In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike talk about attending conferences, opening business bank accounts, project management tools, and more listener questions.
Items mentioned in this episode:
- Startups For The Rest Of Us Episode.167
- Startups For The Rest Of Us Episode.277
Rob [00:00:00]: In this episode of “Startups for the Rest of Us,” Mike and I talk about attending conferences, opening business bank accounts, project management tools, and we answer more listener questions. This is “Startups for the Rest of Us,” episode 315.
Rob [00:00:21]: Welcome to “Startups for the Rest of Us,” the podcast that helps developers, designers and entrepreneurs be awesome at building, launching and growing software products. Whether you’ve built your first product, or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Rob –
Mike [00:00:31]: And I’m Mike.
Rob [00:00:32]: – and we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s the word this week, sir?
Mike [00:00:36]: Well, I recently added another MicroConf sponsor, and I don’t think we’ve talked too much about some of the previous sponsors that we’ve added. One I want to talk about this week is stagingpilot.com, and this one – the sponsor for it was from Hire Auto last year, and he sponsored – he didn’t really have a product at the time – his name’s Nathan Tyler. This year after coming to MicroConf, he validated his idea, went out there and got a bunch of paying customers. Now he’s got what seems to be a pretty viable product going with stagingpilot.com. Essentially, it’s all built around the idea of being able to automate the testing environment for a WordPress install. So, if you’ve got a series of plugins – maybe you may be running Agency or something like that – and you’re trying to build plugins and manage the WordPress infrastructure for some of your customers, it allows you to automate all of the different tests behind that, similar to like you might do unit testing, for example, to make sure that your deployments go well. This allows you to do it at scale for Word Press deployments. It’s a little different than what you would get from WP Engine, where WP Engine makes sure that the site itself works. This makes sure that the site isn’t all jacked up with all the different things, because obviously that can happen when you’re doing WordPress plugin development. I had a pretty extensive conversation with him about it, and how it fits into the audience, and I think it’s a really good fit.
Rob [00:01:52]: Awesome. And if you’re interested in becoming a MicroConf sponsor yourself as you’re listening to this, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mike [00:01:59]: So, what about you? What’s going on this week?
Rob [00:02:01]: Well, last Friday – I guess I should set the stage first here. As you scale an app up, you’re going to run into certain performance issues, you’re going to have certain bottlenecks, certain pages, certain cues, certain things that just slowly grow, and they get slower and slower over time. At a certain point, you just can’t wring any more optimization out of the code and out of the hardware. So there’s a couple things that we’re looking out and we’re seeing, like, “We’re going to hit that here soon.” DRIP’s obviously still doing well, and we’re ahead of stuff in terms of performance and in terms of spam complaints and such, but there’s been this one issue that we’ve been trying to solve, and it’s always been, “Well re-write this piece. Add another index. Add more RAM to the database.” By the time you get a quarter of a terabyte of RAM in your database and it’s still not performing the way you want it to, you’ve got to take a different approach. This thing, on and off, has been plaguing for us for, like, two years, but every three to six months we’ll see a decline, and then we have to come back and revise it. So, Friday afternoon, we were getting ready to take a really big plunge and do a major lind of overhaul, something that would’ve taken a lot of developer time and would’ve probably fixed this for good, but it would’ve added a ton of complexity to the database. We’re basically like, “If we don’t think of something better by Monday, this is what we’re doing.” It was, like, Friday at three, and Derek and I were just sitting there looking through the app. I was like, “What really are the pages that don’t work?” I kept saying, “What if we just load this asynchronously?” “What if we store this in a completely different database?” “What if” – I just kept throwing what-ifs out, and we were just bouncing back and forth. Then we eventually – it was almost like magic, but we stumbled upon this approach that was a massive breakthrough. As soon as Derek’s eyes recognized it, he looked at me, and he said, “That’s how we’re going to approach it!” It was a totally different approach. What was interesting is like the hair stood up on the back of my neck, and I could feel this electricity, like “We just stumbled on something that is an absolute game changer.” It seems like we have maybe one or two of these a year, is kind of what I’ve been saying. I think of when we realized automation rules had to go in the app, or workflows, or these other things. This isn’t necessarily a new feature, although it does allow us to build some other features, but it is just a complete game changer for us. It was stoked. Then four or five hours on Saturday we just could not stop talking about it. Then we were texting about it. Yesterday, it was like, “Oh, and this could also do this.” and, “This is how it’s going to change this.” I mean those moments – those are the moments I realize this is why I do products. I love those huge breakthroughs where you launch something epic, or you figure out how to solve a really hard problem, and you just figure out a completely new way to do it. It’ll take like one to two weeks. It’s actually not that much work. We think it’ll go pretty quick, but it was quite an eventful weekend, at least in our heads.
