Episode 65 | Six Things We Learned In The Past Year

Show Notes


[00:00] Mike: This is Startups for the Rest of Us, Episode 65.

[00:04] music

[00:11] Mike: Welcome to Startups for the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers, and entrepreneurs be awesome at launching software products, whether you’ve built your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Mike.

[00:20] Rob: And I’m Rob.

[00:22] Mike: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes Rob’s made. What are you doing this week, Rob?

[00:27] Rob: Well, I’ve got a lot of things going on. I was pleasantly surprised we got a mention by — I’m gonna butcher his name but it’s Piotr Soluch. And he named us the best podcast of 2011.

[00:39] Mike: I saw that.

[00:40] Rob: Yeah. Our consistency, honesty, and value — it’s pretty cool. He just did like a Tech Awards 2011 thing. So, thanks, Peter — or Piotr. And we’ll include a link in the show as to that.

[00:50] Mike: And you can include an apology, a written apology for butchering his name, I’m sure.

[00:55] Rob: Seriously? Yeah, sorry about that. How about you? You were mentioning you had spent some time looking for a developer?

[01:01] Mike: Yes. I actually sat down and wrote out a job description and put it out on oDesk to hire a developer to work on my form software a little bit because there’s some things that need to be finished off and I just don’t feel motivated to actually do them. And they’re pretty well defined — or at least in my head they’re more well defined than they are in paper. So I wrote up a job description and put that out there and within — I’d say probably nine or ten hours, I had over 70 applications. And within 24 hours, I had more than a hundred. I’m still trying to whittle them down. It’s kind of hard after you knock off about 60 or 80 people then you’re down to these last 15 or 20 and you’re like, okay, well, who do I just kind of axe from this list?

[01:44] Rob: Yeah.

[01:45] Mike: It gets really hard at that point.

[01:47] Rob: One thing I’ve started doing when it’s — because that’s an ASP.NET or .NET development. There are so many folks that do it that I make the listing pretty restrictive. So I would say like, four and a half stars and above only.

[01:59] Mike: I have.

[02:00] Rob: I would say build an hour in the last six months.

[02:02] Mike: I have.

[02:03] Rob: I would say, English is five. So you already got all that.

[02:05] Mike: I’ve already done that.

[02:06] Rob: Okay. So the next thing I would do is I would order them by price. If they really are all things being equal, I would order them by price and I’d take probably, you know, the cheapest five. I’d send all of them the same message — where you ask a few questions about, hey, do you work, you know. Or, do you have a full-time job and this is a side gig? Do you work from an office? Do you work from home? I mean, just kind of some basic questions just to see how good they — how well they communicate because you’re gonna do a lot of written communication.

[02:33] And I would — then I would see how those five come back. That’s typically what I’ve been doing because you’re right. It’s impossible when you have 15 — to possibly interview all of them. So at least that will narrow you. And if all five of those come back and they’re kind of crappy, you can ditch them and you can move to the next five. It’s nice to have a bigger pool at this point.

[02:49] Mike: Yeah. That’s a good idea. What I’d started doing was going through and trying to identify the people who would specifically called out a couple of things that I mentioned as opposed to just putting in this whole list of these are the things that I’ve done. So one of the things that’s big for me is ability to use entity framework. Some of them have done it but there’s a lot of them that haven’t and they’ve got all this . NET and C# experience but they don’t specifically call it entity framework or links to entity anywhere.

[03:15] Rob: Either just XNA people who don’t have that or include that as one of the questions. How many months of experience do you have working, you know, in production code with entity framework? And that’s a great one to include to those five and most people will answer honestly. And then if they don’t have it, you can just refuse them right there.

[03:32] Mike: Yup.

[03:33] Rob: That is a good thing. If you forgot kind of the core thing that you need, it does help with limiting the number of prospects you have.

[03:38] Mike: Yeah. The one thing I don’t like is that — especially with oDesk, it’s more of the interface than anything else. For example, some things that don’t quite work well is if you’re trying to sort by — and this is odd. If you’re trying to sort by the amount that the person’s charging, it doesn’t actually work all the time. And I don’t know why. It seems like it should.

[03:59] Rob: I think because there are two different amounts. There’s an amount in their profile that they have. And there’s an amount that they bid in your project.

[04:05] Mike: Right.

