In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike talk about of the biggest roadblocks to your success. After 5 years of additional knowledge and experience they revisit the topic and share some new insights.
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Rob [00:00]: In this episode of Startups For the Rest of Us, Mike and I revisit a topic we covered back in episode 3 in April of 2010. We’re going to talk about the biggest roadblocks to your success. This is Startups For the Rest of Us episode 237.
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 [00:31]: And I’m Mike.
Rob [00:31]: 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 [00:36]: Well, Tom Fakes wrote to us about his new service called fhrnews.com, which is for helping American Express Platinum members make better use of their hotel benefits for the respective free night and the special offers that are often available. And, it’s interesting because Tom was at MicroConf Vegas, and it was him and me and Rich Buggy and I think Ken Wallace as well, but there were several of us sitting there talking to him, wee hours of the morning. It was probably 3:00 in the morning when we were sitting there talking about it and trying to help him figure out which direction to go with the products and figure out a monetization strategy. So, it’s good to see that he’s making traction with it. I’ve seen what he’s been talking about on Twitter and just gotten a couple of emails here and there that have said, “Oh, this is how many new subscribers I’ve gotten and it’s actually going somewhere.” So it’s great to see that those late night conversations were actually bearing some fruit.
Rob [01:22]: Yeah. Nice. I like the kind of long form approach although, Tom, I would tone down the yellow highlighter. That has actually become, you know how when people mock old web design, html design, they always say it’s the marquee tag, right, that made everything flash? Well, the same thing said for internet marketing is the yellow highlighter and that’s almost become like a parody of itself. So, I would dial that down and either use italics or bold just so that people give you more credibility, but other than that, looks good.
Mike [01:52]: I’ll have to disagree with you a little bit just because I think his target market might actually like that.
Rob [01:56]: Fair enough. It’s a good point. It’s always a good point to keep in mind who you’re targeting. If you’re targeting more advanced marketers or technical people, then the yellow highlighting is going to be irritating, but most other people who are having American Express Platinum Card, or whatever this is for, could very well may not know that whole meme.
Mike [02:14]: Yeah, I think it’s more for executives, like that’s what the service is aimed at is people who have an American Express Platinum Card using it for the corporate use. And it seems to me like that would actually fly pretty well with them. But I think Rob’s got a good point, something to test.
Rob [02:28]: For sure. So MicroConf Europe is coming together. We almost have dates. We actually signed a contract today, but we have not received the countersign version, so we don’t want to announce dates yet. But it’s looking like it’s going to be in Barcelona, and we’ll have dates hopefully by next week.
Mike [02:44]: You’re a total MicroConf tease.
Rob [02:46]: I know. I do that on purpose. If you might be interested in joining us in Barcelona in the fall, go to microconfeurope.com and enter your email address in the top right, and we’ll be sure to be in touch. Tickets will go on sale in a couple weeks, and there’s a good chance they could sell out, so you definitely want to get on the email list if you think you might want to come.
Mike [03:06]: Anything else going on?
Rob [03:07]: I’m in kind of the good news bad news mode. Drip is ramping up. The marketing is going well and accelerating because I finally hired someone for customer success and to help me with growth, and she’s already cranked out a bunch of KB articles and a blog post and is heading up the launch of our little educational area we’re calling Drip University. So it cleared out a huge backlog from my Trello list, and I feel like that flywheel is starting to spin just a little bit faster with another person helping. That’s the good news. The bad news is I’ve been discouraged about HitTail because I’m not able to spend enough time to grow it because Drip is moving quickly and it really should be my main focus. And so, HitTail’s is kind of sitting there, and I feel like it has potential to grow, but it’s just not working out. So, I’m trying to sort through that and figure out if there’s a way because I had hired someone a couple months ago to help out and within the first trial period, 30-day trial period, he said that he found out he didn’t have enough time to do it, so he backed out. And I haven’t revisited that, but that’s where it stands. So that’s kind of been my week, thinking about those two things.
Mike [04:08]: Cool. So today we’re talking about the biggest roadblocks to your success, right?