Mike [00:04:44]: And the interesting thing about that is that your customers will probably not notice it or see it [laughs].
Rob [00:04:50]: Yeah. Well, there’re some customers who are at the edge – in terms of list size and history – with us, who are just starting to see the cusp of this, and that’s where we knew, “We need to address this now before it gets bad.” But you’re right. The vast majority of our customers will never know. They just will know that it’s lightning-fast and, I guess, that’s thanks enough.
Mike [00:05:12]: Yeah. That’s one of those things like the typical story with an IT department. Whenever things are going well, they’re like, “Why do we pay you?” When things go wrong, they say, “Why do we pay you?” [Laughs].
Rob [00:05:22]: Yeah, [laughs] totally. Exactly. Obviously, it’s been a good few days because of that, but other than that I am actually leaving to go on my annual, semiannual – I’m not even sure – retreat. Since we moved to Minneapolis I haven’t been outside of the city, really. So I’m driving four hours north. I’ve heard that Lake Superior’s really pretty sweet. A lot of people have recommended it to me, and I’m looking forward to taking a couple days away from the family and just really relaxing. I haven’t slowed down since the acquisition started, really, so it’s been since January. I haven’t even thought about what’s next, in terms of for DRIP, or me personally, or all this stuff. So, I just feel like I’m backed up on the vision process for the next several months.
Mike [00:06:05]: Very cool. So, are we talking about this week?
Rob [00:06:07]: This week we’re actually resuming the questions that Corey Moss had sent us. He’s from gelform.com, and he sent us an email with a big chunk of pretty interesting questions. In fact, when we did a call for questions 10 or 15 episodes ago, we were down to basically zero questions in our queue, and now we have a nice chunk that’ll last us a little while. So, thanks to everyone who has sent us questions. Let’s dive into this first one. Corey asks, “Do you guys still go to conferences anymore aside from MicroConf? Do you still go to Business and Software? What do you hope to get out of them? Do the two of you really need more networking?” Then he has a smiley face there. How about you? Do you go to other conferences?
Mike [00:06:43]: Not as much as I used to. I think that probably four or five years ago I probably went to more conferences than I do now. I think at this point I tend towards the smaller ones, so obviously I go to MicroConf. I haven’t been to Business and Software, I think, in two years or so even though it’s kind of right in my backyard, but the audience is, I would say, not quite the best fit for me, just because I remember one of the last times I went there I sat down and somebody next to me introduced themselves and said, “Hey, I’m so-and-so, and they talked for a minute or two. So, what do you do?”
I said, “I write software, and I bootstrap a company,” and this and that.
He was like, “I’m a venture capitalist.”
I’m just like, “Okay. We don’t have much to talk to you about,” [laughs] and that was literally the end of the conversation. We really just did not have anything in common. I’ve started to find that that’s more common in the upper-end conferences that I go to.
I also go to the Big Stone TinyConf conference, which is coming up in, I think, January or February.
Rob [00:07:37]: Which is more like a ski retreat, right, with a dozen people. Yeah.
Mike [00:07:40]: Yeah.
Rob [00:07:40]: I almost wouldn’t call that a conference, because you don’t sit down in a chair and listen to talks and such.
Mike [00:07:45]: No, no. It’s a little different. I tend more towards the smaller gatherings of people, I think, these days.
Rob [00:07:52]: Why do you think that is?
Mike [00:07:53]: Lack of time, to be honest, and part of it’s just I like the aspect of being able to get to know people as opposed to going and sitting there as an attendee in an audience where the talks may not necessarily be relevant to me. I think that’s the general feeling I have for a lot of the other conferences that are out there. Obviously, MicroConf is kind of an exception to that just because it’s aimed at people like me, but there’s not a lot of other ones out there in that particular space, so that’s probably it for me. I do enjoy the networking opportunities, and so when I do go to larger conferences that’s probably what I spend the bulk of my time on; talking to other people, learning what they’re doing, listening to what other techniques that they’re finding are working or not working, and just generally getting to know more people. I think that those relationships provide you value beyond the conference and for years to come, whereas, like a conference you go sit down – and that’s kind, I guess, a weird take on it from somebody who helps organize a conference [laughs]. But that’s a lot of where the value comes from for people who’re attending MicroConf. It’s not out of line with that. I think that it’s just a recognition of the place I’m at now is a little different. Obviously, it’s a very different story when you’re paying for a conference out of your own pocket, versus you’re being paid by your employer to go to a conference and learn stuff and bring it back to the company.
