- Note to Mike (from Rob): I left your three-take intro at the start of this episode. Consider it my revenge for the two iPads 🙂
- Rob’s Startup Book
- Micropreneur Academy
- The Terror of Firsts
[00:00] Mike Taber: Welcome to Startups For the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers be awesome…
[00:04] Rob Walling: Actually, typically we say: “This is Startups for The Rest of Us”.
[00:06] Mike: Ah!
[00:08] Mike: Excuse me! This is Startups For the Rest of Us…
[00:12] Rob: Wait a minute! I said…
[00:13] Mike: Come on!
[00:15] Mike: This is why we can’t have nice things! This is Startups for The Rest of Us, episode 11.
[00:31] Mike: Welcome to Startups for the Rest of us, the podcast that helps developers be awesome at launching software products, whether you have built your first products or are just thinking about it. I’m Mike.
[00:40] Rob: And I’m Rob.
[00:41] Mike: And we are here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made.
[00:45] Rob: How are things this week Mike?
[00:46] Mike: Pretty good. I’m in Albuquerque, New Mexico this week. So just enjoying a little bit of sun and massive allergies. [laughs]
[00:57] Rob: Yeah, you don’t sound so good.
[00:59] Mike: Could be worse, I suppose, but…
[01:02] Rob: You could be really sick.
[01:03] Mike: I could be in Boston where it’s apparently raining. [laughs]
[01:06] Rob: Nice. Yeah, and where there was no clean water a couple weeks ago I heard.
[01:09] Mike: Oh, yeah! Actually, I got caught in that in the airport. I went to go get some coffee and they couldn’t give me coffee because they didn’t have any water to make coffee with. And then I tried to go get a soda and they couldn’t do that either because all their soda machines run off tap water.
[01:24] Rob: Wow!
[01:25] Mike: I wouldn’t have thought it would have affected me because I don’t live right in the city, but eh, oh well.
[01:30] Rob: Yeah.
[01:30] Mike: Could be worse. What about you?
[01:32] Rob: Things are going good. I’m working on a book, as you know. For the listeners who don’t know, I’m writing a book about developer’s guide to launching a startup. And Mike is editing that for me. Thank you very much Mike.
[01:44] Mike: Mm-hmm. You’re welcome.
[01:45] Rob: And yeah, so that’s been fun. That’s been an interesting experience to really put something down in print. It’s a lot different than blogging, because it’s kind of hard to go back later. Once it goes to publication, I don’t really have much option to go back and change it. So there’s just a lot more work that goes into it upfront that I’m not used to.
[02:01] But if anyone’s interested, you go to startupbook.net and get more information there.
[02:06] Mike: Actually, I do sort of have a plug. It’s not for me or for anything else. And I know you are going to rag on me later for this, so I may as well just get it out of the way. I won an iPad.
[02:14] Rob: Ohh! Man! So Mike not only won an iPad, he bought an iPad. So mike has two iPads now. I have zero. There is injustice in this world.
[02:24] Mike: Yeah, it actually came in the mail today. It’s funny, because I bought an iPad for myself last Sunday, and then five days later I got an email from Axosoft saying, “Hey, your name has been chosen from our Twitter followers as the winner of the iPad, so congratulations.”
[02:42] The first time, obviously, you get something like that, you think it’s a hoax. And I looked into it a little bit, emailed back, and apparently I won an iPad and it showed up today.
[02:50] Rob: Wow. They didn’t email after and say, “We just need you to send us $200 for shipping that will be wired back to you at a later date”?
[02:58] Mike: No. There was none of that.
[02:59] Rob: Very good.
[03:00] Mike: And of course, the same day I got hooked up with Verizon’s upgraded FiOS service, so I’ve got a 25 megabit connection upstream and downstream to my house, which is cool.
[03:09] Rob: That upstream is a big deal. Yeah, I looked into it here in Fresno and I don’t think it’s in my area yet. But I certainly have my eyes on it. Upstream is a big deal, man, all the files going around.
[03:23] Mike: So Rob and I were discussing what we wanted to talk about on today’s podcast. And the thing that we came up with are the biggest hurdles to getting started. And specifically, we came up with five or the biggest hurdles that we had to getting started.
