Episode 40 | More Questions Answered
[00:00] Mike: This is Startups for the Rest of Us: Episode 40.
[00:11] Mike: 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.
[00:20] Rob: And I’m Rob.
[00:21] Mike: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s going on this week Rob?
[00:25] Rob: You know, it’s been a pretty slow week for me. I was up in Seattle, Redmond and Belleview, for the Microsoft MVP summit. It was a lot of fun. It was good to catch up with some old friends. And it’s my fourth summit, so I know a few folks and interfaced with the team and such, hear about new ASP.net stuff, and some Windows phone stuff. I went and attended a couple of the Windows phone sessions, so to kinda hear some stuff that’s coming down the pike.
[00:52] It was good. It rained. It snowed, actually, on Saturday, which was kinda cool. I live in California now and it used to snow in Boston when I lived there, so I haven’t had snow in a while.
[01:01] Mike: Very cool.
[01:02] Rob: Yeah, it was good. I was really surprised. There was a room of maybe 300 MVPs and the Windows phone…he’s like the program manager, they’re called, and he asked how many MVPs had Windows phones, and it was insane. It was like 85% of the people in the room.
[01:21] Mike: Really?
[01:21] Rob: It was crazy, yeah. And just seeing people around the conference, or the summit, everyone would be on…It’s like the Samsung model of it and it’s kind of the default one; the Samsung Windows phone. Sure enough, man, it’s a neat OS. I have an iPhone; I love it. But if this had come out when the iPhone did, I would have considered this. It’s legit. They’ve done a really good job on it.
[01:47] So no, I can’t speak for…Obviously there a couple weeks behind and they don’t have the market share. But if this really is a 10 year race like people are talking about, I could see Microsoft being the third player with Android and iPhone.
[01:58] Mike: Hmm, interesting. Yeah, I’ve heard a lot of good things about the Windows phone and the operating system and the development environment. But I’ve never actually worked with it myself and I’ve never seen it up close and personal. I’m interested to see how all that stuff works and how it would be put together. But it would be nice to have the time to just sit down and play around with it, but I just don’t have the time. [laughs]
[02:20] Rob: Yeah. No, I was real impressed. The scrolling feels good. You know how the iPhone, it really feels good, right? That’s the big thing. It’s such a lame thing…If you don’t own an iPhone, that’s like the lamest statement ever, but it does, it feels intuitive. The Windows phone does as well. And the fonts are really nice, the design is gorgeous. I mean it’s a well put together operating system. Yeah, you don’t traditionally think of Microsoft being able to pull that off, but they really did on this one.
[02:45] The other thing that’s fantastic about is the development environment, from what I’ve heard, is by far the best for any mobile device. It just kicks the crap out of Android, Blackberry, and iOS.
[02:56] Mike: Well it uses Visual Studio, doesn’t it?
[02:58] Rob: Yeah. It’s Silverlight, essentially. You can use XNA, which is to build games. But if you want to just build apps, it’s Silverlight, and it’s the tools…I mean, you know, Visual Studio is just really, really good, very powerful. So it’s much better than trying, what is it, Objective C with Cocoa and all that stuff.
[03:17] I mean, yeah, I’m not going to mock that or anything. We don’t want to start a religious war or anything here, but I’ve just heard there’s a lot of challenges with that. It’s a very complex thing to learn.
[03:25] Mike: Yeah, well I’ve also seen some interesting arguments about how it’s obvious from the success of the iPhone and the App Store from Apple that it’s not necessarily how well the development environment is put together for the developers, it’s about the customer experience and the ability to sell through to that market. And that’s what will really drive sales and the business behind it.
[03:49] You know, we’ll see. Maybe having a great development environment will help that along. But, you know, it’s obviously early, so it’s hard to say.
[03:56] Rob: Yeah, they’re certainly behind in the game, right? I think Apple has 130 million iOS devices. So that’s iPod Touches, iPhones, all generations, and iPads; somewhere in there. Microsoft, I think Windows phones have 1 million to 2 million. It’s very small. It’s only been on sale a few months, but still, they have a lot of catching up to do.
[04:18] So again, if it’s a two year race or one year race, they’re hosed. But if it truly is a 10 year thing that some pundits are saying, I think there’s room for three players.
