Episode 91 | Screencasts for VAs, Subscription Billing, Launch Day Tactics, and More Listener Questions…

Show Notes


[00:00] Rob: On today’s episode of Startups For The Rest of Us, we’re going to be talking about how to create training screencasts for your VA’s, subscription billing, launch day tactics and answering more listener questions. This is Startups For The Rest of Us: Episode 91.

[00:14] [Music]

[00:22] Rob: 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 Rob.

[00:32] Mike: And I’m Mike.

[00:33] Rob: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What is the word this week, sir?

[00:39] Mike: So I have my first official early access customer for AuditShark and I’m in the middle of trying to get a conversation going with a Fortune 500 company who might be willing to give it a try.

[00:51] Rob: Nice. What does might be willing to give it a try mean? Do they have contact with you? Have you approached them? What’s on the conversation?

[00:57] Mike: Somebody gave me an introduction. It was just an introduction. We haven’t actually discussed anything but he said that it was via e-mail that my product sounded interesting. So he kind of wanted to hear a little bit more about it. So I’ve sent him some more details via e-mail and we’re just trying to sync up right now in a good time to chat over the phone to discuss what their needs are around the products and whether or not it’s a good fit and if so, then maybe we can work something out where they’ll sign under the early access program and go from there.

[01:26] Rob: Cool. And then you said you have your first official early access customer. So that’s someone who’s agreed to kind of be like the pre — pre-beta?

[01:32] Mike: Yup, we’ll see how that goes. I already had a phone discussion with that person and you know, they’ve got a bunch of servers that they want to start auditing and we’ll discuss exactly how it works and the fact that it’s a — essentially a one-click option is kind of a selling point for them. I mean they were looking for ease in and the way that I presented that and the way that it’s going to be presented in the software is when you sign up, you really don’t have to do much other than install the software on your servers and it just automatically goes and starts doing its thing for them and shows you things that it thinks you should do something about.

[02:06] Rob: Right. So is it true that we are now five weeks away from the AuditShark beta?

[02:11] Mike: Yeah, from the early access, yes and I’ve got two weeks off at the end of August to essentially kind of buckle down and make sure that everything is going well and started to get excited about it. We’ll see how things go.

[02:22] Rob: Cool, looking forward to it. So I have been scaling up my ad buys. I’ve been doing mega paid acquisition for —

[02:30] Mike: Really?

[02:30] Rob: … SEO customers. Yeah.

[02:30] Mike: Isn’t that what we advocate against?

[02:33] Rob: No. [Laughter] No, actually well that — so that’s the thing. Once your lifetime value is high enough, if you can find streams that will scale that have low enough cost per acquisition. And I’m a hardy advocate of anything that gets you new customers for a lot less than they are worth to you during their lifetime.

[02:52] Mike: You sound like a venture capitalist.

[02:53] Rob: Yeah, right.

[02:54] Mike: [Laughter]

[02:54] Rob: As I plug money in this side, money come — more money comes out the other side. It’s been fun though. In the past, I’ve definitely done — I mean I’ve done all, you know, the GAM at the Google AdWords and the Facebook and all that stuff and I’ve had success with it but not to this degree. I think HitTail is just at a different level. I mean HitTail is just, you know, it’s a different app. It’s a different animal, in most of the stuff I’ve done in the past in terms of upsize. So it’s nice to be somewhat horizontal but what I found is that when I target things out of a niche that where people are going to know what SEO is automatically, the conversion rate is terrible and it’s not that I couldn’t educate them but it’s just their not going to click through and signup for a trial for something they don’t just get right away. So at this point, the conversion rates are quite good when I stick to people who know — who already knowledgeable about SEO topics.

[03:41] Mike: Man, is that direct your paid acquisition strategy in terms of who you’re targeting?

[03:46] Rob: Absolutely. So I’m doing, you know, both banner ads to buy sell ads. I’m using well, cash. I’m probably using six different networks right now with varying degrees of success and it’s pretty obvious. I mean, you know, when you do this stuff, man, you got to get the goal tracking in there. You need to use the Google URL creator that allows you to see specifically which ads are performing better for you. So even though I have probably have 25 different ads running right at this minute and I’m constantly cycling them in and out, I know which ones, it’s not only which ones are sending me traffic but which ones are actually converting in to trials. And that is absolutely critical. It sounds like a no-brainer, right? But it’s — it’s a bit of work to set that up but it just makes it so I can now turn off all the ones that aren’t working and just basically 10 X my span all the ones that are working.

[04:31] Mike: That’s cool. So hopefully —

[04:34] Rob: Yeah.