[03:36] And initially, we had started thinking about these on our own, and we said, “What were the hurdles that we came up with or that we encountered when we were trying to build our business?” And we actually had a little bit of a hard time, because quite honestly, it was quite a while ago. It was a little bit difficult for us to kind of remember back that far.
[03:55] So one of the things that we did was we posed this question inside of the Micropreneur Academy forums. And the Micropreneur Academy, just very briefly, if you to Micropreneur.com, there is a website that Rob and I run where we help others who are trying to build a business, and put a software company online, and generate revenue from products that they are building.
[04:15] And in the Micropreneur Academy, we posed this question, and we got a lot of feedback from a lot of different people. And it just basically reminded us of all the different things that we had encountered. And from that, and combined with our own experiences, we came up with this list of five different things that are the biggest hurdles to getting started.
[04:32] So why don’t we dig into each of these five?
[04:36] Rob: Hurdle number one is time. And this is by far the number one hurdle that we hear from people getting started, because very rarely are people able to quit their job before they start building a software product to launch. So you are essentially doing it at night, you are doing it in the early morning, you are doing it on the weekend.
[04:58] And especially if you are married and/or have children, this gets really hard to do. If you think about what you do day to day at your corporate job, you might spend 40 hours or 50 hours at your job and you get a good solid 30 plus hours of coding in. But it’s really hard to get even half of that amount in on the side, because two to three hours at night, you get home from work, you are tired, you had your commute, you eat dinner, and you sit down to code and you are tired. You know, it’s dark outside. And suddenly the time just goes.
[05:27] And even if you have two or three hours that you carve out at night, it’s tough to try to do that five nights in a row, or to try to pack in four or five hours on the weekend. So this is by far the biggest hurdle that we’ve heard about, and the biggest hurdle that I experienced getting started as well. And there were a lot of long nights; a lot of two, three AM nights when I was first getting things rolling.
[05:48] And eventually, you get out of that, of course. You are able to either cut back your day to day work. I went part-time at one point, which worked out fantastically. I’d recommend that for some people, if you can swing it. And then eventually, when you quit your job, suddenly you will realize…it is incredible how much free time you have all of a sudden, because you’ve essentially been working a job and a half or two jobs.
[06:10] Mike: One of the things that I’ve found, Rob said himself one of the things that really helped him was going to part-time. And I think that there’s other ways of doing that, because obviously not everybody is going to be in a position to be able to go part-time at their job.
[06:25] But one of the things you can do is if you have the ability to telecommute or work from home one day a week, or even a couple days a month, that’s fine, because those couple of days, what will happen is…I live in the Boston area. For me to commute into Boston, that’s an hour, hour and a half easy. On top of that, I have to spend the time getting up in the morning, getting ready; there’s another hour.
[06:47] And then I have to spend another hour, hour and a half driving home, and dinner is another hour or so. So right there we’re talking, easily, probably five, six hours out of my day that I could essentially reclaim by working from home just one day a week. And if you extrapolate that over the course of a month and you get four weeks out of it, you can claim 24 hours of work during a month just by staying home that one day a week. And it’s not as if you are getting anything less done for your employer.
[07:16] So that’s one strategy that you can use to carve out at least a little bit more time. And again, this isn’t something everybody is going to be able to do, but each individual person is going to have to find strategies that work for them.
[07:28] Rob: I think there are a couple groups of people. I think certain people work really well when they binge on things. I happen to be that kind of person. Like, I like to work in huge chunks of 12 hours or 18 hour chunks; typically 12-16. And so if you are more like that, then you may try to carve out an entire Saturday or an all-nighter on the weekend.
[07:51]I realize this kind of sounds crazy, but you know when you get rolling, if you hit the zone at some point, drink a little bit of caffeine, get some music going, you can get like two times as much done if you roll for 10 or 12 hours than if you break that up during the week. OK?
[08:05] Now on the flipside, there are certain people who consistency just works way better for them. And I think that’s the majority of people, actually. That working one to two hours a night, almost every night, maybe not Friday night, maybe not Saturday night, but Monday through Thursday and Sunday, you know, maybe an hour during the day on Saturday, but really being consistent and keeping up a schedule is, I think, going to be beneficial to the majority of people that I’ve met who are trying to do this.