Rob [04:11]: That’s right. And way back in episode 3, which went live in April of 2010, we talked about four roadblocks. And so what I did was I put together this outline without looking at the old outline. I wanted to revisit this topic and see what kind of new insights we had, what different thoughts we had on it, and, frankly, most people don’t go back and listen to something five years old. So even if we say some of the same things, it should be a good reminder. What’s interesting is I made this new list and then I looked back and there is a decent amount of overlap, which shows that these are still consistent things like there’s consistent mistakes still being made in the community. The list we had back from 2010, the four roadblocks were choosing a product with no market, having a lack of goals, being inconsistent – meaning having a lack of focus and overcommitting, and believing that you have to do everything yourself. Today we’re going to be covering six roadblocks and to kick us off, we have lack of a clear goal.
And this is the one I always think about when I think about kind of self-sabotage and about people who are not making progress. It’s that not having a clear goal and knowing what you want to do makes it pretty hard for you to decide where you’re headed and what you need to do to get there. And it also decreases motivation if you’re not super motivated to achieve this goal. An example is, I hated consulting and salaried work back in 2005-‘06, as I was moving away from it. And my number one goal, above all else, was to quit that, and I focused on that. And all I needed was 8,000 bucks a month in order to quit that job. And the focus and the motivation of having that single-minded goal really drove me to it. And I think that I got there way faster than if I hadn’t set up that very concrete goal and worked towards it so hard.
Mike [05:58]: Yeah. I can’t agree with this more. I did consulting for a very long time, much longer than you did, and I think part of my problem was that I actually enjoyed consulting for a really long time. It was fun to just kind of drop into an environment that I didn’t know anything about and go in, solve problem, work with different people, and just get things done. Just kind of like you, after a while, I started to get burned out on it, and I got to a point where I started to really despise doing the consulting work. And I don’t know whether it was just about the work itself or the way it was being done or the technologies involved and things like that, but I got to the point where I just didn’t want to do it anymore.
Rob [06:31]: Yeah, and I think it gets old. Once you’ve done something 20, 30, 40 times, it kind of stops being fun.
Mike [06:37]: You’re solving the same problem over and over and over again just because everybody has that problem. It gets boring, and you just don’t want to do it anymore. Honestly, you get to a certain point where you know what the answers are before people even ask the questions, and you want to just give them the answers but you almost have to wait and let them tell you what they’re problem are because if you give them the answer first, they don’t want to hear it because then you don’t understand. It’s like, “No, I’ve seen this problem in 30 other environments. Trust me. You have this problem, and you don’t know it yet. You just can’t verbalize it.” And you have to be very careful about biting your tongue because otherwise if you speak too soon, they don’t want to hear whatever it is that you have to say.
Rob [07:11]: Right. Because you’re a few steps ahead of them, because you’ve seen this scenario over and over and over and you know how it’s going to play out.
Mike [07:16]: Right. But then it gets boring because then you have to listen to the same things over and over.
Rob [07:20]: It’s like Groundhog Day, right, Bill Murray in Groundhog Day where you’re so tired of it. If you’re listening to this episode and you have no product and you have no idea that your number one goal, I think, should be to validate a product idea and start working on it. And then, once you have that, your focus should be on getting that product out the door – that should be your number one goal. Then it should change to getting revenue for that product. And then it should change to a dollar amount like, “I want to get to 2,000 a month in revenue,” to pick an arbitrary example. And then once you have that, you should try to multiply that if you’re going to do the stair-step approach, just to try to get two or three more out, hit your revenue goal, and quit your job should become your goal. And then from there, it goes on and on and on. But that’s kind of the succession of steps that I would attack and the goals that I would have in mind if I were doing this all over again.
Mike [08:06]: And I think that that’s an interesting point that you made there about the fact that your goal changes over time because you’re going to have these different milestones. You may have this grand goal of, “I don’t want to work for somebody else anymore,” but at the same time, there’s these little, tiny milestones along the way that are going to become your mini goals, so that you have to, essentially work towards those first.
Rob [08:25]: That’s right. And every year, I go on a retreat, I talk about it on the podcast, and I find the next maybe three to five goals that I’m going to accomplish in the next year. And then, you and I do an episode, typically in December, where we talk about our goals, what we accomplished in the past year, whether or not we hit goals we set a year prior. And then, we talk about the next year’s goals. And I think if you’re wondering about how to set goals and that kind of stuff, you can go back and listen to any of those episodes to hear the kinds of things that we’re committing to hear. I’ve always been a believer in goals. I’m a goal-oriented person in general, but I think that if you don’t have something that you’re working towards, it really is a roadblock to your success. Second roadblock is something that I see all the time. It’s building a product before finding customers. I think there are some ideas that you’re able to validate in advance. An idea like HitTail or Drip or going around asking people whether they need a service and then building it, I think it is valuable. I think there are products that you can build quickly that you don’t need to pre-validate.