[04:06] Rob: And the one may be displaying and one may be sorting or something.

[04:09] Mike: That’s what I think is happening. I think it’s going by the — the one that’s showing is the one that they have in their profile versus the one that they’re bidding as –

[04:16] Rob: Right. Well, hey, I went on TechZing this week. I guess it’s episode 165 and it will come out — I don’t know, it will come out in the next few days. Basically it was a 90-minute discussion of like the HitTail acquisition. It was like the most in-depth info I’ve given about it, if you folks are interested. It was kind of cool because it’s tough with our podcast because we do make it shorter — 30 to 40 minutes.

[04:36] So we’d probably — even if we dedicate an episode to it, probably wouldn’t have gotten into as much detail as we did there. So if you folks are interested, check out techzinglive.com or you can check out TechZing in iTunes.

[04:47] In addition, I wanted to do just kind of an open call on Twitter. I’m gonna do it here but go ahead and tweet Mike and I or leave in the comments. If you wanna hear more about either the HitTail acquisition or you know — I guess we’ve already done AuditShark but certainly if you wanted to hear more about that, let us know. And on Twitter, I’m @robwalling and mike is @singlefounder.

[05:08] Mike: Oh, by the way, did I tell you that I bottled my first batch of beer on Sunday?

[05:12] Rob: You didn’t.

[05:13] Mike: So it’s been about two weeks. It was about two or three days ago when I just decided to actually start bottling it. It actually took surprisingly little time. It took me about probably 40 minutes or so and that included cleaning out all the bottles, making sure everything was prepared, and just bottling it all up. And now, it’s sitting over here next to my desk and I have to wait another couple of weeks for it to condition.

[05:36] And basically that conditioning process is — I’m not sure quite how to describe it but basically what I did was I put a couple of teaspoons of sugar into the concoction and then you just close the bottles up and you wait for it to mix up and chemically do its thing. And at that point, it will be carbonated. Because right now, it tastes like flat beer. And it smells fine, it’s just that there’s no carbonation in it.

[05:57] So this process will take care of carbonating the beer and you’ll know when it’s done when you can try and squeeze the bottle and it doesn’t actually squeeze. It’s, you know, very hard to squeeze into it just because it’s got the pressure coming from the inside. And then after that, I just throw it in the fridge and “condition it” for a while but I don’t have to. I can just throw it in the fridge for a few days and start drinking it.

[06:17] Rob: Suck a sixer down every night after nine? Hey, are you gonna bring it to the MicroConf? Is this MicroConf draft beer?

[06:24] Mike: There’s certainly not enough beer for me to do that. And I don’t know how I would even get it to MicroConf.

[06:30] Rob: Well, that’s cool. I’m excited to hear if this turns out — and if it does, maybe I’ll give it a shot as well. I’ve always been fascinated with the whole brewing of beer and making of wine but I’ve never tried it myself.

[06:40] Mike: Yeah. I’ve always wanted to do it and it was just one of those things where my wife got me a beer kit for Christmas and I decided, hey, I wanna do it as a little bit of a hobby. Why not?

[06:48] Rob: I’ve gotten this question a couple of times now, once on TechZing and then twice from either the e-mail or on Twitter. And someone asked me why I bought HitTail. And it was kind of an interesting question that I — I mean, I have a definite answer in my head. We haven’t talked about it in the podcast at all so I just wanted to take like 30 seconds and kind of go through the main reasons for folks who are interested.

[07:10] So the first thing is I had personal reasons for it. This question could be viewed as two things, right? Why did you stop working two days a week and go and spend a big chunk of change and buy this thing and revamp it and, you know, work hard for the last four months to do this? Why did you leave that semi-retired state or whatever? And for me — so that’s the personal side of it, right? It was for learning and personal challenge. I mean, I was starting to kind of atrophy in terms of how much new stuff I was learning and I felt like I was ready for the next challenge.

[07:37] But I think the more applicable and kind of the — maybe the thing more people would be interested in are the professional reasons of why did you buy it instead of either building it or building a different idea? And the reason I did is because given my situation where my time is so limited and with how many responsibilities I have, I wanted to avoid that 9 to18 months of building, launching, marketing, all that wait. I’m too impatient.

