our email list is about twice what it was last year so it’s probably gonna sell out fairly quickly again and we should be selling tickets in I’d say by mid January at the latest. Other news for me, I started paid acquisition last week which is a dubious proposition. I was doing it more to test out analytics and to kind of test some landing pages rather than actually get trials. The reason I couch it like that is last week was the week before Christmas and so I knew that getting people to click through and sign up for a 21 day trial when they’re about to probably go on vacation is not likely to happen.
[02:34] As such, as I started running the ads right away, I noticed that my Google goals were not firing when people converted to trial so that is a non starter when you’re running paid accusation so we had to troubleshoot that and figure out how to goals the to fire. It isn’t as simple as it used to be with Google. They made Google analytics so unbelievably complicated compared to what it was even 12 or 18 months ago that getting goals to work is by far more complicated than it was a while ago. So we do have it working as of today.
[03:04] Mike: That’s interesting. I kind of put all of my – not all but quite a few of my Audit Shark marketing activities, kind of on hold for the time being just because its Christmas and I really don’t expect a lot of people to come in and be using it or to sign up for a new trial or anything like that.
[03:18] Rob: That’s why SaaS is so nice right? Because people are still paying a subscription fee for December even though they’re not really gonna but anything new whereas when you have a onetime sale app like I have DotNetInvoice I mean the sales typically just plummet unless we do like a black Friday special or some type of Christmas special. DotNetInvoice takes a big hit in December because nobody really wants to buy go spend a bunch of money in the last two weeks of the year. They’re just thinking about other things.
[03:45] Mike: The counter point to that is the companies that have a giant budget that they lose at the end of the year if they don’t use it so there are some people who will spend the money but…
[03:53] Rob: That’s true. And there are certain pieces of software where it makes sense to start them on the first of the year like a tax software, an accounting software to make a clean break between one year and the next. I imagine that those sales could go up and if you had an app like that, it would make sense to do a special on December kind of saying hey, get setup by January 1, get your books in order, that type of thing.
[04:13] Mike: I’m working out some of the reporting bugs in Audit Shark and on another completely boring note, I’ve been analyzing my Audit Shark marketing efforts to figure out what I should be doing as soon as January starts rolling around and kind of what my priorities are gonna be.
[04:25] Rob: You’re analyzing existing efforts that you’ve made or you’re compiling a list of approaches and tactics that you’re gonna use in January?
[04:33] Mike: Yeah, that’s basically kind of figuring out what it is that I want to do and what I’m gonna do first. That’s more it than anything else. I have a drive to traffic but then I also have to make sure that’s converting and right now, just up until lately I haven’t had the page open for people to come in and sign up so that has been – I couldn’t even measure it before and now I can start to measure it but I still need to get people to decide and because its December, they’re just not gonna sign up or at least I don’t expect anybody to.
[05:02] Today we’re gonna recap our five biggest mistakes from this past year. You can look at some of these things and you can say that oh well, if you did something, so correct a mistake, then couldn’t you also see that is your biggest win? And I think there’s certainly cases where that’s true but there’s other cases where you may have strategically chosen to do something in a certain way knowing that it was a mistake but not necessarily realizing how big of a mistake it was.
[05:26] Rob: And you say that because you noticed that several or both of our mistakes are – start with the word not. In other words, it was not doing something or not doing it soon enough is the mistake we’re mentioning. There was a behavior that we realized that has been successful for us but the regret or the mistake is that we didn’t do it sooner in the year. And I think that the point of this episode is not for you and I to sit here and talk through our mistakes but the idea is to get you, the listener, to reflect on what perhaps are your five biggest mistakes from the past year and even looking out perhaps what are your five biggest wins from the past year?
[06:01] And then take the time to maybe analyze why they happen, to analyze how you can avoid making similar mistakes or the same mistake in the coming year and I think another piece to this is kind of asking yourself what gave me to life this year and what sucked a lot of life out of me. Both looking at this as a way to grow your business, as a way to not make the same mistakes because that keeps you going in circles, also as a way to structure your work and personal life so that they are sustainable that they give you life over the course of the next year.
