In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike discuss their seven takeaways from MicroConf 2015.
Items mentioned in this episode:
Rob [00:00]: In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Mike and I discussed our seven takeaways for MicroConf Vegas 2015. This is Startups For The Rest Of Us episode 233.
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 [00:27]: And I’m Mike.
Rob [00:28]: 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?
Mike [00:33]: Well, I got back from MicroConf about maybe 12 hours ago. I got in around midnight and it’s 1:00 in the afternoon right now and I’m still recovering even though I had an extra day on the tail end of the conference. So, I don’t know about you but I’m tired.
Rob [00:45]: Yup, yup. Feeling pretty out of energy. I slept until noon two days after the conference and still just can’t quite recover. I can’t quite catch up. I didn’t even stay up that late. I didn’t drink very much. It just kind of takes it out of you. It’s this extrovert hangover, I think.
Mike [00:59]: Yeah. I drank a lot of water but I really didn’t drink anything else. It’s just constantly. It’s weird because it’s Vegas so of course it’s weird because it’s Vegas so of course it’s actually dry and I felt like I was over drinking water and I was always just not drinking enough and I always felt full though because of that.
Rob [01:12]: Yeah. For sure.
Mike [01:13]: So, one of the things I heard from a lot of first-timers at MicroConf was that it was really intimidating because there were just so many people there but I got somewhat mixed reviews about the attendee badges. So what we did this year, which was a little bit different in previous years. In the past what we did is we gave people things that said basically returning attendee and some people kind of as a joke started putting like two, or three, and four of them on their badges. So this year we switched over and to help eliminate that, we’ve handed out this first-time attendee ribbons essentially that you could hang underneath your badge. And some people loved them and then there were a couple of people I talked to who were just like,Yeah. I ‘m not wearing that.
Rob [01:49]: Yeah. For the most part, I heard that people liked it because it allowed them to connect with other folks who were also first-timers. I think I only met one person who said that they didn’t want it on there, that it was like a badge of shame or something, but I thought it was a good idea and it allowed folks to connect.
Mike [02:03]: Yeah, I did too and I don’t know how you felt about it but I felt it was, if you saw somebody with a first-time attendee badge it was like,Hey, come talk to me.
Rob [02:09]: Exactly. Yup. I felt the same way. Sherrie told me the same thing that she was kind of trying to help post, help like welcome folks who had the first time. I got an interesting email from Scott Ewell of Bootsrapped with kids, both he and [Brock?] made it to the conference and Scott said,This was a more rewarding experience for me the second year. Last year I felt a little intimidated/overwhelmed by it all, but this year, seeing familiar faces from last year and reconnecting was a really great experience. And then, this is a part of like I said,I think there’s an evolution from. And he has a number of steps and it’s; number one, working in Corporate America; number two, discovering micropreneurship; number three, attempting something and feeling the impostor syndrome; number four, connecting the one or two others doing the same; number five, discovering the broader community; and then number six feeling part of the broader community. And it feels like for Scott, this second time that he’s really starting to connect and feel part of that broader community which is both MicroConf but obviously even beyond that.
Mike [03:04]: Yeah. That ‘s a really interesting way to put all that. I really like that. It’s not something I could really probably thought of in those terms before. But yeah, those are definitely great points. I really like how he just kind of laid it out like that. One of the things that I found this year and I don’t know if you felt this way, even though the conference was about the same size, it felt harder this year to get to everyone. So for example Scott, I went to the gym one morning, I think it was on Sunday morning, and I had a longer discussion with Scott at the gym while we were working out that I did any of the time. I barely saw him the rest of the conference.
Rob [03:33]: Yeah. I think just due to the fact that so many people come back to MicroConf. We get between a 60% and 70% return rate that everyone knows each other now. A lot of people know each other. And so, it means that you have more people that you want to talk to and there were probably a dozen people who I know really well that I just never got a chance to talk to even though I saw them around.
Mike [03:54]: Yeah, same here. I think there were a lot of people who I know them online but I hadn ‘t really met them in person and I wanted to carve out time and talk to them and it’s just never really got around to it. We were never in the same place at the same time or busy in other discussions, something along those lines, but I don’t know, I don’t know what the answer is there. [crosstalk] conference.