[08:35] And the way that people tend to do that is you either set your alarm for five in the morning and you get up and you do it first thing in the morning if you are a morning person, or you do it in the evening after dinner.
[08:47] Now, obviously there are drawbacks to both. You need to figure out if you are a morning person or a night person. You probably already know that. That really has been probably the number one strategy that I’ve seen for dealing with this time crunch.
[08:58] Mike: And I would actually encourage people, if they think that they are a morning person or a night person, to try the other, because you might actually be surprised.
[09:06] The second hurdle that we came up with was committing to a product idea. And part of this boils down to finding a niche market that you can address, or trying to find a product idea that really interests you, or one that doesn’t really have a lot of competition that really seems like a good market to get into.
[09:25] And I think people get too caught up in trying to find the perfect product idea or the perfect niche to go after. The fact of the matter is that if you identify something that you have a reasonable chance succeeding at and you go after it, and you actually put forth all of your effort into it, you are going to succeed at that area.
[09:44] And I think that that’s just something that most people don’t really get over, because they have all these different ideas, and they are very skeptical of their own ideas. I mean I keep notebooks full of ideas that I’ve had. And I’ve actually backed off on a bunch of them and then come to find out that some other company goes out and gets VC funding, makes millions and millions of dollars off of that idea.
[10:05] And, you know, on one hand it sucks, but at the same time, I certainly could have done those things and I just didn’t. So you really have to take a look at the ideas that you have and just pick one that interests you. That’s generally the best way to do it, is to pick one that interests you and has a reasonable chance of succeeding.
[10:22] Rob: Right. And then as we said in a previous podcast, you then do your research on it and you make sure that it is in fact viable. And I do hear a lot of ideas that someone is interested in but is not going to wind up being a viable product because there is no market for it, or there’s just way too much competition.
[10:40] Absolutely, I think Mike is right; this is where you start. You start with your interest and you try to follow that through as far as you can. You research it, and if it looks reasonable, then you continue with that product. Because you can get overwhelmed. I mean I think that’s a big complaint for developers, is they say…you hear this often: “I have so many ideas I don’t know which one to pursue.”
[11:04] And I don’t believe in…you know, I’ve heard, “Well, you just kind of pick one and go with it.” I’ve heard someone say that, told me that in the past. I was like, “You know, I disagree with that. You can’t just pick one. Like, some of them are going to be good and some of them are going to be crap.
[11:18] So if you pick one of the crap ones, you are not going to wind up on top. I generally think that you will have problems, and it will be a lot more work to make it succeed, or it just won’t succeed at all. There’s a lot of art to it which makes it difficult to us as developers, because we want it to be a science; we want to plug numbers in and see a yes or no come out of the eight ball. And, you know, in this case, it’s not going to do that.
[11:39] Mike: Yeah, and that’s exactly why I prefaced it by saying it has to have a reasonable chance of success, because a lot of ideas are crap. If your research shows that it’s not going to be worth it to go into it, then you are just basically flushing your time down the drain.
[11:54] Rob: Hurdle number three is fear. This is another very common hurdle. It’s totally natural to have this fear of the unknown. I actually wrote a blog post about this a couple weeks ago called “The Terror of Firsts”. Anytime you do something for the first time, whether it’s public speaking or even publishing a blog post, writing an article, or meeting someone that you admire, I mean you are scared. And it’s the same thing with building a product and launching it, because you are putting yourself out there. You are exposing yourself in front of people, and you are essentially making yourself vulnerable, because people can criticize your app, and since we’re developers, we tend to take those criticisms personally. And people, as well, can criticize you personally, although that really doesn’t’ tend to happen as much as you think.
[12:41] This is perfectly natural, and it is a very common feeling that people feel before they launch or before they tell people about their idea. And there are entire books written about how to get over the fear of putting yourself out there; you know, ,putting a public face forward.