[06:29] Mike: So to kick things off, one of my biggest mistakes was not paying enough attention to my health. Back in August I discovered this health issue that was impacting a lot of the things that I was doing and just my ability to get different things done. Discovering that and dealing with the situation has made all the difference in the world. I was actually able to get to the point where Audit Shark has been launched. There’s still a lot to do of course but I feel like I’m actually making progress at this point as opposed to before where I felt like I was doing a lot but I was spinning my wheels more often than not and not making forward progress. It’s hard sometimes to know the difference between when you’re doing stuff that is moving you forward versus when you’re doing stuff just to kind of maintain your current position that doesn’t actually get you moving forward.
[07:11] Rob: yeah. I’m guilty of this as well. It’s easy to do and it’s easy to just keep going on in auto pilot and ignoring things like really sore shoulders or the inability, people got carpal tunnel, you just charge through and you start taking Advil and you don’t address the real issue and get the fix done, and the longer you get it go on, not only does it get worse but you don’t even realize how much it’s actually impacting your productivity because you forget what it’s like to feel at 100%. Obviously really glad that you caught yours and something that I’m looking to not do in the coming year.
[07:46] Mike: Some of the different actions and I’ve taken since then and it’s just once you have taken those, you look up and it’s just wow, that made such a huge difference. Why didn’t I do this sooner which goes back to what you said? There’s lots of these things you discover them and you just think to yourself why didn’t I do this sooner and the fact is you just didn’t know.
[08:03] Rob: So my first mistake is letting email negatively impact my productivity. Now I have been able to maintain inbox zero now for several months and that has been helpful but it still has not freed me up in the way that I envisioned in my mind that I can someday be freed up from email. I get an enormous volume of email every month and anytime I take time off, I come back and basically lose a solid eight hour day of just going through email.
[08:33] I’ve tried a bunch of different approaches. I don’t think there’s anything feasible. There’s no solution. There’s no answer I have seen to date. A lot of these are coming from my apps and so my VA is already going through support issues and then they wind up in my email to show me that a support issue has been assigned to me so it’s not as if putting a VA looking at my email can handle that because there’s are things I have to do. It’s a mistake I don’t have an answer on how to fix it yet but my hope is that in 2014 this is something that I do figure out a way to reduce the amount of time that I’m sitting there, working with email.
[09:05] Mike: I do have a couple of anecdotal things. One is you could create an internal email address like email@example.com and those are things where the specific internal stuff needs to go to you and then you have somebody look through your regular email. And the other one Ramit Sethi was telling me at behavior con that he can usually tell at this point because he’s gotten so many emails that he can tell within the first couple of sentences whether or not something’s gonna be even worth reading.
[09:31] Rob: I like the secret Rob idea. I would agree with Ramit and I think I now have that ability because I’ve read so many emails. So it’s not the reading that takes the time. Its once I get into it, it’s the decision of do I act on this or not and then if I do act on it, then the real time starts. A lot of it is maybe an academy member, MicroConf attendee, a listener asking for opinion and feedback about their idea, asking about any number of things and since I like helping people and I’ve always felt like it’s a responsibility and something that I want to do to give back to the community, that stuff is quite time consuming. I record screen cast for people. I do all kinds of stuff. I don’t want to leave that behind but I’ve already reduced kind of the number and the time I spent on those responses, I don’t know how far I want to peel that back.
[10:18] Mike: Heard another strategy for allocating specific time blocks. So like an hour or two hours a week or something like that and then once you hit that time, it’s like okay, that’s it. I can’t spend any more time on that stuff. But inevitably, that kind of leads to what you said is letting things just kind of drop on the floor and there’s only so much you can do.
[10:34] My second biggest mistake was not starting a mailing list for my blog sooner. This partially is a result of not really paying attention to feed burner but where I just wasn’t writing for my blog anymore. I’ve talked to enough people where they said hey I really would appreciate it if you start writing a little bit more. Give me feedback on this and a lot of things that I see are just things that would make great blog posts. I haven’t been turning them into blog posts. So I started getting back into that but I started a mailing list several weeks ago and I’ve already got a ton of people who are on my RSS feed kind of converted over onto that. So that seems to be going pretty well.
