Episode 58 | Inspiring Stories from Aspiring Entrepreneurs

Show Notes


[0:00:00] Mike: This is Startups For the Rest of us Episode 58.

[0:00:03] [music]

[0:00:12] Mike: Welcome to startups for the rest of us, podcasts to help developers, designers and entrepreneurs do awesome at launching software products whether it’s to sell your first product or just thinking to buy in. I’m Mike,

[0:00:19] Rob: And I’m Rob.

[0:00:20] Mike: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s going on Rob?

[0:00:24] Rob: All kinds of stuff man. I’m going to start off so I have  long list as usual I don’t know if we’ll get through all of it. But had just to tell folks I got my Kindle Fire and I’m shocked at how nice it is. They did a really good job with the hardware, it’s got a nice rubberized back and it’s a small, you know I’m telling you it’s a small form factor than an iPad, it’s 7 inches. But basically from the way I use a tablet it pretty much does everything that I need. So for 200 bucks it’s quite a steal.

[0:00:54] Mike: Hmm, interesting. See I haven’t even considered getting one. I got an email from Amazon a couple of days ago that made me consider it because it said that you could stream movies from, down to your Kindle if you had Amazon Prime.

[0:01:07] Rob: Yeah there’s like 10,000 I think free movies and those are the, you know they’re all their films right. It’s like the net, it’s how Netflix is streaming  when it was first launched. Then I rent all my movies through Amazon now. I don’t like Blockbuster, I haven’t gone in years and then Red Box, I just don’t go to Red Box to get well the DVDs. So everything I rent is through Amazon.

[0:01:27] Mike: How do you put them on to your TV? Or do you not bother?

[0:01:30] Rob: I have Roku

[0:01:31] Mike: Oh okay.

[0:01:32] Rob: Roku  has the Amazon app yup. So the way I watch videos these days is Netflix streaming and Hulu Plus and then Amazon. And then all three of those have apps on the Kindle and then the iPad doesn’t have Amazon. There is no Amazon video app but the other two are there. Yeah it works really well men, I’ve been impressed. I happened to have uploaded on my well 20 Gigs of [music] up to the Amazon Cloud months ago when they launched Amazon [music]. And so I had forgotten about it and  I just popped into the [music] tab and since I’m already logged in you know to the Kindle as my Amazon it just you know had all the playlists, I could just listen to my [music], stream it right through my Wi-Fi  which is pretty cool.

[0:02:13] I never have to sync this thing or anything.  It’s just all cloud based.  So obviously it’s Wi-Fi only there’s no 3G. I’ve really, I’ve really been impressed with it. I can do everything that I commonly do on my iPad I can do on this Kindle and the Kindle is smaller, half the price and same battery life.

[0:02:28] Mike: But you’ve already paid for the iPad so it’s not like you’re saving money buying…just pointing it out.

[0:02:35] Rob: No no, buy and I totally agree. I mean frankly I’m considering like I’m not going to keep both these things I’m going to sell one of them. But I can get, you can get several hundred dollars for iPad One still. You can get like three hundred or more on eBay for it. So yeah I don’t know men, I don’t know which one I’m sure not going to keep both of them. But you know what honestly I’m just glad there is a viable competitor because up to this point like there really have not, there hasn’t been a breakout Android tablet. I really think that Kindle Fire has a great chance at being an iPad competitor, not an iPad killer but a really nice, I think for more casual users I think. Like if my mum asked me what kind of tablet she should get I would probably recommend the Kindle Fire over the iPad.

[0:03:17] Mike: I remember seeing something from some of the Apple executives had said something about how they didn’t see the Kindle Fire as an iPad killer it was more of a, it was a different market right. So they saw this as something that could easily co-exist with the iPad but not necessarily something that competed head to head.

[0:03:35] Rob: Yeah I think it will certainly take some market share but I would agree. I mean there is not camera on the Kindle Fire. Android is not as elegant as the iOS just in the usage. And so if you’re really hang up on the…

[0:03:45] Mike: You’re just, you’re just offended like half the planet.

[0:03:48] Rob: You think so? I don’t think…

[0:03:50] Mike: I don’t know.

[0:03:51] Rob: Even people I know who like Android, it’s a great OS but it’s just there are certain things, very subtle things I mean it’s like comparing Mac to Windows where like Windows is great and usable but Mac just has a certain, a certain feel to it that you know Android doesn’t.

[0:04:04] Mike: I think you just took care of the other half of the price.

[0:04:06] Rob: Oh nice, nice. A couple of the drawbacks, one is the, of the Kindle Fire, one is the screen is pretty small. So if you want to surf the web it’s not nearly as good as, of an experience as on the iPad. It’s a lot harder to type, the keyboard is much smaller. So if you really do plan on doing much typing, it’s a nonstarter. I don’t know if you can get a Bluetooth keyboard or not or if that’s even worth it.  But that’s my review I don’t want to talk too much about it. But its, I was just, I was impressed and very pleased that you know someone else has come out with a viable alternative.

[0:04:34] Mike:  I looked at it and thought about it but I don’t really see a need for me to bring you know something else and it doesn’t really add a whole heck of a lot. I mean I do travel and if I travel the problem is that I run into most of the time is the fact if I wanted to stream  movies or videos or something like that usually the hotels you know that is just so overwhelmed that they can’t keep with anything that you’re doing anyway. And it’s not like these are bad hotels either, I mean everyone comes back to the hotel between 6:00 and 8:00 they’re just on the internet the entire time.