Rob [00:09:12]: Yeah, I think it’s hard when – we’ve essentially designed MicroConf to be the conference that we want to attend, right? That was the original goal in 2011, and each year that’s the question I ask myself. So, we invite the speakers that we want to hear. We make sure the right people show up, and we build the schedule around what we want to do. It’s hard – considering it is my idea conference to go to – I have found it harder and harder to go to conferences that are not exactly that. Like you said, if you go to a conference in San Francisco – I went to Jason Calacanis’ launch conference. I like Jason Calacanis and what he’s up to and what he’s doing for the community, but the conference itself just wasn’t applicable to me. I was hoping to connect and network and stuff. I knew I wouldn’t get much out of the talks from the VCs that would necessarily apply to what I was doing. It was cool, but I probably wouldn’t go back – not because it wasn’t good, but because it really wasn’t for me. It wasn’t for me, where I’m at and where I want to go. I guess all this to say I do still go to conferences, but it’s only when I speak. That pretty much tends to be my rule now, and the reason is it allows me to network with the other speakers, and that tends to be what I’m there for now. I think that’s where I get the most value personally, based on where I’m at.
[00:10:25] With that said, I, like you, went to a ton of conferences. When it was basically earlier in my career when I was trying to learn all this stuff and I needed to meet more people. What are conferences good for? They’re good for meeting a lot of people, building your network, learning from the talks. I think those are the main things and main reasons you’re going to want to go. If you find that either the talks aren’t geared towards you, or the talks aren’t at the level of advancement, or sophistication, or whatever that you’re at, you tend to have less and value over time. I still think there certainly are good conferences to be had out there; and, again, if I was earlier in my career, I would probably be going to more, because you kind of have to say yes to everything at that point until you get your feet under you.
[00:11:02] All right. Next question from Corey is, “How do you organize your bank accounts for side or lifestyle business projects? And have you tried opening an online business account recently? It’s a fiasco?” I have tried opening an online business account recently, and it is a fiasco. I’ll agree with that. But, Mike, it’s been a while since you’ve, I guess, had side projects. You have a corporation, right? That’s no longer a side project, because that has to have its own bank accounts and everything. But did you ever intermingle stuff, like do sole proprietorship and have it in the same bank account? How did you do that?
Mike [00:11:35]: No. I’m trying to think. I think when I first started out I probably had things mingled together, but that was more than 15 years ago. I kept track of what was going where, and I didn’t do that for very long, to be honest. I really moved over towards having a dedicated bank account and dedicated credit card for the business itself back in ’99 or so. It’s been a long time since I’ve done that. I do things in my books to keep things separate. So if I have expenses for a particular project, or for a particular product that I’m working on, I do try to keep some of the expenses separate so that I know what I’ve spent on it and what the return on it is. So inside my books I’ll give my bookkeeper explicit instructions about, “This particular expense,” or “this type of expense goes for this product. This one goes over here,” and try and keep the different revenue streams separate so that I can at least see what I’m getting in terms of revenue from a particular product and what I’m paying out for that product. It makes it easier to figure out, “Is this making money, or is it losing money?” If you have everything mingled together then it becomes very difficult. sS I try to keep those separate, but there are times when things are not so clear-cut. For example, I have a couple of different webservers, and they’re not dedicated. I have five, or six, or eight different sites running on one of them for example; and they run behind several of different products. What do you count that against? I don’t really count it against anything. I just kind of say, “This is kind of a blanket infrastructure cost for the business, and I’m going to pay for it regardless of whether I’m running this product over here or not.” I try to do that just so that I get a sense of where I should be spending my time, or what the profit margins are on different things. I think that that’s a generally good way to go. I’m sure that there’s better ways to handle it, but at the same time is it worth me spending the time to figure out the optimal way to do that? Chances are probably not. It’s just not a good use of my time, and at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. I’m really just looking for some guidelines, or data points, that I can look at, and that’s it. I don’t need down-to-the-dollar things, because I’m not buying and selling a lot of different apps. If I were to try and sell one of them, I’d have to go back in there, and I’d try to figure out exactly how much – what percentage of my hosting costs were attributed to this or that, and that would be a lot more difficult; but you kind of have to do that. The other question he has is, “What sort of a fiasco is it to open up an online business account?” That’s a total mess. I mean it –
Rob [00:14:03]: I think that was just a declarative statement rather than a question, yeah.