[04:35] Mike: … the 10 X span will equate to a 10 X sales but…

[04:38] Rob: So far I haven’t  hit10 X. I have 3 X since I started and it has allowed 3 X to trials. So you know, it’s a 30-day trial. So I don’t actually know. I mean I know my standard trial-to-paid conversion and assuming that that holds true, I’m doing pretty good. Somehow I’m happy with it. I’ll put it that way. It’s nice to find something that’s somewhat scalable. I mean I have this, you know, I’ve talked a lot about this 11-page marketing plan that I put together and all that stuff is great but some of it is stuff that’s like infographics and guest blogging and that kind of stuff that’s just — it’s very time intensive. It’s not going to let your business basically grow infinitely where you can kind of step back. I have to be involved. Even if I’m outsourcing, I outsource the infographics production, I still have to be integrally involve with each of the steps. Paid acquisition I’m realizing is a lot more time intensive than I think I had realized but I still — I will outsource that eventually but it is something that I can really outsource and step away. And I could — if I can find someone who can run it, run it well and I’ve already started the conversation with someone.

[05:33] Mike: Well I think you could probably set up parameters around that such that if it dips below a certain point then —

[05:40] Rob: Absolutely.

[05:40] Mike: … you just say, “Look, we’re going to pull the plug on this,” but you know, just kind of set those numbers out there and either publish them to the person you put in charge of it or you just kind of —

[05:48] Rob: Yup.

[05:48] Mike: … watch them out outside of that.

[05:50] Rob: No, that’s absolutely. The guy I’m talking to I basically I’m like here’s my cost per acquisition I can go to. Here’s what I need for, you know, who I can pay for a trial. Here’s what I’ve been getting for clicks. I show them everything I’ve been doing because I want them to take it out and then expound upon it and do a better job with it.

[06:03] Mike: Are you using Google AdWords at all for that?

[06:05] Rob: So that’s the — that’s the kicker, right? You would think that Google AdWords would be the best thing. They won’t allow me to send traffic from AdWords because we guarantee that you will — that you’ll get an increase in search traffic and we’ll refund your money if we — you know, if we don’t. But they are like, “Nope, you can’t do that.” You can’t make what they — and seriously, in the — in the e-mail it’s called site policy, you can’t make outlandish claims about guarantee and it’s a boilerplate, right? I didn’t write specifically for my site but I mean they’re obviously guarding against like this — this fly-by-night internet marketers definitely. You have to include what the — the average person or what the typical result is and I wrote back and I’m like well the typical result is the people increase their organic search traffic like I said and that way, you can’t guarantee that without like a big asterisk and some other stuff.

[06:51] So at this point, frankly, I’m not the site converts really well the way it is and I’m not about to start messing with headlines just to get AdWords traffic yet because I have other sources that are working well enough. So I’m going to stick to those focus to those and keep focus on them and if I burn through them, then I’ll look at, you know, messing with my site. But that’s a whole other — it’s a whole other deal, right? Then I have to test headlines and make sure the conversion rates stay and there’s a lot of work to go in to there so I don’t just want to — want to start mess with it because Google asked me to.

[07:20] Mike: It’ too bad that you’re not using Google AdWords for that because I was going to thank you for the check that I got from Google. [Laughter]

[07:28] Rob: What did they send you?

[07:29] Mike: So I got, I guess Google had some class action lawsuit against them for AdWords but I have a check like in my hands from Google for some AdWords that I’d done a few years ago and it says, “Pay to the owner of Moon River Software. $0.17.”

[07:48] Rob: Now you can get that operation you’ve always wanted.

[07:50] Mike: [Laughter] It just boggles my mind that they have to send me a check for less than it cost to probably to send this. The other thing I’ve got going on is I’m relaunching my Altiris Training website this coming Monday. I’ve talked a little bit about that probably about two months ago or so. My —

[08:05] Rob: So Altiris is software that Symantec built, right?

[08:08] Mike: Yup, so I do a lot of consulting around that and a long time ago, I said wow, you know, it’d be really nice if I could kind of translate this knowledge and not actually have to go to talk to people and instead just either have them subscribe to a newsletter or mailing list or video website or something like that. So a couple of months ago, I had — I had mentioned that I was messing around and accidentally launched a new product in it. I put the Altiris Training website out there. I recorded a couple of videos but I hadn’t done anything too serious with it and over the course of probably about a month to a month and a half, I’ve kind of done all of the analysis of the niche and said, okay, well how many — how much traffic do I expect to get and what’s my signup rate going to be. And I figured that I only get a couple of a hundred visits per month. So it seems kind of low to me. I wasn’t real sure whether or not that — that would really get any traction where the people would, you know, really start converting very well for it.

