Episode 29 | 5 Steps to Beating Your Startup Demons

Show Notes

Transcript

[00:00] Rob: This is Startups for the Rest of Us, episode 29.

[00:03] [music]

[00:12] 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.

[00:20] Mike: And I’m Mike.

[00:21] Rob: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s the word this week, Mike?

[00:26] Mike: I think I mentioned it on our last podcast that I was moving all of my sites to a new host. I’ve finally finished up that process. I had gotten everything over to the new host, I just hadn’t actually redirected all of the DNS entries. This podcast actually got moved as well, and I don’t think anyone noticed.

[00:41] [laughs] It’s funny because I made the DNS changes, and it was maybe five minutes later when those changes went live and everything started getting redirected immediately. It was good to see that everything just worked when I moved it all over.

[00:54] Rob: Yeah, I didn’t notice anything. I think you sent me an email that I promptly deleted when you were like, “Yeah, at this day and this time everything will be switched over.” I’m like, yeah, it doesn’t matter to me. As long as it stays up, who cares? Even if it is down for five hours, it’s not that big of a deal because the audio is stilled served.  Obviously we serve it from a different server.

[01:11] Speaking of DNS, I’m always surprised at how quickly that goes. When I change it, it is always five or ten minutes. I know it takes awhile to propagate across the whole Internet, but the whole 24 to 36 hour thing, I have yet to see that actually be the case, where people still hit the old site.

[01:28] Mike: It really depends on how your DNS entries are set up and what you’re looking at for your DNS server. I run my own internal DNS server, and that DNS server, if it doesn’t have the domains that I’m looking for, it will go out to the Internet and start looking there. If I hit one of my own websites and I change the DNS setting, I actually have to go in and flush my local DNS cache on that server. Otherwise, I won’t see the changes.

[01:58] Rob: Cool. For me, I’ve been sick. You can probably hear it in my voice. We persevere nonetheless. These are the things we go through to bring the podcast to you, but you will notice me coughing and sneezing. I’ll try to mute it when I can.

[02:12] Last week I spoke at a .NET user group.  It’s near Pasadena in Los Angeles. That was pretty cool. It was just talking about turning your idea into a software product. It was a lot of fun. They had a big turnout. I was trying to figure out if it was because I tweeted it the day before. I was trying to figure out if it was the topic. Some people came up and said, “Hey, I read your blog and I came because I knew you were speaking.” But I don’t know how big an impact that had or didn’t have.

[02:40] Nonetheless it was fun. There was like, I don’t know, maybe 30 people and awesome questions. For those types of things, I typically prepare an hour of content and then have an hour of questions, and that’s about what it worked out to. We were pushed towards the end, even though I only had an hour’s worth of stuff.  It was fun.

[02:57] Mike: Oh, I’ve got to tell you about this cool thing I found for the iPad since you have one.

[03:01] Rob: Yes.

[03:01] Mike: It’s this application called MaxiVista.  Apparently, what it does is it allows you to set up a wireless network between your computer or your laptop and the iPad over Wi-Fi, and it allows it to act as another monitor.

[03:17] Rob: How interesting.

[03:18] Mike: It was kind of neat.

[03:20] Rob: Scott Hanselman uses it, I see. Is that where you heard about it?

[03:22] Mike: No, I didn’t hear about it there, but I did see a review from Scott Hanselman on it. I had been specifically looking for something like this. I was like, why doesn’t this exist? It seems intuitively obvious.

[03:34] Rob: You can actually use your iPad as a second monitor chained to your laptop or desktop. Is that right?

[03:41] Mike: Yep.

[03:41] Rob: That’s crazy. It runs over Wi-Fi? Is that right?

[03:44] Mike: Yes.

[03:45] Rob: How insane.

[03:46] Mike: It’s not particularly fast. You probably wouldn’t be able to use it for gaming or anything like that. But to throw your email over there from your laptop when you’re on the road or something like that, it actually works pretty well so long as you don’t have Wi-Fi network issues.

[04:04] Rob: Right.

[04:04] Mike: That’s the underlying thing that you have to rely on. If you don’t really have control of that, then you’re kind of hosed.  But with my laptop, I carry around a portable Wi-Fi hot spot, so I just carry that around.  And if I ever need it I can just pull it out and I’ve got my own, and I don’t have to worry about anybody else stepping on my signal.

[04:23] Rob: Right. That’s cool.

[04:24] [music]

[04:27] Rob: I’m excited about today’s episode. We’re doing a throwback to the days of Five Steps to X.  You know, five steps to doing something. It’s more of an educational show today. The title of today’s show is “Five Steps to Beating Your Startup Demons.”

[04:41] There’s a pretty specific reason we’re looking at it today. It actually stems from my experiences over the past few weeks. I’ve talked with a few entrepreneurs, two or three folks, as well as, I’m kind of sifting through my own plans and my own demons, and trying to figure out the next thing that I’m going to do.