And I think examples of that could be something like Baremetrics where Josh was able to get a version out in a week, and it was just faster to get that out. Dan Norris with WP Curve, that’s more productized consulting if you think about it. You don’t need to validate that. The validation is that you just put up a landing page and start charging people. We have Craig Hewitt over at Podcast Motor, that’s another one where I wouldn’t have gone and asked people. Maybe I would have had a few conversations but getting that landing page up and just trying to start using your network to sell it, is the big step. But the days of going in your basement and coming up with an idea, and then sitting there writing code for six months – those should be gone. I know people continue to make those mistakes, and actually, we’ll see a lot of folks we have to get emails, we see them at MicroConf, they come into FounderCafe, and they say, “Yeah. I made this big mistake, this developer mistake of just coming up with an idea and building it.” And so, if you’re still doing that, you really, really should stop. The odds of it succeeding are like it’s like a crapshoot at that point.
Mike [10:26]: Yeah. I might even take it just a step further and say it’s not just about finding customers but it’s about finding a repeatable way to get those customers. So, if you have a product that you’re thinking of building and maybe it’s a clone of another product that is already successful, just because they’re successful with it doesn’t mean that you can be as well. And, even if you’re going to try to go at a different market segment for example, if you’re going to take a product that targets medium-sized businesses, and you’re going to say, “Well, I’m going to take this to bootstrappers.” Well, do bootstrappers need it? Are they going to pay you for it? Those are types of things that really factor into it that are going to indicate whether or not you’re going to be successful with it. So, don’t necessarily ignore the whole marketing aspect behind the customers as well.
Rob [11:07]: The third roadblock I’ve written down is lack of focus. Once you have this goal that we talked about two roadblocks ago, work backwards and develop a plan to get to that goal. Try to do a timeline. Do whatever it is that you can to make that structured, and then work through the steps. You really want it to be a step-by-step process to getting there, because that’s going to keep you from wandering. I would also take it a step further and really focus the media that you consume. So instead of continuing to listen to a bazillion podcasts, I actually whittle my podcasts down when I’m at a certain point in my sequence, and I will skip over a lot of irrelevant material. So back when Derek and I were first validating building Drip, I stopped listening to stuff that was talking about how to scale and how to grow and all that because it wasn’t relevant to me right at that time. And I was only listening to a lot of info and consuming info about validation. Once we launched, then I started looking more into the growth stuff. And now that we are where we are, I’m looking at topics that are relevant to me. So, I try to focus that media, including both the audio books, the blog posts, and the podcasts that I listen to.
Mike [12:11]: I think you also have to take a look at those in terms of the focus and figure out if you’re being distracted. And if you’re being distracted in any way, shape, or form, figure out why. Is it that you’re not motivated? Is it that you don’t know necessarily what you’re doing? Are you afraid of doing something that you’ve never done before? There’s a lot of reasons why you might not be making progress, and lack of focus is, I’ll say it’s kind of a bucket that people throw a lot of different things in, but there’s not necessarily just one cause for that lack of focus or lack of motivation. So, be cautious about the reasons why you might have a lack of focus in terms of approaching whatever the product is that you’re going after.
Rob [12:48]: I think another cause of lack of focus is that you’re just chasing too many approaches at once, you’re chasing the next shiny approach. You hear about info products, “Oh, I’m going to do those.” You hear about WordPress plugins. You hear about Sass. You hear about productized consulting. Or you hear about marketing on Facebook or on Twitter or on this or on that. You can’t chase all these things at once, and you have to pick one. You have to build a plan. You have to figure out what the goal is, and you have to try to work towards it and not wander all over the place. And so, kind of keeping in mind that the next shiny approach is probably not the best thing for you to do right now, and that sticking to your plan is, that’s going to help you get over this roadblock. Fourth roadblock we’re going to talk about is the unwillingness to move out of your comfort zone. So it’s things like not wanting to learn marketing, not wanting to outsource some development, not being willing to maybe buy an app if one presents itself, not being willing to hire a VA and outsource some basic tasks. It is possible to build and launch and be successful without doing these things. It just becomes way, way harder if you’re going to try to do everything yourself.
