In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike give updates on Drip and Bluetick. Based on listener interest Rob dives into details on the continued growth and scaling and Mike talks about what areas he is focusing on to increase the number of paying customers.
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Rob [00:00]: In this episode of ‘Startups for the Rest of Us’ Mike and I gave our updates on Drip and Bluetick. This is ‘Startups for the Rest of Us’ episode 328.
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.
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, sir?
Mike [00:33]: Well, as I said on a previous podcast – I think we last recorded about two weeks ago and last week was the interview with Wade Foster. But last week I was at an alternative conference up in Vermont called Big Snow Tiny Conf.
Rob [00:46]: Why do you say “alternative?” Was there bands there playing emo music?
Mike [00:49]: Well, you know. It’s the whole alternative facts thing. So this was an alternative conference.
Rob [00:52]: Alternative facts. Nice. So that was cool. Brian Castle runs that and you were there with what – 10, 11 folks?
Mike [00:59]: Yeah. It was about a dozen people up there. Yeah. It was a lot of fun. The weather was a little bit better this year. The first day of skiing was absolutely phenomenal. And then the next day I got a little bit tired near the end of the day and I’m just like I’m just not going to go back up there because if I do I’m probably going to get hurt. So I decided to skip out on probably an hour or two of skiing which wasn’t too bad. It was a lot of fun. I think that virtually everyone who was there was also going to MicroConf this year as well.
Rob [01:25]: What was your highlight of the conference? I mean, it’s not really a conference, I think that’s a misnomer. It’s like a group. It’s like a mastermind group, you know. Which is super cool. But I think of a conference like with people standing in front and sometimes there’s sponsor tables and such.
Mike [01:40]: Right. Well, I mean the thing is everybody gives a brief presentation or a talk or a topic for discussion and we go through like a dozen of them over the course of those three days. I think the first day we did like two or three and then the next one we did four or five and then the day after that we did another four or five. So we’d ski for half a day and then there’s just talks and presentations and stuff like that for the rest of it.
It’s really interesting to see the types of things that people are working on that you either just wouldn’t think of as a business or you wouldn’t think of how to do those things as – like marketing plans or things that you can do to find customers or to drive sales. It’s just really impressive to see the types of things that people come up with.
Rob [02:21]: Yeah, I bet. It’s nice to get in-depth exposure like that to other people’s businesses. I think that a conference or a gathering of this size there’s a real unique aspect to it. You and I’ve talked about doing a super small – you know we didn’t even know if we were going to lend it the MicroConf name – but it was going to be something like 30 or 40 people. And getting them together over the course of a few days. And Big Snow Tiny is even smaller than that so I can imagine it being a lot of – Especially if there’s good chemistry between the attendees. I bet you could get a lot of varied and good advice from experienced founders.
Because that’s the cool thing right, it’s not eleven people who are dreaming of starting a business. I would guess that everyone there has a business and is making money and you all have different experiences so you’re going to get a lot of valuable – some not valuable probably. If someone’s running an ecommerce site and you’re telling them about your churn rate maybe that person doesn’t have a good opinion or an experienced opinion on it. But I’d imagine the majority of stuff you come away with is pretty detailed and pointed towards your particular case. I’m conjecturing here. Is that kind of how it feels?
Mike [03:23]: I would say so. To kind of correct you on a couple of things, in terms of where people are at, there was one guy named Chris who had started a business literally a week before. And it was based around running Facebook as to drive traffic to a website and then you pay a couple of dollars and you can have a physical letter mailed to a congressional member of your district or a senator or something along those lines. So basically what he does is he looks up the information of where to send that letter and then uses geolocation based on where you’re at and says these are the people that you would send this letter to and, by the way, here’s the template and it’s related to whatever the issue is that you are interested in. So if he drove ads based on EPA stuff or gun control or what have you –
Rob [04:08]: Immigration.
Mike [04:08]: Yeah, immigration. He’s got all these things templated and, based on which side of the issue you’re on, he will give you the template. You can customize it and then he will send it for you for a couple of dollars.
Rob [04:20]: That’s pretty cool.
Mike [04:20]: And he started it like a week ago. He was literally printing them out and putting stamps on them and mailing them. And he’s like, “This is all, I’m just validating, just kind of seeing what’s here.” He’s like, “It’s interesting. It may not turn into nothing.” But to me it was interesting. It was extremely interesting to see what he was doing and how he was doing it. We all gave him feedback and we’re all like double your prices.
Rob [04:38]: Right. Well, and it’s cool to see someone validating like that. Those are the fun days. As stressful as they are because you don’t know if you should do it or not. Like the validating stuff is just new ideas, you know they’re actually putting into practice. So that’s kind of cool someone attended at that stage.
