Episode 23 | Listener Questions

Show Notes


[00:00] Rob: This is Startups for the Rest of Us:  Episode 23.

[00:03] [music]

[00:13] Rob: Welcome to Startups for the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers be awesome at launching software products, whether you’ve built your first product or are just thinking about it.  I’m Rob.

[00:21] Mike: And I’m Mike.

[00:23] Rob: And we’re here to  share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made.

[00:27] So, for listeners out there, we’re like 35 minutes late getting this recording started.  Mike was stuck in traffic.  So you see the labors, the labors of love!  The things we go through to get this put together for you.  It’s Friday afternoon.  It’s almost four o’clock my time, and it’s almost seven o’clock your time, I guess.  We’re going to hammer it out!

[00:43] So now that Labor Day is over, what’s new with you?

[00:47] Mike: Well, thankfully Labor Day is over.  I kind of feel like the summer is over now, and I’m just starting to get back into the swing of things, getting back into some development.  I think on our last episode of the podcast we talked about the difference between the Apple iBooks and the Kindle a little bit?

[01:05] Rob: Yeah.

[01:05] Mike: And I decided to break down.  I went in and decided to make a choice between the two of them.

[01:10] Rob: And?

[01:11] Mike: And I found that the books that I wanted…
[01:12] Rob: And?  Wait!  Baited breathe!  Don’t stop talking!  I just want to know!  I can’t stand it!  I’m just kidding.

[01:17] [laughter]

[01:18] Mike: The books I actually was going to buy, it wasn’t even in iTunes or the iBook store.

[01:23] Rob: Wow.  And it was on Kindle.

[01:25] Mike: Yep.

[01:25] Rob: Yeah, that kind of makes it an easy decision.  Did you ever look up like how many hundreds of thousands are on either system or anything like that?  Or did you just say, “Litmus test!  I am going to pick one book.”?

[01:34] Mike: Well, I was looking for a book specifically on the Entity Framework, because that’s part of my getting back to actually working at this point.  [laughs]  I was looking for some books on the Entity Framework, because I mean .NET 4 came out earlier this year and I haven’t really gotten too much into the Entity Framework just because I’ve been working with some of the older data access methods for so long, and I figured, “Well, it’s kind of time to upgrade my skills a little bit because I’ve got some new products coming out where I really want to use some things that are a little bit better than the older way of doing things.”

[02:02] And now that I actually have the opportunity because it’s a new product, I was just looking for some resources.  I’ve got some upcoming travel and I wanted to be able to read some stuff on the plane.  So I was looking around, and the only place I could find Entity Framework books was in the Kindle.

[02:17] It seems like I remember seeing some marketing collateral from iTunes and from Amazon saying how many books they had.  I think it was like 600,000 for iBooks and probably close a million or something like that for the Kindle, but I could be wrong.

[02:33] But you would think with that many that they would have one in the Apple bookstore.  I couldn’t find one.

[02:38] Rob: Yeah.  I bet they haven’t signed up with technical publishers yet.  You know, they are probably focusing on the consumer stuff.  I mean I think the fiction and the…I don’t know.  I mean with 600,000 books you would think they’d have something.

[02:49] But, you know, you know who I feel sorry for?  I went to Border’s the other day.  There is a Border’s and Barnes & Noble here in Fresno across the street from each other.  My youngest son fell asleep, so I was pushing him around.

[02:58] I went to Border’s, and I feel terrible for those guys.  Like, how are they going to possibly stay in business?  Barnes & Noble at least has the Nook, which you don’t hear much about.  But they have well over a million books, because they read EPUB, and a lot of their stuff is available in EPUB.

[03:12] That, at least, stands a chance, maybe.  Like, it could be the number three.  But Border’s has just completely dropped the ball.  I think they use the Sony Reader.  It’s like they have the pocket edition; they have cheap versions and stuff, but it’s just…they are just going to get hammered.

[03:27] I could totally see Border’s going the way of tower records and really dropping out.  I feel like Barnes & Noble could stick around for a few years, even still as a brick-and-mortar.  And I hope they do, because I love the feeling of going to bookstores, even if I don’t buy that many physical books anymore.

[03:40] I shouldn’t say I feel bad, but I…well, I do kind of.  [laughs]  They were once my favorite bookstore, and I don’t see that they have a prayer in sticking around.

[03:49] Mike: What about Barnes & Noble?  Yeah, they’ve got their own e-reader, but…

[03:52] Rob: Uh-huh, the Nook.  Yeah.  Well, I think that Barnes & Noble…I think people in general…Like, I like their stores anyways.  Like, they’ve always had nicer stores.  They do have the Nook, which I think stands a chance.  Like I said, I think it could be the number three.  Whereas Border’s just doesn’t have a prayer.