[04:57] That thing may be a software product. It may just be a website. I’m experimenting with some content websites and AdWords, and just different kinds of models. I guess I tend to get bored doing the same thing over and over. So just building another site that’s similar to one I already have sounds kinda boring to me.  So I’m really experimenting and branching out.

[05:17] As a result, that something that I’m going to build is pretty amorphous right now, and it’s actually been pretty hard. As a developer I want to nail it down, I’m analytical and I want to know what I’m doing, and I’m just struggling trying to actually find that what’s next thing.

[05:30] So that’s what we’re going to talk about today, is how to get through these barriers, and, really, how to get started on your first set of actions.   We’re going to run through a few strategies to setting yourself up with the proper mindset before you do anything. The last couple will actually look at how to get started quickly.

[05:48] Both you and I, we’re not super into motivational stuff. We believe in goal setting, but it’s like a lot of people trumpet it too much, I think. However, I don’t think it is cheesy to really lock down on some goals and to realize how important the right mindset is.

[06:02] Step one for beating your startup demons is to realize the difference between being a hero and a martyr. Do you want to talk a little about that, Mike?

[06:10] Mike: Absolutely. One of the primary differences between a hero and a martyr is that people who think like a martyr really feel like they are the victim of everything. You know, that bad things are what happen to them, and it’s always somebody else’s fault. The problem is that people who feel this way or think this way basically act that way as well. They blame everybody else for their failures or for the failures around them that lead to their position.

[06:41] That has to stop. There’s no two ways about it. That’s absolutely has to stop. You really need to stop blaming other people for the failures in your life or in your career, whether you have a job or you are looking for a different job because you hate the current one. You need to stop blaming other people for it and really take responsibility and look at what it is that you want to do, establish your goals, and then go after them.

[07:05] Rob: We all know people who have been unhappy at their job for years. Maybe that’s you or maybe it’s someone you know. There’s no reason for this.

[07:13] Mike: A lot of people being unhappy with it and not doing anything about it is really because they are fearful and they’re afraid of making a change. If you look at a list of the most stressful events that can happen in your life, they include things like a death in the family, getting married, moving, and changing jobs. Because of that, because of all the stress that comes with getting a new job and finding a new job, there’s all this fear around it. People don’t like to change.

[07:41] So if you can get over that, then you can take that responsibility and stop acting like a victim. Stop acting like everything bad happens to you, and you can’t do anything about it. Because the fact is you can do something about it. You just have to make the decision to do something about it.

[07:59] Rob: You used the word victim, and I think that’s totally synonymous with what we’re saying here. We’re using the word martyr, but victim equally describes it well. The flip side of that, we said there’s a difference between a hero and a martyr. Mike was talking about a martyr. The hero is the person who takes control and says, “This is my responsibility.” They realize that it’s within their power to change things.

[08:23] You have to believe you have the power to quit your job and find another one, or to go out on your own if you want to become a consultant, or to launch a product if you want to. You’re in control of your circumstances. You don’t get to where you are in life because of someone else.

[08:38] Other people may have small influences on you, but even your spouse or family members, they have the  influence on you that you allow them to. I wouldn’t go so far as to say you should get a divorce if you don’t agree with something your wife said. But at times, you are going to have to stand up to your spouse.  And it may not be the most natural thing for you to do and you just have to do it.

[09:01] I don’t want to over glorify the concept of the hero, but the hero is the person who makes stuff happen. The bottom line is… We keep talking about if you hate your job, because I think it’s such a common thing. I think people are trying to get away from that a lot. If you hate your job, you really have three options. You can either decide you’re going to change something within the company, it’s like political issues, and you’re going to take control and seize it and make it happen. Or you’re going to change something within yourself, meaning that it’s an attitude thing or your feeling something you need to adjust. Or you can change jobs.

[09:36] In my opinion, there should not be a fourth option. The fourth option is not to stay at the job and piss and moan about how crappy it is and how unhappy you are. That’s not an option. Do not live like that. So you have these three options.

[09:48] I want to give you an example, and this is a bit of an extreme, but I changed jobs quite a bit because I was unhappy with things. At first it took me some talking to by my dad and by my, then, fiancée because we weren’t married, who basically talked me out…because I was so unhappy at this very first job that I had.  My dad had worked there for 35 years, and I was slated to climb management. I had been around there since I was five years old and had worked there since I was 16.

[10:16] I graduated from college, my while plan was to be with this company, and I get there and I didn’t like it. It’s an electrical contractor in the Bay Area. I just didn’t like it. I didn’t enjoy it at all. There was a five year management plan going on that I couldn’t stand. I wasn’t going to wait around five years to become a peon manager guy.

[10:33] So I quit, and it caused ripples. It was hard. There was fear. There was weeping and gnashing of teeth. There was everything you don’t want. It was definitely the hardest job I’ve ever quit, but eventually I did, and within a few months I was way happier.