Mike [04:53]: Yeah. And then you’ve kind of got the flip side where like a guy named Chad DeShon was there and he ran a Kickstarter campaign where he did like $2.6 million in sales of board game tables. So he talked a little bit about his experience outsourcing to China and having things brought over. And it was really interesting seeing, I’ll say, both ends of the spectrum where you’ve got somebody who is just starting out. They literally just started trying to validate this idea. And then somebody else on the other end where they’ve already got the money, they’re basically trying to get their logistics pipeline down to deliver everything to people. And it’s just amazing to see the differences between those stories. And they’re both interesting, I think.
Rob [05:32]: Yep. I agree. Speaking of board game tables. If you’re into board games, you need to check out BoardGameTables.com. That’s Chad’s business. Those tables are awesome. I have been eyeballing one for a long time. Just love that you can cover it up and leave. It has a felt surface but it’s sunk down. And so, let’s say you have a big D&D game spread out, it looks like hell and you’re going to run that for months if you have a long campaign. But you can cover it. And that’s the big plus for me is that it looks like a real table on top. Anyways. And there’s cup holders. It’s just designed perfectly to play board games. So a little plug for Chad there. I’ve been a fan of the tables for a while.
Mike [06:09]: So what about you? You went to SaaStr last week, I believe?
Rob [06:12]: I did. Yeah. I was in San Francisco with several folks from the Leadpages crew. And, as expected, SaaStr was – they said it was 10,000 people, I’m not sure if it was actually that many. It didn’t feel that big but it was a big conference. And the most value I got was from the team building, the comradery of hanging out with the folks from Leadpages because I don’t often get to hang out with five or six others at once. We had dinner together. We were doing happy hours together. It was just a fun time where you can really dig into some interesting conversations. There are only so many people in the world that have that much in common with you and know that much about your business and what you do and you know what they’re up to.
I was talking to the CFO and he’s like, “What would you think if we did this to pricing?” And it’s like, “Oh, what a cool thought experiment.” I was able to say, “Well, we tried that and it did this.” Or, “Here’s my opinion.” You would never set up meetings to talk about these kind of high level things that you’ve had. Almost thought experiments, to be honest. And yet doing it can be really fun. I enjoyed that part of it.
I ran into a couple people and I set up a couple meetings with folks. Overall, my crowd, I went through my whole rolodex like of all the MicroConf speakers from the past several years, like is anyone here? And they weren’t. I was thinking may be Heaton or Stella would be there. Jason [Cohen?], Dan Martell. Just anybody – because I would love to connect with them – and they weren’t there.
I ran into a few people but overall it was probably not something I’ll be going back to. It was just too big, the sessions are interviews and panels, which I don’t get a lot of value out of because they’re just not actionable and I can hear them on podcasts. I think you really go there for the networking. And the networking was actually with my own coworkers. So I started thinking it might have been cheaper if we spent a couple happy hours with the same crew.
Just my opinion of it. I respect the heck out of Jason Lemkin and like the SaaStr brand and I like what they’re up to. But a conference that big is just not for me.
Mike [08:04]: I think that’s a great way to get company funded happy hours. I think that’s what you’re going for here.
Rob [08:10]: Totally, right. That was it. So this week, by popular demand, we get requests to hear more about what we’re up to. And we like to do update episodes every once and a while. Frankly we could probably start doing them a bit more frequently. Today we’re going to talk through some stuff that’s been going on recently with me and Drip. And then we’re going to dive into what you’ve been up to with Bluetick. It’s been a few months, I think, since an update and I think there’s a lot to be said here.
So to kind of kick us off, Drip is continuing to grow and it’s growing quickly. And since we were acquired by Leadpages seven and a half months ago, I think we have six times more users than we did, I mean it’s just this crazy fast growth. It may even be more than tha, it might be like seven. It’s a lot. We have seven times the number of trials coming through each month. At every scale you imagine just almost 10Xing in every direction. And so that has been a focus of ours just scaling the technology. We hired a couple more engineers a couple months ago. I just hired one, we’re in front end who’ll start in a month. And then we have an open Ruby on Rails position.
And these are good problems to have. You need to scale stuff up. But what we’re trying to do is continue to ship features because that was the thing for a couple months we almost spent a lot of time just getting enough servers up to keep handling the queues and to keep everything running. We’re definitely – knock on wood – We’re out ahead of that right now. But that does continue to be a focus.
We have basically two full time engineers now. All they do is scaling and performance. And they’re just rewriting, they’re refactoring, they’re adding servers, they’re figuring out what’s going on here. I think I’ve said it before, now I understand how you can get an engineering team of 20 or 30 people on a product because you just have so much stuff that you are trying to keep going.
