Episode 160 | Advice on Selling a Startup, Early Days SaaS Optimization, and More Listener Questions

Show Notes


[00:00] Rob: In this episode of Startups for the Rest of Us, Mike and I will be discussing advice for selling a startup, how to handle your metrics in those very early days of a SaaS app and when we think an idea is interesting enough to pursue. This is Startups for the Rest of Us: Episode 160.

[00:15] Music

[00:23] Welcome to Startups for the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers and entrepreneurs be awesome at launching software products, whether you’ve built your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Rob.

[00:32] Mike: And I’m Mike.

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

[00:38] Mike: I finally fixed a bug that’s been plaguing my policy developer for a couple of weeks now. It’s basically in the synchronization code between his stuff and the cloud. When we poured everything over from visual studio 2010 to 2012, there were a couple of things in the ND framework model that got lost and the time stamp was one of them. So stuff was getting sent up to the servers and then it just wasn’t coming back down.

[01:02] Rob: Yeah, that’s a bummer. Those kind of bugs are brutal.

[01:05] Mike: Yeah, it was really weird because he would do stuff and then he would save it and he would leave and then you come back the next day and then it would be gone and he couldn’t figure out why.

[01:13] Rob: We’ve had a number of little tweaks like that to make as well. Probably the last 10 days have been pretty tough of working on Drip. They’re these tiny little crisis that keep coming up that we have to handle in real time. And Monday morning at 2 in the morning we got an alert that there was something wrong with our email sending and one domain had been blocked and there was just all the stuff so we wound up getting on it pretty early in the morning on Monday and dealt with it and got it handled and got all the emails on and everything.

[01:43] But this real time stuff of actually needing to make sure that emails are sent and having things working real time is a big deal. It has been a semi-catastrophic week. It’s felt like that. No one noticed and we didn’t have down time and we didn’t have outages or anything like that but there’s just been a lot of stress. That’s what comes whit the recurring revenue and the hosted service and the need for high up time.

[02:04] Mike: Yeah, that’s one of the down sides to the whole SaaS model is just the fact that when something goes wrong, you have to get there and try and fix it before customers notice. Just this past week, we redesigned the entire back end storage system primarily so that we could write better reports and we’ve gotten some complaints that the reports were a little bit slow. So right now the reports are just lighting fast but when we’re first putting them in, there were some issues where not everything was being processed correctly so some of the reports just never got generated. And of course I had to go look at the schedule of when people have different things scheduled and say okay well, who’s going to be affected by this? Was there any data that was lost or was there any data that didn’t make it in or wasn’t saved properly then we’re going to have to account for. So that does kind of suck. But in your case it’s a little different because you’ve got data constantly coming into the system. Right?

[02:54] Rob: Right. And we have so many people. We have enough people using it now that there’s pretty much always someone inside the app either a paying customer or a trial user. We’re not in the tens of users anymore. Once you hit triple digits there’s people all around the world basically able to use it and so it’s a lot of work. I come back to the whole thing of like don’t build a SaaS app as your first app. We “know what we’re doing” I’ve built these before and we know what the up time requirements are it’s still a lot of effort in these early days because we’re working with such a small team. We’re just prioritizing features high and trying to get as much stability in everything in this we can.

[03:33] And truthfully I think the silver lining on this is that when we had database performance issues, it totally sucked for about four days and then we got it upgraded to something that should last, a server that would last us for a year and then we wrote a bunch of queries. It’s good that it feels like it’s kind of fixed for good or at least for the time being and the same thing with the one last week like we’re going to diversify. This thing that got blocked, we only had one domain where we’re sending trough and now we’re going to have dozen or more domains and so if anything else gets blocked, we’ll always have that backup which was a plan we were going to do anyway but now it really gave us the impetus to jump on and do it quickly.

[04:08] Mike: Cool.

[04:09] Music

[04:13] Rob: Today we’re going to be running through a slew of listener questions and comments trying to play catch-up for the past couple of months. Our first question comes from – he actually has an anonymous question. He says I’m one of three equal partners in a Saas app that is less than a year old but its gained significant traction. It has more than 75 recurring paying customers and its growing and the average plan is about $30 a month so it’s in the $2,000 to $2,500 a month range. As promising and valuable as the product and all of its assets are, our partnership is not so promising. Personality clashes, lack of focus and location issues, there’s like a 14 hour time difference with one of the partners, these have all been a big deal and they’re beginning to discuss their options.