[04:27] Again, but in June my iPhone contract is up. I’m probably going to get another iPhone. I’m probably going to go with another…So at this point I’m not going to switch. But it does bring me joy to know that there are other options. I think Android is a perfectly viable option from the times I’ve used a friend of mine’s phone. And it’d be really nice to have three solid players in the market, I think.
[04:49] Mike: Yeah, that are not Blackberry. [laughs]
[04:51] Rob: There we go, yeah.
[04:54] Mike: That’s what it comes down to.
[04:55] Rob: That’s right. So how about you? I don’t know, have you had anyone maybe cut your cornea with a scalpel lately?
[05:01] Mike: [laughs] You would bring that up right away! Yeah, this past Saturday I had Lasik surgery done. So I went in around 11:45 and walked out the door at, I don’t know, it was like 3:30, 4 o’clock, and had had Lasik surgery done. And today I have pretty good vision, to be perfectly honest. My eyes are a little bit dry here and there, but I’ve been keeping them hydrated with all the different drops that they gave me, and the eye steroids, and the anti-inflammatories and stuff.
[05:32] You know, it’s gone pretty well. I can see pretty far away without glasses and I can drive without them. I’m sure I’ll have to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles at some point and say, “Hey, I can actually read this stuff.” But it’s only been two days since that happened. I mean even the next day I could see far enough and drive and see clearly. So it’s been a really good experience so far.
[05:53] Rob: That’s awesome. Yeah, for listeners out there I had the old Lasik about seven years ago. It was just a little…I mean it was still a really good laser treatment, but Mike has like a new generation of it. So now we’ve both had it and we compared war stories that we won’t bore you with on the podcast. But that’s good to hear, man! It’s great to not have glasses anymore.
[06:11] Mike: Yeah, I was actually thinking that I might be able to cancel this podcast and push it off because of the eye surgery. The listeners probably won’t know this, but I had pushed off the previous podcast because I came down with pneumonia. And then the podcast before that I had to push off because of the snow on my roof. So I was thinking I might be able to push off a third one, but I can see so I guess I couldn’t use that excuse!
[06:33] Rob: Yeah. Typically we’re several weeks out with our podcasts. And now we’re like…We have to publish one in about four hours from now…No, I’m just kidding. But we don’t have nearly as much lead time as usual because we’ve canceled a few. What else?
[06:46] Mike: Well, I haven’t really done too much on AuditShark. And that’s kind of a bummer, but it’s mainly because the pneumonia that I had grounded me for about two full weeks. So I’ve been trying to play a little catch up since then. And then with the eye surgery, you know, that sets me back a little bit.
[07:01] But I was able to spend some time doing some performance improvements. And I’ve got a unit test that actually goes through, and I use it more for performance testing than actual unit testing for this particular scenario. But I do 1,000 iterations through this particular loop and it simulates auditing 1,000 machines at a time. So it’s basically simulating doing 10 million loops through this code.
[07:25] And I was able to do some performance profiling on it and it improved the performance of that by about 20%. So it was a pretty significant improvement by just taking a look at the code and just rearranging things a little bit. Just changing where some of the declarations were made, reusing some of the variable as opposed to recreating them every time I needed to do something so the garbage collector didn’t have to kick in every 10 milliseconds or whatever.
[07:51] But yeah, it did pretty well and I’m pretty happy with that 20% performance improvement, because this is a core component of the code that’s going to be used a lot. As I said, this one spot, it was hitting this one set of code 10 million times and I got a 20% performance improvement out of it.
[08:09] Rob: Wow, that’s fantastic! Yeah, good work.
[08:12] Mike: Yep. And then, I think the only other thing is I met with one of the members of the Micropreneur Academy earlier this month here in D.C. His name’s Avery Smith. He’s got a product called Job Gizmo, which we sat down and we actually talked about it for probably about two or three hours or so, just kind of walking through some of the different issues he was having with both development and pricing and everything.
[08:35] But it’s pretty interesting. It’s a way to organize your job searches so that you can keep track of what jobs you’ve applied to and which ones you haven’t. And it’s a lot more helpful than something like..If you use Monster.com or Dice.com, you can use their built-in stuff to kinda help you organize your resume and things like that, but it doesn’t really help you organize and figure out which jobs you have and haven’t applied for, especially when you go to a different job listing site. And his software helps solve that problem.