[11:11] But it just seems like that’s something that I know on the back of my mind I should’ve started that much, much sooner and I just never did. I mean I never really made it a priority. So like as you said you like writing back people and giving them your feedback and thoughts on opinions on things that they’re working on in order to help them. And I kind of feel like this is exactly the same way is helping other people and just kind of giving back.
[11:34] Rob: My second mistake is related to yours. It’s not carving out more time for my Software by Rob email newsletter, the one that I already have. I started a couple of years ago. I’ve been building lists. I have probably 7,000 people, on it and I have emails that go out but not as many as I would like just purely out of the lack of time and of too many things going on in terms of conferences and apps and the podcast and all that stuff. But I’m hoping and I’m planning to give more time to this in the coming year because it’s something that I enjoy.
[12:08] Like you, you and I first met when we were bloggers and we met because we both liked to write and we enjoyed that. We enjoyed convening your thoughts through that medium and I have not written nearly as much in the past year to two years than I did over the previous 5-7. So its something that I’ve let go because it’s so damn time consuming, just sit there and crank out a really good piece of content but I did find that when I’m not blogging and when I’m just sending emails to my list, there are some time saving ways that you can do it in terms of doing a screen cast or just having shorter articles that I never felt comfortable doing with my blog.
[12:45] I think that with not a huge time investment that I could really continue investing in this list and getting solid info out to them. So if you are interested in that and you’re not signed up, it’s called Start Small, Get Big and that’s my email newsletter. It’s at softwarebyrob.com and it’s in the right hand side column. And yours is at singlefounder.com in case you haven’t signed up for Mike’s email newsletter.
[13:07] Mike: My third biggest mistake was not extracting myself from project implementation sooner than I did. And I’ve spent a good deal of time making sure that the people who are working for me on a part time basis have the things that they need to move things forward but I feel like I have spent a lot of time over the past couple of years doing probably way too many things myself. One of the things that I’ve done recently which has really helped out a lot is hired a bookkeeper and her and I sat down for about three hours yesterday basically going over all my business finances and trying to convert everything all over on to one accounting platform so that she only has one spot to go for everything.
[13:47] And then just putting the processes and procedures in place for how to deal with different situations and invoices and receipts. But one of the other things I’m doing is I’m handing her all of my personal stuff as well. So I’m giving her access to my personal bank accounts and whenever I get things in the mail, I’m gonna put them in a box and she’s gonna get them once or twice a week and she’s gonna handle all that stuff. I basically do not want to touch any of that stuff. So there’s all this day to day stuff that I just shouldn’t be handling.
[14:15] That’s something that I’ve been very glad that I’ve dealt with but it’s something probably was a long time and coming just because I didn’t feel comfortable just taking that stuff and handing that off to somebody else. And as I said, there’s a lot of stuff with Audit Shark as well where I worked on so much of it that I’m like oh, this is just this giant unwieldy thing at this point. I don’t know if somebody else can jump in and work with it and that’s definitely not the case other people can make progress on. It’s just a matter of me becoming comfortable with allowing other people to go and do that stuff.
[14:44] Rob: Yeah. So one of your biggest mistakes for the last year turns into basically outsourcing success stories. It’s several places where you are able to extract yourself from the details. And I feel like you started making a lot of progress with Audit Shark once you got other developers involved.
[15:00] Mike: And I think part of that is just the comfortably factor I mean because it’s not like I put somebody in there and said oh I need you to build this giant complicated thing. It was these little things here and there and then as they get more comfortable with the code base, I get more comfortable handing them stuff that’s more and more complicated. So there’s a give and take there. It is a progression. I think it would be difficult for somebody to just jump in right now and just hand them a complicated function. But it’s the on boarding process for getting a new developer up and running with any new code base. I mean the code base is sufficiently large, its gonna be a little bit complicated. You need to have some sort of ramping up period and need to be able to expect that.