[08:06] And one way to get around that impatience is to just go out and acquire something. And if you can find something quality, it can save you tremendous, tremendous amount of time. So I mean, I’m not joking when I’m saying I literally think that if I try to build HitTail from scratch and get it to the point where it is in terms of paying customers and number of links and number of monthly visitors and all that stuff, it would easily take me 18 months of time.

[08:29] Even if I was doing it mostly full time and outsourcing a lot of it, the marketing side would just take so, so long. This domain has aged and it just has all these built in traffic and stuff. So as we know building the app takes time but, you know, either it’s a lot of time or it’s expensive and building a market takes a lot of time and it’s expensive. So you know, maybe that’s something we’d go into a little more detail in the future episode but I did want to throw it out here.

[08:53] music

[08:56] Rob: You’re travelling next week?

[08:58] Mike: Yeah. I’ll be in Pasadena for the next couple of weeks.

[09:01] Rob: Make sure you go out to Santa Monica for your — because you’re gonna be there on the weekend, right?

[09:05] Mike: Yup. Yeah, I’m flying in on Sunday and then I’m not leaving until Friday the 3rd, I think it is.

[09:12] Rob: It’s only three hours from me so we’ll try to connect. And then we should connect with Jason Roberts from TechZing. He’s in Pasadena.

[09:18] Mike: Oh, cool.

[09:19] Rob: So I’m gonna bet you’ll be staying — I mean, it’s not that big so I would guess you’ll be walking distance because he lives downtown as well. The last thing before we get into our topic for today, which is Six Things We Learned in the Last Year, I wanted to mention “forrst” in addition to “dribbble.” Because the last episode, I mentioned “dribbble” which is dribbble.com. Right? And it’s kind of like a social network for designers where they share design ideas.

[09:43] And Zach Tong from the academy, from the Micropreneur Academy, he e-mailed and he said dribbble is about posting teasers of your work in progress and it’s mainly for designers. But “forrst” which is f-o-r-r-s-t is about posting work in progress or announcements so you can get feedback and it’s also for developers and designers. So that’s cool. He says he has an invite of either you — or I would like to join them. I assume they’re in Beta right now and we’ll be watching soon. So if you’re listening, check out forrst.com.

[10:14] music

[10:16] Rob: Our title this week is Six Things We Learned in the Last Year. Mike and I each have three of them.

[10:22] Mike: I think the biggest thing that I learned was how to put together a conference because there’s just so much more that goes into it that you really don’t think about. And I dealt with a lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff and you dealt with a lot of the front-end marketing and making sure that the website was all geared up. But I worked almost entirely with all of the sponsors and getting all that stuffs taken care of and straightened out. And it was pretty challenging. I mean, we didn’t have a whole lot of time to pull everything together and we got those USB keys that were doubled as pens and laser pointers and everything. And it was just a challenge to kind of bring all that stuff together at the same time.

[10:58] Rob: Yeah, I would agree. I mean, you also handled all the giveaways and the sponsorship, the badges. There was a lot of stuff that was going on behind the scenes that folks didn’t see.

[11:09] Mike: I don’t think I ever shared with anybody how much of a nightmare putting together those badges was because there were still people who were signing up within the last couple of days before the conference was to go on. I couldn’t just hand the list off to somebody and say, hey, go do this and I’ll get it back from you in three weeks.

[11:27] It’s not like it’s a marketing launch where you can kind of time it after you’ve got all your stuff done. I mean, we had that deadline and we were still selling tickets right up until that deadline so it was just kind of a challenge because, you know, one of the sponsors had paid to have their logo put on the name badges. So I had to have them. They’re for everybody.

[11:45] Rob: Right. Yours actually ties into my first one which is things that are worthwhile are hard. You think that I would have known that by now but I totally learned that in the last year. MicroConf was a big part of that. Afterwards, I was so glad we did it. Like I was really pleased with the outcome and that we had basically surmounted this enormous challenge but it was really hard while we were doing it. It was just so much work and mental energy.

[12:10] I think it relates to my acquisition of HitTail and what the last four months have been for me as well. And the tail into 2011 is there’s like this sense of accomplishment and happiness. I’m like happy with myself, like proud of myself that I was able to pull it off. But at the same time, I had to make, you know, quite a bit of a few sacrifices that I didn’t have to make. We didn’t have to do either of those things. You and I would have made a perfectly good living last year. And we didn’t need to do that, man. So making the decision to actually make those sacrifices is a big one.