[09:05] So it’s called Job Gizmo. It’s at JobGizmo.com. But it was a pretty interesting discussion. I mean we talked about pricing, we talked about marketing, all kinds of different things. But it was really fun to just sit down and talk to another entrepreneur about what he’s doing and how he’s going about it, and what sort of problems he’s facing.
[09:22] Rob: That’s cool. Is that in Beta right now or is it live?
[09:25] Mike: He’s still working out some of the kinks. I think he’s got it in Beta right now and he’s been testing it with a few different people. I don’t know what his go live date is on it.
[09:34] Rob: By the time this podcast…
[09:35] Mike: Yeah, [laughs] by the time this podcast goes out it may be out there. I don’t know exactly.
[09:39] Rob: Cool.
[09:42] Mike: So today we’re going to answer a bunch of questions that have come in. We do this every once in a while because some of these questions kinda queue up a little bit. What we’re going to do is just go through some questions that some listeners have sent in to us either over email or through the podcast line.
[10:00] The first one, this one seems like more of an opinion question than anything else. The question is, “What is the best development language for logic and updating databases, and what webpage creator or editors do you recommend?” So what’s your take on this?
[10:13] Rob : So I think the answer really is it depends. It depends on what you’re building. If you’re building a basic web application, the first thing I would say is do you know a language? Do you know .NET or PHP or Cold Fusion or something? Because then I would lean towards that, because then making minor changes here and there, even if you were to, say, outsource development, if you don’t know it well enough to do yourself you’re going to have to outsource development, and you’re going to want to make tweaks down the line. So I’d say lean towards that if you already know a web language.
[10:42] The other factor that comes into play is if you are going to outsource, PHP developers tend to be less expensive and they tend to be easier to find than Ruby and .NET. Yes, I know there’s Java and Cold Fusion and other web languages, and Python and those types of things. But the developers are…they to tend to me harder to find and they tend to be more expensive. So I’m really going to talk about the big three of Ruby, .NET, and PHP.
[11:08] Mike: Do you really think that .NET developers are easy to find? Well, I think they’re probably easier to find, but do you think that they are cheaper to hire?
[11:18] Rob: No, I think PHP are the cheapest and easiest to find. And then I would say Ruby is probably next. And .NET would probably be similar to Ruby or maybe a little bit higher in terms of costs and harder to find. And then Cold Fusion would be above that, and I think Java would be above that.
[11:38] Now, I haven’t tried to outsource Java JSP website development just because I don’t build sites in that. I have done Cold Fusion and it was definitely harder than when I look for .NET and PHP guys. I don’t actually know Ruby. I’ve only heard anecdotally from a friend of mine who tried to do it.
[11:53] With all that said, I would lean PHP if you have no other event and you’re not going to change the code or anything. In addition, if you wind up selling this at some point, PHP tends to be a decent language on the open market, in terms of a lot of people know it so it’s just an easy interchange if you’re going to sell it to someone. They do tend to shy away from .NET if you’re selling on Flippa or something, because .NET has development costs in terms of you need certain tools to work on it and it tends to be more enterprise driven.
[12:24] With all of that said, if you’re not just building some consumer website that inserts widgets in and out of a database and you are building something that’s more corporate or more enterprise driven, and you’re going to maybe interact with printer drivers or maybe interact with imaging, or anything like that, then I would definitely lean towards .NET because it just is so enterprise geared and it has tons and tons of plugins and components. The ecosystem is fantastic.
[12:51] Now, they’ll cost you; you’ll have to buy. But you can do things with .NET, like barcode reading and just all kinds imaging stuff, that is virtually impossible or really, really hard to do with the other web languages, so to speak.
[13:05] Mike: Well, I think part of that is because .NET kind of crosses the line from being not just a web language, but into something that’s a compiled executable that sits on a machine and can run as a desktop application, whereas those other languages are not really geared for that sort of thing.
[13:23] Rob: Yep, not as geared. Java does a bit. But again, take our words with a grain of salt. Mike and I have both been .NET developers for years. Now I did do Java development for about two years, but it was all web. I didn’t ever build a desktop app.