Rob [04:11]: I know. Yeah. We haven’t grown it. It’s been the same size for two years. We definitely have some discussions to have just around making sure that first-timers get a chance to engage with people. There were some chat on Twitter about trying to get more women to the conference. I think these are both things that you and I planned to discuss and try to attack for next year.
Mike [04:31]: Yeah. I had some conversations with some people at MicroConf. So if anyone has any thoughts or suggestions, feel free to privately email us and we’ll kind of take them under consideration, especially if it’s just around like ideas about what to do, about some of those things because Rob and I have our own thoughts and opinions on it but it’s just the two of us kind of thinking about these things and talking through them and relaying what other people have told us and just the conversations we have had. And so if you have thoughts on these things, just feel free to email them to us.
Rob [04:56]: So I want to dive into our seven takeaways for MicroConf this year. The first one is that relationships are crucial and I think this came out in a number of talks. This also came out in a number of conversations I had in the hallway track of people talking about how valuable their masterminds are. I started thinking about it and the number of times I mentioned Derek, Rubin or Jeff Epstein in my talk, probably 20-25 times just kept saying,Yeah. I was trying to make this decision. And then I asked their opinion or Derek and I decided this, for a guy who ‘s kind of a single-founder type and likes to do stuff solo, I sure mentioned other people and how much they ‘ve helped me a lot.
Mike [05:35]: Yeah, I find that too. I think it came out a lot more at the conference and just on that note if people are looking for a mastermind group, there’s a website you can go to called mastermindjam.com and Ken Wallace is behind that and he basically helps put people together into mastermind groups based on a profile of like different criteria and things like that. So if you’re interested in one, definitely go to over mastermindjam.com and Ken will try and put you together with like-minded individuals.
Rob [06:01]: I’m glad Ken did that. You and I have been talking about doing something like this and just haven’t had the time so it’s great. So he’s a Micropreneur Academy member and he came to MicroConf this year and he obviously sees the value of mastermind group. So I like that there’s a resource for our community to take advantage of that.
Mike [06:14]: I think the second major takeaway for MicroConf is do not hang stage lights near a sprinkler system.
Rob [6:20]: Yeah, in case you haven’t heard, we had a sprinkler go off in the middle of the conference and it spilled black smelly water that had been in pipes for 50 years all over the back of the room. Luckily, it was the back and not the center so we got a few people wet, I think a pair of shoes, and maybe a laptop were ruined but that was pretty surprising. What were you thinking when you saw that happened?
Mike [06:42]: I remember thinking,I’m not entirely sure what’s going on but I’m glad I paid that extra dollar for terrorism insurance just in case.
Rob [06:50]: Seriously. Yeah, it was a complete shock. This thing just goes off in the back of the room and people start scattering and again luckily, it was all the way against the back wall so it wasn ‘t like it was above a huge group people, but people pretty much evacuated the room and it was right as we were heading in the lunch and I was thinking right as that happened like,Wow. Is this it? Is MicroConf over this year? How are we possibly going to recover from this? But within about 10 or 15 minutes, I started realizing,This will go on. Even if we just get a portable PA system in here and we do some groups until they can get a room for us, I could do my talk without slides. I just started thinking of all the alternatives that we could start doing and realized that the conference would not be over.
Mike [07:32]: Yeah. It kind of goes back to all the different problems we ‘ve had over the years to be honest because somebody asked me,How’s the conference going? And every time that anyone asks meHow’s the conference going?, I always turn around and ask them. Yeah, because if they don ‘t see anything, then it’s going great because there’s all this stuff behind the scenes that you and I see that things are going wrong and if nobody notices then things are going great. And pretty much every year, we’ve had something go wrong and almost nobody has ever noticed. And this is I think the first year that something major has happened where it’s not like you can hide that. It happened right in the middle website tear downs and it was obviously that something is going on. It cleared the room. So, you just have to kind of deal with it and move on. There was a little bit of indecision there it’s like,Okay. What is going to go on now? How do we handle this? How do we move forward and not just have to end the conference right this second?