[08:59] And what I found was I actually got a fair number of people signing up for it. It was actually probably two to three times what I had expected and people were paying me money and in which every single person I had to refund their money because I really didn’t have a full-blown website for them. So what I do was I sat down for about 8 hours and scoped out an entire site design and handed it off to a developer who implemented it and everything is kind of come in together right now. I’ve got Wistia on the backend to run all the videos and do the analysis for the content the people are viewing and I’m going to be sending it off in Excel spreadsheet to my VA here pretty soon and she’s going to go upload all the videos and put them in a Wistia and format them on the website and hoping by Monday, I’ll have the website good to go or I’ll just going to send an e-mail out to the people who’ve signed up and see if they’re willing to basically pay me again because again, I had to refund all their money through PayPal. Now I’m doing everything through Stripe because they’re a lot better when it comes to subscriptions and dealing with those. I don’t know. I’m looking forward to it. It should be — it should be pretty good.

[09:59] Rob: You are a shining example of outsourcing. It sounds like you pretty much outsourced everything except for making the videos.

[10:05] Mike: Yeah, the videos themselves, I spent some time doing them. I’m trying to think I’ve got — I’m up to 19 videos now. I should have 30 by Monday and of those 19 videos, I probably spent — I’d say I’ve spent 3 to 4 hours setting up the environment to create the videos and then after that I probably spent maybe 4 hours for those 20 videos and like my time to record is going down dramatically for each video. I mean some of them it’s just one pass through and boom, I’m done. So in a 3-minute video, it takes me 4 minutes to actually record it because I just have to double check some things. But yeah, I mean the vast, vast majority of this thing has been outsourced. I haven’t done hardly anything for it.

[10:45] Rob: Sweet. Well, good luck with the launch. It’s —

[10:47] Mike: Oh thanks —

[10:47] Rob: It’s four days away.

[10:48] Mike: I’ll definitely keep everyone posted on how that’s going. I mean I look at it as a way to short term kind of get me out of a consulting. Once I get far enough along with AuditShark, I’ll probably look to start selling it because I don’t really want to be creating these Altiris videos every week.

[11:02] Rob: Right. So you see it as building an asset for now to generate some income but it’s not a passion thing and —

[11:08] Mike: Yeah.

[11:08] Rob: … laid hold down the line once you’ve, you know, left consulting and that kind of stuff, you know, AuditShark takes off or your next project. Cool. I have three quick things I want to run though. One is HitTail update. July was the best month ever for HitTail and actually grew by several thousand bucks in recurring revenue per month and that there are bunch of things that went on in June that sent a ton of trials and then they all converted in July. So that was — it wasn’t new. I was — I knew that was going to happen but I was very excited to see the numbers grow. I also had — somehow ordered $1000 worth of articles.

[11:42] Mike: Wow.

[11:43] Rob: Okay? Yeah. Now my margin is 50. It’s about 50%. I was shocked. He e-mailed me directly and said, “Hey, I want 66 articles,” or whatever the number was and you know, he asked for quote and stuff and I had my VA get it done. So it was — that was part of it, right? I was part of when — when the bump will be big and you know, won’t necessarily be in August but it was a nice one. So HitTail is scheduled to pay back its original purchase price in August assuming you have a, you know, close to the month that I had in July.

[12:13] Mike: Cool.

[12:13] Rob: Yeah, that’s so cool but it doesn’t include improvements, you know, obviously all the time and money I’ve spent since then but it’s just the original purchase price itself.

[12:21] Mike: Right. Now, did you ever end up landing that enterprise customer that you talked about? You did a lot of I guess foreign character —

[12:28] Rob: Chinese SEO. So no, I didn’t and I’ve — I’m still e-mailing with him. It’s been —

[12:32] Mike: Oh —

[12:32] Rob: … like two months probably and I e-mailed with him and he says, “Oh, we just,” you know, it’s typical, right? It’s a long sale cycle thing and it’s an expensive account and he says, “Yes, I really want to try it out but other things are going on.” Now, I have been in talks with two or three other enterprise customers from – for me your enterprise customers. They’re tripled — below tripled digits per month. That’s — it’s fairly exciting because HitTail is, you know, typically 10, 20, $40 a month plan. I’ve been in contact with — with three of them. I had phone call with one of them. So there is some, you know, kind of medium touch sales going on here which — which is totally worth it once you get above that — that $99 price point per month. So I’m excited about it. None of them have converted. I had verbal commitments from two of them. One guy I guess we’re — we’re going with it, just have to, you know, get it through and get the code installed and all these other stuff but no money as of yet. But that would be nice, that would be nice. I will bump when it — when it comes through.

[13:24] Mike: Cool.

[13:25] Rob: The second thing is you haven’t checked out Techzing episode 200. They did a special episode. They got the Techzing wives on the show to tell all. It was hilarious and it was — Justin’s wife, Jason’s wife and actually my wife, they got Sherry on there. So the three of them just have a blast talking and kind of roasting —

[13:44] Mike: [Laughter]

[13:44] Rob: … their husbands. It’s pretty cool. So yeah, I definitely — definitely recommend it. I just listened to it yesterday. I was dying. There are some pretty funny moments that I think will all resonate with us.

[13:54] Mike: You didn’t get to control over any sort of the editing process?

[13:57] Rob: No.