[0:05:07] And of course well you’re, we’ll bring like an Apple TV or Roku or they’ll stream things to their iPad and just the whole just get’s overloaded.

[0:05:15] Rob: Yeah you can actually download stuff as well like you can go to the [music] and just download an entire playlist at once and it’s download it to the hard drive as well as the videos. I’ve no idea how much onboard space is on the drive I assume that probably 8 Gigs or 16 Gigs I would assume but I haven’t even paid attention. So I’ve never run out on my iPad so it’s not even something I think about.

[0:05:35] Mike: Yeah I have, the iPad that I got has 64 Gigs of space. So there’s plenty for a number of different movies but there’s, I’ve also run into times where like I’ve got to start moving things around a little bit or make some judgment calls on which movie to take with me and which ones not to. So…

[0:05:51] Rob:  Right, right.

[0:05:53] Mike: But sometimes I’ll be in the mood for different things but well interesting take on the, the Kindle Fire.

[0:05:59] Rob: For folks who are on like Android phones or BlackBerrys or Palms, is anyone selling Palm? I offended the last tenth of a percent of the market that I missed at… There is this app called Stitcher and because that’s one thing I’ve heard is that the cool thing about having an iPhone or an iPod is that you can, the podcasting is really to consume. But that Windows phones, Androids, BlackBerrys it’s just there is not a great app for it until Stitcher came along. And so Stitcher is this, it syncs they’re over the air and basically they contacted us.

[0:06:27] They said that they’ve had a bunch of requests for our podcast to be on Stitcher, I don’t know whether to believe them  but somehow they heard about us and so if you’re a Stitcher user and you’ve been having trouble getting our podcast you can I guess search in their repository and find us. And then we’ll automatically update if you want to subscribe so. But that was a nice a little thing to have to extend our reach a bit. Yeah so I’ve been yapping for a long time, how are you, what’s going on with Audit Shark this week?

[0:06:54] Mike: Well I finished, I think the last time we talked when we had Jason and Justin on I was saying how I was working on adding the capability to have them support more than one customer inside the system and I finished that up. And in the process of doing so I actually discovered a couple of security holes and so I had to spend some time cleaning those up and they weren’t really major. You could see certain things, you could see policies and rules and stuff that other people had created but you couldn’t actually see the results of them. But I felt like it was something that really kind needed to be addressed.

[0:07:27] So I spent some time working through those and fixing those problems. And today I reached out to my first prospective customer, sent him an email, I’ve got a, I mean I met him last year he gave his business card. So I shot him an email and just asked him if he could spend a little bit of time with me next week taking a look at what I’ve built so far and kind of give me some live feedback about it I’ll say. Unfortunately next week as you know is Thanksgiving. So I don’t know whether he’ll even be around to take a look at anything I’ve got so we’ll see how it goes. But I’ve got some time next week where I can go do some cold calling if you will by just kind of dropping into a couple of different banks and seeing if they’ll just take a look at it and give me some feedback.

[0:08:08] Rob: That’s cool, well that’s exciting men, it’s like a big milestone to do the first email with that guy. I know you’re already met with him but I’m really interested to hear how that goes.

[0:08:16] Mike:  Yeah I mean there’s still, there’s a few things that I really need to get taken care of still. I still don’t have the ability to actually schedule the audits and first for that I actually looked around and decided well do I want to build my own scheduling piece of this or do I want to see if there is a library out there that I can use. And I found that there’s open source library called codes.net which is for scheduling tasks and jobs and it was originally based on a Java implementation but it’s been ported over to dot net.

[0:08:49] And it looks pretty full featured and I should be able to put it either out in the cloud so that I can pipe things to a queue on whatever schedule I want or I may put the scheduling piece actually on the end points in the customer environment and then have it just pull out to the cloud on its own schedule basis. I mean who knows maybe I’ll do both. But I’ve definitely got to get that in and then there is a couple of other libraries that I run into. One I hadn’t really given a lot of serious consideration to which is log4net which a lot of people are probably familiar with because it’s from the, I think it’s from the Apache Foundation.

[0:09:23] And it’s pretty prevalent out there as an open source library for just logging different things. But I had my own internal logging mechanism for the application that I built a long time ago and I never really pulled it out. But I could see how log4net would be useful in certain scenarios and it’s also used inside of another application called Topshelf which is an implementation of making a Windows service such that you compile it on to an executable and then you call your executable with the install parameter and it will actually install your executable as a Windows service which is really kind of cool.

[0:09:58] Rob: That is kind of cool, yeah.

[0:10:00] Mike: I’ve already got that capability that I built in a while back. But since I’m going to be incorporating probably log4net in cops.net anyway it’s going of built in. So I may as well just start using Topshelf as well.

[0:10:13] Rob: Right.

[0:10:14] Mike: I mean it looks really easy to start to kind of switch over and it would get rid of a lot of the, I suppose it would get, on one hand it would rid of a lot of the code that I wrote but it would introduce a lot of code that I didn’t write. So I’m kind of, I don’t know I’m kind of on the fence about that.

[0:10:27] Rob: Trade off yeah, that’s always hard.

0:10:29] Mike: Yeah. It does give me some more features though. So for example when somebody goes to install I could pop up a box that says, please provide the credentials that you would like to” you know have the service run at.