Mike [13:50]: Yeah and some of these things just tie into fear of doing the unknown. You have to be willing to try things out, especially when it comes to marketing because there’s always going to be things that you’re wondering about. If you’re not familiar with content marketing, you’re just like, “Is this going to affect my business? Is it going to move the needle for me?” And it could be something that takes your business to the next level, but it could be something that flops. And you won’t necessarily know that until you at least give it a shot. So, those are the risks that you’re going to have to be willing to take even if they’re outside your comfort zone because a lot of people are just afraid of doing things, because they’re afraid they might fail at them. And, you shouldn’t necessarily be afraid of failing at things. You should be afraid of looking back on them in 10 or 15 years and saying, “I wish I’d tried that instead of going down the wrong path.” Because, typically, when you go down the wrong path, you’re going to learn at least something from it. But if you never go down any of those paths at all, you’re probably not going to get anywhere to begin with.
Rob [14:39]: And the next roadblock that I see people hitting is having an unhealthy consumption to production ratio. And this just comes down to consuming too much stuff, the online media, hanging out on Twitter, Facebook, reading blog posts, listening to podcasts instead of working. So whether you use the term entreporn, whether you decide you’re going to go on a media diet, you kind of need to stop reading and start acting at a certain point. And I think this comes back to with lack of focus, this could be part of that. And it also comes back to once you have that goal in place that you’re working towards and you have some kind of timeline, that always helps me stay focused and basically, go on a temporary media diet where I’ll still consume some stuff, but I will back way off when I’m heads down trying to actually hit a short-term goal.
Mike [15:26]: Little historical anecdote here, but do you remember? I think it might have even been before we started this podcast that you and I had had a couple of discussions about this exact topic. And our thoughts at the time were, “We want people to listen to the podcast, but at the same time, we recognize that this is a problem, so we would rather them spend less time listening to our podcasts and more time doing things.” And that was one of the deciding factors that caused us to do heavy editing on the podcasts and offer transcripts and lots of different ways for people to consume the podcast as quickly as possible so they could get in and get out.
Rob [15:59]: I vaguely remember that. I’m glad you brought it up. That totally sounds like something we would say. I mean that’s kind of the digital behind this podcast, right? It’s that we try to maximize your time because we know that you should be building and launching.
Mike [16:10]: Right. And that was the catch-22 we were in is just we want people to learn something, but at the same time, we don’t want them to listen to us too much.
Rob [16:17]: Right. The sixth roadblock I have is ignoring the need for community and accountability. And this was one that was completely not on my radar five years ago when we did this the first time. But since then, having joined two mastermind groups, running the seven MicroConfs that we’ve run, the connections we’ve made through that, going to DCBKK, attending some local meetups, all of these things have had dramatic, dramatic impact on my progress and the people who I see embracing these communities and looking for accountability in them and looking for others who are doing the same so that we can all move in the same direction and help each other get where we’re going.
Mike [16:56]: Yeah. When we did that podcast episode originally, that was back in 2010, and the first MicroConf wasn’t until 2011, and at the time, the Micropreneur Academy was around, but it wasn’t nearly as, I’ll say, well-formed or as well-populated as it is today. And it was all a lot newer, a lot fresher. So, people weren’t interacting as much, and people didn’t really know what to expect. Now, like the bootstrapping community has kind of taken off and has developed legs of its own, and there are lots of different places to go for help and to talk to people and just learn from other people. There’s books and everything. And so you can go to a local meetup, or you can read books or blogs. There’s lots more resources than there were even five years ago. And it’s nice to see that there’s all these different communities around that are available to people regardless of the technology that you’re using, regardless of the marketing strategies you’re using. And, you can learn something from just about every single one of them. And it’s really nice to be able to leverage all the different data points of other people because you can’t possibly learn everything by yourself. It’s great to be able to leverage the experiences of other people and, quite frankly, the failures that other people have encountered and be able to use those to your advantage so that when you go out and try something, you’ve learned from other people’s mistakes, and you can do them better.