[13:37] Mike: I did. It sucked. [laughs]
[13:40] Rob: Yeah. And I mean that’s how I felt about it as well. But I have also coded PHP and Cold Fusion. But .NET was probably a seven year thing for me. So this is our perspective. We’re not saying we’re absolutely right. These are our opinions.
[13:55] Mike: As I started out and said, this is more of a personal preference question than anything else. It’s really what you’re more comfortable with. There’s no best programming language. And anyone who says otherwise is trying to sell something, probably.
[14:10] Rob: What’s your take, though?
[14:11] Mike: My take?
[14:12] Rob: Yeah, I’ve kind of answered and I’d love to hear your thoughts.
[14:15] Mike: I mean, personally, I prefer working with .NET. My AuditShark product is built in .NET and my .NET forum software is built with .NET. That’s the environment that I prefer working in. That said, I’ve done PHP. I’ve never actually worked with Ruby, but I’ve taken a look at it before. I’ve worked with MySQL, I’ve worked with Java. And I just prefer the tooled environment behind .NET.
[14:37] That said, when it comes time to implement like a web application and I’m going to outsource it, I will specifically look for people who are going to do it in PHP using a lamp stack or do something along the lines or Ruby. And the reason is because it is cheaper and I can follow the code. And if I’m outsourcing, the reason I’m outsourcing it is because I don’t want to write the code. So it’s OK if it’s written in another language, because I’m not the one who has to deal with working with those tools.
[15:03] Rob: Yep. No, that makes sense. And I think the fact that you’re writing AuditShark in .NET makes perfect sense because you have to go out and kind of do some hardware integration. You have to talk to Windows desktops and servers, right? Imagine trying to do that with PHP. It would be a fiasco. .NET just happens to be set up to do that because they’re going to be running Windows OS’s and stuff. So in your case that’s the perfect solution for your case.
[15:27] Mike: Yeah. And there’s all these components that are available that make it possible for me to also integrate it into the LINUX and UNIX environment as well, which just makes it phenomenally awesome to be able to do that and essentially make AuditShark into a cross platform solution.
[15:42] Rob: Right. I’d love for both of us to kind of toss out the negatives, like why not to use .NET.
[15:51] Mike: Why not?
[15:51] Rob: Yeah, why would someone not use it?
[15:55] Mike: It can get complicated.
[15:56] Rob: Yeah, very quickly.
[15:58] Mike: .NET is in version 4.0 right now and if you don’t necessarily stay on top of things, like link to SQL and Entity Framework and some of the newer, different libraries that have started to be incorporated into .NET, or if you’re not familiar with how Mono will be able to parse .NET code if you’re going to put something out there on a LINUX machine or a UNIX machine, there are all these things that kinda come into play that if you don’t truly understand how it works, you’re probably going to have a hard time with it. It introduces a lot of complexity and has the potential to make it so that you just can’t work with something at all.
[16:41] Rob: Yeah, I would second that. I mean I think it’s easy to hurt yourself with .NET. You can hang yourself with any language, but especially…You know, .NET and Java, they’re enterprise languages and they’re really complicated.
[16:51] So I think if you don’t know anything, PHP is easier to get started with and kind of ramp up pretty quickly. If you don’t know anything about .NET there’s a lot to it. So that’s one negative. I think, like we said, trying to outsource hires, outsource developers are more expensive and potentially harder to find.
[17:08] And then there’s licensing costs, right? I mean you have to have Windows OS, you have to have SQL Server. If you’re on a shared server it’s not that expensive, but…
[17:16] Mike: SQL Server you can really get around with, with SQL 2008 R2 because it allows you to have up to 10 gigabyte databases.
[17:23] Rob: For free? Express?
[17:24] Mike: For free.
[17:25] Rob: Yeah, the Express. No, you’re right. That’s right. SQL Server is now pretty full featured. And truthfully, if you really are starting up building a product you get…what is it, BizSpark?
[17:34] Mike: BizSpark, yep.
[17:34] Rob: It’s like three years it’s free.
[17:36] Mike: Three years for $100. Access to everything.
[17:37] Rob: Right. But there is a cost to it. And Visual Studio is, you know…
[17:43] Mike: Not cheap.
