In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Mike returns to the podcast to give updates on the fate of Bluetick as well as progress updates on his motivation and health.
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Rob: In this Taberrific episode of Startups for the Rest of Us, Mike returns to the show. This is Startups for the Rest of Us episode 458.
Welcome to Startups for the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers, and entrepreneurs be awesome at building, launching, and growing startups, whether you’ve built your fifth startup or you’re working on your first. I’m Rob.
Mike: And I’m Mike.
Rob: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the mistakes we’ve made on our journeys. Mike, it’s been a long time.
Mike: Hi. Yeah, it has. What? 10 episodes?
Rob: Ten episodes. I don’t think either of us realized that it would be that long. Just so listeners know, you and I had literally not spoken verbally. We’ve texted since that episode, but we have not spoken since episode 448.
Mike: That’s true.
Rob: We’re not talking that much. We tend to text and email a lot.
Mike: I hear that from people when I talk to them at MicroConf. They have the expectation or the inclination to believe that you and I talk either everyday or at least a couple of times a week. That’s totally not true. We’ll email back and forth. We will sometimes go for a couple of weeks without talking at all.
Rob: Yeah, if we don’t record the podcast. Ten episodes. What have you been doing with the enormous amount of free time you had not had? Showing up every week to record this and all that.
Mike: I’ve come to the realization that I was probably recovering from a pretty massive dose of burnout. I feel like I’m at the tail end of getting over that. How do I put this? There were times where I would just take an entire day off just because I felt like I needed it. Then, there are other times where I would just sit at my desk. I really wouldn’t feel like I was getting any work done. I would say that was the early stage when I started to take the time off.
I got to the point where I realize just sitting at my desk wasn’t actually doing anything. If I wasn’t actually being productive in any ways to perform, I’ll just get up and go do something else. What’s the point of sitting there if it’s not doing me any good? Because then, I’m just going to feel bad about it later and that’s not good for me either. It was rough to get through, but it was probably necessary, too.
Rob: It’s nice to have the luxury to be able to take that time and did not have to show up everyday for a season. It’s like over the course of years, you need to show up everyday in general, but when you’re burned out, you have to take time off. There’s really no other way to get around that. You have to get away from it. It’s hard to show up even once a week and be like, “All right. I’ve got to sit there and talk on the mic about stuff that I don’t really feel great about.” I’ve gone through months of time when I felt that way. When I listen back to the show, I can hear that in either one of us at a given time when they’re burned out.
It’s great you have that time to step away. You just got to give yourself permission to do that. That’s the thing. I often feel guilty when I do it, but you come back the next day or the next week assuming it’s not a long term depression or a chemical imbalance, which is totally very valid and real thing. But assuming it’s not that and you are just burned out because of the work or whatever it is, it’s super valuable. Each of us should give ourselves permission to do that.
Mike: Yeah. That was a good realization for me is just giving myself permission to walk away then come back later either when I felt like it or maybe the next day if I didn’t feel like it. Sometimes, there were definitely a couple of periods where I would take two or three days just because I didn’t feel like doing anything and I wasn’t being productive. You can’t beat yourself up all the time because that’s really what was happening to me. I don’t know how long it was going on, either.
When you’re sitting there trying to get work done, it’s like you’re concentrating more on beating yourself up about why you’re not getting things done, not focused, and not moving at all forward. Then, you are about taking a larger view of things saying, “How long does this been going on?” I try to forgive myself, I guess, for those periods of not being able to get stuff done. Like I said, things just has gotten a lot better over the past month or so.
Rob: We’ll dive into that. That’s the whole point of this episode. I have a couple of questions for you before we get into what you’ve been thinking about, how things have been with your health, your progress, and what’s going on. Have you been listening to the podcast?
Mike: I’ve not. I’ve gone into hermit mode.
Rob: Yes. You haven’t been on Twitter at all, right?
Mike: Aside from logging in very briefly on Twitter and Facebook just for authentication purposes for a couple of different things, I haven’t gone on either one of them. Nothing. No social media. I don’t even really watch the news or anything like that. There’s stuff going on. I’m just like, “I have no idea what’s happening in the world.” It’s just hermit mode.
Rob: Mike, do you miss it desperately and feel like there’s a huge Twitter-shaped hole in your heart?
Mike: No, not really.
Rob: Not at all?
Mike: I do miss some of the playful interactions and stuff like that. At the same time, I know they’re also distracting for me. I miss reconnecting with people just to shoot them a message here and there, and just make a comment on different things that are going on. At the same time, a lot of those doesn’t necessarily add any real value for me. I guess there’s a social contact, but I’ve tried to find personal social contacts outside of the internet.
Rob: That makes a lot of sense. I find it fascinating you have been listening to the podcast at all. The listeners who’ve been listening, they know the format. I’ve changed the format. I’ve been doing a lot of interviews, really trying to dig in and not just do the same old. We never wanted an interview show. There were enough interview shows. I’ve been trying to dig into people’s stories and the struggles. Done several Q&A episodes. I did a Q&A episode where Tracy Osborn came on and co-hosted with me. Jordan Gal came on for one.
That’s been actually the cool part for me. It was almost an excuse/motivation/force to me to figure out how I run the show on my own. It forced me to innovate. It’s the mother of invention to sit here, stare at the mic, and be like, I don’t just want to do what a lot of solo hosts do which is interviews. I don’t just want to monologue on the mic. Heaven knows I can sit and talk for 30 minutes. How do I try to up the game?
I’ve been spending a lot more time on the podcast than I used to. Over the course of the last several years, we show up and we talked about on the mic, but I’ve been trying to be really deliberate about trying to craft stories, just experimenting with new ideas, and new formats. It’s been cool. You can go back and listen to them now, I think your hermit mode is great, and it’s probably what you needed at this point. Someday, go back and listen, and let me know what you think.
The response I have asked in some of the episodes for folks to write in, or write me personally, or tweet, or somehow give their thoughts on the new format are overwhelmingly positive. I probably got 20-25 responses saying, “Yup, this is great.” “Keep being creative.” “Keep changing it up.” Some folks have mentioned that they missed the Q&A episodes probably the most. We used to do it every other episode, this Q&A.
That’s easy enough. I did one that went live today when we’re recording this. It was just me doing Q&A. I listen through it and it’s good. I think that works. I also like bringing experienced folks like Jordan Gal or Tracy to co-host with me on the Q&A. I think I’m finding my groove here in a way to keep it going.
Mike: Yeah. It’s interesting that you bring up the forced innovation. There’s a couple of things that come to mind in terms of just the podcast in general. I call it a general success and general longevity. The fact that we show up all the time, I guess until 10 episodes, we show up every week. Then, the past 10 has just been you showing up every week. The fact that it’s there and people can rely on it is not just a testament to the show, but it’s one of the reasons why it has been successful.
The other thing that you look at is you can continue to do the same thing over and over again, but eventually, maybe it gets boring. Maybe you decided that there’s other things that you want to do or there’s other ways to innovate on this show or whatever it is you’re working on. Those things don’t get done sometimes unless you force it because you’re either afraid to make changes or you decide, “I’m comfortable now. I don’t want to go through the…” I don’t want to call it pain but the uncomfortable mess of trying to change something that is already working. That applies in not just the podcast but in a lot of other places, too.
Rob: I would agree. I actually have a snippet from one email that we received from […]. He had a couple of comments, but one thing he said, it was indicative of what a lot of folks said. He said, “You asked for feedback about the new format. I’m really enjoying the in-depth nitty-gritty interviews with entrepreneurs who are in the trenches and openly talk about their successes, failures, and what they’re currently working on. It’s so valuable to hear what people think through the challenges, problems, and decisions. You’re a great interviewer because it doesn’t feel like you’re an interviewer, if that makes sense.”
I really appreciate that piece because I’m trying to deliberately do that. I’m not trying to be an investigative journalist. I’m trying to be a founder who’s just having a conversation with another founder much likely we would have whatever, at a bar, or at a conference in hallway track or something.
Back to his email, he says, “I also appreciate how you introduce the guest’s background yourself so you can go right into the good stuff with your guest.” That’s been very deliberate. The first 2-3 minutes, I hammer through their history so that we don’t have to sit there for 20 minutes talking through, “So, when did you become an entrepreneur?” Nobody really cares about that, in general. We really want to know what’s this pivotal piece of your story and let’s dig into that; that element of it.
His emails continues. He says, “I’ve learned so much from the topic-focused/listener-questions episodes as well.” That’s some more of the older format. “There’s so many concepts I’ve incorporated into my own thinking that have made me vastly more productive and effective.” It’s cool he rattles up a bunch. He said off the top of my head, relentless execution, road blocks versus speed bumps, almost all decisions are reversible, good glucose, moving a business forward, I could go on. He says, “I like the new format. I like the new voices, I like the stories, but the previous format is also great and it has taught me a lot.”
I appreciate that email. That was in general, indicative of the feedback that I saw. There was one person who wrote in and said, “I like the old format better.” That’s not super helpful without more description, but yeah, in general, it’s been a fun adventure.
Mike: That was cool.
Rob: How about the website? Have you been to the website? I’m about to announce it today, but about a week-and-a-half ago, brand new, Startups for the Rest of Us website went live.
Mike: I did see that.
Rob: It’s a new WordPress design. I’m sorry that I had to deprecate our 9½ year old WooTheme that we customized. Oh Mike, the humanity.
Mike: That was so hard to work with.
Rob: It’s not because it’s a WooTheme, it’s because it’s 9 years old. It was so crafty. Everything was breaking. We have plugins that were deprecated six years ago. Thanks again to Rich Staats at the Secret Stache who jumped in. The podcast feed would have died three months ago. We weren’t able to get new episodes in. He jumped in a day’s notice and hacked something in a plugin to get that going. That was cool. It keeps us going.
I don’t know if you know, but we’re now on Seriously Simple Podcast hosting which is Craig Hewitt’s WordPress plugin. We were in ProdPress and it hadn’t been touched in six years. Craig did us a favor, jumped in, and spent several hours migrating us over. We were just bailing the water out of the boat, in essence, to keep the podcast going. That’s cool. Now, we have a new theme. My hope is that we’re in a much better situation now.
Mike: Yup. In 2027, we can update it again.
Rob: It’s the thing I was thinking. It was like, “Oh my. We need to do this a little more often.”
Mike: It might be a good idea, but I think we both just got busy doing other things. It’s still work and it’s functional, it’s a little along the priority list.
Rob: Yup, that’s right.
Mike: That happens.
Rob: I was motivated by the fact that the momentum carried through were I was like, “Okay, here I am doing this show on my own, setting up interviews.” I kept going to the site and being just like, “I’m so bothered by this website.” The copy’s out of date. The greatest hits ends at 220, it’s like half of our podcast feed had been analyzed for greatest hit, and just the design and everything. It’s never fun to redesign a site, but it’s fun to have redesigned it. Now that it’s done, I’m glad that it’s all taken care of.
Mike: Now that it’s over and it looks nice, then it’s much better off.
Rob: Yeah. Episode 448 really struck a nerve. We received north of three dozen comments on that episode, tweets, emails to myself, emails to firstname.lastname@example.org. It is the episode that received the most feedback, perhaps, of any episode in our 450 episode run.
Mike: Yeah. You can probably at least add 50%-75% to that. I’ve got a ton of things that came directly to me through email as well. I don’t know if anybody has tweeted at me. If they did, I apologize because I have not logged into Twitter since 2½ months ago. On top of that, I’ve got a ton of personal direct emails to me, as well.
Rob: That’s cool. Thank you to everyone who reached out, honestly. I’ve responded to a lot of them, but I read every single one of them. I know you did as well, the stuff that came to you, Mike. In general, it was just super encouraging. There was a voicemail last episode that I felt like it had a couple of questions. He had a piece that I felt summed it up nicely. He said, “I wanted to take Mike for his immense courage in being so open and vulnerable in sharing his Bluetick blues with the podcast community. As a fellow, still struggling in Boston area, B2B SaaS founder, I empathize with him in the challenge he’s facing and I deeply appreciate his willingness to share them in public. I wish him the best in deciding what’s next.”
I felt that was, in general, like, “Thanks for coming in the mic and doing this, both of you.” “Thanks for diving into this difficult topic in front of 20,000 listeners,” and, “This is helpful.” That’s what I keep hearing is, “This is helpful for me to hear as a founder to know that I’ve gone through this, I am going through this.” It really humanizes it and a lot resonated with a lot of people that we were able to dig into that for 40 minutes, 10 episodes ago.
Mike: Yeah. When that episode went live, I got inundated with a ton of emails upfront. Then, they just kept trickling in. They tapered off after three or four weeks. It was hard for me because I wanted to respond to every single one of them, but I just really wasn’t in a place where I could. I apologize to anyone who I didn’t respond to. I started replying to them and I got to a point where I just couldn’t. It was like I was seeing the same things over and over again to people which is continuing to beat me down, I guess. Apologies to anyone, but I do want to say, definitely, I want to thank anyone who did email me. I did appreciate it.
Rob: Mike, when we last left our hero, we were talking about […] of things. I have seven or eight bullet points here to cover and revisit. You don’t need an answer to all of them. Some of the answers maybe. I don’t know. I haven’t figured that out yet. To take 2½ months off and expect that everything is thought through, everything is fixed, I don’t think is realistic. I am curious and I’m sure the listeners are, too. Did you give this particular bullet a thought? What’s your conclusion? Where do you stand now? Where do you see it heading over the next months and years?
To start high level, a question I brought up a couple of times in that episode was, “Do you still want to be an entrepreneur?” and you said, “The answer is absolutely yes.” That’s cool. The other question towards the end, “Should you be an entrepreneur? Do you feel like this is what you should be doing? Or do you feel like you should—not want to, but should—take a step back? Do some consulting? Build up the bankroll? Take a salary job?” because healthcare is so expensive. I know salary jobs make both of us sad. They make me depressed, but they are so stable, they’re so much less stressful, and there’s less need for that intrinsic motivation. Did you have a chance to think through that stuff?
Mike: I did think about it. Coincidentally, it was maybe four or five days ago, I got an email from a recruiter who was asking me. He’s like, “Hey, I saw your job experiences and stuff on LinkedIn. There’s a position over here at Amazon that you’d be really good for.” I looked at it and I thought for eight or ten seconds, “Oh my God, No. I just can’t do that.” Not just the fact that it would be all the way up for in Summerville. It’s taken me an hour to get there, so no. Absolutely not. That’s part of why I went out on my own anyway.
The thought of going back to a full time employment, there is an attraction from just the healthcare standpoint, but at the same time the lack of flexibility. The past couple of months, we’ve been able to make things work because I’m working at home. My wife’s got her business. She’s in and out. We just tag team on all the stuff with the kids during the summer. It’ll be so much harder if I had a fulltime job. Yeah, I could probably make it work if I were working remotely, but it’s still just the hassle of working for somebody else.
I saw this Dilbert comic. My wife and I actually talked about this, me going back and working for somebody else. I remember coming across this Dilbert comic very recently that really summed it up. The boss comes in and he says to Dilbert, “Hey, good news. We just won this nationwide contracts to roll out a wireless network.” Dilbert says, “Newsflash: We don’t know how to roll out a wireless network nationwide.” The boss says, “How hard could it be to not roll out wires?” That completely sums up exactly why.
Don’t get me wrong. Not every company is like that. But there are some things that I see that companies done where you’re just like, “This is the dumbest thing ever.” Yet, it’s hard to say something in those situations. Then you come off as an adversarial employee, you’re not working with the team, it’s just like, “Come on. This is a dumb idea. I can’t believe you don’t see it.”
Rob: Did you just quote a Dilbert comic as a reason not to get a full-time job?
Mike: I think so.
Rob: I hear what you’re saying. Honestly, if you were to get a job, it should be for a startup. It should be for 10, 20, 30, person company. Probably, with funding so they have good benefits and it should be remote.
I get it. I’m not saying you should do this, but I think that not wanting to go back to the cubicle form or the hour commute, I get that. Neither of us should do that. But I don’t think you need to in this day and age.
Mike: Yeah, I totally agree. I could probably find something that’s remote. I thought a lot about it. Even if I had all the money in the world, I would still build stuff. The problem with that is that money isn’t necessarily a main driver for me. That’s the problem that I’ve run into. I have enough money in the bank and I have enough income coming in where I don’t have to work my ass off in order to have the things in life that make me happy. The problem is I’m not really making a ton of forward progress on a lot of things.
It really comes down to an existential question of, “What is it that actually drives me if it’s not money?” It used to be money because I was the only one in my household who was working and now I’m not. My wife is able to help out with the income side of things. It’s great because now I don’t have to push myself nearly as hard. But as a direct result of that, the question is, if I don’t have to work nearly as hard, why am I doing this? What’s the point?
It’s something I definitely struggled with, to be perfectly honest. I don’t have a great answer for it yet. I’m still working on that, but the reality is, that is what stopped me or prevented me for going full speed on a lot of stuff because I haven’t needed the money, so what’s the point?
Rob: That makes sense, although you’re not independently wealthy. You do have to work. If you stopped working altogether, it’s not like you can take five years off. When I was in your shoes, that was my motivation. It was to get to a point where I could take years off or the rest of my life to achieve financial freedom. It’s an overused term and it’s almost devoid of meaning at this point, but I wanted the ability to never have to work again. That was a big motivation for me. Does that not motivate you?
Mike: I feel like the runway’s long enough. It’s not like a hardcore motivator for me, if that makes sense. I’m not under the gun. I don’t have two months or whatever to make ends meet or I’m done and I have to go find a full time job because that’s not the position I’m in. I’m fine for probably several years. That’s not a big deal. The problem is that there are going to be points along the way.
Let’s say Bluetick completely went away, for example, I lose that income. Yeah, I would probably be in a little bit of trouble, but I would still have plenty of runway left to figure out what I was doing at that point. The question is how do I address that? What do I really want? What am I really looking for?
I don’t necessarily have specific answers for that. I’m still working on those. I agree that the financial freedom aspect of it is a good and worthy goal. The question is, what is it that I’m really looking for above and beyond that? If I have that, what am I going to do? What’s going to drive me and motivate me? Even if I achieved that, then what’s next? What’s going to prevent me from just saying, “Okay, now what?”
Rob: That’s so interesting. I hear you, but I would get to that point then say, now what? I have gotten to that point a number of times. For me, quitting a salary job was this huge goal of mine. I quit it and went full time contracting, remote, consulting, in, let’s say, 2002 or 2003. I remembered being like, “Oh my gosh! This is it. I’ve dreamed of this for 20 years since I was in high school. I wanted to have this remote job.” And I did. Six months later, I said, “Now what?”
You know what “now what?” for me was? It was, “Huh, I’m bored of working dollars for hours. I want a product. I want a product to support me.” Then, in 2008, I’ve got a full time income from products. I remember loving it for about a year. Then, I said, “Now what? I’m bored. I needed to do something bigger.” That was podcast, conference book, Micropreneur Academy. Then, it was HitTail. It was like, “I need to level up.” Then, after that it was Drip. After Drip, it was, “Now what?” Now, I spend more time in the podcast than I do in TinySeed.
Your and my motivations do not have to be the same thing. That’s not what I’m saying. I do think that the best entrepreneurs I know have a driving motivating factor. It is either to create—to build stuff that people use—or to achieve. There are a bunch of folks who just want to build a big company. They want to build the Amazon, or Google, or the Uber. That’s not my motivation. My motivation has always been to create interesting things that other people can use. I’m sure there are other motivations.
The thing that I’ve seen, if you ever heard of the Enneagram, it’s a personality test. It’s like the Myers-Briggs or whatever. It’ll tell you, “This is what motivates you and this is what doesn’t.” I’d be fascinated for you to take that. Whether you talk about it on the show or you just take it for yourself to get some insight into your likes, dislikes, your pros and cons, strengths and weaknesses, and your motivations.
I think that until you know that, it’s going to be a challenge for you to really be motivated to launch products because this […] is hard. That’s what we’ve experienced. It is hard to do this. Without a real drive of, “Man, I need financial freedom,” or, “I need to create stuff that a bunch of people can use,” or, “I just need to escape this inner voice in my head that probably my dad or my mom put in me.”
These are the motivations that I’ve seen drive entrepreneurs to do really interesting things. I don’t even mean great things, you don’t have to build a multimillion dollar business. That’s not what Startups for the Rest of Us is about. It can just be about shipping cool things into the world that people use and showing up everyday to do it.
Mike: Yeah. Part of my question that I’m kicking around in my head is, what is it that I want? All of the things you talked about are like, different people have different goals. Some may want to build the next Amazon and for you personally, that doesn’t resonate. It’s not what you want. But when you’re talking about your journey from going to self employment to building a product then to HitTail, Drip, and TinySeed, that whole journey is a series of challenges that you’re undertaking.
In my mind, what I’m really struggling with is what is the challenge that I actually want to tackle? What is it that I personally want to do. That’s not something that comes over night. Especially, if you have the time to figure out what it is you want to do rather to be in having some forcing function that makes you decide within a week. Within a week, that’s a time constraint. You have to deal with the constraints right there and then versus I’m in a position where I can take some time to figure out what it is I actually want, reflect on exactly why that is, and why it’s going to make me happy. If it’s not going to make me happy, I don’t want to do it.
Rob: You’re right. Until you’ve been there, it’s hard to understand how saying, “I can move and live anywhere,” actually makes it a lot harder. It’s tough to say, “I can build or do anything. I have a few years of runway,” makes the choice a lot harder because there is no forcing function for you to make a decision. There’s not a ton of things pressing on you to do it. I hear what you’re saying.
It sounds like, “Here’s what I’d like to do with this because this is really an interesting topic.” I noted, “What is the challenge that Mike wants to tackle? Why is he doing this?” I want to revisit this. I think that you should give a thought, do a retreat, do whatever it is that you’re going to do to figure that out. Take the Enneagram. I’ll just put the link. It’s not a silver bullet. Take it. Take some personality test and do some thinking and stuff. Think about what it is you want to do. This is a time to be deliberate about these things.
The mistakes that I’ve seen some founders make, it’s a founder I have in mind in particular, he sold a company and sold it for several hundred thousand dollars and didn’t have enough to retire, but he could take time off. He didn’t take time off. He made a quick decision that said, “I got to get right back on.” He launched this next thing within a few weeks. It was a mistake because it was almost like a rebound, like a rebound startup or like a rebound idea.
You’re not in a position to where you’re shutting Bluetick down and looking for another thing. You are in a place where you have the luxury of taking a month or two, set a timeline so you don’t take a year or two, but figure it out. That’d be my advice. What do you think? Do you think I’m full of BS?
Mike: Well yeah, but no. That’s a great way to phrase that question. I like that. An excellent point about the fact that when you got a blank slate, you can live anywhere, and you can do anything, what is it that you’re going to do? When you’re facing the problem, there’s all those constraints. It helps guide you in the right direction. But when you have no constraints or very, very few that makes it a lot harder. That’s the position I’m in. I have much fewer constraints on me now than I probably did five or six years ago.
Rob: The paradox of choice.
Mike: Yeah. I’m just trying to make sure that I make the right choice for myself, go in a direction that is going to make me happy, and that’s actually what I want to do. I remember a time when I was a kid. I was like, “I want to do this. I want to do this. I want to do this.”
Fast forward 30 years and you don’t have time in your life to do all of those things. The question I’m trying to answer for myself is, in 10 years, or 15, or 20 years, when I look back on my life, what is it that I want to have achieved? What would make me happy? Or what do I believe would make me happy? That’s what I’m trying to figure out right now.
Rob: And you’ve taken a couple of months off of the podcast. I know you took some time off of work to think about it and this is not something that could come overnight. Let’s revisit that in future episodes. I feel like you should come back in three or four episodes and cover all this stuff again—anything that is an open question.
Whether you have an answer then or not, I’d love to hear updates on your progress and I think the listeners would as well. It’s been an ongoing story for nine years and continuing that thread is going to be good for all of us to hear the decision you make.
If we come back in seven days and I ask you the same question, you don’t have progress because it’s like, “I can’t figure these things out in a week.” But if we give it time to breathe, I feel like we can potentially follow the story in a way that’s helpful and doesn’t put pressure on you to force you to have answers to things that you probably don’t have.
Mike: That’s a double edged sword because there are times where having a forcing function like that makes you make decisions. It is not to say that it makes the decisions for better or worse. It’s just that it forces you into making a decision.
It could go either way. I’m not saying it should. I’m just saying that it could go either way where it’s like if it’s seven days versus three or four weeks or whatever. Sometimes, having to make the decisions earlier is better. Sometimes it’s not. I don’t know if that’s a good answer either way. That’s why the classic answer from my consultant is, “Well, it depends.”
Rob: Yup. When we last left you, there were some speed bumps that we were talking about, like roadblocks. Then there were some health stuff, there were sleep stuff, there were coaching and failures, a bunch of stuff I have bullets about that I want to run through.
The first thing is there was Google drama. Google needing an inspection certification that could cost tens of thousands of dollars. Potentially, no one was getting back to you. That was two months ago. That was a weekly thing that was going on. Is Bluetick going to get shut down because of Google? What’s going to happen? Update us on that. What does it look like today?
Mike: I’m past 95%, it’s probably 80% because of the 80/20 rule. Then, I’ve got another 80% to go. Everything is done with Google except for the security review. Actually, I reached out to the companies that are doing the security reviews before and I dropped it. I didn’t get back to them because I was just not in a place where it was worth my mental energy to continue pursuing it.
I’ve gone back to them recently. One of them had a survey that I needed to fill out and give them a bunch of technical stuff. I gave that to them and scheduled a follow-up call with them. The other one I’m trying to get us a meeting schedule with them. I’m basically trying to get the price quotes hammering out and seeing how much is this going to cost me. In some way, that probably impacts what I’m going to do with Bluetick moving forward, but maybe not.
Maybe I just made a decision that’s like, this is going to be the path forward for me. Regardless of how much that cost, I’m just going to do it. Whereas before it was much more on the mindset of, “How much is this going to cost?” “What’s my growth trajectory?” “Is it even worth me going in that direction?” Part of the factor of that was how much is it going to cost to have that review done. Right now I’m just in the process of figuring out what the cost is.
It’s hard to say that I’m not less focused on the growth trajectory because I still think that that’s very important, but is it something I want to do? Probably the bigger question that I need to answer is do I want to continue working on Bluetick and moving it forward? I definitely think that some of the recent conversations I’ve had with existing customers has really added to my motivation to do that. I got away from talking to my customers nearly as much as I probably should’ve been. That has dramatically helped that motivation.
Rob: Fascinating. To summarize then, Google stuff is moving forward. You don’t have exact data yet, but you’re waiting to hear back. Bluetick shutdown is not imminent based on Google doing anything. You’re in the process of answering this question of, “Is this something I want to continue working on?” probably based on customer interactions.
Rob: Related to that, there was a technical issue that you brought up which was this sealed .NET component you’re using, untestatable because it’s hard to get into all of this stuff. Have you done anything with that? Have you made progress? Or are you just saying, “Forget it. I’m just going to deal with it the way it is”?
Mike: Do we have a 20 minute profanity filter or a beep that we can put in here?
Rob: We do.
Mike: I went back and forth with the support people on that. I’ve made the decision that I’m going to need to rip that out and replace it. I’ve already got something I could replace it with. I’ve already started going through the process of replacing it. Their support basically came back and said, “Yeah. This isn’t a priority for us. We’re not going to make any changes with that.” “Too bad,” is really what the bottom line was. That’s a nice way of phrasing what they said, but yeah, I’m really, terribly, unhappy with the response I got from them.
Rob: But it’s no longer a roadblock because you’re going to fix it and you can move on. It was something you brought up multiple shows in a row as well. It seemed to be really hanging you up. This was one of the options we threw out, remember? I was like, “You can shut down the whole company. You can write the component yourself.” You brought up, you could switch components or I said, “You could just deal with it and not have great test or whatever.” This is one of the options. At least it’s one of them and you’re moving forward with it.
Mike: Yup, and I’ve already started that process. The problem with ripping it out completely and switching over is that it’s a process is going to take probably several days for my servers to turn on. It’s a little terrifying to have to pull the trigger and actually make that complete switch. There’s the architectural changes that needed to be made as well. I’m trying to push it off or make it so that I can do one mailbox at a time or something like that. I haven’t dedicated a huge amount of time to that beyond the initial prototype and stuff.
Rob: Don’t let it hang around. If I have one piece of advice, it’s get past this. It’s easy to put this off and be like, “Oh, I don’t really want to. It is a headache,” or, “It’s hard to pull the bandaid off.” If you’re going to do it, do it, and get past it.
Mike: The question in my mind that I’m struggling a little with is, does this add anything for the customers?
Rob: No, of course not.
Mike: You’re right. It doesn’t, but at the same time, there are places where it’s a detriment to me to be working in that code because I have to be super careful about things breaking because of that code. My time is better spent on doing marketing stuff anyway. Should I be focusing my time on that even though this thing is hanging out around up there?
What I struggle with is the fact that it’s mental overhead. I know it’s there, I know that it’s a problem, I know it needs to be dealt with, but if it weren’t there, I wouldn’t think about it at all. I have a hard time just pushing it out of my mind because I know that it’s there, but at the same time, I need to be working on other things. I don’t have a great answer for that.
Rob: It sounds to me, you know that there are four or five options. We ran through those. Shut the business down, replace it, rewrite it, whatever. It sounds to me like you made a choice to replace it. If you’ve made that choice, just do it and get past it. What is it? A week’s worth of work? Two weeks’ worth of work? You have the luxury. If you haven’t made the decision, then that’s fine. If you made the decision but then are half doing the work on a decision because you feel like you need to do other stuff, then it sounds like you really haven’t made the decision.
Mike: No. I have made the decision. It’s just a question of trying to slot it in when I’ve got other things that are also relatively high priority to get done. I’ve got a challenge around prioritization as well because I’ve got so many things that need to get done. We can come back to that. There’s other stuff of it.
Rob: Exactly. We don’t want to run two hours. I have an open questions for future episode where we revisit all these. This is one of them.
Another thing was during the last episode, listeners know you’ve had issues with low testosterone and your doctor taking you off this patch. You felt like you’re unmotivated, that you are having trouble sleeping which is related, but not the same thing. You were not doing great in that last episode, to be honest. I could tell and we talked a little bit after we closed that episode. What has happened since then?
Mike: To be blunt about it, I was a total mess when we recorded that last episode. The very next day I went back on my medication which is just a dramatic difference between them. I basically told my doctor I was never going to do that again which he wasn’t happy about. I’m like, “I’m sorry you’re going to have to deal with this.” Things have been a lot better in that regard.
I’m actually off two other medications. That was really tough. That took probably six or eight weeks to get through and get over. There’s withdrawal effects and things like that. I had to deal with them. It was just low energy, low motivation, hard time sleeping. Things have gotten dramatically better in the past three or four weeks, I’d say. But it was hard getting through that period, to get off those medications.
It has done a lot of good for me. I’m no longer suffering from a lot of those side effects. That’s part of the reason why I was on some of those medications because I wasn’t sleeping very well. It created this vicious cycle. To be more specific, I was on Adderall because I couldn’t focus during the day. Then, I was on sleep meds at night to try and get me to sleep. It’s just like they’re basically fighting against each other. The reality is I couldn’t sleep at night because of the sleep apnea. I ended up on these other meds that have addictive qualities and things that go really sideways in your body when you’re trying to come off of them.
Those things are a lot better. I’ve noticed in the past few weeks that things have gotten dramatically better in terms of my energy, my ability to focus, and my ability to be productive. Productivity is, I don’t want to say it’s a choice, but you have to focus on being productive. If you don’t focus on that, then you’re just going to sit there and not get anything done. At least I found that way for me. I don’t want to overgeneralize that.
Rob: Yeah. That sounds like a rough couple of months. I’m glad to hear that you’re feeling better.
Mike: I’m only at one medication now. Well, actually two. It’s like for testosterone and I’m on blood pressure meds. My doctor’s done all kinds of test. I actually have a doctor’s appointment this afternoon. As far as I know, I also don’t have cancer. I guess that got back down going for me.
Rob: Yay, that’s good news. Great! That sounds like a tough couple of months. Taking time off was probably the right choice to deal with that because that’s not something you necessarily wanted to be working through. I’m glad to hear it and I really hope that that continues. You don’t know what you’ll feel like in three months, or six months, or nine months. Things come and go.
You sound more awake and alive than you have been for a long time. I don’t know if it’s just because you’re fresh, because you’re like, “Oh boy!” I don’t know if you ever lifted weights all the time, but if you lift seven days a week, your body gets tired. If you take two or three days off, you come back, you can just lift crazy amounts of weight. You just feel amazing because your body has had time to recover. I feel like there’s been a bit of that. You just sound better.
Mike: For sure. I’ve been doing a lot of little things. I’ve been tracking when I sleep well, when I don’t. What was I doing the day before. I’ve been tracking what I eat a lot. I’m trying to lose weight, but that’s only going marginally well. Coming off of the Adderall was really hard because I added 10 or 15 pounds really quick. I’m back down to only about five pounds over what I was, but still, I wanted to lose weight on that point anyway. There’s that.
Then, I found that there’s certain types of music that I can listen to. If I listen to it first thing in the morning versus I sit down and I start working without listening to music, then, I’m way less productive and I’m way less energetic. I’ve also realized that I need to have a routine as much as I hate it. I can’t stand going through the same routine all the time. It’s boring to me. My brain just doesn’t deal with it well. At the same time, I need that structure.
Those are the kinds of things that I’ve found to be very helpful over the past month or two. It’s been a learning process because I’ve been on my own. I’ve been able to do whatever I want and still make it through, still be productive, but things have changed. I don’t know if it’s just because of burnout or because I’ve gotten older and things like that. Drawing lines between work and playtime, the exercise has obviously made a little bit of a difference. I’ve gotten back to that.
Then other little stuff like getting rid of small annoyances. We were talking before the podcast started. You’re like, “Wow, your keyboard’s really loud.” I was like, “Yeah, I bought a new one.” It’s a total of really little thing, but it’s got a volume control built into it with little roll bar. I can put the volume up or down on my music while I’m sitting there as opposed to banging on a button or having to go use the mouse and change the song that are on. It’s all the little stuff, but I made a conscious effort to identify those little things that were annoyances that are now smoothed out. They’re no longer impact my day and they no longer cause me to either get out of a rhythm or get angry about stuff that’s going sideways.
Rob: Yeah, that’s good to do. that’s good to recognize. To summarize all that, it’s like you took a step back. You took a step back and you look at your life, your worklife, your day to day progress, and you got over some off medications which is always hard to do. You took a step back and you said, “Hey, what can I improve in my life?” At least one listener is thinking to himself, “Mike, welcome to 2015 with the volume control on you.” But I’m definitely not thinking that.
How was your sleep? We have a couple more bullets to cover. We’re just going to have run long today. How was your sleep? That has been such a big issue, frankly, for years.
Mike: It’s a lot better. I definitely noticed that there’s days of the week where that I don’t get as much sleep as I would like, but then, there’s other ones where I would just wake up feeling completely refreshed and ready to get to work. That’s what I was just talking about where I’m trying to be more deliberate about tracking what happened the day before, how the day went before, and what specific things may have caused that. I don’t have a lot of information on that yet, but I’m definitely keeping a close eye on that, being very deliberate about looking at that, and examining it because that’s going to be important for me.
Rob: I’m making a note here to check back on this as well just because it’s something that’s important and it’s important to be honest about it. Everytime doesn’t have to be, “Oh, everything’s great. My health and my sleep are great.” You got to be able to talk about when it’s impacting you, like in episode 448, talk about when it’s negatively impacting your progress. Something you mentioned on that episode and prior was like, “I think I need to be in a mastermind.” “I need more accountability.” “I’m thinking about hiring a coach.” There was stuff bubbling around that. What’s the update on that status?
Mike: I have a new mastermind group. We’ve been meeting at least once or twice a week, more on a Monday or a Friday, just because of the scheduling and stuff like that. That’s been going really, really well. I’m really glad that I picked that up and thanks to the listener. I won’t call out the specific name of who it is, but know that the person who introduced this probably listens to the podcast, so I just want to say thanks for that.
In terms of a coach, I’ll say a pseudo business coach, more or less who’s holding me accountable on a weekly basis saying, “What did you do these past weeks? What do you plan on doing this week?” Then, we’ve had a couple of calls here and there not just for accountability. We have a call just yesterday or within the past three days about going through my marketing plan, picking it apart, and saying, “Are these things really important? Are they not? How are these things ranked and weighted against each other? And what should you be focusing on next?” Those are the things that are going to end up on the shortlist of stuff that I implement moving forward. He’s just going to hold me accountable to it and get me a sanity check.
Rob: So far so good?
Mike: So far so good. Yeah.
Rob: I have a bullet here to ask about you. Your motivation, your effectiveness. Have you developed a system because we covered that as well. You already talked about that. It sounds like for the past three or four weeks, things have been feeling a lot better?
Mike: Yeah. I would say things started to turn a corner about three or four weeks ago. The past week-and-a-half to two weeks, things have really started amped up a little bit. It’s a combination of no longer really suffering from the withdrawal symptoms of the medication and then also getting to the tail end of burnout, which maybe I’m still working through that. I’m not really sure. It’s really important for me to figure out not just what it is that motivates me, but what it is that I want to achieve.
Rob: As we start to wrap up, something that we talked a lot about that I brought up multiple times in the prior episode is about making progress on Bluetick or making progress to your day to day work, figuring out how to differentiate Bluetick, how to make it different from the other offerings such that it’s a product that you can sell, and you’re not just picking up crumbs. Do you have clarity about how to do that? That’s the first part of the question, and have you started making progress towards that end?
Mike: I wouldn’t say that I have absolute clarity on it, but I would say that I have some ideas about what the direction of it it should be. It’s more or less, I believe, doubling down on the warm email follow ups because I’ve been talking to a couple of customers here and there about what it is that they used Bluetick for, why they use it, and asking questions to help me figure out what the direction for it is, what it should be, what are they unhappy about, what are they using it to begin with, and consolidate that information.
One of the customers that I talked to, interestingly enough, he said that he started out using it for cold email. Then, when he switched over and started using it for warm email for other things, he’s like, “Oh, I’ve got this tool. I might as well use it.” Then a lightbulb went on for him. I was just like, “Oh, that’s interesting. Why?” Then, he started talking about the fact that it’s really built well for those types of scenarios. He was talking about why he was using it and how if there were some minor changes to it, it would be more helpful to him and just easier to use.
It gave me some ideas about how to go in that direction a little bit more. The problem I see is that when I ask him if he were talking about it to somebody that he knew or another entrepreneur or something like that, how would he pitch it to them? He’s like, “I really don’t know.” That’s something I struggle with is how to present it to people that in a context outside of use cases, maybe I just have to go on to that direction, and talk about it in terms of specific use cases.
Rob: How would you summarize that?
Mike: How would I summarize what? How it’s used?
Rob: No. Just the whole thing. If I were to say, do you know how it should be differentiated? I think I do. It’s the warm email context. Then, making progress towards that, not yet? Still in the thinking phase? When I say progress, have you shipped code or marketing material or different copy? Updated the website? Anything to that, and yet.
Mike: Yeah, I haven’t done any of that stuff yet. I’ve just been consolidating the information, kind of thinking about it. I’m not sure what the best ways for me to present that to other people are. I’m not sure if that’s the absolute direction I should go. Should I niche it down a little bit so that it is much more like a pipe drive plugin or should I integrate with a bunch of different products that are similar to that?
I have some open questions about that stuff and I don’t have the answers yet, but they are things I’m trying to actually figure out. Like how should this be pitched to people? Who are the exact people that I should be solving this specific problem for? When I first started on Bluetick, it was much more open-ended. It still is open-ended and it can do a lot of things, but if I were to niche down and only solve a very small sub-segment of the bigger problems that it can solve, I feel like it could probably get a lot more traction, and the question is, what exactly are those?
One example might be to reschedule meetings that have been cancelled. Those people are probably high profile prospects or high value prospects. If somebody cancel the meeting they scheduled, that’s probably a good situation where Bluetick could help you get those people back to a meeting. But is that the place where I want to niche down into? I don’t know the answer to that yet.