[0:10:38] Rob: Yeah. See that’s the thing and you’re never going to but I bet you’re just not going to have the time to add those little features to this piece of it. You know you’re to get those for free basically is nice and then hopefully moving forward as it’s supported if there are bugs found, if it’s over the source you can fix them and if not then they will get fixed automatically assuming it’s a supported project. That’s, it’s definitely tough I would lean towards using it if it’s not too much headache to you know swap it out.

[0:11:06]Mike: No it really doesn’t look like it’s too much of a headache it’s just a matter of biting the bullet and just doing it. And I, I’ll probably need I don’t know six or eight hours to buckle down and rip out all of the infrastructure that I’ve built to put you know all three of  those things in there. I already have a piece that is kind of a multi threaded portion of the code that’s built into the service that does most of the things that I want to do I’m going to have to rip it all out. So yeah I mean it could be worse.

[0:11:35] Rob: Right.

[0:11:36] Mike: But you know I’m probably going to spend some time doing that later this week or next week and then next week I would expect to be in a position where I could say, hey the stuff is done and all the scheduling pieces are there. And you’ll be able to use it on a scheduled basis whereas right now you’re kind of forced to just use a single policy that’s hard coded and go from there.

[0:11:54] Rob: That’s cool.

[0:11:55] [music].

[0:11:58] Mike: How’s Hit Tail doing?

[0:11:59] Rob: It’s going well I’ve been, I’ve been pretty busy on it. I’m actually excited with, with what’s going on. I had some items on my list to take care of and I really started charging on them over the past two weeks since we last talked about it. Basically the marketing website design is done and it’s about 80% integrated with kind of the existing code base so to speak. You know there is a bunch of functionality built into the marketing website. So I have a developer working on that. And then the design for the app portion, the redesign is about 80% and that’s just the comps at this point. So then it has to go through HTML CSS and then get integrated.

[0:12:33] So I’m  hoping that that’s about another couple of weeks depending on how hard the integration is because there’s a lot of Ajax spaghetti code in there because it was written in 2006 with a really worn Ajax libraries and yet it does Ajaxy stuff so it’s all raw from hand Java script. So it really yeah and I’ve been debating with whether or not to swap it out with jQuery now or to just have the developer get it working as is because this is holding me up from marketing it because I need the new design before I can market it because I don’t want to send people to this old crummy looking app. I just know that the conversionary won’t be very good.

[0:13:12] So it weren’t doing that I would totally say let’s stop let’s take the extra couple of weeks and rewrite it as jQuery. But given that even two more weeks is like not cool to wait to begin marketing this thing but I’m planning to just use as is it, you know it works I fix a bunch of bugs in it and then have the other guy circle back as I start the marketing and you know basically rewrite and retest it. Because I know it’s not going to be two weeks to rewrite it, I know two weeks will turn into four and that will turn into six pretty quickly you know.

[0:13:42] The other thing I did that was kind of, you know you do these things and they’re just a little bit scary. I emailed a huge chunk of the, kind of the old user base, basically if there are about, there were 1300 X users, people who had cancelled or trials had run out or whatever but who were still sending data to the tracking part of the app. Basically they still had the tracking code installed on their website. And so they were still sending data and it, they were still analyzing it and I have like the actual new keyword suggestions for them and they aren’t using the app you know. Their login is inactive and they aren’t paying or anything.

[0:14:19] So I basically emailed about 1300 of them and said yeah from the past couple of years probably, I mean it wasn’t just some random email it was like we have X new keywords suggestions for your website. You know that was in the subject of the email. And that was like you were once signed up, you’re still sending data, we’d love for you to sign up again keep front on too you know we’d love for you to, we’d like to ask you to remove the code so you don’t keeping traffic to our site. And got a pretty good response from it actually it got, it just…

[0:14:46] Mike: Really?

[0:14:47] Rob: Yeah I got close to 30 signups from that and then other people emailing saying hey you know sorry I had forgotten I’ll remove it now. In general it was this, yeah it was a pleasant experience. I didn’t get one person who emailed you know with any type of complaint or anything. I think there was one spam complaint out of 1300 which…

[0:15:03] Mike: That was not bad.

[0:15:04] Rob: Doing what I did was not bad, you know.

[0:15:06] Mike: Right.

[0:15:07] Rob: Now the one that didn’t go so well basically Hit Tail  has  had a free plan. It was, I think it was premium early on and so there were still about 2500 users who they either never had their trial ended because there was no script to do that or the they had run a free plan or there was something. They were just basically not paying and yet they could still log in and were still sending traffic to the site. And I emailed those guys and those guys were not nearly as responsive.  I didn’t get, I got two complaints on that one, two people who’re saying like this sucks, you’re ending a free plan. You know I can’t pay $9 a month, I’m a blog and it’s like oh men you know.

[0:15:44] So I really did have to sit there and kind of analyze those and think about whether or not I was right or not. But I did get out of 2500 so far I’ve only gotten five signups so it’s a much lower conversion rate on that. I think what I somehow realize you know there’s a big thing about listening to customers right. You should  listen to your customers. I think you need to listen to the right customers.

[0:16:03] Mike: [Laughter]

[0:16:04] Rob: And it’s not that these are bad people or anything it’s that I think that people who complain about this are just, they’re not my customer moving forward. Not the people I want to market to. They’re not the people who benefit the most from this service because if they don’t get $9.95 a month of value from this service we have a mismatch.