[13:58] Mike: No?

[13:58] Rob: No and I listen to some of it and I was like, “Oh I can’t believe she said that.” One of the things Jason’s wife Sandy said was that he’s in to the Bachelorette and she’s like “He’s going to kill me for saying that.”

[14:07] Mike: [Laughter]

[14:07] Rob: And I was like yes. If you look actually the actual comments on the episode on techzinglive.com, there are some — some other cool summarizations of the funny moments but definitely worth the listen. It’s, you know, as usual it’s an hour and 45 minutes or whatever but it’s a good one. The last thing is I stumbled upon this show on Hulu but it’s called Start-Up Junkies and it follows Earth Class Mail. It’s like a reality show following the, you know, workings of Earth Class Mail getting started and raising funding. It’s pretty freaking interesting and I think they are like 30 minute show and there’s only eight episodes. So I don’t know if you need Hulu Plus to watch it or if you can watch it with the non-paid plan but again, it’s not something you watch to like learn — to actually learn actionable tips, it’s just entertaining and it’s cool to see the stuff they’re going through and how they have to define everything like they’re just in phone conversations talk about venture capitals and then like this popup pops on to the screen and it’s says, “Venture capital,” quote in “Funding raise from people who want to high rate of…”, you know, they have to kind of make it a lay, layperson appropriate stuff.

[15:07] Mike: Layperson finally, you know.

[15:08] Rob: Yeah.

[15:09] Mike: Interesting.

[15:10] [Music]

[15:09] Rob: We have a bazillion questions, questions seem to be coming in faster than we can answer them so we — we’re actually not — we’ve stopped answering all the questions on the air. Some of them we answer via e-mail. I did want to ask folks when you send a question in, try to make it as detailed as possible while keeping brevity in mind. So keep it short but keep it detailed because I’ve finding as I’m listening back to some of our answers, we have to say, “Well the guy didn’t say what business he’s in,” because he — if you’re selling beach towels or if you’re selling software or if you’re selling an info product, the answer really is different. So the more detail you can give us, the less we have to kind of hem and haw and say it depends on this, this then this. I’m finding that a lot of the questions that we’re getting really do lack in some key details. I’d just wanted to ask for that. I think it’s beneficial to both to us and to the listeners and the people asking the questions if you can give us more info.

[16:01] First question is called Sample Screencast and it says it’s from Justin and he says, “What is your explanatory screencasts look like?” He’s talking about for virtual assistants. “Can you post a small sample or perhaps make a screencast on how to make a screencast.” So I don’t think we’re going to make a screencast on how to do that but you and I both created a lot of screencast to show VA’s how to do a simple process and sometimes it’s one process they’ll do over and over. Sometimes it’s just a one-time process. You want to talk through briefly how — how you’ve gone about that?

[16:31] Mike: Sure. So typically if it’s — you want to do this for repeatable task or things that you’re going to have one person do over and over again or there are additional details that are probably going to get lost. If it’s something you can explain to somebody and just one paragraph, then chances are good you probably don’t need to screencast for it. But if it’s something that is going to take you several minutes to kind of walk somebody through, then it’s worth making a screencast. So what you’ll want to do is you’ll want to walk through the entire screencast and actually do it. I use Camtasia Studio to do the recordings for these things and it works out really well. You can just upload the videos directly from Camtasia in to screencast.com. screencast.com has a free account that allows you up to I think 2 gigs worth of videos and then beyond that I think you get 25 gigs for I don’t know what it is. It’s like 50 bucks a year or something like that. It’s not really expensive. But then you can just — you can separate them out in to folders and you give some people access to some videos and other people access to other videos.

[17:26] But what you’re looking for when you’re going through these videos and created them is that you essentially want to walk in through the entire process of what it is they’re doing and provide commentary on why and the why part tends to be much more helpful when you’re going through specific details. So for example, if it’s very important when you’re, let’s say you’re doing a login bugs or working with bugs and FogBugz for example. When you’re talking to somebody through that, you not only explain what you want them to do but why and the why part is important because it gives them a reference framework for why they’re doing something. So for example, if setting a priority is important to you, then say — don’t just say set the priority, say set the priority to X and because so that you can list things in order because maybe that’s the way that you work. You want to give them that additional detail to let them know why it’s important to you that it is done that way, just telling somebody to do something.

[18:22] If they forget it, then you have to remind them and if you’re going back and forth through e-mail, it could be a little bit off putting from their perspective but when they’re hearing your voice say and I need you to set the priority based on, you know, however important it is because I use the priority field to sort things and determine what things I should work on next. So if it’s really important, set it to one. If it’s not so important, set it to six or somewhere in between, obviously, set it in between and then I’ll use that as a — a reference for, you know, how important it is that I get to that in a timely fashion and if it’s a six, they can probably wait a few days. If it’s a one, I need to get a respond to it right away. So giving the person that you’re giving those things to that — that point of reference is really, really important and again, them hear it in your own words is much, much better than just putting it in an e-mail because with an e-mail, you don’t get the voice intonations where it can be a little off but it depend how it’s phrased.