[04:55] He says one partner might buy two of us out. Two partners might buy me out or we might seek a third party buyer for the whole thing. So he has three questions and let’s take this one at a time. He says if selling the business as a whole to a third party buyer, how do we go about putting a value or asking price on the business. How do we factor in revenue level, software assets, marketing side assets domain authority etcetera? Second question is if my two partners will be buying out my 33% stake, how should I go about putting a value on that aside from whatever we determine the value of the business to be. Would my personal contribution factor into this? And then the third question is there such a thing as a business evaluation consultant or some kind of independent appraiser to help us figure out a fair selling price?

[05:39] Mike: So my take on this is you could go out and find a business evaluation consultant but it would probably cost you a significant amount of money because they’re going to have to do a lot of digging to get you an accurate value for that. And the more time and effort they put into it, the closer the evaluation is probably going to be to accurate but at the same time it’s also going to cost you more money. At the end of the day, the evaluation is only really what somebody’s going to actually pay for it. In terms of selling a business off, those are some really tough questions. I think that there’s definitely – I guess sense of ownership over a lot of the assets and you’re definitely going to probably place a significant amount of value on it that isn’t necessarily going to carry over to what the business is actually worth.

[06:24] I think that’s really common because if you go out onto Flippa for example and you look for websites or apps that are for sale, there’s lots of people out there who are asking prices that are way, way too high for what the app is actually bringing in for revenue and they put such a high value on it because they’re trying to recoup some of the costs of their time and investment and it typically doesn’t work out. People aren’t necessarily willing to pay that. Now your situation may be a little different if your partners are buying you out. I think if you’re trying to sell the entire business to a third party, that third party is not going to care how much time and effort you’ve put into it. They’re going to care about what is the value of this business? What are they going to be able to do with it after they take it over?

[07:03] If it’s your partners by you out, you basically have probably more leverage in that scenario to say look, I’ve put in all this time and effort and I want to be compensated for it because it was a partnership. And if they’re buying you out because the partnership is not working out between the three of you, that’s a different story than you going to them and saying I want out. So I think that you could probably get more money from it from your partners than you would if you went out in the open market but I don’t know what those numbers would actually look like.

[07:32] Rob: If I were in your shoes I probably would look for someone to appraise this and I know some third party folks who are basically online business brokers, they’re reputable. These guys actually know what they’re doing and they know how to deal with Saas apps and e-commerce websites and kind of the stuff that we’d be dealing in. So that would probably be my at worst, that would be my first shot is to talk to this guy and I bet that’d be $500 or $1,000 to get a pretty in depth appraisal from him.

[08:01] Mike: That’s it? Really?

[08:02] Rob: Yeah. Because all you’re going to have to do is provide him with revenue and profit and expenses and that kind of stuff and he’s just going to be able to look at it and run the numbers because he sells multiple businesses a week. I mean really turns them over. So he knows the multiples and how to set prices on businesses that sell. Right? So he does all this for his clients and takes a cut of the sale. He’s just very knowledgeable. So it’s not a process that’s going to take him 20 or 30 hours to value it. And especially it’s not going to be a huge evaluation because it $2,000 or $2,500 a month. Let’s say it did $100,000 a month, that’s a whole different story. You need to be very accurate. There’s a lot going on, tons of transactions coming through, a lot more expenses. But at this simple level at a pretty low revenue rate, I bet that he’d be able to pop off fairly accurate quote almost with just a shared Google doc and 15 minutes of looking at it. And then if you want him to go more in depth, certainly that would cost a little bit of money.

[08:58] So that might be where I start. Now Mike’s point about the Flippa evaluation versus your internal evaluation, that is definitely true because if you go to the open market with this thing, you’re going to less than if you’re selling it someone who knows and trusts you and knows the code and know the business has potential and all of your partners know that. Right? So there’s potentially a premium that they would pay because they just have such intimacy with the app and they know that you guys are taking great care of it. I think the answer to kind of all your questions is to try to find a third party to appraise this and then in my opinion I would first try to sell it to one of the other partners before going to the open market. I just think that’s probably the best outcome. It’s always a tough position to be in. It’s a bummer the partnership didn’t work out and frankly we wish you the best of luck in figuring out.