[17:44] Rob: It depends on what you get. Yeah, it’s $700 a year. But I think you get that with BizSpark as well, right?
[17:49] Mike: Yeah.
[17:50] Rob: So then after the three years you might have to pay some money. But anyway, that’s probably the negatives, whereas PHP is free, MySQL is free because it’s open source. I think the last thing is that the PHP ecosystem of open source is just a lot more. There’s WordPress and about a zillion other apps for pretty much anything you want to do already built in PHP. In .NET there are some open source apps, but the ecosystem is not nearly as large.
[18:13] Mike: Yeah, the other thing is for the expectation and the Microsoft side of things is if you want a plugin for .NET, chances are you’re going to have to pay for it. If you want a plugin for anything that’s PHP related, chances are it’s open source and it’s free.
[18:29] Rob: Yeah, that’s a good point.
[18:32] Mike: Number two is: “I’d like to know your experience with virtual assistant 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?” What are your thoughts on this? My first thought was, “Why would you need to have somebody answering the phones?” You know, what is it that you’re doing that you really need to have somebody answering the phones? But what’s your take on this?
[18:55] Rob: Right. So that’s my first thought too, you know, is do you need someone to answer the phones? But let’s just say that there is a compelling reason. I think there’s a couple options here. Google Voice allows you to reroute a number. He says “randomly”, and I’m kinda like, “Do you really mean randomly, or do you mean depending on the time of day?” Because with Google Voice or with Kall8.com, they allow you to set a time of day to where it forwards to your cell number or it forwards to a different number based on the time of day.
[19:28] So if that’s all you need then it’s easy. Google Voice you don’t get an 800 number; you just get a local exchange, and I think it’s US and Canada only. And then Kall8 I think is US and Canada only as well. But you can get an 800 number for $2 or $3 a month. That’s a pretty good service and good way to go. I use it for a few products.
[19:47] But if you are looking for something more than that and looking to go with more of a phone system that actually…you know, you can have a voicemail recording and do some stuff with that, but you can’t do complex phone trees.
[19:58] The one that I’ve heard about over and over but have never used is Grasshopper. They advertise on a bunch of podcasts and stuff, but it’s…I don’t even know the URL, but search for it on Google. And you can do some complex phone trees. I’m not 100% sure if you can say there are four extensions and randomly choose the next one or round-robin it or something to try to distribute the load…
[20:18] Mike: Yeah, you’d definitely do more of a round-robin sort of a thing. There’s no good reason for doing it randomly.
[20:24] Rob: Right. Yeah, to round-robin it. So I don’t know if you can do that. I would think you could, but again, I don’t know. So that’s my answer. I don’t do a ton with phones beyond having the numbers. And I do sales and stuff through them, but I don’t have a bank of VA’s answering stuff.
[20:38] Mike: Yeah, I mean there’s definitely services out there that allow you to have more of an Internet based phone system, but they do cost money. I mean it’s hard to find free or low-cost options for those sorts of things.
[20:52] Rob: Yeah, you can go with virtual PBX’s and stuff and just search and find something that does it. But like you said, it’s probably going to be pretty pricey. I think the question might be implying they want it fairly inexpensive.
[21:02] Mike: Yeah. There’s this option you can get for phone systems called call hunting. And essentially, what you do is you set it up so when a particular phone number is called, the phone system will hunt for an open phone line. So if you get five phone numbers from the phone company, you can publish only one of those numbers and set up call hunting such that the phone company will attempt to route a call to that first number, and if it’s busy it will route it to the second number. And if that’s busy, it will route it to the third number. And it will keep trying all the different phone numbers until it finds one that’s available. And that’s something that you could also get probably set up through a virtual PBX system.
[21:46] So hopefully that answers some of the questions you might have around that. Again, I think initially I might question why you might set something up like that, especially if it’s a smaller endeavor. I mean how much phone support are you realistically expecting to receive? But, you know, it’s a valid set of options if it really is required for your business.
[22:10] Rob: So question number three comes from Dwayne, who has a website called Shakespearegeek.com. And Dwayne says…This is paraphrased. It was a couple paragraphs. It says, “How do you monetize an idea? I run a community. I hesitate to call it a blog, though technically that’s what it is. It’s at ShakespeareGeek.com. And I’ve been doing that for five years.