[04:08] So I think Barnes & Noble will stick around.  I mean I can’t imagine that all big-box book retailers are going to go out of business.  That would be kind of a bummer.  Although I guess that’s what’s happening with record stores, huh?  Are there any…because The Warehouse is gone, Tower Records is gone.  These are like the big chains in the states.  I don’t know that there are any big-box record stores anymore.

[04:28] I guess like Best Buy carries rec….I say records.  I mean, you know, CDs and such.

[04:32] Mike: [laughs]  I was going to point out that I haven’t bought a record in…You know what?  I don’t think I’ve ever bought a record, to be perfectly honest.

[04:39] Rob: I bought one in eighth grade, but yeah, that was the last one I bought.

[04:42] Mike: [laughs]

[04:43] Rob: Well anyways, yeah, that’s cool.  I actually just got into…I bought about five Kindle books for my iPad this past week.  I went up to Reading, which is where my wife’s parents are from.  I kind of wasn’t thinking in an electronic mindset—the e-book mindset.  So I grabbed a couple books off the shelf and I stuffed them in my  laptop bag.

[05:03] And, you know, I was also bringing my iPad, and I was like, “Wait, I have these two books.  I am going to jump on Amazon…”, because they are both hardbacks.  You know, they are heavy.  So I went on Amazon and, you know, I could sell them used on Amazon for like $13 and $12 a piece.

[05:16] And I looked at the Kindle versions of both of them and they were both $9.99.  And I’m thinking to myself, “You know, I’m not doing it to make the money, but it’s like I am going to list these right now.  They will probably sell next week because they are fairly new techie books.  And I’m going to buy them on Kindle right now and then just only bring my iPad.”

[05:33] And I did, and it was really cool.  I think my mind has shifted now, and I think I am actually going to…I don’t know that I’ll buy another print book from here on out, unless it’s only available in print.

[05:43] Mike: That right there is something I wish I could do with my entire library of books.  But I know that a lot of them are just really not worth the money, so I know that I couldn’t get them.

[05:52] One other thing I didn’t notice, though, when I was looking at the Kindle app is that it doesn’t appear to me like there is a way to search your library of books for something specific.  So, like, as a technical user, if I’m buying a lot of technical books and I know that there was something in all the books that I bought about a particular topic, it’s impossible, unless you drill down to a specific book and say, “I’m going to search this book for that particular thing,” it’s going to be very hard for you to find that.

[06:18] I mean if you just don’t remember what you saw it in…Like, for example, if you are searching through marketing books for a particular marketing term or something like that, or a concept, it’s going to be a lot harder, because you are going to have to go to each and every single one of those books and then search it to find if it says what you were thinking in there.  You know, stuff that you remember.

[06:34] Rob: Yeah, that’s disappointing.  I hadn’t even thought about that.  If any listener knows how to do that, to search all the books from a top level, obviously we would love to hear it.  But yeah, that’s an interesting drawback.

[06:45] So hey, this week I started working on my Business to Software talk.  You know, Listener’s Business to Software, most of you have probably heard of it, but it’s a big conference.  This year it’s in Boston.  It’s October 4th-6th, and Mike and I will both be there.

[06:59] And I wanted to toss out our Twitter username so that we can connect.  If you are going to be there, obviously it would be great to connect with some folks.  I am sure we will plan a meal or something where we can all get together.  I mean there is a lot of networking stuff where you are kind of just hanging out at the hotel bar.  So we’d love to connect with you.

[07:15] Mike’s Twitter handle is @singlefounder.  And then I’m @robwalling.

[07:24] So the other thing I did this week is I actually spoke at an event here in Fresno called Entrepreneur Unplugged.  It’s put on by the Central Valley Business Incubator.  It’s an interesting event.  It’s once a month, and basically they get local entrepreneurs to come and talk about their experience.

[07:39] It’s a pretty cool group.  Like 20, 25 people attend each month, a different mix of folks.  And what was neat is that it’s not all techies.  Like, there are a lot of entrepreneurs that come that have started construction firms, successful home installation, like home stereo and home speaker installation firms.  So it’s not just web startups and stuff.

[07:58] So as a result, the audience is like really varied.  And so I got some unique questions that I haven’t heard before, which was kind of cool.

[08:04] The hardest part of the thing was I have never done like an interview or a talk like this where it wasn’t about what I know.  It wasn’t about my knowledge of marketing or knowledge of apps.  It was about me.  And that felt really awkward.  I think most people feel that way, but I definitely do.
[08:20] Like, talking about myself, I just kind of feel weird about it.  It came off fine and I really enjoyed the event and the questions and everything.  That was a challenge.  I don’t know the next time I’ll have the opportunity to do that.  But I basically just sat there and told my story for like 20 minutes, and told how I got to where I was.  And then it was about 30 minutes of Q&A, which that was the really cool part.