[09:42] Music

[09:45] Our second question is actually from a podcast. It’s from bootstrap.fm which is Ian Landsman and Andrey Butov’s podcast and Andrey had asked this question several episodes ago. It’s episode 23 of bootstrap.fm and I think we’ll probably just play that right here.

[10:02] Andrey: I’ve been looking at various marketing techniques and trying to grab some of the low hanging fruit, that’s low hanging fruit for me because I haven’t done any of this stuff on the past SEO, all that stuff, AB testing and what not. And it does look like although this advice Saas stuff kind of already lives at the level where the app is liquid enough like there’s a flowing stream of users whether they’re being retained or not, it doesn’t matter. But there’s churn right? Sort of like all the strategies like AB testing and price AB testing and click tracking and SEO and all this stuff that you get to play with is only really liable at that level.

[0:10:47] And then when you’re at the beginning where you have like one sign up and three days and then maybe a couple of it, there’s another sign up later on, maybe a couple days, none of this stuff works yet. You can’t play any of these games. You kind of either have to wait for it or you have to find some other alternative games to play at that level of your app. So if there’s any gurus out there, Rob Walling, Amy Hoy, Patrick McKenzie, whoever is thinking about this stuff and giving advice, optimization for SaaS apps and all that stuff, I’d like to see more content on the early days. And early days doesn’t mean like I opened it up to 1,000 beta testers and 500 of them signed up so now it’s early but you already have churn. I’m talking about like 3 participants and like 10 visitors as a day.

[11:31] Mike: So I think that this is probably a common problem. I don’t necessarily know that I have a lot of great solutions for it. One that I‘m looking into is using – there’s a couple different ways you can do it. You can do it using Trello to kind of move people through what you sales pipeline is because if you get somebody who signs up, the first thing you want to do is you want to make sure that you reach out to them and talk to them. And for your first 50-100 customers, you’re going to probably do a lot of hand holding. So you need to make sure that you reach out to them individually, get them on boarded in whatever way its meaningful because this is not going to scale – it doesn’t necessarily have to either because you can talk to them individually when you’ve only got one person signing up ever 3 or 4 days, that’s not a big deal.

[12:12] So one way is to put the person into Trello and essentially set it up so that you’ve got people moving through a funnel where you’re saying okay, well they initially signed up and then the next swim lane is they’re using the product, are they actively using it, yes or no. Those are the types of things that you want to figure out from them and then you touch base on them and get their feedback, figure out how they feel about it. Is it solving their problem? You do want to have those early conversations to figure out what exactly their problem is and whether or not your application is going to be able to help them with it. If you can get them on the phone, that will definitely help you out.

[12:43] Another option that you can do which does the same type of thing is to sign up for something like Pipedrive where you’re just basically moving people through a swim lane of options and you would manually loop them through until you get them to the point that they’re paying for the product. I think that the strategy is extremely helpful when you’re still in that early beta when you’ve got probably less than 50 customers because you probably don’t have the volume that as you said there was a lot of those sales marketing strategies that simply don’t work until you get to scale.

[13:14] Rob: Yeah, but it’s a lot that’s in line with what you just said. My big thought is at this point you have to have to do things that don’t scale. You have to do a lot of things that don’t scale. It’s going to be basically one on one attention and its going to be almost high touch sales at this point. So like you said, the phone, email, personal emails to the folks, finding out why they’re using it, why they’re not. You recall I had this slow launch that was 90+ days for Drip. And that was basically communicating with and then on boarding like our first 15 paying customers, maybe 20. Now the amount of time that I spent with those customers absolutely wouldn’t scale and it would not be worth it based on the lifetime value of those customers but that’s not what I’m getting out of it. I’m not helping them in order to make that few hundred dollars that I’m going to gather for them.