[0:16:21]: Mike: Right.

[0:16:22]: Rob: Because the previous provider, I mean I have people on $99 plans who love it and rave about Hit Tail. So if they can get that much value out of it then I know that the value is there. It’s how do I find more customers like that. One guy said, one guy was awesome, he emailed and said, yeah I don’t get any value you should make it free and make it Ad supported. I’m like oh men, yeah for Facebook it works for them but it’s like I just don’t have enough traffic.

[0:16:46] Mike: Right.

[0:16:47] Rob:  But then, but two guys actually did, one guy wrote I would pay like ten bucks or twenty bucks a year for this, and dude that just even cover gas.

[0:16:55] Mike: That doesn’t even cover your bandwidth probably for that.

[0:16:58] Rob: No.

[0:16:58] Mike: It actually probably does. But still it’s just, it’s not worth the headache of you trying to track them if they don’t actually do…

[0:17:04] Rob: If they send, yeah if they send me two emails during the year you know and my support person has to do it like I’ve have lost money. It’s just, I mean I had a blog person a while back that was like you can’t make money charging a dollar per month. And yeah maybe you can if you have millions of customers. But ten or 20 bucks for a small of an operation as Hit Tail is just not worth it.

[0:17:23] Mike: Right.

[0:17:24] Rob: So anyways I don’t, it’s all I had to think about but I started thinking about oh did I make a mistake? Should I have email these free plan people and offered them like a really low end plan,  a really you know cheap one. But I realized that the problem is the date in the databases is so out of whack that I could have easily emailed the existing customers and I probably did. And so if they’re paying ten bucks a month already then they get this email and it’s like yeah you can do a $20 a year plan I’m actually going to lose, I would probably lost more money by having to give them that plan than I would by the number of people who would sign up.

[0:17:55] Mike: Right.

[0:17:56] Rob: It’s kind of what I expected but luckily no, like I said no real for sending 2500 emails last night, no real backlash which  is good. But it worked out well and I, you know I spent like two hours drafting that email I kept rewriting and rewriting because I realized there were just going to be questions. When I sent the first 1300 emails I freaking got probably 80 replies the next day and then 70 replies the following day and I realized that I did a poor job of answering all the questions because I got a lot of replies. Whereas this time I made the email a little longer and I’ve only received maybe 30 to 40 replies which I would say is a good thing. Just because it was taking me a long time to answer that. I’m still doing support as you know just for the first few months until I really figure the app out then I’ll hire somebody to do it.

[0:18:45] Mike: Right yeah you have, you’re kind have to figure out what all the pitfalls are going to be and what the common questions are and then provide that.

[0:18:51] Rob: Yeah and I have big text doc right now of the common responses, the snippets and all that stuff and so that will go into a basically probably Fog Bogs you know as snippets for the new VA. But I guess the end result of all this is that I am, what I have really been able to do is cleanse the database because the database is just been a mess. You can’t even tell who’s paid and who’s not.

[0:19:11] Mike: Oh.

[0:19:12] Rob: So I always have to go to PayPal to figure it out. And that’s what, this whole effort is designed to get some sign ups but it’s really designed so that I have a clear view I can just run a query and figure out how many paying people do I have, what are they paying that kind of stuff because right now you can’t do that.

[0:19:25] Mike: Yeah that always makes it hard when you just have no idea who’s actually paying and who’s not. You just can’t even prioritize like your support emails and stuff because obviously you want to give some priority to the people who are actually paying for it but…

[0:19:37] Rob: Absolutely. When free users email, I want to say yes I’ll help you but you know I need to encourage you to sign up basically if you’re past your trial you’ve been using this for a year for free and you’re now asking me for some support. I really do need to, you know we no longer have a free plan I want to be able to tell him sign up. And I couldn’t do that before because I just didn’t know who was paying. So at least once I’ve gone through this I can, I can kind of do that.

[0:19:57] Mike: Are you  going to switch the payment provider from PayPal  to something else or no?

[0:20:02] Rob: Yeah. What I’m going to do right now it’s PayPal subscriptions which means that when they click ‘buy now’ they go to the PayPal website right. And then they sign up for subscription and then they get redirected back. And the problem with that is I’m going to be moving towards a usage model where it’s, your pricing is tiered based on how many visits per month you get because that’s how much traffic essentially you send to our servers and it’s like a direct cost for this stuff. So you can’t do that with  PayPal subscriptions because you can’t modify the amount. Plus it’s just a crappy experience, in my opinion not very professional to wander off the site and not have kind of a dedicated page on your website with an SSL cert.

[0:20:42] Mike: Right.

[0:20:43] Rob: Yes so I will probably keep it in PayPal, I’ll do web payments pro though where it’s all done on the back end and you know the person on the front end doesn’t know that they’re, who they are paying through, they just know the credit card is being charged.

[0:20:54] Mike: Right. Yeah I’m looking at that right now just because eventually I’m going to have to somehow allow people to pay me for AuditShark and for the time being I’m just going to honestly just send them an invoice until it gets to the point where it’s actually painful to do that and then I’ll turn around and either completely outsource it or see how long I can go without actually having some sort of an automated payment system and then you know bite the bullet and figure something out. Because I know that when you’re first looking for something to sign up with, if you actually have volume and you can show them that you have fast revenues it makes it easier to get a better rate.