[08:40] I am making a habit now that at least 20%, and sometimes 30% of my presentations are Q&A, because I find there is just so much more value provided when you can let people ask questions.

[08:52] The one thing that came out of that, someone made a comment to me afterwards that they were surprised at all the things I track in my businesses.  And one thing I thought I’d mention here is that they were actually surprised that I tracked not only my profit and loss per product, per business, but how many hours I spend on each and the hourly rate per business.

[09:12] I mean you and I have actually talked about that before, actually, and we kind of…I think we have differing opinions on it, actually.  But I feel like that’s a pretty valuable metric to have.  So that was one thing that somebody noticed.

[09:22] Mike: Very cool.

[09:23] Rob: How about you?  You have some news.  You purchased a new tech gadget.

[09:27] Mike: Ha, ha, yes.  I succumbed to the Apple marketing and bought one of the brand new Apple TVs, basically sight unseen.

[09:34] Rob: So tempting.

[09:35] Mike: The primary reason that I bought it was because…well, I guess there is a couple, really. The first was that I’d been kind of eyeing the Apple TV for a long time.  I mean basically, this was a giant price reduction.  I think before it started at either $170 or $270.  I can’t remember which.  You had to decide which one you were going to get because it had different hard drive sizes and this and that.

[09:54] Well this one doesn’t even have a hard drive.  So you just basically hook it to the other systems in your house and you can just stream stuff.  The price point was one thing.  And then obviously, because I had been eyeing it for so long, I just said, “Hey, why not?”

[10:06] Rob: I bet they got a lot of impulse buys, because when I heard about it I almost bought the dang thing, and I have a Roku, which is almost the same thing.  The only difference…well, there are two things that I noticed that the Apple TV can do that the Roku can’t.  And I think Roku is like $79 now.

[10:20] But the two things are Apple TV can do YouTube and Apple TV streams all your music to your TV.  Now, for me, if I am on YouTube, I have it on my iPad and stuff.  We don’t watch YouTube on our TV very much.  And then for the streaming music, we have our iPhones and we have a whole system worked out.  You know, I don’t really need to stream music around the house.

[10:40] As well as the Roku has a bunch of extra channels where you can watch like live Major League Baseball, you can watch NBA.  There are a bunch of tech channels.  Like you can get The Twit, This Week in Tech—all that stuff.  They probably have 30, 40 channels of programming that people have built for Roku.

[10:56] So I think Roku is maybe ahead of the game there.  But honestly, I saw the design.  I love how the Apple TV looks.  The remote looks awesome.  And I toyed with it for a while.  And I was trying to convince myself like, “Why do I need this?  How am I going to convince my wife that I am going to buy it?”  But I didn’t.

[11:11] So have you received it already, or when do you expect it?

[11:14] Mike: Sometime later this month.  I think it will be closer to the end of the month.  Somebody actually asked me why I didn’t get a Roku instead.  And the primary driver was the fact that I already have iTunes.  I buy movies through iTunes because I want to watch them on my iPad when I go around.  But I can stream movies from iTunes to that, and I can’t do it on Roku.

[11:33] Rob: That’s right!

[11:33] Mike: Or at least I believe you can’t.

[11:35] Rob: You can’t stream iTunes movies through Roku.  So the big thing about Roku is Netflix streaming.  I mean that’s really why I bought it.  But it does the Amazon Unboxed, which works fantastic.  I’ve never found a movie that I wanted to watch that wasn’t on the Amazon platform.  So it’s worked out.

[11:50] But when we were on vacation and my wife and I were in our own room and didn’t have a TV, we did use my iPad and then I bought stuff through iTunes and watched it there.

[12:00] So yeah, I could see that.  I could see wanting to stream iTunes films, or TV shows, for that matter.  We buy “Mad Men” because we don’t have cable.

[12:07] So yeah, I think they will be cool.  I’m excited to hear what your thoughts are.  I’ve seen the old Apple TV with the hard drive.  A friend of mine had it.  We went to his house just last week.  And I thought it was great.  I loved the interface.  It just seemed to be able to do a lot.

[12:21] And I heard that if you hack them you can hack a Boxee onto the Apple TV, and that gives you Hulu, which would be a big deal.

[12:27] Mike: Oh, nice.

[12:29] Rob: Yeah, you have to hack it pretty good; technically a jailbreak to do it.  But it’s something that you have to go online and really do some fancy stuff.  But man, getting Hulu on that would be fantastic, because that’s one thing that I would like.

[12:39] Mike: Well, for only $99 you can get it, and that can be your justification—“I want to see if I can put Hulu on there!”

[12:44] Rob: Totally.

[12:45] Mike: Trust me, that’s the way to get the buy-in from the wife on that.  If you can actually put Hulu on it, then it’s justified.  But if you buy it and you are not able to do it, well, then you are just, you know…

[12:55] Rob: Then you are hosed.