[12:55] Someone who actually does a lot of talking about this is Pamela Slim on her “Escape from Cubicle Nation” blog, and in her book, as well, there is a whole chapter on it. So there are a lot of different techniques, different things that are going to work for different people. I think that once you realize that you have this fear, and that the fear most often is irrational, you can begin to talk yourself down. That’s how I started doing it.
[13:19] And so these days, I don’t have the same fear when I launch something new. Because even if it really is a new experience, I realize, “Wow, I’ve done so many things that have scared me over the past five, 10 years that this is not any worse than those things.” So I think the more you do it, the less fear you have. As long as you can get through those first several times, it definitely gets easier as you go along.
[13:40] Mike: I think some of the types of fears that people are more afraid of than anything else is, what if people don’t like my product, or what if people don’t like my idea? And that’s not really a reflection upon them, it’s a reflection on the fact that they just haven’t had enough time to build the product up to a certain point.
[13:59] I mean when Version 1.0 of any product comes out, it’s not going to everything to everyone who wants to try it. That’s just the way things go. That’s just the nature of software. It’s not going to have everything you want in it as a developer, and it’s not going to have everything the customer wanted in it as a user of the product.
[14:14] And you are just going to have to get over that. There’s no way around that. I mean a product is a natural progression and it’s got to start somewhere. So you have to get it out there, you have to get people using it, paying money for it, and it’s terrifying. It really is. As Rob said, you have to just kind of get it over with.
[14:33] And once you’ve gotten it over with once, maybe twice, the fear really goes away. And that’s really the most important piece of working through those fears, is just getting started and going through it and seeing it to its logical conclusion.
[14:46] Hurdle number four is a lack of business and marketing knowledge. There are a lot of hurdles that you have deal with in terms of marketing, copyrighting, figuring out which features to implement, which things people are looking for, what is the market looking for in your product that they can’t find in other products?
[15:06] And a lot of these things are more research oriented than actual business and marketing. And once you know what those things are, you can write your copy to directly address those on your website and in your product and tell people, “Look, this is the problem that you are having. This is how I solve it.”
[15:22] And that’s not rocket science. It’s a little bit of business research, but it’s not very difficult. I mean you just have to sit down and think about: “What is the market looking for and how am I solving their problem?”
[15:34] Rob: This goes back to some things we talked about earlier, that developers tend to underestimate the level of knowledge and the level of effort that it takes to learn the business side of things and learn how to market a product.
[15:48] I know that when I started out, I thought that by knowing how to write software that I could then market it. And I’ve seen this same pattern repeat over and over. You build a product and then you go and you launch it, and nobody cares. And you feel like emailing a few bloggers or running some AdWords, it’s just going to magically happen; it’s really easy.
[16:08] And you try these things…and I’m saying this directly from my personal experience…and nothing happens, and 10 people visit your website in the first month. And then you kind of throw up your hands and you say, “Wow. I don’t know what I’m doing.”
[16:20] And it’s very real. And what it kind of points to over and over is that the business side and the marketing aspects of launching a product are extremely important; potentially more important than actually knowing how to develop the product itself. And it points to educating yourself, to finding one or more mentors, to finding the books in this field that teach these things well.
[16:42] And learning it over several years, because you are not going to learn everything in a single month. You have to commit yourself to it like you committed yourself to the discipline of software development.
[16:51] I think that there are two different pieces of it. The one that you alluded to is more you’ve already launched and nothing is happening, so you get discouraged. The other side of it is you actually don’t have the business and marketing knowledge, so you plod forward doing these things and you are doing them wrong to begin with. And you don’t know that they are wrong until it is too late.
[17:12] Rob: This is the overwhelm part…this could be a good one…where you just get overwhelmed with tasks and you are just like, “I don’t even know what I should be doing with marketing,” and so you just don’t want to work on your product. You are scared whenever you sit down to work on it, or you are confused, or you see a list of 100 things. Because you search for blogs about how to market software or how to launch a product, and you will get a list of like 120 top marketing approaches. You look down this list and it is like article marketing, and SEO, and link building, and link bait, and emailing bloggers…I mean there are 120 different things and they are absolutely are.