[12:41] Mike: Yeah, definitely. I totally agree with what you’re saying though. I mean, things that are worthwhile are hard. It kind of puts things in perspective for me having put in so much time an effort on AuditShark and thinking to myself, is this actually going to be worth it down the road? I’m sure that it will. It’s just, when is that going to happen? How much further down the road do I have to go in order to get there? When can I kind of set my hat down and take a rest before things will start to get to where I want them to be?

[13:09] Rob: Right.

[13:10] Mike: Well, one of the things that I learned was that I should be outsourcing a lot more things that I currently do. There’s just a lot of things that I do that I probably don’t necessarily have to and it’s more because I have some probably latent issues, just kind of giving up control of those things. And some of it is just a time crunch where I just haven’t made the time to either make videos or tutorials or anything like that to be able to hand it over to somebody else and just say, here, you handle this because I don’t have the time.

[13:38] Rob: You know, I think that’s a really common mental hurdle. And I think it’s something that probably every two months I face again. Like I can convince myself, all right, outsource a bunch of this stuff. And I’ll go out and hire some folks and then like within 60 days or three months, I realize I’m doing now a bunch of new stuff that I don’t want to do. And so I think we almost need constant reminders to look at our to-do list and say what of this can be outsourced?

[14:02] I think with how many people experience these exact same feelings, it’s not only a common thing but it’s just something that’s pretty hard to get through. And I think you folks out there are feeling that. I mean, I think the thing to start with is to head over to probably oDesk or Elance and pick one or two tasks on your list. Like even if it’s a small task like doing some market research, I have a VA and I had him put together my list of 100 dream clients for HitTail. And these are based on some very specific benefits that HitTail provides and customer who are happiest with it based on conversations I’ve had and they have certain characteristics.

[14:39] And so I explain this to him and I put together a quick screen cast and, you know, bullet a list of some things. And then I said, go. And I think it took him three hours, four hours. And he put together a spreadsheet with all the info we need to basically start cording these customers. And so even if it’s something like that, three hours at ten bucks an hour is 30 bucks. Anyone can afford to do that. You know, if you’re listening to this podcast and you’re gonna start a business, I think your first step is to kind of dip your toe in the water and figure out — it’s gonna be uncomfortable on how to get over that discomfort.

[15:08] Mike: Yeah. One of the things that I’ve been looking at doing is putting together just kind of a pre-outline to have a VA go out and do some web searches for banks that are near me. So that I had kind of a targeted list of places to go and maybe phone numbers to call or people to talk to so that I don’t have to go out and gather that information myself.

[15:29] Rob: Yeah. I agree. Something I’ve never done that I was toying around with last night is, you know, I’ve talked several times about my marketing plan that I put together. And as I started looking through it, I realized, wow, I liked it. I put together all the strategy and these lists of tactics. But it’s gonna take a ton of time to implement. And I started thinking about outsourcing, basically finding someone who knows marketing, who’s above the level of a VA.

[15:51] And they’re gonna be more expensive but to basically sit down with them — probably over Skype and show them the list, ask if they have opinions on it. You know, in terms of improving it. And then having them implement chunks of it at a time and use their marketing background. So I would essentially be — I wouldn’t be outsourcing my marketing but I would be outsourcing some implementations of some of the tactics, if that makes sense.

[16:14] Mike: Yeah, I think so. Essentially what you do is you’d find somebody who is familiar with doing online marketing and then have them take a look at your marketing plan and then have them pick off things that they believe that they can handle and can basically just take those things you’ve outline and just go actually implement them.

[16:33] Rob: Right. That’s right. Because — I mean, I have a feeling I like I have a handle on how I wanna market this. I mean, obviously, the amount of time this stuff takes is pretty extensive. So my other responsibilities even if spending the last day and a half doing MicroConf stuff, it’s like I really would like for some of these marketing stuff to be done at the same time and it’s certainly not so complex. These little individual tactics are not so complex that I’m the only person in the world that could do them.

[16:55] I mean, it was almost like thinking them up, discovering them, putting the strategy together. That was the entrepreneur’s job and now, I am gonna get into implementation and so I think stretching myself in this is finding someone to implement these things which I typically don’t like to outsource, you know, much of my marketing but I think I’m gonna dip my toe in that water and see how it goes.