Mike [09:51]: Yeah. I’m curious about that a little bit more because if you were at a certain scale before and you were obviously at some point running into scaling issues to begin with, you’re looking seven and a half months down the road and you multiply your size by six from where you started. That’s a lot, I mean you’re adding basically an entire customer base just about every month at that point. So what sorts of things have you run into that have been especially difficult or challenging to resolve. Are there things that came up that you would never in a million have dreamed that you would have run into that and suddenly now it’s a problem?
Rob [10:28]: There are a lot of edge cases that come up. So there’s two things, one is just scaling to that level. Another one is when you’re sending tens of millions of emails and you have thousands and thousands of customers, the littlest bizarre edge case is just bound to come up. So we do find ourselves kind of troubleshooting things and trying to figure out how to best handle those.
In terms of scaling, I think there’s kind of three fronts and probably four. One is just the database. We continue to have to increase the size of the hardware that it runs on and give it more RAM and then give it more IOPS they’re called. IO per second that allows reason rights to the disk. And I find about every four months we have to increase something on that. It’s nice that Amazon keeps pace and continues to add larger and larger server instances because I don’t think, at our current pace – again, knock on wood – we’re going to outgrow what they have to offer. But the place that we hit – probably about three months ago – was when there was one aspect of Drip, where you know where you’re going and you just create ad hoc subscriber queries basically. You can just create a segment and you’re like anyone who has this tag and hasn’t visited this page and has opened this email. We just basically let you “and” and “or.” You’re almost building a sequel query it’s just with a nice visual interface. That can get incredibly complicated as you can imagine. Some people will “or” together 10 things and that’s like joining on 10 tables in the database and some of which have a billion rows. So that doesn’t scale. And we eventually hit the point where no matter how much hardware we threw at it for our largest customers it was still not fast enough.
So that was the big one that we really had to have that breakthrough on. And I talked about it on the show a few months ago where we were going to shard the database, which is just catastrophically complicated. And we figured out a workaround and it’s was just way to technical to go into here. But we figured out a way to just completely rethink and rewrite that whole piece of it, the subscriber querying, to where we’re not querying the database live. And we’ve seen 10X and up 100X speed improvements on that. It just completely changed the game. That was kind of the biggest pain point. And I think that improvement alone will give us a year, two, three years of more expansion now, which is a really good feeling to have.
It’s not to say other parts of the app won’t experience slowdowns. Your reports are always going to slow down as you get more data in the database. Other things like that. We are also adding read replicas now. We don’t just have a master database with a hot backup which is what we’ve had for a few years. We’re now starting to add other replicated databases that we can hit and not impact. You’re just reading from them, right, so we don’t impact the main database.
So those have probably been the biggest scaling things recently that we’ve been tackling.
Mike [13:06]: I think dealing with that centralized storage in the background for the database itself, that’s the hardest thing. I’ve seen a lot of different strategies for people doing that. Some of them just say, “Oh, well. We have a separate database instance for each customer.” And I guess that’s one way to go so you don’t have a multitenant database. It’s just each customer has their own. There’s all sorts of other operational challenges with doing that. If you have to make a schema update, for example, you have to make it across every single customer’s database. And that’s not always the easiest thing to do in the world.
It’s just kind of interesting to see the types of things that you’re running into. From my perspective, I’m thinking about the things that I might run into because you had just said, for example, the customers can create their own ad hoc queries. And that’s something that I started looking at and then I realized how complicated it was going to get and how difficult it could end up being because of performance issues. And I kind of backed off from it and I just said, “Look, just make it simplified for now and I’ll come back to it later.”
Rob [14:01]: I think that’s a good call. Yep. I like that we have this feature but it has obviously been quite a bit to keep up with, because as soon as you allow ad hoc stuff people will build crazy stuff and expect it to work. So I would almost lean, especially in the early days, lean towards not having it and having just a few canned things that people could do.
Mike [14:17]: In terms of the other aspects though, obviously just dealing with the scaling challenges alone is one problem, but what about building new features and what about customer support and onboarding. Do you have any things that get escalated from the customer support side that you need to deal with? Because I’ve run into some of the stuff recently where a single customer support problem can chew up easily several hours of time.
Rob [14:40]: Right. Luckily, and to Leadpages credit, pretty quickly after we moved over they started adding support people from their team and then they started hiring – I think they hire externally now. And we went from one support person when we were acquired. One fulltime. And I think we have six or seven fulltime now. And I have had to pretty much do zero work on that. And that’s the kind of thing that- Because how else could we have scaled that. I wouldn’t have had the time to hire that many support people. And they’ve done it with customer success, they’ve done it with sales, they’ve done it with marketing. All those aspects I’ve been able to hand off has freed me up to be able to focus on exactly this. I focus on scaling, focus on shipping features and hiring.