[0:21:29] But you know that’s one of those things that it’s kind of dicey because you just don’t know what sort of, I don’t want to say customer experience because that will mean your customers, I mean you as a customer of the, of the merchant provider has. Like the interaction with your code and dealing with support and everything. I think you told the story last year where you tried to get Merchant account and they said okay we’ll get back to you and two weeks later you call them up and they say, oh yeah this was denied because of this. And they just didn’t tell you anything.

[0:21:58] Rob: Yeah. That happened a number of times, that was authorized dot net experience that was just a big waste of my time and wound up costing me just six, seven hundred bucks by the time I was done with it. There was a cancellation fee, there were monthly fees that weren’t, that they hadn’t told me about. It was crazy, I wrote a blog post called “Why I’m so happy to be paying PayPal $30 a month again” or something like that. I was just so, like all the crap everybody gives PayPal I have really good experiences with them.

[0:22:27] Yeah I agree there’s that website it’s called feefighters.com. That’s the one I would head to if you’re, if you’re going to do a Merchant account.

[0:22:35] Mike: Yeah I’ll probably do that at some point, it’s just a matter of getting to the point where I really need to have that stuff in there because I’m just trying to eliminate as much friction as possible at least for the startup piece of it because I mean, because these are banks. They’re going to be putting in software that is going to be altered in their environment. So I have to be a little bit sensitive about what kinds of things I ask them for upfront because I need to, I need to establish trust with them first.  Not to say that if I had SSL ticket and all these other things that go along with it that wouldn’t help. But you know it’s just a matter of what their perceptions of the site are going to be.

[0:23:12] Rob: Absolutely. Yeah I think your approach is geared to not build this billing engine upfront, I mean there is no need to do that.

[0:23:18] Mike: Yeah. The other thing that I have been looking at is extended validation SSL certificates. Have you ever looked at those?

[0:23:23] Rob: Yeah. They like offer more like business credibility right, they validate that your business is legit or at least it exists and that kind of stuff?

[0:23:31] Mike: Yeah, yeah.

[0:23:32] Rob: Yeah and it puts a big green bar in the browser. Yeah I mean obviously they’re a lot more expensive but for your market I bet it would be, I bet they will actually care about that kind of thing.

[0:23:40] Mike: Right, right.

[0:23:41] Rob: I worked with a guy who, I consulted with him who was a legal sass application and he said that lawyers absolutely would look at something like that. So he paid the extra. And I think it was like you know we can get an SSL cert for a 100 bucks and eval the extended one, extend the validation with something like 700 that he did. And he, it was like totally worth it you know for this market so.

[0:24:01] Mike: Right. The SSL certificate that I got was free. But it’s one of those things where you know it’s completely generic SSL certificate. I think it will last for 90 days as well and I can renew it every 90 days but that stress could become a pain in the neck. And then for an extended validation I could get one for probably two or three hundred or something like that if I want to get that kind of level of authorization. Do they usually give you some sort of  a Java script or some sort of little app or something like that that you can put on your webpage and it says this has been authenticated by Comodo or GeoTrust of what  have you. And it will kind of float near to the corner on the side of the webpage or something like that. Obviously if you click on the address bar it will give additional corporate information.

[0:24:42] But the one  I’ve actually been seriously contemplating and although I hate to even consider spending this much money on it is VeriSign.

[0:24:52] Rob: Premium, yeah. But banks, I feel like banks are going to care. Do you think they will you know?

[0:24:58] Mike: Yeah. I think it’s like $1500 too. Like their lower end one is a 1000 but their higher end one is something like 1500.

[0:25:04] Rob: I think the good news is by the time you need this, by the time you’re actually going to buy the SSL cert I think you’ll know if the idea is going to fly or not right. And you’ll know you have some income coming in. You’re not going to do this tomorrow. So I bet by that time that it will be worth it to do the high end thing.

[0:25:20] Mike: Right it would definitely probably push people over if they see the VeriSign logo. I mean because I’ll be able to put that on my site if I were doing that, I’d be able to say this is authenticated by VeriSign and everything else. But the issue that I have with the extended validation is that I don’t really have  a physical address. I do but I don’t necessarily want to publish it in my SSL certificate either.

[0:25:40] Rob: Yeah that’s right. I question how, how many sales you’re going to have that are directly through your website and they don’t talk to you first. You know even if they’re over the phone I mean some maybe in person but I imagine quite a few would be over the phone. And so, I mean,  I know the VeriSign thing will probably be recognized by people in the finance industry and they’ll  give you more credence but obviously people who really know anything know that a cheap Go Daddy  cert is you know is good as a VeriSign one that is all just name brand recognition.

[0:26:06] And so I guess all that to say, until people start buying through your website, kind of sight and seeing without talking to you I actually do question if it’s worth the extra basically 1500 bucks because you can probably pay 50 bucks and get a perfectly good SSL cert these days, generic one so.

[0:26:26] Mike: Yeah it’s something I definitely want to test that to see how it goes. But at the same time it’s not going to be a very good test site I don’t think unless I were to go to maybe conversion rate or something like that on the site. Because if I’m basing it off a number of sales for example, my sales this coming year are not going to in line with what next year will be like so.

[0:26:47] Rob: Yeah that’s not enough. But you can’t do sales, it would be tough to test I’ve never seen anyone actually test VeriSign versus like Go Daddy cert.