[19:17] Rob: Absolutely. So I find that there are three types of screencast I create. The first one is typically an overview screencast and so if I hire a new VA, a new developer, I want them to have a high-level view of what the app is that they’re working on. So I’ve done this for — for all of them, DotNetInvoice, the Academy, HitTail, you know, anytime I hire someone I just say “Start at the basic. Here is what this app is. Here is what it does. You can go to this URL to see it,” like they — they need to just get the general idea. Even if they’re just — a VA answering support e-mails or developer just writing code on one section, it helps to have big picture stuff. So typically those one at being about 10 minutes long. Some of them I created one for a developer where I walked through HitTail and then I walked through the actual code based briefly and I show them what the — you know, “These folders are unnecessary for what you’re doing blah, blah, blah,” and he wrote back and he said, “This is the best overview I’ve ever had. I wish all clients did this.”

[20:10] And I know that it — because I’ve been a consultant, right? You get brought a new project and you’re like you’re totally disoriented because you don’t even understand not just the architecture but like folder locations and there are so many little nuances that you don’t want to read a 10-page doc to get and that we’re sitting and watching a 15 minutes screencast is super efficient. It’s efficient for me to create. It’s efficient for him to watch to get an overview. And like you said the nuances of language and the nuances of intonation, you can kind of say stuff like, “You know, what? I don’t really know what this is for,” and that’s okay to say in a screencast whereas you’re not really — you’re probably not going to put that in to like a doc.

[20:43] The second type of screencast I created for recurring tasks and those ones I tend to create it and that will be typically between 1 to 5 minutes, then I will try to put some bullets in to a Google doc so that they — because they’re going to need to refer back to this in the future and they’re not always going to want to watch a screencast over and over. And what I’ll tell them in the screencast is “Here’s the Google doc. Please update this Google doc,” you know, I share between the two of us. “Update it as you find new things as you — if you think the screencast says something that I’ve missed in the doc, update it.” So that’s kind of a living document and then they are all — definitely a one-time tasks that I passed off. That’s a lot of — typically a lot of research stuff, organization that went off, you know, when I get the thousand dollar article order, I just popped in. I created a 2 minutes screencast. “Here’s what you’re going to do. Here’s how to do it.” I didn’t even create a Google doc accompanying it because it’s like that — the screencast explained everything and “E-mail me if you have questions.”

[21:35] It literally is just a few minutes of you walking through talking fast and stepping through the different step you’re doing it, totally unedited because it — only one person is ever going to watch it and so it does not need to be professional at all. And I’ve also found I use Camtasia. It uploads right in to screencast.com and that is by far the fastest way to do it and it allows me to make a 60-second or a 45-second screencast and have it be worth my time rather than rendering it to the hard drive and then FTPing somewhere and uploading it and finding the URL. I mean that stuff it doesn’t sounds like a lot of time but when, you know, it’s a super quick screencast. It really just it’s on a starter. It doesn’t make sense to do. So cool, I hope that helps.

[22:14] [Music]

[22:17] Rob: I’ve titled this one “Which subscription billing system should I use?” and it’s from Alan Sanchez. He says, “First of all, you guys had been such an inspiration.  Whenever I’m doubting myself or in a lost of what to do next in my work on my SaaS app, I just go back to your podcast and get recharged. Since you guys are working on subscription-based web apps, so what billing systems or services do you use and recommend? From your experience, is it better to hack it in-house against the payment gateway that has a recurring payment API like PayPal or go with the billing service and not worry about it? What are the advantages and disadvantages? I know billing services take care of PCI compliance and charge back, et cetera. In my case, I’m mostly leaning towards billing services like Chargify, Recurly, Spreedly, CheddarGetter, et cetera when it’s time to deal with that later on and decide which one is best for my case. I remember you guys somewhat have touched on this in previous webcast specifically on whether to go with a percentage transaction fee service or by the number of customers. Looking forward to more of your podcast. More power. Thanks. Alan.”

[23:12] Mike: So my thoughts on this are that when you’re taking a look at things like, you know, as you mentioned Chargify, Recurly, Spreedly, CheddarGetter and I’ll throw in Stripe as well. I don’t think that it actually matters and the reason I don’t think it matters is especially if you’re looking at this specifically from a price stand point, the fact is that you’re really talking about percentages or variations between the cost that are really, really small. And you’ve spend more than, I don’t know, 30 seconds trying to think about which one you should be using, then you probably spent too much time.

[23:43] Rob: Chargify, Recurly, Spreedly and CheddarGetter are recurring billing services where you can create plans. They have like a layer built on top of their API, right? They have subscription billing and then you can create plans and you basically redirect from your app to their website and handle everything. Stripe is a little bit different, right? They do have a subscription billing system but it’s all API-based. And so I agree with what you said so far but I didn’t want it like Stripe and PayPal are different than those other four recurring services.