[22:32] So I’ve got reasonable traffic, a dedicated following. I’m organically #1 for a bunch of keywords on Google. All that’s been doing just fine. It’s worth nothing for context that I’m not talking about actors and theater people, nor am I talking about academics. I’m talking about a community for regular people who happen to like learning about Shakespeare.”
[22:48] So it’s a hobby group is what I’m gathering. There’s a couple questions: “Can you maybe spend some time on how to monetize an idea rather than a product? I know you did a show on the different monetization models themselves, such as consulting, pay-per-use, micro payments, subscriptions, etc, but that’s not what I mean. I mean how do you start out with an idea like services for engaged couples and end up with a toolkit for creating your own website?”
[23:11] OK, so I think this is an interesting question. I think the first thing I’ll say is I know Dwayne calls it a community, but he’s right. It looks like a blog, so let’s kinda call it a blog for the sake of our discussing it.
[23:23] I think this is actually one of the issues I have with a lot of the books and podcasts that I listen to about kinda making money online. Not in the shady way, but like Gary Vaynerchuk is one example. He says, you know, [xx 23:35] community and then you’ll figure out how to make money. There’s a couple podcasts I listen to, Internet Business Mastery, although I don’t listen to them anymore; they’ve kind of gotten a little off-track. But back in the day they used to say the same thing—start a podcast or a blog, gather a following, and then you can make money. There’s a really good one, actually, called Foolish Adventure that I do recommend. They have a lot of good marketing tips and stuff.
[23:58] But that’s the approach they all list. And I have a real issue with it because I don’t believe that it necessarily happens in most niches. I think if you have some very large niches and it’s people who are either going to save money or make money based on what you have to offer, then they’re going to be willing to pay something.
[24:13] But if you have a smaller niche or you have something that’s a hobby, like learning about Shakespeare, it’s just a whole different ballgame, right? Because you can’t offer some info product for $97 and expect someone who wants to learn about Shakespeare to buy it. There’s just going to be smaller numbers and lower price points and all that kind of stuff.
[24:35] So I guess that’s the first thing I’ll say is it is actually pretty dang hard to monetize a blog and make any reasonable money from it, contrary to what you read on ProBlogger and hear about if you listen to any of the podcasts I’ve mentioned. You have any thoughts for the time being?
[24:50] Mike: Yeah, I mean I totally agree with you. You will certainly see examples of people out there who are making 8,10, 15, $20,000 a month from doing a blog. But you also have to keep in mind that those are exceptions, not necessarily the rule. I mean you can get a lot of traffic, but just having a lot of traffic does not equate to making money from it.
[25:11] And especially when you start talking about a niche market like people who are interested in Shakespeare. I mean things that come to mind for something like that is…I think you had said it’s not as if you could sell an info product. I think you can, but I think you would end up selling something more like Clift notes for certain Shakespeare plays or something like that. And the price point, as you pointed out, is not going to be $97. It’s going to be something like $9 or $7, because you’re not going to be able to make a whole lot of money. And you’re going to have to spend a significant amount of time doing analysis and research on a particular play in order to churn out something that people are going to pay $9, $10, $15 for. It’s going to be a fairly significant investment and you’re probably not going to make a huge amount of money from it.
[26:03] But I think you’re absolutely right. I don’t know if you can just create a blog and start making money from it. I think it’s harder than most people will make it out to be.
[26:12] Rob: Right. And even with the #1 Google rankings organically, that’s fantastic, but it really does depend on how many people that actually brings in. Because if you’re ranking for really low volume terms then…if you’re getting 1,000 uniques a month or 2,000 uniques a month, I really wouldn’t try to monetize the blog at this point. I think once you’re up over 5,000…and this depends on your niche. If you happen to be in Internet marketing, or SEO, or something that really you’ll make money online, some niche that has motivated people, then you don’t need nearly as much traffic. But if you’re in a hobby niche like something like Shakespeare, I really think you need to get above 5-10,000 uniques a month, preferably up over 20,000, frankly.
[26:53] And then there’s a number of ways. Honestly, I think you should start with the bottom of the barrel and just try Adsense and see what happens. And my guess is you’re not going to make very much money, because the clicks for those terms are not going to be high paying clicks. You are going to get five cent clicks all over the place because the niche is just not one that has a lot of cash flow in it, basically.