It’s pretty rare that stuff gets escalated. The support team is very, very good and most stuff doesn’t come back to me anymore. There’s just enough layers who know how to make judgement calls and it’s pretty rare something comes back to me. And that’s the support side which feels great, to be honest. As much as supporting your app is something you have to do, it’s not necessarily something, as product people, that we want to do. It doesn’t move the core product forward which tends to be my focus.
In terms of shipping features, we slowed down, I’d say, for the first couple months after the acquisition and then we started speeding back up and we’ve been at a pretty even keel hiring pace of an engineer every month. Maybe every two. That’s allowed us to continue to ramp people up. Like the two engineers we hired a couple months ago are fully ramped up and they’re shipping a lot of features now. So we’re probably at a faster pace than we were before the acquisition even with the scaling. And that’s purely just hiring new senior people who can get up to speed in a month and get it out.
So I’m pretty excited right now. I go through stressful times of, “Oh, no. Are we going to scale? Are we shipping fast enough?” And right now I’m pretty optimistic based on who we have and all the stuff that’s almost – there’s a bunch of features that are almost done. And that’s a good feeling to have. It’s not like everyone is bouncing around. It’s like there’s some things that are literally three or four pretty cool features within a few weeks of shipping right now depending on how we roll those out. That’s exciting because I think shipping features is what we do. That’s the dopamine rush.
Mike [16:44]: Very cool. What else is kind of on tap for you guys?
Rob [16:47]: Yeah. I think just to round it out and wrap up my part. Basically the free plan is still going strong and that’s got us a lot of notoriety in the space. And free plan is a long term play and it’s something that takes a lot of time and focus from a certain group of people to make that work. You don’t just start a free plan and then people magically convert to paid. You have to be very strategic about what’s the limit on the free plan, how do you think about getting people on a value that they get to that limit. And so there’s a couple people – at least two or three – who are thinking about this a lot and customer success is working on it and so far so good. It’s a long term play.
A few people have asked me, “How’s the free plan working out?” And it’s like, “It’s working.” But it’s like you can’t even tell until months after you start this thing until you get enough numbers to actually be able to make a judgement call on it. I can’t say, “Oh my gosh. It’s the most amazing thing ever and we’re going to do it forever.” And I also can’t say, “Oh, it’s not working.” It’s kind of like yeah. The early signs, even though we’re months in, the early signs are that things are going well and it’s bringing a lot of new folks our way.
So that’s it for me. Let’s talk about Bluetick. And for those who don’t know, it’s also an email app but it’s not really email marketing. It’s called Bluetick.io and you want to give the one sentence description of what it does?
Mike [17:57]: Yeah. It’s essentially a way of systematically and automatically following up via email with people that are, I’ll say, later on in your sales funnel. Kind of like after they’ve gotten into your marketing funnel, they have expressed some interest, this will essentially help move them through that early sales process where you’ve got a warm lead who has expressed some interest of some kind. Whether they opened up a bunch of emails or they sent you an email and say, “Hey. We just wanted to talk a little bit more about this.” And then you can use it to push them into like a conference call or something like that. And if they don’t respond to the first email it’ll send them another one and send them another one and kind of move them through that process automatically so you don’t have to think about, “Oh, is this the second email I’ve sent them? Is it the third? How long did I wait?” And you don’t have to manage that process at all. It just does it for you.
Rob [18:43]: You realize that was more than one sentence right?
Mike [18:44]: Yeah. I know, I know. I was giving examples of what it could do beyond that.
Rob [18:47]: I know. So you took pre-orders, you had some folks pay you – I forget. How much was it? The pre-orders?
Mike [18:53]: I gave people the option, more because I was just flushing it out. I said, “You set your own price and then tell me how many months of service that you’re willing to essentially prepay for.” And people paid anywhere from, I think it was around $40 a month to $100. There was one that was at $100. Everyone else was between $40 and $50. So then I basically went back to them, and my final pricing at this point is $50 a month.
Rob [19:18]: And so, have all the folks who’ve preordered from you, have they had a chance to get into the app and dig in? And how is that going in terms of converting them?
Mike [19:26]: I on boarded all of them, and I would say I definitely made some mistakes in that aspect. When I took the preorders I said, “I’ll onboard you and I won’t start charging you until you’re seeing value from it.” And the problem is that because that is such an open ended thing, it doesn’t force it to the top of their priority list. So this month what I’ve started doing is going back to them and saying, “Look, I need to draw this line in the sand for anyone who’s placed a preorder.” And I’m trying to put it towards the end of this month, which I may end up being three weeks out or four weeks out or something like that. But there’s going to be a line in the sand that says, “Look, up until this point, let’s get you on boarded as a paying customer and convert your extended trial into a paid subscription or let’s kill it if it’s not going to help you or, if you just don’t have time.”