[12:56] Mike: [laughs]  Yeah, I know.  Then you are in trouble.

[12:57] [music]

[13:00] Rob: Well, cool.  So this week, aside from the discussion we’ve had, we are going to answer a couple of listener questions.  I think we have two that we received via email.  And the first question, you know it’s actually from someone who said he wanted to remain anonymous.  And he sent us a link to 37 Signals to an article called: “The First Step is to Start”.  And this was published on August 31st.  We’ll include a link to this article in the show notes, obviously.

[13:25] The writer said:  “I thought this 37 Signals post might be a good jumping off point for you to have a chat about the fear of starting or thinking you are not good enough to start.  I know you’ve already talked about fear, but maybe you could discuss more stuff around getting started with your idea and some of the psychological barriers.

[13:42] As I think I’ve mentioned to you, I’ve had my idea for seven years and have never done anything about it because I was convinced I wasn’t good enough.  As this post makes clear, and as I’ve learned, it’s not what you are that’s important, it’s what you want to become, and that’s a conscious decision.”

[13:57] This is a big topic that comes up over and over.  And we did talk about fear in a previous podcast.  But I find it fascinating, because I definitely remember thinking in the early days, like, “I’m not going to be good enough to kind of get this thing launched.  I’m not going to be good enough to make this successful.  That somehow, the people that are out there doing it, they are somehow better than me in some way, whether it’s marketing, or technology, or they are better networkers or something.”

[14:24] What I like about the 37 Signals post is he talks about self-doubt, which is such a big thing affecting entrepreneurs—would be entrepreneurs.  So I guess the first question I have is do you remember a time when you had self-doubt?  Not about the idea, but, like, about yourself, like that you couldn’t get something done, that like you couldn’t launch it or you just weren’t going to make it because of you?

[14:45] Mike: Interestingly enough, no.  [laughs]

[14:47] Rob: Really?

[14:48] Mike: Yes.  And I think part of the reason is because the college that I went to, I went to the Rochester Institute of Technology.  And as part of the curriculum, it was based on a quarter system, so you would go to school for two years, and then my program was a five year program because it was computer engineering.

[15:05] After those first two years, you had to go on co-op.  So over those next three years, you had to do five quarters of co-op.  And everything else was classes.  But basically, the idea was that you had to go through three years of classes and then the next two years were co-ops.  And essentially, you would alternate between one quarter of being on co-op and one quarter of being back at classes.

[15:24] And so, in my program, the fall and winter quarters were the same classes, and then spring and summer were the same classes.  So regardless of how you alternated, you wouldn’t be missing classes.  So, as long as you didn’t take a six month co-op that was both fall and winter, which would basically put you a year behind.

[15:42] But I remember working, because I started in the workforce extremely early, and I was looking at all these different things that other people were doing, and I was just looking at it saying, “I can do that.  I can do that.”  And I never really felt that, like, sense of self-doubt about whether or not I could do things.

[15:59] And maybe part of it was because of my early experiences with Oracle and the fact that it just would not install right.  And I’m like, “Come on, this can’t possibly be this difficult to put a bunch of files on a file system and run some services in a way that they don’t crash and barf all over themselves.”

[16:14] I don’t know, I just never really felt that way.  I mean don’t get me wrong, there’s definitely people who have come up with stuff and I’ve looked at it and said, “I probably couldn’t do as good a job as that.”  And most of that feeling comes around things like design—making things look pretty.  I could put together a web application, but I can’t necessarily make it look good.  But I judge that to be more of a design thing as opposed to programming.  I mean when it comes to programming, I have very, very few doubts about what I can and can’t do.

[16:41] Rob: Right.  Yeah, I mean these days I would agree.  But even 10 years ago, you always felt like: “Whatever anyone else can do, I can do better, or at least as good.”

[16:49] Mike: Yeah, I would say at least as good.

[16:51] Rob: Boy, you are kind of cocky, aren’t you?  [laughs]  Look at this!  No, I’m just kidding.

[16:56] Mike: [laughs]

[16:56] Rob: I think that’s a fantastic trait.  I don’t think that having self-doubt is a virtue.  I think it’s a detriment.  And I think that having confidence is probably a good thing.  And it has probably made you try things that you wouldn’t have otherwise tried.  And it is the reason that you are what you are with your businesses.

[17:11] Mike: Right.  Like, even back then, I mean I did things like, I wrote compilers.  Actually, one of the things I had to do in one of my classes was I had to build the actual layout for a processor in VLSI.  And from there I had to write an assembly language operating system that would sit on top of it, and I had to make sure that my VLSI design would interface with the assembly code that I wrote such that it would execute properly.