Mike [00:14:07]: Yeah.
Rob [00:14:07]: Yeah, it used to be easier. I think the Patriot Act really jacked it up here in the States. I don’t know if the rest of the world sees that as well. I have to admit I started the [Numa?] Group, which was just consulting – it was freelance projects – in 2002, and I made it an LLC I think it was 2009. I had seven years when it was just a sole proprietorship, and it was because I didn’t have a ton of liability, based on my judgment. I wasn’t doing things that I thought could get me sued. During that time, I started off, like you, using my personal bank account – like the main checking account – and realized within a few months that that was a [glooch?]. Even if it was only 1,000 or 2,000 bucks a month in side income I just wanted to have in a different place. I just then spun up another checking account under MySocial, basically, and that is pretty easy to do, actually. To open one from scratch with a new EIN, like for a new corp, is a pain in the butt. But, honestly, with Bank of America, or Chase, or one of these banks, it can be just a couple clicks. You submit the thing, and then they’ll just have it open within a day or two. To be honest, if you’re just doing small side projects and, by your judgment, you don’t think you have a lot of liability, and you’re not going to do an LLC or a corp and you’re going to do just a sole proprietorship, that’s not a bad way to go. It all depends on – say it with me, Mike – “risk tolerance”. [Laughs].
Mike [00:15:19]: [Laughs].
Rob [00:15:19]: Remember when that seemed to be every episode for a while. Haven’t had to say that in a while.
Mike [00:15:23]: Yeah.
Rob [00:15:24]: Cool. Next question is, “Do you think swag makes a difference in marketing side/lifestyle business projects?” With “swag,” I’m assuming he’s meaning, like, t-shirts and hats and – I don’t know – USB sticks with your logo on it. What do you think, Mike?
Mike [00:15:38]: I would seem to think that it depends on the type of business. I almost feel like if it’s stuff that exemplifies the things that you are doing for your customers, then it can make a difference. For example, the business credit cards from moo.com, for example? I think that those are an interesting thing that you can give away, and it does exemplify what your work is, allowing people to either order a single, custom business card, for example. Or, maybe you send it to them as an example of what it is that you can do for them and say, “If you want more of these, we can print more, and here’s what the price is for them.” or, “Here’s a link to the other stuff that we do. In terms of giving away things like t-shirts, I don’t know. It depends on what the context is. I think if you have a targeted list of people, or group of people that you’re going after that are all going to be congregating in one place, then that’s good from the marketing side of things. If you’re looking to build rapport with your customers, or just to give them a little bit more than what your competition is giving them. Let’s say that you have some accounting software, for example, and for every person who signs up and they’ve stuck around with you for three months, you send them a free t-shirt. There’s a few things that factor into that. First one is the t-shirt – you don’t want it to be something that’s extremely cheesy. It can’t be something that’s low-quality that’s just going to end up in the trash bin because, ultimately, that’s actually going to reflect worse on you than if you sent them nothing at all. But if you send them a really nice one, they’re going to remember that, and they’re probably going to mention it to their friends.
[00:17:04] I also think that you have to be careful when you do that to not plaster your logo over the top of it such that it’s so inherently obvious that it’s an advertisement for you and for your product. You have to position them such that it’s something cool for them that they’re not going to be embarrassed by. I have no shortage of t-shirts that I’ve gotten at baseball games that I’ve gone to for the kids where some local health insurance company is handing out their t-shirts, and they’re like, “Hey, here’s a free shirt,” and I’m like, “Okay, great. Now I have a new dish rag.” [Laughs]. You have to be conscious of those types of things. I think that it can work. It just depends really on what your goal is. Trying to establish that rapport with customers – especially ones who maybe talkative online – if you have a business that lends itself to being talked about online, that could be useful for the advertising. At the same time, I would probably lean much more towards giving those types of things that are inherently useful to your customers that you want them to remember you by – not because you want to give them free stuff or want free advertising out of it, but because you want to be genuinely thankful like, “Hey, I just want to say I appreciate you as a customer, and here’s something for you.”