[10:46] Within a year, 18 months, I was once again not enjoying salaried employment. This time I was a programmer and I really enjoyed that, but I decided to strike out on my own, start consulting. And then, you all know the story. A couple years later, I realized that, man, consulting is like a hamster wheel; you’re on a treadmill all the time. There are all these reasons not to do it, so I’m going to do products. So what did I do? Did I stay handcuffed to my consulting desk and say, “Oh, but you’ll pay me three figures an hour to write code?” No, I made the break.

[11:16] It was not easy, and I’m not tooting my own horn saying like, “Oh, it comes naturally to me,” because it does not. Every time it’s been scary, and it’s been a really hard decision. At each step I was unhappy enough and knew that a change had to be made.

[11:30] [music]

[11:33] Mike: Number two on our list is that you have to understand that getting started is hard for almost everyone. There are basically three types of early stage struggles.

[11:43] The first one is fear of failure.  You have to realize that everyone has a fear of failure. The problem is that nobody cares if you fail. That is something you really have to realize, because everyone’s afraid that once you start doing something, if you fail, everyone’s going to look at you just like that guy from the Simpsons, he’s going to scream, “Ha ha!”

[12:03] The fact of the matter is you have to get over it or you’ll never do anything. I should really rephrase a little piece of that. It’s not that nobody cares whether you fail or not. It’s that nobody is going to sit there a say I told you so. People like to hear success stories. The interesting thing is that people also like to hear stories of other people who have encountered failures and the things that they learn from them.

[12:29] So just keep in mind that getting started is hard for everyone, and the first of those early stage struggles is the fear of failure. That’s something everyone has to get over.

[12:39] Rob: The second type of early stage struggle is a lack of direction. This might be the most challenging one in the long term. Even after you start to beat down that fear of failure and not have it as much each time, and you’re able to get over the third one that Mike’s going to talk about in a second, this lack of direction is something I’m facing right now, actually, as I try to figure out what do I want to do next.

[13:02] You’re in complete control of what to do. If you want to write a software app, then you need to find one that’s going to energize you and be exciting and that hopefully has a market. You know, that’s the idea. Or if writing a new app doesn’t sound exciting, then what is next? This comes down to going back to your personal…almost your core values and knowing what gives you life and what makes you excited.

[13:28] I was actually talking to my brother last week about this thing, because I was kind of saying, “I’m really free to start whatever I want here. What should it be?”  And, of course, he doesn’t have specific insight into that, but he said, “What makes you happy about you’re doing now? What sounds exciting?”

[13:43] It comes back to this book I read called “Strengths Finder 2.0”. This is going to sound so cheesy. I hate to say this stuff, but it really made an impact on me. Basically, Strengths Finder is where you take this test and it kinda tells you what you’re strong in.  So, kind of the things that bring you life. The premise of the book is that you shouldn’t work to improve the things where you’re weak, but you should just exploit the things that naturally give you life and that, naturally, you’re really good at.

[14:09] I have a couple strengths. I think everyone has three or four. The one that I think is the strongest in me is learning, is being educated, always learning new things about whatever topic I’m involved in. So that’s where I am right now, is figuring out what’s the next app.  So knowing that helps me know that I don’t just want to do rehash of something I’ve already done, because that’s not really going to teach me anything new.

[14:32] As a result, I know that to be excited and to be interested in my next project, for me personally, I’m going to have to find something that’s pretty different. With that’s going to come some fear. There’s going to come more fear because I’m not reproducing something I’ve already done. But, at the same time, in the long run, at least for a year or two, it’s going to keep me excited and motivated.

[14:52] Mike: Yeah, I thing lack of direction is definitely one of those things that it’s going to be an early stage struggle. But even after you get to the point where you’re self-sufficient on your income, and maybe you’re working for yourself, and you get to decide what it is that you want to work on, that lack of direction is still going to be pretty hard to overcome. Unless you have that direction, I mean you don’t know what to do next.

[15:14] Rob: Yeah, I agree. You bring up a good point that it comes back a lot. It comes back anytime you get to a point where you’ve kind of achieved a level of success. I actually saw this with some successful software entrepreneurs at Business of Software that I talked to. Some of them either were running very successful software companies and didn’t even need to work a full work week, and then others had sold their companies for multiple millions of dollars, and they were basically, “set for life”, and they’re bored. They have a lack of direction now and they’re trying to figure out, “What’s next for me that is going to give me life and excite me?”

[15:51] It’s the same struggle that you will face when you first decide to leave your job or you first decide to launch your very first product. It’s exactly the same thing. You can’t just decide to do it because it’s going to make money. It really has to kind of play into who you are and your strengths.