[14:03] I was helping them use the app and get on boarded so I can find out what issues they were running into so that I could then build an engine that scaled because in this early days I’m manually turning the crank. I’m manually turning that hamster wheel. There’s nothing that’s going to be able to serve a lot of people at that point. So I like to think of it like if I you had a product on Amazon and so people started giving you star ratings, you wouldn’t want to look at them in aggregate yet because when there’s only three reviewers, and if you get a 1, 3 and 5 star, that averages to a 3 star. But that’s not important data. What you want to do is you want to ask the 5 star why they got so much value out of your product and what else you could do to offer the and who they are and how they found you and all that stuff.

[14:43] Then you want to ask the 1 star why they didn’t get the value out of it and then you want to ask the 3 star. All individually, you can’t look an aggregate yet because there just isn’t enough data. So it’s the same thing with your Saas app. You can’t just look at churn rate because your churn rate might be 40% in the first month which it doesn’t even compute. Right? That means like your customer lifetime is 2 ½ months long and it just doesn’t make any sense. So I think at this point, I’d do a ton of hand holding and then the very first thing that I do once you’ve actually publicly launched is that you need to drive more traffic. You can’t optimize unit you have more people in that funnel.

[15:20] And hopefully if you’re a marketer and you have traffic strategies, you can get there in 30 to 60 days to where there’s actually four digits of traffic and certain percentage of people signing up and you can start getting some metrics. If you are still learning marketing it could take you 4 to 6 months just to get to the point where you have enough traffic that you could even think about the optimization strategies like split testing and price split testing and all the stuff that Andrey mentioned in his question. During this time, you really have to pay attention and focus on boarding and focus on what works one on one and how you can then build that into the UI of your app that basically walks them through setup and then a sequence of emails that goes out to them over the trial process and that’s when you’re trying to scale your individual effort that you put in early on.

[16:07] But if you don’t get that learning done where you are doing the high touch part, then you just don’t know enough of exactly what you need to put in the app to get them to their first successful experience with your app.

[16:17] Mike: Something else that I kind of forgot to mention was that when you’re doing this, when you’re working with those people individually, one of the things you have to be able to see is whether or not they’re using your app. And there’s tools out there that you can – there are subscriptions services out there that you can use to help you find this out. But a lot of times you just want to know are they logging in? When is the last time they logged in? And those are very, very simple things that you can just slap a log message into a database to say each person logged in whatever time and then just run a sequel query to say okay well has so and so logged in the past three days or the past seven days?

[16:51] Then before you go talk to them you say hey I noticed that you haven’t logged in three days or since you created your account. Is there a reason why? Is there something I can help you out with? And essentially what you’re doing is you are customizing that person’s experience and then you can take the emails and stuff that you’re sending them, extract them out and then send them out later in an automated fashion once you do get to that scale. But initially you just need to get those interactions going and learn from them to help figure what needs to go into future emails.

[17:21] Rob: Right. And this applies to a SaaS app where you’re actually charging a reasonable amount of money. If you’re selling a mobile app that’s 99 cents apiece, then this doesn’t apply. And if you’re selling a onetime piece of downloadable software even for several hundred dollars doesn’t necessarily apply. This is a common question and there’s obviously no one answer to it. We’ve sat here and given a lot of suggestions but I’m glad Andrey brought it up because I bet it’s more common than we think and I don’t think that those really early days are necessarily addressed that well when we’re talking about a lot of the optimization approaches we do.

[17:50] Alright, so our next question is actually a comment and its from episode 154, its from the comments section on the blog and Paul Murray was referring back to a question that we answered during that episode about someone who is going to try to market to the restaurant industry. And Paul says I spent four months earlier this year on successfully selling mobile web and marketing services to restaurants. Granted you don’t plan on selling this, but might get the nail on the head when he said restaurants are technologically oversee and I was selling products and services that are easy to demonstrate the need for yet so many restaurant owners had their head in the sand when it comes to technology. If you’re going to be planning to sell products to help a restaurant with their back end systems, I can only imagine how hard it might be. Seriously, after my experience earlier this year, I vowed I would never ever try to sell anything to the restaurants again.

[18:40] So that was Paul’s take. Brian Casel has had a different experience with this, a more positive one. You can check out his website at casjam.com and he has a podcast called bootstrap web where he talks a little bit about his product for restaurant engines.

[18:54] Mike: On episode 151 Rick wrote in and said he’d received an email from wpbeginner.com this week that had mentioned a service for building an email list in WordPress. He said that the product was from optinmonster.com and wanted to know if Rob could explain how Drip is different than Optinmonster.