[17:40] And then on top of that, I had to build software that would actually run it.  And it was all done in a simulator, so it’s not as if it ever actually came to fruition or anything.  But all the fundamental concepts were there.

[17:50] And I’m looking at it thinking to myself, “If I can do something like this as a college student, what will I be able to accomplish in three years or five years when I’ve actually got some experience under my belt and I kind of know what I’m actually doing as opposed to just learning it?”

[18:04] Rob: OK.  So, if you are listening to this and you have self-doubt, just ignore everything Mike says, because he’s just going to make you feel bad.

[18:11] Mike: I think that the question that he comes up with, though, is very valid.  When it comes to technical things, I feel like there is very, very little that I couldn’t do and couldn’t do effectively.  But when it came to other things….For example, 10 years ago, when it came to marketing, I didn’t know what I was doing, and I knew I didn’t know what I was doing.  I had a lot of self-doubt about that side of the business, so to speak.

[18:32] And it just made me decide that I wanted to learn it, and I wanted to figure it out, and I wanted to do it.  I started a couple of different side businesses at the time to basically help develop my marketing skills, because I knew I wasn’t going to learn them in class.

[18:45] And when I went through all my classes and stuff, I knew that the technical stuff I would nail and that was not going to be an issue.  But all the…I’ll call them soft skills—things like public speaking, presenting things, being able to speak and position yourself as an expert in a particular topic, or being able to effectively convey information if you are acting in the role of an instructor.  I mean these are a lot of the things that…those are skills I just didn’t have, but I also recognized that those are skills, those aren’t inherent abilities that you have to have.

[19:15] You look at people like Steve Jobs and people like that who can just walk out on stage and they command a certain presence.  And there are some people who just have it, and there are some people who don’t.  But just because you don’t have it doesn’t mean that you can’t work on those skills and acquire them.

[19:31] Rob: Right.  I think that’s an important thing to note.  You can have self-doubt about your skill or your ability to do something now, but if you have the confidence in your ability to learn it, then you can do…I hate to say almost anything, but I think you can learn a lot of things; almost anything within the realm of what we are talking about—software and software marketing and such, because these are all learnable traits.  I wouldn’t say almost anything globally, but just specifically with marketing, and software marketing, and startups and such.

[19:58] If you are a good learner and you have confidence in your ability to learn, I’m convinced that there is almost nothing that you can’t learn, essentially.  I guess the thing is to figure out if you have self doubt or you have doubt about your ability to do something, is it that you doubt your ability to do it now or that you doubt your ability to learn it ultimately?

[20:16] Because I’m pretty confident anyone can learn how to do well with Google AdWords or how to do well with SEO or how to research a niche and build a product that people want, essentially launch a successful product eventually.

[20:28] Mike: I think the problem is most people look at things like, for example, design. Right now, if I were to try and go out and design a web page or something like that, I’m at the point in my life where I’m just going to look at that and say, “You know what? That’s a…” I’ll call it more of a technical skill, it’s not a soft skill where I’ll say anybody can do it.

[20:44] So, public speaking I like to use as an example of a soft skill because it’s not something that you have to have a specific background or training in. Don’t get me wrong. Getting some coaching or training or something like that would help. But it’s a lot different than something that requires a huge amount of practice or a huge amount of in-depth knowledge or expertise with. It’s something that as you do it, you get better.

[21:07] Whereas there are other people who, we’re in the programming world, we know that there are people out there who, as they program more and more, they don’t necessarily get better. Those are those kinds of things, with programming or design, those are things where you need to have a feedback loop. You have to have, I don’t want to say a coach, but sort of a mentor or other people who can look over your shoulder. Whereas there are other skills that you can learn that you will naturally get better at as you do them more.

[21:34] Rob: Yep, I agree. When I read this email, three things came to mind. Any time you try something like this, you try something new, the first thing is you’re going to suck at it. The second thing is you’re going to fail at it, at least the first time. And the third thing is no one else is going to care.

[21:49] If you’re scared to do this because you think people are going to point and laugh at you when you launch this app and it fails, or when you spend a thousand dollars on AdWords and you get no clicks, no one else cares.

[22:01] And that’s a good thing. I think it’s a good thing, because it’s not like you’re in high school anymore and you’re going out on a limb. Because you are putting yourself out there, right? But people aren’t going to make fun of you. It’s just not that big of a deal to do this stuff.

[22:14] And as soon as you’ve done it once, it becomes a little easier. Then when you do it twice, it becomes a little easier. Not only does it become easier in terms of anxiety and in terms of your own self-doubt, if you have that stuff, but you actually become better at it. So it becomes easier to do.

[22:28] Mike: I would say after the first time, you get a lot better. You get incrementally better after that. The first time there’s a much larger jump between the things that you didn’t know before you started and the things that you learn after that first attempt.