Rob [20;12]: Yeah. That’s a good way to go. That’s why free trials work rather than often, especially if you’re a beginner, free plans versus free trial is a different thing. And the difference is free trial has an expiration date. And wether you do a 14 or a 21 or a 30 or a 60 or whatever it is, at some point there is that line in the sand. And that’s some time pressure to get someone to commit or not. I think it’s very good that you’re switching to that.
In the early days of Drip when I had preorder folks in there, I said the same thing. Once you get value out of it we’ll do it. And then about every week or two, I would email them and I had all these emails boomeranging back to me. And when I got a boomerang from someone, I would log in and I would look and see what are they doing in Drip, have they actually imported a list, are they sending email and then I would ping them and I would be like, “Hey. I see you’re not sending emails. Are you interested? Let’s get this moving forward.” And if they had emails, then my questions became, “Hey. Do you think you’re getting enough value out of Drip to pay $49 a month now?” That was it. And then I’d follow up every two weeks and eventually some people converted. I think most people converted and some didn’t and that was okay.
So I hear you. It sounds like you didn’t do that early enough. You said you kind of made a mistake with it. Like you didn’t have enough time – not even time pressure – but maybe enough follow up. Ha, ha. That’s kind of funny. Follow up. You go to run them through Bluetick.
Mike [21:27]: Actually, I am at this point.
Rob [21:28]: That’s cool.
Mike [21:29]: Yeah. I basically set up all the automation for that so it’s not going out to them. And I’ve got a whole sequence of emails that’s being sent out to them. So if anyone’s listening, yes, those are completely automated emails at this point.
But, no, I think for me it was an initial hesitation to really push forward. Because I kind of had it in my head like I made a mental promise to these people like, “You can have this until it provides value.” But that doesn’t do them any favors and it doesn’t do me any favors. It’s not helpful to either one of us. So there really needs to be that emphasis on some sort of a timeline or reckoning so to speak to just say, “Look, it’s got to move forward and if it doesn’t, that’s okay. I just need to know.”
Rob [22:06]: Right. You’ve got to channel your inner sales person and ask for the close. Cool. And you were telling me offline that you added a couple more customers.
Mike [22:16]: Yeah. Just yesterday I added one new customer and then yesterday I also converted one of the prepaid customers into a paid subscriber. I gave him 20% lifetime discount, applied his prepayment as credit so he’ll have several months of the service. And then after that it’ll start charging him on a regular basis. But basically gave him a credit for that and just said, “Yes, now it’s providing value so let’s just start charging you and we’ll cut into that credit.”
Rob [22:42]: That’s cool. Always good to get new customers. Is that your plan? To keep getting – because we had talked about awhile back you were going to do a public launch. But it sounds like you’ve continued to add a couple customers here and there every few weeks. What is the plan right now? Which direction are you headed?
Mike [22:58]: I was talking about this to my mastermind group last month – it was around the last time that we’d discussed it here on the podcast – and they actually talked me out of going through and doing the launch on the 31st of January.
Rob [23:10]: Why is that? What was their argument?
Mike [23:13]: Their argument was they didn’t feel like I had pushed enough people through the system and it wasn’t getting enough usage to help me identify the places where I would run into problems in terms of support or scaling or just answering questions accurately or in a way that doesn’t overwhelm me. I looked back at it at the time and I said, “Well. You know. Maybe you guys are right.” And I look back at it now in retrospect. It was like, “You guys were definitely right.” I really needed to back that off because there’s times where I will burn through an entire morning just going back and forth with people on support calls. Literally – I did it this morning as well – where somebody will say, “Hey. How do I do this?” Or, “Got this problem here.” Or, “I’m trying to import a bunch of people and what’s the syntax for this or that?” And I’ve got support documentation but I’m starting to find that there’s places where it’s just incomplete and there are a lot of edge cases where the questions just simply aren’t answered because they’re not well documented in the documentation. I can go in the code and look at it, and I can tell the person how it is but that doesn’t help them because they can’t just go to the support site and just pull it up because it’s not well documented.
Rob [24:15]: Documentation like KB’s are so time consuming to get started. I remember when we first started Drip it’s just like, there’s so much information that’s imbedded in your head and in the code. And trying to translate that into helpful articles and figuring out what people can help with, it’s hard. It is really hard. And if you recall, our early docs for Drip were me recording screen casts and it was purely a time thing. I just did not have time to write that all out. I got mixed emotions from that. People have said, “This is fine for now,” but often somebody was in an airport and the Wi-Fi wasn’t fast enough. And then another person was saying, “I don’t want to watch a three-minute screencast. I just wanted to skim an article.” And of course, creating an article takes a heck of a lot more time. I later circled back and paid someone to turn those screencasts into articles. Not to just transcribe it but to actually turn it into a well-written thing, take screenshots. And then we had a customer success person who had some free time. He then became the KB czar and he just started cranking out KB things. But as a one person show, you just don’t have the time to do all that.