[0:26:53] Mike: It’s funny because if you go to VeriSign site they have all these case studies about  all…

[0:26:59] Rob: Oh nice.

[0:27:00] Mike:  All these people who’ve got you know much more sales because of the VeriSign logo. But everybody knows who VeriSign is so it does count for something.

[0:27:10] Rob: Yeah.

[0:27:10] [music]

[0:27:13] Rob: I got a couple of cool stories. One is from Jazz, Jas Panesar, you and I both know him he came to Microconf, he’s an early I think he was actually a charter Microprenuer Academy member. He’s been building apps for a long time and he’s launched several different ones but the most recent ones is called Buzzerful, buzzerful.com we’ll put it in the show notes. And he basically I think he pitched it at a, it was like an Edmonton kind of startup weekend thing. And then he pitched and then he wound up getting local news coverage on the television and they interviewed him and they talked about his app and I’ll try to get that link and put it on the show notes as well.

[0:27:48]It’s just really cool to see him talking to a news reporter who obviously just attached to his idea because its so consumer oriented. And Buzzerful is kind, it’s a very clever idea actually it’s, you know the buzzer is down at the bottom of an apartment complex. Typically people can enter you number and it rings one of your phones right, you can enter one phone number. And he said the problem is that a lot of folks have three, four roommates and so one roommate’s cell phone isn’t there and you know don’t know someone is down there.

[0:28:15] So his, it’s a simple idea, just so you can enter your Buzzerful number in that device and then you can set it up to ring all of your roommates right because then he has control and he can ring whoever you want. That simple and the pricing is pretty cheap I think its five bucks a month or something. And sure enough you know he got news coverage, he did pretty well at the startup competition. And the cool thing, he sent us an email and I asked him like you know you’ve been kind of screwing around trying to get Buzzerful launched for a long time like what made the difference for you?

[0:28:42] And he said the secret to this was that he started a regular meet of similarly minded solo entrepreneurs. And he said that, his quote is “ we’ve been doing build offs pretty much every weekend where we put in a solid 12 hour day in a room together and we push each other and it’s been amazing”. So he actually launched this site called buildoff.org and it’s basically to kind of help give an idea what their process is and just the philosophy behind what they’ve done trying to help to other folks. But that was cool.

[0:29:13] And the last quote I thought it was really cool, probably the best, he said “launching really is an addictive drug. I don’t want to do any work today, just launch some more”. Isn’t that cool?

[0:29:23] Mike: I saw the video of the news coverage it was, the reporter was really into the product it pretty fun.

[0:29:29] Rob: I know. I could never see someone, a reporter doing that for AuditShark.

[0:29:32] Mike: No way.

[0:29:33] Rob: Wait what does it do?

[0:29:35] Mike: I don’t get it.

[0:29:35] Rob: Wait, Audit’s what?

[0:29:36] Mike: I don’t get it.

[0:29:37] Rob: Totally. The other piece, a friend of mine, named Paul Danny, he just moved to Orange County from Presnel and he’s a lawyer. And he is just getting started in his career. And he right now is hustling in all of LA, like fighting traffic tickets for people, I mean it’s just kind of, it’s a cool job to get started with but it’s not something he’s going to do for 20 years. And so he’s trying to launch an app on the side or a service on the side where he wants to connect lawyers who are already at a certain court with a lawyer back at his office who needs someone to appear at that certain court at a certain time.

[0:30:11] So it’s this very time sensitive thing and it’s all about, it’s a marketplace right, it’s like matching people especially in LA you’ll have a 90 mile drive you know to get from like one court to another. So anyway he wanted to start this site we were talking about and I was talking about how much code it would take to build this thing, kind of like an Elance match making blah blah blah. So he went on and this is like to talk about going lean, talk about micropreneuer approach.

[0:30:35] He buys a domain name, legalzeal.net and he just puts up a page with the phone number and a basic description all text and he’s like if you want to do this call and then as he is around going to these courts, filing these motions and you know fighting stuff for his clients he just starts talking to the lawyers in the lobby and he’s like, hey man I’m starting this service. Are you interested and he gets like 20 or 30 names and emails and phone numbers of these guys, just in person hustling.

[0:31:01] And then next step is someone calls in from the website and he’s like you need someone to be at X court at X o’clock tomorrow, sure he just goes and like starts calling down his list. He finds a guy he makes a match. So it’s purely manual there is not scalability, he got the guy’s credit card and you know charged it. I’m trying to think it was like he charged it 90 bucks and he had to pay the other lawyer 80 bucks.

[0:31:25] So he’s like I made ten bucks right. I’m not going to grow rich doing it this way. But the thing is he like is already validated the idea, he already got someone to pay him, the guy was happy to pay him 90 bucks. And I was like you’ve basically done something that so many, like if you were a developer you would have sat in a basement for six months and built the thing right, whereas you actually went out and did the hustle. So that was really cool. It kind of, it actually inspired me to go out and do a little more face to face hustle.

[0:31:51] Mike: I like the idea it just that you know looking at the website it’s very sparse. It’s great that he’s gone out and proven the idea. There’s also this big step afterwards which is actually expanding that.

[0:32:05] Rob: The scale is going to be, absolutely he’s going to need to hire a programmer and do all that stuff. But once he has this proprietary list essentially of these, even if it’s 30 or 40 lawyers in the LA area, that’s pretty nice start on something like this.