[22:41] [music]

[22:44] Rob: Our second question is from, I’m going to butcher this last name, but his first name is Slav and last name I think is Ivanuck. He says, “Hey, guys. Great podcast. I’m really enjoying it and learning from it. Thanks for doing it. A bunch of questions about outsourcing in general, and VA’s specifically.”

[23:01] So there are about six questions here. We’re going to run through them fairly quickly. I did want to point out that chapter six of my book, startupbook.net, is totally dedicated to this subject. I think every question asked in here is covered there in print. If you’re interested in hearing more, go there.  But we’re going to answer these as best we can and in a few minutes in a lightening round here on the podcast.

[23:24] First question: where did you find your VA?  I will answer first some places that I go. Then Mike, you can talk about our experience hiring our wonderful audio editor for this podcast and how we found her.

[23:35] Where to find a VA for me has switched over the past about two and a half years. I’ve gone through four different online job boards and boards of different types. The approach that I use now and that I’ve had the best luck with over the past six months is oDesk, odesk.com.

[23:52] You can post a job, and people apply for it and they bid a certain hourly rate. Then you can look at their rating. You can look at what they have done in the past, how much money they have been paid through oDesk.

[24:03] They have a reputation, so it’s pretty easy to screen people upfront and to say, “Wow, this guy that charges $1.50 an hour may not have near the reputation that the person charging $3 an hour has.” So you can make up your own mind. You’re probably going to get some better service or at least a more experienced VA from it.

[24:20] The other nice thing about oDesk is that it tracks exactly what your VA is doing. It takes a screenshot every six minutes, and it tracks how many key types and mouse clicks he or she has done. So you get this ongoing slideshow of what they do the previous week, and you can really verify that they’re at least appearing to work on what they were doing. I found that pretty helpful.

[24:41] Over to you, Mike. How did we find our audio editor for The Academy and for this podcast?

[24:47] Mike: That was actually from a personal relationship. I was introduced to her through my wife because my wife had some classes with her. She was a photographer at a newspaper nearby, near where we lived, then she moved away.  But she was also out in the market looking for a job and looking for extra work on the side.

[25:04] Because her and I get along so well, it just seemed like a natural fit. Because I said, “Hey, I’ve got some audio editing that needs to get done. I know you may not necessarily know how to do it right now, but would you like to learn and figure it out?  Here’s the tool to do it.” We use Audacity for all the audio editing. She’s got a MacBook and a PC. I actually sent her a PC so that she could do some of this stuff.

[25:26] She just uses whatever and gets all the things back to us whenever she gets a chance. Usually the turnaround is anywhere from 24 to 48 hours. It’s pretty quick and the price is reasonable, so can’t really complain about that.

[25:37] Rob: That’s an interesting source because it’s one that most people don’t talk about, I’ve certainly never talked about it, but personal relationships. Here in the States especially, there are a lot of people out of work that have really good skills, and that’s actually the case with our editor. She was a photographer, and she obviously had editing skills of some sort and knows media. So it was a [snaps fingers]. It didn’t take her any time at all to learn how to do the audio editing.  So that’s another source you could consider looking at.

[26:01] The next question is: do you work with individuals or a company that specializes in VA services?

[26:07] Mike: I work pretty much exclusively with the VA who’s a personal friend. I don’t really send anything to anybody else.

[26:15] I’ve worked with consulting companies before, mostly in the capacity of hiring somebody to do things that require specialized skills with either specific software packages or things that you just don’t generally have access to.  But I find that I kind of prefer working with somebody who I know, and I’ve known this girl for probably close to 10 years now. So obviously I wouldn’t disrupt that personal relationship in any way.

[26:40] I mean it’s technically a business decision, but at the same time I feel very comfortable just sending stuff over and saying, “Hey, I’ve got this stuff that needs to get done. Can you get this done for me and when can you get it done? What’s your schedule look like?” Because most of the stuff that I send over is not necessarily time-sensitive. I don’t usually need it the next day or the day after. Occasionally I do, and if I do, I’ll make that known.

[27:00] But I think that my preference is really to work with people who I’ve got a personal relationship with. I’ve never really gone the route of hiring a company that specializes in VA services, typically because I just don’t have that many things that need to go to a VA.

[27:15] Rob: Right, whereas I’ve done both, and I still work with a VA firm and I work with several individuals. I have to admit, early on I was worried about working with individuals. The benefit is they’re typically a little cheaper, and typically you do have a more personal relationship with them because it really is one on one.

[27:34] But I was concerned early on that I’d get this process in place and they’d learn it and then they would flake out on me, because I’ve had developers and designers do that in the past. They tend to flake out. I don’t know. I just have had bad experiences with it.