[17:14] Mike: I’m seriously considering outsourcing somebody to read my e-mail.

[17:18] Rob: I have as well. Actually, I’ve talked to my wife several times. And I’ve been telling her I’ve been trying to go through my e-mail with that in mind. Like how much of this could I get away with not doing? Is there anything here that could be replied to or filed or whatever without me being involved? And I haven’t been able to — after getting, you know, the Micropreneur Academy stuff is now in the good hands of a capable VA and now the HitTail support stuff is in the hands of a VA as of last Friday. And those are going really well. But beyond that, like everything else, is pretty personal. It at least needs my intervention.

[17:51] Mike: E-mail is just so hard I think because you get so many different types of e-mails and it’s very difficult to classify it because some of it just takes your knowledge or might be better left to an answer from you versus an answer from a VA.

[18:07] Rob: Right. My second thing I learned the last year is that it’s easy to be great and it’s hard to be consistent. And I actually got that from a Steve Martin book. It’s his memoir called the Born Standing Up. And he uses that phrase “It’s easy to be great. It’s hard to be consistent.” And what he meant by that is that as a comedian, he would see guys just knock it out of the park but they couldn’t do it consistently. That it’s actually not that hard to have a great show and have everyone love you. But to do that every night takes years and years and years of work.

[18:38] And I’m realizing that consistency, whether in — like with this podcast. The fact that we’ve stuck around and that we haven’t shut it down, is a huge deal. And our follower continues to grow and continues to be engaged with us, a large part due to the fact that we’ve now been around going on two years, right? A lot of people don’t keep their stuff going long enough and they just — they shut it down.

[19:00] I feel the same way about — like my blog. My blog’s been around for six years now maybe. I actually think now is a way easier time to start a blog than 2006 because I have friends who have started blogs and with the few correctly placed post on Hacker News, they get 500 subscribers in a few months. Even in a few weeks, frankly.

[19:18] When I started, it took me six months to get the 66 RSS subscribers. It took me a year to get to 250. It was just painful. So few people — you know, there weren’t as many social networks. There was no Twitter, all these things that just — you either got to the front page to dig or you didn’t. And that was how I did it back then.

[19:35] Now, I feel like it’s better. If someone were to actually blog and be consistent and write good stuff, I really believe that they could build up a blog way faster than most of us who started five or ten years ago.

[19:48] Mike: I think that what you said there was really key because you have to dedicate the time to it and be consistent. So, for example, my blog. I’ve been blogging for five years or so. Five or six years at this point. And I don’t have nearly as many subscribers as you do but at the same time, I also almost completely stopped blogging for like probably 18 months, 2 years, something like that. So there’s this huge gap in there. And last year, I started getting back into it again. But I still was just not very consistent. I mean, I still only blogged maybe a quarter as much as I had intended to.

[20:18] I think that the consistency piece of it is probably what’s most overlooked by people. They just don’t put the effort into it and they don’t dedicate the time to it. And, you know, they’re trying and trying and trying. And they stop at some point along the way whereas if they were to continue going, things would probably be much, much better. I mean, I know for a fact that if I blogged more regularly, I would probably have far more subscribers than I actually do.

[20:42] Rob: Right. There’s this careful balance between kind of being stubborn and pigheaded and continuing to bang your head against the wall when things aren’t working and being consistent and banging through that wall and getting to, you know, thousands of subscribers or thousands of listeners or whatever it is.

[20:57] You know, Seth Godin is famously known for that book, The Dip. And the biggest question after people read it is how do you know when you’re in the dip or when you should just give up. And it’s a really hard question to answer.

[21:07] And so I think we’ve talked about this in the past. But it’s like if you tend to give up on things pretty quickly, then I would say you need to charge through and you need to dedicate like a year or two to something before you give up. And I think if you tend to be pigheaded and just do things over and over and not stop them, then maybe you need to lean — certainly lean towards the side of giving up sooner rather than later.

[21:28] But in general, I find that the amount of effort to get something done, whether it is a conference or to build an app, or to build a podcast, or to build a blog with an audience, the amount of effort is way, way more — every time, way more than I think it’s gonna be. That I always underestimate it. And I think most people do in general.