[0:32:18] Mike: Oh definitely.  It’s just that you know you and I both know from experience that the validation of the market is just kind of one piece of it and then there’s this whole giant launch phase and then you know the build phase and then you get to the launch. But if he’s doing this right now and he’s just kind of manually matching people up that’s great because when he gets to the point where he can just automate it then he can kind of sit back. And if he’s already got those mailing lists and stuff his launch is going to be made that much easier.  But it is interesting to see that somebody is taking something that’s really not I guess that a market that programmers or developers would have any access to whatsoever and try to build something out of it. That I think is about the coolest part of it.

[0:32:59] Rob: Yeah it’s neat. He basically said there are other companies already doing this and they all do it manually and they have these big staffs of people like manning phone banks basically. So they have like ten employees just on the phone all day and it’s all done with fax and phone calls and then they bill the lawyer afterwards and like have to collect and a lot of the part is getting the lawyer to pay. And so it’s just, he’s like I want to do it with credit cards upfront I want to change the model.  So anyway so that’s it, he told me that story and I was like huh that’s cool men.

[0:33:28] Mike: Yeah that is pretty cool.

[0:33:30] [music]

[0:33:32] Rob: We got tweeted by Jacob Thurman and he said, “hey Rob and Mike, I’d love to read your response to this link”. And it’s basically it’s a link tutsplus.com and it’s says, it’s a blog post. It says is conference pricing out of control? Oh and in quotes he puts “MicroConf 2011 was totally worth it in my opinion”. So he, but he was just wanted to hear our thoughts on some of the subheadings in the article like are you receiving $1000 worth of education? Are these conference organizers bad, like are they overcharging just to make a bunch of money? What’s wrong with profit? I skimmed through it of course since I rarely read anything.

[0:34:08] Mike: You don’t even read my emails.

[0:34:12] Rob: I forward them VA, handle this. Just respond to Mike like I would. But basically the premise of the article is just that spending a 1000 bucks on a conference isn’t really worth it and it says like for half the price of a 1000 bucks, 500 bucks you can buy a stack of books and resources that will teach you the bulk of what you need to succeed as a web developer. So the issue I have, so obviously you and I organize MicroConf, we charge around 500, 600 bucks for that right. We actually had complaints when we first launched it. There were some people who were like, what? Cheap conferences are like $99, starter conferences are 99 bucks.

[0:34:46] And right away we had to deal with this, kind of the image or the perception that people thought we were like gouging them. The reason you can do a $99 conference is because you get some big sponsors who kind of runs the thing or you get investors who can set the agenda. And typically they are one day regional conferences, they don’t fly in speakers from out of town. Like it’s very, it’s a very limited scope when they do something that inexpensive. And as soon as you step to a different realm like doing something like MicroConf where it’s two days, where you’re flying in  12 speakers, you know you offer meals during the day not just some boxed lunch, the costs get high very quickly.

[0:35:19] And even really stripped down conferences like the LessConf and MicroConf I think, LessConf is the same price as MicroConf, this year. Like this, that’s kind of the minimum two day price I think you can pull something off for unless you get speakers to pay for themselves to fly out. And frankly the quality of speakers we’re getting we’re not going to be able to do that. There is, there’s a true cost to this stuff and most people who talk to us know that our goal last year was to break even on MicroConf. We wound up making a few thousand bucks which was really nice. But for the time invested, you know obviously not, we did not make what we normally make and so…

[0:35:51] Mike: Oh God no. Yeah. I think that, so a couple of the points are off a little bit. If you’re going to sit there and compare the costs and say $500 while I can buy ten different books at 50 bucks a piece or 20 different books for 25 bucks a piece and you know I’ll learn all I need to know, I don’t buy into that argument. And for the simple fact that those books are not going to give you any feedback about any  your ideas.  You can have what you think is the greatest idea in the world and you go out and you start talking to people and they say no you’re off your rock, or yeah that’s been done and it’s been done five different times before. Didn’t you know about this service, this service and this one.

[0:36:30] And if you sit there and you build it and rely on all the information in these books you’re going to fail. I mean that’s just the bottom line that’s what’s going to happen. And you know those books did not what that $500 promised you. And not to say every conference is going to be perfect but you know that’s certainly something that’s missing from the argument.

[0:36:48] Rob: Yeah I think the focus of this is more developer conferences so it’s a little more difficult right because when you go to a developer conference I do think that you tend to want to learn more from the presentations themselves. You go there to learn some skills. And I think that’s a tough sell these days especially if you’re already an expert in the area, going to a conference is not going take you beyond where you are, if you already pretty knowledgeable on the area. I always go to conferences for more of a broader thing like to expand in my breadth rather than my depth of the subject.

[0:37:18] So I think if you’re saying am I going to achieve a $1000 worth of education at a conference, I guess it’s probably not right, most conferences wont. But if you’re more into the entrepreneur start up stuff then I think you will receive more value than that just purely in the networking. Right in either meeting folks who you stay in touch with later or like you said getting feedback on ideas, the conversations you have, the connections you make. Now you have to be very deliberate about that if you’re wallflower then you’re not going to receive that amount of networking or education.

[0:37:49] I can see it going either way. I think if you put the effort into it you can absolutely get. Honestly I think if we charge a 1000 bucks for MicroConf which we’re not planning to do I think we could make it worth that for most people, you know what I’m saying? I still think we could sell tickets and make it worth that.