[16:08] Mike: That one little thing you threw in the end there is also really important, because if you hate your job enough that you want to quit and go do something else, once you’ve quit, you will have a lack of direction. Unless you put together a plan afterwards, you can really put yourself into a world of trouble if you didn’t have a plan and a direction to go in after you quit your job. Because, let’s face it, quitting your job was probably one of your goals.

[16:35] The third struggle you’ll probably face is a lack of motivation or discipline. One of the problems that a lot of people face is that escaping your job is simply not enough motivation. You need to want to move towards something, not away from something. This is essentially a positive versus a negative reinforcement mentality.

[16:55] One of the best examples I can think of was at the Business of Software Conference there was a speaker who split the room into two groups and he put a slide up on the screen.  And on the left side it said, “Clap if you want to win,” and on the right-hand side it said, “Clap if you don’t want to lose.”

[17:08] He had split the room into two groups and said, “The people on the right-hand side follow the instructions on the right-hand side. People on the left-hand side, follow the instructions on the left-hand side.”

[17:19] What we found was that the side that said, “Clap if you want to win,” won by a fair margin. Apparently, this is a very prevalent experiment that he’s done at a couple of different places, and the result is almost always the same.  The point is that you need to want something to be motivated. Not wanting a specific outcome is simply not a motivation enough.

[17:41] [music]

[17:44] Rob: Step three in beating your startup demons is knowing exactly what you need to get started. You need two things. The first thing is you need education. When we say education, we mean… Let’s take an example of building a chicken coop. It’s how to build that thing. It’s having a high level knowledge of the task needed to accomplish that thing.  So it’s like having a blueprint for a chicken coop.

[18:07] Or, if it’s building software, it’s having the high-level knowledge of what it takes, not only to build the product, but then to design the marketing and what steps you’re going to take. Are you going to collect emails and, vaguely, how are you going to do that? How are you going to launch?  So it’s kind of the high-level viewpoints. That’s what we call education.

[18:26] Mike: The second thing you need is the skills to actually get it done, and not just bits and pieces of it. I mean, basically, step by step, everything  that you need to know in order to get it done. For example, in Rob’s example before for building a chicken coop, can you cut a board? Can you hammer a nail?

[18:46] Basically, you need to know what it is going to take to succeed.  And careful planning really just isn’t enough. You need to make mistakes. This is where prototyping comes into play. This is where doing things previously is going to help. Have you hammered a nail before or do you just kind of know the conceptual things? And  if you don’t actually know how to do it, you need to do prototyping, and  you need to make small test cases where you can get things wrong and it’s not a big deal.

[19:11] So, for example, if you’re launching a software product, do you know how to use MailChimp or some other mail list building software? Do you know how to do SEO? Do you know how to build a website? Can you actually put together the product, etc? This is basically the difference between being an architect for something and being the construction worker who actually puts it together. You have to be able to do both.

[19:33] Rob: I think the interesting thing is most blogs… This is actually something we’ve talked about before, but I call it the Myth of Blogs. And it’s like, most blogs don’t talk about the skills. They either talk about the education, so kind of the high-level stuff, or even one step higher than that. It’s like super vague, like the architectural astronaut type stuff.

[19:54] That’s actually a problem, because, really, reading blogs gives you this high-level view of like, “OK, I need to build a product and market it,” and that’s about as deep as it gets.  Or maybe they’ll say, “Yeah, doing an email list!  Did this!”  But you still don’t know all the tools, you don’t know what the emails should say, you don’t know the intervals you should send them, you don’t know the times of day, the subject lines, the “from” email address.  I mean there’s very specific things that really do have an impact on the success or failure of it.

[20:22] So not having the skills but having education is bad, because then you think you know how to do things and you don’t actually know.  And then, of course, not having the education and only having the skills, well, that’s kinda like a technician.  If you’re just a developer, then you have the development skills and you don’t really have the education to launch a full product.  And I think that that’s the purpose of, maybe, a podcast like ours, or books, and things like the Micropreneur Academy that we do.

[20:47] One thing I wanted to point out I was thinking about as I was writing up this outline is it can get really confusing to follow a lot of different bloggers.  It’s not that you can’t casually read a lot of them, but oftentimes you’ll see conflicting advice from multiple bloggers or podcasters, and there’s a good reason for that.

[21:05] It’s basically that different people have different goals based on either their personal lifestyle goals or their goals of what they want for their product.  So if you’re reading Patrick McKenzie, who is the Bingo Card Creator, and who is like the prototypical micro-ISV, and then you are also reading Dharmesh Shah, who’s  more of like the VC funded type stuff, and you’re reading Jason Cohen, who’s a bootstrapper, and maybe you’re reading Mike, who…I just coined this term, Mike.  I don’t know what you think about it, but I feel like you’re an enterprise bootstrapper.  You’re a bootstrapper, but I think you’re good at selling to the enterprise.  I think that’s kind of a neat moniker for you.