Rob: How are you going to answer those questions? You said you had several open questions. Do you have a plan to figure out how to answer them?
Mike: I’m going to be going through in talking to the rest of the customers that I have and seeing if that is something that they generally use it for. If so, then, I can at least generally answer that. At least try it out as a direction. I don’t know. Let’s say I decided to do that today. It may take another month or two to figure out, is this a reasonable direction? Am I going to get any attraction with it? I don’t know that.
Even if I made the decision, I’m still going to have to test it out. I’m still going to have to try it, see if I can get enough customers, and get some sort of traction. If I’m not getting that, then I have to probably go back to the drawing board and try and figure it out.
There’s going to be a decision point activity and then wait to see what the results of the tests are. If I don’t go through all three of those things, I can decide what the direction that is all I want. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be successful and there’s no way to verify it.
Rob: Makes sense. To be continued in a future episode of Startups for the Rest of Us. Stay tuned to hear the stunning conclusion of Mike’s journey with Bluetick in a few episodes. Mike, I have the next three episodes mapped out or recorded already. What we’ll do is…
Mike: I’m totally screwing up your […] system.
Rob: Yeah, you are. No, this one slides perfectly in place. I have all that dialed in, but what I’d like to do in the interest of both keeping the story going is also giving you time to get stuff together and make progress on these things is record with you again in a few weeks. I don’t know if it’ll be 461 or 462, somewhere in that range, and to hear what else is going on, hear updates on your thinking.
There’s a lot of open questions. I have six or seven bullets here that I have taken about differentiation, accountability, health and sleep, to what challenge do you want to tackle, and what it is you really want to do. I’m glad that you’ve made the progress that you have. It sounds like you’re out of the fog. It seems to me like what you have been doing for the past two months is working. Keep doing that.
I feel good just talking to you about it. It makes me feel good to hear you, the old Mike. It’s the Mike that I remember. You and I have gone in and out of these things. There’s an old Rob and a new Rob where I was super depressed for six months doing stuff. It’s not just about you. It’s cool to hear that. Do you feel that in yourself as well?
Mike: I do. It’s hard for me to look back on it. It’s one of those painful things to look back on. It’s like, “Oh man, I wish I hadn’t felt that way,” but it is what it is. I’d rather take the time and do the right things for myself, what I want, what I’m trying to do, and make the right healthy choices, I’ll say, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that going through those periods is easy either. I definitely agree that I feel alot better today than I did two months ago, or three months ago, or even six or eight months ago. The word you used earlier, coming out of a fog, that was woefully accurate. It’s the way I’d put it.
Rob: Well, thanks for coming back on and digging into these stuff. If folks want to keep up with you—no, I’m just kidding. You know I always do at the end of the interview. “If folks want to keep up with you, Mike, where would they go?”
Mike: I would say Twitter, but I don’t use Twitter.
Rob: Very good. I feel that wraps us up for today.
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In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of US, Rob interview Laura Roeder, Founder and CEO of MeetEdgar. They talk about her fast success with growing MeetEdgar, dealing with platform risks, and the humbling experience with her second venture.
Items mentioned in this episode:
Rob: In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, I talked with Laura Roeder about here uncanny ability to power through roadblocks. This is Startups for the Rest of Us Episode 451.
Welcome to Startups For The Rest Of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers, and entrepreneurs be awesome at building, launching, and growing software products, whether you’ve built your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Rob and today with Laura Roeder, I’m here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made.
On this show, we talk about building startups in an organic, sustainable fashion that allows you to build a better life for yourself. Every once in a while, we’ll sit down with an experienced, knowledgeable, founder who has overcome seemingly insurmountable odds, and we learn from that founder. We learn from their experience of growing their startup, of facing the roadblocks and turning them into speedbumps. Today is no exception.
I’ve been a longtime fan of Laura Roeder since she started Edgar several years ago. That’s at meetedgar.com. It’s social media management software. Laura grew Edgar to seven figures of annual revenue within the first 12 months. It was one of the fastest bootstrap SaaS growth trajectories I had ever heard of.
But in 2017, 2018, Facebook and Twitter, some of the underlying platforms that Edgar relies on really started to pull some shenanigans with their APIs. Edgar ran into some pretty intense turbulence. We dig into that. I had not heard her talk about this experience on a podcast before. Frankly, I wanted to hear what it was like in the inside and how that felt. She talks about the ups and downs of it in a very honest, raw, and transparent way. I really appreciate that about the interview today.
The other thing we dig into is she went and started another SaaS app, raised an angel round, and rented some pretty major roadblocks with that early on. It’s fascinating to hear, essentially a third time founder, looking around and realizing, “Wow, this may not work like my other companies did. This may not go as well as my prior startups.” You can hear her thought process in what it was like to experience that in today’s interview. With that, let’s dive in.
Laura, thank you so much for joining me on the show today.
Laura: Thank you. I’m excited to be here even though we’re going to talk about some tough topics. I’m a little nervous.
Rob: I know. We were talking before we got on this call that just like entrepreneurship, is about bumps and bruises; sometimes it’s a speedbump, sometimes it’s a roadblock, sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. You’ve certainly had your share with the past few years.
Laura: Yes. I’ve had speedbumps and roadblocks.
Rob: Yeah, that’s tough. I wanted to start by talking a little bit about Edgar, which is frankly, a widely successful app. I remember that when you launched, I believe, you made it to seven figures within 12 months of launch. It was ridiculous in a great way. I don’t know that I had ever seen a bootstrapped SaaS app hit that level of success that quickly. What do you attribute much of that to?
Laura: So much of it is just right place, right time, right brand. When we launched, we were really innovative in the market. Social media, scheduling tools, had been created, but they were literally just like, “Type your tweet in this tool and then hit send.” That was kind of all they did. The innovations that we created within the Edgar when we launched, it was just very noteworthy, like, “Wow, this is a tool that can do a lot more than any of the other tools can.”
Rob: Yup. That makes sense. You had this amazing success early on. You say, “Right place at the right time,” but I remember you also had worked your ass off to build an audience in that space. You would set yourself up for success. You weren’t just blindly going in and doing this. I think there’s a little bit of nature and some nurture in that one. Two factors came in—multiple factors. I think the thing that I want to chat with you today about is over the years that you’ve been running Edgar, there have been just crazy API changes and partner changes—Facebook and Twitter. I don’t know if other APIs have changed as well. I got the impression from the outside that has to be tough on your business. Has it? Talk me through that.
Laura: Yeah, 2018 has been our toughest year at MeetEdgar. We’ve got hit with a lot of changes at once. Some of them were in 2017 as well. The biggest one was Twitter not allowing repeating content. A big angle of what we do differently at Edgar is we allow you to keep a library of your content that gets repurposed. That’s a big reason why a lot of people use Edgar. All of a sudden, Twitter came out with this rule that said, “If you have the exact same tweet, if you sent it out more than once, that is against our terms of service.” There was no nuance to this rule. If you send out something that says, “Good morning.” Then you sent out something else that’s just says, “Good morning,” four years later, that’s technically against their terms of service.
Things like these are especially frustrating when you’re a tool. Obviously, people aren’t getting their accounts shutdown for sending out “Good morning” twice within 10 years. But as a tool, you have to make sure that you are in 100% compliance with the APIs, with the policies, and the terms of service because we’re putting our customers at risk if we’re not following Twitter’s terms. It would really suck for someone to sign up for Edgar, the tool is doing something knowingly against Twitter’s terms and conditions, well, now we’ve put our customers at risk for getting their accounts shut down.
There have been many tools out there that did that especially for Instagram. There used to be a lot of tools that went against Instagram’s terms and they all got shut down. No big surprise there. We did talk about, “How do we want to handle this. Is there anyway that we want to try to fudge this?” We’re like, “No, we can’t put our customers accounts at risk.” We are going to stop repeating content on Twitter. That was the biggest one.
Around the same time, Facebook stopped the ability for third party tools to post to Facebook personal profiles so you can still post to Facebook pages and groups but not personal profiles. We just got our access cutoff to Facebook groups for a while just from bad luck. All the social media tools are doing a lot more invitations and manual approvals, and that kind of thing as opposed to just open API. We just hit some bad luck for we got stuck in the approval queue. They didn’t have any problem with what we’re doing or anything like that, we just got to the bottom of the list somehow. It ended up being two or three months where our customers couldn’t post to their Facebook groups where a lot of our competitors didn’t have any downtime or had a week of downtime for groups.
Rob: Wow. That is brutal. What a tough space. Take me to that moment. Let’s start with the Twitter stuff because that, I imagine, was just like a punch in the stomach when you read that. That moment where you read the email or whatever it is from Twitter—the press release—what were you thinking?
Laura: You know, I’m such an optimist. I actually didn’t even realized how bad it would be. Because I was thinking, okay, the good part about this is that all the tools are in the same boat. We’re not going to be able to repeat content on Twitter, but no one else either. It’s not like they have nowhere to go. It’s not like our customers can leave us and choose a different tool. I’m like, “This is really frustrating, but maybe it won’t be that bad.”
It did help that I understood why Twitter was doing this. Obviously, why Twitter’s doing this is to prevent spam. They don’t want people setting up Twitter bot accounts repeating the same message over and over. It’s just frustrating that they did it in such a way where they made this just extremely broad stroke that in addition to eliminating spam, is also eliminating just some really standard usage of the tool.
Rob: Yeah, the collateral damage of the Google, Facebook, Twitter, when they change their APIs or change policies, I don’t think that they fully understand what they’re about to destroy. Oftentimes, they are doing it, I think, in a way to take out spam or for the better of their platform or for the better of the internet. I think internally they do believe that. It’s kind of like, “Are you questioning that?” Totally. Maybe not. Are they just doing it to grab more market shares? Is that what you think for their clients? That could be, I guess, a negative motivation.
Laura: Yeah. I think in this case, Twitter was, I do think that they were just trying to cut down on spam. They just didn’t think of it much beyond that. That was kind of it. I don’t think they’ve given out much thought since. It wasn’t something that they announced very widely. I find that most small businesses still don’t know about this, which makes it even more frustrating for us because it kind of makes it seem like we’re the ones enforcing this rule because people have never even heard of this Twitter rule. They try to use our tool, we say, “You can’t use it that way on Twitter.” It can be a frustrating experience for the end user.
Rob: Yeah, I’d imagine. You just talked about three kinds of breakages of your built-on platforms, these platforms can make a change and can really have a serious impact on your business. Of those three kind of, I would say, semi-catastrophic events, did you see an increase in churn? Did you see reduction in topline revenue? How did it impact your company?
Laura: Yes. We saw just a certain percentage of our customer base. Here’s what we discovered. I thought, when they made this announcement, some people are going to leave because some people are going to say, “Well, I use you guys for Twitter. I’m repeating on Twitter and I can’t do that anymore.” What I didn’t anticipate was that a certain percentage of our customers were just like, “This was the only thing I used you for.” I didn’t realize that a percentage of our customers were, “I used you guys for repeating on Twitter. You don’t do that anymore. I’m out. I’m not going to another tool. I’m just not going to use Twitter anymore.” That’s actually a big thing that we heard. There are other social platforms out there like, “This doesn’t go with my strategy. Maybe I’ll post to Twitter manually every so often but I’m out.” That was a surprise.
I thought, “We’ll have an announcement. It’ll change then we’ll see who leaves.” The first month we had to make the change, people left, and it feels like, “Okay. You never want customers leaving, but this feels manageable.” The nature of our tool, like I said, you have a library that at some point, if you’re only sending things once, obviously, that library is going to run out similar to the way Buffer is. It’s like a one time queue. When you get to the bottom of the queue, it’s gone. For Twitter, our tool became that way.
The thing is people load a lot of content into our tool. People had sometimes content for a month, three months, or six months, before their Twitter content ran out. The good part was we had an extra four months or whatever it was, obviously, a revenue from them. But that part, it just kept going. We’re like, “Okay. The people who don’t like the Twitter changes left.” Every month, more and more people would figure it out because obviously people don’t read every message that you send. People will just be like, “What happened? I’m not sending out content anymore on Twitter. Is the tool broken? What’s wrong?” We’re like, “Oh, no. You’re not sending out content anymore on Twitter because you used up all your content. You need to create new content now.” They’re like, “That sucks. I’m leaving.”
Rob: Geez. That was such a big selling point of Edgar above other tools. As you said, like Buffer, you create a content, you schedule it, and you post it and such. I can imagine that hit really hard. Churn went up, which obviously means you’re growth either stalls or flatline, whatever that does.
Laura: Declines, yeah. For us, we had a decline in our user base. It ended up with these three changes together. We lost a significant amount of our customer base; maybe we lost a quarter or a third of our customer base.
Rob: Oh my god.
Laura: It was really big. I don’t want to make it sound like it’s only external things. We made mistakes, we could have responded faster and better. The positive thing is that it forced us to innovate. One example of that, now we have a feature we call autovariations where you put in your blog post and we automatically pull five poll quotes from that post to serve as your status updates. That’s just one way to paste it in the URL and get five status updates to Twitter and all the other social networks, but we didn’t have that ready when Twitter shut down. We didn’t introduce that until nine months later, something like that.
You have to roll with the times when these things happen. But yeah, it was a significant loss for us. We had to make some layoffs in our company which we never had to do before, but we did remain profitable and survived through the whole thing which I’m really proud of.
Rob: Yeah. I would be as well. Honestly, it could’ve been business ending to lose 25% or 30%, whatever the number of customers would end a lot of companies. In fact, the interesting thing is, I don’t hear many bootstrapper who have to do layoffs because it tends to be this very slow growth over time. You build up as higher as your revenue. With SaaS, unless you have an odd event like this, almost like a black swan thing that comes and gets you, your growth is just going to keep steady or whatever. I think you’re in a unique situation that you had to deal with. Have you ever had to lay people off before?
Laura: No. I’ve let people go, but I had never had to do layoffs before. I’m very thankful that we had a really great team backing us up especially our head of finance, Tanya Crino. She was very cautious about seeing this coming. Like I said, we saw the initial way, but then we kept having more and more customer loss. If you Google, “How to do layoffs?” The first thing you see is only do one round. Whatever happens only do one round. Tanya and Sara Park—who’s our head of operations at that time and is now the president of the company—they were really looking at, “What do we need to do so that we can only do one round and so that we can offer some kind of severance?” We were able to offer two months severance to every person who was laid off and help them find other positions at companies we were friends with and things like that.
Another thing that was so fascinating from the layoffs is we have full financial transparency within our company. We don’t share individual salaries, but we share everything else. We do financial reviews with the whole company every month. Everyone can look through all of our expenses and income. People saw the writing on the wall, you know what I mean? These are obviously, very intelligent people working at MeetEdgar. You can’t say, “Hey, we might have layoff soon. Don’t worry. We’ll let you know.” You can’t really say that until it’s a done deal. But people are smart. They see us losing customer base. They’re like, “Okay. This is a bootstrap company. It has to remain profitable.” The only way that’s going to happen is lowering expenses. We found that while, of course, it is a terrible, heartbreaking, and incredibly stressful thing to be laid off from a job, we also were able to maintain positive relationships with everyone who was laid off. Everyone understood that it was something that needed to happen for the company to survive.
Rob: Yeah, which is a big deal. It shows that you handled it with care, thought, and deliberate action. It’s impressive. It’s easy to flab that, I think. It’s easy to accidentally screw that up.
Laura: Yeah, it is. Especially because it’s often something you haven’t done before. We were able to do it in just one go. We didn’t have to do anymore after that. It was hard because the way that you do it in just one go is you have to make deeper cuts than you think you need to. When you first look at this problem, obviously, you’re hoping to just let one or two people go. We had some people that were laid off and then some people, just because it was just a tumultuous time at the company, some people ended up leaving on their own kind of before or after, just along with the tide. I think we had eight people that left. The other, maybe, six layoffs and two people leaving, or something like that.
Rob: Yeah. How big of a morale blow is that to the rest of the team? Do you feel like they recovered quickly or were they pretty devastated?
Laura: It’s interesting because I think it was kind of an emotional rollercoaster for everyone. It’s devastating, and at the same time this means, “Oh, the company’s going to make it.” They have the same numbers. They’re like, “Oh, this is the choice that the company needs to make in order for me to still have a job and the company to still survive.” Obviously, it’s always really hard when that happens, but we were really focused on rebuilding with the team that remained.
Rob: Yeah. I think I’ve been at companies, either worked for them or had colleagues at companies who’ve been laid off, and I think such a big piece of the reaction and the morale comes down to the trust of the leadership. Do they trust the CEO? Do they trust you, Laura, when you’re saying, “This is why. This is what we’ve done. Now, we’re going to move forward and we’re going to survive.” Do they think that somehow you manufactured it? Or made it up? That you haven’t cut deep enough or that you cut too deep or whatever. That’s when there’s this big toxicity comes about. It’s definitely going to be an emotional rollercoaster if they recovered. It shows that you had a good relationship with your team.
Laura: Yeah, I think so. We were able to still have a few people in each department. It didn’t feel like, “And I’m the only engineer now. This is not going to work out.” I think it felt to people like, “Okay, I can see how the company can continue to survive and grow with the team we have left.” Luckily, it wasn’t so dire that it felt ridiculous.
Rob: Yeah. Was that in 2018?
Laura: Yes. In early 2018, yes, that we made the layoffs.
Rob: Okay. You were still acting CEO at that point?
Laura: Yes, although I was actually on maternity leave. Now, I’m remembering the timing. I guess my daughter had just been born when we actually did the actual cut. We have been doing the math and planning up to that. I was actually technically on maternity leave when we had to do the layoffs. I just hopped on and wrote everyone personal emails because the actual conversation happened with our hiring manager anyway. There was only one person who’s a leadership level that we had to layoff, so I had a conversation with them. Weirdly, I didn’t do a lot of the actual conversations.
Rob: Sure. That’s still baller for having a baby and two days later, being involved. It’s tough when the timing works at that way.
Laura: It’s not ideal.
Rob: Yeah, not at all. It’s got to be stressful. Did it take a toll on you personally? Like your psyche and such?
Laura: It was a relief because it made it clear that the company was going to make it. I don’t mean to say that disrespectfully to anyone who’s listening who is working on ur team. It was a very hard decision, but the day that it actually happened, it was a relief to get it over with, get it done, and be like, “Okay. Now, I can move forward.”
Rob: Yeah. Some time after this, you decided to start another company called Ropig. When was that? That was probably mid-2018, I’m guessing.
Laura: I’ve never put the timelines of these things side by side in this way. I think there’s sort of separate compartments in my head, but now that we’re going to put them side by side, that sounds crazy. It’s a lot of tumultuous things happened all in the same year. Ropig launched in March 2018.
Rob: Got it, okay. Launched, meaning, the website went live, product was live, people could use it?
Laura: Launched, meaning the product started taking customers. We’ve actually been working on it for about a year prior to that.
Rob: Okay. You were doing both of these then?
Rob: You were working on both. Ropig was alert management for dev teams. Is that right?
Laura: Yes, exactly.
Rob: Obviously, the punchline—the jump to it—is that you decided to shut it down pretty quickly after launching. Let’s talk through that a bit. I know that you actually raised funds for this. Was that a first? Had you raised an angel round before?
Laura: That was a first. I had never raised money before Ropig.
Rob: Okay. How did you go about that? Did you have a network of people? Did you have to go to […] road and hit the angle groups?
Laura: We raised money in January of 2018. My daughter was born in June of 2018. I was being visibly pregnant when we were raising money. I was like, “I’m pregnant. I don’t want to travel. I don’t want to do it.” I decided that I’m going to get this done my way. By this point, I’ve been an entrepreneur for, I guess, 11 or 12 years now. I’ve built up a pretty strong network. I felt pretty confident that I can raise a small round with my own network. I’m like, “I’m not going to travel. I’m not going to go to San Francisco. I am just going to ask people that I know if they would like to invest in my company.” I looked up the numbers in preparing for this.
I think I contacted about 300 people. These were all people that I have personal relationships with. Some were just acquaintances, but people that I actually knew, not professional investors, people that are either just entrepreneurs, or people who work in tech, or people that maybe did some investing on the side. 300 people just got emailed or texted or Facebook messaged or whatever by me saying, “Here’s what I’m doing. Do you want to invest?”
Rob: Right. You ended up raising $320,000 on a safe? The audience knows, you emailed me. You and I actually had an email thread about Ropig. The only reason that I didn’t invest was because, well, I guess there were two, one was because your pre revenue. I don’t, in general, tend to invest in pre revenue companies just because there’s so much risk. But the second was that it was such a new space. I have confidence in you as the founder that you’re going to execute on it but my gut said it was going to be this very long, very arduous, very painful journey. You would get there eventually, but you didn’t have an audience in the space. I didn’t feel like you had […]. That’s what you and I talked about it in the email. Was that on your radar? Obviously, I must not have been the only person that mentioned that.
Laura: Yeah. A big advantage that I had in MeetEdgar is it’s a social media tool. I had already been in the social media space for years prior doing courses and consulting. I’d already built an audience in that space. With Ropig, the tool was systems admin, people, and developers. It’s not me. I’m not a developer. I’m not in that space. I’m not in that world. Not only do I have no lists built up but I can’t speak at that conference. I can’t go to those meetups. It’s not my thing, it’s not my langauge.
I do think that a big reason why Ropig didn’t work out is that I underestimated how much value I had and continue to give to Edgar in that way. Because with Ropig, I just thought, “Okay, I know I can’t do that but I can just hire people who can,” which is totally a viable strategy and a lot of people do that, but I didn’t raised enough money to do that. The problem was the strategy that I had in my head was really a much better fit for a company that was going to raise a lot of money. Even though I was raising this $300K—that ended up being $320K—I did not want to raise more money after that. I did not want to do big fundraising, I did not want to do VC, I did not want to do any of it. In retrospect, the game plan that Ropig needed to succeed was just not a match for only having a small amount of fundraising.
Rob: Yeah. You didn’t want to do the Series A, the shuffle, and you kind of just want to do this single seed round. I think call-in from customer.io calls it’s fundstrapping, is raising this single round to hit escape velocity. That makes sense. That actually fits my perspective of who you are as an entrepreneur. You are much more a bootstrapper than someone who raises. But raising that one round, really these days, it’s not against bootstrapping ethos anymore. You know what I mean? In some spaces like this one, the alert management tool. It competed with PagerDuty. Is that a good comparison? It’s a very crowded space with a lot of funding in it. It’s competitive. You’re going to need some superpower to get in there. You were saying that you didn’t raised enough money to hire someone to be an influencer. Is that what you were saying?
Laura: Yeah. That’s part of it. I just didn’t raised enough money for any of it. You mentioned that it’s a very competitive space, but it’s also a really expensive tool to build. My husband Chris is a developer. He’s the cofounder of the tool. He also, for MeetEdgar, built the initial version of the tool. He could not build alone, Ropig. It’s not a tool that you can just sit-down-in-your-free time-in-some-weekends-build. We had already spent, we decided to invest our own money, $500,000 of our own money into this project.
By the time we raised the money, we already had a fulltime team of developers just to get the initial product out. It’s alert management. You can’t be like, “It’ll probably work sometimes. It will get most of your alerts.” It’s just not the type of thing that you can have sort of shoddy, half-baked. Also, a lot of the advice is like, “Just ship people a minimum version.” No one really wants a minimum to manage some of their alerts. It just doesn’t make sense. You can’t really just test out some sort of halfway done thing. Like all the advice, “Pretend you have software, but then just do it yourself behind the scenes.”
Rob: You can’t do that with this. This breaks a lot of those rules. One of the reasons is because it’s so competitive in the market. It’s fair. It’s somewhat mature, I would say. An MVP in this market, very very different than an MVP in whatever—the VR space or something that’s still a nascent market. That makes a lot of sense.
Laura: Yeah. I think, that was another thing I underestimated because when we launched MeetEdgar, we had funded competitors. HootSuite had raised a ton of money. We’ve still been able to be a successful company in spite of that. I think I was kind of, “Oh, funded competitors. I can do that. I’ve done that before.” But MeetEdgar is also something that Chris could build on his own. The first version, he just built on his own in his spare time. If we don’t send out a tweet, it’s okay. No one’s business falls apart. It’s just a very different space.
Basically, what happened is once we raised that $320K, so we raised the money in January, we had our launch in March. The launch was just like a dud. We put it out there. We opened the doors and not a single person paid for it. Some people had free accounts, but not a single human paid for it which is a very bad outcome—in case anyone’s unclear—not what you’re looking for a launch. We’re going to have to make some big changes if this is going to work.
Rob: How does that feel? You’re a successful founder. You’re a serial entrepreneur. You’ve built up wildly successful online training course and business around training folks for social media. Then you launch MeetEdgar to one of the bootstrapping Cinderella stories, in my opinion, of getting some figures in a year, and then you launch this third app. At this point, you know what you’re doing. How did that feel when it just went completely sideways?
Laura: I was just like, “We picked the wrong market.” That was something we had been worried about when we were developing it. Basically, the whole idea with Ropig is that there are a lot of smaller companies like us with MeetEdgar where we were using PagerDuty but it really wasn’t designed for us at all. Then we saw a lot of other smaller companies on our space that just didn’t use an alert management tool and sort of dug through the logs manually when they had time.
If you look at the Ropig website or look, I don’t know if it’ll be up when people are listening to this, but we had a whole page. The whole point with the page, it said on the headline, “Why would I need an alert management tool?” I look at that now and I’m like, “Duh!” The fact that I had to build that page should have been a really bad sign. Why would I need an alert management tool? Why are you looking in this website. You’re clearly not going to find anything.
I think it’s possible. Obviously, there’s companies that have done it to introduce people to a new idea, a new concept. Again, maybe none would fit with bootstrapping. A fit with bootstrapping is, “You’re already using a competitor, let me show you how we do something different that makes us so much better fit for you.” I think this hurdle of, “You don’t think you need an alert management tool, but we’re going to show you why we do.” It was a failed experiment.
Rob: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. That’s the thing with mature markets. You know that PagerDuty wants to expand that market, so they’re probably already putting a bunch of time, effort, and money into trying to convert everyone they can away from digging through logs. I’m just imagining, there is only so much blood that you can squeeze out of that turnip. They’ve already done most of that, probably.
Laura: Again. It’s just expensive. PagerDuty is geared more towards enterprise. Maybe there’s a spot in the market here. Maybe if we have spent another year going to every meetup around the world, and tweaking our product to get a better product market fit, maybe it could’ve happened. It was like that small fundraised combined with a dud launch was like, “This is bad.” Because all of our financial projections were like, “We’re going to be at 1 million revenue in the first year because that’s what happened with Edgar. Isn’t that how all businesses go?”
Rob: Yeah, oh man. You launched in March. You basically stopped operations a couple months later. It was a very quick decision that this wasn’t going to work.
Laura: Yeah. In May, we hadn’t told our investors we are shutting down. Basically, what happened is we launched. It kept going badly obviously because no major changes happened. Again, this coincides with my maternity leave because my daughter was born in June. My cofounder was my husband, also a parent to this baby who’s going to be born. It is not a time where we’re like, “We’re going to work 80-hour weeks now to try to make this work by ourselves.” All the factors in this equation do not add up. I’m just going to shut the machine down so that we can take our expenses to zero. Like I said, we had full time developers on the team. Some of them we were able to move back to Edgar.
It’s funny, you asked me if I’ve done layoffs, I was like, “No, but actually I had.” It’s funny because I didn’t even think of that that was a layoff. It was only one person because the other two we could move over to Edgar. Anyway, I actually had done layoff before. We let the development team go. We shutdown the tools. We kicked off our free users so our costs for running the tool would go to zero. I’m just like, “I’m going to take a few months of maternity leave. Then I’m just going to figure out what to do when I come back.” I don’t know what to do with this. I know we need to stop hemorrhaging money for our no customers and no time to work on this. I’m just going to stop it.
Rob: Put the breaks on. 2018 was not a good year for you. It was great because you had a baby but all the other stuff it sounds like, “Oh, good Lord.” Then you go on maternity leave, you must have been thinking about it for solid two months stressing about it, I imagined. Was it pretty stressful?
Laura: It was stressful. This is what’s interesting about the fundraising. If I hadn’t raised money, it would not have been stressful. For me, that was the element that made it stressful because I was so worried about letting other people down. When you raise money, you paint this picture of how successful it’s going to be which obviously, you believe, especially because all of my investors were friends. I had this dream of writing huge checks to my friends. What would be more fun than that?
If I didn’t have investors, I think, I would have been just like, “This sucks. I don’t want to do this. I’m just shutting it down.” After the launch that didn’t go well, I realized that I just did not have the same passion for this product. This product was much more, “Okay, we see a problem and we think we have the solution for that problem. Maybe there could be a business here.” Our audience with MeetEdgar, “I love entrepreneurs. I love entrepreneurs. That is my world. I love listening to podcasts like this one. I talk about entrepreneurs. I love reading books about it.” That’s our customers that we support at MeetEdgar, so I can live in that world. I have no interest in living in systems administration world. It’s just really not interesting to me at all. If I didn’t have the investors I think I would’ve just been like, “Yeah, this is really not for me.” But because I had the investors, I felt this pressure, “How can I make this work? I need to make this work?”
Rob: Yeah, I totally get that. Had you burned through all of the investor money by that point? Or there’s just some left?
Laura: That was the good news. We had not burned through much of it at all. The launch, we didn’t do paid advertising or anything. The only cost that we had incurred was just paying the developers for that few more months. When we put the breaks on everything, we had the 75% of the investors’ money still in the bank.
Rob: Yeah, okay. That’s a good thing then. How did you finally make the decision? Obviously, you shut it down. I’m assuming you returned the money to investors. How did you come to that? Was it really just like, “It’s going to take too long. I’m not interested in this space.” Talking to system administrators don’t have the influence, was it just all those factors that eventually led to that?
Laura: Yes. I was thinking, “What’s going to happen with this? How can I make it work?” Any path to make it work clearly involved raising more money—a lot more money. At this point, you can’t just keep hitting people up for another $200K or $300K. I would really need to do institutional fundraising. I had got a glimpse of institutional fundraising doing my friends and family fundraising. By the way, not family in my case, just friends. I don’t have any family with money. Friends and friends fundraising. There’s no rich uncle, unfortunately. I wish.
I had met with some institutional people in Austin and San Francisco, had phone calls. I think as bootstrappers, we have this really negative view of institutional money. It was all true with the conversations that I had. Every horrible stereotype I had about traditional VC was just 100% confirmed. They would ask me how big the business was going to be. They were not interested unless it was an ubersize situation. They were not interested in anything less than like, “I’m going to keep raising money, as much money as I possibly can, as fast as I possibly can.” That was the path that they wanted to see. They’re not interested in profitability, just interested in growth. Because I have seen that little glimpse, I was like, “No, this is not for me. No way.”
The thing that finally convinced me to make the decision, I was talking to a friend of mine, and I’m like, “I really think it’s going to be really hard. I don’t know what to do, but I have this duty to my investors.” He said, “You have a fiduciary responsibility to your investors, to return as much of their money as possible. Knowing everything that you know, if you were an investor, would you ask to just get your money back and get out? Or would you want to continue?” I said, “If I were an investor and I knew everything that I know from the inside, I would want to get out.” I would say, “Thanks, give me my money back. I don’t think this is going to work. I’m out.'” That conversation just absolved me of all of my guilt and stress because it made me see that shutting down was being responsible to my investors.
Rob: Yeah. It’s crazy how a conversation or a single question can get your whole mindset to shift and make a decision. It sounds like you knew the right answer too, but you’re burdened by this other piece, and it was the fact that you felt an obligation to your investors. Suddenly it was, “Wait, the obligation actually goes better.” You actually serve them better if you make the decision you already know you want to make.
Rob: That’s fascinating. That’s a good friend. He’s a good friend to keep around. He’s a keeper.
Laura: He is. It was November—I looked up the timeline—it was November 9th that I sent the email to investors saying, “I decided to shutdown and here’s why. You will be getting 75% of your money back.” That felt really good too.
Rob: How did the investors react? Were they supportive? These are folks that you knew, they were at least acquaintances or friends, was there any negative reaction to it or was it mostly like, “Sorry, this sucks. Thanks for the money,” type of thing?
Laura: It was very positive. People said, “It’s very unusual to be able to make this call and return the money. I really respect you doing that instead of just trying to burden through every last dollar.” People were very kind and very supportive which I’m very grateful for.
Rob: Yeah, that’s cool. I’ve found that with angels—angels are investing their own money—they just tend to be more relaxed. I’ve done about dozens of angel investments. I’m nowhere near the VC level institutional money manager in terms of how they view these stuff. I think it’s an interesting callback because you were saying the VC stuff you heard about is true, like the stereotypes you’ve heard are true. That’s why I believe that this world needs funds like Indie.vc and TinySeed to be that in between where we can write checks.
Now, maybe we could’ve written a check as much as you needed. You really did need a legit Series A to compete in the space, but there is an option for people to take money where it doesn’t come with that same stereotypical stigma of, “No, you have to be $100 million. How are you going to get there in three years or less? How are you going to hire 20 people a month?” All this stuff. You and I both know that we can build businesses and help those eyerollable constraints that venture capitalists are going to put on it.
Laura: Yeah. All the investors knew what they were in for. I hadn’t tricked anyone into thinking this was a get-rich-quick scheme. Anyone can afford to lose the money. It was just one of those lessons of always how important it is to be in integrity. I felt like I’ve been in integrity throughout the whole process. I’m still in integrity when I ended the process.
Rob: Yeah, for sure. Laura, we’ve covered quite a bit in this interview. I really appreciate you taking this walkdown bad memory lane of 2018. The positive end of the story is Edgar is doing really well after all the tumult that you went through with it.
Laura: Yeah. We are growing again. We’ve had growth every month in 2019 which has felt amazing. It’s just so good for the team after having such a hard time for such a longtime. I mentioned that it has forced us to be more innovative. I feel like it’s made me a new entrepreneur because I had never been through anything really hard before as an entrepreneur in retrospect. I thought I had, I had little ups and downs, but I had never had, “Okay, we have to do layoffs. We’ve lost a huge amount of our customer base. I’m shutting down this other company,” all happening at the same time.
It’s true that it makes you a lot smarter because you no longer have these false assumption that everything would always go up. You know that if you’re in this for the long haul, you’ll have ups and downs, and that’s okay. It’s not a disaster when something goes wrong. It doesn’t mean that nothing will ever get better and that your company is over forever. I’m really glad that I’ve had this experience of proving that to myself.
Rob: You took several things that looked like absolute roadblocks and turn them into speedbumps that you drove over and to come out to the other side of that successful with the company that’s continuing to grow after all these years. It’s quite a testament to your chops as a founder.
Laura: Thank you.
Rob: Well, we’re going to wrap up today. If folks want to catch up with you, I see your website at lauraroeder.com. Obviously, if folks are looking to manage their social media, they can go to meetedgar.com to see what you’re up to there.
Laura: Yes. I’ll do a MeetEdgar plug. They can enter the coupon code PODCAST and get a free month of Edgar.
Rob: That sounds great. Thanks again, Laura. Thank you so much for coming on the show.
Laura: Thank you.
Rob: I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Laura Roeder. I was truly impressed and impacted by her ability to turn roadblocks into speedbumps, and just her fortitude and perseverance in getting through hard things. These are hard things that we face as founders. She really stepped up, made it happened, kept her company alive, and made hard decisions about the next companies. Really impressive.
With that, we’ll wrap for the day. If you have a question for this show, call our voicemail number at 888-801-9690 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our theme music is an excerpt from We’re Outta Control by MoOt. It’s used under Creative Commons. Subscribe to us in iTunes by searching for Startups and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.
In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike talk about the current status of Bluetick. They discuss the Google approval process, external/internal motivations, current roadblocks, and Mike’s future with Bluetick.
Items mentioned in this episode:
Rob: Mike, which program do Jedi use to open their PDF files?
Mike: I don’t know what.
Rob: Adobe Wan Kenobi.
Mike: Oh God.
Rob: In this episode of Startups for the Rest of Us, Mike and I talk about Bluetick, where he’s at, and maybe where he’s headed. This is Startups for the Rest of Us Episode 448.
Welcome to Startups for the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers, and entrepreneurs be awesome at building, launching, and growing software products, whether you’ve build your first one or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Rob.
Mike: And I’m Mike.
Rob: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. To where this week, sir?
Mike: I strained my back somehow about a week or so ago, so sleeping the past five or six days has been rather rough. It’s on the left side. When I try to sleep, it gets really, really tight throughout the course of the night and it wakes me up. It’s been rough getting any kind of measurably good sleep for pretty much the entire week.
Rob: That’s a bummer. How did you strained up?
Mike: I have no idea. I think I was just alive and that was it.
Rob: Just. I was just old and I moved.
Mike: That’s a good way to put it. The thing is, I just woke up and it was like that. It got progressively worse over the course of two or three days or something like that. It was bad for about four or five and then it slowly gotten better over the last two or three.
Rob: Strained back is no good and no sleep is no good. You’re going back to your pre-CPAP machine days aren’t you?
Mike: Yeah, pretty much.
Rob: We’ll get into some of that more in this episode. We’re going to talk about, as I said in the intro, what’s going on with Bluetick and you and such. Before that, we have some good comments on recent episodes. In Episode 444, you and I went off on Gmail desktop clients. Carl posted a comment saying, “I switched everyone over to Mailbird last month,” everyone at his company. “We switched away from Office 365, Dropbox, and GoDaddy’s email service, and switched to G Suite Solutions. I needed to find an alternative to Outlook and I found Mailbird. It works great, love the Google integrations. My only complaint, one of my coworker’s complaints is that capability of right-clicking to create new folders does not exist. Not a deal breaker, just a complaint.”
What was the one I was using? I don’t remember now. It was Mailplane, like an airplane. When I right click, I often do right-click, paste as text or paste and match style or whatever, because I’ll be copying something that’s all weirdly formatted and I want it to go in the format of the email. In Mailplane, that’s disabled. Not a deal breaker, but I have to flip over into Atom, your […] text editor, I paste it in there then I Shift Command-A Command-C and then go back and paste it in. It’s this extra step that when you’re in a Chrome browser, you can right click, paste the match style, and then it’ll just go in. How about you? Are you still using the desktop Windows client you were using?
Mike: Yeah, I use it on occasion. I flip-flop back and forth between them because it’s an IMAP client and it’s got all that stuff. It’s nice to be able to use one or the other when I need it. The one that I did find with it was that I use the labels feature. I will take things and put them into, I refer to more folders than anything else, but in Gmail it uses labels for that. The one thing I find is that, if I go to use the shortcuts to move it into a folder or apply a label to it, some of my labels, depending on the folder, overlap.
For example I’ll have a customers label but there’s a customers label underneath a couple of different products. When I started typing it out, it doesn’t show me which customers label it is because it basically drops everything before the slash. I have no idea which customers label it actually is because it just doesn’t show me. I still use it on occasion but once I get into those use cases, it becomes a barrier for me. It makes it more difficult. I don’t know why they don’t show the whole thing, but whatever.
Rob: It’s weird. When we bring these things up, it’s like, “That’s kind of a nitpick. Right click, paste and match style, is that really that big of a deal? Is it the labeling?” It can be. It can become that. For me, it’s not that big of a deal, but label stuff, that gets in the way of your workflow and it can get in the way of the perfect solution unless you get used to the new way they do it.
Mike: Like I said, I flip-flop back and forth between them a little bit. I did notice when I was using it that I could shut it down and I would just have Gmail closed, but I’ve noticed that recently I’ve been having Gmail open again. With that, I know that I’m actually just going to close that tab entirely right this second because I forget to do that. Email can be distracting and disruptive. That’s a problem that I’ve uncovered with my workflow, is that when that is open, I tend to get pulled back into my email quite a bit. When that happens, I’m not as productive.