Rob [08:21]: Yeah. And the nice part is since it was during lunch, the hotel was able to scramble and get another room set up and in essence, they did it over lunch and then for about another half hour. So we lost half hour of the schedule but we just ran a half hour over towards the end of the day. So we didn’t lose any programming and the only thing that it did was put us 30 minutes behind schedule which is pretty impressive to be honest. I was thankful that Zander was there to handle that and that the hotel was able to scramble that quickly and get us back on track.
Mike [8:49]: A bunch of people said that it was kind of amazing that we were able to recover as quickly as we did from that little incident, not exactly little but from that incident, it was just amazing how fast we were able to recover. And Zander did a fantastic job. I can’t count the number of people who came up to me and said,Wow. Zander is awesome. He does a really, really great job helping you guys to this conference.
Rob [9:07]: Yeah. He’s really taking a lot of the load off of us. So, our third takeaway from MicroConf 2015 is that if you have a product that you need to find your fit first whether you call it product market fit or whether you call it building something that people actually want and are not churning out of, that you need to find that before you start marketing. This came up in a number of different talks. I think most notably my talk focused on it for a good third of the talk and Hiten Shah spent maybe a third to a half of his talk talking about how to find product market fit, what it looks like, how to measure it. And in the responses to the survey that we sent to attendees afterwards, a lot of folks were talking that this was their number one takeaway is to not just build something and then try to run all these marketing approaches that we always hear about but to build something, ensure you have this fit, and then start marketing because if you start marketing before that too hard, then you will just lose a lot of money and basically pour it down the drain.
Mike [10:06]: Yeah. It’s about the efficiency of what your marketing is because if you don ‘t have that product market fit first in your marketing, it’s just the efficiency is so much lower because you’re going to convert all that worse and people are going to churn out faster because what they bought is not going to necessarily what they were expecting and I think that ‘s really the main takeaway from that. It’s more about the efficiency of your marketing.
Rob [10:26]: Fourth takeaway from MicroConf was that buttons matter and to test them, and often to test them in conjunction with headlines. And this was from Joanna Wiebe ‘s talk. Joanna is from copyhackers.com and her talk was one of the highest rated this year and I thought it was a very, very good talk. She talked a lot about how much the text on buttons actually matters and just showed a number of split test talking about why that ‘s the case and why we often focus too much on headlines and don ‘t look enough at the text that we’re putting on buttons.
Mike [10:58]: One of my big takeaways from her talk was that there’s always a lot of these best practices that people repeat over and over again and the reality is that a lot of them don ‘t necessarily pan out and you still have to test them and even if they’re best practices, you still have to test those things because it’s not always clear that they ‘re really going to work that way.
Rob [11:15]: If you haven’t followed Joanna, I’d recommend checking out @copyhackers on Twitter or right in copyhackers.com because she has some really exceptional content around copywriting and conversation rate optimization. Our fifth takeaway was actually from one of the attendee talks. So over the past couple of years, we’ve allowed attendees to submit talk ideas and then before the conference they are voted on by the other attendees. And so, I think this year we got around 35 talk submissions and we took the top 12 and so these actually all 3 of these last takeaways are from attendee talks. This first one is from Jacob Thurman and he’s been to every MicroConf as I know I think for the last five and he talked about selling his single-founder software product. He called it a [Micro ISP?] but it’s in essence just him running the show and it was a fascinating look at what it took to build this up and then the decision-making process of whether to sell and how much to sell it for, and he had some really actionable takeaway that seems like that would be all kind of a gut feeling. But he had this great spreadsheet where he laid it out and he also talked about how to make big decisions and not make them poorly.
Mike [12:28]: A couple of other things that were takeaways from his talk is to not make big decisions when you’re not at your peak level of performance and he had this acronym called HALTS, H-A-L-T-S. It would basically stood for, don ‘t make big decisions when you are hungry, angry, lonely, tired, or sick because you’re going to make good decisions at any of those points. And it intuitively makes sense when you think about it that way but if you’re making those decisions in the moment, then I can definitely see how you would make the wrong decisions and come to regret them later.
Rob [13:00]: Yeah, and for the record the HALT acronym without the S it’s actually very famously used in psychology and he talked about that and then he realized he had a stomach issue during this time where he had stomach pains and so he added the S to it and I thought that was pretty clever.
Mike [13:14]: And I think this is the topic that most people in our community don ‘t necessarily talk a lot about because it almost seems like there’s not a lot of buying and selling in our particular space, I’ll say. I know that there is some but I think it’s just not widely discussed.