[21:41] Mike: [laughs]

[21:42] Rob: And, you know, if you read my blog, I’m a micropreneur.  Even Mike and I will likely contradict each other at times, because we don’t necessarily have the same goals with our products.

[21:52] So one thing that I just wanted to kind of spit out there is that, A, I think following multiple people is OK as long as you figure out, really, who you want to model yourself after and really listen to them.  And the other people, maybe you use as peripheral information.

[22:05] [music]

[22:08] Mike: So the fourth step to beating your startup demons is to figure out what is the next step that you can take without actually writing code?  The answer to this is brilliantly simple:  don’t write code.

[22:19] What you need to do is, instead of writing code and trying to launch a product, what you need to do is find out if there’s a market for the product before you actually go out and build something that nobody wants.  You need to find out what your expectations are and level set them with reality.

[22:33] You can do that using a variety of different methods, but you’re basically just testing the market a little bit, see if people are interested in it.  And if not, are they interested in something that’s related?  Because you might have this great idea for a product and you build something, and it’s related to something that people wanted, but not exactly the same thing.  And then you’ve just wasted a ton of time and effort building something that people thought was interesting, but only because they wanted this little tiny  piece of it and they wished that you had expanded that.

[23:02] So along with that, you have to find out what your goals are.  And if the reality of the situation does not match your goals, you need to find something new.  So if your goals are to build a $500,000 a year company and it looks like the market for whatever it is that you’re trying to build is maybe $100,000, then the reality does not match your goals, and you need to figure out whether, one, is that acceptable to you.

[23:28] And if it’s not, you  need to find something new.  You know, you  need to come up with another idea, or you need to figure out how can you tweak your idea or address a different portion of the market to be able to bring those things into alignment.  And if you can’t then you do need to move on and you need to find something new.

[23:47] Rob: Yeah, I think a good example of this is an entrepreneur I  met with about six weeks ago. I won’t say what his product was, but I’ll use a hypothetical.  But it was basically…let’s say it was like scheduling software for drycleaners or something like that, you know, where they enter orders and such.

[24:05] And upfront, he had spoken with some people and done kind of some business planning, and it had given him the impression that this was a huge market that he could go out and raise Angel funding and venture capital, and that this is going to be like a $20 million business or $100 million business or something.

[24:19] And the first time he told it to me, I thought, “Man, that’s a great niche!”  You know, I told him that.  And then the more we talked, I said, “Yeah, I could see it being six figures a year or maybe low seven figures!”  And to him it was just kind of like a real reality check.

[24:32] And, of course, that was only my opinion.  I actually  hadn’t done a lot of research into it.  But the more research I did, the smaller I realized this market is.  Yes, there are a lot of drycleaners.  But reaching them and convincing them to change to your system is horrendously expensive.  There’s a lot of things in your way.

[24:47] So it’s not that his product idea is bad.  It’s that his expectations were so far off, and he hadn’t spent the time upfront to really look into that, or he didn’t have the knowledge, I should say, upfront to kind of level set his expectations, as you said.

[25:01] [music]

[25:04] Rob: And then step five for getting over your startup demons is figuring out what can you do now?  What can you do given what you have?  This comes back to the hero versus martyr thing.

[25:15] I receive at least one email a month, and I’m glad it’s only that few.  But I receive at least an email a month from someone who’s telling me:  “I’m a developer.  I don’t have time because I work 70 hours, and I don’t have any money.  I don’t have spare money to hire a developer or to hire a designer.  What can I do?”

[25:34] And I typically email them back and say, “You can do nothing.”  If you really believe that, if you really don’t have money and time, then you can’t do anything.  But here’s what you should do, and I tell them, “If you are a developer and you are not making enough money, then you are either being underpaid or you are pissing a lot of money away on things that you should not be spending it on.”

[25:52] And again, it’s none of my business until you tell me you want to start a company and you’re asking my advice, and then it is my business; that’s the advice that I would give you.  You can spend your money on whatever you want.  But if you’re unhappy that you spend $100 a month on your cable bill, and you bought a Beamer and you spend $500 a month on that car payment, and you overpaid for your house, and there’s all these other things and it sucked up your whole salary, well then you need to make changes, and those changes may hurt.

[26:17] You know, it may require selling the Beamer.  It may require selling stuff on Craigslist, Ebay, whatever it takes.  And that’s what it comes back to, is looking at your life and saying, “What can I do now to make things happen?”

[26:29] You can always find some time.  You can drink caffeine and you can stay up at night.  That’s how I got started.  You can sell stuff on Craigslist [laughs] and get by for just a few more months after you quit your job.  I also did that.

[26:42] You either need time, or you  need money, or you need both to get this started.  So if you have a lot of time, then yes, you should do a lot of stuff yourself.  If you have not a lot of time and you have more money, then you should outsource a lot more stuff.  Now, Mike and I always encourage people to learn to outsource early.  It will almost always multiply your time and you’ll be better in the long run.