Rob: For sure. Another comment on Episode 447. Paul Mendoza was commenting on the Google verification stuff that you’ve been struggling with for several weeks. He says, “I’ve been dealing with Google verification stuff for months, you can see my day-by-day interactions with Google here. We just got a response from the security vendors, but our app still isn’t approved but I’m sending them emails almost everyday.” He has a URL. You can come to 447 if you want to check that Google verification status. He feels your pain, apparently. It’s not just something that you have manufactured in order to create drama and good radio on the podcast as you’ve been known to do. You haven’t been on […].
Rob: We got another couple of comments, because 447 we started diving in, we typically do our chit chat at the top end of the episode. When we talked about the Google stuff, we wound up spending 18 minutes just talking about that because I was asking questions and going through it. We’ve got some compliments like, “Do more of that. You guys aren’t digging into Bluetick enough,” was the comments, “or your own projects enough.” Part of the impetus for today’s episode was comments we’ve received but also, I think it’s been something that’s been on our minds for a while.
We have always liked doing updates, sharing what we’re up to, and what we’re working on, but it can be hard when it’s not good news. It’s hard to show up week after week and try to have an update of what you did in the past week if you didn’t get anything done or if things are going backwards. I think we tend to do update episodes every few months and I feel like this one today is really just a conversation about where you are, where Bluetick is, how you’re thinking about things, and try to find out more about what’s going on and even to give advice.
We talked for a while before this episode started and you’re bringing up things that I was telling you how I would approach them. We haven’t necessarily always been a ‘big advice for each other’ podcast. It’s a lot more answering listener questions. I think that can be helpful today, too, for you to hear how I would think of approaching different problems or how I have approached them in the past because I’ve done some of this stuff as well.
Mike: Do you want to relabel this as Mike’s therapy session?
Rob: Yeah, it’s going to be 50 minutes and I’m going to bill you […].
Mike: That’s actually cheaper.
Rob: Cheaper than you thought it would be.
Mike: Cheaper than a regular therapy session with […].
Rob: Indeed. Bluetick today, you’ve been working on it for two or three years, and it’s still not supporting you full time.
Mike: I went back and I started looking at my funnel metrics and stuff where I started tracking some of that stuff. I’ve got data in here from November of 2017 and that’s when I started tracking the numbers that I have here. I think that was shortly before I flipped the switch and said, “I’m just going to start billing people. If you’re not ready, then you can either cancel or that’s the end of the free trial or whatever that we have for you.” Obviously, my memory is kind of fuzzy as to exactly what state those things were at at the time so I don’t remember whether it was November of that year or what have you.
Rob: Was that November 2017?
Mike: Yes, November 2017. The reality is it’s not nearly where I would think that it should be if things were going well, the product had product market fit, and I was actively growing it. It’s just not. It’s not enough to support me full time. I don’t necessarily need it to, but at the same time if it’s going for an extended period of time and it’s not making enough money to do that, then why continue?
Rob: Yeah. It’s a waste of time and effort, opportunity cost, could you be working on something else that would be dramatically more lucrative whether that something else is a different product, or whether that something else is consulting, or heaven forbid a salary job? Not that you’re going to go do that, but you have skills. You’re a developer. You can write code. That’s a very valuable skill. To be wasting, I don’t mean wasting time on a day-to-day basis, but having 18 months, you’ve been charging for it, and to be only ramen profitable and not full time income is a struggle. It’s not just that you don’t have full time income but it’s not headed in the right direction anymore. You basically peaked at some point last year in terms of MRR.
Mike: Yeah and it’s more floundering than anything else. It’s not on a tailspin and I’m not bleeding out customers every single week or anything like that. It’s not tanking quickly, but it’s certainly not growing quickly, either. It’s really just meandering; go up on some months and then go down on some months. I have some customers who’ve been around since the very beginning and there are customers who will stick around for three to six months and then that’s it. I don’t feel like I’ve delve into the numbers of how long people have stuck around for and what the amount of revenue that I’ve gotten from each customer is enough, I just haven’t. It’s because I’ve spent a lot of my time on other things.
I feel like I have a hard time prioritizing where I should spend some of that time. Objectively, I think it’s like, “You should spend all of that time on marketing activities, analyzing what your current customers are doing, and who you should be targeting as those customers. One thing I struggle with is the fact that Bluetick has a very good use case for cold email and I don’t want those customers. I have a hard time justifying adding a lot more customers on there that are using the tool for that.
Rob: Is it an ethical thing? You just don’t like cold email?
Mike: Yeah, mostly.
Rob: Or a moral thing? Wait, what ethical is this? External and moral is internal. You’re internal code is like, “Meh. Not a fan of it.” Is that the idea?
Mike: The problem is that it depends on the customer. There are some customers that I’ll talk to, I’ll do a demo for somebody and I hear what they’re doing and they’re doing cold email. I’m like, “It’s not just a great tool that you have, but it’s also a great service. You’re doing great things with it and you are trying to make the world a better place,” versus some of the people just doing the cold email. They’re really bad at it and they’re doing things that are shady or scammy. I’m like, “Yeah. I don’t want those as customers,” but at the same time the tool works exactly the same for both of them.
How do I filter one out versus the other without having a conversation with every single one of them and how do you do that in the marketing that you put out such that you are catering specifically to a type of person who has a certain mindset?
Rob: I hear you. There are ways around it. You have options. You could, on your homepage, just be like the best tool for warm email interactions and then you could put in the FAQ, “This is not for cold email.” You could put it in your terms of service, “This is not for cold email.” You can have flags if people go in it, you see patterns of people doing cold email type things that you flag and you say, “Hey, this isn’t for cold email.”
We had to do this with Drip. People can’t use Drip for cold email. We had to build things and communicate that along the way. It was a pain. It was a lot of work and some people got really pissed off. Some people came in, signed up, uploaded their cold list and started emailing. Our system would automatically block them or they’d get enough complaints that are email spam. Dude would block them. That’s what you have to do if you really don’t want to do it.
The struggle is, with Drip, it will get you blacklisted. So, it’s a big problem for the business itself. With Bluetick, it’s not because they’re using their own inbox. You’re not going to get Bluetick itself, your IP doesn’t get blasted. You have to decide, “Hey, if ethically or morally or whatever, I only want to service certain type customer,” then you can do that. Just make it clear upfront.
It sounds to me like is it an excuse? If you accepted all the cold email, would Bluetick be where you want it to be? Or if you just focus on the warm email use case and ignore the cold email, would Bluetick be where you want it to be?
Mike: I don’t want to say it’s an unfair question, I think the question is a little bit off because it’s more a matter of holding me back from doing the marketing which would acquire those types of customers. It’s not about accepting them as customers or trying to turn them away or whatever. It’s more about holding me back from doing the marketing. I think it’s a very valid question about is that an excuse? I have a whole load of things I’ve looked at and thought about that comes to mind is, […] every single one of them is like, “Is that just an excuse?”
If you looked back at the stuff I did with AutoShark and then with Bluetick, I’ll […] frankly a lot of excuses along the way with AutoShark. If you think about objectively the stuff I’m going through with Google right now, there’s a huge question mark of this $15,000–$75,000 for a security audit. I’m apparently at the end point with Google where all I need to do is get this security audit and get a letter of—I forget what it is—authentication or something, this audit letter that I have to send into Google that says, “Yes, Bluetick is all up to snuff and we don’t have to worry too much about security vulnerabilities for the product,” but at the same time, is that another excuse?
If the products were much further along or had more customers and was making a substantial amount of revenue, would $15,000–$75,000 matter? The answer is no, it wouldn’t. The problem is I can’t point at Google and say they’re killing my business when the reality is the business isn’t making enough money. Really, that’s just the driver that says, “Here’s a hard line that you can’t cross unless the business is making enough.” If the business was making enough, that wouldn’t matter. The actual amount of whatever that is going to come out to would make no difference or whatsoever. So, is that an excuse?
I was saying in a way it kind of is, but at the same time I could almost point at anything that I’ve come across and say, “Is this an excuse?” Anything that comes up on the business as to why something is not working, you could ask that question and I think it’s a valid question to ask. I don’t have a good answer for some of those things. I just don’t.
Rob: That’s the thing. The cold email versus warm email thing, you don’t want to market it because people are using it for cold email. There are solutions to that. If I were in your shoes, I would decide, am I willing to let people do ethical cold email and warm email? If the answer is yes, then that would be on the website. That would be in my onboarding. I would mention that in every demo. I would probably do demo only for now in your shoes because you don’t have such an influx of trials. I’m guessing that you can’t do some type of demo with everyone at a minimum of screencast, 15 minutes of screencast that seriously talks about, “Look, we only do ethical cold email.” Just make that part of the whole deal. If that’s your hard line, then take the hard line and then move forward. That’s one option.
Second option is to not take the hard line and just say, “Hey, this is legal and it’s not going to hurt my IPs so I’m okay with people doing that.” That’s the second option.
Third option, shut the product down. It’s to realize, “Boy, I really built a product that people are going to misuse,” and the nuclear option would be to shut it down. Now that’s tough. I don’t know if I can come up with an easy fourth option. I feel like the ethical cold and warm is a perfectly viable non-nuclear option, and again, to just communicate that in every onboarding sequence.
Some people will sneak through, unfortunately. The good news is, it won’t get you on a blacklist like it did with Drip where we get on the blacklist and it’s like this, “Oh, […],” moment where a bunch of us were running around trying to figure out how to ban this customer and this and that. You’ll just have to have a conversation with that customer and say, “Look, by our judgment or by my judgment, you’ve gone over the line. I need you to migrate away or I need you to improve your things.” You can get a conversation with them where they say, “How do I improve my cold email?” You say, “Here’s a good example of a super ethical one. You only hit them four times over the course of a month, not 17 like you’re doing,” and blah, blah, blah.
All of this is work. It all takes work and that’s a crappy part. It’s the same thing with the Google approval, I think, that it totally gets in your head it seems like and it becomes this road block where really, it should be a speed bump that you look at your options. I say should. You’re going to encounter these over and over. I feel like if you look at the mess of speed bumps rather than roadblocks, knowing that there’s almost without exception, there’s always a way around it.
There are a few exceptions that are not. You can get sued into oblivion. You can get seriously injured. There are these extreme things where you can’t work or where your business is completely decimated because the whole platform just blocks your IP. There are certain exceptions but I don’t see that. Aside from Google disapproving you here in the next week or two, everything else you’ve mentioned to me is a speed bump, but I feel like it impacts you more than that.
Mike: That’s absolutely true. As you were talking through that and shifting the marketing to saying much more of it is ethical cold email and warm email, I actually got excited. I was like, “That’s exactly it.” I think that there are other ways to force that as well. I was talking to Josh from Referral Rock. He said that one of the things that they had done early on was that they charged a setup fee and that works really well for them. I was thinking about doing that as well and trying to figure out how can that work in there. That fits in really well with the idea of pitching it more towards the ethical cold email and warm email for people and then forcing people to do a demo.
That’s part of what the setup fee would be and making sure that they’re doing things the right way, that they’re not just spamming a ton of people just because they have the technical capabilities to. Honestly, that would make me feel a whole heck of a lot better about it. I was actually trying to figure out, “How can I justify this setup fee and how can I do that stuff?” I think that it falls directly in line with that. It makes total sense as to how that could happen now whereas before, I struggled a little bit with how do I present it or pitch it or make sure that people are doing the right things and everything is going well for them. I’ll say it’s like software augmented by services to some extent.
Rob: Absolutely. I feel like that’s one issue but it’s not as if we can now, “Alright and that’s the whole session, Mike, you’re all good,” because there are some deeper issues going on. It seems to me like the two biggest issues that I see with Bluetick and what you’ve been up to, number one, I don’t understand how Bluetick is any different than any of the other tools. I don’t think you’re differentiated. You can convince me otherwise but I don’t feel like there’s anything Bluetick can do that three or four other tools can’t do. That’s a problem because you’re picking up crumbs at that point.
The second thing that feeds into that is you have struggled to ship things. Whether it’s health issues, the distraction from the Google approval, I know you’ve had sleep issues for a long time. You talked at the last podcast about how you had a five- or six-hour workday. Two hours of it was with calls, then your kids were going to get home, and you’ve spent an hour on the Google thing. Your workday was just poof. Gone. You’re not shipping new features. You’re not shipping marketing.
When you look at the people who are making progress in these early stages, they’re shipping something every week. You look at Derrick Reimer. Even though he shut Level down, he was shipping features, he was shipping emails, he was shipping blog post. You look at Peter Suhm, who is the founder of Branch, which is a TinySeed company, was just announced today, he’s doing the same thing. He releases a blog post almost every week and he ships new features to Branch almost every week. You’ve struggled with that going way back.
I think that’s where we talked a little bit offline before this. You have reasons but you were saying to yourself like, “Are they reasons or are they excuses?” The health issues, there’s testosterone levels a few years back, there’s CPAP, there’s all that stuff. It impacts your motivation and that means that you haven’t shipped enough stuff fast enough to differentiate Bluetick and everyone else that you’re competing against is moving, I would say faster than you. You never catch up. Again, my impression is they are better tools, they just have more features, and they do more. So, how can you possibly grow an app that isn’t differentiated in any way?
Mike: A lot of them have definitely caught up in terms of the features. Some of them even started out further along than I was at the early stages. My difference in feature was intended to be the fact that Bluetick does not miss emails, whereas I know that people who were using the Gmail API, those types of customers tend to miss emails here and there. I feel like a lot of those problems have tended to go away. I don’t know whether that’s because the Gmail API has just gotten better in terms of what data that they’ve been sending or the frequency, but I don’t hear about those problems nearly as much as I used to.
Maybe the tools have just gotten better and they’ve fixed those problems. I don’t really know the answer to that because I don’t use those tools on a regular basis. But the fact is you’re right. I’m not shipping things nearly as much as I could or should be. There are certain things where I’ve gone through and I’ve reengineered something or changed how something works, and I’ve got all these data that is going through the system. I’m terrified in some cases of breaking stuff.
I’ve been going back-and-forth recently with one of the vendors who supplies the component that I use for synchronizing with IMAP. They won’t give me access to the stuff where I know for a fact it breaks and I can’t test it. I can’t put an automated test in place and they won’t give me a way to do it. I’m just like, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do here,” other than switching to some other component which again is non-trivial work. Is that an excuse?
Rob: It’s a problem but you’re going to encounter a problem almost everyday as an entrepreneur. If they become, they should be speed bumps. You could mock up an interface of some kind. Again, we had a bunch of APIs that we interfaced with Drip and we couldn’t hit the production or staging APIs so when our unit has ran, they would hit a mocked up interface. There’s a better word for it, but you know what I’m talking about.
You could feasibly break things but that’s what integration testing is for, and then you just have a checklist of like, “These are the five things that I’m always worried about breaking because I can’t test them well.” Those are in a Google Doc or a Trello board or whatever. Every time you do a big push or everytime you modify that code, you test those things. That’s how I would think about it. Again, it’s not perfect but it makes it into a speed bump. It makes it into a bump in the road rather than an actual road block.
Mike: The specific issue with that piece of it and the problem that I have with that, there are certain things that come up on occasion and I literally can’t do that because they’ve marked the class that I need to use as internal and sealed and there’s no interface for it. I literally cannot do it. The only way that I found to get around it is to create a constructor that uses the internal private constructor for it and basically fake the data, but I’m looking at obfuscated code at that point and I don’t know what the hell half of it does. I think all of this particular example is kind of immaterial, I agree it should be more of a speed bump than a road block. Going down the rest of that specific example is more of going down the rabbit hole more than anything else because it’s not the only thing.
Rob: The thing is, when these things come up, it’s not going to be perfect. I know that sounds silly to say, but you’re an engineer, you’re left brained, and you want every I to be dotted, every T to be crossed, every edge and corner case to be handled. Mike, your software is going to break sometimes. There is […] software that is doing seven, eight, nine figures a month and the stuff breaks. You can build a company with software that isn’t 100%. My guess is your software is going to be pretty dang good because you’re a developer and because you’ve been doing this most of your life, but at a certain point, you can’t let perfect get in the way of good and in the way of shipping.
Mike: And I do. I absolutely let that get in the way. I don’t know why it’s so hard for me to just let it go. There are some things where I can just say, “Oh, we’ll just do this. Yes, […], go ahead.” Then there are other things where I’m like, “No, it has to be right.” For whatever reason, I fixate on those things.
Rob: That’s the problem. If you can’t identify when you’re fixating, then tell yourself stop and approach this from a different mindset. What would XYZ person do? How should I think about this differently is probably a better question that when you find yourself fixating to stop yourself and have the introspection to say, “What is the hack to get the solution? What is the 95% solution to this? What are the three or four options I have?” We’ve talked about a few topics here and then each one, you see, I’m just breaking them down into what are your choices here?
You’re choices with this API or whatever or it’s the component that you don’t have internal access to and it’s sealed and whatever, Mike, here are your options. You can completely shut your entire company down. Honestly, let’s look at them. You could shut the company down because of that. You could build a solution that is 80/20 or 95/5, however you want to phrase it. That’s like the one I said earlier which has been attacked together. It’s not going to catch everything and you have a checklist, and that’s probably good enough for now. Or you can spend a lot of time fixating on it. You can fight with the guy over email, you can try to reverse engineer it.
Mike: I can replace the component.
Rob: That’s great, you could feasibly do that. You could rewrite the whole thing yourself.
Mike: No, I wouldn’t do that. I would find a different vendor where I can rip that out and replace it with something else, that’s what I would do. I would absolutely not going down that road.
Rob: But that is an option. What’s funny is you could replace it with a different one. You’re going to spend time reworking your code or you could just rewrite the whole component yourself. It’s ridiculous but it is an option. Those are your five or six options. When you look at them, some of them seem like the dumbest thing ever like shutting your business down or writing the component yourself; don’t do those. It’s obvious, those are dumb. But the other three, if we look at them, black and white mindset and try to think about them. Which of those gets you to full-time income? Which of those gets you to $10,000? Yeah, there’s a little bit of risk with the one I’m suggesting, but that turns it into a speed bump rather than a road block.
Mike: One of the challenges I run into with this is that I don’t really have a mastermind group anymore where I can bounce ideas off of people and they call me out on a weekly basis that says, “Hey, you’re not working on this,” or, “You said that you’re going to have this done. You’ve been working on this for three weeks. This should’ve been done a long time ago.” I don’t have that external forcing function anymore. I think that’s been a big challenge for me.
Rob: Yeah. You’ve talked about in the past. You’ve told me that you feel like you’re more extrinsically motivated, that having someone who’s keeping you accountable is the way you work best versus being intrinsically motivated. And that’s fine. There are successful entrepreneurs on both sides of that. This is not something that precludes you from being one. You lost your mastermind or it broke up how long ago?
Mike: A little over a year and then I started a new one but we’ve only met I think three times total.
Rob: In a year?
Mike: It was over the course of three months or so and then we haven’t had a call on five or six months, I think.
Rob: For all intents you’re not really part of a mastermind at this point. You ended a year ago. Now, didn’t your revenue peak around that time?
Mike: Yeah, it did.
Mike: I know.
Rob: A correlation?
Mike: Correlation, causation. That’s a valid point too. That’s an excuse.
Rob: Don’t say it. You’re going to say, “It’s hard to find a mastermind and it’s hard to be part of one.” I would say, “All right, Mike, you have choices. Shut your company down, number one. Number two, don’t be an entrepreneur anymore. It is a choice. Number three, email Ken of MastermindJam—mastermindjam.com—and try to hook with a mastermind. Four, keep doing what you’re doing. Don’t do a mastermind and expect your future results to be the same as they have been,” is probably what I would say.
Mike: Some of these things like the other thing that it could potentially be solved by us having a cofounder. I have talked to you about this before. I’m not opposed to having a cofounder or having somebody else who works in the business with me, but at the same time it’s a question of finding the right person and all that other stuff. But again, is that an excuse? Is that what I really want? The answer is I don’t know. Is that an excuse? Probably. Is it what I really want? I don’t know. I’ve gone out in that road before and I think things worked out fantastically with you, with Microconf, the podcast, and everything else, but my past experiences have not been all sunshine and rainbows.
Rob: That’s a tougher one because finding a cofounder is hard. You can’t rush that. That’s not an easy thing to do. I do think it could be a fit for you given that you would work better with someone pushing you on and you’re feeling accountable to that.
Mike: I totally agree with that. But most of the people that I know of, that I know well enough to say, “Yeah, I wouldn’t mind going into business with them at all,” most of them have their own things going on. It’s hard to find somebody who is in that same position because I’ve got Bluetick that is substantially far along at this point. One thing that I’ve run into when you have employees or contractors or whatever, is I feel like they’re not just motivated, but they’re way less critical of the boss’ performance or decisions and things like that because they’re like, “Oh, well. That person is the person in charge. I don’t want to challenge them as hard as I probably could or would if I truly believed in this other direction versus the one that they’ve chosen or decided to go in.”
Rob: Yeah, but that’s just a minor speed bump. I’ve worked with contractors and employees and I’ve had cofounders. It’s just something you get over. I think the deeper issue comes back to the two things that I said, number one, Bluetick is not differentiated. Number two, it’s because you’re not shipping enough. It sounds like you struggle with indecision quite a bit where you’ve ruminated on a question for a long time, for days or weeks, and sometimes just can’t break out of that to make the decision to move forward. So, you get stalled.
And then the motivation thing. You told me offline that you were bored, you weren’t motivated. At times you know what you should do, “I should go build this feature,” but you’re not motivated to do it. Is that right? Talk about that. Is it a health thing? I guess you don’t know. If you knew you would fix it, right? You don’t know if it’s lack of sleep. You don’t know if it’s low testosterone. You don’t know if you just don’t want to do the idea. Do you have any thoughts or even more background for people?
Mike: My doctor took me off of my testosterone and it wasn’t because it was too high, it was because one of my other blood tests came back, it’s too high. He was like, “This is way outside of the normal range so I’m going to take you off with testosterone for four weeks to see how that plays out.” I was about a week-and-a-half into it and I was like, “I have to take some of it right now.” The downsides or drawbacks of having it, having low testosterone is you get depressed, you have a hard time focusing, you can’t get things done, you can’t really think straight. That was happening to such a severe degree, I was like, “I have to take it today just to put myself at least a little bit back on track.”
I’m going to call him and try and see if we can cut this whole thing short because it is extremely detrimental to me right now but I don’t have any answers, I wish I did. There’s a lot of things where I’m just like, “This is boring to me.” Some of it has to do with the work that needs to get done. Again, is that an excuse? Is that just a reason that I’m using to justify not feeling bad about getting the work done? I get that, as an entrepreneur, not everything is always going to be fine. You’re not always going to enjoy everything.
There are some things that you like to do versus there are things that you need to do. If you can outsource those things that need to be done that you don’t like doing, great. I don’t feel like I’ve been in a position where I can outsource everything that I hate doing because there’s financial research and things like that.
Rob: You’ll never be able to do that. Even when HitTail and Drip were growing like crazy, I still came in and did a bunch of crap that I didn’t want to do. With TinySeed, I have more resources than I’ve ever had and there’s still crap that I’m dealing with that I don’t want to do. But (a) I tried to minimize it, and (b) I tried not to let it clog the top of my to do list. When it’s sitting in that Trello board I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I do not want to look at health care plans and setting up a 401(k) for us.” But it’s like, “I’m going to power through it, suck it up, and get it done. Then I’m going to come out the other side and reward myself by doing something super fun, make it some swag or something.” I don’t know. You can’t avoid that. You can’t avoid it entirely. You can minimize it.
We’re building businesses that we want to be a part of, that we want to run. We’re building it for our lifestyles. That’s great, but that doesn’t mean that 100% of the time, it’s like a trip to Disneyland. I know you know that. I’m being a little facetious, but that’s the thing I think you’ve struggled with a lot. There’s this indecision piece. You’ve expressed to me like, “I’m not motivated to do this thing.” Whatever it is, I know that’s what has to get done. I think you’ve got to figure that out because without that, you can’t move forward. You have to be motivated some days even through the struggles.
We have a mutual friend who runs a SaaS app, who has pretty major health issues. He struggles, he works four hours a day, and it’s tough for him to travel. There’s a lot of stuff that it’s just hard. It’s hard for him, but he runs a successful SaaS app, lives off, and has a few employees. He shows up everyday. In those four hours, I bet he’s pretty damn effective by the fact that his SaaS app still grows.
Mike: I haven’t found a system, I guess, that works for me in terms of preventing me from wasting time on the stuff that I don’t want to do or procrastinating to get those things done. I don’t want to stay here and say, “Oh, well. I just need to find the right system,” because I don’t think that’s the right way to go, either, or the answer to it. I do feel maybe I just need to experiment more and say, “Okay, try this for a week or try that for a week,” and be very deliberate about trying to get things done and shipping things, as you said, versus just showing up to work every day and a lot of motion without forward progress. I feel like I’m thrashing a lot. I don’t have an answer to that. Maybe the problem is that I’ve thought about what the answer to that is without actually doing anything to try and figure it out.
Rob: Yeah, not taking action. I think effectiveness is what you’re summarizing. Thrashing is the opposite of being effective. If this founder we’re talking about works four hours a day but gets a full day’s work done, he’s highly effective. Some people can work 10 hours. If they’re not effective, their business doesn’t move forward. We’ve talked about this in the past. The 80-hour-a-week startup people, I think, are probably not effective. That’s the reason they work 80 hours.
There’s a few exceptions but there’s a lot of younger folks. I used to work longer hours when I was younger too. It’s just not picking the right stuff to work on and then not focusing on that stuff, not wandering off to answer email, jump on Twitter, go to Reddit, really focusing. I think you can get a full day’s work done in 4–6 hours. Your full day’s work would have been 10 years ago, I believe, with the personal growth, experience, and stuff that a person can be more effective with less time.
There’s a couple things that I’ll throw out. One is that I feel like you should consider whether you want to keep doing this, to continue doing Bluetick, whether you want to continue being an entrepreneur. Here’s the thing. If you’re working in a contract job or if you were working a salary job, a lot of these issues go away because daily you would do a daily standup, or weekly, or whatever. You would have accountability. That external motivation would be there for you to ship stuff. That would make a lot of these go away. That’s a pretty nuclear option. In the interest of time, we probably shouldn’t go down that today. I do think it’s something for you to take a step back and just think about longer term.
Mike: Counterargument to that would be if I worked, did the right thing, and got Bluetick to a point where I was able to hire people to put on a team, that exact same result would come out of it.
Rob: Yeah, okay. That’s fine. That’s fine but you’ve got to get there. At the rate you’re going, you’re not going to get there.
Rob: I don’t disagree with you, Mike. This is Startups for the Rest of Us. The whole point is that we want to help people start businesses that give them personal freedom. The whole point of this podcast and everything we do is to feel free, to do what you want to do, and work on which you want to do. That would be my answer as well. It’s just, you have to figure out how to get there because you’re not making progress there now.
The second thing I would think about which is a less nuclear option, if we’re talking about options, it’s to go one step further than our mastermind and to find someone who would do a daily standup with you. Every morning, five minute phone call or five minute Slack. They keep you accountable. You subscribe to that. When you say, “These are the things I did yesterday. This is what I’m going to do today.” The next day, you come and you do the walk of shame if you didn’t get that done. You celebrate if you did and that extrinsic motivation is something that you think will help to do that.
What do you think about that is that, does it not matter? Because you’re so tired you can’t get anything done? Is the extrinsic motivation enough if someone was breathing down your neck? Would that be enough? Or do you think no? “I’m still too damn tired. I just have health issues and I shouldn’t do this.”
Mike: I would certainly try it. I would say, it’s pretty immature for me to say that it would or wouldn’t work. I suspect that it would. I seriously contemplated trying to find a way to get a one-on-one business coach or something like that, somebody who’s going to hold me accountable. You’re right. A five minute thing like that on a daily basis could be plenty. I don’t know. Without trying it, I can’t say for sure one way or the other. My inclination is to say, “Yes, that would work,” but it would also need to be somebody who is, I don’t want to say willing to yell at me because I don’t want to be inundated with thousands of emails saying, “Hey, I’ll yell at you.”
Rob: Sure because you don’t need yelling. You do need positive and negative encouragement and feedback.
Mike: I think that’s certainly worth exploring. I would say, it goes further than my thoughts about having a business coach who holds me accountable on a weekly basis because I think a daily basis would probably be better. That’s mainly because I feel like I could waste a lot of time during a whole week whereas from a day-to-day, I can’t. I don’t want to say the stakes are higher but the deadlines are sure. I’ve always found myself to be somebody who works extremely well with tight deadlines and time pressure.
Rob: Yeah, external motivation.
Mike: Yes. When I was doing consulting, the […] gets subcontracting through, they’ve held me in with a bunch of stuff. I stopped consulting from them probably a year-and-a-half or two years ago, but every single time I get an email from them it’s because something’s on fire. They want me to deal with it. I actually got to a point where from one customer to the next, every single one, everything was on fire and burning to the ground. They needed somebody to go in and fix it. I was their person because I was really good at it. I just got burned out with the travel. That was what the problem was. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy doing those things but I got burned out with the travel. The customers tended to be the same from one to the next. And the problem was repetitive. It got to a point where the problem was the same thing over and over. Then, I just got bored.
Rob: Yeah. Consulting is like a hamster wheel. You want to own something. You want an equity in something that has a longer lasting thing than just […] per hour.
Rob: Yeah, that desire.
Mike: Right. That was a big reason for me leaving and decided to do Bluetick instead because I wanted something that was going to need much more of that Rob’s flywheel as opposed to the hamster wheel.
Rob: Yeah. Obviously, we can’t solve stuff like these in a day. You and I talked about you taking some time to think about this, three weeks, four weeks where you think about both of what we’ve talked about today, some stuff we talked about offline, but really, do soul searching and figure out. I think there’s big questions here. It’s like, Mike, do you want to do this and do you want to do it bad enough that you’re willing to change? What you’re doing now isn’t working so you have to change it. Are you going to be willing and able to start looking at every problem as a speedbump rather than a roadblock?
Is this the right fit for you? Whether it’s this being entrepreneurship, Bluetick, it’s just those two. Does Bluetick have the potential? If you feel like you’re gaining your momentum and motivation to take a hard look and say, “How long will it take to get Bluetick to a point where it is differentiated?” My assessment is that, until you’re differentiated enough that you’re like, “Nope, we do this and no one else does,” or “We do this better than all these other tools.” Until you get to that point, you just don’t win many sales.
Mike: I totally agree with all that. I don’t even have to think too long about that one aspect of those. Do I still want to be an entrepreneur? For me, the answer is absolutely yes. The question for Bluetick is what does that look like moving forward? The reality is, the situation is I’ve got basically a seven month deadline at this point. I think you said there were some questions about how that shakes out with Google. I kind of know the answers to some extent. I still don’t have all the information, but I’ve gone past the last stage of Google’s verification with the exception of the security audit. That’s all that needs to be done. That’s the piece where I don’t know how much that’s going to cost. I don’t know what they have to go through or what other things I’m going to have to change. I’m still waiting to find out what that’s going to cost.
Then, I have to make a judgment called the end of it to say if it’s $15,000 and I’m going to make that $15,000 back in a reasonable time frame, not a big deal. Even if it was $75,000 or $100,000. If I were going to be able to make that back within three or four months, it’s not a big deal. If I’m in a revenue standpoint where it’s not going to happen in six months, eight months, ten months, then, no. I can’t justify even continuing with the product to that point. I don’t know what the price tag on it is right now. It’s a question of how far can I get in the next six to seven months to the point where I know how much revenue I’m going to be making three or four months down the road to be able to justify putting the cash out for that security audit.
Rob: You understand that while the security audit is one thing like we’ve talked about today, there are bigger issues. It’s shipping. Let’s say you pass the security audit and you pay for it. Bluetick is still not growing. Bluetick is still not differentiated right now. The reason again, going back, is you haven’t been motivated, or you’ve been bored with it, or there’s been health issues. There’s been all these things along the way. If that doesn’t change, it doesn’t matter what happens with the Google audit.
Rob: We talked about you taking some time to think about it and actually stepping back from the podcast here for about three or four weeks. Give you some clarity.
Rob: Some time alone. I know, give you a chance to maybe find clarity. These are hard decisions. This is retreat level kind of stuff where it’s a lot of thinking.
Mike: Yeah. The weird thing is these aren’t nothing we’ve really talked about. So far, things I haven’t thought about or considered over the past couple of years, it’ s just like I haven’t really taken the time to step back, objectively look at things, and take a hard look. I mean, if I do look at stuff and how things have gone, one constant that has been throughout the whole thing is me. Is it me? That’s a hard thing to say and the hard thing to admit to as well.
The question, can things change? Or will they change? Or do I want them to? I think that I want to. It’s just a question of how is that going to happen? How do I make sure that I don’t go through this process and come out of it and say, “Yeah, I’m motivated. I’m amped up. Let’s do this,” then put in time and effort for six months, then fall back into the same patterns again, I’ll say? That could happen. I don’t know but I need to step back.
Rob: That’s for sure. You know, Mike, I’ve always respected your technical chops, your intelligence, your writing, and you just have a lot of positive qualities. You’ve accomplished stuff in your life but you’ve definitely gotten in your own way. You’ve gotten in your own way more than I think you want to or should have. I think if you can start thinking about it, in terms of, how do I not do in the next six months what has happened in the past six months? We’ll see.
I’m going to be holding down the fort here for a few weeks. It’ll be good to hear from you. I’m sure people will be waiting with bated breath. We’ll have an episode, I don’t know, will it be 452 or 453? It’s the return of Mike. We get to hear from you, what you’ve been thinking about, and stuff.
Mike: Yeah, I don’t know. We’ll see what happens. I got to talk to my doctor and go back on a testosterone because it’s just, my God.
Rob: It’s kind of […].
Mike: It really is. You wouldn’t think that that does it. It was like, “Oh, that can’t possibly be that bad.”
Rob: I would totally think, any chemical in our body, when it gets that out a whack, it has these negative impacts that can be pretty brutal.
Rob: Well, thanks for delving into this today. I know this is not easy stuff to talk about. I appreciate your openness, honesty, and willing to delve into it. I’m sure the listeners do, too. This has over and over been voiced. This is like one of the favorite aspects of our show is when we do these things. We talk pretty open and raw about what’s going on.
Mike: Yup. I guess with that, why don’t you take us out then?
Rob: Yeah. If you have a question for us, call our voicemail number at 888-801-9690 or you can email it to us at email@example.com. Our theme music is an excerpt from We’re Outta Control by MoOt. It’s used under Creative Commons. Subscribe to us on iTunes by searching for Startups and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening and I’ll see you next time.
In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike talk about what KPI’s to look at when launching, key metrics you should track, and what they should be.
Items mentioned in this episode:
Mike: In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and I are going to be talking about SaaS KPIs that you should focus on from day one. This is Startups For The Rest Of Us episode 434.
Welcome to Startups For The Rest Of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers and entrepreneurs be awesome at building, launching, and growing software products. Whether you’ve built your first product, or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Mike.
Rob: And I’m Rob.
Mike: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s the word this week Rob?
Rob: Well, I got my tan on in Mexico. I mentioned that last episode. We got out of Minneapolis for about eight days and it was good. It was interesting that that my two boys got so much sun the first day. They got a little sunburn, but it wasn’t bad. They then the next two days had fevers and it was almost like they had sunstroke, because we have been out in the sun so little since whatever, October.
It was a trip. I was like, did they get vitamin D overload? What was the deal? But they both got sick. It was Mexico. Several of us had stomach issues, but the boys didn’t and they had this different reaction to things. They were all hot and they were tired with headaches. It was definitely like sunstroke attributes.
Mike: Interesting. I wonder if it’s just a byproduct of living in California first of all.
Rob: What do you mean living in California?
Mike: Well, because you live in California and then you moved to Minneapolis. Suddenly you’re not getting any sun and then you go back. It’s almost like dying of starvation or thirst, you suddenly get it, and then you get sick because of it.
Rob: Totally. The thing was, my boys tan really well. Before we went to Mexico, they looked grey. They looked like this really odd grey color, because again no sun exposure because it’s so cold. It’s super sunny here in Minneapolis, but it’s just so cold. You don’t go out without coverage. Your face is typically the only thing showing. If you’re going to be out for an extended time, you have gloves on, you have stuff over your arm. It was a fun trip overall and I’d recommend it.
We actually went to this smaller town called Sayulita. It’s about 45 minutes north of Port of Aorta. I know you mentioned you’ve never been to Mexico. For your first trip, maybe do go to Cancun or Port of Aorta. Those places are fine, we’ve gone there. Once you go there once, it’s super touristy, it’s packed with people and you’re not among the locals. You’re just a bunch of other vacationers. You’re hanging out with other tourists.
Whereas Sayulita is small and it’s 45 minutes north. It was a much better experience. It felt slightly more authentic and we still had access to what we needed in terms of food and such, but it did feel just like a better experience. Folks listening, if you haven’t checked it out, I recommend it. How about you, what’s going on?
Mike: I’m in the process of going through the scholarship applications that came in.
Rob: For MicroConf, right?
Mike: Yes, for MicroConf. I really think that if I were going to make any predictions right now, that this would probably be the single biggest mistake that I will make for the entire year. I forgot to include the email address field until basically like 2/3 or 3/4 of the way through it and I didn’t notice it until then.
Rob: You have a scholarship application like a Google form or Typekit, you send an email to the MicroConf list, you send people to come apply for scholarships, they give all this information, and you have no email address form?
Rob: That’s nuts. There’s no way to map since it’s third party. I was trying to get you the link back because when they click through the Drip email, there’s going to be their subscriber ID and the URL, but there’s no way to go back and try to get that matched up or anything.
Mike: No, not from a Google Form. The thing is, it’s not even that I actually forgot it, it’s that it disappeared because I copied the application form from last year. I don’t know what happened. I must’ve clicked something and accidentally deleted it or something, I don’t know. I didn’t notice until well into it and I was just like, “Oh my God.” I’m in the process right now of going through and trying to figure out how to reach each of these people. The nice thing is, because it’s an application, it asks for a lot of information.
Most of the ones that are missing, I have at least Twitter account information for it. I can send them a message and try and get in touch with them through that. Then other ones I’ve been able to map back to some of the different email lists that we have. The one really helpful piece of information is that I ask where they heard about it from and if they say email list, then I can go look at the email at list.
If they say that they heard from a certain person, I think there was only one, possibly two that I’m not sure how I’m going to be able to get that information. But I think for the most part, I’m going to be able to clear it out. It’s just going to take time and effort though. That’s the part that sucks.
Rob: That’s the thing. These are those fixable problems that are a ton of ground work to get done. It’s like, “I could have saved myself hours taking through this thing if I’d remembered to put the email address.” I have done this plus way worse. These are things that happen as you’re moving fast and doing a bunch of stuff. That’s brutal.
Mike: Oh well, I got to do what I got to do, though.
Rob: Yeah. My guess is you will never ever again forget to put an email address on a form like this.
Mike: Like I said, I don’t think I forgot. I think it’s accidentally deleted.
Rob: It deleted itself, yeah. From my end speaking of applications, the TinySeed application process ran for a month from mid-January to mid-February. I guess around four weeks. We got just under 900 applicants. It was a lot more than I thought. I was ambitious in hoping we’d get 400. I had heard through the GreatFind that a lot of more well-known accelerators get 500 to 700 depending on location. I’m sure Y Combinator gets more than that I’d imagine. It’s a big number and it’s what I’m very happy with.
It also creates what we call a good problem to have. The good problem is we have a lot of applicants. The bad problem is, I’ve been sifting through almost 900 applicants for the past two weeks. It’s just a lot of work. I’m not complaining obviously because this is what I would want to be doing, but it’s definitely going to be a process to get through all these. I already started having conversations with founders as I mentioned a few weeks ago. It’s going well.
Mike: Awesome. The only other thing on my side is that I’ve got an upcoming webinar that I’m going to be doing for hr.com which is kind of, I don’t know, you look at those 2-letter domain names and you’re like, “Wow,” it’s nice that I was able to finagle that. I’ll be doing a webinar for them on personalized email strategies to drive traffic, engage leads, close deals, and more. That will be on April 29th and I’ll link it up in the show notes in case anybody’s interested.