At best, in my opinion, you’re going to respond via email and then you’re going to take that response, you’re going to paste it into a KB article and it’s not going to have screenshots and it’s not going to be fully flushed out but it’s going to be something. And I think that’s probably where you need to start.
Mike [25:33]: That’s, honestly, like what most of my KB articles are right now. People ask me how to do something and I took some screenshots and I sent it over to them. And then I took those same screenshots and I posted them into the KB article and said this is how you do this.
Rob [25:45]: Yep. That’s how you do it.
Mike [25:47]: It’s quick and dirty but it works and it doesn’t suck up a huge amount of my time. But then there’s things where, “How does this need to be formatted?” And I’m like, “I don’t actually know because that’s a library that I used.” So then I have to go figure it out and then come back to them with the answers. And, of course, while I’m doing that I also add in a couple of unit tests. Be like, “Hey. Does this actually work?” Because if the library gets updated, for example, and whatever gets through I want to make sure that those things still work later on.
Rob [26:12]: Right. So you’ve backed off from the public launch. And here’s the thing. Your mastermind group has more intimate knowledge than any of us. Including me. But certainly more than any of our listeners in terms of exactly where you are, how things are going. Just because they get so much more in-depth information about it. I think I know the folks in your group and if they’re recommending that I actually thing that’s probably the right way to go.
Did they not think you had product market fit and you still need to tweak some things and get some more features out? Or is it that – feeling like support. I think you mentioned that support might not be able to scale or something. And that sounds kind of like maybe work a few extra hours or hire someone to help you part time with that. I would probably dive in and not try to prescale stuff like that. You know what I mean?
Mike [26:59]: Yeah. I think what they’re looking for is me to get to somewhere between 20 and 30 paying customers before I flip the switch. I think there’s a difference between having people who are on the system and using it in name but not really exercising a lot of things versus somebody who’s paying for it and they’re probably using it a lot. And if they’re not using it, they’re going to cancel. So there’s that, I’ll say, scale that you get by virtue of just having people pay for it because they’re not going to pay for something they’re not using. By constantly using it and finding bugs or edge cases or integrating it more fully into the automation systems that they have in place, that finds those edge cases.
And it also helps me flesh out some of the marketing stuff. I worked with somebody yesterday who said, “Hey. It would be really great if, when somebody finishes this email sequence, if it could go over to the pipe drive and just automatically close out that deal or whatever.” And I’m like, “Oh. Actually you can do this and you can actually do it now. You don’t have to wait for anything.” And I sent them screenshots and I basically walked them through and said this is exactly how to set that up.
But that’s not something that is going to come up until I get to that point where lots of people or a kind of critical mass of people are using it that let me know that, “Hey. I have this question. How do you do this?” And then those different use cases can end up on the sales website to help attract more customers. It kind of feeds back into itself at some point.
Rob [28:19}: Yeah. That makes sense. I do think that that 20 to 30 paying customer mark is about the point where you really know that stuff is working. And then, of course, you realize when you get to 100 customers that you really didn’t know that stuff was working. But at least you know something. It was somewhere between 20 and 30 with Drip where we basically started doing those launches to the 300 to 600 emails on our list at a time. Sounds like you still have more work to do.
That’s the thing. It’s like launching is – You could launch today. You could just send out an email and get everybody in. And you may bleed everyone out because you don’t have product market fit or you might not be able to support them and so they get pissed off and leave. Or your onboarding may not be good enough or in existence and so you’re not going to convert them. Yeah. I don’t necessarily agree with that. I think the danger in stuff that you and I have talked about over the years with Audit Shark is that the launch just keeps getting pushed out. That you never get to that 20 to 30 customer mark. So I guess at this point your number one goal and focus should be getting to that mark. Is that the idea? It’s like getting one person a week, two people a week, whatever it takes and when you hit that then you’re able to pull the trigger.