[27:04] Ultimately, this step five here is to figure out what you can do now even if it feels drastic.  If you really want to do this, you’ll suck it up and you’ll make it happen.

[27:14] Mike: It’s funny that you laugh every time you say “selling stuff on Craigslist”.  But literally, within the last month I’ve sold like $2,000 worth of stuff on Craigslist.

[27:23] Rob: Yeah, and I sold almost a thousand dollars worth of stuff on Ebay this month.  I mean it just happens every once in a while.

[27:28] Mike: Ooh!

[27:28] Rob: I know!  I do laugh, because it feels cheesy.  But like, a lot of entrepreneurs I know do this.  You know, you go through once a year, and you have a lull time, maybe.  I mean that’s what I’ve had for the past month.  And so you just kinda dig through your stuff and then you figure out what to sell.  And it’s worth it, especially if you have a lull and it brings in cash.  I mean there’s always ways to get it done.

[27:48] [music]

[27:51] Mike: So what have we got for listener questions?   They’re starting to stack up a little bit, but I think we can bang through several of them at this point, right?
[27:58] Rob: Yeah, let’s go ahead and do that.  The first question we have is from Joe Rawlinson, and he asked questions specifically of me.  He said, “Did you self-publish a book, ‘Start Small, Stay Small’?—located at startupbook.net.  “If so, what service do you use for printing…”

[28:12] Mike: Shameless plug!  [laughs]

[28:14] Rob: Yeah, it totally was!  Startupbook.net, running a special this week!  No, I’m just kidding!

[28:17] So the answer is yes, I did self-publish my book.  I was in talks with a couple publishers and decided to go self-publishing.  It gave me a lot more control over the formats that I could use, as well as knowing that I had an audience that would be interested in the book.  It just made more sense to do it that way.

[28:33] Also, since it’s such a tight niche, I wanted to laser focus this book to really be just for developers who wanted to start startups.  And the publishers were not excited about that.  You know, it has to sell more copies, so they wanted me to genericize it.  And they actually wanted me to include a lot of stuff about mobile apps and not go so detailed with stuff.

[28:52] So that’s the reason I did it.  The printer that I use is CreateSpace.com, and they are owned by Amazon.  Amazon bought them within the last year, 18 months.  So they have a pretty tight integration there.

[29:03] And I highly recommend them.  They are a lot cheaper than Lulu.  I think the per-copy price is half of what Lulu is, and it might even be like 40% of what Lulu charges per copy.  So I highly recommend them.  And it’s been a good experience.

[29:17] Question number two is about SEO and blogs on a sub-domain.  And this is from Paul Yoder.  And he says, “I’m launching a product written in Ruby on Rails, and I want to have a blog to help drive traffic to the product site.  I want to use WordPress as a blog engine.  I will need to have the blog on a sub-domain.”

[29:34] OK, this is the kicker here.

[29:35] “My question is, will having the blog on a sub-domain…”  And he points out blog.product.com…”Will that hinder the amount of traffic driven to my site compared to having the blog in a subdirectory?”, meaning product.com/blog.  “How will SEO be affected?”

[29:50] OK.  SEO will be majorly affected.  Sub-domains are viewed as completely different websites from Google.  So if you get links coming into your blog domain, they will not help your company domain at all.  So I would highly, highly recommend going with the /blog.

[30:08] You also asked about traffic, like how will traffic be affected?  If you have links in the header, I don’t think it will affect any users clicking through from either way, from your blog to the product site or product site to the blog.

[30:20] But really, SEO is majorly impacted by this.  So I only recommend using sub-domains under very specific circumstances, and this is not one of them.

[30:29] So Paul, hopefully you are able to put that blog in a sub-directory and not a sub-domain to keep your SEO strong.

[30:37] Mike: So the last question that we have is actually a call that came into our voicemail number.  Rob, you want to go ahead and play that for the listeners?

[30:45] Rob: Sure.

[30:47] Listener:  Hi, I just wanted to say I love your podcasts.  There’s plenty of useful information, and lots of it.  I just wanted some tips on how to hold a client’s hand, especially getting into the technical areas of development, development schedules, wearing a lot of hats, designing, developing.  How do we hold a client’s hand?  If you have any tips on that, that’d be great.  Thank you.”

[31:09] Mike: So this sounds more like a generic, “How do I bet a good consultant for my customers?” question.  Interfacing with the customers is one thing, but his question, I think, comes up a lot more in smaller consulting companies where you are one person and you’ve got to talk to a bunch of different people.  For example, you have to be able to talk to some of the higher level executives, and you’ve got to be able to talk to the technical people at the end who are actually help you implement stuff.  And you need to be able to interface with both without destroying your credibility as a consultant.