Rob [18:10]: And if you’re looking to join a mastermind group, check out Ken Wallace’s service. He’s a FounderCafe member. He started a service called Mastermind Jam, and he’s trying to link people up. It’s at mastermindjam.com. The last roadblock I have has come about because of several talks at MicroConfs, both from you, from my wife Sherry, and this one is working yourself into the ground. It’s basically working so hard that you burnout, that you cause health issues or you encounter them and you continue to try to work through them. It may feel right to work all day and then come home and work until 2:00 in the morning, and I’ll admit I did that back in the day and I do think there’s a time and a place for it, but you can’t do that forever. And you have to do this in sprints, and then back off and give yourself time to recover, both mentally and physically. Entrepreneurship is long ball. You have to play it as a long ball game, and you need to be aware of where you stand emotionally and physically because it can take a toll on you if you push this too hard for too long.
Mike [19:12]: This is something else that was totally not on my radar five years ago. And I’ve had some health issues here and there and talked about them at MicroConf. And it’s interesting how long it can take you to get over certain things. I’ve had some conversations with people at MicroConf who have had either similar issues to mind or have had related issues, and some of them are just hard to get over. You can’t just flip a switch and say, “Oh, this problem is solved.” One thing I realized was that, over the past 10 days or so, I feel like I’ve actually made more progress in the past 10 days than I’ve made in quite a long time primarily because I’ve been able to sit down and focus all day for the entire day. I’ve realized that I’ve got a streak of 10 days going now at this point, and I haven’t had a streak of 10 days where I’ve been able to do that in a very, very long time. And I think a part of it is related to moving my office out of the dungeon of the basement, to be perfectly honest. And having sunlight is actually quite nice.
Rob [20:04]: Well and I think this changing of the seasons is a big one. When I lived down the east coast, I had a really rough time during the winter. It was dark and cold for five and a half months, and when spring came, I remember my productivity shooting up, my mood shooting up, really just becoming more motivated. And that is one perk of being here in Fresno, California where it is sunny, whatever, 10 months of the year or something, and to such a detriment that we actually have a drought. But it makes it easier to stay motivated because you get that vitamin D every day.
Mike [20:33]: Right. I think there’s a seasonal affective disorder that goes along with that, and some people have it and some people don’t. And there’s these special lights that you can buy. They have a little special wavelength of blue light that they shoot out. I’ve got one of those. It never really felt like it helped all that much, but I did use it. But I really felt like moving out of the basement and up into an area where I get natural sunlight every single day now, it was tremendously helpful. And like I said, it could be coincidence. It could be the fact that I was burned out for a long time and now I’m kind of over a lot of that stuff. But, it’s amazing how productive you can be in two weeks when you aren’t distracted constantly and just getting pulled in different directions and able to sit down and just work for four or six, eight hours at a time.
Rob [21:14]: The thing to keep in mind is that, these are very common roadblocks. These are kind of the patterns that we see dealing with thousands and thousands of entrepreneurs as well as I’ve seen these patterns in myself, and I’m constantly figuring out how to stay focused, how to pursue these goals, how to go out of my comfort zone. It’s always going to be an ongoing struggle. You don’t just conquer this and then suddenly you’re successful and you’re not going to hit these roadblocks. But, what happens is, in my experience, the first time you encounter them, you don’t know how to get around them. But once you’ve overcome them, it gets easier and easier each time you face them after that.
Mike [21:48]: And part of that’s just a recognition problem that that is a problem to begin with. You might not necessarily realize that the reason you’re not doing something is because you’re unfamiliar with it and you’re unwilling and uncomfortable going in that direction, or that consuming too much media, so you don’t realize that you’re consuming much more than you’re producing. And just being able to realize that some of those things are a problem is, in itself, part of the solution. But you have to recognize that it’s a problem before you can do anything to solve it.
Rob [22:17]: That’s a huge part of it is I think recognition is got to be more than half of the issue, and then the other half is actually solving it. But, that first time, you don’t tend to recognize that it’s a problem and then once you’ve achieved some modicum of success and you’ve overcome it, you’re able to see it so much faster the next time and identify it, because it’s similar, when we interviewed Ruben from BidSketch, what five, six episodes ago, he talked about being able to now look ahead and see where his next plateau is going to be, and then he can start trying to get around it early. I feel like this is a similar scenario.
Mike [22:50]: I totally agree. And I think on that note, we’re going to wrap up. If you have a question for us, call our voicemail number at 888-801-9690 or you can e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our theme music is an excerpt from We‘re Out of Control by MoOt, it’s 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.