Rob [00:18:14]: Yeah, I agree. I think it’s not super important. I think if this doesn’t excite you to print t-shirts or to get swag made, you absolutely don’t need to do it for a lifestyle business project. It depends on what we’re talking about here. When HitTail got to the point where it was doing 20 or 25 grand a month, yes, I spent, I think $700; and I got 100 t-shirts made. They said “I survived Panda and Penguin” on the front. They had the HitTail logo on the back, and Derek designed them, actually, when he was still a contractor on HitTail. I did that because it was fun, and because I wanted to have t-shirts, and I was kind of proud that for the first ever I had budget to print t-shirts, and I was going to MicroConf, so I wanted to give them away to people. It was just something I was talking about. But do I think that those ever moved the needle for me by spending that $700? Probably not. It isn’t something that I would because you think it’s going to grow the business, per se. But I think, like you said, if there’s a lot of word of mouth and you do send it to the first – someone gets their first keyword suggestion, or their first conversion, or their first whatever, I think it’s kind of a fun thing to do. Maybe that’ll get you a tweet here or there. But overall, I don’t think this is a needle mover, and so if it’s something that’s going to be a distraction and is not fun for you, I would say don’t even bother with these with smaller projects.
[00:19:22] This next question is, “Are you guys still in mastermind groups? Anything changed in the way you run them or how you participate?”
Mike [00:19:29]: I am still in a mastermind group. I’ve experimented with having more than one mastermind group, and it didn’t really work out well for my schedule. In our mastermind group, we’ve tried changing the format a couple of times a little bit. It used to be the three of us would just go for about half an hour each, and then the call would end. We’ve recently transitioned a little bit to doing more of a hot seat approach where one person gets about an hour, and each of other two people get about 15 minutes apiece, and that’s worked reasonably well. Not everybody always needs to be on the hot seat, but we do alternate it, so if one person thinks that they need it then we’ll just say, “Okay, yeah, it’s your turn. You can have that slot,” so to speak. It’s a little bit of experimentation, I guess. I don’t think that enough has significantly changed that I would say, “Yeah, this is something that really moved the needle for us, and you have to try it out.” Things are just going as-is, and I think that that’s probably pretty common for most businesses, or most mastermind groups. It’s either working out or it’s not, and there’s not going to be some major changes that you introduce that are so earth-shattering on a fairly regular basis. There will occasionally be some things you try and they work out, and then there’s just things that you try out and they don’t.
Rob [00:20:37]: If you’re interested in our take on how to structure a startup mastermind, go to episode 167, which is “How to Organize and Run a Startup Mastermind,” and then episode 277, “Five Ways to Structure Your Startup Mastermind.” We’ll link those up in the show notes as well.
[00:20:51] My answer is, yes, I am still in the remote mastermind, right? I moved from Fresno to Minneapolis four months ago, so the one with Derek and I and Phil Dirksen in Fresno, since it was in person, we just decided to put it on hiatus for now. We do still video chat with Phil. It’s probably every month or two, and so we kind of do a mastermind. It’s just a lot less frequent. Then my other one has had some type of membership and stuff in terms of people coming in and out, but it is definitely still on. I really haven’t changed anything in our approach, because what we’re doing is working. Corey’s next question is, “Both of you seem to be doubling down on products.” That’s kind of funny. That’s the whole podcast, right? Since episode 1, [it’s?] doubling down on products. We have 315 episodes of doubling down on products. “What did you think of Justin Jackson’s experiment of 100 products?” Are you familiar with that at all, Mike?
Mike [00:21:44]: Yeah, I am.
Rob [00:21:44]: Yeah. What do you think?
Mike [00:21:46]: I think Justin’s experiment with 100 products – it’s a really cool idea. I think that it’s something that, if you’re not sure what you should be doing, I would definitely advocate that you try doing something along those lines. There’s a few different, major benefits of building that many products. The first one is that you learn quickly how to get a product out the door and how to launch it and move on to the next product. It’s not to say that you should always move on from one product to the next, but you get that feeling of being able to launch, you get the process down, and you become more comfortable with it, because I think when you first launch your very first product it’s difficult. You’re very hesitant, but if you have a schedule that you have to get 100 products out there as quickly as possible, you’re going to get over those fears because you absolutely have to. You have no other choice. In doing so, you start to develop an affection for certain types of products that you develop. Over time, you’re going to be able to see that – after pushing out 25, 35, 50 different products, you’re going to start seeing which ones resonate with people and which ones don’t just based on the sales and revenue streams and things like that, and you’re going to figure out, “Where are my talents best put, and where are there places where I just don’t do as well?” I think that those things will help lead you back to what should you ultimately end up working on. I think that there’s definitely cases where there’re some people who are probably better at just launching a bunch of small products, and that’s – I don’t want to say that’s all they do, because that’s obviously a lot of work – but there’s a certain type of person who is attracted to that because it’s always something new. I think you’ve mentioned in past episodes that you get bored by the same thing after two or three years. I’m kind of the same way, because you always want something new. You’re always looking for either the next big thing or, the new, shiny object, so to speak. If you have that to such an extreme extent that launching a new product every three or four days works out well for you, then great. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But that said, maybe you’re the type of person who only wants to work on a couple things, or you want to work on the same thing for several years and build it up and then maybe sell it off. Building that many products gives you a much broader view than if you only worked on one thing and that was it. It’s almost similar to somebody who’s worked as a consultant for 50 different companies. You’ve gotten to see 50 different companies; whereas if you’re building those products, you get to see 50 different products getting launched, and you get all the inside view on it.