[17:46] And so the key is figuring out which of those you are gifted at or can learn and which ones will work in your market. So, I mean you are right. I think there are two sides to it. I think that’s the second side, is there is this overwhelm, because there is overabundance of information on this topic, and it’s figuring out which bits of it are really necessary, and then figuring out exactly how to do them in a way that applies to your market.
[18:12] Hurdle number five is boredom. And it’s not what you think. It’s not falling asleep at your keyboard because you’re so bored with writing code. Something that I’ve seen a number of times is a developer has an idea for a product, gets really fired up about it, starts working on it, and works binges on it for a couple of weeks, and gets 10% of the code written and then just burns out. They either burn out because they are exhausted from doing it or they just kind of get bored with the idea, and they really weren’t planning for the long term.
[18:44] Building a product like this and launching it and marketing it takes four to six months, easy, part-time work. And if you don’t keep your V 1.0 pretty narrow, it could easily take six to eight months to do it. And we encourage people to stay within that four to six month window because it raises the chances that you will actually launch.
[19:01] But again, it’s really easy to get fired up about a product and want to build it. That’s the easy part. The hard part is thinking long-term. So that’s what I tend to tell people, is “I know you are fired up about this product. I can tell you want to build it. I can tell you want to build it right now. But sit down and let’s write up a quick plan, even throw some quick estimates at things, and look at it over the course of how long it’s going to take you. How many hours per week can you actually work right now, given your family situation, your living situation? That may only be 10 hours, and then let’s kind of throw some wild estimates at something.”
[19:36] And then we look at it, and it’s like, “Wow, this is six months of almost every evening and a little bit of time on the weekends.” And that gives a reality check to people. And typically, that’s a good thing, because you will either just quit right now and not do it, which, hey, if that’s going to make you quit, then that’s probably a good thing that you didn’t get into it and spend 20-30 hours on it upfront.
[19:56] And if it doesn’t make you quit right away, then it’s a good thing. You have a long-term perspective about what tasks are actually going to need to be accomplished in order to launch this thing.
[20:06] Mike: That’s good information. I mean one of the things that I found is that I’ll be able to get 89% of the way done with something, and then it’s just that last 10 or 15% that I have the toughest time with. And it’s usually because I’ve been working for so long or so hard on something that it’s almost difficult to get motivated to just put the finishing touches and polish on something.
[20:29] I’ve had products that have set there for weeks on end where I’ve literally only got maybe four or five hours worth of work left to do on them. And geez, you know, I just don’t want to do it. And it’s not that I can’t do it. It’s not that it’s difficult to do. It’s just that mentally I have this block about setting aside the time to actually sit down and actually finish it.
[20:49] And it’s not fear or anything like that. As you said, it’s almost like boredom. I mean you have to kind of set that boredom aside and say, “You know what? I’m going to sit down and I’m going to finish this and it’s going to be finished by Friday.” You have to essentially hold yourself accountable to some deadlines.
[21:04] That’s why deadlines actually help you to get things done. I mean if you set those deadlines and follow them, that will help. But yeah, I mean definitely getting bored, burnout, all those sorts of things definitely tie into this particular hurdle.
[21:18] Rob: You know, I think that’s a good point you made, is there are two types of people — the people who are really good at starting things but they have a much tougher time finishing them, and then the people who have a really tough time starting them and they are excellent at finishing.
[21:33] And so figuring out who you are and knowing yourself is going to get you a long way towards avoiding this boredom and/or avoiding not finishing your product. It will help you get to the finish line.
[21:47] Rob: At this point, we segue into a listener question.
[21:53] Charlie: Hi guys. My name is Charlie and I just stumbled across your Podcast and I love it. I never realized that I was a wannabe micropreneur or entrepreneur. I’m a traditional entrepreneur, and I’m in the medical field. But I have quite a few ideas that I’d like to implement, and I’ve been looking for a means of doing that for what you guys are talking about.
[22:14] My question specifically is: I do not have developer skills, although I have quite a bit of ideas that I think fall perfectly into the category of micro. I’m not looking to get rich quick, but would like to have a couple thousand dollars a month income coming in on some of these types of things. What is the best way for me to find a developer, perhaps to partner with, or what should I look for? What are reasonable fees and things of that nature to help me bring some of my ideas to fruition? Thanks. I love the podcast. Take care.