Obviously because it’s for them, their audience tends to be people who are reaching out to HR professionals in that particular space. They have a couple of different audiences, but one of them is the HR reps themselves, and then the other one is people and vendors who are trying to get in touch with HR people. This is basically aimed at those people who are trying to get in touch with the HR reps. It’s more of a general presentation that I’m putting together for them. It could very well be applicable to people who are listening.
Rob: We will link that up in the show notes.
Mike: I know I did the intro today, but what are we talking about?
Rob: Actually, we designed the entire outline around a listener question. I’ll play the voicemail in a second, but it’s about what are the key performance indicators or KPIs. By the way, I hate that term. I feel like it’s such an MBI, I hate it. It’s a shorthand that everyone understands. What are the numbers, the metrics that you should be tracking when launching and growing a SaaS app. Let’s dive into the voicemail here.
Adam: Hey Rob and Mike, I’m Adam Hawkins. Thanks for running the show, it’s been awesome. I’ve learned a lot from you over the past few episodes and I appreciate that both of you mention metrics and discuss these app businesses. One of you mentioned that you needed to have X thousand visitors on your landing page to pull your funnel in a previous episode. That really got me thinking of a fellow bootstrapper. Here’s my question, what are the KPIs and target values in launching in SaaS? I’m kind of thinking something along the lines of numbers that will keep me on track in launching my own SaaS. That’s all for me. Thanks guys and keep up the good work.
Rob: The first thing I want to say about this is, when we make statements like you need X thousand people to hit your landing page to validate or whatever. Often that’s a rule of thumb and it’s something to start from, but please don’t take that as gospel. I think in the past we’ve said you need 30 people, or you should talk to 30 people and have them say yes to your product, and consider that validated.
With Drip, I only did 10. It just depends. It’s all a spectrum. It’s like a risk tolerance. These numbers are not set in stone. None of this stuff is set in stone. With that said, there are rules of thumb. From doing this for 15 years, you start to see patterns and you know that a metric is out of whack if, let’s say I have a SaaS app that’s $50 Bucks a month, I ask for a credit card upfront, and my trial to pay is 10%. I know that is way too low and we have a major problem in our funnel.
That’s what we’re going to talk through today. These loose ranges when I see an app performing at 40% versus 60%, how we think about that, and how it indicates where you might have an issue in your funnel. It really helps you figure out what to focus on, because at any given time, you’re going to have one or more things that are just going sideways with your business. It’s just the nature of doing startups. You’re always that duck on the pond where above the water, you look like you’re just gracefully moving along, and under the water you’re just paddling like crazy to stay afloat. Your numbers are sideways and you got to figure out what do you focus on.
That’s really the point of this episode. It’s to try to give you some guidance so that you’re thinking about it as someone with a background. Even if this is your first time that you’re kind of taking the wisdom and the rules of thumb from us. Basically, folks who have seen these SaaS apps, seen a lot of numbers, know what a healthy SaaS business looks like, and know where to focus on to help improve them.
Mike: Yeah. As you said, these are guidelines and general patterns. It doesn’t necessarily mean that if you are in this range, then things are going great. I think one of the big drawbacks of using this information as gospel is the fact that you never really know whether or not you have room for improvement or how much will you have room for improvement. If you have this general range, let’s say it’s between 2% and 4% for any given number, and let’s say you’re smack in the middle at 3%, that seems reasonable.
There’s probably other areas in your business that you should be focusing on, but is it possible that that number could be 6% or 8% depending on your type of business or the vertical that you are in. The answer is absolutely yes, it could be that high, but you don’t really know unless you are directly comparing yourself against other businesses that are similar to yours.
Again, these are general guidelines. They are helpful in terms of determining whether or not you should continue to focus on that area. Maybe you should, but chances are good that if you’re in the general ballpark, I’ll say that there’s other things you should be going to look at before you come back and try to optimize and double down on whatever that particular thing is to improve it.
Rob: That’s the thing, if you’ve ever gotten a piece of mail from your city water quality control board, they’ll show you all the lead and this and that, and then they’ll show you the acceptable ranges, because without the acceptable ranges, you have no idea what the numbers mean. It’s like one part per million of lead. Does that mean anything to you? It doesn’t to me, so then you want to see the acceptable range, or if you get a blood test, Mike. I know you’ve never had any test on you.
Mike: Of course not.
Rob: I’m curious. You’ve talked about it on the show, that’s why I’m bringing it up. I get a blood test every few years or whatever. There’s all these numbers that mean nothing without that guideline on the right that this is the normal range. That’s really what this is trying to do. I don’t want to over couch this and say, “These numbers? We’re just going to ballpark them and it don’t really mean anything.” They do mean things, but there’s always the caveats of, if you’re selling a $19 a month SaaS—I will try to call those out as we go through because I’ve sold $19 a month SaaSes—and then if you have one that’s $500 a month, the numbers are going to be different. We’ll try to talk through those differences as we go.
Mike: We’ve talked about KPIs and various metrics in a few other episodes. The first one was episode 112 where we talked about the startup metrics for Pirates and that’s based on AAARR. Is that what it is? I forgot.
Rob: Yes, something like that. It’s either AARRR or AAARR, I forget which it is.
Mike: I think it’s AARRR. There’s another one, Episode 187 where there is a whole slide deck that we went through from Andrea’s Cleaner. That slide deck is around 150 pages or so. It’s really in-depth. There’s a lot of good information in there. It specifically talks about the fact that your KPIs are going to change over time and very early on, there are going to be data points that you’re looking at. You have to be really careful about how you interpret them because the numbers are probably going to be much smaller, and your product market fit isn’t quite right yet.
There’s a lot of caveats to those very early numbers. We will call them out as well, but that’s something really important to keep in mind when you’re trying to figure out whether or not you should optimize something more or move on to something else. The third episode is Episode 231 with Ruben Gamez where you and him at the very end of the episode started talking about some of these general ranges that we’ll rehash in this episode.
Rob: I’ll be interested to see how close the ranges are. We literally did it off the cuff in that episode, and I’m kind of getting into it off the cuff again today. I’m hoping that the ranges are pretty close. What I’d like to do is start at the top of the funnel. Going from unique visits to your site and just go all the way down the funnel. Visits-to-trial, trial-to-paid, turn, blah-blah-blah, and go down the line.
So, starting at the top of the funnel with unique visitors. This is an interesting one because I don’t think there is a KPI for this. You want the most unique visitors you can get that are targeted at your website in any given month. I have had software products that get literally 1500 unique visitors a month that sold upwards of $4000 or $5000 a month in software. Now, it was not SaaS, it was a $300 one time purchase. The traffic was targeted, it was in a pretty tight niche, and it obviously converted quite well.
Whereas most SaaS apps I know, you’re going to be priced between let’s say $20 and $100 a month for your starting tier if you’re doing self-service. You really want to start getting into that 5000-10,000 uniques a month to try to start scaling it up. The challenge here is, if we’re talking about day one and you’ve just launched, unique visitors doesn’t have much meaning yet. What you really want to do is you’re still trying to validate your product, you’re trying to find product market fit, driving more traffic, trying to split test, and look at these aggregate numbers isn’t helpful yet.
In the early days, you should probably couch all of these metrics with that. In the early days, your numbers are going to be so small. When you have 10-20 customers and one of them turns, that doesn’t really mean you have 5% or 10% churn rate. It does technically, but it’s meaningless because you don’t have enough numbers to accurately measure things. I think that is another thing. Early day KPIs are different than later day KPIs. Early day KPIs are really how many people am I talking to? Do I think we have product market fit? Is churn going down? These are marketing resonating.
There’s a lot more qualitative questions that I ask in the early days than in the later days. You’re looking at more quantitative, because you’re just past that point. It’s hard to say for everyone, but I feel like when you hit about somewhere between 5000-15,000 MRR, that’s where I start to shift into that. You probably have 100-200 customers. That’s where you can start having numbers that are more easily measurable and you can start seeing trends instead of seeing these very spiky results because the numbers are small.
Mike: I think one of the interesting things about the number of unique visitors is that, as you said, all those not edge cases but those different factors that play into it like price point, how long it’s been around, do you have product market fit, all that kind of stuff. One of the really challenging things when you’re that early on is that a link on Hacker News, for example, can drive traffic through the roof and it is untargeted traffic. It’s good to get it and it’s nice to see that there are more eyeballs coming to your site, but what it does is it really heavily skews your metrics, because those people aren’t necessarily there as interested people, they’re there because you got a PR bump and that really seriously starts skewing your metrics.
You really have to be careful when you’re looking at everything else just because if you’re only averaging let’s say 3000 views a month, and then suddenly you get an incoming link and you end up getting 5000 over the course of a couple days, that 5000 is going to overshadow your typical 3000. And because it’s untargeted, your visitors trial and your trial-to-paid, all those numbers completely gets out of whack because of that. It skews them. It makes it a little bit more challenging to figure out what is my actual visitor-to-trial rate. You have to look at that and say, “Well, how well targeted was that traffic? Do I apply a percentage to that?” Well yes, 5000 people, but maybe only 0.5% or 1% of them were actually targeted then you multiply out from there and figure out what your actual visitor trial rate would be.
Rob: Yeah. The nice part about all these metrics but specifically visitor trial is, the more visits you get and the more trials you get, just that the further along you get, it does standardize. I used to be able to look in Google analytics or whatever dashboard I was running and just instantly know if it was a good number. My range for this is for SaaS, I want to specifically say that. For info products or for onetime purchases, you can get dramatically higher numbers, but people signing up for SaaS apps with a credit card upfront, I want to be between 0.5% and 2%.
The difference there could be a lot of things. It can definitely be your messaging and your marketing. It can be the quality of your traffic. It can also be your price point and that’s a big one. If I had an app that was $10-$20 a month for the lowest pricing tier, I would want to be closer to that 1.5% and 2% number of unique visitors translating into trials with a credit card on file. If I’m selling something that’s $50-$100 a month as the lowest tier, I’m going to be looking between 0.5% and 1%, 1% would be a pretty nice number to get on that.
Something else to think about is this is for one funnel. That’s like the visitors and turning into trial. You can also have a longer funnel that visitors turning into email subscribers and then you know how many email subscribers, over time, turn into trials. You can look at that number. If you have a good converting landing page, let’s say you’re sending either ad traffic or SEO traffic, and you’re trying to squeeze for an email address, and your offering something of value to folks with download in exchange for that email, I want the range to be between about 15% and 25% of people entering their email address on the landing page. I’ve had upwards of between 40% and 50% for certain calls-to-action with the really targeted traffic, but that’s pretty exceptional. If I’m below 15% I’m a little concerned and if I’m below 10% then I’m doing something wrong. The traffics mismatch or the call-to-action isn’t very good. If you’re going to do that, it’s a longer funnel, it’s a longer journey, but you need to then look at your email numbers in aggregate and see how many of these are turning into trials over time.
That’s where you need a good system with good tracking like Drip or I believe ActiveCampaign could do this. I’m not sure that Mailchimp, I haven’t used it in so long, I’m not sure that it’s easy to do that with Mailchimp. If you are going to go that route, you’re going to want to dial in the analytics at least to the point where you can have a relatively good insight into how many new subscribers are converting into trials. One other thing, if you’re not asking for credit card upfront and your unique visitor-to-trial rate is 5%, I’d say 5%-15%, but 5% is actually too low. I think I’d want to be more in probably 10%-20% range is where I feel comfortable. This one I have done very little because I tend to ask for credit card upfront. I have done tests with it and such, but I’ve talked to a bunch founders who run credit card free trials and that does tend to be the range.
Number three, the next KPI is of course trial-to-paid conversion. If I’m asking for a credit card upfront, I want between 40% and 60%. If I’m at 39%, I know that I have a problem. If I’m at 58%, I know that I’m doing quite well. I mean that’s really towards the top range. There was a time when Drip bumped above 60% at different times, then you know you’re kind of killing it and your onboarding is doing really well. When I took over HitTail, I acquired that in 2011, it was credit card upfront and the trial-to-paid was 15%, and so you know that there’s a major problem in onboarding. That was one of the first things that I cleaned up.
That’s why these ranges are fairly important is that you know you’re so out of whack there that if you fix that, you’re going to be going to be in a better position. If you’re not asking for credit card upfront, trial-to-paid, I would want to that one between let’s say 5% and 15% is probably a relatively decent mark. I mean I would want to be between 8% and 15% myself, but you’re just kind of a lot lower when you’re not asking for credit card, that’s kind of the nature of the beast.
Mike: One of the things that I think is probably the most challenging with trying to find out or to track some of this information is that when you’re very early on, these numbers are very misleading when one person cancels. If you’ve got 10 customers or 20 customers, having one or two customers cancel is a huge deal. One or two people who come through the funnel that don’t convert, let’s say you’ve got four of them through and not one of them converts, that’s 0%. Even having a couple after that, it doesn’t really put the number back to really where it should.
You have to eyeball those things and try to capture as much information from people who are leaving or not following through with the trial to figure out what it is that drove them away. Why did they not actually decide to follow through and sign-up for the service or continue using it. Use that information to try and figure out what it is that you’re supposed to do because the numbers are not going to be enough, especially early on.
Now, that’s not to say you shouldn’t track those numbers, just that they’re going to be misleading early on. Over time, it will get better, but those first few that come through, first 100-200 that come through, is going to be hard. You have to talk to people to figure out what the reasons are for them to move in one direction or the other.
Rob: Exactly. The numbers aren’t going to tell you the whole story. Especially in the early days. That’s something you got to dig into. The fourth KPI we’re going to talk about is churn. I’ve seen people look at churn as a blanket number. It really obfuscates what’s going on underneath. If you go to Amazon and you see that the average rating for something is 2.5 stars, but there’s actually 101 stars and 105 stars, I guess that would actually average to 3%, but you get the idea. 100 0 stars and a and 100 5 stars in average is 2.5%.
If you just have the 2.5%, it looks like a crappy product, but as it turns out with five and zero, the zeros are probably either misunderstanding, or there’s something wrong, there’s more information under that data. Churn I feel is the same way. If you look at your churn across your entire customer base, you’re missing some information. What I’ve typically seen the most success with is to look at your first 60-day of churn, and then your post 60-day churn, and separate those numbers out.
Sometime it’s up to 90 days, but really, a lot of people do an extended trial where they might enter their credit card. When the trial expires, they pay one month. They never get set up. They never get onboard and then they churn, but really what they did is they were kind of like a trial that didn’t convert to paid. I started seeing these patterns, it was before HitTail, but when I got into HitTail and really dig into the numbers, it was a huge difference. Literally in the first 60 days, especially if you’re asking for credit card upfront, but it can happen both ways, you might see churn upwards and a per cohort of between 20% and 40%.
It can be a huge number of people that are canceling there and 40% I start to feel uncomfortable, 20% I actually don’t feel terrible about that for 60 days. Then post 60 days, you want to get your churn obviously as low as possible, but I feel most comfortable in let’s say for lower priced products that are not enterprise, not annual contracts, I think between 5% and 8%. If you’re at 9% or 10%, it’s pretty brutal, 8% is about the top in where I feel comfortable. Realistically, if you’re a big SaaS app, I think WP engine probably has negative churn at this point.
I remember Jason saying in the early days, they had 2% churn. I’ve had apps that have 2% to 3% churn in that post 60-day, post 90-day mark. That’s where you want to get to. The problem is, the lower your price point, the higher your churn tends to be. That’s why a lot of folks go up market, a lot of SaaS apps do. If you can, you want to get to net negative churn where you do churn out 2%, 3%, 4% but just the growth in your existing customer base of people upgrading actually wipes out the churn. It’s a crazy thing. I’ve seen it firsthand. It just catapults your growth. Those are my loose numbers that I keep in mind when I’m looking at churn rates.
When I see someone come through with a 12% monthly churn rate, I think that’s the first thing I would attack. If I see someone come through with a 3% churn rate, I think that’s amazing. I believe you have a product market fit depending on how many people you’re putting through your funnel. Let’s look at your other metrics to figure out where we should focus position not be on churn, if your number is that low.
Mike: One thing that we should probably drill into a little bit is the idea of that negative churn, because I think that some people might get confused about that. It’s not that you’re gaining more users than you have actually signed up. Although in some cases that may actually be true, because if somebody comes in and then they invite somebody else on their team, initially they sign up with one account and then they may fall into a different tier. That’s part of where that negative churn comes from because people are essentially upgrading to a higher tier paid accounts.
Whether they’re adding users, or going to a new pricing tier, each of those things can qualify. A question for you Rob, because I’m actually not sure about this, does it qualify if they upgrade from a monthly plan to an annual plan? I don’t think that it does.
Rob: No, it doesn’t. The annual plan should be divided by 12 and added to your MRR anyways. It’s not net revenue. It really is actual MRR that I’m looking at. I’m glad you brought this up because I should have couched this when I was talking about churn and the churn you should focus on is revenue churn, not user churn or customer churn. Revenue churn is when you look at, we started the month with $100,000 in MRR and we lost $10,000 in MRR, so that’s a 10% revenue churn.
First is we started the month with 1000 customers who are paying, 1000 credit cards on file, no matter how many users are within each account. We started with 1000 customers paying us and we ended the month with 900. That’s 10% user churn or customer churn. I’ve always looked at both. By far, the most important is revenue churn. I don’t think you could have negative customer churn, because you can’t add more customers than you signed up, but you can have a net negative revenue churn. That’s where you only lose a small amount of revenue from people canceling, but the rest of your customer base is either so large or they naturally move up tiers and pay you more for stuff.
Drip is a great example of this. As people’s lists grew, they naturally moved up in tiers automatically. There was just a natural movement towards paying more to your ESP. Those are the kinds of businesses that can have negative churn. Slack probably has a negative churn rate, because teams do tend to grow. Yeah, companies go out of business, there are layoffs now, but there are layoffs from time to time in your customer base.
In general, teams that sign up Slack and start paying, I’m guessing these are startups that are adding more and more people and Slack charges $6 or $8 a month per person. I would guess with the stickiness of Slack, they’re kind of gross churn is very low. I bet their net churn including expansion revenue is what it’s called, as people expand and hire tiers is quite substantial. That’s the holy grail of SaaS.
I know people say, recurring revenue is the holy grail of software, and that’s why SaaS is such a big thing. Net negative churn is the holy grail of SaaS if you want to get into it, because that just snowballs and it means that if you do nothing, your company grows. It’s crazy to even think about it when you actually look at charts, and you look at how the numbers work out, you look at graphs of it, once you hit net negative churn, you don’t need to do much. I shouldn’t say you don’t need to do much, but you need to do a lot less to grow a lot faster is what happens.
Mike: Is that where the passive income comes in?
Rob: Passive income, money wisely. Let’s run through the last few pretty quickly. The fifth thing is MRR and that’s just your monthly recurring revenue. As we said earlier, it can get tricky if you have annual plans, you’re supposed to technically divide by 12 that annual plan and then add it onto your MRR. Hopefully you have a software that can do that like Baremetrics or ProfitWell. MRR was the number that I tracked religiously. Every night I would get an email after billing ran and it would tell me what MRR was, what the daily billing was, and all that stuff.
It’s kind of a no brainer when you think all of us track it and it’s something that talks about the health of your business. The other one is MRR growth. I always looked at this as dollar rather than percentage. A lot of people talk percentages, but it’s like when you’re at $1000 MRR, or you’re at $100,000 MRR, the percentages obfuscate so much stuff. Truly, how many dollars did you add and you want to look at not just net add, but you want to look at how many did you lose to churn, how many did you add from new customers, and how much did you add from expansion revenue. Seeing those three different numbers and then the net. There’s four different numbers that you can get into and a lot of people who are really into their SaaS numbers know these numbers cold and know where they want to be with them.
The last one is ARPU, average revenue per user. I like to call this ARPC, which is average revenue per customer, because frankly when I’m charging people money, I think of them as customers, not users. Like Drip, one account might have 20 users in it, but to me that’s a single customer. It’s apples to apples, but it’s just a terminology thing. Average revenue per user, average revenue per customer.
Frankly, if your average revenue per user is $10 or $20 a month, you have a nice little business. You can grow that to something, but the odds of you growing that to a multimillion dollar business are very low. I’ve seen businesses with very low churn, good trial-to-paid, and average revenue per customer of $10 or $15 a month. I think that’s going to be a great 30K MRR business. That’s not a bad business to have, but you’re going to struggle to get past that 30K or 50K mark. If you want to build something into a 7-figure business, not across the board, not unequivocally but in general, you need that average revenue per customer to be upwards of that $40, $50, $60 and up price point.
You want to be in triple digits. You want to get there eventually. You don’t have to be there on day one, but aspiring to get into that $100 to $500 per month, per customer. That’s where you can scale, it’s so much easier to scale a business into that seven- and eight-figure range. Because you have the money to acquire customers, the payback is fairly quick. If most people are paying you $200 a month, you can spend quite a bit on ads and salespeople. Frankly, churn will be lower. It’s always counter intuitive to say this, but lower priced products, lower ARPCs tend to lead to higher churn.
Mike: Something we didn’t talk about when we were talking about the revenue churn between the first 60 days and then post 60 days was that, if you do any sort of a pricing change that can have a massive impact on what your revenue churn looks like. If you raise prices, let’s say by 50%, make things simple. If you raise prices by 100%, you double your prices. If you lose less than half your customers, then technically you’re coming out ahead because you’re making more money. In theory, your infrastructure costs have probably gone down. The obvious downside of that is, potentially losing customers after that first month or after you initially make that change, assuming you didn’t grandfather them. At least be a little cautious of or cognizant of, because that that can seriously change some of those numbers.
It’s not something you have to worry about, as you’re launching, but down the road when you are calculating these numbers and try to figure out how to grow the company, those are things that you should at least bear in mind when you’re trying to figure out if you’re running into financial issues and you need to be able to make more money. You can just do some calculations and say, “Well, if I raised by 10%, this is how much we could get, and how many of those customers are we going to lose the because of us raising those prices.”
The other thing that I was thinking about was that, all of this information sounds great to be looking at, but how do you actually go about tracking it? There’s a lot of different tools out there that you can use. Sunrise KPI for example is one. We can look this up in the show notes. CYFE is another one. Honestly, the simplest thing to do, instead of going in and trying to figure out a bunch of different tools and things to integrate, you can just use a spreadsheet. Whether it’s a Google doc or Excel spreadsheet, it doesn’t really matter. Throw your information in there, maybe update it. You can do it as much as once a day, but you could also do it once a week or once a month, and it really gives you a sense of where things are at and what you should be focusing on. If you’re not plugging this information in and at least looking at it, then you’re never going to do anything about it. That’s the big problem that most people run into is they just don’t even look at these things or they don’t update them and keep track of them.
Rob: Yeah, that makes sense. I mean, I’ll admit with pretty much all, I think without exception, all the SaaS apps I’ve ever run, I’ve built a little scrappy page and these are just simple queries. You should have all the stuff in your own database, I’m imagining. I always did and it’s a little bit of a pain. Churn can be a pain to calculate that can take some time, but I remember hacking together a dashboard with most of these numbers in a few hours, one evening.
I was listening to music and have the lava lamp on sipping Bourbon and I just hammered through these one at a time. I really don’t have a very impressive life, do I, Mike? It’s kind of sad that that would, but it was a fun night, I’ll admit. Because once I had that, I was looking at that thing every day. It was super cool. Then by the time we were launching Drip, I remember telling Derrick, “These are the numbers I know I need. Let’s figure them out,” and it did take him probably a day to get the initial version done.
We had to kill a day of developer productivity to do it, but it was really nice to (a) be in control of those, to (b) have a all in one place, and to have them displayed in exactly like the order that I wanted. I mean, we even have trailing 7-day trials, how much each day it had, have it trailing 30-day. Then we modified it and adjusted it over time. The other cool thing is that whole dashboard and admin area became a nice training ground for new developers. We’d bring in like a junior dev or whatever. You may not want them to push production code into your app right away, because it could break something for customer, but that becomes a nice playground to be like, “Hey, let’s add this number or let’s tweak this,” and it becomes this code base that can get screwed up. If the admin console crashes or has some weird thing that happens in it, it’s not the end of the world, because it’s just us using it. That was kind of also a bonus to having that all built out.
Mike: I’ve daily email sent to me from Bluetick just to see a lot of those different pieces of data.
Rob: It’s a good way to do it. I always had it as a shortcut on my browser but it’s same thing, and that’s your pulse. We actually called it, the page that displayed all this, we called it Pulse in Drip. I always thought that was a pretty fitting name, because it’s the pulse of the business.
Mike: Got it, cool.
Rob: Forty minutes on SaaS Metrics, KPIs. I think the next episode needs to just be all jokes. You and I need to just talk about movies and jokes.
Mike: I don’t know if that’s going to be a very compelling episode.
Rob: That would be even worse than this one. All right. Let’s call it a wrap. I guess I’m the wrap guy today.
Mike: Yes, you are.
Rob: This whole episode was outlined based on a single listener question. If you have a question for us, you can voice mail number at 888-801-9690 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our theme music is an excerpt from We’re Outta Control by MoOt used under Creative Commons. Subscribe to us in iTunes by searching for Startups, and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.
In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike talk about how to launch a product into a mature market. They give a definition of what a mature market is, list some examples of established players in different markets, discuss how to tell if you should enter a particular market and how to execute on it.
Items mentioned in this episode:
Rob: In this episode of Startups For the Rest of Us, Mike and I discuss how to launch a product into a mature market. This is Startups For the Rest of Us episode 425. Welcome to Startups For the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers, and entrepreneurs to be awesome at building, launching, and growing software products. Weather you’ve built your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Rob.
Mike: And I’m Mike.
Rob: We’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s the word this week, sir?
Mike: It’s the end of the year, so I’m just doing a lot of end-of-year paperwork that’s—mostly required government filings and getting ready for taxes and stuff like that. I had to submit, I think it was a affidavit of eligibility for my health insurance and it had to be done before the end of this year for my health insurance to be able to be renewed in April or something like that. It’s like, come on, you have to be kidding me. This far and advance and at the end of the year they’re requesting it but whatever you have to do it.
Rob: Yeah, that’s fascinating. The end-of-year stuff is always a pain in the butt. Because I’m always taking this time off. I take a week off, sometimes a week and a half off but it’s not fully off. I’m recording podcasts and doing a few calls here and there but a lot of thinking and planning scheming for the next year, and so it’s a bummer to have to think about government filings and that kind of stuff during this time.
Mike: How about you? What’s new with you?
Rob: Well, you probably hear I’m a little sick right now. Happy New Year everyone. This episode goes live on New Year’s Day. I hope your hangover is treating you well, and that Mike and I can be there for you. And for me, it’s another year, man. My birthday is December 28. So I turned 34 this year.
Mike: Did you say 34?
Rob: Yeah, I’m glad you caught that. Good. So listeners may or may not know how old I am. But everyone knows now that I’m definitely not 34.
Mike: I’m surprised you didn’t try to shoot for like 29.
Rob: Yeah, now that would have been good. I still get carded here in Minneapolis. So they’re funny. In California, they don’t card you very much at bars once you look old enough, but they still card everyone here. So it’s kind of not. It’s something you say, like, “Oh, I still get carded.” But it’s like, everyone kind of gets carded here.
Mike: Yeah, certain places I’ve seen where, like it’s just as a general rule. They’re like, hey, it doesn’t matter. Like, you have to card everybody. And depending on where you are, certain states or jurisdictions, they’ll say that if you have a violation of any kind, like you immediately lose your liquor license, and then, like, your entire business is gone. So I think that’s the case of the next town over here in Massachusetts, and they’re like, they’re not willing to take the risk. So there’s like, “Yup, we card everybody and if you don’t have ID, too bad.”
Rob: Yeah, that’s funny, you know, I found a retreat in California, and I walked into a bar and they carded me and when I walked an interval said they didn’t card him and was just laughing and laughing because they were like, “You look so old dude,” and he went with it but I think that’s funny when one person in a group gets carded and it’s kind of obvious you’re all the same age and I believe he’s like a few years younger than me as well.
So we have three new iTunes reviews. Three Mike, three in December. This one is from MJ SFS, says best Startup podcast. I’m on my fourth software, venture to battlemaps.co, and this podcast has been invaluable. Keep up the great work guys.
Another reviewer says a podcasting masterpiece filled with actionable product focused insights. It’s never moved from the top of my podcast list. Robin Mike are always full of enthusiasm, insights and great knowledge acquired from years of actually building products.
Thanks so much for those five star reviews. If you have not left startups for the rest of us a five star review. I would invite you to log into Stitcher or iTunes and help us get a few more listeners help us stay motivated and help us on those long, lonely winter nights when we’re sad and considering crying ourselves to sleep, and instead, we actually read our iTunes reviews to make ourselves feel better.
Mike: Because we’re not actually 34.
Rob: That’s because we’re not actually 34. So this week’s topic is interesting. I was going through our listener questions and there was a question that I felt like almost warranted an entire episode. So, I started just hammering out a quick outline. It turns out, it’s at least an entire episode and could probably be a book chapter. But the question asked, his name is Eric Roberts and he’s asking about how to launch into a mature market. He says, I know from listening to you guys, the competition in place is a good thing. But what about an overly mature market? How can you tell if a market is primed for a new solution to an old problem? And I think there’s a lot of nuance to this. I mean, there’s the idea of, what is a mature market, then how can you tell when you should or should not enter one, and how do you execute on that those are kind of the three angles that I was thinking it through. And so, that’s what we’re going to talk about today.
Mike: Cool. So where do you start?
Rob: Let’s talk about, what is a mature market, a give a little definition and some examples. So when I think of a mature market, I think of a market that has established players that are well known. So, think of examples in CRM, it’s definitely mature market, there is Salesforce, there’s HubSpot, there’s Base, there’s Pipedrive, there’s a long list Trigger, CRM, long list of folks there.
In addition, I think in a mature market, there tends to be maybe two or three really obvious choices. So if I say CRM, a lot of people think of Salesforce, HubSpot, maybe Highrise maybe Base or Pipedrive, in email marketing, in ESPs, people think of MailChimp, they think of AWeber, they think of Infusionsoft. I mean, there’s this kind of short list, it’s the opposite of the long tail, it’s the fat head, it’s called where there’s a cluster of companies, be it one, two, or three that have the vast majority of the market and kind of sit at the top of the market share. In addition, I think the third piece of that is that there are these product norms that have developed.
So if you think about CRM, there’s this nomenclature of leads, and deals and contacts. And if you think of ESPs, there’s this, these norms that are developed, like lists and subscribers and forms. And so, while this may not be an exhaustive list of everything that defines a mature market, those are the three pieces that I think of, in my mind, that kind of defined it, that’s having established players, it’s having two or three obvious choices, and then having kind of norms or nomenclature that have developed through those products – and then in the other products that are also entering the space.
Mike: I think the easiest way to recognize whether or not something is a mature market is if you go out to a handful of people and say, “Hey, do you know of any companies that are in this particular software vertical, whether it’s you know, CRMs or mailing lists,” like if the people that you know, or who are in your circles who have any familiarity with that can name at least two or three or four different companies that are in that space then it’s probably a mature market, obviously, like if they’re if it’s a not well-known industry, for example, let’s say like virtual tabletop software. If you talk to a bunch of people who are in that particular industry, they’re going to know very well like who the players are. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a mature market.
Rob: Yeah, I think that’s a good point. I mean, anytime you see a forum post that’s like, what do you use for CRM, you know, and then you’ll get dozens of responses and almost everyone’s using a different one, or what do you use for your to do lists? And, you know, there’s, there’s dozens and bug tracking and issue tracking and all these things. So what’s interesting is, I don’t think, you know, a mature market doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a big market.
Mike: I was just thinking that.
Rob: Yeah, because to even think about like more aware software where they have a mature product in a market that has been around now for more than a decade. They build a SaaS app for countertop installers. People who install the actual physical tile that goes in a kitchen or bathroom and that’s not a huge market, right? That’s not a $100 million market. And yet if you were to try to enter that now they are so far ahead, the market has matured because they launched in, I don’t remember what it was like 2006 or 2007. And they’ve just kept adding things in and maturing the market during that time.
Mike: Well, I guess it makes – tt begs the question like, is it considered a mature market? Or is it like mature players in that market? How do you differentiate between those two things like CRM, lots of people use it so by definition you could call that a mature market but for table countertop installers, they are more aware as is very mature player in that market. But the market itself is small. So do you consider it a mature market? Because it’s not like there’s a lot of competition or a lot of people in that market? So like, is that a mature market. Do you consider that?
Rob: Well, I guess by my definition, I have three points or is there an established player or players in the countertop installer market? Yes, because there’s more aware. Is there one, or two, or three obvious choices? Yes, there’s more aware and I think they own most of the market, but there’s obviously at least one other competitor and have they developed product norms that may not have existed before software into the space. I don’t know their space well enough, but I’m guessing that there’s nomenclature in things in their product that they came up with that that didn’t exist before then.
So I would say yeah, I would say even a small market I understand your differentiation of mature product versus a mature market but I feel like once there is a mature product or two in a market the market becomes mature at that point yeah.
Mike: I was just kind of thinking about the product norms piece of it because if there aren’t a large number of products in that market and obviously like there’s room for that software to grow and for the products who are already in place to grow that’s fine but do the majority of countertop installers know about them? How many of them are actually using software of any kind or how many of them are looking for it? Do you see kind of the direction I’m going with that because like if there’s 100,000 countertop installers, but only 500 of them are using software of any kind. Does that establish a product norm, because that’s only five percent.
Rob: That’s a good point, yes, and imagine if they’d been around for, you know, if you’ve been around for 10 years. So you’d say, “Hey, this is a pretty mature product. There’s a lot of features, it’s stable,” all those things, but you only have five percent market penetration. Is that a mature market? I don’t know. I don’t know that I have a good answer to that, other than that either means that they’re not marketing very well. And we’ve now removed from more of our software that we’re doing a hypothetical at this point. But in that hypothetical where this company has been around for 10 years, they only have five percent market penetration, and there’s really no one else, it’s only five percent of market is even using software, then either that’s a really tough market. It’s a market that is highly resistant to technology, or that company is not marketing themselves very well, right? They’re not penetrating the market past five percent.
So I would then ask myself – If I wanted to enter that market, which of those is it, because if they’re not marketing very well, we’ll come in and out market them. But if the industry is just highly resistant to it, then that’s probably not a good market to throw yourself into.
Mike: And I would say that that’s probably a general rule. If it’s hard to get into them, then it’s because they’re resistant to change and resistant to adopting technology, then I would probably would avoid them in general. But it’s a very different story if they’re not marketing themselves very well. And you just trying to make a name for yourself there.
Rob: Right. And I think, that’s a good point. Because the kind of the second point that I wanted to cover, this question I want to answer is, how can you tell when you should or should not enter a mature market? I think we’ve just touched on one.
If you determine that, boy, this market is mature and really no one else wants to use software in it and I’m just going to have to be pulling from the existing competitor who only has five percent of the entire space that would give me pause, that tells me about the customer type and about the how they don’t want to change, right. So then that means that even getting them to switch from a competitor is going to be really difficult. I think also entering a mature market, I personally would not do that as a first time founder without money. One example that I kept coming back to of course is the one that I lived, entering a mature market with the drip, becoming an ESP and then becoming a marketing automation provider.
If I had not had the experience and the past successes that I had and did not have the self-fundability, you know, I was pulling money off of hit tail and other apps that I had, I don’t know that we could have made it. I don’t know that Drip would have survived because the market had so many mature players. Again, MailChimp, AWeber, Infusionsoft, and others – and it cuts both ways because, obviously, that’s what made it possible to grow Drip so quickly is that the market was – it did have opportunity. But if you’re a first time founder and you’re not going to raise funding, I would seriously reconsider trying to enter a mature market because these are the ones we can get a lot of success but these markets are very, very hard to penetrate, if you don’t have the right tool set.
Mike: I just have a quick search for, something kind of running through my brain is where we’re talking about what constitutes a mature market and there’s terms like total addressable market and then serviceable available market, which to me it seems like going back to the example of, if there’s a total of 100,000 countertop installers but only 500 of them are actually using that type of software then maybe your serviceable market is only about 1000 or maybe it’s 750 or something like that versus the total market which is 100,000. And you can look at that and say, well, if the established players have 50% or 75% of the serviceable market, which again is only 750 or 1000, then that’s a fairly significant chunk of those people. And it’s because those types of people are resistant to adopting technology or adopting software solutions for that. And maybe the delineation there is like, are they established players? Do they have most of the addressable market or the serviceable market?
Rob: Yeah, I think that’s a good differentiation there. As I think through this, when I think of mature markets, where there is a lot of adoption. So let’s flip back to the ESP or the CRM or markets where total addressable and serviceable are approximately equivalent, or at least 80%, 70% of the total addressable is already using some type of software and is able and willing to pay for this, I don’t know that I can think of a really good reason not to try to disrupt one of these markets if that’s your ambition.
Like, disrupting an existing market is where that hyper growth comes from and hypergrowth for us bootstrappers might be getting to seven figures in two years and hypergrowth for AirBnb and Stripe, maybe was getting to seven figures in six months, you know, past the point of product market fit. Because you think about AirBnb, did they invent a new market? No, they really essentially disrupted the hotel market. It was an existing place where people were already spending money on these things and they figured out a different way to implement it.
Stripe is the same one, I have them as an example later in this episode. Did invent a whole new market? Did payment processing exist before them? No, of course not. There was Off.net, there was PayPal Web Payments Pro. There were all these gateways and all these services that were really a pain in the ass to use. And Stripe came in and just made it a heck of a lot easier. And even, Drip is the same thing, I think about – there were already ESPs, there were already marketing automation providers. But that made it that much easier to basically pull existing people away who were unhappy with the current state of affairs.
That’s what I think you have to find, is if everyone in the market is using a product and loves it, then maybe you shouldn’t enter that market. But I don’t know of a mature market where people aren’t disgruntled and you think of QuickBooks. Everybody hates QuickBooks, but everybody uses it. So is that right for disruption, you think of Slack, everybody uses Slack but now we see level.app from Derek Reimer, there’s a couple other apps in that space as well.
The more I think about—if that’s your ambition, and you’re willing to really go to the mattresses because it’s going to be a hard fight. I don’t know that there’s a good reason not to try to disrupt. Honestly, if you want to build a little niche lifestyle business and generate that low six-figure income and have it on autopilot and be able to work five or 10 hours a week, then don’t go into a mature market. That’s where I would say, think twice about it, because I’ve had apps like that and they don’t have the great single channel of traffic, and they made whatever it is maybe $1000 a month, and maybe it was 10 grand a month. But there were these awesome little niche products. I mean, they were not—they were in these very nascent markets in these very tight niches and you could autopilot them, but they would never grow past that.
And so, I think that’s the thing to think about, your personal preference. Does it sound interesting, fun to do the hard work and the stress of going after these mature markets? Because I think my hypothesis is that, like, most mature markets right now are ripe for disruption in one way or another.
Mike: Now, one question I have about everything that you just said there is that, it feels to me like a lot of what you talked about relates to the product itself and not necessarily the channels at which those markets are accessible. And something that really comes to mind is enterprise sales for certain types of software, so anything that’s installed across the entire organization, whether it’s 500, or 1000, or 50,000 endpoints in that environment, it feels to me like those are cases where it’s probably a mature market already. You probably can’t start there on day one, you’re going to have a really hard time going into those and being able to offer something that is going to compete with existing solutions. One, because they’re so far ahead of you, but two, also to be able to have the resources to walk in the door and do that at 10, 50, 100 different potential customers, because you don’t necessarily have the time. So, I feel like the channel that you use, that you’re going to get in front of these customers has to come into play here.
Rob: Yeah, no, it absolutely does. That’s where bootstrapping versus raising funding comes into play. If you’re going to bootstrap then your point is dead on. Don’t go after enterprise sales and a mature market because you’re just not going to have the cloud, you’re not going to have the logos, you’re not going to have the time to execute on that.