[24:12] Mike: Yeah.

[24:12] Rob: So we didn’t group them together but anyways, keep going with your answer.

[24:15] Mike: Yeah, well I was just going to essentially say that, you know, you really have to look at the feature set and exactly what you said. I mean depending on what the feature set that you’re looking for and the user experience. I mean if you have to redirect the person to somebody else’s website, it may be a jarring thing for the end user, it may not be. It depends on how you do that integration and whether or not you’re going to put the time and effort in to that. But I hear and see a lot of people spending a lot of time looking at the base cost and then the percentages. Well this person is charging is 45 cents plus 2.9% at transaction. There’s other company they’re only charging 30 cents but it’s 3.5% per transaction. Unless you get to the point where you’re charging 10 to 15, $20,000 a month, it really doesn’t matter.

[24:57] So just kind of ignore those cost things, kind of throw them way out the window and just pick something that you’re comfortable with. The other thing that I would look at is if you’re only getting one or two transactions a month, then it maybe time to start looking at those things because sometimes they have like a base-cost associated with it and it’s, you know, a 30 to $40 a month. And if you’re only getting one or two customers a month then you might want to consider looking at another product anyway but I think that’s a separate discussion. But I would take a look at those things. Again, just look at specifically the things that those services are offering as oppose to looking at how much they’re costing you.

[25:35] Rob: Yup, you nailed it. It’s people spend so much time looking at the stuff and spending time on the 2.19 versus 2.29 and trying to eke out every tenth of a percent and you’re right, until you’re at 10 or 15 grand a month is completely — it’s just — it isn’t worth the time. I had lunch with the founder yesterday who’s trying to get his app off the ground and the advice I gave him was — he asked me this question, “Which I do for billing?” He’s going to use Stripe that’s who I would recommend to go with. But he said they have a script subscription API [0:26:00] and we talked through what it would take. And we figured by the time he’s all said and done and tested and everything works, it’s going to take somewhere between probably 15 and 20 hours to get it all done. And he is working a full time job so he only has about 15 hours a week and I said take that week and contact the customers and figure out like get someone to buy before — because he doesn’t have any customers yet, right?

[26:21] And I said, “Get someone to buy before you even think about doing that,” and in the meantime sign up for either Chargify, Recurly, Spreedly or CheddarGetter and use that until you have at least a handful of customers depending on your price point. Once you know that you have traction, then you switch over to Stripe. You keep your, you know, your old Chargify, Recurly, Spreedly, CheddarGetter account going and you do have to run two billing systems if you have a few customers on that one who eventually dropped out. But to me to save that 15 hours at such a critical time, right as your approaching launch because he’s been a few, you know, four weeks of launch, I think it’s a big deal like I think until you proven your idea and people are actually paying you for it, I think investing 15 to 20 hours, that’s if you’re going to use Stripe subscription API. I built mine in-house where it’s actually an internal billing executable and all tolled I outsource a bunch of it. I did some myself as about 60 hours to build the engine, to integrate with Stripe, to figure it out all the UI in place.

[27:17] I mean it’s a substantial amount of effort and so if you’re not able to outsource and you’re not able to work on this full time, you need to think about if you’re going to spend a month of your side project time rather than doing — what I would essential say is a stopgap measure. I mean it’s kind of a lien approach to go with one of these recurring billing systems and I would say spend less time working on that stuff and more time getting your app out there and getting customers to buy. And if you have a big influx of paying customers, well now you have money or you’re going to have time to go in and have the justification to actually build an actual billing system.

[27:49] Mike: The other thing that I’ll throw in here is that you don’t have — if you go with Stripe which is what I use for my Altiris Training site that I’ve talked about earlier today, you don’t have to do everything all at once. So for example, in mine in order to get things up and running very quickly what I told the developer to do was essentially to create the billing integration and don’t worry about all the other thing such as being able to cancel and being able to do refunds and keeping track of the customers. The only thing I’m doing is keeping track of a customer ID that I get from Stripe and that’s it. I don’t really care. Everything else can be handled manually until I start getting enough customers where is justifiable for me to spend additional time doing a lot of that other integration stuff.

[28:28] Rob: Absolutely. I’m still at that — that point. My VA logs in to my Stripe account to do refunds. My Stripe account, that’s HitTail Stripe account. He logs in to do refunds. He logs in to do anything like that. There is no code written. I think I have the minimum amount of API calls just to make a charge on the HitTail’s site. So it’s like two, maybe one or two API calls and that’s it. And so I agree and I didn’t — if you recall, I didn’t build this billing engine until — I didn’t actually get it live until like two days before the first 30-day trials we’re going to expire, right? So I actually had customers sign up for my trial and they were going through the path getting e-mail saying, “Hey, you’re doing your trial,” and I did not have any type of billing in place at that time and a contractor was building the engine and keywayed it, fix some stuff and pushed it live about — it was less than 48 hours before the first billing needed to be done. So I totally think that’s the way to go.