[31:43] And what you have to keep in mind is you have to address them differently.  You have to really think about what it is that those people are interested in and specifically talk to those interests.  Now, some of the interests between management and the technical people are going to overlap, and some of them are not.

[32:02] So when you are in discussions with the technical people, leave out the business drivers.  When you’re in discussions with management, leave out the technical pieces of whatever it is that you’re talking about.  Speak their language.  That’s very, very important.

[32:15] And it can be difficult to do that, but there are training classes out there that you can go to.  I mean, personally, I’ve gone through two different training courses that were each about a week long that were basically, “How do you be a good consultant?”  And it was all about how to address problems, how to talk to different levels of management, how to talk to specific problems, how to talk to the financial and contractual aspects of whatever it is that you’re working on.

[32:44] There’s a lot of things that are involved in dealing with clients that most people just don’t think about when they’re doing consulting, because most people don’t get training on that sort of stuff.

[32:55] I do enterprise sales, so I’ve been through that stuff, and I have to be able to do it.  But when you are working with smaller companies, it can be very difficult to try and differentiate yourself in many of those different roles, because you have to do all of them at the same time.  You have to be the sales guy.  You have to be the support person.  You have to be the technical person who gets the things done.

[33:19] And you can really very easily pigeonhole yourself as a person who is just technical and can’t really talk to the executives or tell them exactly why it is that they’re buying stuff.  And that makes it difficult to run your business in the long term, because as you start working with these different customers, they kind of pigeonhole you into a specific type of role.

[33:42] And unless you have a larger company where you’ve got multiple people that you can throw at a client, that’s just going to happen.  And unfortunately, as you grow out your consulting company, you will have one person doing sales, another person doing marketing, another person doing technical stuff.  And chances are, at some point, you’ll have an engagement manager of some kind who manages multiple consultants and basically is making sure that everything is going well for the customers.

[34:09] But it can be difficult when you are a one person shop, or two or three person shop, because you have to wear all of those different hats.  And you don’t want to confuse the customer over what exactly is your role there.  You just have to make sure that you’re aware, conceptually, of what the people you are talking to are interested in, and make sure you are addressing their needs and concerns appropriately.

[34:33] Rob: What he said.

[34:34] Mike: [laughs]

[34:36] [music]

[34:39] Mike: If you have a question or comment, you can call it into our voicemail  number at 1-888-801-9690, or you can email it in mp3 or text format to questions@startupsfortherestofus.com.

[34:51] 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.

[35:00] Our theme music is an excerpt from “We’re Outta Control” by MoOt, used under Creative Commons.

[35:05] A full transcript of this podcast is available at our website: startupsfortherestofus.com.  Thanks, and we’ll see you next time.

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13 Responses to “Episode 29 | 5 Steps to Beating Your Startup Demons”

  1. DNS record changes only take 36 hours if your DNS record TTL (time to live) values are set to 36 hours.

    TTL is the period of time for which other DNS should cache values.

    When you are doing migrations it is wise to set the TTL of a record to a low value (say few minutes at most) hours before changing it.

    That way other DNS will not cache your soon to be changed value for more than that low value.

    When you finally change the DNS value to the new server and you verify it is correct, you should set it to an high value to make other DNS and user browsers not waste time requerying your domain DNS to many times before accessing the site.

    If you do not lower the DNS records TTL ahead before the migration, your users may take a long time to see your site in the new server.

    You may want to read this article about migrating Web servers to the least of the problems.

    http://www.phpclasses.org/blog/post/87-10-steps-to-migrate-Web-site-servers-with-the-least-of-problems.html

  2. Mike, please don’t say “DNS servers”. It’s redundant, just say DNS.

  3. Manuel, not everyone has access to the TTL settings on their DNS servers. For example, I own several dozen domains and I use my registrar’s name servers. Unfortunately that means that I have no control over the TTL settings. I would agree that if you do have control over them, then what you suggested is a great way to go.

    Dan, “DNS servers” is not redundant. “DNS” stands for “Domain Name System”, not “Domain Name Server”, so what I’m talking about is my “Domain Name System Servers”, which is in fact the correct way to phrase it.

  4. Mike, you are not requires to stick to your registrar DNS service even if you want to stay with that registrar.

    You can use Sitelutions.com DNS service and they provide a nice Web interface to control any DNS records you need including the TTL values. Sitelutions DNS service is free and you can have an unlimited number of domains there.

    AFAIK, there is no small print in their free offering service. I am not affiliated with them in anyway.

    I used their service when I wrote that article. Actually over time I migrated all my DNS services to them from zoneedit.com .

  5. Manuel, I realize that. In fact, for one of my sites I changed the name server to that of another host provider for a short period of time for exactly that reason. But it wasn’t a permanent change and it was ony for one site.

    The advantage of keeping all of your sites registered with the same registrar and all of the DNS servers with that registrar is that it offers simplicity.