I have a good friend here in Minneapolis, who has worked for two different companies over the past few years. Both of them were heavily, heavily venture funded and both were going after these massive and mature markets. One was like data storage and the other one, I don’t even really know exactly what it is. But it’s deep-tech stuff. It’s stuff that kind of competes with like parts of AWS, or it competes with stuff that HP or HPE has, or launches or whatever. And yes, they were upstarts but they had to raise buckets of funding in order to do that and build out a team in advance of having any real revenue. And if it works, then they’ll take part of this huge deck of billion dollar market, but that’s the gamble. If it doesn’t work, then they’ll burn through their funding. If they have enough traction after 18 months, they won’t be able to raise the next round.
Obviously, we tend to talk to more to bootstrappers and folks who are listening to this podcast or probably on that side, but it is possible it’s just a whole different playbook if you’re going to do that.
One other exception I can think of when I would give it a second thought as to whether or not I wanted to enter a mature market is if there are other startups also entering that same space who are getting traction. To me, I’m more scared of other startups than I am the big, lumbering, 800-pound gorillas in the space, right? I’m less scared of sales or competing with Salesforce and I’d be more concerned of competing with Pipedrive or one of the other like, smaller, more agile CRMs that I see kind of innovating and things.
Mike: Yeah, I would agree with that. Although there are certain times where if your features start to show up in Gmail or something like that, like you probably want to be a little concerned.
Rob: Yeah, I agree. That’s just Gmail or Salesforce is going to move so much slower that it’s almost by coincidence. I feel like, if you build a feature and one of them, build it within a few months, they’ve probably been working on that for six or eight months. They don’t move fast enough to copy a little upstarts, until you become not a little upstart.
Mike: Yeah, for sure.
Rob: The other thing I would think about perhaps not entering a space, is if you find a space that doesn’t have early adopters. So you find a market – because that’s what you’re going to need, right? You’re going to need, you’re going to need early adopters to basically jump ship on existing solutions who are willing to switch. If you found a space where there are no early adopters—we could go back to that example where we had the company who only had five percent market penetration, and it took them 10 years to get that, it’s pretty obvious no one wants to change. And so, there really aren’t going to be, early adopters.
I can’t think of another good example. I mean, maybe I think of like, the legal space. I know that, when I was a consultant, I worked for a guy who launched a product and legal space. I remember, he just had a really tough time getting traction, because there were not many early adopters in that space. So that could be, I don’t know, that space today and maybe there are more early adopters, but it’s spaces like that that I think are going to be hard to compete with where, the person’s motto is, “Well, I never got fired for choosing IBM,” or “I never got fired for choosing Salesforce.” If that’s really the mantra of everyone, then it’s going to be hard to penetrate.
Mike: I think the other consideration there is whether or not you have to essentially build something that is going to completely replace an existing solution, or you’re just solving an extreme pain point that an existing solution doesn’t solve adequately. And if people are angry about it and looking for a solution to that and they’re willing to plug your product, in addition to whatever it is that they already have as kind of a stopgap measure because it’s so painful versus you have to—it’s the difference between implementing two or three features versus implementing 250 because you have to completely rip and replace that entire product.
I think you have a lot easier time if you only have to implement a couple of things. And if you execute on them really well, people are willing to spend a little bit of extra money to get your solution in there because they’re in such a huge amount of pain.
Rob: So the third part that I want to cover is if you decide to do this, how do you execute on it? I think the thing that – maybe the common wisdom is you have to be 10x better in order to get people to switch. I would say yes and no to that. I don’t know that you need to directly build a 10x better product. I think you do need to build a better product. But I think there’s other things that you can improve upon that are not just product basis, not just a feature race or usability race. So I want to talk about three or four ways that I feel like you could be two-x better in each and perhaps they multiply together to give you more than more than 10x and this really comes out. I mean, the more I wrote this down, this just came out of the Drip playbook. It’s the playbook that I executed as we as we built Drip up and it was these four places where we innovate.
There may be more but this is what comes to mind. The first is, price and if you’re in a mature market and you have a huge player, they often have pricing power where they their brand name and they can charge a lot more than everyone else and you won’t be able to without that brand name. And not only can you not charge that much but you can use that strength of that player against them. And if your product—It’s easier to use and you’re cheaper, you can get these early adopters to start switching
Now, you and I’ve talked a lot about Don’t be the low cost provider. The point is not to be the low cost provider forever. It’s long term to raise your prices. But in the early days trying to price match a large competitor with a brand name, when you don’t have the feature set that they do, it’s going to be difficult.
And so, either price innovation, where you’re innovating on the pricing model itself, that’s risky, but you can think about it or just being cheaper. Again, it cuts in multiple directions. It can bring people who turn or who are more price sensitive in all honesty with drip. I mean, we were priced against Infusionsoft, and Infusionsoft was $300 a month to start and it had a $2000 sign-up fee that you paid right at the beginning.
And that was easy to be cheaper than them and still turn a heck of a profit, right. But we could start at $50 or $100 a month and still not have people who were super price sensitive because if you’re paying $50 or $100 a month, you still have buy-ins, it’s not like we’re going down to $20 a month or something. And so, that’s the kind of pressing I’m talking about, right? Or Salesforce, I believe, is $125 per seat per month, if I recall.
Think about being able to innovate on that and charge $20 or $30 a month per seat, that’s still a nice revenue stream as you’re getting started, and you’re not bottom of the barrel, you’re not a B2C pricing, but it is and can be a competitive advantage, especially in the early days.
Mike: Yeah, I think what you’re kind of referring to there is not using the price as just the sole way to get in the door and be cheaper like because, obviously, you don’t want to do that long term, but it’s really to unlock that the unwillingness to move by having the cheaper price and get them to take that step. You reduce the friction enough by lowering the price to be able to get them to say, “Well, you know what, I’ll give it a shot,” versus if you are priced exactly the same and you have an identical feature set or they have a much better feature set because you’re just not there and they’re mature in the market, then it makes it easier for them to justify giving it a shot. Or even just like saying, “Okay, you know what, I can’t buy into all that stuff because I can’t afford it right now.” Or I’m not even using 90% of it.
I’ve seen a lot of mature solutions out there where they will throw every feature under the sun into the product. And eventually it just becomes this model with that is difficult for some people to adopt. Because they know that they’re not going to use 80% of it. They’re like, “Well, why am I paying this much money for something, I’m only using 10% or 20% off.”
Rob: Second place, I feel like you can innovate and outmaneuver your bigger competitors with the sales model. Oftentimes, you’re competing against enterprise-ish sales models where they have high-tech sales process. You can’t sign up on the site, you have to see a demo. There’s often setup fees to pay the hefty commissions they’re paying to the sales processes. And so, if you bring them and make them, either no touch, or low touch, or even medium touch, you can innovate on that process.
Again, coming back to Salesforce, it’s very hard to go to their site. I don’t believe you can just go to their site and sign up for an account. You have to go through this long process. Whereas with Pipedrive, you can go and sign up for it. Same thing with with Infusionsoft versus Drip, that was always a differentiator, is that you could come and try Drip out, there was a free trial. Infusionsoft, you didn’t even get to see the product unless you were on a demo. They didn’t want to in there playing around with it. So that can be another way to, basically, bring your innovations to the masses and outmaneuver folks and it’s not a product, it’s not just a feature, usability, it’s actually implementing a different sales model that can be more conducive to bring on early adopters.
Mike: I would say that this cuts the other way as well. Because if there are products out there that don’t offer like the ability to get on to a demo because they’re trying to be mass market and they’re trying to have a low-touch sales process. If you go the other direction, then you can have a lot of success there because you can get those people who have given those solutions to try and they got confused or lost and they just said, “Well, how do I get on a demo or have somebody show me something.” And if that company doesn’t offer it and you do, then you can get them on a call and you can – I won’t say gloss over the things that your product can’t do but you can essentially offer to do those things for them and do that high touch onboarding process and thereby justify a higher price tag for your software.
Rob: The third area where I feel like you can outmaneuver the big competition is in product and this one I it’s really hard to do. But it’s pretty straightforward to describe it. You make it way easier to use, which doesn’t tend to be that hard when you’re dealing with larger clumsier companies with 10 or 12-year-old code bases, you ship faster—so you have a better shipping velocity of new features. And it feels like products are constantly improving versus there are once or twice a year launch cycles and you build a unique feature, or two, or three that no one else has for now. You try to figure out a way to go back to first principles and innovate on something that is really hard for them to do.
So, adding automation into your ESP, when it takes everybody else a year to do it. Because the code base and they’re already at scale is one way to do that, or adding a lot of integrations that you know, that the early adopters will use that your competitors have not added. Because again, they just move slower than you do. So, you know, you look around and you say, “Oh, there’s this whole new ecosystem around Stripe.” And there’s there, Baremetrics, and there’s ProfitWell, and there’s Termbusters, and there’s Stunning, and there’s all this stuff, it’s like, you know, Infusionsoft or Salesforce, they’re not going to integrate with those tools yet, because they’re just not on their radar. But if you integrate with all of them, you could scoop up this early adopter, you know, the bootstrapper crowd the, the online business folks, because they use those tools. Gumroad is another one, but I want to, underscore that having those features is a short-term thing, because if they are successful, other folks will implement whether other upstarts or you know big competitors will implement them. But that’s how I think about, product innovation.
Again, easier said than done. But that is the playbook that I see working as, as startups try to attack these more mature markets.
Of course it is because it was just recently built, but the look and feel of it can go a long way towards making people feel like you’re responsive to the needs of the customers and you actually care about how your product looks and is presented.
Rob: I think that’s a great example. I think Gusto is another example of a company that entered a very mature market and through—I mean honestly, if you look at these points I hadn’t—so here’s a great example, because I was thinking about Drip, and Stripe, and others, when I wrote these four points of price, sales model product and marketing, which we’ll get into next. But gusto came in their price was cheaper than paychecks. I think I was using paychecks before at Gusto and Gusto was cheaper, Gusto’s sales model was so much better, it was all self served. I didn’t have to talk to people, it was a lot easier for me the product itself was easier to use. It was a better looking as you said, and they file, I don’t know, all my stuff. I guess Paychecks did some of that too, but the experience of Gusto in the communication is all via email, like click and do things like it is so much of a better thing and then their marketing, I would say that I really heard about it from word of mouth and the other three price sales model and product really drove that for me, but obviously their marketing to get into the hands of early adopters like us, I think was a pretty deliberate decision.
Mike: Yeah, I think the word of mouth marketing, if you have a good enough product that, I won’t say, it sells itself. But like if the customers that you have love it so much over the other things that they’ve tried then that word of mouth is really going to drive a lot of revenue for your new customers. And I don’t know how easy it is to recognize that that’s what’s actually going on. But I have seen that happen. And, there’s certain products that I’ve recommended where you look around and you don’t see a lot of marketing for them, but you’ve recommended them a lot to other people or other people have recommended those products to you. It’s just easy to see when those things are actually working.
Yeah. When you’re in a mature market, and the number one player is big, but everybody hates using it. That’s when word of mouth is huge. Because you will be you will become the thing that we’re all talking about, on our podcasts, at conferences on our blogs. I mean, think of Gusto or, again, ZenPayroll when it came out. Think of when Stripe came up, a ton of it was word of mouth.
Zenefits, it’s basically likes Gusto but for health insurance and other benefits. Drip had a really strong word of mouth in the early days. You know, there’s others. I’ll give another example, ready to wrap up, but we’re working on something that’s really hard to generate in general, and it can be a cap out, when people don’t know how they actually grew. I’ll often hear founders say – Oh just word of mouth, and it’s like, Yeah, I don’t think it really was word of mouth. You know, you just don’t really know, you don’t track your metrics. But in this case, like a mature market where you have this reviled number one player, I think getting in there, building a better product, better pricing, better sales model can really lead to word of mouth and some good stuff.
I think the other thing that they don’t mention about marketing in a space like this is you can take the approach of being the underdog, right? It’s easy to market against big guys when you can basically talk about being the anti them. So Salesforce had their – especially in the early days, no software, right. They had the circle with the red line through it and it said software in it because they were saying, no on-premise software, no massive installation and server footprints and stuff – we are just this thing in the cloud.
They were anti software. Less accounting was kind of the anti QuickBooks. I don’t know that they mentioned QuickBooks by name but I remember one of their headlines was about all accounting software sucks or sucks less. I mean, it was it was a good—It was a really interesting approach to it. Drip was the not Infusionsoft, what was my headline – lightweight marketing automation that doesn’t suck and I was implying that most marketing automation software sucks and listed the Marketos and Eloquas and the Infusionsofts that are just not fun to use and they’re not fun to be sold because the sales model sucks and they’re really expensive and here’s all the reasons that you don’t like them and here’s why we’re the opposite of all of that.
So, if you’re going to enter this market embrace market leaders’ strength and turn it into their weaknesses. I think it’s Jiu-jitsu, where if your opponent is really strong and he or she swings you do a parry and you let their momentum carry them through and that’s a big part of marketing against these really big players in established markets – is what is their biggest strength can be turned against them as the biggest weakness.
I feel like we’ve covered this topic pretty well. I think the one last thing I’ll say is we’ve given a ton of examples of people doing this, talked about Stripe, Gusto, Zenefits, Drip, and a few others. The one other example, I think, that’s doing a good job of it today is Superhuman and it’s that email client that—they’ve changed the sales model, they’ve actually gone from no touch the opposite direction, there’s onboarding, every person individually. Their product, from what I’ve heard, is easier to use and it’s amazing. Their marketing is, obviously – they’re doing a good job with it. Now, their price is interesting because they’re more expensive than any other ESPs. So that’s a whole that’s a whole other thing from extremely experienced founders that they’ve, basically, made a gamble to say we think we can build something truly 10x better and we’re going to charge for it.
I think they charge $30 a month, which if you think about it, compare Gmail to Superhuman, Gmail is essentially free. Although, I pay for it now because of how much storage I use, but, very different pricing model there. So they’re one example that’s doing it successfully today. And they’re not following, you know, the exact playbook that we’ve laid out here. But I they also have buckets of money. They’re three and four-time founders. So that’s where you can, in my opinion, you can start breaking rules because you know which rules to break.
Mike: Yeah, and that’s really a matter of like, certain types of people are in so much pain, that they are willing to be the early adopters and they’re willing to pay more money for it because it just makes their lives that much easier. And whereas no knock against Gmail because I use it as well but there’s certain things about Gmail that I wish were just a little bit easier and I’ve heard the guy who runs Superhuman spoke before and he’s talked about like, how the experience is really what they focus on and I’ve seen him commenting on Twitter here and there and showing pictures of all the different things that they’re testing. Somebody said, “Oh, why don’t you support this products on,” such and such. And he showed them a picture of like eight different laptops, where they were testing different variations of like the browser client, and he’s like, “We’re working on it but this is what we’ve got so far.”
It’s incredible because it partly tells a story, but it also explains or demonstrates how much pain certain people are in to be requesting that stuff and still willing to wait for it.
Rob: Yeah, and they worked on Superhuman, I believe, for 18 months to two years. It was a small team of developers before they launched. So they broke they broke a lot of “rules”. And again, it’s because they did have a lot of funding, they had prior exits. I mean, the guy had started Reportive and sold it to LinkedIn. And then, he had even another one before that.
When you get to that level, you’re just at the point where you can make some difficult calls and pivot out of the risk because of your experience in funding. Frankly, which is something I talked about earlier in this episode.
Mike: I’m sure Data had something to do with it.
Mike: Well, I think that about wraps us up for the day. Thanks to Eric Roberts for sending us that question. If you have a question for us, you can call it into our voicemail number at 1-888-801-9690 or you can email it to us at email@example.com. Our theme music is an excerpt from “We’re Outta Control” by MoOt used under Creative Commons. Subscribes to us in iTunes by searching for startups and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.
In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike talk about how Lucidchart grew to 13 million users with freemium. They point out effective ways to use freemium, viral loops, horizontal markets, and how you could incorporate some of these things in your bootstrapped startup.
Items mentioned in this episode:
Rob: In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Mike and I talk about how Lucidchart grew to 13 million users using the freemium model. This is Startups For The Rest Of Us 413.
Welcome to Startups For The Rest Of Us. The podcast that helps developers, designers, and entrepreneurs be awesome at building, launching, and growing software products whether you’ve built your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Rob.
Mike: And I’m Mike.
Rob: We’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. To where this week, sir?
Mike: Did you happen to see the announcement that FogBugz/Manuscript was being acquired by DevFactory?
Rob: I got an email out of the blue and was completely shocked by that. I shouldn’t be, right? Fog Creek, for those who don’t know, was founded by Joel Spolsky and Mike Pryor back in, I believe, it was 2000 or 2001. Joel was probably the first blogger I ever read. He had so many insights about how to start software company and how to project-manage and all that stuff that I was really enthralled by him. And then he launched FogBugz but then they went into Stack Overflow and Trello and all this other stuff. I was always like, “This is crazy. They’ve had a lot of successes.”
Mike: They also had a CityDesk which was their blogging tool, I don’t think that it ever really went anywhere. I think they got it to version 2.
Rob: Content management. It was a website content management territory, but it was desktop, right as the switch to SaaS was happening.
Mike: I think it was before WordPress came out or just about the same time. But it was published through the website, so everything was all straight HTML. I think they had an internal beta version that Joel was still using for a while, it was like version 3-A or something like that that just never got out there publicly. I find it interesting that they decided to sell that business to an outside company just because the way that they’ve kind of run the business, it’s odd.
Rob: Yeah, it’s definitely unexpected. I don’t know what else I expected though. I mean, it’s freaking 17 years later–these things don’t last forever. I remember when Joel stepped down as CEO of Fog Creek, I was like, “Oh my gosh!” but it’s like, “Well, of course, he’s going to do Stack Overflow.” I believe Mike Pryor stepped up at that point and then Mike Pryor went up to be CEO of Trello once that took off. They really used it as an incubator–Fog Creek itself. It’s no surprise that they had the third CEO and it’s running Fog Creek. I don’t even know who’s running FogBugz.
I don’t even know if Fog Creek still owns anything else. Do they or is the company just going to shut down? Because they sold Trello, Stack Overflow is its own entity at this point, they haven’t used Fog Creek developers for years. Probably 10 years at this point. Manuscript is the only thing I know that they still had.
Mike: No, they still have Glitch.
Rob: What is that?
Mike: I don’t even know because they’ve been working on it for three, four years at this point, and I still don’t understand what it actually is, which it seems like it’s some sort of a programming framework without the programming. I don’t really understand it, to be perfectly honest. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. I don’t know, I don’t know what to tell you about that.
Rob: I just googled Fog Creek Glitch and it says, “Fog Creek is renaming itself to Glitch. We’ve been thrilled to see the community embrace Glitch as the home for creating and discovering the coolest stuff on the web.” It sounds like Reddit. I’m confused at this point. I just haven’t followed this story. Fog Creek has been basically, a B2B software company–or at least Manuscript, Trello was, and then Stack Overflow was obviously VC-funded. Stack Overflow, I was going to say social network, but it’s more like a question and answer platform.
Yeah, it’s a trip man. I have mad respect for what Mike Pryor and Joel have built. You and I have both met them in person at BOS. I’ve had multiple conversations with them. These are smart, ethical-driven software developers who have done a lot I think for both the people that they’ve hired, but also in sharing their knowledge and building the tools. I have nothing but respect for these guys. The amount of success they’ve had, when you say, “Yeah, the same people that started Stack Overflow also started Trello and started this other seven or eight-figure company called FogBugz.” that’s a lot to do in a career.
Mike: I wonder if part of the reason they spun that off was because of the way that they want to run the business and the way that they want to treat the developers because I think early on, they had talked a lot about how they wanted to treat everybody—who’s working within the company—with respect and make sure that they participated in the successes of the business.
I remember some blog articles or some discussions on one of the podcasts that they had at one point talk about Stack Overflow, but because Stack Overflow and Trello were both born out of Fog Creek, at some point, they had to split the business. How do you compensate the people who were originally in Fog Creek and were excited and maybe helped out a little bit, but didn’t necessarily go with that team? There was also a question of like somebody had an idea for, I think it was co-pilot at the time, and it ended-up come in like a $1 million line of business for them, ARR. It’s just like, how do you compensate that person for the ideas and stuff that they’ve brought in?
At this point, FogBugz has been running for years, and there’s probably not a huge number of things that they’re going to add to it, I mean they could integrate it with other business processes and things like that, but there’s not a lot of other stuff they could do with it. It’s really just kind of the cash cow for them, but how do you translate that into a financial or monetary success for the people who are currently in the business and may have been there for anywhere up to 10 or 15 years at this point? It’s a private company, so I don’t think they hand out equity. I don’t know.
Rob: I think they did profit sharing, was my recollection. They did hand out dividends because like you just said, it was a pretty profitable company.
Mike: Got it.
Rob: On my end, I just got an email this morning that said, “Stripe is now valued at $20 billion.”
Mike: Oh, is that all?
Rob: Oh, man. Their last round was at $9 billion. I don’t normally follow these funding and valuation stories, but since we basically have had dinner with both the Collison brothers and been on stage with them at MicroConf, I kind of have a vested interest in keeping up with what they’re doing. Bravo to them. I have nothing but respect for those guys.
Mike: That’s an insane number but both of them are super, super smart guys. You stand near them and you just feel dumber.
Rob: Totally. When I’m around them, yeah, I feel dumber, but I feel my IQ points, I gain maybe 5 or 10 just in speaking to them. “Oh, you taught me a new word and a new concept today.”
Mike: “…that I thought I knew for 10 years, but you clearly know it better than me.”
Rob: Yeah, exactly.
Mike: Good for them. I think a lot of our audience probably still uses Stripe.
Rob: Still, what do you mean? Still uses. I wouldn’t go anywhere else, it’s insane to think of going back to the days of Authorize.net and PayPal web payments pro. I guess there’s Braintree now, right?
Mike: That’s what I was going to say. I hear that on a “higher-end” people are migrating to Braintree and, I don’t know if any other options actually other than Stripe and Braintree. But I don’t know anything about Braintree. It’s just interesting to see the ark that they’ve taken over the past, what, eight years or so? It’s just crazy how much they’ve grown and the things that they do are quite honestly, for the entrepreneurial community, they have enabled the vast majority of us to be able to do what we do. Without Stripe, most of the businesses that are out there just would not exist.
Rob: Or it’d be lot harder to get them off the ground. I remember trying to get an Authorize.net account and it just took weeks of literally sending stuff on paper and faxing it back and forth. This was only maybe six years ago, seven years–it wasn’t that long, and I’m not talking 2005. It was just insane to me that a) how are we not doing this online or at least e-signing things? But I literally was just printing out this 30-page document. It was such a nightmare. I’m glad Stripe came on the scene.
Mike: I’ve spent a fair amount of time over the past couple of weeks rebuilding and migrating some of my infrastructure in order to cut costs. I’ve doubled the number of servers. I’ve gone from two servers to four and I’ve reduced the costs of them by out 75% which is odd. I have everything hosted on Azure and they have these things called burstable virtual machines. Basically, if they are running below a certain threshold in terms of process or usage, then you pay basically, a discounted rate for it and you are gaining credits at that point. If you are using more than that percentage then you’re basically burning into your credits
I think they had maxed out the CPU with that but basically, I just paid less for this machine or these machines because I’m not using them all day every day. It’s like there are certain times a day where I need more processing power and rest of the time I just don’t need it. It’s nice to be able to have moved over to those types of servers and save a fair chunk of change. But I needed to split up my infrastructure anyway because I didn’t like having everything on just two servers.
Rob: That makes sense. It’s nice to put a few more bucks in your pocket.
Mike: Yeah. I pushed off on that division for probably about a year or so. It was kind of time to do it.
Rob: Anything else?
Mike: The last thing is, this is totally random but there’s a website that I stumbled across when I was trying to do calculations for my Dungeons and Dragons game, to kind of optimize my character. If you’re into figuring out probabilities on different dice rolls, you can head over to anydice.com. It will basically allow you to write functions that will essentially simulate what the dice rolls are, and then it will show you the percentages and distributions, and you can see crafts and stuff like that of exactly what those distributions look like.
You can say how many attacks or if you have advantage or disadvantage on different attacks or damage rolls or things like that then it will show you what those numbers look like and what’s your average rolls would be.
It’s pretty cool. You can probably spend a whole ton of time on it, but they do have some documentation there and some ready-built functions you just pull, and copy paste into the editor.
Rob: I see what you did there, Mike. Do you realize you started that segment off, you said, “This is totally random.” But any dice stuck. You can’t […] by me, man. Really bad puns. Alright. Cool.
Let’s dive into what we’re talking about today. It’s an article on a blog of freshworks.com. They have a sales CRM , it’s that section or that category of the blog, but the article is titled, “How Lucidchart Grew to 13 million Users on a land-and-expand Strategy.” I want to talk a little bit about the virality and the freemium part of it. It’s an interesting interview with, I believe, is the SVP of Sales and Customer Success of Lucidchart.
If you haven’t heard of Lucidchart, it is a Software as a Service with a freemium model, they have 13 million users and it is like Visio–it is how I think of it. It’s a diagram solution where you can create diagrams and share them and then collaborate on them. Is that an accurate description, Mike? You said you’ve used it.
Mike: Yeah. That’s probably pretty accurate. I think Visio seems like they started out much more for data modelling within a programming environment. But Vision also has a lot of different icons and stuff that you can put in there for like network map layouts and office maps layouts and stuff like that. You can use it for other things like org charts and stuff like that, but I think originally, it seemed like it started out as part of the MSDN suite, you get a few sign-ups for that, and it was primarily a programming tool.
Rob: Right. And it expanded into other things. Lucidchart, looks like it was started around 2010, 2011 and they raised $1 million in funding which you would need if you’re going to do freemium model, and then three years later they raised $5 million, and then two years after that—in 2016—they raised $36 million. I can imagine they probably hit a hockey stick moment where the user growth justified raising–because you raise that much money, you want to have really high valuation, so you don’t give away most of your company.
They said that 96% of Fortune 500 companies use it. They have customers at Google, Amazon, Cisco, and Intel, and they receive around 500,000 sign-ups every month. It’s a free tool, right? It’s free, no credit card, if I recall. That’s still a big number though. A nice horizontal market that these guys are in. They’ve obviously achieved success–13 million users is a ton of people; it’s a ton of people to support, it’s a ton of people just to have your software running.
I wish that they’d told us how many paying users or how many paying accounts because that’s really what I’m interested in. I’m interested to know if they are even profitable on revenue, above the amount of just sheer volume because they must have hundreds of employees, and I would like to know that. But all that said, what I want to talk about today is really the freemium and the viral one and they have some stuff about sales as well.
Mike: I’m sure their competitors would love to know how much money they’re making too.
Rob: Yeah, totally. I know. It’ll come out at some point. They’ll wind up talking about it.
Mike: Alright. Why don’t we dive right in then?
Rob: Sure. The first question for Dan Cook, which is the SVP of Sales, the interviewer asks him, “It runs on a freemium model, how do you pitch the product, and how do you scale it to an enterprise model?” His response is, “The freemium gives them an advantage because they have this—this is where the land-and-expand comes in within a company—they get employees within a company using the product and then they share it with other people in the company to collaborate and then they set-up accounts, so there’s a freemium plus virality there. The reason they sign-up for it is a) it’s free and b) because it’s a good tool.
In the early days it was good enough. It was not a great tool but as it developed, I bet these days, it is best in class or is becoming then. He said that, basically, they can have 15 or 20 paid or free users of Lucidchart within a company. Then they leverage that fact to say, “Alright, IT department, here’s a value proposition for you.” This is a similar model to other tools. Slack, I’ve heard them talk about this a lot. That one small development team within a huge org would start using it and of course, you have to invite other people for it to have any value. Once you have 10, 20, 30 users, IT Departments and frankly, CTOs and CIOs want to have control of that kind of stuff. It’s an interesting dual use of that freemium plus virality.
Mike: Yeah, I’ve seen that at a much, much smaller scale in Bluetick where somebody will sign-up for Bluetick and one of the earlier objections I’ve heard from somebody was like, “Oh, well. I wanted to sign-up for it but then I would have had to go to my boss and get his credit card.” That freemium model, even just the 14-day trial that I had or that I added in after talking to that customer, it allows them to sign-up for it without having to go to their boss and justify like, “Hey, I need the corporate credit card and it’s going to cost this much money.” Because in the enterprise environment, they’re probably going to not only have to go to their boss, but then their boss is going to have to justify it to somebody else.
Nobody really knows if it’s going to work. If they just start using it, in a freemium model, they can just use it and if it doesn’t work out for them, they just shut it down or just abandon it. If it does then as more people start using it then it becomes more visible. As a result of its success, then Lucidchart can go in and ask them for money for an enterprise license or a small group license within a department or something like that. But it is interesting to see that they seem to have intentionally done that or chosen that strategy.
Rob: Right. I want to point out some things that Lucidchart has or had that listeners to this podcast may not have, and if you don’t have all these things in place, it’s going to be difficult, if not impossible to pull off this strategy that they did–this freemium strategy.
Mike: Do you want to start with the $36 million or…?
Rob: That’s what I was going to say. Funding–that’s the first one. It wasn’t $36 million originally. For the first three years it was $1 million. That’s actually not that much money for three years. You can hire a few people but it’s not like you’re going to hire 20 employees and not bleed that out. But yes, funding was one advantage they had; $1 million in funding. Another $5 million three years later. The fact that they are a very horizontal market much like Trello and Dropbox and Slack, those are three other tools that have used the same approach–this freemium plus viral component.
If you’re in a horizontal market and you can raise enough funding or self-fund this thing to the point where you can provide the service to all the free users, it really can be this fascinating approach. The other thing is they have virality, not every tool has that. I think of a tool like Drip or even a proposal software, invoicing software, there’s a little bit of virality and that you can have a Powered By or a Sent From or a Sent With. But true, deep virality like Trello where–I mean, I use some Trello boards for that other people but there’s a lot of collaboration that goes on there. Slack is all about being viral. You have to invite other people to get any value.
Lucidchart does not need, need, need. You’d have another person to get value, but I would say, that’s probably a big reason that people would use it because it’s so easy to get you charts and collaborate. Of course, Dropbox has it’s all other things. Having virality plus that freemium I think is a big thing that people overlook. Because having freemium on its own without funding, being horizontal, and virality is not all it’s cracked up to be.
Mike: I think this is also a tool that because of what you’re using it for, you’re using it to help communicate, that helps it too. That kind of sets it apart from a lot of other tools. Trello, to some extent, just by inviting people, you get to have them take a look at what it is that you’re working on. But with Lucidchart, you can print those things out, you can embed them into Word document, or even just take screenshots, but by being able to invite people and say, “Hey, this is the process, or this is the workflow that I’m looking at. What do you think? Is this going to work for our team?” That right there—because it’s embedded in the communications—that just inherently makes it even more viral.
Because if people look at the tool and they like it and they want to use it because it’s a lot easier to use than something like Visio, it gives it those additional advantages. It gives people the “aha” moment that they need in order to say, “Yeah. I want to use this too.”
Rob: Another question that he asks this VP of Sales, which I thought was kind of cool, I don’t know, I hadn’t thought that much about it, but he says, “Let’s talk about your value proposition. How does it work when you’re convincing a company to buy the enterprise version? What to the teams and what does the enterprise get out of it? Why don’t they just keep using their individual accounts?” I like that because a) you’re asking why should they upgrade or why should they consolidate? He says, basically, the value to the end-user is that it’s all consolidated and it’s much easier to share among their co-workers. You don’t have to convert diagrams into other formats to be compatible. If everybody starts using it in your company then you don’t have to be like, “Oh, you’re using Visio? I’m using Lucidchart. Let’s convert to this format.” and blah blah blah.
Then to the IT department, the first one is consolidated billing, so there’s only one bill and you know you can negotiate that and manage it. It’s just easier to do it. Also, for training, a lot of big companies especially provide training for their tools. If you have just everybody using one tool, it’s easier. Then secure logins which is fine but the one that really gets them is document retention which is where someone leaves the company, as someone is running that company or running that IT department, you want to have access to everything they did while they were there because you might need to reference that later. If they take individual accounts away with them then you’ll never get that stuff back. It’s not even someone stealing it or taking it away, it kind of goes away. They forget about it or you just don’t have access to it.
That was a big one working at Leadpages and Drip is seeing people leave and being like, “Oh, yeah. There was that one thing that he shared with me and now I don’t have access to it.” It could be kind of a pain. It’s interesting to think—if you’re going to try to pull this off—about what the value prop is that you have to offer for people to upgrade.
Mike: The other interesting piece there that’s in that enterprise group subscription there is the idea that, it’s not just if somebody leaves the company, but what happens if you have to fire somebody. You want to be able to have like this master key that says, “Okay, we’re going to lock you out of everything before we follow through with letting this person go.” and then still have access to all that stuff. There’s that side of it to consider too. I think one and two-person businesses don’t tend to think about that because they just don’t experience it. But the larger companies that they are advertising to or agencies or other small businesses 50-100 people, those companies do think about that and it is important to them.
It’s good to understand that that is a value proposition that you can leverage as a marketing point to those larger companies and say, “Look, this is why you should upgrade or this is why you should buy higher-priced tier because we are including this for your account versus a freelancer account which doesn’t really have any of that stuff and oh, we have a 25 people have 25 different freelancer accounts.” Yeah, it’s not ideal because they get 25 different bills but at the same time, that master key is kind of what people are looking for.
Rob: And then he asked him a question about their outbound sales process. He says, “Yeah, we have 80 sales people and their core play is they basically target companies that already have some form of adoption.” You likely would, I’m guessing, you’re going to use some type of data augmentation tool, like a full contact, to augment you customer data to know who they work for or just look at the email address, look at the domain, the .com on the end of their email, and do a Group By and see how many people are using it. As simple as that.
If you get 20 people inside Disney or Target or BestBuy or something, it’s like they reach out and say, “Hey, you have 20 people that have signed-up for accounts. Do you want to aggregate that?” It’s an interesting thing. I’ve heard, I believe, it was either Slack or Trello also talk about this as an approach. It’s like warm outbound. It’s an interesting approach.
Mike: You just hope that their CEO or their CTO isn’t so totally paranoid that he says no outside tools that are based in the cloud and shuts them all down.
Rob: Yeah, it could happen, I supposed.
Mike: I think that’s a lot less common today than I think it was 5 or 10 years ago. But I have run into those people who say that kind of stuff and there’s usually exceptions for that. They can’t possibly have everything self-hosted. It is just not realistic.
Rob: Yup. There’s a couple more questions that I think are relevant. One is, he asks him, “Lucidchart is the popular alternative to Microsoft Visio, how do you differentiate yourself?” He basically gracefully says, “We’re grateful to Vision, but it’s outdated. It’s a classic Microsoft style product, and it has a lot of innovation on it since they acquired it in 2000.” That’s that whole thing where, yeah, you can have a better funded competitor but as a startup, your secret super power is you can move fast, and you can be closer to the customer. Because I’m guessing, a lot of the developers working on Visio—assuming there are some still—they’re not nearly in close contact as someone at Lucidchart is when they’re in their customer success department having one-on-one conversations with their clients.
Mike: I think that’s partly a difference in how the product was originally engineered. There is a cloud version of Visio, I believe, so it’s enabled for people to collaborate and stuff which has always been the biggest problem with Visio documents, is that it’s like a Word document that you have to basically send it back and forth. Even if you’re using something like Dropbox, you still have the problem of having multiple people trying to work on the same thing at the same time and it just doesn’t work very well.
That’s why Google docs has kind of come around and been such a massive upstart in the past, what was it, like 10, 15 years ago when that came out. But Word had been out in the mid-90s or the early 90s. Something like Lucidchart just has a fundamentally different delivery mechanism than Visio. Visio has to make that backward compatibility so they’re not able to do the same types of things versus Lucidchart, they’re like, “We don’t care about actually running locally on the desktop.” It just doesn’t matter to them which gives them some advantages right there.
Rob: Right. It’s interesting to think like if Microsoft really cared about the market—I just don’t think it’s big enough for them to care about probably—but they should have, would have built a web-based version back in 2008 because it was totally doable. But they didn’t and so, somebody decided at some point not to do that. I know they have collaboration features now built into the Office tools. I don’t use many of the Office tools anymore, only when absolutely need to. I’m just in Google docs all the time.
Mike: I bet they sunk all the resources into the Windows Vista.
Rob: Windows Vista, yeah. That must have been it.
Mike: It must have been it.
Rob: To round it out, he ask him, “What do you think are the top three reasons for Lucidchart’s success?” He says, “Well, people need visual communication tools and there wasn’t really anything that was that great. Second is, we made it enterprise ready, so selling into that enterprise, it was not hard. They have collaborations and integrations and all that stuff and freemium–those are the three things he says. I think he leaves out the virality. I actually believe the fact that a) the market is big, I think is a good thing. They chose a large market. I have a Lucidchart account. The reason I have it is because I got invited by two separate people on two separate diagrams. I would count as one of the 30 million users.
Now, I don’t go in, I never created a Lucidchart diagram myself, but I have collaborated with other people. I think that’s an element, a fourth thing that he didn’t mention that I do think is probably a decent driver of their trial sign-ups.
Mike: I do think the other thing that really helps them is the fact that it’s surprisingly easy to be able to get in and get started with Lucidchart, create some things that are generically applicable across the business without being locked into , “Oh, I have to use this for data modelling.” It sort of does these other things well but not really. That’s the way I would describe the difference between Visio and Lucidchart.
Whereas Lucidchart doesn’t necessarily have the data tie ins to be able to, let’s say for example, a database design, but there’s lots of other ways to do that these days. That makes Vision, I’ll say, that less powerful in that respect. But you don’t need that with Lucidchart. You can just create a generic process. Instead of sketching it out on paper and saying, “Oh well, I’ve got this customer support process that’s got to do this.” Or, “I’ve got this marketing process where I’ve got this email Drip campaign over here and the sales page over there.” You can wire them up in Lucidchart and use that to document your marketing sales funnel, for example. It works really, really well for that.
The downside is, you do have to keep it up-to-date because nothing is automatic but as long as you need to document it anyway, you may as well use something like Lucidchart where you can create good documentation that shows you how everything ties together.
Rob: 500,000 sign-ups every month, Mike. What would you do with that?
Mike: I don’t know. Take it to the bank, retire?
Rob: Yeah, that’s crazy. You can just imagine the processes they must have in place in order to even be able to support that many users.
Mike: You know, I’d be interested to see what they have for a backend infrastructure because I’m just like an engineering nerd like that. Like, “How the heck do you handle that much? How many is that per minute?”
Rob: I know. One point of data is I went to Crunchbase and it says, “According to owler.com that they have 7.1 million in annual revenue.” You don’t know how accurate that is but it’s an estimate by an outside company.
Mike: And at 500,000 sign-ups a month, that’s about one every five seconds which is insane.
Rob: Yup. I know, it’s crazy. They say, let’s see, employee count is between 101 and 250–it’s about what I expect. It says, “A team of 150 plus employees.” You don’t know when that was written but I would guess, if it was even a year ago, I bet they’re at probably over 200 by now. That gives you an idea of their size. That’s the thing, they’ve raised $42 million, if they are at $7 million or $10 million in recurring revenue, that’s not a home run. They need to get bigger than that in order to return that kind of funding because the valuation was definitely north of $100 million. I mean, $120 million, $180 million, somewhere in that range, if I were to guess. At that point, you need to sell for half a billion or a billion dollars to return venture returns. To get there, you need to have $100 million in ARR. They have a long way to go to get there.
I don’t want folks to take this entire episode the wrong way, I’m not saying that we should model ourselves after Lucidchart or anything like that, I was pointing out that the way to use freemium, viral loops, thinking about horizontal markets, thinking about other way to approach problems, how could you, in your little maybe B2B bootstrap niche try and corporate some of these things?
Mike: I think the other takeaway you could have for our audience of listeners is that, even with 500,000 sign-ups a month, as you said, financially, this is probably still not a home run.
Rob: Right. If they haven’t raised $40 million, it could be alright if they’d only raise up to $6 million and could have done it, then that’s a totally different story but that’s where I like raising a lot of funding and having this big valuation. It means you have much higher expectations at that point.