[21:47] And I think that’s why it’s easy to be great; it’s hard to be consistent. It’s easy to get that one post on Hacker News that, hey, I pinned it. But it’s like — can you do that every week? Or can you do something every week and, you know, keep that momentum going? And I really — I think that’s where 99.5% of people just drop the ball.

[22:06] Mike: Yeah. I’m in that kind of — a little bit of what you said. It kind of leads into mine which is apparently number five. I learned that July was an awful, awful target for getting AuditShark out of the door. And part of the reason for that is just underestimating how much time and effort it takes to do certain things. And with AuditShark, I just — honestly, it just failed miserably. And part of it was taking a look at this stuff and saying, oh, well, that should be easy to do and not really taking into account the time and effort that it takes to do prototypes and figure out how to actually implement something with a technology you’ve never actually worked with before.

[22:41] I mean, I’ve never done anything in Azure before. I’ve never worked with WCF Services before. I’ve never built an architecture for any of that stuff before. So I don’t exactly know all the pitfalls that I’m gonna run into. And I certainly ran into my fair share of them. But in addition to that, just having the time that, you know, I need to set aside to do those things and doing a good estimation of how much time it’s gonna take to do that stuff, it was just — I was just way off. I mean, order is a magnitude in some cases.

[23:13] Rob: That’s painful, man. It’s so hard to take on new technologies or unknowns, right? It’s like, you can put together a spreadsheet and you can run an estimate for kind of every element of a project, and I almost think you got to like put a huge red background on the ones that are new technologies. It’s like if you and I are going to sit down to map out, hey, we’re gonna build an app, we could put the prep time, the customer development time, all the little tasks — design the database, business tear, data tear, you know, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. And we can — I mean, you and I can probably crank out an estimate that’s within like 10% if we’re using just straight technology that we know whether it’s PHP, or .NET or whatever.

[23:54] But as soon as you introduce — well, we’re gonna use the entity framework or we’re gonna use some new templating engine. You almost have to add these two x-factors like a 200, 300% increase to that single line item. You don’t really want to do that on the estimate because it seems ridiculous but that’s typically what happens because you wind up running at some stupid bug that you just can’t fix, that you don’t know, that once you’ve found it, you’re gonna know that templating engine’s so much better. But it like — it throws you off for days and days. And I feel like until you’ve done something once, you know it’s like that hours column should almost just be a huge question mark.

[24:27] Mike: I just think I remember some issues I ran into with PowerShell. And then there were some things with the Azure tables. And it just — little things just creep up on you and it shouldn’t take as long as it does but, you know, you run into something that’s either an edge case or some weird bug that you don’t know that it’s a bug, but apparently everyone else has been working with it for more than you know, 20 minutes does. And it’s obvious to them.

[24:49] It was just hard. But it was — definitely something I got to keep my mind focused on that those sorts of things where there are unknowns, you have to add in a lot more time that you don’t want to but you’re gonna have to in order to get a more accurate estimate.

[25:04] Rob: Yeah. I think that honestly, that limiting the number of new technologies that you try to mess with in any given project, is a great way to basically reduce uncertainty because you’ve been off quite a bit with this one. I mean, you did, honestly. Like when you said Asure, you know, I just listened back to our episodes and I kind of had a reaction to that on the podcast and I was kind of like, well, I’ve heard that it’s hard to get this going. I’ve heard that it’s hard — complex, and blah, blah, blah.

[25:30] All that aside, it’s just that it’s new. Anytime it’s new it’s gonna be complex and there was gonna be that learning curve. And I think if you have just done Usher and everything else was standard, you would have been fine. But it’s like you said, you also did first time editing framework. You also did probably first time PowerShell  because that’s fairly new. So it’s like, you added in a lot of new things and those kind of cascade and multiply.

[25:54] Mike: If I had to start numbering, I could think of five or six things off the top of my head that were brand new that I’ve never worked before that kind of all of that included.

[26:01] Rob: Right. And those — and if instead of doing that, you had done just a straight up ASP.NET app on SQL Server like –

[26:06] Mike: Oh, yeah. Easy.

[26:08] Rob: I mean, hundreds of hours shorter, I bet.

[26:10] Mike: Right, right.

[26:11] Rob: You wanted to use the new technologies both to learn them and to be more efficient and to have better performance and all that stuff that those add.

[26:19] Mike: Yup.