[22:47] Rob: I feel like there are two ways to go about what he’s trying to do. The first is finding a developer that you can pay to do it. You can certainly go domestic. I would recommend going offshore. I’ve had good luck doing that, and you are going to get it done for a lower cost and you can still find quality developers.
[23:05] So that’s one approach. He also mentioned partnering. I think that’s a possibility, however, he has to bring something to the table. I wrote a blog post about this a couple years ago. I think it’s “Find an Entrepreneurial Developer for your Startup”. And I still get emails about this.
[23:23] It’s very common for someone to say: “I have this idea. I know it’s a million dollar idea,” and to solicit a developer; send them an email and say, “This idea is so valuable. Will you build it for 50% of ownership?” And to me, that’s a bum deal. Because ideas, you know, they are not worth anything, right? It’s about execution, it’s about marketing. I mean there are so many other aspects to it.
[23:45] So if you are in Charlie’s position, unless you have real proven marketing experience that you bring to the table, and I mean proven; you have done this before. Not that you’ve read a few books, because the developer can go read a few books and launch the same product. Again, the thought that your idea is so unique or so valuable that it is worth 50% of this venture, you know, the developer is going to spend 400-600 hours over the next six months, and your idea is worth that much is just preposterous.
[24:15] Mike: Yeah, I totally agree with you. I mean I don’t think that…if you are in Charlie’s position, it is going to be very difficult for you to find a developer who is going to be willing to partner with you unless you bring something significant to the table. And that something significant has to be either money or it has to be specific product knowledge or marketing knowledge, or a way to leverage yourself into a sales channel that that developer is not going to have the capability to be able to do.
[24:43] Most developers are going to be skeptical of your idea to begin with. And if it is something that they could do easily, then they are going to realize that any other developer on the planet could do it as well. So realistically, why is it such a great idea? Why hasn’t somebody else done it before? You are just going to have a hard time convincing them.
[25:03] So one way to go about it is to find a skeptical developer and pay him to do it for you. And that way you are essentially taking the risk out of his hands because you are paying him for it, and you own everything afterwards. And it is more or less their loss because of the fact that if it does well, then great.
[25:20] But the problem is, of course, that if it is a very small market and it is one of those micropreneur endeavors, then if you are paying a developer in the US to do that for you, your rates are going to be much higher than if you do go offshore. So you are essentially forced into going to offshore developers.
[25:38] Rob: Yeah, I think there are three components to bringing a web startup to market: code, marketing, and money. And so if you have the money and you have the marketing knowledge, then you can certainly pay someone to write the code or partner with someone to write the code. But if you don’t have money and you don’t have marketing knowledge, then having someone write code is not going to fulfill those other two.
[25:59] Mike: Yeah, you have to have two of those three things.
[26:02] Rob: Yeah, good point. Right. You only need two. And I guess in terms of recommendations for actually finding developers, if you are looking for someone to partner with, I would definitely…I would consider contacting someone like myself. I’m just involved. I know a lot of entrepreneurial developers. But only contact me if you do have that third side of the coin, either the marketing or the money. If you are just coming with an idea, then I’m not going to present it to someone.
[26:27] But both Mike and I just interact with so many developers that might be interested. I mean contact someone like us. Certainly there are many forums, depending on if you know what technology that needs to be used. Or there’s answers on startups.com. I mean there are all these startup places where developer/entrepreneur types hang out.
[26:47] Best of luck Charlie. Thanks for the question.
[26:52] Rob: If you have a question or comment, please call it into our voicemail number: 1-888-801-9690. Or you can email it in MP3 or text format to firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to include your name and your URL if you like. A transcript of this podcast is available on our website: startupsfortherestofus.com.
[27:15] If you enjoyed this podcast, please consider writing a review in iTunes by searching for “Startups”. Yeah, did you know, Mike? I looked. If you just search for “Startups”, we come up in iTunes. Isn’t that crazy? Like four or five come back.
[27:27] Mike: That’s awesome.
[27:28] Rob: Yeah. You can subscribe to this podcast in iTunes or via RSS at startupsfortherestofus.com. We’ll see you next time.