Mike: Right. All it does is dilute the founder and some of the investors, earlier investors maybe, but it makes it hard to have a spectacular exit if you’ve, I’ll say, weighed down by too much investment.
Well, on that note, I think that about wraps us up. If you have a question for us, you can call it into our voicemail number at 1-888-801-9690 or you can email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our theme music is an excerpt from We’re Outta Control by MoOt used under Creative Commons. Subscribe to us in iTunes by searching for startups and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.
In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike answer the question of should bootstrappers raise money? The guys distinguish the difference between venture capital and angel investing and how raising an angel round may be a good fit for some types of entrepreneurs.
Items mentioned in this episode:
Mike: In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and I are going to be talking about whether bootstrapper should raise money or not. This is Startups For The Rest Of Us episode 406.
Welcome to Startups For The Rest Of Us. The podcast that helps developers, designers, and entrepreneurs be awesome at building, launching, and growing software products, whether you build your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Mike.
Rob: And I’m Rob.
Mike: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s going on this week, Rob?
Rob: We have new iTunes reviews.
Mike: Oh, cool. What do we got?
Rob: This one from Find Fitness Pros. It says, “This is my go-to podcast every Tuesday morning. Rob and Mike continue to give their insights, not just info on exactly what to do,” and from Nathan Bell, he says, “Great information. I listened to one episode and I’m hooked. It was full of great information I can easily implement. Some of the info was a little bit advanced for me currently, but I’m confident that by selectively listening to more, I will pick up more.”
Those are a couple of new iTunes reviews that we have. I used to keep a worldwide tally of it using CommentCast and when I moved to my new computer, I don’t have the .exe or what is it called, it’s a .app I guess in Mac. I don’t have the executable anymore and you can’t download it anywhere. So I moved over to mypodcastreviews.com but it only gives me reviews, not ratings. We’re up to almost 600 worldwide ratings, I believe. People don’t necessarily need to write sentences or whatever, but I don’t have that tally anymore. Certainly, we’re above 600 at this point.
Now, what I have is I have 347 worldwide reviews and that’s a lesser number. I want to get back to the world’s rating. I think the guy at My Podcast Reviews says that they are going to add ratings but neither here nor there, the more reviews or ratings we get, the more likely people find the show, the more motivation it gives us. If you feel like we’ve given you some value as a listener to the show, it would be awesome if you can open iTunes or Stitcher and just give us a five-star review. Really appreciate it.
Mike: The solution to not having that app that gives you the numbers is just make up a number. So we’re at 3000 reviews I think.
Rob: That’s right. 3422 reviews. That’s great. How about you, man? What’s going on this week?
Mike: Well, this morning, I published a public API for Bluetick. Of course, I say it’s a public API but there’s actually only one person who actually knows about it.
Rob: It’s in beta?
Mike: Yeah, basically.
Rob: Early access, good.
Mike: I had a prospect who wanted to sign on and they’re like, “Yeah, I really need to have a public API that is available for me and Zapier wasn’t going to work for them. Basically as I said, I spun it out because I heard from a bunch of customers that I currently have, and I started talking to them about, “What is it that you need?” and trying to figure out what’s the minimum that I could build that this particular prospect or customer would need to get started. They only needed four things. Build those, put them into it, and then there’s all the infrastructure changes that needed to go into it.
It took a week-and-a-half just to do the infrastructure changes but now the best stuff if all taken cared of. I got that published out there and waiting for them to start using it, and then figure out what needs to change. I already made it very clear upfront, like, “Hey, here are some things that I know we’re going to change, and then over here, based on what you tell me, other things could change, so treat this as an absolute beta. Eventually at some point it will become stable, I guess, and then I’ll start pushing it live to everybody.
Rob: That’s nice. It’s nice to do. You’re basically doing customer development on what is its own little product. You can say it’s a feature but really some entire products are just APIs. You want to get it right from the start, and by start, I mean by the time you publish and people start hooking into it, you can’t change it at that point. I think it’s really good to take this approach of roll it out slowly, roll out one endpoint at a time and really think through how you want to structure it.
I was just on your site trying to guess the URL. I was going to just type in a bunch of stuff so you’re going to see a bunch of 404s in your error logs. Not a hacker, it was me, but I didn’t find it alas.
Mike: No, that sucks. I would tell you if you asked for the right price. Other than that, I also got my first fraudulent charge from Bluetick. It took a lot longer than I expected it to but somebody signed up, then they logged in, and absolutely they didn’t pay any attention to the onboarding emails. Come time when their trial is up, they got charged, and then I forget how long it was later. I was maybe probably three or four days later, I got a notification from Stripe saying, “Hey this charge looks fraudulent,” and I looked at it. I think it’s a debit card too and I was like, “Oh great.” Three hours later though like, “Oh you’ve had a chargeback.” I was like, “Wait, I didn’t even get a chance to decide that to do with this potentially fraudulent charge,” and they already converted it into a chargeback, which cost me an extra $15. Well that sucks, but, oh well.
Rob: Was it a person not using or was it a stolen credit card? Is that what you think? Or do you think that they just went in with the intention that it was their own credit card and they just intended at the whole time?
Mike: I’m not sure. It looks legit. The email address, I couldn’t quite tell whether it was real. I think it was a Gmail email address. I couldn’t really trace it back to a company or anything like that but the name on it seem to match what the email address was. I don’t know. I’m not entirely sure but I think it was from a real estate company or something like that. All right, well, whatever.
Rob: Yeah, that sucks. It’s going to happen. It’s definitely a milestone you don’t want to hit but you’re going to hit it eventually.
Mike: Yup. Certainly not a milestone to celebrate but I definitely hit it.
Rob: Yeah, exactly. Cool. What are we talking about today?
Mike: Today, I thought we would have a discussion about whether or not bootstrapper should be raising money. I guess by definition if you’re raising money, are you no longer a bootstrapper at that point? I think there’s maybe a time during which you are bootstrapping a company and self-funding it. I almost called it self-funding, like should people who are self-funding raise money, but again that would go against it.
The idea came because I saw Justin Jackson had tweeted out a link to an article he wrote over on Indie Hackers called The Bootstrapper’s Paradox. In that article, he shows a graph or what they’re doing for transistor.fm, which is the new startup that he’s working on. Basically it shows a graph of over the course of 60 months was 10% exponential growth and 5% turn. The MRR will get to $21,000. But 60 months is five years of time.
I thought it would be interesting to just have a conversation about this because when I was reading through the tweet that he had put out, there were a bunch of people who chimed in on it, mostly people who were listening to the show would have heard of like Des Traynor, Jason Collin, and Natalie Nagel. They’re giving their thoughts on this stuff and I just thought it would be interesting to talk about it.
Rob: Yeah, that’s for sure. 10% growth every month sounds like an impressive number but when the number starts very small, like $1000 a month, that means you’re growing $100 MRR a month. You just can’t do that early days or if you do, it’s going to take five years. You either need to figure out a way to grow faster or you need to be really patient.
This is a struggle. It’s funny that, Justin called it The Bootstrapper’s Paradox. I don’t know that it’s that as much as this is the reason people raise funding. We know people who are just bootstrapper through and through, you should never raise funding and 37signals used to say that and even mentions it that DHH and Jason Fried took funding from Jeff Bezos two years after launching Basecamp. It wasn’t even funding that went into the company. They took money off the table. If I recall, I think that number is public. I think it’s $10 million that he invested, was my memory and maybe I don’t think I’m making that up. It’s either rumored at that or it was announced.
They had essentially at that point had FU money and it’s really easy to make different decisions or just say, “Hey, we’re going to grow as slow or as fast as we need,” when you have that kind of money in your personal bank account and you’re just running this business day-to-day.
Justin’s article is a bootstrapper’s realization of “Oh Sh*t.” This is why people do raise money. It’s coming to that realization at this point and I think it’s a good thing to call out for sure. I’ve been thinking about this so much so I’m looking forward to today’s episode because in my Microconf talk this year, I talked about things that I learned bootstrapping and then self-funding and then in a venture back company after Leadpages acquired us.
In the last five to seven minutes I did just a little snippet about fundstrapping, which is this term that Colin from customer.io coined, where you’re kind of in-between. You bootstrapped a little bit and you raised a small round. I say it’s between 200,000 and 500,000 and you raise it with the intention of getting to profitability. Without, you’re never going to raise institutional money, or raise it from friends or families or angels, so you don’t give up control, you don’t give up a board seat, you really have the benefits of funding without the institutional chaos of it, the headache.
It wasn’t a throwaway piece but I almost didn’t include it in the talk. That piece has gotten me more emails, more comments, more thoughts, more people came up to me, ask me what that’s like, asked if I would invest or find new people who were doing fundstrapping. It’s just fascinating response to this, this thing that’s been percolating. It’s a long rant on it to start but I just think this is becoming more and more of a viable option and potentially even a necessity as the SaaS market gets more and more crowded.
Mike: Yeah. That’s the part that I think has changed over time, where five or 10 years ago, you could come out with a SaaS and you’d launch it to the public and you would start to grow by virtually the fact that there was nobody else out there or there were very few competitors out there doing what you were doing. Now if you launch anything, you probably got a couple of competitors just right out of the gate. If you don’t, then you probably don’t have a product that’s going to go anywhere. But if you have any competition, it’s probably substantially more competition today than you would’ve had five years ago or 10 years ago. Just by virtue of having launched five or 10 years ago, you were going to be more successful quicker than you would if you did the exact same thing now. It’s going to take longer, which means that you’re going to burn through more runway and it’s just going to be harder.
Rob: Right. Now, five or 10 years ago, there was less competition but the expenses would have been higher, 10 years ago especially because you literally needed a rack server. There was no Amazon EC2. In addition, there was still like when Basecamp first launched on their homepage, they were like, “You don’t have to install any software. No downloads needed.” They were still educating on just the concept of being in the cloud and there were hurdles there.
Mike: That was almost 15 years ago.
Rob: Yeah, that’s true. No, you’re right. That was 2005 or 2006? You’re right, 12 or 13. You’re right. But even with that, say 10 years ago, even with that, it’s still I believe was easier back then. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start something today. It just means you got to house some more, you got to pick a better niche, you got to have more skills, or you need a little more money in the bank.
Whether that means you raise it yourself out of consulting efforts, which is what I did, or if there’s definitely more money being thrown around as funding these days that is, I’m not going to say no strings attached because it’s certainly they take equity, but 10 years ago if you took half-a-million bucks, boy that was typically institutional money, it was a pain in the butt to raise, you are giving up a lot of control, you are giving up a board seat, that is no longer the case. There really is this viable option, this in-between.
Mike: I think if you look at the businesses that, in the past have tried to figure out how to raise capital, one of the things that most people, 15-20 years ago, it was common to say, “Okay, let me go to a bank and get a loan from the bank.” But that is a non-starter for most new businesses. You got SBA loans and things like that where you can use the money to take over an existing business where they’re able to evaluate.
But if you have a business that you’re trying to get off the ground, a bank loan is basically a non-starter, especially when it comes to SaaS because they don’t understand how to calculate how much that business is worth. There isn’t any inventory and with software, it’s going to lag in terms of the revenue over something like a physical goods business, or a coffee shop, or a fitness studio where they know how many people are coming in and they can put a value on the equipment whether it’s the coffee machines or the spin cycles on a fitness studio. Banks are okay with that. They understand that.
But when you got a software business, the expectations today are much higher than they were five or 10 years ago. You have to do a lot more in order to make your product a lot more polished, which means it’s going to take time to do that which burns through your runway. It burns through that money a lot faster today. I guess you wouldn’t burn through it faster. It’s just you burn through more of it than you would have 10 years ago to get to the same point.
Rob: Even if you can get a loan, you have to send a personal guarantee. Now, all your personal assets are on the line. And if you decide to shut the company down, you owe them money. If you borrow $100,000 it’s a big deal. To me, that is more of a risk than I think an entrepreneur should take, unless you’re at the point where you already have, “All right, I’m at $10,000 MRR,” in which case you may or may not need the money, but if you’re at $10,000 MRR, you should raise equity funding anyway.
But if you know the business is going to succeed, that’s fine. When I hear that people charge $50,000 or $100,000 on credit cards to start a SaaS business, I’m like, “Oy vey.” That is going to be catastrophic. That is a really, really stressful way to live and it’s something I would not do, especially when we’re in a space where raising equity capital is relatively inexpensive. Raising a small angel round and selling 10% or even 20% of your company to reduce a lot of stress and to get there faster, I think it’s a pretty reasonable idea these days. It’s not impossible to do, I’ll say.
Mike: I want to talk about that specifically right there. What you just said was raising capital is relatively inexpensive. The reason I like the way that you put that is that when I think of the way I thought about raising funding years ago was that, “Oh, I’m going to have to give up a lot of control, I’m going to have to give up a lot of equity, and I don’t necessarily want to do either of those things.”
But if you’re thinking about putting together a business and you have anybody who’s helping you—a partner or a co-founder, something like that—your immediately giving up 50% of the company anyway, and then there’s a whole lot of difference between doing that and giving up 50% when there’s really nothing there, and yes, it could grow up to be something huge, but you’re giving up 50%.
So there’s like a mental block there of you saying, “Okay, well I’ll raise $250,000 in exchange for 10% of this,” and you don’t want to do that but you’re willing to give up 50% to somebody else when there’s really nothing there that’s being invested except for their time. Do you know what I mean?
Rob: Yeah. It’s cognitive dissonance I believe is the term where two things that don’t agree or paradox, I guess. It’s something in your head you’re rationalizing one way but then you turn around and give away 50% to a co-founder. That’s what you’re saying, It’s like you can give a small amount to get a big chunk of money, or even if it’s a small chunk of money.
Here’s the thing. Let’s say you live in the middle of Minnesota, or the middle of Nebraska, or something and you have an idea and you raised even $100,000 or $150,000 and you paid for your salary for a year or a year-and-a-half. That gives you a year or a year-and-a-half to get to some point of revenue that makes sense. Even if you gave away 15% of your company, you’re valuing it at $1 million right off the bat, or if you give away 20% or $750,000, it still makes your life a lot easier.
I think that’s the realization I’m coming to, is that at Microconf, or through this podcast, or whatever at different conferences, we meet smart people who are trying to launch businesses and something that stands in their way often is that, “I have a wife and kids. I have a house. I can’t do this nights and weekends. But I don’t want to raise funding because it’s really complicated. I don’t know how.”
What’s funny is you outlined this episode and you brought the topic up. But this is something I’ve been thinking a lot about, and there’s a gap here in the space. We do have folks like indie.vc which, if you haven’t heard my interview with Bryce from indie.vc, it’s episode 310 of this podcast, and it’s a more realistic approach to funding. It’s kind of a fundstrapping model. I’d recommend you go listen to that.
In addition, I feel we’re coming to an inflection point where there’s this gap and there’s a level of interest in something, and no one is filling it. No spoilers on what I’m up to next, but I’m starting to feel I might be the person to tackle this, to take it on. I’ve been spreading the word about it. I have been talking about it for years and I’ve been investing in startup like this.
We talk about Churn Buster, LeadFuze, CartHook. These are all small angel investments. I’ve done about 12 angel investments and I think three or four of them were essentially fundstrapped. it’s where they took money from a handful of folks and they never planned to raise a series A. I put my money where my mouth is, but now I’m thinking I only have so much money, how is it that I can take this to the next level in a realistic way. It’s something that’s definitely in the back of my mind and it’s something that I’ve been thinking a lot. Hopefully, we’ll dive into more in the future.
Speaking of that, if you listen to this and your thinking, “Oh, this is an interesting topic,” go to robwalling.com. Enter your email because it’s going to be something that I’m going to be thinking more about in the future as well as on this podcast for sure.
Mike: One of the comments that jumped out of me on the Twitter post that Justin had put out there was from Des Traynor and he said, “I think a second piece people don’t really internalize is that 60 months of the best years of your career is a substantial upfront investment too. Like a seed round but instead of money, it’s your life.”
That’s a fascinating way of looking at this because even back n the day, I would always say, “Oh, well. You know you’re basically trading money for time,” and I don’t think that I really equated time with years of my life. It sounds intuitively obvious. That’s exact same thing. But when you’re in the middle of working on stuff, you don’t think, “Oh, I’m trading five years of my life away of hard toil to get this thing to where it could be a lot sooner if I were just to take some money and trade some of that equity for it.”
Rob: Right. It could feasibly be a lot sooner. It may or may not. Money doesn’t solve all the problems but it certainly makes things, I’ll say less stressful and you having done it with true bootstrapping with basically nothing and doing nights and weekends, to then self-funding with revenue from HitTail going into Drip, and then venture funded. I’ve done all three of these. I will tell you that having that venture money, I didn’t have to raise it and I did attend the board meetings but I didn’t necessarily have to report to the board. My life was less stressful at that point than either of the prior two scenarios.
I think it’s a good point, man. I don’t want to come off. You can tell, I’m coming off kind of pro-raising a small round, and I don’t want to come off too one-sided. We’ve never been anti-funding ever. From the start, Microconf, I think in the original sales letter. It was, we’re not anti-funding. We’re anti everyone thinks the only way to start a software company or a startup is with funding. That maybe from the introduction of my book, actually—Start Small, Stay Small.
Even back then in 2010, I was saying, “Look, raising funding is not evil in and of itself. It’s the things that you have to give up by raising funding. Just know what you’re getting into.” Yes, we have seen founders that get kicked out of their own company. There was, I figure what that app it was. Was it Tinder? Something sold for $460 million. No. It’s FanDuel. It’s sold for $460 million and the founder who started it, and I believe was CEO when it started, he got no money because of liquidation preferences and he’s suing them.
That’s a huge exit. He got I believe it was zero dollars from the exit. There was an article or something that was like, he’s suing them now. If the contract say this is what the liquidation preference is, that’s one thing but he’s suing them because he thinks they screwed with the valuation intentionally and there was fraud or something. He’s not going to win if he just says, “No, that wasn’t the deal,” because he signed the papers. These VCs are not stupid but he’s trying to do that.
Yes, that does happen. But I believe there is a way to do this and I’m seeing it with these smaller SaaS apps. A way to do it without that much stress, without giving up that much equity. Brennan Dunn, RightMessage. That’s another one. I also wrote a check. And Rand Fishkin’s SparkToro. He’s doing the same thing. He’s not calling it fundstrapping, but he said, “Hey, we’re going to raise around, and we’re going to get to profitability, and we don’t want to do institutional money. If you listen to Lost and Founder which is his book, he talks about the perils of all that and you couldn’t read that and say, I can see really they didn’t like – once they raise funding, he really didn’t like it.
You can look and say, “Well, Rand’s anti-funding now.” But no, he’s more anti-institutional money, and there’s a difference. Venture capital is institutional money. These angel rounds tend not to be.
Mike: But I think even back, we’ve talked about it on the podcast before. As you said, we always had the position that, it’s not that we’re anti-funding, we’re anti-this-is-the-only-way-to-do-it. That’s always been my thought behind it. I’ll say the majority of my career and thought process has been like, “Yeah, I really just don’t want to take funding in this more because I don’t want to necessarily give up control.” Back then there weren’t really the options for that. Now, things have changed a lot. It’s not, say, front and center on my radar, but it’s something I’m definitely looking at niche and exploring a little bit more.
I definitely think that—like with Bluetick for example—there’s ways to go further faster, but I just don’t necessarily have the money to be able to do it, which sucks but at the same time, it’s always a trade-off. I think that’s what you always have to consider is, what is the trade-off and what am I going to have to give up in order for me to get X amount of influx and then what are you going to do with that?
You have to have a plan. You can’t just say, “I want to raise money.” You got to have a plan for not just raising money but also what are you going to do with that money when you get it? How are you going to deploy it? How are you going to build the company and how are you going to grow things? You can’t just drop $100,000 in your bank account or $500,000 and say, “Okay great. I’ve raised money. Now what?” They’re not going to give you the money if you don’t have a plan.
Rob: And if you don’t know what you’re doing, money’s not going to fix that. You’re just going to make bigger mistakes. This comes back to the stair-step approach. No chance I would have raised money in 2005-2009 with ,DotNetInvoice, and Wedding Toolbox and just beach towels and stuff. Even if I could have made the case that DotNetInvoice would grow to something, I would have made huge mistakes because I made small ones back then. But I learned and I gained experience and I gained confidence.
By the time I get to HitTail, I remember thinking, “Yeah,” because remember, I bought HitTail for $30,000 and then I grew it up to basically that much MRR per month but end and I value at it. Maybe I should raise a little bit of money in it. It would make this a little easier. But to me, it was the headache of it. I was like, “I do not want to slog around and spend months asking people and the paperwork.” It just felt like a pain in the butt to me. I don’t know if I could have. Did I have the name recognition? Could I have raised enough?
Arguably, yes. By the time I got to Drip, it was definitely like it. If I haven’t had that HitTail money, let’s just say I’d had none of it. I basically used a bunch or revenue from HitTail to fund Drip. If I hadn’t had that? I absolutely would have seriously considered doing what we’re talking about raising a small round. I knew Drip was ambitious, I knew it was going to get big at least by the time we are six or eight months in, and it had a need for that.
That’s what we’re saying here is the words always, never, and should, they’re not helpful words. Don’t say, “I should always raise funding.” “I should never raise funding.” “I should raise funding other people think I should or shouldn’t.” These are not helpful words. Just evaluate things and look at them, and like you said, look at the trade-offs. Pluses and the minuses, and the realities of them, not the FUD. Not the fear, uncertainty, and doubt.
I can tell you the story, “Oh, look. The founder of Fandle. He got screwed by his investors. Therefore, I’m never going to raise investing or I’m never going to raise funds.” That’s dumb. Actually look at the black-and-white of it. I think that’s what we’re talking about today. We;re not saying you should or should not, but it’s look at the reality of it.
Now, you and I talked about this in-depth in episode 211, When To Consider Outside Investment For Your Startup. We went in-depth on what are funds and family round, an angel round, or often called a seed round was. We talked about series A, B, C. Once you get to the serieses, that’s when you get to institutional money, which is when things get way more complicated. Once you raise a series A, it’s the point of no return. It’s implied you’re going to raise a B, a C, and go on to either have this huge exit or an IPO, and it’s growth at all cost for the most part.
But if you’re able to stop before that series A and stick to people who are on board with you, angel investors and such are on board with, “Hey, let’s build a $5 million, $10 million, $15 million company with it, it’ SaaS. Let’s do a 30%, 40%, 50% net margin on this thing.” That’s great. That’s the kind of company I want to build and that’s the kind of company I want to invest in.
But venture capitalists don’t want to invest in that. If that’s not your goal, to go to $100 million and do what it takes to do that, then you don’t want to go down that road. You want to have those expectations clear both in your head upfront, as well as anybody who’s writing you a check.
Mike: Right. The problem with that is that episode 211 when we talked about that, that was four years ago. That’s a long time in internet time.
Rob: I might need to go back and listen to that episode to hear what we said. How much you want to bet? Oh, I’m going to go search it and see if the word fundstrapping if I mentioned it in there.
Mike: I don’t think so. Oh, it is.
Rob: Is it?
Mike: Yup. About 20 minutes in, you said, “I heard the term fundstrapping and I really like it. It was from Colin at customer.io.”
Rob: There it is. In 20 minute then boom. This is 2014, November of 2014 even back then.
Mike: But you were in the middle of Drip at the time, were you?
Mike: Was that right?
Rob: Yup. In the middle of Drip and I was probably already thinking about because at this point, we were growing fast and I was dumping all the money I had into it, both from that revenue and from HitTail, and I was thinking, “Boy, if I had half a million bucks right now, given our growth rate could have raised it. If I had half a million bucks right now, we could grow faster. I can hire more and have more servers and not shut down EC2 instances on the weekend.”
We used to do that to save money that’s insane, that lengths. I remember valuating Wistia versus SproutVideo, and Wistia, for what we need, it was $150 a month and Sprout was $30. It’s a nice tool but now way it was Wistia. I went with SproutVideo because I needed that $120 bucks to pay something else. We had to migrate later and it was a bunch of time and all that stuff. I never would have made that choice if we’d had a little more money in the bank. It’s the luxury of having some investment capital.
Mike: Yeah and unfortunately, you have to make a lot of trade-offs like that. You spend a lot of mental cycles and overhead making those trade-offs and just making the decisions because you don’t have the money, which is a crappy situation to be in. All that said, part of the problem is, you don’t necessarily want to raise money if the idea itself or the business model just simply doesn’t have merit. Maybe that’s partly what those investors are there for is to make sure that they act as something of a filter.
That’s always the problem that I’ve seen with angel investors is that they’re the ones who are in control, not you. Maybe angel investors isn’t the right word, but outside investment where they basically end up getting control of enough of it that you don’t get to make the decisions anymore. They’re the ones who make the decisions whether or not your business is going to succeed based on whether or not you get the money. If you can’t set aside the time, like nights and weekends, to be able to do it, it’s just not going to work out. You need that money in order to make the business work, then it’s going to be a problem for you down the road.
Rob: And that’s the thing is the losing control of your business tends to be if you raised multiple rounds because each round you sell, let’s say, 15%-20% is typical. May 15%-25% and if you do one round, you still have control. You and your co-founder or you if you’re a solo founder still own that 80%. But if you do another round, another right you get two, three rounds in, it’s typically by series C or D where the founders are the minority shareholder and investors now own most of it. If you don’t been on the path, it’s unlikely, or if you just make bad decisions.
I saw someone on Shark Tank where they had no money upfront and they sold 80% of their company to an investor, to an angel investor. Shark Tank was like, “We can’t fund you because you’re working for nothing.” All the work is for the investor. If you make a bad choice, that’s another way to do it too. You do need to educate yourself about it and I think that’s something that some people don’t want to do because it is boring stuff.
I really like the books that Brad Feld does and this one is maybe like venture funding or like a guide to venture funding. I got four chapters in and I just couldn’t stand it because it was all terms. He didn’t write it. It was more of a series that he’s involved in. The terms were just so boring that I stopped. I understand if you don’t want to learn at all. You need to learn enough about it to do it.
I want to flip back to something that Natalie Nagele responded to Justin Jackson and then it was actually just what I was thinking when I saw his graph. It was five years to $21,000 MRR. In all honesty dude, I would shut that business down before I wait it that long. I forget how long it took Drip but it was maybe a year. I don’t think it was even a year from when we launched and it was probably 12-18 months from when we broke around on code, that we had $21,000 MRR.
Drip was admittedly a bit of a Cinderella story. It was fast at growth than most but if you’re growing $100 a month in the beginning and you continue that 10% growth like that, you can’t do that. You need to get it up—
Mike: But I don’t think that’s a fair comparison, though, because if you look at the way Drip was funded into, you said 21 months or so to get to that point? He’s talking about a completed self-funded company versus something where you put money in from HitTail. Those are two entirely different things. I don’t know all about the details of Transistor but my guess is that there’s a huge disparity in terms of the amount of code and the quality of code that needs to go into something like Drip because of the sheer complexity of it versus something like Transistor.
Rob: Yeah, that’s true. I was for the long entrepreneurial journey too, I would say. I had successes that I’ve parlaid into it. You’re right. It’s not a fair comparison. I shouldn’t say with the Drip but…
Mike: I was just arguing about the point of, if it was five years to get to the $20,000 in MRR, should you shut that down? I think it’s a very different answer based on what it is that you’re putting into it. If you’re dumping $200,000 into it, yeah, you probably should shut it down if it’s still going to take you five years to get to that. But if you put nothing into it, or $10,000 into it but it takes five years to get there, it’s like, “Uh, well, I don’t know.” It’s a judgment call.
Rob: It’s interesting and that’s the thing. When I think back in 2005, I started with DotNetInvoice, making a couple of grand a month. It took me until late 2008 to get to where I was making about $100,000 a year, between $100,000-$120,000 a year and that’s when I stopped consulting.
So it took me three and a half years. But again, I did it with no funding and I cobbled it all together myself. That’s the situation we’re talking. I wasn’t doing SaaS. I did it with these multiple products. I think if I was less risk-averse, I’ve could’ve done it faster. I think that’s probably what we’re talking about here. It’s getting a little bit more ambitious and trying to speed things up. How do you do that?
Mike: Part of being more ambitious these days, I think, is because you’re forced to, because of the level of competition that’s out there. You have to do something that’s quite a bit above and beyond what you would have done three or five years ago because the competition is there and people are going to be asking for features that they see in other products that you’re trying to compete against. If you don’t have those features, they’re going to say, “Well, I could pay the same amount of money to you versus this other product and they’ve already got those features so why would I go with you?”
You’re just not able to compete unless you have those features there that you can demonstrate. It’s not even just about the marking. It’s about having the things they need. If you don’t have them, they can’t go with you. It’s not even that they like you. They just won’t do it.
Rob: Yeah and that’s true. Again, funding even the way we’re talking about it, it’s not going to fix all ills. If you pick those markets that’s too small or you don’t build a good product, you’re not going to get to action. Or if it’s a market that people aren’t interested, or you don’t know how to market, you don’t have the experience, you don’t suddenly become an expert startup founder just because you raise funding but if you have the chops and funding is a big piece.
Time is a big piece because you’re only working nights and weekends. You can only put 10 hours a weekend or rather 15 hours. It’s a big difference if you can suddenly go to 40 or 50 hours with two co-founders. It doesn’t fix everything. In addition, does it come with complexity? Yes. You have to report to your investors once a month with an email. You can feel the stress of that.
That was actually something that I asked Justin McGill, Jordan Gal, and Matt Goldman, those are the co-founders of those three businesses that I mentioned earlier, CartHook, LeadFuze, and Churn Buster, and I said, “Hey, do you feel raising this money made things more stressful or less stressful?” They each have their own take on it. If I recall, Justin McGill was like, “It’s more stressful because I feel like if we don’t grow, we’re going to let you guys down.” A lot of the investors he has a lot of respect for. That’s one way it cut through. It can make it more stressful.
I don’t want to put words in people’s mouths but I think Jordan had said, “It’s more stressful but better because it motivates him to succeed.” you got to think about how your personality is and if you feel like it’s going to add more stress, if suddenly five or 10 people that you really respect, that are friends, colleagues, and fellow Microconf attendees write a check to you, how does that make you feel?
Mike: Yeah. I think the answer’s going to be different for every person, especially depending on what your product is like, what the expectations are, how you’ve position it, and how the investor views it. Some investors just say, “Yeah, I may lose all this and that’s totally okay,” and other ones may say, “I have these expectations and you’re not meeting them,” if you miss a deadline or something like that.
There’s a lot of dynamics and complexity there. Some people will thrive in it and some people won’t. I think at the end of the day, I also feel having money has the potential to make the downsides of your product or business model worse. It will just exacerbate some of those issues. If you don’t have a market that you can actually go to, if you think you do but you don’t, and you get a bunch of money in, I think it’s just going to make it worse because yes, you can try a bunch of things and you’ll be able to throw money on it, but then you’re burning more money than you would have otherwise.
Rob: That’s the thing. I know we’re going long on time but really important. I would not raise any type of funding before I have product market fit. That’s a personal thing because (a) your valuation is way last before then, and (b) no one is going to give you money if you don’t have a product, period. You have to have a product these days. You can’t raise money on an idea unless you’re Rand Fishkin, or Jason Cohen, or a founder who’s been there and done that.
You have to have a product, you have to probably be live or at least have beta users, your should have paying customers. That’s a bare minimum to even think about trying to raise funding. You have to get there. You have to write the code, you have to beg, steal and, borrow to get someone to write the code. But the valuation is going to be way less and you’re probably going to burn though a lot of that money just trying to get to product market fit. From the time you launch until you’re part of market fit, I’m going to say it’s 6-12 months if you know what you’re doing.
You see founders like Shawn Ellis, you saw Jason Cohen, you saw me do a Drip. You see people who are pretty good at it and know what they’re doing, and it still takes them six months, and ours still takes 9-12 months to do it. At that point, once you do it and you do kick it in a little bit of that growth mode where it’s like, “Okay people, are really starting to uptick it.” That’s when you pour gasoline on the fire.
But before that, I have seen at least one startup in the last year raise a small round before product market fit, and just burned through it really fast because they staffed up, do a lot of marketing and do a lot of sales, and it just that their churn was so high. That’s typically where you can tell his people aren’t converting to pay it or they aren’t sticking around. There are dangers there. Like a samurai sword, like a said in the past, it’s a weapon that you need to know what you’re doing with to wield well and I think you need to be smart about when you raise.
Mike: Yeah and it sounds like there’s obviously different takes on it. If you want to go down like the VC or angel route, series A funding down the road, I think it’s possible to probably raise money if you have any sort of history or relationship with them, like if you don’t have a product yet. But you’re still also going to get eaten alive in terms of the equity shares and everything.
I think that point that you raised about you have to have a product and you have to have paying customers before you start to go raise money, that’s how you maintain your equity, a fair amount of the equity, enough of the control to be able to what you want, need to with the business, and also be reasonable sure and confident that you’re not going to just waste the investor’s money and burn those relationships. You can use that money for good, and you know what that money will do for you versus you’re still trying to get to product market fit. You don’t know who’s going to but it or who uses it, or why.
Rob: Yeah and the once exception as I’m thinking about it is if you raise a big chunk, let’s say you raise $250,000 or $500,000 and you feel like you need to spend it, and so you staff up but your not part of market fit, you’re going to treat their money. But the exception I can think of, is like I said earlier. What if you just bought yourself 12 months of time and you didn’t staff up but you just worked on it, or 18 months. You didn’t raise this huge amount of money or raise a small amount to just focus on it and work, I could see doing that before product market fit. That would get you to the point where then you can raise that next round.
I’m not trying to be wish-wash but I’m realizing I never said never raise before product market fit but I did say I wouldn’t personally. But I have the resources to get me to product market fit and I could work on a full-time to do that. It’s an exception. If was I doing it nights and weekends, then I would take money before I see I have to think about where the advice is coming from or where the thoughts are coming from. I’m just thinking it through as if I were literally doing this nights and weekends, I would consider taking money as soon as I could. If I was going down this road because going full-time is a game-changer. Being able to focus full-time, being able to leave everything behind is a big deal. It really is and a night and day difference.
Mike: I know there’ll be a range of opinions on it, but I wonder what most investors would think about, somebody saying, “Hey, we got this product. I’ve been working on it and I’d like to get some funding and money in the bank, basically to extend the runway because I got a little bit of something going here, I got partial product in place, I got some customers, but it’s not a lot. I need runway in order to make it work but I don’t know specifically how much runway I necessarily need or how I’m going to get to having $10,000-$20,000 MRR, but I need time to get there. There’s something here but I don’t know what.” I think it’s hard to evaluate for anybody what that looks like.
Rob: Yeah. I don’t know of any investors today that would work with that. I think that’s a good thing to bring up. It’s like, is that a gap in the market then? Could that be a successful funding model of looking at people who essentially have the potential and have, like you said, pre-product market fit but have something to show for it and looking at backing them for a period of time.
Anyway, I love this topic and I think that we’ll probably talking about it again, just soon you’ll be hearing more on it from me, but I feel we might need to wrap this one up today.
Mike: Yeah. Great talk. I like it.
Rob: Me as well. So if you have a question for us about this or any other topic, call our voicemail number 888-801-9690 or email us at email@example.com. Our theme music is an excerpt from We’re Outta Control by MoOt used under Creative Commons. Subscribe to us in iTunes by searching for startups and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript of each and every episode. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time.
In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike talk about calculating lifetime value. They discuss how its done with one time versus recurring revenue and funded versus bootstrapped payback time.
Items mentioned in this episode:
Rob: In this episode of the Startups For The Rest Of Us, Mike and I dive deep into the riveting conversation topic of calculating lifetime value. Seriously, it’s pretty interesting. This is Startups For The Rest Of Us Episode 362.
Welcome to Startups For The Rest Of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers and entrepreneurs be awesome at building, launching and growing software products. Whether you’ve built your first product, or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Rob.
Mike: And I’m Mike.
Rob: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. I want to kick today’s episode off with a question, Mike. What movie would be greatly improved if it was made into a musical?
Mike: If it was made into a musical. Hmm, that’s a tough one. My guess would be the old, black and white Frankenstein.
Rob: Okay. Yeah, I guess it wasn’t a musical but it was turned into a comedy by, what is his name?
Mike: Mel Brooks.
Rob: Yes! Young Frankenstein, is that what it’s called? But yeah, I could see them doing a musical as well.
Mike: Yep, definitely. Mel Brooks is on a couple of others that I think he turned into musicals as well.
Rob: I agree. There’s a lot of completely random questions that catch you off guard right at the start of the show.
Mike: I know. You come up with these things that are just totally off the wall and you don’t even run by me first.
Rob: It’s your new favorite thing.
Mike: My new favorite thing.
Rob: Other than answering ridiculous questions at the top of the show, what’s going on with you?
Mike: I wanted to give a quick shout out here to Tyler Tringas. We’ll link this up in the show notes, but he has a blog article that he posted talking about how he sold his bootstrap SaaS business from somebody that he met at MicroConf. Just wanted to say great job to Tyler and mention it so that people can go over and read the whole story. It’s a really lengthy article on it and where the product started, it’s called Store Mapper. It allows people to embed a map of their stores on their websites, sound like a pretty straight forward thing but he couldn’t find anything out there that did something for his customers so he built it. Fast forward a couple of years and he was able to sell it. I just want to say congratulations.
Rob: Yeah, congrats, man. I read the post, it was really in depth and really interesting and it’s posted over there on indiehackers.com.
Mike: I also wanted to read a quick listener email to us. This is from Zoren, he says, “Love the show, great tips. We’re busting our ass trying to grow [00:02:28] right now, and your show’s been great insight. Keep up the good work and maybe one day we’ll be on your show to tell everyone our story.” Really appreciate that, Zoren.
Rob: Yeah, thanks. For me this week, we actually launched a pretty big feature that took a while. It actually didn’t take that too long to build, it’s a long time to get approved and it’s an integration with Facebook custom audiences in Drip. It means that you can, in essence, have a native action right there in Drip, so that if someone’s at a certain point in the workflow or you can even just have a global automation rule that says when this happens, when anything happens, if it a tag’s applied to this person or if the lead’s core goes above something or they start checking out and they never complete their purchase, then you can just put them into a Facebook custom audience and you can then assess and retarget them when they’re on Facebook and then if they do buy, then you can pull them out of that audience.
It’s a pretty sophisticated, powerful feature, even though it was not that hard to build, but there’s a lot of possibilities to this and there are some use cases that are going live on drip.com right now. It’s a really impactful feature that took a month from the time we were code complete, about a month in order to actually get approval from Facebook because they want you to really have tested it out and you have to jump through some hoops and everything, which are warranted, I will admit. That’s been the habub this week.
Mike: That’s interesting. I’m on the other side of the spectrum with Google where I talked last week about how I was finishing up the [OWAF 00:03:59] authentication for Google to get mailboxes integrated into Bluetick. Because of the level of access that I’m asking for inside of people’s mailboxes, they have to basically fill out this form and they’re like you have to justify why you want this or why you need this level of access, I’m like, oh great. I went through and they’re like oh, it will take a minimum of three to seven days in order to get it approved, and of course I went through the process and I was like, oh, this is going to suck. Three hours after I submitted it, they said, sure, you’re good to go.
Rob: Oh, that’s cool. Good for them then, for keeping that queue short. You totally understand why they do that, right?
Mike: Oh, totally, definitely. That wasn’t the issue. The issue is I didn’t look to see that that was what I was going to need to do. I don’t know, I think the part of it might have just been the stuff that I was asking for and why and the documentation that I had to send in. I was pretty detailed in what I was requesting and why it needed to be done. Though I suppose it paid off.
Rob: Yeah, that makes sense. The other thing for me is the iTunes reviews, we now have 544 worldwide reviews in iTunes. Our most recent one that comes from Honey Mora from Canada and his subject line is: Ton of practical tips and lessons. He says, “I’ve been a listener for about four years now. I love what Rob and Mike share each week, I’m hooked. I’ve been following Rob’s Stewardship Approach since launching several premium WordPress plugins first and a few months back launching my first SaaS. Thank you for all you guys do.” He’s at repurpose.io.