[26:20] Rob: Our last one here — this is the sixth thing. It’s that we are in the people business. What I mean by that is relationships have never been more important than they are today. I used to work for a guy who bought an electrical contracting firm in the 50s. And he bought it for like 50,000 bucks and by the time he retired, it was doing 600 million a year in sales. This was in the ‘90s. And he would always say — he would ask people, “What business are we in?” And they would say, “Oh, we’re on the electrical contracting business.” Or “We’re in the construction business.” He would say, “No. We’re in the people business.”

[26:49] And it was this funny — you have this old guy asking you and it’s kind of like, oh, that’s kind of cheesy. But the guy lived it out. He was basically like “Our customers are people. Our employees are people. Without them, we can’t make this work.” And I think I’m reflecting on 2011 and I’m realizing that without this podcast and the listeners, you and I probably would not have gotten as much done as we did. Because we are like accountable to this group of people.

[27:15] And I bet pulling off MicroConf would have been really, really hard. I bet selling the tickets, getting the word out, all that stuff. This podcast really helped that. And so beyond that, it’s like meeting new folks, the TechZing guys, Dan and Ian from Tropical MBA and Lifestyle Business Podcast. Like — meeting colleagues who are also doing the same thing as us has been a fantastic experience. And it’s great to be able to go on their podcast and, you know, increase our audience and do the same for them.

[27:44] And so I’m just realizing kind of a 360 degree thing. It’s like the people who listen to us, the people come who come to the conference, the people who are doing the same thing we are,  these people are way more important than SEO traffic or doing some new tactic on my website. It’s like making that one new relationship is way more valuable than looking at more analytics.

[28:04] Mike: I can say without a doubt that I don’t think that without the podcast and without the relationships that we have developed, there’s no way that MicroConf would have ever happened. I just don’t think that it would have gotten the publicity that it needed. I think we would have lost money and we would have to shut it down the very first year that we even tried.

[28:22] Rob: Yeah, I would agree. I think the take away from this, what I’m trying to tell people is I used to think I could do everything alone. I mean, you and I, we’re single founders, right? This is what we do. We don’t hire employees. We don’t want to build a big team but at the same time, I think you need people like you need accountability whether that’s starting a podcast and building an audience that keeps you accountable or whether that’s having a mastermind group, which I’m now into. I would consider the third like it’s that valuable to me.

[28:47] I always thought I could be this lone ranger and I was a lone ranger for a while and I made it work. But it isn’t nearly as productive. You’re not as good, you don’t reach the same heights, you can’t do the same things without it. And you can’t do them as quickly. I think getting people involved and letting them in and letting them know what’s going on kind of in your internal world is a real boon to getting things done whether it’s in your business or in your personal life.

[29:12] Mike: That’s honestly a bit of a popular misconception about the single founder blog that I have and the moniker that I go by on Twitter. It’s just that it’s not that you can do everything by yourself, it’s that you can start things by yourself and move them further along on your own. You don’t necessarily need a co-founder. And that’s really what it’s all about. It’s not that you can do it alone, it’s about that you don’t need a co-founder or somebody to absolutely share everything with. You can get a lot of that advice, for example, a mastermind group.

[29:46] And I think I wrote a blog post about this at one point which was the argument against having a co-founder. You never get into an argument with yourself about whether or not you should do something. It’s just you either decide to do it or you decide not to. That’s a little bit different than spending a lot of mental energy arguing with somebody else when they have one opinion and you have a different one. And you just can’t come to a conclusion and then everything grinds to a halt because you’re so busy fighting over that one thing that you don’t start making decisions that move the business forward or move the other things forward that you’re doing.

[30:18] I totally agree that you need other input from people and whether that’s your customers or peers or podcast listeners, blog readers, other business owners. You need input from other people in order to make decisions. You can’t get all that on your own. And I think that most people would love to be able to say, oh, I’m gonna sell myself all these services. I’m gonna be able to pay all of them and I’ll make millions for myself. You can’t be both the customer and the provider.

[30:46] Rob: Yeah. I have this phrase that I’ve used in the past and it’s “data is my co-founder.” And I was gonna put it on a t-shirt. Actually, Patrick Foley said I should put it on a t-shirt and start selling it. I do like that phrase a lot. And I’ve realized that although there is truth in it, you know, that I can use data to convince me to do something, I realized that there’s also value in a mastermind group. Mastermind groups are all my other co-founder. It’s probably what I would put on the back of that shirt if I printed it.