    If I use one provider as the registrar and another for the DNS servers, then I have to worry about managing a relationship with both companies instead of just one. Add in a hosting provider and you have three companies. If you don’t use the same provider for Windows as you do for a Linux site, then you’re up to four vendors. FOUR! And all you’re doing is running a few websites.

    When you’re one person running dozens of sites, managing them in multiple places simply doesn’t scale that well for management purposes because I have to go to different web interfaces to see data that I should have access to through one portal page, if you will.

    I completely understand my options here. But when you have dozens of domain names like I do, it’s simply not cost effective to try to manage additional relationships unless you have to. Some of these domains I’ve been running for more than a decade and changing registrars is every bit as painful.

    It’s not always easy to explain to a non-technical person the interaction process between a registrar, a DNS server, and a web server so they understand how to follow your instructions to set up a new site properly. Creating more work for the sake of flexibility for the few times that you’re actually going to change your sites from one server to another is simply not worth it in my book.

    I fully understand and appreciate that you CAN do it. But just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean that it’s appropriate in every situation. In mine, I don’t feel that it is.

  6. Mike, relax. I am just trying to be helpful here by sharing information that I have, as I have been through similar server migration problems as you.

    In the podcast you mentioned that you wonder why it is claimed it may take 24 to 36 hours to propagate DNS changes, when you just experienced 5 minutes in seeing the changes.

    I just wanted to clarify that the TTL your DNS record entries had before the changes is what defines for how long the DNS’s your site users may cache the site domain IP addresses.

    I mean if your users accessed the site 36 or less hours before your changes, and the TTL is of your DNS records is 36 hours, they will not see the new DNS record values, even if you started seeing them right after 5 minutes. They have to wait for the 36 hours to pass. So, it seemed you may have the wrong perception that everybody started seeing the changes after 5 minutes, as it may well not have been the case.

    Controlling your DNS records TTL is the right way to minimize DNS caching issues due to high TTL and cause downtime for users of your site that still see old DNS entries.

    I do not see a big problem to use a different providers to manage DNS records, but I understand you find it inconvenient for some reason. After all, each one may have different criteria to evaluate providers convenience.

    I use GoDaddy for most my domain registrations as I have tens of registered domains and GoDaddy provides great bulk discounts.

    I use Sitelutions for managing DNS records because it is free and they provide all the flexibility I need, as they let me control not just TTL, but also any other special DNS records.

    For instance I can set the TXT record which is important to set SPF and prevent that spammers can forge e-mails with my domain addresses and my domains get blacklisted for that.

    Anyway, as I mentioned I am just trying to be helpful by sharing some technical information with people like yourselves that I see as “colleagues of profession”, as you seem to make a living from somewhat similar businesses.

    I would like to apologize if you feel I am insisting on something that is not useful to your nor to your readers.

  7. No, it’s fine. I thought you were questioning why I did it that way and I was explaining why I did it differently than others might. For me, the money is less important than the time it takes and the management hassle. Others could prefer the flexibility.

    But now that you mention it, you’re absolutely right. I made an assumption that everyone would probably know about this stuff, but they might not.

    Manuel, do you have a blog article or two for reference for the readers? We could post the link either here or in the show notes on a future episode, assuming that’s ok with you.

  8. Sure, actually I already mentioned above a blog article on which I mention what steps should be taken to migrate servers between hosting companies with the least of the problems.

    http://www.phpclasses.org/blog/post/87-10-steps-to-migrate-Web-site-servers-with-the-least-of-problems.html

    This is not a personal blog. I do not have a personal blog. It is of the PHPClasses.org site, which is a site that I developed and manage for many years. The blog itself is about many topic of interest to Web professionals. The blog contains a monthly podcast to named Lately in PHP.

    http://www.phpclasses.org/blog/

    That specific article I wrote after having gone through hosting migrations and been through the same check list of steps that need to be done by the correct order to minimize downtime and other problems.

  9. Wow, I can’t believe I made that mistake about DNS. Call it OCD but little things like that really bug me. Thanks for correcting me Mike.

  10. The show requests feedback but I can’t find “feedback” or “contact”.

    I’d like to know your experience with virtual assistance services… how can I have a single toll-free number and have it randomly forward to any of my virtual operators standing by working on their own phones.

    Also, re: “Strengths Finder 2.0”… please more cheese. I’d like to hear a review a show about some free online evaluator that make you more self-aware or confirmed or clarified some personal insight. Tell us about the best, tell us which to skip… which cheese tastes good or smells bad.

  11. Around the 32 minute mark, you mentioned you’ve been to 2 consultant training programs. Would you recommend them? If so, could you provide a URL? Thanks.

  12. Both of the training classes I attended were private courses provided for partners of a pair of enterprise software companies. You can’t get into them unless you are a partner. I’m sure there are others out there, but you would probably have to dig to find them.

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