Thanks for that review, Honey. We would appreciate if you’ve never given us a review, hop into Stitcher, Downcast, Overcast, whatever it is you use, or iTunes and click that five star button. You don’t even need an entire review or shout out or anything like that. Just clicking that five star helps keep us motivated, it helps us rise to the top of the rankings, helps us get more listeners, and the more listeners we have, the more we can do at the show, frankly, and it motivates us to keep putting out episodes.
Mike: The only other thing I have is I am speaking at the Cold Email Success Summit next week. We’ll link that up in the show notes but it’s not really quite an online conference but it’s an online summit where you can go and there are 20 different speakers that they’ve pulled from the world of email marketing to talk about various topics and give their insights and discuss what’s working and what’s not and give you actionable tips and things that you can do to help with your email marketing reference.
Rob: That’s cool. We’ll include a link in the show notes to that.
Mike: Awesome. What are we talking about this week?
Rob: This week, I outlined an entire episode around a single listener question from Andrea [00:06:28]. If you have a question that you think could make an interesting or even just a topic suggestion that you think could make an interesting episode for us, you can email that to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or feel free to call it into our voicemail line at 888-801-9690.
Andrea says, “Hey there, thanks for an amazing podcast. I have a question for you. A few times in the show, you’ve talked about customer lifetime value and how important it is for knowing how much to spend on user acquisition. That makes a lot of sense, but how do you calculate your CLV (Customer Lifetime Value)? I’ve seen some examples on how other people calculate it, it would be interesting to hear your perspective on how to do it for SaaS. Thanks.”
And just one quick note, I am going to use LTV for lifetime value. He calls it CLV, some people call it CLV, some people call it LTV, it doesn’t matter what you call it, it is the total amount of revenue that you are going to get on average from each of your customers. The reason that this is helpful to know is it can dictate the whole slew of things. The higher it gets in general, the healthier your business is, the more you can spend to acquire customers, and even the more you can spend to support them, to create educational material for them, more you can spend on feature development. This value grows and your customer count grows, those are the two things that multiply by each other.
If you make about having 500 customers with a total lifetime value of $100, that’s only $50,000. That’s the lifetime value of all those customers that they’re going to pay you the entire time that they are customers of yours. Now if they are a one time customer, you get that all upfront, meaning one time purchase. If it’s a recurring purchase, you will get that overtime but that’s not a ton of money to hire people, pay for server hosting, pay for whatever other – there are a ton of expenses; pay yourself, run ads, do all the stuff you need to do. Whereas if you take the same $500 customers and you just multiply that by 10, let’s say a reasonable lifetime value of $1,000, now we’re talking about $500,000. It’s a whole different ball game of how you can treat your customers.
We’re going to dive in today, we’re going to talk quickly about how to calculate it, and I have just a very simple and very streamlined way to do it. There are different ways to do it, there is more specific, in detail, and advance ways to do it, but especially for a podcast, we don’t want us just reading off a bunch of equations. We can link out to some more advanced stuff, there are some great stuff from Tom Tungus, there’s someone who dives into this really deep and they have five different formulas and it’s the simple one and then they add another thing and then you have the cost of goods sold and then you add this, and the that. It gets super complicated by the end, but for now, we will just dive at a more of an entry level but then I really want to talk, we are going to get in deep into some rules of thumb that I have for payback time on advertising and then run through a couple of examples that are very close to real world apps just so you can get a better sense of why all this matters.
To kick us off, if you think about having a one time purchase business, like a WordPress plugin, or even DotNetInvoice, which is an old product of mine versus a recurring business, there’s a big difference on how you calculate lifetime value. We aren’t going to spend a ton of time on one time purchases, it’s obvious if you are going to do a really simplified version of calculating it, you’re just going to look at your purchase price. To be honest, if you have multiple purchase prices, let’s say you have a $50, $100, $150, and again, these are one time sales, you should know at this point what you breakdown has been historically. You should be able to go back pretty easily, do an export out of Stripe and just basically, you want the average of all the purchases that people have made and that’s what I would start with.
As you get more advanced, you might have upsells, you might have cross sells, maybe there’s an annual payment that comes once a year, there’s all that stuff that you can add in later but this is a five second estimate of what people will pay you on a one time basis. An example, DotNetInvoice is a one time sale downloadable invoicing software, the purchase price was $329, and then we had a bunch of different add ons and we could do the math, it was 20% of people who bought DotNetInvoice bought one of the add ons and the average price of the add ons was $99, you can do that math and then 20% times the 99 is another $29, so it actually raises the lifetime value up to $349, give or take. What you’ll notice with that example is if I had just said DotNetInvoice is $329, and that’s the number I’m going to go with right off the cuff just so I would have it, it’s actually pretty close to the ultimate value.
That’s something I want you to think about is, ultimately, you’ll want to get down to the dollar because once you’re paying for ads and you’re running big time marketing spend, it does matter. But in the early days, when you’re just trying to get a sanity check on things or just trying to get an idea of how much someone is worth starting with one time sale, starting with the purchase price, that’s a fine way to do it especially if you’re prelaunch because you’re not going to have all the numbers that I just threw out right of who’s going to purchase what of which tier, just make a judgment call. If you’re one purchase price, use that. If you have three tiers, I would take the average of the bottom two. An example of the $50, $100, $150, I would take the average of the $50 and $100 and I would obviously say I have $75. That’s the lifetime value I would have going into a one time purchase business. Next we’ll dive into how to calculate it for recurring.
Mike: I think the analogy I might try to draw between calculating the lifetime value and how it relates to your business is that when you’re looking at this, you would think that calculating lifetime value is really straight forward and easy as okay, how much money you’re going to make per customer, but once you start digging into the details as Rob illustrated, if you get into things like cross sells and upsells, those things start to change what your lifetime value actually looks like. It’s very easy when it’s just a flat number and it’s one time payment but anything else, let’s say that you’re paying affiliates, that eats into whatever that margin is. If you’re doing cross sells, or upsells, maybe it adds 20% to the revenue but only for 50% of the customers, then it starts to get complicated.
It’s almost like the very simplistic analogy is okay, this is how you calculate gravity but depending on how close you are to center of gravity or how far away you are, there’s all these other little things that come into play. Then there’s air friction and lots of other stuff. It starts to get more complicated, and there are other things that you can add in that may make a difference or you may decide to gloss over them just based on what it is that you’re trying to get at and why you’re trying to get at that number. If it’s try to maintain profitability or optimize your profitability, you might dig in and say yes, these things actually matter to the calculation. In other cases you may just say, I don’t care, I just need a back of the envelope number so that I know kind of what I’m shooting for. It really depends on where you are in the process of trying to figure out how much money each customer is making you.
Rob: Let’s flip over to recurring which is what we’ll focus on for the rest of the episode. Obviously this works with SaaS, but also works for membership sites, something where someone pays you on a recurring basis. This can be used for quarterly or annual or whatever. We’re going to look at monthly because it makes the most sense for what we’re talking about.
To calculate lifetime value, the simplest formula is to take your average monthly revenue per user, per customer and you divide it by your churn percentage. If your average revenue per customer per month is $30 and you have a 10% monthly churn rate, then you’d have $30 over 0.1 and that means your lifetime value is $300. It’s not complicated, it’s just hard to explain on a podcast but basically your average customer lifetime, how many months they stick with you is one divided by churn. Again, it would be 1 over 0.1, so that would give you 10, and then your lifetime value is your average monthly revenue per user which is also called ARPU (Average Revenue Per User). ARPU times the amount of moths they stick around times the lifetime. The amount of months they stick around is 10 and the ARPU in this case is 30. 30 times 10 is 300.
Again, the simple way to do it, we don’t really need to derive it here like I’ve just done but it’s basically your average monthly revenue per user divided by your churn percentage. There is a more advanced way to do it, we’ll link over to profit wealth. We want to get down to the penny and how all these things come into it. But what’s interesting is you think about HitTail where an earlier SaaS app I had, had pricing tiers that were 10, 20, 40 and 80 and then it went up from there if you got really big. If I would to look at a SaaS app that had pricing tiers of 10, 20, 40 and 80, this is actually similar to what HitTail had. Those were the pricing tiers for that. You could take a reasonable guess. Typically, when I’m looking at a SaaS app, if I’m going to guess what the average revenue per user is, it tends to be one from the bottom. In this case 10, 20, 40, 80, I would from an outside perspective say it’s probably around $20. Maybe it’s $22, maybe it’s $25, something without expansion revenue specifically.
Expansion revenue is like what Drip or people as the ad subscribers goes up quickly, the costs. But in an app like HitTail or app where people choose a tier and stay on it, it’s going to tend to be somewhere on the lower end. If your average monthly revenue per user is $20, you can see how driving churn down drives this lifetime value up. If your churn is 10%, which is quite high, you only have $200 total from the lifetime. But if you cut that in half down to 5%, then you’re looking at to having $400 that you’re essentially grossing from that customer over their lifetime.
Mike: The thing to keep in mind with that churn rate is that as that churn rate goes up, it dramatically starts to affect the lifetime value. If you think about it strictly from a percentage, I think it was 5% churn is the example that I’ve used in a MicroConf talk in the past where if you have 5% churn, then on a year over year basis, you’re churning over 60% of your customer base and it actually gets a lot worse than that because it is 5% per month, not necessarily the total of the entire time because you have to calculate it at each point where somebody could potentially churn out of the application. That 5%, great number to have but you really want it over 5% over the course of the year, not 5% per month. You can get in trouble if your churn rate starts to climb and you end up churning over most of your customers on a yearly basis. That’s a really bad position to be in.
Rob: And I’ll just throw in this little tid bit here, this isn’t even in the outline but it’s interesting, you can get to the point where you have net negative churn, your churn is actually negative because your existing customers are expanding. It’s called expansion revenue like I just talked about. In a business where it is based on something that is constantly growing, let’s say imagine Amazon EC2, Amazon S3.
Mike: I think Stripe would be a good example.
Rob: Stripe’s a good example. Yup.
Mike: Stripe takes a percentage of the purchase price for their customers but as those customers grow and they sell more, Stripe grows their own revenue because of that.
Rob: Right. If they have a bunch of people signing up and some are churning but the ones who are there are growing 10% per month each, just as an example, you can imagine that their churn is negative and that’s crazy multiplier, crazy multiplier on lifetime value.
Why are we even thinking about lifetime value, why do you care? The big deal is lifetime value gives you an idea of what you can spend to support and to build the product and they acquire, but there’s even more interesting aspect that we can drill into and it’s not directly lifetime value but it’s based around payback time, payback duration.
Let’s say that there’s this common mistake of beginning startup founders, thinking that they can take their entire lifetime value and they can spend that to acquire a customer. If you had $500 LTV, I could go out and spend $500 to acquire that customer. That is far from the truth. There are three major reasons why that is, first one is that you’re going to have expenses, you’re going to be paying employees, you’re going to be paying yourself, you’re going to have hosting, you’re going to have Stripe cost, payment processing, there are a ton of expenses that are out there. When you are small you can get those small, but especially as you get big, your expenses will become a larger and larger percentage of that lifetime value. That’s the first thing to keep in mind. That’s where if you want to do the exhaustive LTV calculation where it’s net LTV, you can start deducting out expenses on a per customer basis, just takes a lot longer. When you’re small, it isn’t such a big factor, I wouldn’t necessarily do that earlier on.
Second thing is you don’t want to spend $500 to acquire a customer who’s going to bring you $500 because you want to make some type of profit, you want to have a business that actually generates some type of money that you put in your pocket. The third one is that you are likely to run out of cash. Imagine if you have a really long customer lifetime, people just stick around forever. Let’s say they stick around for 50 months and you get $10 a month from them. The lifetime value would be $500. But if you spend $500 to acquire them, or even if you spend $300 or $400, you don’t get payback for 30-40 months and unless you have a massive pile of cash, you are going to get killed. Frankly, you’re going to go out of business, it’s what’s going to happen, you’re going to run out of cash.
There is this whole concept of payback duration or payback time that doesn’t go all the way up to the LTV, it only goes for certain number of months to the point where you have enough cash to cover it and basically enough comfort to cover it. So Mike, you want to talk a little bit about these rules of thumb that I’ve used over the years for a funded company’s payback time and bootstrapped company payback time.
Mike: Yeah. The difference between them is striking because with a funded company, they have money to burn because they’ve gotten money from their investors and the whole purpose of that money is to not just find the customer but to also leverage the channels that are going to get them more customers. Not necessarily as concerned about profit. They can burn through the money that they are getting and it doesn’t matter as much to them, they’re really trying to spend that money in order to identify the channel that’s going to get them the most customers as quick as possible and then they’re going to use that to start optimizing what the revenue is. Sometimes they don’t even do that, sometimes they don’t care about revenue at that stage at all, they’re really just looking to get users.
If they are looking for a return on their investment though, they’re typically looking at something less than a year because they have the money to burn and they have the money to invest in those channels and the purpose is to get that money in the door overtime so that when the year comes up, then they have the money back in the bank. As Rob had given the example, $10 a month over the course of 50 months, let’s say that it’s $100 a month over the course of 12 months. They want to get that return within a year.
With a bootstrap company, you really can’t do that. Most people do not have the runway in order to be able to make that happen. This is where people are really looking to get that payback within two, three, four months at the most. If you have more cash in the bank, you can stretch it out to six or seven but if you don’t, you really need that payback very quickly, maybe one or two months at the most. This is an area where if you’re selling annual plans, it can make a huge difference in your ability to leverage channels that are going to cost you a lot of money to acquire those customers because if you can sell an annual plan, you get all the money up front, you don’t have to wait for it to come in. Maybe not everybody signs up for an annual plan but if you can get a certain percentage of them to sign up for an annual plan, then that calculates into what your upfront revenue is and what your payback time is on average. It’s not going to say everybody’s going to pay back within this period of time, whether it’s three months or upfront. But you also want to make sure that you have the money in the bank to be able to reinvest in wherever the channel is that you’re finding that’s working.
Rob: Yup. I remember when I first started running ads with HitTail was Facebook ads and my payback time that I was looking for was I think two months or three months because I didn’t have a lot of cash and then I did some deals. I did an AppSumo deal and I got $11,000 in cash from that and then I upped it to a four-month payback. And then I got even better at it, and I realized I wanted to spend more and grow faster so I went to five months and eventually I was at six months payback because I was comfortable with it and I had enough cash coming in from existing customer to cover that. It’s a really interesting thing to see how comfortable you are and how much cash you have in the bank. I would say as a bootstrapped founder like you said, somewhere between two and four months is where most people typically start.
One other thing I wanted to point out is there is there’s this rule of thumb with lifetime value to CAC ratio. CAC is Cost to Acquire the Customer. LTV to CAC ratio, in general is in funded circles but they say it should be about 3:1. Meaning if your LTV is $1,200 that your cost to acquire them should be right about $400. If you go over $400, let’s say you’re at $800, it means you’re spending too much to acquire customers and actually there are funded companies that do this because they’re trying to go after growth and they’re nowhere near profitable. These are the kinds of the companies that I think that a lot of us roll our eyes at because it’s like yes, you’re growing and yes you’re bragging about how you’re killing it but you’re never going to make money until you prove that you could acquire customers for less.
And then in the funded circles, if they say you’re acquiring customer’s, lifetime value is $400 and you’re only spending $100 or $200, then you’re actually missing out on growth. They’re not saying it should be below 3:1, they’re saying it should be at 3:1 or as close as you can get there. Personally, when I’ve done this, I have often not spent 3:1, I have often done below that like 4:1 or 5:1 because the rest is profit. If you are a bootstrap founder, you have to think about that. The less you spend, the slower you will grow but the more profit you will have. You want to balance that, you want to grow really fast, you can obviously have that ratio be even higher.
For the last few minutes of today’s podcast, I wanted to run through a couple examples of some real numbers to wrap your head around what it actually looks like to run ads and to think about payback time. What I’m saying is, as reasonable clickthrough rates and reasonable ads cost at different times, you have to find the right ad network to be able to justify some of these but let’s go back to lower price SaaS, which is $10, $20, $40 and $80 a month with average earn per user at $20 point, churn is 10% a month just to make it simple. Obviously you’d want to get lower than that but it’s easy math, that makes your lifetime value of $200.
Interesting thing, we’re just going to look at two scenarios, back in the day, when I was running Facebook ads, this is 2012, I was getting clicks for $0.30, that is not impossible to do at this point but there are ad networks still today where you could find those. At the time, Facebook was a [00:24:50] ad network and when Google AdWords was [00:24:53], it was cheap clicks that Jason Cohen and talked about getting $0.05 clicks when he first started the SmartBear. You have to go outside these mainstream areas because they are overcrowded with highly funded. It’s where everyone’s playing and so the clicks are more expensive, but if you can find networks or other opportunities for getting inexpensive clicks, be creative with it, that’s where you can get these $0.30, $0.40, $0.50 clicks.
Let’s say we were getting ad clicks at $0.30 piece, let’s say 2% of the people who came to our website converted the trial, that number is high but for a lower priced SaaS app, that’s really curiosity based, it’s possible although we’ll look at the next example as I think is probably a little more realistic these days. 2% conversion to trial and then half of your folks, this is credit card upfront, 50% convert from trial to paid. With that, if you do the math, $0.30, 2%, 50%, it takes you out to $30 to acquire each customer and you would get a payback in 1 1/2 months. You would want to run that all day and all night and you would actually want to pay more per click to drive more traffic faster. I would consider doubling one of those numbers, if you literally were getting 2% conversion rate to trial, that is a pretty hefty rate.
The second example is pretty much the same example, but I doubled the cost from $0.30 to $0.60 and then I cut the conversion to trial in half from 2% to 1%, which I’ll admit is a bit realistic. It’s $0.60 per click and 1% converting to trial and half converting to paid, that gives us a cost to acquire of $120 and that’s a 6 month payback. Realize that if you’re driving 100 customers new customers a month from this ad approach, that’s going to be $12,000 in cash that you’re going to need to do it. It puts into perspective, those are just loose numbers, if you add a higher average revenue per user, not uncommon to have $80 or $100 average revenue per user, then these numbers become very different. You can pay a lot more per click. If you pay a lot more per click, your conversion trial’s probably also going to be lower with a higher price point thing. These things will have to shake out.
But this is the analysis that I have done many times when I’m thinking about are we ready to start running ads and is there a scenario under which this is feasible and then we can reasonably grow a business using ads because every business is not cut out to do pay acquisition.
Mike: I think the most important piece to keep in mind when you’re looking at the numbers and try to figure out whether or not it makes sense to go after a particular advertising network is how quickly you’re going to get that return on your investment back. Because if it is six months, and if it’s costing you $10,000 to pump into that, you’re not going to see that $10,000 that you paid this month until six months out. In order to get yourself to that six month period or get yourself through it, it’s going to cost you $50,000, $60,000 and yes it decreases as you go on because you’re getting more money from the customers in the third month than you were in the first month, but the reality is you need a lot of money to make something like that work. That’s why funded companies can do it and bootstrapped companies really don’t have the ability to. Again, that’s also why the annual plans and getting the money upfront helps so much with being able to grow the business in an advertising space because you get that money and you can spend it, and in fact, almost gives you negative churn as a result of that.
Jason Cohen has talked about that at MicroConf. I think there’s a talk that you can find on the MicroConf website under the videos section from 2013 or so where he talks about exactly that.
Rob: Yeah. To be honest, even though we’ve been talking for more than half an hour, this really is high level introductory. I say introductory and I hope it was easy to understand but I will say that the kind of rules of thumb that I’ve thrown out here are from years and years of experience running this across multiple SaaS apps, many, many small businesses and this is the way that I think about paid acquisition as I’m diving into it. I was trying to think of any networks these days, like ad networks in particular, that would probably have tripleclicks, I think Twitter is one, and I think Instagram is another. I don’t know if Instagram’s up to Facebook cost yet, I know Instagram’s a pain, it’s not necessarily B2B, it’s got to be visual and all that stuff. Those are the two networks I think have a decent reach that could potentially have cheap clicks. I don’t think Facebook does it these days anymore, last time I ran ads, the cheapest I was getting was the $0.60 clicks but a lot of them were mostly between $0.60 and $1, I think it’s even higher than that now.
That is why these businesses like Facebook and Google mint money and why they’re worth so much, why the stock market values them so high because they know that overtime, if they’re successful and if they figure out their ad tech, which is pretty hard to build, if they figure that out, it’s just going to grow overtime and that’s good for them. It’s not necessarily good for the advertisers in the sense of it becomes more and more expensive to run ads.
Mike: I think the one wrench to throw in this entire thing is that even if you’re paying money to get those people to your site, there is the chance that they may not convert right away and they may just end up on your email list and you may need to figure out, okay, it cost me this much to get somebody onto my email list, but later on did they convert into a customer and that’s where you start getting into a really advanced analysis of what your sales funnel looks like. Maybe some people convert, maybe some people never convert or just unsubscribe and they will never become a customer but those are the places where it becomes very difficult to start making some of these calculations because then it’s not as straightforward as I paid $1 for this ad and 1% of the people converted. It’s probably a little bit more than 1% but it’s hard to know overtime, then you end up with problems trying to figure out what your attribution looks like. Attribution is an entirely different world, we could probably spend an entire episode on trying to figure out attribution but it’s complicated to say the least. I’ve talked to a lot of people who said trying to figure out what your attribution looks like is very, very difficult.
Rob: Yup. This is all good points. It’s not necessarily a purchase right off the bat from an ad, especially not from Facebook. They’ve tweaked their algorithms so actually they made that harder. If you look at someone like Brennan Dunn with Double Your Freelancing, he talks about every email subscriber he gets is worth x dollars and I forget what the number is. I imagine he’s been public with it, but it’s something like $10 or $11. He knows that if he runs Facebook ads and can just get someone to opt in, that down the line, if he does all the math, on average, it’s about $10 or $11 based on how much a bunch of people don’t buy and the ones that do buy these many things from him.
It’s interesting, if you can run ads and getting someone on the email list is not that hard, depends on the list, depends on the time and clicks and all the stuff but I’ve done it pretty consistently for between around $1 at the low end up to maybe $5, $6 on the high end. What I was just talking about, it’d be pretty interesting, you could see how you could mint money with the business model that makes money based on people being on an email list.
Mike: I think that sounds like a good place to wrap it up. If you have a question for us, you can call it into our voicemail number at 1-888-801-9690 or you could email it to us at email@example.com. Our theme music is an excerpt from We’re Outta Control by MoOt used under Creative Commons. Subscribe to us in iTunes by searching for Startups and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening, we’ll see you next time.
In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of us, Rob and Mike talk about building a killer email launch sequence. Drawing from their collective experiences launching various books, software products, SaaS apps, and membership websites they discuss their thoughts and framework on the topic. Some of the points discussed in detail include elements of a sale letter, how many emails to send, and things to do on launch day.
Items mentioned in this episode:
- Metrics Watch
- Product Hunt
- Dan Kennedy’s Ultimate Sales Letter
- Rob’s Book: Start Small Stay Small
Rob: In this episode of Startups for the Rest of Us, Mike and I talk about building a killer email launch sequence. This is Startups for the Rest of Us episode 325.
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.
Mike: And I’m Mike.
Rob: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s the word this week, sir?
Mike: Well, I’m doing some ongoing work to polish up my Zapier integration, and it turned out to be a lot more troublesome than I had originally expected. There are certain requirements that they have about data that they expect back, so I had to go in and make a bunch more changes on top of the ones I already made to the API, and their documentation isn’t very clear on some of the things that you need to do. It’s technically correct, and I talked to someone about this over there, but not very helpful.
Rob: Yeah, that’s a bummer. I think I mentioned last time- because did you mention last time you were working on it?
Mike: Yeah. Especially getting our V1 Zapier integration. We ran into some struggles with it which is surprising because they have so many people integrating with it I would think it would be more of a well-honed process. I know that when I’ve done the V2, and I think we may even have the V3 out now, it got easier. There are still some tricky areas, but overall, once you have something that works it’s a lot easier to iterate on that.
Yeah, I think the issue is just when you go in you don’t even have a baseline and so you’ve done things your own way so you have your way of interfacing with the world and it doesn’t necessarily match up with what their expectation is of their way of interfacing with the world or with all the different APIs so they essentially set the standard that everybody else has to follow at this point.
Rob: Right. Yep, cool. On my end, we are hiring two more developers at Drip: front end and [?] developer, so that’s always fun ramping up those efforts. As you know, it’s very time-consuming to find good people. I think we’ll be pretty much constantly hiring throughout this year just with the trial and customer growth since [?] acquired us. We just have more and more needs to scale and to build more features and just everything that comes with that. I used to marvel- I don’t understand how these teams get so big. Why do you need fifteen people to run a software product? Why do you need twenty people? But I see it now that you get so many systems and then when you’re growing it at double-digit percentage every month, those systems every 4-6 months, they run out of capacity. Whether it’s a database or whether it’s a queue, whatever it is, that code is not built to basically double in usage every, whatever it is, six months. So you have to circle back and in the early days there’s almost none of it so you’re just doing features. But as you start to circle back to all these systems you’re maintaining, we’re finding we need a full-time developer on just one sub-system now just to keep it going, and that’s not even really improving it that much, it’s just to kind of keep up with the needs of the customer base as it grows.
Mike: Yeah, I was going to point out that there gets to a point where some of the different subsystems must need somebody full-time to work on just that. And those pieces get complicated, and as they get more complicated, it makes it more difficult to move from one subsystem to another because it is so complicated and it takes you so long to get back to a base level of understanding how did we write this and what were the different [etch-cases?] that we ran into so when I’m making changes I don’t break other things? And having that one person responsible for that one piece of it makes things a lot easier because then you don’t have to do that context switching all the time.
Rob: Yeah, totally. Other thing on my radar is Sherry and I are heading to Los Angeles this weekend for a quick getaway. I’m leaving Friday, I think my plane leaves at 5 or something, and we’re back by Sunday afternoon. It’s so cool to be in the city. We live in Minneapolis, and we’re twenty minutes from a major airport, and it’s a nonstop flight, less than four hours to LA from here. It’s crazy to have that flexibility, and I think it was like $210 to do it. I’ve really enjoyed that part about being in a larger city because Fresno was always a hop. Basically you always had a stop somewhere, and that stop just adds complexity. Your luggage gets lost more often, that stop always takes an hour or two hours and there’s just so much that can go wrong and you’re up and down and doing all this stuff, and I find that a nonstop flight now, that’s what I strive for. So the fact I would never do like 6 or 8 hour travel day. To get from Fresno to Minneapolis is like seven hours or something because it’s not nonstop, but I would never do that for a weekend because then you lose Sunday and you lose basically all day Friday, but in this case I can get there, especially with the time change around dinner time or a little later on Friday, and then we head back early afternoon on Sunday. I’m kind of marveling at the time efficiency of that.
Mike: You know, I just looked it up while you were talking, and the temperature difference between Minneapolis and Los Angeles is about twenty degrees, so that’s about $10 per degree.
Rob: I know, I know. We’re going for a friend’s birthday party and we’re hanging out with a bunch of people on Redondo Beach. It’s gonna be a blast. But Minneapolis — the polar vortex is coming through — so we’ve been subzero temperatures or 5 degrees has been the high, and all this time in LA it’s been 60s and 70s and we go to show up and suddenly this week Minneapolis is all in the 30s and 40s which is crazy for this time of year, and LA is in the 50s and 60s. It’s like they are meeting in the middle. It’s not the right week to go, but I guess we’ll take what we can get.
Mike: Yeah, I was just going to say turn the heat up a little bit. Whatever.
Rob: That’s what I should do.
So in today’s episode it’s about building a killer email launch sequence, and it was prompted by an email sent to us by [JP Boley?] at metrics.watch, that’s their website. And he says, “Hey guys, love the show and all the stuff you put out there. I’m about to launch a new product in about 2-3 weeks, and I want to have a great launch. I have some things planned, but I fear I might miss some of the basics and really want to get it as right as possible. Do you have any resources that suggest how to successfully launch and what a launch sequence might look like in 2017? The tool we’re launching is the third product of my business Metrics Watch, which is email reports and real time alerts for Google Analytics, and the next one is a freemium tool that scans Google Analytics accounts and tells people if they have spam or fake traffic in Google Analytics and how to fix it.”
So thanks for the question, JP. We’re going to take the next 20 or 30 minutes to talk through how we would craft a launch sequence and this is based on experience launching- between the two of us- books, software products, SaaS apps, info products, [?] Academy, Founder Cafe, which are online membership models- so really kind of the gamut.
Mike: MicroConf too.
Rob: MicroConf as well, right? We have a launch sequence there, an in-person event as well. So we’ve done this a lot, and there are a lot of way to do it, but I want to put out maybe a concrete framework that shows like step by step if you want to take this and run with it, go do that. And we also want to talk through how we think about it and why we get to the conclusion on which emails we send on which days. I also cover this in my book, Start Small, Stay Small in quite a bit of detail. Little bit different conclusion that I come to here because it was 5-6 years ago that I published that and some things have changed. I think the best way to get a sense of how to do a launch sequence is to basically get on someone else’s launch list and see how it feels to receive the quantity and the tone and the style of their emails.
One example is a friend of mine a couple months ago did a launch for kind of a training product, and I was on his list, and it was like irritating as hell. It was a really overbearing launch, and it was very much not in line with his personality. It was odd. I could tell he didn’t write the copy, it wasn’t in his voice, there were way too many emails. He was just hammering us, and if you’re not on the receiving end of those and you’re just sending them, you don’t know how it feels. I think getting on a couple launch sequences from people and seeing I like the feel of this or I didn’t like the feel of that can help you decide what feels right to you and what feels like it is in your voice and what feels like it is probably the right approach within the guidelines and within the layout today.
So we’re gonna give some ranges here. You can send 2 emails, you can send 10 emails. But which one’s right? A lot of it depends on your own personal taste and your relationship with your audience.
Mike: One thing to mention about places you can find products to get on to the different launch sequences because that might be an initial hangup that you have- how do I find some of those products where they have a launch sequence going?
I would head over to Product Hunt to start out with. And then from there you should be able to find a bunch of different products that people are launching, and then I would sign up for several of them, not just one or two because you are very likely to find somewhere they don’t have a very good launch sequence or they don’t even have one. They just basically put the product out there and get a bunch of sign ups on their page, but they don’t necessarily follow up with them and follow through with a full-blown launch sequence, so you’ll probably have to try out a hand full of them, I would probably say 6-12 of them. And then what you can do is take those and throw them into a folder, use them essentially as a Swipe file, and then look through to see how they go through the process of pitching the product or the offering they have.
Another thing you can do is you can go out to, I’ll say some rather well-known entrepreneurs in the software space, and identify what products they have available and get on to their email lists. Another option is looking specifically for book authors or information or training products of authors. So those tend to be dialed in pretty well. Obviously, they are not perfect, but a lot of different people are doing those types of things. Those are places you can start to find examples of what you can do that are very specific to a particular product as opposed to talking about it generally, which is what we’re going to do.
Rob: And my first exposure to a lot of this talk around launch sequences was Jeff Walker’s product launch formula, and I never actually bought that. It was about $2000 and it was at a time when it wasn’t really worth it to me, but in essence he kind of lays a bunch of stuff out anyways, so I kind of took the model that he laid out in his free content and used it to develop early launch sequences for products I was launching. And then I’ve slowly adapted those over time based on the audience and the product that was launching. In essence, what he talks about is doing something called the sideways sales letter. A lot of folks do this these days, but it’s still really [rarely?] effective. The concept of a sales letter, if you haven’t heard of that, in essence, if you think of a long form home page where it’s really just text, it’s almost a big long essay or blog post- the point of the letter is to essentially show you the value of a product and get someone to hit the buy now button. And there are ways to write really good sales letters. I would say that the old Jerk homepage- you can look at that on archive.org, maybe six months ago, that was a really solid SaaS sales letter. I spent a lot of time crafting it. It got good results, it made a statement, it used a lot of you words, it talked to the reader. Then you can write really crappy cheesy [?], and those I’m sure you can find on clickbank or something like that. But there are really six components of the sales letter. First is the opener, and you want something really good, really engaging because otherwise, someone’s not going to keep reading. You want to identify the problem, and during this time you’re using a lot of “you” language. Talking directly to the reader saying you’re a developer, you feel this. You want to launch a product but… you’re kind of putting words in their mouth, and if they’re not that person, they are going to leave, but if they are, it’s going to captivate, and they’re going to feel like, “Whoa, this person is talking exactly to me.” And then you present the solution. That’s the thing you’re selling. Then you want to add on social proof, a moneyback guarantee — that’s the fourth element. The fifth is essentially the stick, and this is up to you, but the penalty if you don’t do this. If you don’t do this, you’re going to be circling around, you’re never going to launch your product, you’re never going to market, or whatever. And the sixth is, in essence, the close, you ask for the sale. Those are the elements, and they can be in different orders and there are different variations of them but those are the fundamental six areas of a sales letter.
If you want more information on that, I would go read Dan Kennedy’s ultimate sales letter. It’s available in Kindle and Print. It’s probably the first book I read on sales letters, and as much as I don’t like a lot of Dan Kennedy’s teachings — I think he crosses the line in terms of … he’s just really old-school internet marketing in a way that is really irritating to me, but with that said, this book is a really good overview of how to write a sales letter and the components that you should think about and the ways to write them.
Mike: Let’s talk a little bit more about the sales letters. Just keep in mind that the entire intent of the sales letter is to help move somebody from where they are today into a position where they are going to take the next step and become a customer. That’s the whole purpose of the sales letter. You can do that in different ways, as Rob said. You can move things out of order, you can change, for example, your presenting this solution, social proof and guarantee. You can change up the order of some of those thing a little bit or mix and match them a little bit. Say here’s the problem and here’s the solution and throw some social proof in there and provide a little bit of a stick or a penalty and say this is what will happen if you don’t and you alternate back and go back to the solution and say by the way, this other problem over here is also taken care of. So you don’t have to go directly in that order, but again, the purpose of those is really to help somebody move their mindset from one place to another.
Rob: That’s a good point. Circling back to Jeff Walker, again, he has this product launch formula, and it’s about writing a sideways sales letter. So it’s taking a sales letter and instead of having it be this long thing of text, you basically break it up and send it out over time. You might send the first three sections in the first email and the second two in the next one. You don’t do that exactly, but you get the idea that each email has a particular point during the launch, and you’re basically covering these same topics: you need an opener, you identify the problem, you present the solution, you have social proof and a guarantee, perhaps you have a stick, and then you have a close, and then you just do those in a sequence of emails however you break it up. In my experience, the optimal number of emails is between 3 and 7 over the course of sometimes one, sometimes two weeks. That’s how I think about it. I personally tend toward 5-email launches, meaning that the launch has 5 emails in it, but it depends on how much your list loves you, and how much of a pain in the butt you want to be. To be honest, the more emails you send in a launch almost without exception the more sales you will make. But the tradeoff is that the more emails you send, the more unsubscribes and then ultimately complaints you will receive, so you have to find that balance depending on your niche. Like stock-picking sites, they send a ton of email. 9, 10, 11 emails, just crazy volume. Twice a day, all that stuff versus if you’re sending to developers, if you send twice a day, you’re going to get people starting to mark stuff as spam. So you have to figure out the relationship you have with your audience as well as the niche you’re in. That’s why I give out the range of 3 to 7. If you’re not sending 3, you’re probably not sending enough, and when you start creeping up in the 6, 7, 8 range you better have some really good content you’re sending out or else people are going to bail.
Mike: The other thing to keep in mind is the timeline has a lot to do with that, so Rob was just talking there about 3-7 over the course of a week, but if you’re going to start putting yourself in front of people 2-3 weeks out or 5 weeks out, you have a lot more flexibility to start sending more emails because there’s more space in between them. But as you get closer to that launch date, you’re probably going to want to ramp them out so instead of sending 1 a week, for example, for 3-4 weeks, you’d send one every couple of days. And it’s really that last week where you send that 3-7 emails in an effort to get up to the point where you’re building that anticipation, and that’s part of what these emails are about: building anticipation for the product launch. And the people who are interested in it are going to be looking forward to those emails, but as Rob said, there are people who are going to be turned off by it or not ready yet or they’re not in a position where they can take advantage of it. And if you start inundating those people with those email, they will walk away. They will unsubscribe. So it is a balancing act. Sometimes you can balance that out by giving them an option: hey, if you’re not ready right now, just click here, and we’ll follow up with you in 3-4 months, so you can sort of head those things off, but at the same time you don’t want to put too many things on your plate if you don’t have time to start implementing things or trying to think of ways to handle too many [edge?] cases. It really depends on the size of your list and what it is you’re going for.
Rob: In terms of the overall launch, a good launch has some type of reward you’re able to offer that people won’t get at another time. So like some epic course you’ve created, a sequence of interviews, something that is valuable to people that could be a discount on the product itself that you only discount for the first few days, or if it’s a SaaS app maybe you get a lifetime discount for the whole time or you get maybe it’s not even a discount, like with Drip we still charge the $49, but we doubled everyone’s- what they got for that $49 because I didn’t want to be selling things for $24.50 a month. I wanted to hit that price point. So you can get creative with it.
So number 1 it has a reward and number 2: it’s time limited. And without both of those components, you don’t create the impetus for people to do it now and people will procrastinate and not do it. So there’s the two things you’re going to be communicating through this process as you step through those six elements I said above.
Mike: The reward itself I’m not particularly a big fan of offering lifetime discounts or anything like that- I think there’s a lot of ways you can put yourself in a position to be providing more value as opposed to capturing less value from a customer for the entire life of that customer. As Rob said, with Drip what they did is they gave away, the ability to send more emails, but there are other ways you can do similar ways as well. You can do personalized onboarding or coaching sessions for example on how to get the best use of the product or help them integrate it into their systems, and that actually serves two different purposes. One: it helps get them into your software and it also allows you to have those direct one-to-one conversations with them to help you learn more information about how they’re going to use the product, when they’re going to use it, how often, and help you to better craft your future marketing messages. So yes, it’s time out of your day you’re going to be spending with them, and it will probably chew through at least a month if not several months worth of the “profit margin” for that, but it does give you the additional benefit of learning from that experience to be able to apply it to the future for the product.
Rob: So let’s talk through this five email sequence, and again, you can adapt this to be three emails, you can adapt to be seven emails, but we’ll just talk through these five and kind of when they’re sent. And I should say the first time I used this kind of structure I was kind of flying blind and I didn’t know what would come of it. It was 2007 or 2008, and then over the years it wasn’t exactly the structure. I’ve honed it based on feedback and results. A lot of people use this formula these days, but there’s kind of been a lot of us for 10 years now trying to hone this thing and get it better. So I will say that this type of sequence tends to convert better than it did in the old days just because we’ve been able to improve it so much over the years. It depends a lot on your copywriting as well.
Let me get into the first one. Typically about a week before the launch day- so the launch window starts on the launch day, I’m going to use that term. And then I like to think of the launch window being 48-72 hours. With MicroConf we do a full week because people- it’s a big ticket item, they’re thinking about making travel plans, they have to check schedules, there’s all types of stuff, but somewhere in between that- I don’t like to go longer than a week. So about a week before the launch day, you’re going to send a teaser email. This is information, a screenshot, maybe a short screencast. You’re kind of being vague about the release date but you say next week we’re going to be launching this thing and here’s what it is and here’s the problem it solves. And you really get into starting to build anticipation. At this point you want to let them know since they’re on the list, they’re going to receive a special price available only to people who are there but that it is going to be time-limited. And this can really dig into the problem the person reading the email has, and kind of show that your product is the answer or at least start doing that.
Mike: One thing to keep in mind before you start going down this process of laying out these different emails is make sure you have an outline of all the different emails so you know exactly what needs to be written and write it as far in advance as possible. The last thing you want to do is be crafting these emails through your launch sequence. If you decide you’re going to launch on the 7th, and you start them on the 1st, don’t wait until the day before to start writing some of those emails because it will either not get done or you’ll not be happy with it that you won’t have the time to go through them. So it’s kind of a preface to all these emails that we’re going to talk about. make sure you do those things well in advance so you’re not waiting to the last minute so that if something goes wrong you have time to tweak it.