[15:39] Rob: My third mistake for the past year was not focusing sooner on figuring out how to fix HitTail after Google’s not provided debacle where they said that they’re not gonna give us the search terms people use to find our website anymore. And this one, it’s a mistake or regret because HitTail is one of my big apps and its definitely lost a good chunk of revenue over the past 3 or 4 months since Google announced the not provided stuff.
[16:07] Kind of the counter point to it is I was looking before Google announced this, how to get keywords out of stuff and Google wasn’t giving this data anywhere else. And just within the past maybe 30 days or so, I’ve noticed that they are giving enough information through the web master tools and I now have an alpha version that I’ve coded up that basically will work around the not provided stuff at least as best as anyone can.
[16:32] And I’m gonna be working with an alpha and beta testers here in January. And I think that I should actually be able to basically get the value back or most of the value back that was lost during this whole thing. I wasn’t able to make this happen sooner before the revenue started to slide on it. I’m pretty confident I’ll be able to build it back up but every time you lose those customers, it’s just so hard to get them back. It’s so much work to replace them.
[16:58] Mike: My fourth biggest mistake was not starting a mastermind group sooner. And this is something that you talked about in the past, having a mastermind group can really be helpful in moving you forward and it wasn’t until I got into it and started having mastermind group meetings that I realized how incredibly helpful it would be. I think that one of the comments that you’ve made in the past is that having people who have kind of heard the story and have heard some of the guts of it from way back when, that helps give them a little bit more context as today’s and somebody that you just met, you kind of give them the story and run down what it is that you’re working on and problems that you’re having whereas if they don’t have that 6 or 12 months worth of history, there may be insights that they’re just not gonna have because they don’t have that history.
[17:43] Rob: So my fourth mistake is kind of funny. It’s almost trivial compared to these other ones we’re naming but basically within the past month I made a $1700 error with Amazon EC2 instances and I went to purchase some of their reserved instances, you can get them a lot cheaper than if you’re just paying hourly and I bought one that was five instances for a month instead of one instance for five months and it just sufficed to say over the course of the next 30 to 45 days it cost me $1700.
[18:17] And what’s interesting about this is the reason that I made the mistake is because we’re just moving so fast. I couldn’t spend the time or I tried to spend the time to research it, the documentation sucks. I emailed support, they were no help. The forums don’t tell you anything so at a certain point I had to make the call am I gonna do this or am I not and it’s on my task list and I need just hide this thing and I need to pay Amazon a higher price or I need to pull the trigger and buy this reserve instance what could possibly go wrong? It’s a result of quick decision making.
[18:47] Now kind of the defense in my mind of it as it happened, I mean when I saw it happened I was like that really sucks that I’m gonna lose this money but if this the worst thing that happens to me this year, if it’s the worst mistake I make this year, I will consider myself very, very lucky. It made me realize just how much I value time more than money. This $1700 error compared to all the decisions that I’ve made quickly or the amount of money that my apps will make me in a certain amount of time, it doesn’t compare.
[19:18] So I think there’s a balance here of like not making stupid or rash decisions but also realizing that if you make 100 or 200 decisions in any given month that being able to make them quick and then live with the consequence may very well be more valuable than sitting there and doing in depth research and never making a mistake but getting 1/10th of number of things done.
[19:38] Mike: I’ve looked at stuff like that that I’ve done before and I used to do this when I was looking at hard drives and computer equipment to buy and one of the things that I came to the conclusion was at one point I was spending so much time kind of agonizing over the decision between two different hard drives one of which was I don’t know, let’s say as $160 and the other one was $240 or something like that. Which isn’t a huge amount of money but if you spend more than hour making that decision then you’re essentially just wasting money and you extrapolate that over stuff where you’re making decisions over the course of 10 or 15 hours and you’re agonizing over all that time. And at some point, if you would just pull the trigger and chosen the more expensive one, it wouldn’t matter at the end of the day because you just wasted all that time where you’re paying yourself for that time. It would’ve covered the cost.