[27:47] I originally went with a firm, and I still do work with them and they are super-reliable. But after that, I started finding individuals, and surprisingly almost all of them have been extremely reliable. There have been a couple of them who were flaky in terms of not doing work and billing me for stuff they didn’t do, which sucked. But I wouldn’t say that’s a widespread problem if you vet your people and if you go through oDesk.  So I don’t want to make a blanket recommendation.  But these days, when I look for a VA, I do not look for a company. I look for an individual.

[28:15] OK, the next question is: Which business tasks do you delegate?

[28:19] Mike: Personally, obviously, any audio and video editing; I used to do that myself, and it just took an incredible amount of time. I came to the conclusion that I can just point for my editor and say, “Look, this is kind of what I’m looking for. Can you do this?”

[28:33] Another thing that I use my VA for a lot is for filtering information. For example, whenever I need a WordPress theme for a new site that I’m putting up, there are thousands, if not tens of thousands, of themes out there that you can buy. It’s time-consuming to filter those down.

[28:52] And  it’s not like you can automate the process in any way, shape or form to have a computer program do that. You really need to have somebody look at those things and say, “Does this look good or not?” Or, “Does this match roughly the color scheme that I’m looking for?”

[29:05] Those are the types of things that I’ll send off to my VA and say, “Hey, look, I need these filtered down. Go out and look for 20 or 25 of these. Don’t spend any more time than an hour or two hours doing it, but this is what I’m looking for.” Because obviously, you have to set boundaries, because otherwise it’s an open-ended task, and somebody could literally spend three years looking around at various templates, because there are tens of thousands of them out there.

[29:30] Beyond that, I’ve had some people come in, and I guess these people weren’t technically VA’s because they actually came into my office, but I had somebody come in, and I had all these payroll documents that were all in paper format and I wanted them all scanned in.

[29:42] I said, “Look, this is how it needs to be done. Scan them. Here’s a computer to use. Here’s the scanner to use. Scan them all in. Create PDFs out of them. Organize them like this. Then when you’re done shred them.”

[29:52] So I had a couple of years’ worth of documents that… I don’t even know how much it weighed, but it was a lot and it took up a lot of space, and just had those converted into PDFs.  Now I’ve got them on my hard drives.  So those are the types of things that I’ve done in the past.

[30:06] Rob: And for me, yeah, I think research is  a great one.  I delegate a lot of research.  I also delegate some Tier 1 email support.  I delegate task automation.  I call it human automation.  So it’s something that I think I may want to script out or write code to do eventually.  But if the script takes me 15, 20 hours to write, I will write down a process of how I’ve been doing it and I will  hand that off to a VA to do in the short-term, and just kind of keep it up and see how often it happens, and to see how much time he or she is actually spending on it, and then later automate the thing.

[30:40] It helps me move really quickly.  It’s like super agile to not have to script out like a whole…We were doing a hosted version of DotNet Invoice, and the whole product deployment and database configuration and creating of a new database, there was just a lot of steps, and it was going to take a lot of time and code.

[30:57] And instead, we trained a VA to do it.  So we were able to launch that thing in a couple of days with no code.  And in the meantime, we have to pay someone to do 30 minutes of work every time someone signs up.  But as a result, we could get out really quick.  Then if the thing fails, we haven’t invested 100 hours into code.  We can just kind of shut it down and say, “All right.  VA, stop doing this task.”

[31:15] The next question is:  To what extent do you protect your private info or allow a VA access to it?  And frankly, I don’t give much access to private info.  I know some people do.  I’ve always kept it pretty close to the vast.

[31:26] I have six or seven different VA’s that I work with.  And when I do give them access to something like PayPal to refund stuff, I create a new login and only give them permission to do what they need to do.  So I imagine it’s the same for you?

[31:40] Mike: No, I’ve handed out my credit card before.

[31:42] Rob: Nice.

[31:43] Mike: But, at the same time, I’ve been using the same person for quite some time.  Like I said, there’s that personal relationship.  I mean if I were to go through oDesk or something like that and hire somebody, I probably would not be handing out my credit card.

[31:55] Rob: Yeah, totally.

[31:55] Mike: But the way things are, you know, there is that level of trust.  I don’t have to worry about it.  So whether it’s credit card information or usernames and passwords to different things, it doesn’t bother me.  If I were to go to a VA firm or something like that, I would have some concerns about that.  But the way things are now, it’s no big deal.

[32:13] Rob: Right.  OK, so the next question is:  Any tips on how to figure out if a VA is a good match, and, in general, on working with a VA?

[32:20] Honestly, these are huge topics.  I don’t even think we could cover them in a  45 minute podcast.  I cover them in my book.  I’m not trying to shill my book, but really, it’s just so dense that it would send us way over time.

[32:32] So I think we are going to skip that one.  And there are two more questions.  “Since I am asking about outsourcing, where did you find designers and developers to help you?  And do you work with individuals or companies?”