Rob [13:27]: Yeah. It seems like more and more this is happening as our space is getting more mature because there are more people self-funding. You would see Patrick McKenzie selling a few. I’ve obviously bought a lot in the past and sold a few. I think Brian Castle sold one or is selling one. [Field Erickson?] selling were [?] but I mean there is becoming a little bit of liquidity as more of us are doing it and I think as we kind of stair-step up, it can either autopilot your old ones or you can sell them and selling them is not a bad idea to get a nice little chunk of cash. Now in the old days, selling them meant putting them on flip and getting 12 to 18 months ‘ worth of profit which was a drag but now if you actually build a good product, you can get 3 years ‘ worth of net and it makes it more realistic to do, right. It makes it more worthwhile I guess I’ll say because it allows you to take that money and then invest it up into more complex products.
Mike [14:17]: Yeah. That ‘s kind of the leveling-up that we’ve kind of talked about a little bit on this podcast in the past. So, it’s good to see that stuff going on though.
Rob [14:24]: Yeah. Our sixth takeaway was from Ted Pitts attendee talk, and Ted is with Moraware Software. He’s one of the co-founders Ted and Harry who have been to a lot of the MicroConfs as well and they run countertop installation software. So it helps countertop installers to schedule and do things like that. And he talked about the most important SaaS metric that no one talks about which was profit, and I thought it was cool because he talked about how they’re doing substantial amount of revenue with only seven employees, and that they’re not a big sexy Silicon Valley startup but they ‘ve been in business for, what was it? 10 years, or 12 years.
Mike [15:01]: Yeah. It ‘s a long time.
Rob [15:03]: Yeah, it is. And you know what, they’re just legit like they’re just around and they’re stable and both of them have [known?] an attendee talks and Harry has been on the podcast back around episode 40 or 50 and they’ve just kind of been around the community and I like their presence, and I like that they’re not going after these big startup ideas even though they have a successful business. They haven’t thought of flipping it and selling it to go after something more sexy, and that they’re really just content to run this highly profitable business that kind of owns this niche and it does really well with it. I think that’s something to be kind of respected. I respect what they have done and I like to hear Ted talk about it in his talk about them at finally achieving profitability even though they ‘ve kind of been profitable for years but just talking about the rough ups and downs of getting here.
Mike [15:47]: Yeah. I thought it was interesting to how Ted put things into perspective with really just talking about profit. It opens up your options, is really the bottom line. It lets you do things that you might not otherwise have the ability to do and just being able to have that profit around to use as you want it or you need it. Obviously, if you need it then you have to spend that money, but you don ‘t have to spend the money. You can just keep it and there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s nothing wrong with just keeping the money.
Rob [16:12]: Our seventh takeaway from the MicroConf 2015 was from Jordan Gal ‘s attendee talk and he talked about outbound email and called emailing prospects and essentially said doing sales calls, doing sales emails for prospecting and what I like about his talk is it was 12 minutes. It was super actionable. He laid out all the numbers of exactly how much it cost to compile a list, to send the emails, to work with the leads. It was really compact and he showed all the tools that he used, and so, I appreciate that. I think that ‘s something we’ve always tried to do with MicroConf is to have actionable talks that you can basically takeaway and use in your business next week and Jordan has definitely delivered on that.
Mike [16:50]: Yeah. That was a very tactical talk. He told you exactly how to do it. It was basically a play-by-play of this how we do this and this is how you can too, and I thought that that was very, very useful.
Rob [17:01]: I think that ‘s part of the feedback we got from the survey. What’s nice this year is we’re recording this episode but we have already sent the survey and received feedback from the attendees and that is typically not the case. But some of the feedback, as always, it ‘s mixed, right? Some people I want more inspiration, some say less inspiration. But one of the threads that I was noticing is some folks wanted some more tactics and I don’t know quite why that happened this year but it seems like there were some highly tactical talks and maybe fewer technical talks that we’ve typically had.