[0:38:04] Mike: Yeah.

[0:38:05] Rob: Now I guess at the bottom the guys there talking about conferences that are like $2000, so like Business and Software, right 2400 bucks. I don’t know, to me it’s like is pricing out of control, it’s like if you don’t, some people will get, enough people will get the value out of it, they’ll go. And if you don’t get the value out of it, then I don’t know you probably shouldn’t go because my guess is that they’re not walking away from Business and Software with buckets of money. Like Neil Davidson had said that he was breaking even or losing money on it, even at two grand a head.

[0:38:32] So I don’t go to conferences that are ridiculously priced. So I guess they either are going to go out of business or they found an audience where, who does get enough value out of it that they’re willing to pay that much.

[0:38:43] Mike:  But with Business and Software but I don’t necessarily look at the conferences, it’s not like it’s 9:00 to 5:00 and that’s it. I mean you spend a lot of time outside of those hours talking to people and interacting with them, either going to dinner. I think one of the things that article probably glosses over a little bit or maybe makes an assumption about is who’s actually paying the conference fee? Because I think if you’re running your own business then the cost of the conference means a lot more to you than if you’re just pulling it out of some budget.

[0:39:16] Rob: Right. Like if you work for the government or work for a large company.

[0:39:20] Mike: Right. If you’re just a worker bee for some large company they’ve got a conference budget or an education budget or something like that, oh $2000 sure. And they expect to pay that because that’s what they pay as you know like an enterprise corporation. But even small companies I mean they expect to be paying a fair amount of money for these conferences especially conferences where you’ve got three or four hundred people, the larger a conference is the more it costs to actually have it.

[0:39:45] I see in some cases where this is coming from. But it’s not real clear to me where, whether or not the person who wrote this is actually paying for the conferences themselves and I suspect he is.

[0:39:55] Rob: Right I think that my favorite quote last year from one of the MicroConf attendees is he said “ you know conferences like this, like MicroConf, you bring all the speakers together but it’s really just an excuse to get all of us together.” And he like motioned around the room and it was the attendee. You know he was like this is the valuable part for me. It’s sitting here having all these hallway conversations that’s kind of the way I think about it these days.

[0:40:16] Mike: So speaking of conferences where do things stand on MicroConf?

[0:40:20] Rob: Yeah I’ve been talking with the person who helps us scout locations. It looks like we have pretty good leads in Tropicana which has just invested $185 million into revamping and rehabbing the place and Hard Rock Café.  So they both look pretty sweet. A friend of mine just went down there to Vegas this week and I’m going to ask him about what’s Tropicana looks like because he swung by there.  Obviously they’re a step  up from last year and they seem like they may, if they’re willing to negotiate they may fit within kind of the parameters that you and I are looking to be in terms of budget.

[0:40:53] I’m kind of excited, just looking at the pictures of the Hard Rock especially. It sure is a nice, it’s a well designed hotel and just looks real nice inside. It’s got, it’s a young audience and it’s just I think it’d fit our vibe pretty well and there’s a lot of restaurants in there. You know because that was kind of a drag last year right, is that we had the Sunday night and Monday night and Tuesday night, we had like gatherings. And there was really only one good bar in the Riviera whereas in The Hard Rock  I think there are like a dozen or something. I mean it’s a huge amount of restaurants and stuff. So there we could have a lot more variety

[0:41:23] Mike:  Yeah I’ve been in The Hard Rock Café before and it’s fairly large.

[0:41:27] Rob: Cool. So now that’s, I mean certainly that’s not final by any means we’re just in the early talks and I think that I’m going to contact another hotel. It should be good and then we’ll have some dates. I’m thinking we try to go as early as we can, like April or May.

[0:41:40] Mike: Yeah I think April will be good to shoot for. Obviously it kind of depends on what their schedule is. But I think to me April is preferable.

[0:41:47] Rob: Vegas is nice in April you know.

[0:41:49] Mike: The weather can’t possibly be any worse than New England so.

[0:41:52] Rob: Yeah I was going to say it’s like 30 degrees in New England in April.

[0:41:57] [music]

[0:41:58] Rob: If you’re listening and you have a question or comment you can call into our voicemail number at 888-8019-690. You can email it to us at questions@startupsfortherestofus.com . Our theme music is an excerpt from “We’re out of control” by Moot used under creative commons. We’d love to have a review on iTunes, you can just start for Startups  and we’ll be in the top three or four. You can subscribe to this podcast via iTunes or at our website, startupsfortherestofus.com where a transcript is also available.

[0:42:26] Thanks for listening, we’ll see you next time.

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4 Responses to “Episode 58 | Inspiring Stories from Aspiring Entrepreneurs”

  1. You were talking about not wanting to wait 4 weeks to start to market. Is it a good idea to start to market a site just before Christmas? Would it be a better idea to wait until January?

  2. Sandy – Business budgets typically reset in January (quarterly or annual). You’d think you’d want to be on someone’s radar before they can start spending money on something else?

  3. Good point; thats a detail I didn’t know about. My customers are small so they don’t typically have to have a budget made out as strictly as a larger company.

  4. >>Is it a good idea to start to market a site just before Christmas? Would it be a better idea to wait until January?

    I don’t launch new products in December; I am holding off marketing HitTail until the second week of January. People are just too busy and caught up in other things to pay attention.