[0:20:27] And the fifth biggest mistake I would say that I’ve made is depending on Google too much for some of my data and services. And I think this goes back to what I’m referring to as the feed burner debacle right now where feed burner just seems like it is not working on my site. I’m looking at probably switching to feed blitz some time I the near future for RSS from my blog. But it feels like I’m relying so much on Google’s data feeds and services at this point that if something goes wrong and Google decides to change their mind about different things, I may not necessarily have ways of extracting myself and this isn’t just limited to like the Google glass that I got or my Gmail account. I mean there’s a lot of Google services that we use kind of everyday and it makes me worried to be perfectly honest.
[21:13] And I feel like it’s a mistake and I guess at the end of the day I feel like I have so many eggs in Google’s basket that if they decide they want to do something, it kind of goes against my goals then there’s just nothing I can do about it. And I’m certainly not alone in that I don’t think. I don’t know what other options have in some cases. I mean Google web master tools are what they are and they’re great for doing research and they’re great for all this different analysis but there are paid options out there for different things but they only take data so far.
[21:43] Rob: Yeah and anyone who built a rank tracker and has had that API shut down and then the scraping blocked or anyone who relies on Google keyword data for any reasons meaning pretty much every web master in the country and anyone who does email marketing and realize on the image tracking that Google’s now cashing and they didn’t totally break that but they certainly have an impact on it. All of us realized that the impact and the amount of control that Google actually has over a lot of things now.
[22:09] And I can imagine that these changes Google’s making about – I mean they’re kind of putting a quash on SEO and a lot of SEO’s are moving into content marketing. And Google’s starting – it seems with this image move maybe clamped down on email marketing as well but it seems that each of these probably drives incremental revenue for them because you can imagine that people will go out and buy more ads in order to make up for the loss of the traffic and the conversions and such. So it is a scary proposition as you’ve said.
[22:45] And my fifth and final biggest mistake from last year was underestimating the amount of work it takes to launch a new Saas app. I think lesson launching late, I think the bigger thing was how many other projects that launching Drip caused me to push off, just the sheer volume of attention and effort that I needed to spend a long with Derek my developer who was first working half time and then went full time and then I went full time on it, I mean that, I just didn’t anticipate that early on in the year and I always forget how much time it takes to get these things off the ground and get them built up.
[23:19] What’s interesting is that a mistake is different than a regret. I don’t regret doing this. I don’t know that I can put my finger on exactly the repercussions that it had aside from me pushing off a few projects but just remembering that Saas apps take hundreds and hundreds of hours especially if they’re in a competitive market like this where people are already ahead of you in features and you don’t necessarily want to do a feature battle anyways you kind of need to know going into it because I can imagine if I hadn’t started with momentum and someone coding on a full time, this would be a project that someone would think they can get done in a few months and would basically take them to the point where they would probably quit.
[23:57] If we didn’t already have momentum on it and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel within a few months I think it’d be a tough project to launch kind of a major Saas app in a competitive area. If you’re trying to do it on nights and weekends, these markets are definitely getting more crowded as times goes on.
[24:13] Mike: You mean Audit Shark wasn’t an early warning for you?
[24:15] Rob: Indeed. I’ve had a few conversations in the past couple months of folks who are launching Saas and they’re like oh man, I hadn’t realized there’s these many competitors or all the work it takes to actually get this done and launched and all the marketing and all that stuff. And then I think the last kind of honorable mention is kind of maybe a shared mistake you and I made is not starting a podcast mailing list in 2013 because it’s kind of a no brainer. We’re coming on here every week to talk about stuff. We should have a minimum an email signup form and figure out what to send to the audience at that point.
[24:50] Whether it’s probably not an update when every episode goes live because people are already subscribed to them but maybe a call out to some specific comments or some specific news items related to the podcast or just figuring out what it is that we’re able to keep people on the loop on because I know you and I don’t have the time to create a bunch of original content and to start another blog or another full email newsletter. But I still think that there are a lot of listeners out there who would love to keep in touch with what’s going on and having them on a mailing list would probably be beneficial for everybody.
[25:26] So give it some thought for yourself. Think about your biggest mistakes potentially how you can stop doing them in the New Year. If you have question for us, you can call it into our voice mail number at 1-888-801-9690 or email 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 us 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 and we’ll see you next time.