Mike [17:31]: Yeah, I’m not sure. I think it depends a lot on where people are in their business which is another one of those discussions you and I kind of have to figure out because there ‘s those people who have come back. I asked in the audience, how many people were at the different numbers of MicroConfs and so who was there for the first time, who had gone to one or two, three or four before. And then there were probably a larger number of people there who have been to five MicroConfs than I would’ve thought based on where you are, you’re going to want different amounts of tactics and I think we’d need to go back and take a look at some of the feedback and kind of figure out where people are at before we made those judgment calls. But it’s an interesting discussion to have and an interesting problem to think about. So, you have to look at those things and maybe take those into account as well.
Rob [18:12]: Yeah. That ‘s a really good point. I think that is probably why we’re getting more and more varied feedback where in the early years it was pretty consistent like,You should do this to improve the conference. And it was obvious that ‘s what we needed to do, but now we get this wide swath of input and i think it comes from having some folks who are, there are still a handful of people who are looking for an idea, who attend MicroConf but that ‘s really a minority. But we do have people who are just launching and just getting started and then we have folks who are running literally multimillion dollar software companies, and it’s kind of like how do you present enough content for all of those groups, that whole spectrum to be happy with it when they get something out of it.
Mike [18:51]: Yeah, to be useful to everybody. If you’re catering to everybody, you’re really catering to nobody and that ‘s kind of what makes it toughest because there’s this big spectrum from right now of people who are first-time attendees and they’re just kind of thinking about it. They just don ‘t even have an idea yet, and they’re there for inspiration, and then you do have the people who have been to five and they ‘ve got a business that ‘s doing several million dollars in revenue every year. Catering to both those types of people at the same time, I think it’s really, really challenging for the speakers.
Rob [19:17]: One other thing we tested out this year was workshop. So we did two workshop the day after MicroConf. One was headed up by Hiten Shah and the other by Patrick McKenzie, and you had actually wanted to do this for several years and I’ve been kind of against them to be honest just because I’ve never seen them well executed. And then when I went to DCBKK, Dan and Ian ‘s event last October, I saw workshops that I thought were well executed. And so far, the initial feedback was that the workshops were worth it and we haven’t even pow wowed on this offline but I get the feeling that this is something that we’re going to want to continue because I think that is where the more advanced folks were catered to. Because if someone is doing 50,000 MRR in their business, they aren’t necessarily going to get a ton out of general talks anymore but these workshops for Hiten and Patrick really dug in to everybody ‘s funnel and everybody ‘s process and gave super actionable points of how to grow. I get the feeling that ‘s where they got their money ‘s worth.
Mike [20:19]: Yeah. I talked to several people because what I’m going right now is I have to go back through and look up everybody ‘s information and reach out to them but I want to schedule at least 10 or 15 minutes to talk to every single person who went to a workshop if I can get them on Skype or on a call or something like that. And I’ve already had three or four of these discussions already because there are people who stuck around after the conference, but that was the sense that I got from people. There were definitely things that we could’ve done better upfront in terms of communication and letting people know what the workshops were and what was going to be in them, but we didn’t get tickets out until partly into January. So, we got that done and we got that all taken care of and then all of a sudden, we ‘ve got workshops to deal with and if we don ‘t do them this year, we have to wait another year to do any sort of iteration on them. So, I wouldn’t say that they were added in after the fact but the reality is it was just working on them was held up by the fact that we didn’t have a signed contract for the hotel until January. So, some of that was our fault buty the people coming out of the workshop by and large, all I’ve heard is great feedback from them just,Yes, I would absolutely do this again. It was fantastic. It was very, very helpful.
Rob [21:22]: So does wrapping up MicroConf Vegas make you excited for MicroConf Europe here in the fall?
Mike [21:29]: As long as there’s no sprinkler systems involved.
Rob [21:31]: I know. Oh, we’ll get planning on that soon. So, to recap, our seven takeaways from MicroConf Vegas 2015 were number one, that relationships are crucial; number two, don ‘t hang stage lights near a sprinkler; number three, find your product fit first and then start marketing; number four, buttons matter, test them; number five, don ‘t make big decisions when you’re not at optimum performance; number six, the most important SaaS metric no one talks about is profit; and number seven, how to run an outbound email campaign.
Mike [22:01]: If you have a question for us, you can call it into our voicemail number at 1-888-801-9690 or email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our theme music is an excerpt from We ‘re Out of 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.