[29:21] I’m not a fan at all of the old-school merchant account providers like authorize.net, CyberCash, Bank of America, Chase, any bank stuff like that. They just — they charge you fees out that was you — typically they’ll say the monthly fee is 25 bucks. It’s not that. It almost always winds up being $75 and more by the time they tack on all their garbage, the application processes take forever. There’s just — there’s no reason to do it in this staying age. Go — if you’re in doubt, go with Stripe unless you have a compelling reason to do otherwise like we’ve talked about here, you know, using the recurring billing systems would be the other option. Even these days, I don’t recommend using PayPal like I used to. Stripe just — I’m in love with Stripe these days. They really are kicking butt. And aside from some very minor issues with international cards don’t seem to go through as well on Stripe and I’ve had some JavaScript problems with some — because they use JavaScript to get you around PCI which is really nice but I’ve had browsers with plug-ins like Mac, Chrome with X plugin that basically means all the card keeps getting rejected even though the card is valid. So aside from those minor issues, I can’t say enough good things about Stripe.

[30:25] Mike: So thanks for the question, Alan. And our next question is launch day tactics and this question is from Kevin. He says, “Hey, guys, listened to your last podcast “Why it’s easy to be great but hard to be consistent”. I really appreciate your discussion on the fears of actually launching and how tempting it is to just keep working on the development side itself to postpone the big day. I was wondering if you guys could talk more about tactics and strategies for smooth launch day. Additionally, could you discuss whether or not to do a beta test during the initial launch phase? Is it worth it to just go out there as is or spend some time testing first? Thanks. Kevin.”

[30:55] Rob: So I think we’ve covered the beta test whether to do it during the launch. We — it was what, three or four episodes ago. We kind of went to an in-depth discussion. But I do think it’s worth discussing some ideas for having a good launch day. Yes about having a smooth launch day. I would say how to have a successful and profitable launch day. Smooth launch day implies there are lots going to be going on and your servers are going to crash and bugs are going to happening and first of all, your servers probably not going to crash some traffic. If they crash it all, it’s going to be just battle up but the odds of you getting, you know, mad amounts of traffic, it’s going to take you down are pretty low. Some thoughts that I’ve shared elsewhere I put them in my book and I think we’ve talked about them before about having a good launch day are not to think of it as a launch day but to think of it as a launch couple of weeks. It’s a launch process. And the thing is as if you are building a product that people are ravenous to have, then you are going to have an easy time and you definitely should have build anticipation for your launch day.

[31:51] You don’t — the worst thing you can do and I see this over and over with sites I’ve signed up for. You signed up for the mailing list. People get that first step and then three months or four months, six months later, I get a single e-mail from these guys that I have never heard from and it’s like, “Hey, we launched X app today. Come and check it out. Click,” and they don’t give me any contacts. I don’t even remember what the app does. I don’t remember why I signed up with it. I don’t remember how I heard about it, anything, right? So I’m not excited to check it out at all and they get a bizmo conversion rate. You get a bizmo [Phonetic] conversion rates when you do it that way. What I would recommend is if you get the mailing list going and then every couple of months you update with a quick update whether it’s a short screencast, whether it’s just a couple of paragraphs, “Hey, you know, do you remember you signed up at this website? This is what the app does. Here’s our progress.” So you got to keep people in the loop every couple of months or else they’ll lose it.

[32:40] Then as you build at the launch, you send an e-mail about two weeks before you launch and you said, “Just giving you a heads up, we’re almost ready to launch. I wanted to give you, since you’re on the list, a sneak peek no one else is going to see it. It’s an exclusive thing, right?” And you give them something cool. Write something that’s actually worth or something not just like a bunch of bogus marketing stuff but like “Here’s some helpful info or helpful screencast or something,” and it also of course happens to relate to your product. And then about a week before you say, “All right, we’re going to launch next week and of course you are on the mailing list and we told you, you know, you’re going to get something special basically. You’re going to get a discount for life on this product. We want to thank you for being part of the mailing list.” And then the day before you launch, you say “Hey, we’re launching tomorrow. Gates open at this time and basically, it’s going to be like a 3-day or a 5-day thing. You should definitely come and check the app out.”

[33:24] And by this time, you hopefully given them some information. You’ve given them testimonials from beta testers. You’ve built anticipation in their mind. You’ve shown them some screencast, shown them some — some screen shots where if you’re building a product that people want, then they really like are going to be chomping at the bit by now because you’ve slowly drift to them some decent content. It gets them really excited. And then you do your launch to e-mail, you say “You know, here you go. You get X percent off,” whatever you’re going to give — give these people “And for life as long as you’re a customer, you get this cheap rate.  Everyone else will pay the high rate.” And then on the day that it ends three — 72 hours to 5 days later, you basically just say, “Hi, you know, there’s only 8 hours left just a reminder and then this thing shuts down.” And you do, you shut it down. You don’t allow people to sign up after that time at that rate. So I think that’s the basic strategy.