[19:12] Rob: Sure. Optinmonster is actually really cool if you go check out optinmonster.com they basically have an email capture form that is similar to Drip. A couple main differences is 1) Optinmonster is WordPress plug-in so you have to be running WordPress site to use it. The other thing is Optinmonster is a piece of code that you download. It’s a zip file. You install it in WordPress and then you can configure some stuff. But you host everything yourself whereas Drip is software as a service. So it’s a little snippet of JavaScript. You can install it on any website and we capture those emails.

[19:43] Optinmonster is just the capture form whereas Drip captures the emails. We help you setup an email mini-course. We will build your course for you if you have content that we can use in the course and we have a whole email editing interface and we have the email scheduling and you can split test emails in our system. I mean on and on, we’re basically the back end. We provide conversions when people from your list convert to paying customers and we’re starting to put some behavioral and work flow stuff in kind of the emails to say if someone does this then I’ll move into this list or whatever. So we are like an actual whole email provider whereas Optinmonster is just that front in form.

[20:30] Our next question came in via email from David Debour. He’s asking about when we think an idea is interesting enough to pursue. And he says first of all, thank you for all the content you create on your blog and podcast. I’ve been following you for about three years and it’s valuable to know there are others also on this path and to hear a voice opposite the Silicon Valley startup circus. I noticed that you’re working on a few new projects and I’m wondering at what moment do you think an idea is interesting enough to pursue? As solo entrepreneurs we have limited time so I can imagine you did not jump into a project unless you believe it can reach certain goals. For example, a specific revenue target. When is a project worth it in your perspective?

[21:09] Mike: I think that you have the answer to that right in there. Is it going to be able to hit certain revenue goals? And that I think applies more to the products that you’re developing if there’s just a project that you want to work on, you don’t necessarily care about monetizing it then it’s a completely different story. When you set out to meet a very specific revenue target and typically it’s a minimum revenue target and you do the research on it to figure out is it realistic to be able to hit this particular revenue target? And if you feel like it is, you start going down that path and crank it out.

[21:39] I think the challenge is sometimes in finding out or figuring out how to justify what those numbers you feel like they should be. So if you think that an idea is going to be worth $20,000 a month, well how do you know that that’s going to be it? Well you can take what you expect to be able to charge for it. You got to talk to people. You need to make sure that they’re willing to pay what you once charged them and just do the math on it and try and figure out how many people you think would actually be using the service.

[22:06] From there, it’s just kind of a matter of extrapolating to say will you meet that revenue target and how quickly are you going to be able to meet the revenue target because that’s the other side of it is given enough time, you can probably scale any given business but you need to be able to reach out to those people and get them on boarded in a reasonable amount of time. If it’s going to take you 10 years to get to 1,000 customers, it might not be worth it. But you also have to remember that as time goes on, you’re going to be able to learn enough that will allow you to scale your marketing efforts and maybe you only sign on 10 people the first year within that 9th or 10th year you might be signing on 200, 300, 400 people a year.

[22:43] Those are things to take into consideration but some of it’s about drive, some of it’s about how much money you want to make and some of its about how much of that you’ve done in the past. So if your previous efforts were getting you let’s say $1,000 a month then your next revenue target is going to be more than that. Typically most people don’t go after a project that is going to make less than their previous ones.

[23:08] Rob: I think there are probably a few different aspects of play into this. I think revenue is one of them and I think revenue is a way that we measure things. Right? Measuring if it’s a larger idea that we’re going after. But I actually think that a project becomes interesting to me if I know that I’m going to learn a lot from it because learning is something that excites me and kind of expanding my knowledge base and going into realms that I haven’t gotten into before something that I need consonantly. So if you are like that as well, I think that should play a factor into whether an idea is interesting and it shouldn’t just be about revenue.

[23:45] I think the other component is feasibility like is this idea feasible for you to build? And I think a bunch of questions you can ask yourself is if you go back to episodes 133 and 134 we did a founder test and we did a product test. Those questions actually plan to how interesting an idea is for me because if I’m not the right person to build this or the idea just doesn’t really pass the product test very well, it becomes a lot less interesting to me because the risk goes way up and the change that I will invest a year of my time and a lot of money and that it won’t work out goes up. So that becomes less interesting.