[27:14] And that’s going to be the problem. You can then go and try to find niche advertisers. But who will you find? I mean you’re going to find theater companies or you’ll find people selling Shakespeare DVDs. None of these things are necessarily large volume and high price things.
[27:30] But those are other avenues I’d go down—looking for other advertisers. You can certainly talk about, if there happen to be products available on Amazon, but you’re only going to make 4% on those sales.
[27:38] Mike: Yeah. I mean if you look at his site, he’s already done that. Like at the very, very bottom there’s a link to Amazon. He’s got a lot of different things on here that he’s obviously trying. It looks like there’s something here from Zazzle for having t-shirts and mugs made. There’s a tip jar. There’s the Amazon ads. It looks like there may be some stuff here for Facebook and Twitter.
[28:00] I mean he’s doing a lot of the things that you would typically expect. And I think part of the question is coming from, “I’ve tried all the things that everybody has said to try and I’m not getting results. Can you help?”
[28:12] I think you’re absolutely right. There are certain places where you can try this type of thing and you may get a decent amount of traffic. But certain places, you’re just not going to be able to monetize them and there’s literally nothing you can do.
[28:24] Rob: Yeah. I’m glad you pointed that out; I haven’t actually clicked through to the site today.
[28:30] Mike: Slacker! [laughs]
[28:31] Rob: Yeah, well I had seen it when the question came in, but I didn’t see it today. There are some ads on it. I think the one other thing is to look at models like Zen Habits. If you go to ZenHabits.com, he basically wrote an e-book about Zen Habits. It’s about like minimalism and being Zen and a bunch of other stuff. But I think he’s sells them really cheap, like $7 or $9. And so he sells some of them.
[28:54] I think that’s a good way to go. If you write quality material and you have an audience who likes your stuff, then cranking out your own digital products, essentially. And if you’re best on audio and that’s applicable, then record some audio. Either have someone interview you over Skype or interview them, and you can have a transcription done relatively inexpensively. And then you have essentially this PDF and a one-hour audio thing and bam. I mean you can pretty easily sell that for $19 with audio.
[29:24] Again, it depends on the niche. You can sell it for a lot more if it’s in a higher paying niche. Or if you just want to write an e-book, 20,30, 40 page e-book that…you gotta find out what your audience wants. That’s the thing. I mean I really think you need to put out a survey. Unless you already know something that they’re going to be willing to pay for, you need to find out what they’re going to be willing to pay for. So I think you need to talk to some folks and/or put a survey in on your blog in a post and try to get as many people to give their feedback on what they’d be interested to hear about.
[29:52] And then you can go further. You can take it and do video or you can do screencasts if that’s applicable. Again, I don’t know how that would fit into Shakespeare blogs; I don’t exactly get the niche. But I think those are probably going to be some ways to explore. And I do think they’ll all bring in more money than doing the Amazon ads and Adsense and stuff like that. So I hope that helps.
[30:13] The second part of his question is: “How do you get past the mental hurdle where you keep telling yourself nobody will pay for that?” Well, you need to ask people. Don’t just build something randomly. You have to talk to your audience. Any comments on that Mike?
[30:26] Mike: No, not really. I mean I agree. You have to ask people.
[30:29] Rob: Before I wrote my book “Start Small, Stay Small”, I surveyed my blog and I said, “What do you guys want to hear about?” And I took that feedback and I put it in the book. And I knew that some people would be interested in those things. And then I used those things as bullet points on the back cover and when I talked about the book because I knew that it was stuff that people wanted to hear about. I obviously fulfilled that need because I sold some books.
[30:52] So I really think that that’s your next step. You don’t just build something blind. That’s like the worst thing you can do.
[30:59] Mike: Yeah, you have to do at least minimum market research to figure out, “Is this something people want?” before you go out and spend all this time either writing code or writing the book only to find out that nobody actually wanted it.
[31:15] Rob: All right moving on to our next question. It’s from Aowyn. He says, “Hi guys. I have a question for you as I’m struggling with this. Visitors to my site, Bite-size Irish Gaelic, come from different sources. I pay for traffic including custom display ads in AdWords. I try to squeeze from them as soon as possible. Some people buy after clicking through from email newsletters, others buy directly on the site.