[34:11] Mike: The other question he sort of asked was doing a beta test during the initial launch phase and it’s just really not a good idea to do your beta testing at the same time as you’re doing your initial launch. I mean you should really have a phase approach where you have some sort of an initial alpha or beta and then maybe early access is is kind of part of that but you don’t publicly open the doors to pretty much everybody on your mailing list. You kind of phase it out first just to kind of work out the major bugs because people are going to run in to — if you have — if you open up to 25 people and there’s a major show stopper bug, they’re all going to run in to it and you’re going to get 25 reports for the exact same thing. So put a couple of people on it and kind of work through what those issues are. Put a few more people on it. Work through whatever issues those other people come — and with and then just kind of work through it and from there. And then once you get to the point where you have your early access, then things should be well enough along that all the major things were out and that would kind of contribute to your smooth launch then.

[35:04] [Music]

[35:07] Rob: For our last question today Juha [Phonetic] wrote in and he asked how to get people to sign up to your pre-launch mailing list. “In a recent episode you talk a bit about pre-launch mailing list. I would like to hear your ideas about what works in getting people to come to the site and sign up in those lists when I don’t have a product yet. Should I already have a short screencast screenshots at that point for them to come and check out? Thanks.”

[35:29] Mike: Well I think this should be a pretty easy question to answer. I think you should go to the StartupsForTheRestOfUs.com website and look for episode 72 and that one is called 8 Tactics for Building Your Pre-launch Mailing List. And we have a bunch of different things that you can use to help build up your mailing list and I believe we’ve talked about it in a previous episode as well. It was probably early on maybe within the first 10 or 15 episodes but we’ve talked about mailing list there as well. I guess to kind of summarize those, I don’t think you need to have screenshots and screencast but I think you definitely need to have things that are calls to action and you — I don’t think you have to have a product either but you definitely need to be able to clearly articulate the products that you’re offering and that you want to build.

[36:12] And I would be hesitant to start talking about something that is going to take you a significant amount of time to build. If it’s going to take you eight months, ten months or a year or two to build it, I don’t think that going about just creating a mailing list is kind of the right way to do it. I mean you should start talking to customers and working with people early on to build the product as oppose to building a website to try and see if there is interest. I mean those are two different strategies for building a product and I think that you need to evaluate which one is more appropriate for you. But those are kind of my thoughts on it. I would definitely go back and listen to those other podcasts episodes because we talked a lot about the types of things that should go on to the website when you’re trying to either build it thoroughly or build up that mailing list and convince people that they should be signing up for it.

[37:00] Rob: Yeah, I think it depends on the niche, you know, when you should build the landing page or take the — the more heavy customer development approach. So even if it’s going to take you a year or two to build it, I would still put up a landing page but in terms of the landing page early on, I think that a nicely design landing page with one or two sentences that describe the very high-level problem that your product solves and then has a single call to action to build the mailing list, I think that’s probably the best thing to not get in to the features, to not get in to a bunch of bullet points, screencasts, screen shots, any of that stuff. Very early on I think that works well. I think if you could have a very attractive screenshot that that can help but if you’re going to take six months to develop this thing I would not spend a ton of time trying to spec it out so to speak and get a bunch of features on to the landing page if you like to just clutters it up.

[37:50] But I do feel like as you move towards the launch, you know, you check out how the page is converting. If it’s converting well, I will just leave it. And if it’s not converting very well, then I would think about, oh people may need more information and look at creating either a nice screenshot that’s certainly going to be easier or creating a like a 60 seconds screencast with the music in the background and then either if you’re going to narrate it, you can do that or you can just leave it as music. But I’ve almost found kind of unprofessional screencast. They will hurt your conversion rate more than anything so unless you — you know what you’re doing, I would lean towards having nothing or just having a screenshot. Go back and listen to episode 72 for more info.

[38:26] [Music]

[38:30] Mike: If you have a question or a comment, you can call it in to our voicemail number at 1-888-801-9690 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 Commons. You can subscribe to this podcast in iTunes by searching for Startups or via RSS at StartupsfortheRestofUs.com where you’ll also find a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.

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One Response to “Episode 91 | Screencasts for VAs, Subscription Billing, Launch Day Tactics, and More Listener Questions…”

  1. I agree with you guys, when you say you shouldn’t waste much time on choosing a billing service. I came across this tool (
    http://www.billingsavvy.com) which helps you choosing the best service that suites your needs given the expected number of users and how much you charge.
    it has been very useful for me. it might be useful for others 😉