Rob: One other thing I forgot to mention about a good launch when I was talking about it above is if it makes sense, scarcity is the third thing that’s really cool. So you have that reward, you have that timeline, but if you add scarcity as well- don’t do fake scarcity. If you’re selling ebooks there’s no scarcity, but if you’re selling tickets to a conference, there is scarcity because there’s only so many tickets that you can sell. So that is what you’re building towards with these emails, so the second email goes out typically 1 day before the launch, and this is where you provide social proof, you’ve mentioned the money back guarantee- you’re trying to remove all objections so that someone’s already thought through the whole purchase and by the time they get that email on launch day, all they are doing is basically clicking the buy button. So you build anticipation and excitement and you try to remove all the roadblocks. So you may need to touch base again on the problem your product solves, but you’re going tell them, especially if there’s scarcity, you’re going to tell them the exact day and exact time they’re going to receive that email and let them know that you imagine you will sell out, assuming you do. You want to say stuff that’s true. You’re going to sell out and if they want to get in, they need to get in early. Again, do true scarcity. If you don’t have real scarcity, then don’t do it. But I like to send this email out 1 day before because it’s long enough that most people will open it before the launch, but it’s close enough that most people will remember. If you send it out two days, it can get a little tricky with people 48 hours later forgetting that this launch is going on. Also, I like to start my launches on Tuesday and so if you go two days before they’re getting it on a Sunday, and I prefer to be in their inbox on Monday morning.
So the third email is your actual launch email, and like I said, I like to do Tuesdays. I’ve also done some launches on Wednesdays. And when we do the full week long launches with MicroConf we have done a few of them on Thursdays. I don’t like to do launches over weekends because people just aren’t on their computers as much. On launch day you’re going to email the list, you’re going to see sales rolling in, and you’re probably going to have your best sales day at least for a while. That’s the whole goal of this is to kind of make your first several months of revenue on that first day to really kickstart your motivation. I’ve seen conversion rates on this launch sequence well about 20% of the list buying. And I’ve seen as low as 5% and I’ve seen even 30% which is just insane. It depends on the relationship you have with your audience, it depends on how big and warm the list is, openers play a big part in that and your price point. But it’s pretty interesting. If you can sell a few hundred customers on $20-$30 a month, not a bad way to kickstart a little bootstrap startup project that you’ve been working on for a few months.
Mike: One thing that Rob just mentioned about having that launch day on Tuesday or Wednesday and then not sending out an email two days before because then it would come out on a Sunday- the other thing to keep in mind is when your launch sequence is going to end and when you’re going to stop making that special offer. So the reason Tuesday works so well is because you can send an email the day before and then you can have that launch sequence last for two days so that people have that opportunity to get in until Thursday. One of the issues you can run into is if you extend that by another day what ends up happening is that now your deals are going to end on Friday afternoon or evening, and by the time 4 or 5 o’clock rolls around on a Friday people have lost interest, their minds are elsewhere, and if you have a launch ending at midnight on a Friday night it is not going to work out so well. I have seen that happen where something goes out for a launch and it ends on a Friday or Saturday night at midnight, and those don’t go very well. So you have to be careful not only to avoid starting it over a weekend but also ending it over a weekend, you don’t want to do that either.
Rob: So the fourth email is the 24-48 hours after the initial launch email. And it depends obviously if your launch is only 48 hours then this kind of has to be at 24. But if you’re doing a 3-day launch, maybe it’s 24-36-48. Basically, this is another excuse to communicate with them, and so you want to provide some value. Probably a good model for this is send out an FAQ email like hey, we’ve gotten some questions and these are the questions and these are the answers. Because you’re almost certainly going to get questions via email and so you can compile those up and just be like, I wanted everyone to have those, and it’s really just an excuse to get in touch again. Remember, email open rates are not 100%, so maybe if you’re getting a 40% open rate on your sequence, emailing multiple times will hit different segments of that, and you can make sure that everyone at least gets some of your emails into their inbox.
Another thing you can do with this one is to add some social proof again, add quotes from people who got in and are really excited, and if you’re selling any quantity you are going to get feedback pretty quick of like, “man, this is a really cool product.” You can include more screenshots. Again, it’s just another touch point, but you also don’t want it to be cheesy and feel like another touchpoint. You want to be genuine with it and have folks feel like your emails are providing value because at this point if they haven’t bought and you keep emailing them, you’re going to start getting complaints and unsubscribes if you’re not providing value with the emails you’re sending.
Mike: That’s why it’s kind of important to make sure that you have an idea of what should go into that FAQ and if you don’t then have the email itself written and then kind of stump that piece of it out and then fill in the details of the FAQ with what people are actually asking. One thing to be careful of especially when a product is very early on, a lot of times — and I’ve done this myself — is you don’t necessarily know the questions people are going to ask so you kind of make some of those questions up, and depending on what it is, it can be obvious from the other side that that those questions were probably not real questions that people were asking and you were using it as an excuse to put something in the FAQ, so do be careful to make sure you’re paying attention to what it is that people are actually asking about, and some of those questions can even come from demos you’ve done previously before the launch to offer beta customers. You can reuse those, but if you’re just making things up completely it can be a little bit forced, I’ll say.
Rob: Yeah, that’s one thing. Like if you’re faking it, people can tell that the days of these kind of cheesy internet marketer stuff working- they’ are rapidly coming to a close if they’re not already gone. There are certain subsections of people who are not as web savvy or not as technical or whatever and you can say things and they’ll believe it, but the folks you’ll likely going to be dealing with are going to be savvier than that. The bar is just raised in terms of transparency and in terms of people recognizing who you are and being able to recognize what’s legitimate and what’s not. So the fifth email in this sequence is the 24 hours before the time limited deal ends. You could do one 12 hours before as well. Not in addition. That would be starting to get quite a few, but either 24 or 12 hours before saying there’s only a few hours left. Sometimes this day has almost as many as the initial launch in terms of sales. Other times it’s just a trickle. The thing to keep in mind is like I said, there are more complex variations than just this whole 5 email sequence, but this is definitely a pretty simple way to do it. It ‘s a proven approach, and if you don’t do this you either don’t send emails or you just send one email- it’s a 5 or a 10 x difference. It’s a huge, huge variation. So I would recommend if you feel like 5 is too many, it’s pretty easy to cut the FAQ email and you’re at four or you can the week before email altogether or the day before. There’s different ways you can vary it to what your comfort level is and the relationship you feel like you have with your audience.
Mike: And you can also go in the other direction where you send more emails so instead of just sending one 24 hours before the deal ends, I’ve also seen a lot of people who send something 4 hours before something ends and then 2 hours before it ends and then 1 hour before it ends. Again, you do have to be careful with how many times you’re hitting that list and whether that list is considered burned after that. There are lists out there where people will build the list and do a launch of some kind to it, and after that there’s not even a point in having the list anymore. Maybe it’s because it’s an in-person event or something like that but again, you will increase sales at the expense of the signups you have.
Rob: Last thing to keep in mind is email open rates, are not 100%. No list is that good. So a solid list should be between 20-60% open rate. So think about that when you’re calculating conversion rates. Let’s say you have 1,000 people on your list. You think my goal is to convert 20% of those. That’s good. That’s a really hard thing to do if your open rates are only 20%. But if you’re at 60% then converting 1/3 of the people who receive the email is actually much more in line with reality. So think about that and check out your list. Maybe even prune your list before doing this. If this is an ongoing list, try to get a more realistic view and higher open rates and making a more realistic concept of how many people you might convert during the launch.
Mike: One thing that can be a little difficult to figure out is when you’re looking at the open rate whether or not you’re looking at a single email or whether you’re looking at aggregate across them. You’re going to have people who open up every single email and then you’re going to have other people who open up one. That’s something else to factor into what your calculations are as well. I don’t think it’s worth getting too worked up over whether or not you reached a particular milestone or conversion rate in your head, but I do think it is worth paying attention to what your expectations were. And how you can improve what that process looks like in the future- what things worked, what things didn’t. And then being able to analyze those so that you can use them in the future for other either mini launches or other marketing copy you can look at some of the different emails you sent right after the launch when it’s done, and find out whether or not certain things probably resonated with people more than others.
Well, JP, I hope that answers your question. If you have a question for us, you can call it into our voicemail number at 1-888-801-9690 or you can email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our theme music is an excerpt for ‘We’re Outta Control’ by MoOt used under creative comments. Subscribe to us in iTunes by searching for “startups” and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript of each episode.
Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.
In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike talk about the bare minimum you should know about segmenting your email list. They discuss the different stages your customers can be categorized as and how to target them specifically in order to get them to the next stage.
Items mentioned in this episode:
Rob [00:00:27]: In this episode of “Startups for the Rest of Us,” Mike and I discuss the absolute bare minimum you should know about segmenting your email list. This is “Startups for the Rest of Us,” episode 265.
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.
Mike [00:00:28 ]: And I’m Mike.
Rob [00:00:33]: – and we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes that we’ve made. What’s the word this week, Mike?
Mike [00:01:06]: Well, we got a really interesting listener question from Chris Koenig, and he says, “Hi, Rob and Mike, I really enjoy the show. My question stems from your FAQ on startupsfortherestofus.com, specifically the part about transcription. You’ve switched transcription services in the past and mentioned how each one seems to decline in quality over time. When you see a pattern like that, what, if anything, does it tell you about the market? Does significant customer turnover mean these companies are having trouble scaling up? Or, might it be a deliberate tactic to focus their attention on the newest customers for that initial trial period? Hope it’s not too inside-baseball for the show, but I’m curious about the space and would be interested to hear your viewpoint.”
Rob [00:01:39]: My take on it is that people come into transcriptions because it’s easy to enter, and there’s no barrier to entry, and that’s a problem. It’s basically a commodity business, and people underprice themselves at the start because there’s no other way to compete in a commodity business, right? It has to just be cheap; but then they get in three months, six months, 12 months and realize, “I’m not making any money. This is a lot of work,” and they either just bail on it; or, maybe they’ve raised prices, but they’ve grandfathered, and so those grandfathered people, they’re giving less service to because they’re not making as much money. That would be my take on it.
Do you have a sense?
Mike [00:02:37]: Yeah, that was going to be my guess, was the grandfathering of existing customers because if you’re offering a commodity like that and and the price point’s really low, it’s difficult to justify raising your prices to the existing customer base. So, when they find that they need to raise prices because they’re not getting the people to do the transcribing that they need to, or things are just not working out as well in terms of quality, then their pricing model basically goes to heck in a hand basket. So, it makes it difficult for them just to make ends meet. And I think that that’s it more than anything else, because most of these – I think the ones that we’ve gone to tend to be newer. It’s not like there are transcription services out there that we’ve used that have been around for a very long time, so obviously there’s going to be that issue of trying to go up-market with it and keep your existing customers happy while also trying to charge them more. I think that most of them just – I don’t think any of them have ever come to us and said, “Hey, we need to raise our prices.” I think they’ve all just capped it at, like, a dollar a minute or something like that.
Rob [00:03:40]: I know, and if I was doing a productized consulting service or, I guess, even as these guys are, really, at just an hourly service, I don’t think you can grandfather the way that you do a SaaS; because the reason you can grandfather with SaaS is because a lot of the effort and the time is spent up front acquiring the customer and then onboarding them and supporting them early on. After that, the marginal cost to support them is very low, and so grandfathering them at an older, cheaper price is pretty easy to do. But in terms of ongoing consulting engagements, where you’re literally paying someone to do an hourly or a by-the-minute task, I do think that you need to raise prices over time. Just the way it needs to go in order to maintain a viable business. I do think that your better customers are going to understand that.
We did have some pretty reliable services transcribing over the years, and if they had come to us and said, “Look, we need to raise 10 percent, 20 percent,” we would’ve done it; because the switching cost is painful. If they needed to double their price, that might’ve been a problem, but the fact that the quality has declined over time pretty much across the board – I think we’ve used six or seven, different transcription services in the last five years because within about six to nine months, they all eventually flail around.
Mike [00:04:27]: I think the other thing that factors into that is when you are running a service like this, you have employees or contractors that are working for you, and they’re working for a set wage. Let’s call it $10 an hour just for a nice, round number. At some point in the future, you’re probably going to want to pay the people who’re doing a really good job more, and it’s difficult to raise their salary if you’re not bringing in any more revenue from the customers. And that is a fixed cost. If it’s $10 an hour, if you’re only making $11 an hour from the customer, it’s hard to raise what you’re paying that person in order to retain them as a good employee or a good contractor and still make ends meet. I think that also factors into it as well just in terms of the timeline, because you’re right. We’ve gone through a bunch of these, and over time, without fail, they eventually go downhill.
Rob [00:05:23]: That was a good question. Thanks for writing in.
On my end, just kind of as an update, my chaos is definitely subsiding. Some things have wrapped themselves up. There was a big sale I was working on that closed last week, and so I do feel like a nice exhale coming about in my life as kind of the overwhelm has dissipated. I feel like I’m able to get back to focusing on things that matter instead of just rushing around like I was for the past few weeks. Things are clear, and it’s end of the year. Not a ton happens in terms of business stuff here end of November and December, but this is the time when I’m going to take to really focus on what 2016 needs to look like; and I’ll probably be doing my personal/business retreat here in the next, I’d say five or six weeks, taking notes, figuring out what my goals are. You and I need to record a goals episode, where we look back at the goals we had for last year and plan our goals for 2016. I’m going to be honest. I’m kind of looking forward to what I’m hoping is the quiet of December.
Mike [00:05:30]: Cool. Well, on my end, I’m actively taking pre-orders for the new product that I’m working on, and I’ve got about half a dozen pre-orders so far.
Rob [00:05:31]: Nice.
Mike [00:05:48]: The product itself is aimed at automating the process of moving people through your sales pipeline. If it’s a high-touch sales pipeline, it helps to automate the process of moving them through it so that you can essentially focus on your own work as opposed to going back and continually following up with people.
Rob [00:05:54]: Very nice. When you say “taking pre-orders,” do you mean that you’re getting verbal commitments, or are you actually charging credit cards?”
Mike [00:05:56]: No, I’ve actually charged half a dozen credit cards so far.
Rob [00:05:57]: Bravo.
Mike [00:06:09]: Yeah, it’s going well so far. I’ve still got a bunch of conversations that are scheduled over the next couple of weeks, and I’m hoping to reach my internal goals for financial commitments. And once that’s been reached, then going to start breaking ground on the code.
Rob [00:07:00]: Sounds good, man. It’s exciting stuff.
We have a slew of new iTunes reviews, 456 worldwide reviews. Thank you so much for going into iTunes and clicking that five-star rating. We also have some really good comments. Crispin Hennace [ph] says, “Do not launch a bootstrap business without Rob and Mike on your team.” He says, “I recently discovered this podcast and have been listening to old episodes on double speed. There’s a lot of great material, and it’s fresh and relevant each week. Listening to the archived episodes is like picking up gold nuggets on the street. Every entrepreneur, bootstrapped or not, should make this valuable resource a part of your week.”
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Mike [00:07:01]: What are we talking about this week?
Rob [00:09:24]: This week, we’re talking about the bare minimum that everyone should know about segmenting your email list. The idea here – obviously, I run Drip, which is about segmenting emails and sending targeted communications to people based on the things they’ve done and what you know about them. It’s actually funny. When we’ve demoed Drip at, let’s say, conferences, or went to the Microsoft Build conference last year, people say, “Oh, so you guys send spam or something?” Developers especially would come up and joke about that, and we said, “Actually, no. We ensure you get fewer emails that are more targeted to you rather than just getting these blasts from these big companies.”
So, that’s really what we’re talking about today, is the fact that one-to-many email, you know, just the broadcast email, sending it out to your massive list, is really dead, or it’s dying. The businesses that are really savvy at it these days are moving towards one-to-few and one-to-one email, and what that means is that the more you know about someone, the more customized that email can be to them, and the more customized the flow that they follow through your app and your email sequence will go. It’s not magic. It’s not like it’s some AI thing cranking out these magical emails. You have to write these emails, and you have to build certain flows and move people in and out based on tags, or based on what they click; but the idea is it’s about sending people the exact message they want to hear at the right time, to encourage them to take the next step.
That’s what email segmenting is about. It’s about figuring out, “How many buckets do I need to drop people into?” because it’s not as complicated as it sounds, right? It’s not like you need 100 different buckets for your list. Really, what we’re going to talk about is there’s essentially four stages, or four buckets, that I start with. You can go more complex than this, but the minimum you’ll want to know is you’re going to have a marketing list. And these are people that have not signed up for a trial. They have not downloaded a sample of your product. They’re people who are just hanging around, and they’re going to want top-of-the-funnel educational content: maybe blog posts and updates on your product from a high level, like feature stuff, but not in detail how to use it. It’s not super educational. That’s the first bucket, or first stage, is marketing.
The next one I call them a “trial user.” This applies mostly to SaaS, but it also applies to – let’s say you’re selling an eBook and you have a sample chapter. I consider them a trial user, because they have downloaded something, hopefully consumed it. You’re going to need to encourage them to consume it via email, and that’s your second book. It is, in essence, a trial user; and your goal there is to nurture them through that trial path to becoming a customer. That’s, of course, the third stage, is someone paying you. Then the fourth stage is someone becoming a repeat customer.
Mike [00:09:54]: I think there’s different subsections of these stages that you can have as well. For example, if somebody’s a trial user at that second stage that Rob just talked about, they could be somebody who basically fell out of the bucket at that point. They signed up for a trial, and then they decided not to proceed, for whatever reason. That, in essence, becomes something of a subset of that particular stage, and you may want to market to them differently. But at a high level, these four stages generally capture the bulk of your audience.
Rob [00:11:50]: Yeah, and if you’re listening to this, wondering who does this actually apply to, I think there’s three or four markets that I thought about when I outlined this episode; and they are, of course, SaaS and downloadable software. That’s the first. Second is consultants and freelancers. The third are people selling information, basically eBooks, online courses; if you have a personal brand, or you’re a blogger, that kind of thing. All of this heavily, heavily applies to you and you really need to be doing this, moving forward or, else, you’re going to fall behind.
The other two that I thought of that this applies to, but it’s not necessarily what I was thinking when I outlined this, e-commerce. E-commerce tends to be quite good at this. If you have an online store, you basically have your friend list and then people who are hot leads, and then you have your customers and then your repeat customers.
And lastly, even – in Drip and, frankly, in HitTail we’ve had a lot of folks who are lawyers and real estate agents, and it’s the more tech-savvy of those groups. For them, it applies as much as it does for consultants, as much as it does for SaaS. You may not be doing it, but it really puts you ahead of your competition if you are segmenting your list like this and really sending people exactly what they want to hear.
So, let’s dive in. Like I said, there’s these four stages. It’s basically marketing, the trial user, customer and then your best or your repeat customers. Let’s start with this first bucket of marketing. These are the people that really you want to be educating about your space, your industry. You want to be educating them a little bit about your product, but you’re not doing necessarily a hard pitch very often. You’re going to be capturing these emails using a lead magnet, some type of opt-in reward. I always recommend an email mini-course over something like a PDF, because the course is nice because it’s over five or seven days, and it gets them used to opening your emails and reading them. People are more likely to consume something if it’s in their email inbox, because they can just do it right on their phone; whereas, a PDF, they’ll typically download it, put in Dropbox and then not read it unless you ping them again and encourage them to do so. A PDF tools list is a really good start to capture that email. But I prefer, if you have the time, to instead put together an email mini-course.
Mike [00:12:32]: The other thing, I think, that is overlooked in terms of the tools, especially in terms of PDFs, is just Excel spreadsheets that allow people to calculate different things. I think when we had Jesse Mecham on the show, he talked about how his very first product was actually just a Excel spreadsheet that people could download and he would charge them for it, and people were more than happy to pay for that because it would help them do their household budgeting. That essentially morphed into youneedabudget.com and the product that he sells today, but it was a tool that people could use. And Excel is notoriously useful in a variety of different circumstances, and if there are ways to build a simplistic tool out of Excel, then you could offer that as a download as well.
Rob [00:13:12]: Right, and if I was going to do that, what I would do is offer the Excel as a download. Just as a reminder, you don’t want to attach that to the email, because spam filters and all types of stuff choke at that. You definitely want to have it up on a server somewhere and then link to it within the email. Once they download that, well, then you put them in a sequence to hear from you the next day and be like, “Hey, what did you think of that?” “Did you notice that cell 35 does this?” “Here’s a quick use case for it.” Then you ping them two days later, and you say, “Hey, by the way, with that thing do you know there’s this other feature you can do in that Excel spreadsheet that I gave you?”
In essence, you turn it into a mini-course even though they really opted in for that core thing; but you’re kind of educating and teaching them how to use it and how to get value out of the thing that they downloaded from you.
Mike [00:13:36]: Why don’t you expand a little bit on that, because I think that some people don’t necessarily realize that just the nature of attachments – not just that they get blocked on a regular basis, but also the fact that you don’t know if they’ve opened it or not? You don’t know if they were interested in that attachment. Why don’t you talk a little bit about the process of, for example, tagging people when they click on those links? Obviously, if it’s hosted someplace, how do you know that they downloaded it?
Rob [00:15:00]: Yeah, that’s right. That’s a good point, actually. With an automation tool like a Drip or an Infusionsoft, you can basically just put a little rule in that says, “If someone clicked on this link in the email, then tag them with downloaded Excel spreadsheet,” right, or, “downloaded X, Y, Z report.” Like you said, you can’t tell with an attachment, so you lose out on that reporting.
What you can do later on with the information of whether or not someone actually downloaded it is if they didn’t download it, then you can send them another email the next day, or two or three days later. You can say, “Hey, I noticed that you got the email and you didn’t actually download the thing. I wanted to give you another opportunity to do so.” If they do at that point, then you’ve now pulled them into your funnel, and you can send them more information about how to use it. If they don’t, then that may be time to write them off. You don’t want unqualified prospects in your funnel, because that just kind of wrecks your numbers and over time, if they’re not opening your emails, not clicking your links – the ESPs are pretty smart these days, like Google and with Gmail and Hotmail on Yahoo, they’re starting to get smarter and smarter, and if people are not interacting with your emails, not opening them and not reading them, over time Google knows that; and they start putting your stuff into promotion and eventually will just put your stuff in spam if you even get a small number of spam complaints.
It’s valuable to know who on your list is doing what so that: a) you can target them differently. That’s really what we’re talking about here, right, is segmenting them; and b) so that your deliverability and your placement in these email inboxes remains high.
Mike [00:15:39]: What I like to do in those cases is, if you see that somebody hasn’t downloaded something that you sent to them that you wanted them to, you just send them a reminder email so it doesn’t say, “Hey, I noticed that you didn’t do this,” because it depends on your audience a little bit, but it can come across as, “Oh, my God. You’re tracking me,” or, “You’re looking at everything I’m doing.” Well, yeah, you are, but at the same time, you don’t necessarily want them to feel that way. So, I like to just send them an email that says, “Hey, just wanted to remind you about X.” But if they downloaded it, then they wouldn’t get that reminder. So, that’s a neat way to be able to get around those. And those are all psychological objections. They’re not technical limitations or technical objections. It’s just how you are interacting with the people that are on your list.
Rob [00:15:58]: Yeah, that’s a good point, actually, is knowing your list and knowing how they’re going to react to this stuff because, if you’re emailing marketers, they know. They know that you know if they opened it or not. But if you’re emailing less technical folks, or maybe developers, or people who aren’t necessarily in tune with all the fancy tools that we have in a tool like Drip or Infusionsoft, then you’re right. You may need to couch it a little differently.
Mike [00:17:09]: Part of what you can do in addition to just tagging people is you can use mechanism for what’s called “lead scoring.” The lead scoring allows you to figure out who is engaging with your emails. You can use that lead scoring mechanism to subscribe them to additional sequences, and you might use that in cases where, if somebody has opened every, single one of your emails. Then chances are good that they are really engaged with the content, and you might want to send them a special offer. So, if their score reaches a certain level, you send them into a different sequence in order to either make an offer for an upsell, or a special bonus or something like that. It doesn’t even need to be something that you’re selling to them. It could just be something that you’re giving to them as a reward for interacting with your emails. But those lead scoring mechanisms can help you to determine who you should be approaching with some of your different products or different services that you’re offering. You tend to not want to send an email to somebody saying, “Hey, buy my thousand-dollar products,” if they’ve only ever opened up one of your emails before. So, in a way, this lead scoring allows you to get a lot more intelligent about who you are targeting with the different emails that are in your different campaigns.
Rob [00:20:45]: Yeah. If you’ve never used lead scoring, it is mind-blowing to basically be able to have a score that tells you how engaged someone is with your website and with your emails. The concept behind lead scoring is you can set a point value that, when someone opens your email, let’s say they get +1 point. That’s typically the default, and there’s kind of a generally agreed-upon marketing automation thing. I think Pardot and Marketo published things, and they said open is worth one point. A click is worth three points, and then visits to your pricing page is often worth five points. And so we have that, of course, all built into Drip. We built lead scoring into it pretty early on.
And then you can configure it as well. Our tour page, we give folks three points if they visit it. If they visit your careers page or your job listing page, you typically deduct ten points, because it’s indicating that they’re probably looking for a job. You can then add custom events, like, hey, they signed up for a trial, maybe, or, even if you had maybe used a tool. Like, if you have a tool where you’re doing a website grader, or a speed test, and they entered their URL, that could be an event that, hey, they pushed that through, and you could give them five or ten points for that. Downloaded a report.
And then you basically set a lead threshold where you say, “This person, when they’re below 65, let’s say – and that’s, again, typically the default – when they’re below 65 points, they’re really considered just a prospect. They’re hanging around. When they bump above 65, now we’re going to call them a lead, and you can do stuff with them.
One thing we do with Drip is if you get on our list and you’re really engaging with our stuff, in addition to the educational content that we’re sending you, we also subscribe you to a second campaign at the same time, that we call our – it’s our RTB sequence, “Ready to Buy.” That one has a little more Drip-specific stuff. It’s less education about marketing automation and less segmentation, and it’s more about, “Hey, this is why Drip is for you,” and, “This is what Drip can do for you,” and, “This is a comparison of Drip and MailChimp,” “Drip and Infusionsoft.” “Here’s how to sign up for a trial.” “Here’s how to click to get a demo.” There’s a little more sales talk. It’s not high-pressure, but it definitely leans in a little bit. The reason we can do that and feel comfortable is because these are the folks who are really engaged with our emails, so it’s indicating that they are actually interested in hearing about us.
The last piece in the marketing stage is something that you can do. Again, this is optional, but it’s interesting that, if you’re asking folks to do a live demo, what you often find is you have a lot of unqualified folks signing up for demos. If you can figure out what that pivot point is, where someone is a really heavily qualified lead, or that they’re worth doing a one-on-one demo, it’s pretty easy to segment them just by – you give them the form where they enter their email to sign up for a demo, their first name, last name. Then you ask them one question that’s basically like, “How many subscribers do you have?” or, “How many invoices do you send per month?” It’s whatever that pivot point is for you that, hey, if they send ten invoices a month, this person is worth doing a real, live one-on-one demo. And, again, when they fill out that form, they’ll select it, and that goes right into marketing automation. Obviously, Drip does this. Infusionsoft does this, ONTRAPORT. Then right in there, you can just say, “Hey, if that person filled out this value, then let’s send them a [Calendly?] link where they can sign up to have a one-on-one demo.” “And if it’s less than that value, then let’s actually send them over to do more of an automated demo,” because you’re going to get – 70 percent, 80 percent of your people are going to be less than that value because they’re just a lower-end tier, and you may not have the manpower to be able to do all the one-on-one demos.
That’s something we actually do at Drip. We’ve had a lot of success with it, and it’s something that you can only do if you’re segmenting. You can’t do this with older-school newsletter tools, like an AWeber, a MailChimp, a Constant Contact. They just don’t have the capability to be able to do this lead scoring and then to very simply, without writing any code, be able to put them in different buckets and send them different emails to move them along into the trial phase.
Mike [00:20:56]: Let’s start talking about the trial phase. What’s involved in treating somebody like a trial user? Obviously, they have to sign up for a trial, or download a sample chapter of an eBook; but what are the different things that you can do in there?
Rob [00:22:30]: Yeah, this is where you make the switch, right? You’ve segmented them into someone who has a lot of interest, and they have interest in your product now, not just in your space. They’re not just thinking, “Oh, I might need an email marketing provider.” They’re actually saying, “All right. I’m really going to dive in. I’m going to either compare you to other things I’m already using, or I’m doing hardcore evaluation.” The goal here is that you want to really convince them to consume the material or try the product, right? So, if they’ve downloaded a sample chapter, you want to switch from that marketing lens of “I’m just trying to educate now.” You want to totally cut that stuff off, in general, and you want to switch to now, “Hey, did you see what was in that first chapter?” “Have you done the exercise at the end of the chapter?” “Here’s some more information.” “Here’s chapter two,” maybe, even, if they’re engaged.
Or, if they’re trying your SaaS app, you need to find out that “minimum path to awesome,” that MPA that I’ve talked about before, which is what does this person need to do during their trial to get that endorphin rush of, “Oh, my gosh. My head is about to explode?” If it means that they need to activate an email campaign with a couple emails in it and get a form installed on their website and get at least one subscriber, then you figure out how to guide them through that. You’ve really switched modes here from marketing and education into much more trying to show them how to use the product.
It’s not an easy problem. It’s not an easy thing to do. Really, if you summarize it, it’s onboarding. You can onboard someone with a sample chapter. You can onboard someone with a SaaS app. You can onboard someone as a consultant to try to get them to spec out their project, or whatever; but each of those things is the mind-frame that you have to switch into when you’re treating someone like a trial user instead of just as a cold prospect, like you would with marketing.
Mike [00:24:01]: I think one of the key pieces of treating somebody as a trial user is essentially giving them an experience that they are going to be comfortable with such that they will give you money, and that ultimately boils down to trust. You want them to trust that you’re not only going to deliver, but that you know what you’re talking about, that your product does what it’s supposed to do, that you’re going to be responsive if there’s any problems. You want to make sure that, if there’s any sort of time pressure or time deadline associated with it, especially for, like, a time-limited trial, that you are giving them all the information that they need in order to succeed during that time frame. The last thing you want to do is give them the product and just say, “Okay. Let me know if you have questions,” because that’s generally not going to work. People are going to need a little bit of hand holding and, in fact, they want that hand holding. So, if you know that somebody has just converted into a trial user, then you want to give them the information that they need in order to succeed.
Along with that, I mentioned this earlier, if somebody essentially falls out of that trial user bucket, you treat them as a lost trial. That’s kind of a subset of this. You can also treat somebody as somebody who is a trial user who may be having some problems. Have they not done certain things? If they haven’t done certain things, you can use that with either lead scoring or tags to essentially notify your email automation system that this activity, or lack of activity, is going on and go back and reach out to those people to try and help them figure out what is holding them back from being successful with the product.
Rob [00:25:17]: Exactly. Those are all really good points. One thing I’ll add, and then we’ll move on to customer communication, is another tactic that you can use with trial users is figuring out which track someone is one. There might be multiple ways to get onboarded in your app, depending on the person’s goals. In Drip, for example, when you first log into your account, the very first time we have a guided setup. It says, “Are you trying to send emails to your marketing list, or are you trying to send emails to your trial users and customers?” There’s two buckets we put people in, and if you click that marketing list, then we send you down a different path of emails because it’s a different setup process, right? You don’t need to connect the API to Drip. You just need to get the form on your website; whereas, if you’re doing trial users and customers, then you either need to do an import, or you need to do some type of API interaction. There’s a number of different ways to do this.
But figuring out early on and then sending that one-to-few or one-to-one communication that I talked about earlier will have an impact on your conversion rates of people who actually do get onboarded. The cool part is I’ve watched it over time with all of my SaaS apps that I’ve worked with. And the number of people who actually do get onboarded and get to that “minimum path to awesome” that you define, it highly, highly correlates with the number of people who convert to paying customer.
Mike [00:25:18]: What’s next after trial user?
Rob [00:26:32]: The next two stages are customer and then your best, or your repeat, customers. There’s actually a lot less to do with these folks. You definitely want to keep them engaged, and you want to let them know how you’re improving the product. That’s something big that we do with SaaS is that, since they’re continuing to pay the same amount month to month and you’re improving the product, they’re actually getting better value over time. I think that’s probably one of the first things that you’ll want to keep communicating to customers, because basically you’re trying to retain them and you want to show them that they’re continuing to get value and that they stick around. So, sending out a feature email every four to six weeks, based on what you’ve launched, showing them what you’re doing for them so that they do stick around is one thing that you’ll want to be sending to your customer list.
You want to send similar emails to your trial list, but it’ll be couched a little differently, right? It’ll say, “Hey, look at the cool stuff we just released. Maybe check it out,” but you’re phrasing it differently than you would, say, to customers, which is, “Look what we’ve done for you,” and, “You should really stick around.” You can send that same email to your marketing list, but with your marketing list you want to go much less in-depth. You don’t want to really show them how to get onboarded with it, because they don’t care yet. Right? They haven’t used your app. They haven’t logged into it. You just want to give them a high-level view with some flashy screenshots of, “These are the cool things we’ve rolled out.” But it is a different thing, so having that segmentation is powerful.
Mike [00:27:03]: And that essentially allows you to reuse the existing content that you’re creating, so instead of just educating your existing user base about what new features you’re adding, you are educating your marketing list about what new features that they could potentially have access to if they were to sign up for a trial of your product and start using it. As you said, it’s a difference in how you present it to them, but, in essence, the basic concept behind those emails that you’re sending is going to be very similar.
Rob [00:28:16]: Right. And then something else you’ll want to do is, if they’ve done a one-time purchase, let’s say they purchased an eBook, then you’ll want to lead them down the product path, right? You want to pitch your next product, because if they purchase an eBook, then maybe they want to attend live training, or a conference, or purchase a video course. You basically want to pitch them on your next product, because these people are much more likely to buy that next, maybe more expensive product that you do have. If you’re a SaaS app, that’s obviously not what you doing, right? You’re not going to tend to pitch them on the next product, but maybe you want to pitch them on an annual plan: get 12 months for the price of ten, and you get all that cash up front so that you’re able to go out and buy ads and do other things.
Basically, you’re offering them some value by showing them how the app’s improving, and then you’re basically pitching them on some other ways that they can become deeper engaged into your funnel, become more committed users and generate more cash for you in the short term.
The other thing that I like to do is to ask for referrals. This is the point where, if people are in and they’re engaged and they’re pretty happy – you don’t want to ask someone for a referral when they’re two weeks into their trial, so don’t do it then. You want to ask for referrals really when they become customers and then definitely again once you’ve determined that they are one of your best or repeat customers.
Mike [00:29:11]: A lot of that capability has to do with the timing of the emails that you’re sending, so a lot of this is going to be based on sometimes just customer actions; but sometimes it is going to be situational, based on what your business is doing. Other times, it’s situational based on what the customer themselves are doing. For example, if their credit card is coming up for a renewal, that might be a good time for you to pitch an annual plan so that they won’t have to worry too much about their credit card expiring. It may be one of those things where you get them to not only upgrade to an annual plan, but you get their updated credit card information as well. Because you’re giving them a discount, then it helps to push them in the right direction.
But all of this is just simply about having a little bit more intelligence about what your prospective customers are doing and what level of activity they have and really being aware of where they are in your marketing funnel.
Rob [00:30:13]: And then to wrap this up, there’s this next level of customer, and these are your best customers, your repeat customers, depending on what you’re selling. If it’s one time, these are going to be your repeat customers who’ve bought a lot of your stuff. You get to know these folks by name. In SaaS, your best customers are maybe people who are on your bigger plans, folks who give you a lot of helpful feedback and work with you and spread the word. These are folks that you want to reward with some stuff.
Something that we do is we’ll often give our best customers early access to new features or inside information, so I have a small group with a tag called “Drip Insiders.” These are consultants who are actively getting people onto Drip, and I’ll send them stuff several weeks before other people are going to know about it. They love to have the inside track so they can look to their customers like they’re knowledgeable. We give them alpha access to new features we’re rolling out; and so, again, you’re giving them value. You’re not just always pitching and asking for stuff.
So, think about what you can offer your best customers in a way that makes them feel like they have exclusive access to something and like they’re maybe getting a little more than just the other customers.
Mike [00:30:39]: And on that note, one of the pieces that you want to make sure of is that you’re treating this like a relationship. A relationship will go both ways, so you don’t always want to be taking. You want to be giving as well. If these people are already customers, if you’re already charging them, then you want to be giving them as much value as possible so that they feel like they’re being taken care of, and they feel like not just a good customer, but they are getting value out of it and it’s in their favor.
Rob [00:32:12]: Right. What you’ll find over time is that you develop a genuine relationship with these folks. You don’t view them as subscribers or some aggregate thing. Everyone on that list is a person. I think that beginning marketers, early marketers often make that mistake of just thinking too much in terms of aggregate numbers. Pretty quickly, you’re going to realize that everyone on your list is a person and that this is about building a relationship. So, by giving these best or repeat customers something exclusive and making them feel good, then you can sometimes ask for stuff. Sometimes you can pitch a higher-end product, or a higher-end tier or a done-for-you, productized consulting service that adds on to your SaaS that’s very expensive, but that these folks are much more likely to use. Or, again, you can ask for referrals. That’s another thing that we commonly do in our best customer lists. We say, “Hey, obviously, you guys rave about us. You tell a lot of people. What’s another way that you can get the word out? Can we do a joint-venture email?” “Can we do a co-webinar?” “Can you tell three friends?”
There’s a bunch of different ways to do this, but this is when it’s valuable to know who these people are. Because, again, you don’t want to send any of those emails to people in your marketing list, or people in your trial list. You have one goal for them, and it’s to get them to the next stage. And by the time they’re here, your goals change, and that’s why we wanted to talk about segmenting your email list today because this is so critical, and so many people are not doing it. And with the tools that are coming out now, these email marketing automation tools, it’s becoming easier and easier to do it.
It’s just a no-brainer. The benefit that you get from this is tremendous. If you’re listening to this, and you’re thinking, “Oh, my gosh. This is blowing my mind,” it really is. The more you do it, the better results you will get.
Mike [00:33:08]: I think the last piece of being able to know who your best customers are is that it allows you essentially a focus group of people who you can talk to and reach out to on an individual basis to ask them questions about what other things that they need. In essence, to them it looks as though you’re reaching out to the to help provide more value; but at the same time, moving forward, if you’re able to provide that value to them and if they are your best customers – however you define “best customer,” whether it’s the amount of money that they’re paying you, or the amount of usage on the product. It depends on what stage your business is. I think later on down the road, you’re more interested in the amount of money versus earlier on, you want the most active people so you can gain knowledge; but that knowledge will help you to direct the future development of the products to gain more of those type of people. That’s really what you want, is you want to be able to identify who your best customers are, whatever the criteria for that is; and to be able to zero in on those people and get more of them.
Rob [00:33:54]: And I was very careful, as I’ve outlined this episode and as we went through it, to not make this just a big sales pitch for Drip because that’s not the intent. The intent is to give you tools that you can take and use with any automation provider. So, there is ActiveCampaign and Infusionsoft and Drip and ONTRAPORT, and there’s others out there. In my opinion, if you’re listening to this podcast, Drip is probably the best one for you. We’ve heavily focused on SaaS apps, downloadable software, consultant freelancers, and people selling online information products, like eBooks, online courses or, if you’re a blogger, selling a digital product online.
So, I’d encourage you, if this does pique your interest and you’re either unhappy with your current provider, they don’t give you the automation you need, or that you haven’t tried an automation provider before, I’d encourage you to come check out Drip: getdrip.com, and we will definitely take good care of you.
Mike [00:34:15]: I think that about wraps us up. If you have a question for us you can call it in to our voicemail number at 1.888.801.9690 or you can email it to us at email@example.com. Our theme music is an except from “We’re Outta Control” by MoOt, used under Creative Commons. Subscribe to us on iTunes by searching for “startups” and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript of each episode.
Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next time.