Rob [00:24:10]: Yeah, I think if I was early in my career, I would consider something like this. I feel like 100 products is overkill, and a little bit of a – I don’t know – like a circus or something. A “sideshow” is probably a better way to say it, right? It’s like picking 100 is just this huge, almost ridiculous number. It’s going to get you a promotion, and so in that sense I think Justin did a good job, because I’m sure this raised his personal brand and such when people heard about it. But earlier in my career I would have totally thought it might be interesting to launch a product a month for 12 months, or something. I actually really dig in. I think as I’ve gone on in my career I’ve learned you have to focus on something for long enough for it to have legs. You really can’t bounce from one thing to the next, or else nothing takes hold. That’s just been my experience, and I prefer to focus on things really intently for, like you said, one, two, or three years, and figure out if they’re going to work and push them into that place. Imagine if we had launched Drip and then given it a month or two and then said, “Nope. Not growing. We’re going to bail on it.” Could’ve happened, because it wasn’t growing for the first several months, because we didn’t have product-market fit. It took six months or whatever after a grueling five-month launch. Then it took another six months to get to where we had product-market fit. Sometimes you’re pushing a boulder uphill, and I think if you’re going to do something big and impactful – and I don’t even mean “impactful” like a $100 million company. I just mean a mid-six-figure or seven-figure company. I think bouncing from one thing to the next is probably not the ideal thing, but then again, if you’re trying to learn quickly, I think that – and if you are not shipping, like you said, and you’re kind of scared of shipping, or you just haven’t gotten there – shipping a bunch of stuff will just get you over that fear. Our next question is for Mike. Corey says, “Mike, does your wife understand what you do? How about your kids?”
Mike [00:25:47]: I really don’t know [laughs]. I think, to some extent, yes – much more so than I would say that my parents understand what I do, because my parents, if you were to ask them what I do, they’d say, “Oh, he builds computers” –
Rob [00:26:00]: Right.
Mike [00:26:00]: – which –
Rob [00:26:01]: Isn’t really it [laughs]. You did that 20 years ago, right?
Mike [00:26:05]: Yeah, exactly. It’s just not quite the same thing. I think my wife probably has a much better understanding now than she probably did when we first got married, because when we first married I was still dabbling in a lot of different things and trying to figure stuff out. At this point, I’m full-time on the stuff, so I talk to her on occasion about what’s going on, or how different things are going, or what some of the different challenges are, so she gets it I would probably say much more so than our circles of friends, so to speak. Most of them, they’re probably going to say – if you asked them what I did, they’re like, “Oh, he works with computers,” but they wouldn’t necessarily really understand what it is that I do.
Rob [00:26:39]: Yeah. I think back when I was doing all the micropreneur staff and I had a whole portfolio of products, and I had all these websites – I had eight or nine things going on, and I was buying and selling, and I was upgrading and rehabbing and all this stuff – it was complicated, and most people didn’t get it. But once I had HitTail and once I had Drip I could just say, “Look, I have two sides of what I do, the personal brand side and the actual software side,” and then just to say, “I run an email marketing app” – most people get that. Actually, my ten-year-old gets it pretty well. I don’t know that he understands what I do day to day, but he has a pretty solid grasp of it, and I bet he could explain it. If someone asked my six-year-old, yeah, he knows I work on computers and I check email, which is kind of cool. Next question is, “Do you work from home or from coffee shops? Any experience with co-working spaces?”
Mike [00:27:22]: I work from home. I’ve tried working at a co-working space, but it didn’t work out for me mainly because I had to work from my laptop. I can work from my laptop, but I’m not nearly as productive as I am at home, because I’ve got a two-monitor setup. I’ve got a 30-inch monitor next to a 20-inch monitor, and although most of my environment is duplicated on the laptop, it feels too constrained and limiting for me – just because I don’t have the visibility, all the different windows and the giant monitors. It just feels different for me. If I’m sitting there writing an article or something like that, I can kind of get that type of work done, but for most other stuff where I’m alternating between different browser tabs, or working with marketing software, it just doesn’t really work for me. I’ve never really found the co-working space to be particularly helpful in that regard.