[32:43] So I’ll give my short answer.  I have found designers and developers either by searching in Google or by using eLance.com.  And I know everyone tells you, you know, “Go to Elance!  Go to Elance!”  And I just get the feeling people don’t do it or don’t know how to do it.  But it’s super easy to write up a detailed project, post it to Elance, people will quote.  You can even go in and search for them.  You know, search for them by location or by hourly rate, and invite them to your project.  You kind of start a dialogue.

[33:11] And yes, this takes time.  I mean you are not just going to jump on there and find someone reliable the first time.  You are going to want to find someone, give them a test project, and see if they perform.  And this is how I’ve done it.  I’ve found a couple of really good design firms, and they are overseas and they do a great job.

[33:27] But they were not the first firms that I found.  I mean I think that I went through maybe five before I found the one that I like, and it absolutely took time.  But once I found that firm that I liked, I’ve worked with them now for two years.  And it’s like super valuable to have really good design at a low price, and to have a relationship with them where I know that they are reliable.

[33:46] And then the second part of that question is:  “Do you work with individuals or companies?”  Actually, with designers and developers, I do tend to work with companies.  For some reason I’ve had really bad luck with individual designers and developers flaking out on me either mid-project, or they will do the project and then just bail.

[34:02] They will complete the work, but then it’s like, well, there is always ongoing maintenance and individuals, they don’t want to do it, and so they just bail on it.  And I’ve never had that with companies.

[34:11] So I know I could get someone a little cheaper, but I haven’t done it.  I may do it someday.  But at this point, my needs are met in these areas.  So that’s my take on it.  How about you Mike?

[34:21] Mike: My answers are basically the same.  I search through Elance and search Google.  One of the other things that I have been able to do, I have been fortunate that I know a lot of people from the school that I went to still, and I still keep in touch with a lot of them.  So I know graphic designers and programmers.

[34:37] And I’ll be perfectly honest.  I don’t necessarily go to them.  Some of them I’ve gone to because they are affiliated with a particular design firm or programming company, or something like that, and I’ve leveraged those in the past, but it’s not necessarily something I want to continue doing.  Because obviously, there are logistics involved with that.  If people are located here in the US, it’s obviously not nearly as cost effective as if you were, as you said, going overseas for design work.  The same designer here would cost you $20,$30 an hour, whereas, overseas it might only cost you $2 or $3 an hour.

[35:10] So when you get to the point where you are leveraging those types of skills a lot, it can get extremely expensive to have it done here in the States.  I mean the last project that I sent here in the US cost me $9,000 for a website design.  And there was some backend programming with it, but I don’t feel like it was $9,000 worth.

[35:32] So there are just things that you need to think about when you are looking around at individuals or companies.  I think I am with you.  I prefer to work with companies.  And because of that, your costs go up, because there is always a sales rep involved.  And there is always somebody who is kind of managing different projects.

[35:48] And as you involve more and more people in the process, the cost just skyrockets.  A lot of the consulting that I’ve done has all been enterprise level consulting.  And, as a result, enterprise level consulting charges anywhere from $100 an hour up to three, four, five hundred dollars an hour.  I mean that’s not unheard of for the number of people that are touching a particular product or a project.

[36:10] And with designers, it’s not necessarily as high, but there is still additional overhead that you are paying for when you are looking at a company.  So you really need to be a little bit sensitive about where these companies are based.

[36:22] A company that is based in the Midwest is going to cost you a heck of a lot less than a company that is based in New York, regardless of what it is that they are doing for you, whether it’s programming or design, or just basic data entry.  I mean because the cost of living is so much higher in New York City than it is in Iowa, let’s say.

[36:38] Rob: One note on the dollar amounts you mentioned.  You said like designers, $20-$30 here in the states.  I’ve never found good designers for that.  I typically see $40-$60 when I look.  That’s kind of the range that I’ve found.  And then the overseas rates are between $10 and about $15.  You can get individuals below $10, but that’s just a caveat of my experience.

[37:00] Mike: So thanks for the question Slav, and I think that pretty much wraps it up for this episode.

[37:05] [music]

[37:08] Mike: If you have a question or comment, please call it in to our voicemail number at 1-888-801-9690, or you can email it in mp3 or text format to questions@startupsfortherestofus.com.

[37:20] If you enjoyed this podcast, please consider writing a review in iTunes by searching for “Startups”.  You can subscribe to this podcast in iTunes or via RSS at startupsfortherestofus.com.

[37:28] Our theme music is an excerpt from “We’re Outta Control” by MoOt, used under Creative Commons.  A full transcript of this podcast is available at our website: startupsfortherestofus.com.  We’ll see you next time.

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  1. Adwords Billing Questions – Episode 23 | Listener Questions | Startups For the Rest of Us - September 22, 2010

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