Mike [29:28]: Yeah. [Heaton Shaw’s?] got a newsletter that he sends out – I don’t know whether it’s the same newsletter or not but he’s sent out something to his email list basically saying what’s the one thing that moves the needle for you at this point. And I read it and I thought about it and the one thing was basically moving people from either a trial into a paid subscription or just adding paid customers because those are the types of people who are going to be actively using it, versus the software sitting there in the background and possibly not doing very much for them. My focus at this point is just adding paying customers. One of the people who signed up yesterday, I started redoing some of the signup stuff on Friday so he couldn’t signup on Tuesday when he wanted to. So I ended up pushing him off and I said, “I’ll give you an invitation code. We’ll get you set up and then we’ll process your credit card later.” So I ended up doing that but he was thinking, “I’ll just log in and then I’ll hook up my billing stuff.” And I was like, “No, the billing stuff inside the app isn’t there yet.” And I honestly don’t care. It doesn’t need to be there right now. I can do that stuff manually. But I’m actively looking for ways to avoid touching any of that stuff because the product works. It does what it needs to do. So at this point it’s a matter of getting that marketing message right, getting the people in and getting them using it. And that’s my focus. Finding people who will actively use it.
Rob [30:46]: Yep. And I think, as your number one goal, I would focus less at this point on trying to scale documentation, or on trying to have stuff that people can find and you’re going to need to do, I think, a lot of hand holding for the time being. And I know it chews up time and you can’t really work on the product necessarily but that one on one time for those first 20 customers is going to be extremely valuable. I think if you have your launch list, you could start emailing one of those at a time. Like maybe do it in blocks of five or something. But pick five off the list. If you’ve surveyed them and you can tell which are most interested, you could start with the most or you could just go with the most recent and email five of them individually and be like coming from Mike to one person. Not a BCC. And be like, “Hey. Super interested in getting you onboard. You signed up for this. Here’s the big thing. Still in early access,” and trying to get, one at a time get people on boarded. Is that what you’re up to at this point?
Mike [31:43]: Yeah. This past week, I replaced a couple of pieces on the main page where previously it just had the email of course and it didn’t really say much about how you could sign up. Now I’ve replaced that and there’s a request invitation area right at the top of the main page. And if you enter in your email address it kicks you over to another page where there is a survey and it asks you to fill that out. Those replies go directly to me and it gives me some marketing information. But if somebody signs up for that and then goes through and fills out the survey, then I know that they are essentially more interested and I can pay attention to those people a little bit more.
You talked about emailing people individually. I can literally export my list of subscribers from Drip and put them into Bluetick and then just say, “Hey. Go ahead and just start emailing these people individually. Because that’s what it does. It emails people one on one. And I can send them into a sequence and try and get a response from them of some kind depending on what it is that I’m trying to get them to do. Whether it’s that survey or have a call or what have you.
Rob [32:44]: That’s cool. I like it. I think you’re making progress on the right things.
Mike [32:49]: Yeah. And it’s hard to figure out what is the right thing to be doing today or this week. At a high level, I know it’s get people in who are most likely to convert into a paying user because that’s kind of proxy for getting value out of it. But there’s all these other little things that kind of factor into that. And then, as I said, somebody can email you something and then it burns through three or four hours of you trying to figure out how to best help them and how to let them know this is what they need to do or this is how to do it. Or trying to do it for them and then show them after the fact.
Rob [33:19]: Two thoughts that I have with that. Number one: I think every task that comes onto your plate whether you’re pulling it off your Trello board or whether an email comes in. I think you need to ask yourself will this get the next customer on boarded or will this get the next customer paying me? And if the answer is yes – if it’s from a customer who’s trying to onboard and they’re struggling – then you do it. But if not and it’s from an existing customer who says, “Hey. Can you add this feature?” You can totally log that somewhere. But I would not stop then and build the feature. You know? Because your goal right now is to get to 20 to 30 customers. And so I would try to laser focus and ask that with every task that you start.
Mike [33:57]: Yeah. All the stuff that is taking up the most time is people that they’ve paid and they’re going through that onboarding process and its mostly, “How do I do this?” or, “Can you do that?” And some of it, like I said, it’s, “It would be nice to be able to do X, Y or Z.” And usually they can already do it. It’s just not clear how they get to that point so then I have to explain it and kind of mentally note it to say, “Look. I’ve got to explain this better.” Or explain it in a way that doesn’t make me have to repeat myself 25 times.
Rob [34:26]: Totally. No, that’s right. And that is something that, as you get more and more customers on boarded, it’ll become pretty obvious. Certain things will come up once. Don’t do anything about it. But if certain things come up five times, well now you should carve out a KB doc. Even a few paragraphs or whatever it is. Or improve that tool tip. You know, there’s something in the app you can do.
Mike [34:45]: Yeah. When the feature requests come in, I’ve been pushing people off and saying, “Yeah. I’ll put that on the roadmap.” Or usually it’s something that’s already on the roadmap. And then, because I use FogBugz for bug tracking, I’ll go in and I’ll create a tag with that person’s name. And then if the case inside of FogBugz ends up with enough of those tags that say these five people or these 10 people want it, then I’ll push it more towards the top of the list as being much more important. But if It doesn’t then it’s usually something that either surfaced up internally that maybe somebody mentioned in passing or I see it. And those are not technically all that important. Just because I want something in there doesn’t mean that it’s going to be genuinely helpful to everybody or everybody’s going to use it.