[24:22] Our next question is about starter apps and it comes via MicroConf attendee Rich Buggy and he basically says I’ve noticed a changed in the bootstrap startup community over the last few years when Rob started promoting the Micropreneur approach, it was about finding small niches and building an income for multiple smaller products. These days, it seems the greater focus on building a single product that can generate $20,000 to $50,000 a month with just you and a VA or two. Typically the developer does the surrounded topic or technology they’re passionate about, something that’s causing them a problem or something they’ve previously worked with and he listed a bunch of examples Brandon Dunn, Nathan Barry, Patrick McKenzie, Brecht Palombo, Rob Walling.

[24:59] Around this time last year I started building a big app. At that time it ticked all the boxes for a good product but it wasn’t in an area that I had passion for. I’ve since stopped developing for a number of reasons I won’t go into. I’d love to hear your opinion on building what I’m calling a starter app versus going after a large product that you are more passionate about or experience with. The starter app obviously carries a much lower risk if it fails but its offset by a much lower reward if it succeeds. By contrast, a larger app carries a much greater reward but you’re typically a more crowded market and it can take six or more months working on the side to get ready.

[25:30] So that we’re mostly on the same page, I’m defining a starter app is something that is the first product you’ve released on your own, can be built and released within 2-4 weeks after hours of development. It’s limited revenue opportunity maybe $2,000 a month. It’s being built so you complete the process of building releasing and running a product and you’ll either flip it in 12 months and move on to something larger or you’ll keep it to supplement income rather than replace it. And for a larger application, I’m thinking of products which scale similar to Drip, live cycle email platforms shopping carts landing page platforms.

[26:01] Mike: Well I think what he described says a starter app is really in many ways the Micropreneur approach. What you started doing, you built a couple of small apps and gradually grew larger apps out of those. So maybe you had one that did $500 a month, another one that did $750 and as you stack these things up, they supplemented your entire income and that kind of became known as the Micropreneur approach. But I think we kind of talked about a little bit previously on this episode where if you start building larger and larger apps over time it’s like your natural inclination is to build something bigger than the previous thing that you’ve built.

[26:40] And part of the reason for that is because you just get more comfortable doing those types of things. You get more accustomed to the different things that you’ve learned about how to put together a mailing list or how to interact with customers or just in general how to sell software online. So it seems to me like this starter app is really just an extension that entire process.

[27:00] Rob: Yeah I’d agree with that and there are several points which made some where he talked about a seeming change in the bootstrap startup community but I don’t know that there has been a change. When I came out and talked about the portfolio approach and the Micropreneur approach of just having multiple small apps and going up the stair step of starting with 500 a month and like you said building up, no one else was talking about that. So I don’t know that there’s as much of a change as that has always been my approach the way I came up and not a lot of other people have done that as far as I know.

[27:30] These days, there is a focus or there are a lot of people talking about building that single product but I think there always have been. The only reason I’m doing it and I’ve talked about is because that’s because what I’m doing now but I would still say that if you’re getting started now, that the portfolio approach, the small stair step approach is the way to go. Some people are talking about info products today a lot more than they used to be. I don’t think – I mean that’s not really how I came up. I came up doing software and web apps and that kind of stuff. I did write my book and launched the academy at some point but I was already there by the time I got there.

[28:05] I have no issue with info products but if that’s not your thing, then don’t think that you have to do that. Don’t be talked into doing that if you do in fact kind of build your empire using SaaS or just smaller websites and smaller ideas. But I think the analogy that keeps coming to mind is there’s college ball. There’s the minor leagues. There’s the major leagues. Don’t feel like you need to jump into the majors because other people are talking about playing in the major leagues. Work your way up there. There’s so much that needs to be learned in terms of marketing experience and in terms of perhaps self confidence, that was an issue of mine and an issue of other folks I know, just having the confidence that you can actually do this and that this is going to work for you and that you can pull it off.

[28:47] All these things are answered slowly over time if you take the time to attack smaller ideas and build them up over time. That’s not to say you don’t have to be excited or passionate about that idea. You don’t have to pick a niche for electricians or for line men or for people getting married if you’re not interested in those niches. You can just pack smaller ideas in niches that maybe you’re interested in.