[31:39] But how can I tell their original source? For example, if a person comes from AdWords or a banner display then signs up for email and eventually pays for my service, is there a way for me to tell that they specifically came from AdWords? Thanks, Aowyn.”
[31:52] OK, so the problem that Aowyn’s talking about is a problem called “the last click syndrome”. And typically, a tool like Google Analytics will attribute their purchase to the last click that they made. So often, your sales cycle requires many visits to your site. It may require three weeks, four weeks, six weeks, three months depending on what product your selling. And basically, the last time they come, which is typically going to be through a link in an email, or maybe they just type it in directly, then they buy, then that’s going to get attributed with your purchase, not the thing that they came through three months ago when they clicked on the link in the search engine.
[32:29] So it’s a very common problem. I think both Mike and I each have an approach or suggestion. The best way I’ve heard to deal with this is to use Kiss Metrics. This is made by Heaton Shaw and it’s a really cool tool that basically solves this problem. It tries to put cookies and track stuff for you. And it tracks your funnel even if it’s not the same visit. Of course it costs money, but it’s invaluable, right? You don’t have to write custom code. Create your funnel there and it spits out some Java script, and you paste that in a page or two and it’s done and you get these nice reports. So it’s KissMetrics.com and we’ll list it in the show notes.
[33:05] So that’s the solution that I’ve heard about. Mike, how about you? I think you have another idea.
[33:09] Mike: Yeah, as you said, the other way you can go about it is to write your own custom code that will analyze where the person originally came from. You drop some cookies on their machine. Obviously, the problem associated with that is making sure that the cookies get on the machine and dealing with all the different idiosyncrasies of different browsers or whether the person comes from a different machine or different device from one time to the next, and trying to associate multiple devices or machines. You know, maybe it’s the exact same user and you would be able to tell that by if you send out an email in a newsletter and it goes to somebody’s phone, well they click on the link there and you drop a cookie on their phone.
[33:53] Well, when they go home and they browse from their desktop and they click on the same link because they want to go buy it, you want to be able to associate that same cookie with the person, because it’s the same newsletter link.
[34:10] So at that point it introduces a lot of different complexity. If you can outsource that complexity to a service like Kiss Metrics, that’s going to save you a lot of hassle and a lot of headaches. And at that point it may very well be worth it.
[34:26] If there are things that Kiss Metrics doesn’t do for you that you, for some reason, feel are absolutely necessary and you need that information, you are going to have to roll your own code. And it’s going to be time consuming. And depending on how much money you’re making from it, it may or may not be worth it.
[35:02] So I think they have some pretty complex algorithms going on there that even if someone tries to come from a separate device it tries to figure out that it’s them. But honestly, I don’t know that for 100%. Probably do some more research if you are going to go down that road.
[35:14] The other thing is, yeah, doing it custom, I wouldn’t be opposed to that. I think that’s a reasonable approach, but I do think that trying to track them, you’re basically going to put a cookie on their machine and you need to save that code that if they do sign up to the email, in MailChimp, or wherever your email provider is, you’d want to add an extra field. You’d want to put that little code, their customer number, in their record. And then whenever you send them an email you’d want to include that in the query string of the link that they would click through in the email to track them back just to make sure that you re-identified them.
[35:51] And I don’t think that’s a terrible solution. I think you would get most people that way. You’d really only miss the case where somebody switches computers and then types you in directly and doesn’t come back via an email link. And I think that certainly happens, but it’s a lot more rare than the other cases.
[36:10] So this is a good question. It’s pretty common and one I’ve asked myself in the past. So I definitely think either option is a good one.
[36:19] Rob: Well, I think that just about wraps us up for today. We’re out of time. I hope we’ve answered all your questions. Feel free to keep them coming. You can send them to us via our voicemail number, which is 888-801-9690, or you can email to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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[36:54] You can subscribe to this podcast, of course, in iTunes or via RSS at startupsfortherestofus.com. Our theme music is an excerpt from “We’re Outta Control”. It’s by MoOt and it’s used under Creative Commons.
[37:06] A full transcript of this podcast is available at our website: startupsfortherestofus.com. We will see you next time.