Rob [00:28:08]: Yeah, I worked from home pretty consistently for about ten years, and towards the end I was definitely feeling it. I just felt isolated and wanted to get out more, and so as Derek came onboard with HitTail and Drip and we started having co-workers locally, so to speak, even before we had an office, we used to meet at coffee shops and work. I always felt a little less productive, because I didn’t have the extra monitor, although I did use to bring an iPad. I forget what that app is called, but you can actually use it as an external monitor, which is kind of cool. Aside from that, we did do a co-working space. When it first opened, it was called “The Hashtag” in Fresno, and it was the only one for tech folks like us, and I signed up as a charter member. I didn’t work from there very much, but then that turned into the [Bitwise] office building that all of us were in in Fresno when we moved away. That was actually really cool to get a little office. It wasn’t very expensive. I could leave monitors there, so we bought extra monitors. We had desks. We had a door that locked. That was the way to go. If you can find something inexpensive enough, and close enough – it was less than 15 minutes from my house – and then that allowed us to have a dedicated space to really hammer on things, and to be able to collaborate. It was two of us in this 10 x 12 office. We eventually, I think, had four people in that office, although we had to alternate days because we couldn’t all fit in there at once. It was kind of funny, but I think co-working spaces are cool as long as – I’d really like one with an external monitor, unlike you, where I take that for granted these days.
Mike [00:29:32]: Yeah, there’s a co-working facility near me where you can essentially get a dedicated office. I think it’s around $400 a month for your own private office. I’m looking at their website now. One of them is – it’s $225 a month to get a dedicated desk, so then you could put additional monitors and stuff there, and it’s $500 a month for a private office. Either one of those options would probably work well for me, but there’s waiting lists for them. I’m just like, “Eh, well, whatever.”
Rob [00:29:59]: Yeah. We had that 10 x 12 office with the door that locked. We basically put two, and eventually three, desks in there. That was only like 250 bucks, and that’s the beauty of bootstrapping in a place that’s not expensive. Fresno is one of the cheaper areas of California, and that was a benefit, I guess. His next question is about project management. He says, “What project management style and tools do you use?”
Mike [00:30:24]: I’m not even really sure what this question means [laughs].
Rob [00:30:27]: What the style is? Yeah. Well, I’ll go first on this one. My project management style is to figure out what we’re building next. It’s very agile – with a lower-case “A” – meaning we move quickly. We don’t define – I don’t even know what we’re doing in three months, right? It’s basically a 90-day – give or take – idea of what we have, and the roadmap just exists with Code Tree, right? We’re in Code Tree. It’s just a – imagine it’s like GitHub Issues, but with a nice UI sprinkled on top. We enter things in there. We spec them out per issue, and then we basically have them in the order the developers should be working on, and they’re just working through their stuff. We don’t do sprints, where we gather them all up. When a developer gets done we all test it, and then we throw it into production. I don’t know precisely what that style might be called, but it’s definitely just a fast way to do things, because there’s not a lot of overhead. We’ll frequently go in and – if we have an idea, or if we know we need to do something – we will go in, write it on a whiteboard, everybody gets a round – “everybody” being two or three people- and then we take a photo of it and throw that in the issue. Everybody who is there knows what the sketches mean, and that’s our spec. We don’t write up – I remember writing up waterfall specs 10, 15 years ago that were these 40-, 50-page Word docs. Just insane to think about doing that these days, how long that took. Then in terms of tools, like I said, we use Code Tree, which is actually the app that Derek built on the side, and then he sold it. I interviewed him about it a few episodes ago. We used that to manage issues, and that has both a [Camp?] and Trello view, and it has a list view. The developers like the Trello view, and I, as someone who needs an overview, I like the list view of it. Then personally, for my own to-dos and stuff, I use Trello for that and then my Google calendar all the time. Good grief! I’ve so many events in there that, like, ping me at two o’clock on this day to think about this, or to go through this label in my Gmail, or to make sure to do whatever. I mean, half the things on my Google calendar are not meetings. They’re almost like reminders to me or things to be done.