[29:09] Mike: I think your analogy of college ball and going pro and that type of a sports analogy is very true and it helps people understand that let’s say I wanted to go and be a professional basketball player for example. There’s no way I would just walk up to an NBA team and say hey I’d like to try out. I would really need to practice a lot and get comfortable with all the different aspects of the game and running a business is really not any different and a starter app is a very, very good way to get comfortable with the basics of the game of running a business.

[29:42] Rob: Right. And if we look at the examples that Rich mentioned, you look at Brandon Dunn, he had basically come up through consulting. I would imagine he’s a freelancer at one point and you learn business and marketing skills. Then he hired folks, started a consulting from and he was running like a 10 person consulting firm when he started looking at doing products. So he essentially came up through college ball and the minor through the consulting angle but he had learned a lot from I imagined other mentors and he also had a lot of business and marketing skills that he had packed up from consulting.

[30:12] Nathan Barry launched multiple apps. I think he had an iPad app that was fairly successful. He had multiple other apps that he launched before diving into kind of these larger app ideas and he still not – he doesn’t have a really big app that does a ton of money. He’s still working towards that so he’s kind of working his way up too. Patrick McKenzie, bingo card creator. Right? That started tiny. I think he made a few thousand dollars the first year. Talk about a tiny niche that he grew. Then leveled up to Saas with appointment reminder. Brecht Palombo he has this one app that is distressedpro.com where he’s selling information but it’s kind of like a membership website. From what I understand, that had small beginnings and he learned a lot along the way.

[30:53] Now he was also heavily experienced in marketing and sales because he had run essentially a real estate brokerage and so he already had a lot of knowledge that us as developers would not have by nature. And he came up through college ball and the minor through being a real estate broker and knowing how to close deals and knowing how to talk to people on the phone and close sales. Everybody you mentioned, just because we’re doing the larger ideas now it doesn’t mean that five years ago we weren’t working in small ideas and just trying to figure ourselves out. That’s where I think people typically need to start unless you really are an outlier.

[31:27] There are certainly people who start with the SaaS app and they’re really good or they get lucky or combination of those things and suddenly they have an app doing $40,000 a month after couple of years and that’s great for them. It’s just not the typical situation that I see. Alright, and our final question for the day is from Fredrik Sandabert and he attended MicroConf Europe. He had a question about launching a SaaS app nationally in a non-English country versus globally with different language options.

[31:56] He says I know that Patrick McKenzie has mentioned this a couple of times, I think one of the times was whether someone should do a bingo card creator for Australia as they apparently have radically different rules on how the game works that his bingo card creator doesn’t meet. And at the same time, I know that other people have created clones of SaaS apps you think that would’ve worked out that are not working out. Lastly, my own SaaS app net biljett he says it’s a site aggregating Swedish events like concerts and stuff. There are several of those that have already been launched and all of them have been miserable failures. The thing with mine is that the user can create alerts for interesting things. So they can say they like jazz in Stockholm and then they can get alerts.

[32:34] This is somewhat interesting and it’s related to this topic because it’s not really possible to see as anything other than kind of a locally national thing in Sweden. At MicroConf, somebody told me that Apple tried doing that in iTunes and that it crashed and burned because the data is awful and it’s a mess getting things to work together in the world of events and ticketing.

[32:57] Mike: The basic question is that what sort of criteria do you use to figure out whether or not you can take something that is for English versus going global with it in non-English countries like what sort of criteria can you use when is it a good idea, when is it not and how could you make it work?

[33:16] Rob: Okay, so there’s two points I’d like to make. The first thing is if you have launched an app in the United States or in an English speaking country and you’ve had success with it, a lot of people localize too early. They try to put in other languages way too early. That’s only semi-related to this question but I would encourage you to really fish in your own pond for a lot longer than you think necessary and that your issues with growing your app have nothing to do with it being localized into other languages because that’s a huge waste of time for six months or a year saying well I need to grow the market so I’m going to add a German translation of it. But if you can’t support the app in German, you can’t sell the app in German then it’s really not that helpful.