[31:10] music

[31:12] Rob: To recap, Mike’s three things he learned in the last year are –

[31:16] Mike: The biggest things I learned were how to put together a conference, that I should be outsourcing a lot more things than I currently do, and that doing time estimations on things that you aren’t necessarily familiar with is just an awful idea and you should outsource that as well.

[31:31] Rob: And the three things I learned are that things that are worthwhile are hard; that it’s easy to be great, it’s hard to be consistent; and that we’re in the people business, that relationships have never been more important than they are now. Mike, we’re at 72 ratings in iTunes. We’re going up –

[31:46] Mike: That is crazy.

[31:48] Rob: Yeah, like every couple of weeks, we go up by ten ratings. So I’ve said it in the past, but it helps us rank in iTunes for the term start-ups. We ranked on the first page, we rank in the top three for the term start-ups which is, you know, a testament. To all the folks who are rating us, we really appreciate it.

[32:02] If you have a question or comment, you can always call it into our voicemail number, we’ll answer it on air, 888-801-9690 or you can e-mail it to us at questions@startupsfortherestofus.com. Our theme music is an excerpt from We’re Outta Control by MoOt used under creative comments. If you enjoyed this podcast, please consider writing that review in iTunes by searching for startups and you can subscribe to this podcast in iTunes or via RSS. A full transcript is available at our website startupsfortherestofus.com. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.

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12 Responses to “Episode 65 | Six Things We Learned In The Past Year”

  1. Great show guys. The Steve Martin quote Rob mentioned really caught my attention. About a year ago, I watched a documentary about Steve Martin (PBS maybe?) and he talked about when he was getting started and how he chose not to go with the big talent agencies that most other comedians would strive for to get the big gigs. He did it all himself and he had a great quote that I keep on my wall when I’m working. “Be so good, they can’t ignore you.” Looking forward to meeting you guys in Vegas.

  2. I wasn’t aware that Rob had been on TechZing. It’s a great episode and Rob shares a bit of his professional history and many little details I found paricularly helpful. For anyone else interested, it’s available at: http://techzinglive.com/page/257/techzing-56-rob-walling-the-micropreneur-academy

  3. Hey Rob,
    In regards to the developer vetting process I would love your feedback on a friends service http://www.re.cruit.me which is an employment test for programmers.

    You can send your prospects their and you get a report on how many questions they can answer in 15 mins.

    The qs are apparently very difficult so anything over 60% is good going.

    Don’t know if they have the right questions for your specific programming needs but I would love your independent feedback on the service as I’m think of introducing it to my work place in an attempt to keep the agencies honest (and keep track of undeclared outsourcing).

  4. Loved the Tech Zing episode as well Rob! Great stuff. Sad we’ll miss the conference this year but hoping to meet in person shortly.

  5. Hi Dan,

    Big fan of your podcast as well. I’m direct north of you for the moment (Shanghai) but back to Dubai later this year (from Canada originally). What’s life like in the Philippines?

  6. I really enjoy the podcast, but found this one especially inspring. At some point, I’d love to hear you guys come up with some tips for working with a VA. I know you’ve gone over when to outsource, etc., but I would find a focus on using VAs very valuable.

  7. I’d love tips on how to make the leap to start using them:
    * Where to find good VAs
    * Are there geographical considerations?
    * Are there different “types” of VAs? (you mentioned also wanting to hire a marketing expert, which isn’t a VA)
    * How do you evaluate them to see if they are efficient and will do the job right?
    * Do you generally work with the same one all the time, or is the relationship more anonymous than that?
    * What jobs are the right kinds to delegate to a VA?
    * What’s the typical rate? Is it always hourly, or are there longer term agreements?
    * Tips on organizing and communicating the work so that you get a positive net savings on your time

    Note that I’m currently working at a startup (which I guess means I’m a “one of them” rather than a “rest of us”), but being practical about your time is really valuable to anyone.

  8. Thanks Tim; very helpful. I’ll see what we can do about dedicating an entire episode to this topic.

  9. Excellent! I’ll look forward to it!

  10. @Ryan thanks ! Living in Bali for the last 8 months, but still occasionally visit Fils to visit staff and friends.


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