Mike [00:32:23]: Yeah. Most of the development stuff that we do is all based out of FogBugz, so we keep everything in there. Then if anything needs to get done we just assign it somebody, and then we have a couple of what are called “virtual users,” where we’ll assign something to a virtual user because we don’t necessarily have somebody to work on it, or it’s just not something that is terribly important for us to work on right now. For example, inside the Blue Tick project, there’s this Blue Tick unassigned user. It’s a virtual user. If anything needs to go in the backlog, or we’re not sure what to do with it, it just gets assigned to there. Then we have a couple of other virtual users we use for certain things, but generally speaking, if it’s on our to-do list – things that are assigned to you tend to be no more than about ten or 15 items long. Then beyond that there shouldn’t be anything on your open, assigned list that isn’t something you’re actively working in the very short term. It should all be stuff like, “This has got to be done, and it’s got to be done soon,” and by “soon,” within the next two to three weeks or something like that. It’s kind of like you said. You don’t really look too much further beyond that, because the things that are there need to get done. I think if you get too many things on your task list, then things will start to get lost. They start to get pushed, and if they get pushed, there’s always going to be other stuff that surfaces up as more of a priority. Once that to-do list gets too long, you start to pay attention to it less. I think that the whole project management system is – and I don’t mean just FogBugz. I mean anything that you can possibly think of, once you get too many things on it, you start to not pay attention to them, because they’re so far down on the priority list, or there’s other stuff that always comes up. Some things will always fall through the cracks, and they’ll always end up at the bottom, and it’s almost worthless to have them there. That’s why we use our virtual users to just kind of shuffle those things off to the side so that we don’t have to worry about it.
Rob [00:34:08]: Yeah, I think you make a good point there, and that’s, I think, being disciplined about what you let in your issue tracker is a big deal. I think just, in quotes, “throwing” everything in there that any customer requests is a really bad idea. I think for customer requests you maybe can have a label in your support software. Like in Help Scout we have that. It’s says, “Feature Requests.” That’s okay. I think there’s hundreds and hundreds of them in there. But if something catches our eye as it comes in, and we think we really want to build it, we’ll throw it in unassigned. If it’s obviously a critical issue or a bug, we’re going to get to it right away, but not just polluting and overwhelming your list, and getting hundreds of things in your issue tracker. It just becomes unmanageable. I think that’s a good point you’ve raised.
Mike [00:34:44]: Yeah. The other thing that I use is I have a Teamwork account, and I use Teamwork quite a bit for any of my recurring tasks. I have a set of Marketing Monday tasks that are in there that are recurring tasks every week, and I know that those things need to get done, and as I finish them off I just go in and check them off. I also have a special project off to the side that I use for household chores, to be perfectly honest. As things need to get done, whether it’s vacuuming, or mowing the lawn – things like that – I have all of our vehicle maintenance and stuff in there, so every three to four months I have oil changes and stuff like that in there. It’s mostly for those things that you don’t think about it until it’s way past the time that you probably should’ve done it, so having those things surface to me at that time allows me to say, “Okay. Now I need to pay attention to this. This is something that I need to do,” as opposed to getting four, five, six months down the road and you’re like, “Oh, wait. Did I get the oil changed?” “Did I have the tires rotated,” stuff like that. I have a lot of regularly recurring maintenance tasks that’re in there, whether they’re business-related or non-business-related. Then I have different projects in there for some of the different things that I have going on. I also have a separate project in there specifically for my bookkeeper so that anything that I have that comes up as a – like if I have a receipt, I have a special forwarding address that I just forward it over there. Then I can just add a quick, little note that says, “This is for that.” It just cuts off additional overhead or communication emails back and forth between my bookkeeper, because I’ve already said, “This is what this is for,” and I don’t have to answer it down the road, or wait until she goes in, looks at the books and says, “Hey, what’s this WP engine thing?” or, “What’s this thing from Digital Ocean?” I don’t have to worry about it, because I’ve already given her a heads-up, “Hey this is what this is for.”
[00:36:22] I think that about wraps us up for the day. If you have a question for us, you can call it in to our voicemail number at 1.888.801.9690; or, you can email us at email@example.com. Our theme music is an excerpt from “We’re Outta Control” by MoOt, used under Creative Commons. Subscribe to us in iTunes by searching for “startups” and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript of each episode.
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Rob, you’re such a tease! 😉 What was the massive technical breakthrough?
Couple things on that topic:
1. It’s such a technical detail that if I told you it would bore you to tears. It would not be something you could apply to your business, as it’s pretty domain specific.
2. If I did explain it in detail, it’s something our competitors could/likely would take advantage of…and not much to be gained by that.
Fair enough. I’m glad you figured it out. Leaps like that are always exciting…