[33:59] The second thing is I think you have to look at market size and I think you have to realize that if it’s a B-B app versus a B-C because the Swedish events app that he mentions is really more B-C and so could that feasibly work in Sweden? Well sure. Because there’s enough consumers there to make it work. It’s not the typical play that we talk about where we’re going to get actual income. You know he’s probably going to have to either get venues to pay for advertising or there’s going to be a weaker revenue model say than just subscription billing but there’s enough of a market there to do it.

[34:33] However, if you try to go into Sweden and sell to dog groomers or electrical contractors, my guess is that there may not be enough of those to make it a viable market. So I think market size is another big factor you have to play into especially in smaller countries where you language is only spoken in that country and it’s not spoken in other markets around the world.

[34:55] Mike: I think your comment about people trying to go global, create local versions of their apps in other languages was dead on. I mean it’s very difficult to believe that most people who would be listening to this podcast would have completely saturated their own market to the point that they have no choice but to go to a foreign language in order to make something succeed or to grow their product.

[35:17] I totally agree with you about the fact that you have to look at the market size itself and whether or not the market there is going to support that. And then the revenue model is something else. I don’t think it’s any different than launching something in English as it is in launching it in German or Swedish or anything like that. Is the market there big enough for that type of app? You can probably make some generalizations about a particular type of app from a successful one and another market.

[35:45] So let’s say that there’s an English version of something and you want to take that into your local market. Find out what kind of statistics you can find out about them before trying to do that. I mean are they being successful at it? Are they reaching people? How many customers do they have? And some of those things are going to be really difficult to figure out. You could also call them up and ask. I mean a lot of companies if you – I actually had a conversation earlier today where I said how many people do you have using this application? They gave me a ball park number so just give them a call or shoot them an email and say hey, I want to know before signing up for this that I trust that you guys are able to handle this. What other similar customers do you have? How big are the customers that are using it etc? And you can get a ballpark idea of how well they’re doing just from these types of answers.

[36:30] And then you extrapolate that and say okay well in the US market let’s say that you’ve asked that of an English speaking company there’s 300 million people in the US, let’s say that there’s 50 million people in your country just divided by 6, you can get ball park numbers. I think the demographics are definitely going to going to be a little bit different from country to country but you could probably guess a general idea of what sorts of revenue numbers you can probably be looking at based on those things.

[36:56] Rob: Right. And I also think looking at the marketing channel as well because if someone in the US is using a specific SEO tactic and Google is 90% of the market whereas in your market, Google is only 50% then you have to think about that a little bit or someone’s using a lot of Facebook ads and Facebook just isn’t in your country then that is – the market size doesn’t help if you can’t reach them through a channel that the other folks are also using. So there’s obviously a lot of complexity to this question but I hope that will lend some insight. Thanks for asking that Fredrik.

[37:26] Music

[37:29] Mike: If you have question for us, you can call it in to our voice mail number at 1-888-801-9690 or you can email it to us at questions@startupsfortherestofus.com. Our theme music is an excerpt from “We’re Outta Control” by MoOt used under Creative Commons. You can subscribe to us in iTunes by searching for startups or via RSS at startupsfortherestofus.com where you’ll also find a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time.

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5 Responses to “Episode 160 | Advice on Selling a Startup, Early Days SaaS Optimization, and More Listener Questions”

  1. Hey guys,

    I completely forgot about sending that email until I heard my name on the podcast. With growing through localization there is a lot that US companies can do to localize before they translate the app into other languages that they’re probably ignoring.

    – Are you localizing dates? The US uses MDY but other countries use DMY.
    – Do you support multiple currency symbols? Just supporting the pound or euro symbols could make your application usable in new English speaking markets
    – Do you hard code number formats? Many European countries use , instead of . for the decimal place and other separators
    – Is your app using US imperial units? How about supporting metric units?

    If you want to localize the language you could start by supporting UK English which is much closer to the English used in other countries.

  2. Hi Rob & Mike.

    Just wanted to say thanks for addressing my question regarding marketing approaches for very early stage SaaS apps.

  3. @Rich – good tips; thanks for bringing these up.

    @Andrey – no worries; I hope it was helpful. Also, thanks to you for continuing to produce bootstrapped.fm – you have a good show going there.

  4. Hey guys, could you post (or email me) the contact info for the online business broker Rob mentioned in this episode?


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