Rob [35:24]: Here’s the other thing that kind of comes to mind. You said the statement like, “It’s chewing up time. It took me a few hours to do this dealing with the customer.” I feel like you should hire someone to do something. It’s either going to need to be the engineering side or it’s going to need to be support or it’s going to need to be help with onboarding. It sounds to me like help with onboarding may be that number one. Because support, I think right now, is really heavily intertwined with onboarding.
Mike [35:49]: Yeah. There almost the same thing.
Rob [35:50]: Yep. So I think support and onboarding – again, when I think back to my experience with products like having someone there in the early days, typically I would do support for about the first 60 days of a product. Maybe 90. And then once we hit 20 or 30 people, I was finding someone to help with it. And then maybe a year – I’m trying to think into Drip when we hired Anna – but there was a real game changing moment when I was able to bring someone on who was a higher level. Who wasn’t just an email support person but could actually get on calls with people and do the onboarding. Which is something as the founder and the product owner you think, “Surely no one can do it as well as I can.” And what I found out is that Anna was way better at it than I was. Because she’s just more of a people person and she’s just better on the phone, she’s better on calls.
Sure, the first month she couldn’t do it better than I did because I knew the product inside and out. Two months, three months in it was game changing. So she became the defacto. She was onboarding, she did some light support, she did strategy stuff of like, “Here’s how you want to set it up.” She also did sales. And we never called her that. She was always customer success. But she did the upfront like, “Hey. Someone is thinking about using Bluetick. Walk them through a demo.” And it wasn’t a salesy demo. It was a, “Here’s how you would use this. Tell me about what you’re up to. Blah-blah-blah.”
And so, if you think about it it’s like sales/customer success/customer support. But we called it customer success because it was all about finding the right customers and making them successful. And this sounds like some magical combination that doesn’t exist but I’m now seeing a lot of folks who are able to do this. Especially at Leadpages. We hired two at Drip. We were a team of eight fulltime and two contractors and two of them were customer success because we found it so incredibly valuable. There time was just a multiplier for all of us. And now that we’re at Leadpages, they must have 10, 15 customer success people who are not just answering email queries all day. They’re actually involved.
So that would be my advice to you is that if you have any budget, even for part time, is to look for that person that can take that piece away from it because that’s the piece that you and I as product people I think are least good at. As much as you and I enjoy talking and we have this good podcast, we’re not great on the phone. We’re not great demoers. We’re not super people person like some of these folks are naturally. So I’ll throw that out there. What do you think about that?
Mike [38:04]: I think it’s a good idea. I’ll say my hesitation would be the fact that I think when people first get on to it and start using it, that’s when they have the most questions and then it tends to die down rather quickly. And I feel almost compelled to answer those questions a lot more because I know that they’re busy and if they email me in the middle of the day and they’re having a particular problem I almost feel like I need to drop what I’m doing to help get them through this particular problem because if I don’t they’re more likely to go find something else to do and either not come back to it for a few days or potentially not come back to it for a week or two. So that’s my only hesitation with that. And I don’t know what the scheduling would be like for somebody who would be doing that because I couldn’t afford to have them fulltime.
Rob [38:46]: Right. So you’d have to get someone part time. You’re worried about urgency.
Mike [38:51]: Yeah. I guess there’s other ways to solve that too. For example, I could say, “Okay, I’m only going to onboard people like Thursday’s,” for example. And then hire somebody and say, “Hey. Look. You only have to work the second half of the day on Thursday,” for example, “and that’s it.” It’s like these four hours. And then onboard first thing in the morning. And then let them come through with questions and stuff. And if it comes up after that, the next day or several days later, it’s probably not a big deal. It’s not as time sensitive. But if I have literally just signed them up and two hours later they’re emailing me with something, I feel much more compelled to answer right away.
Rob [39:27]: Yep. I think that’s a good way to think about it. And it’s tough. I realize it’s easy for me to say, “Hey. You should hire someone who’s really good at this with all your free time.” Because that alone is a big deal, trying to find someone. But I think that your number one goal should be getting new customers in. When I look at multipliers here, like what’s going to multiply your time right now? And what’s going to multiply and greatly accelerate you getting to 25 or 30 customer? I don’t think it’s writing more KB articles. There’s a lot of other things it’s not. And answering individual support requests, that’s a step towards it but I don’t think that’s going to help you get there faster. But throughout this conversation I think that’s kind of my one take away. And I realize it costs money to hire people. There’s all this stuff. But if you think creatively about it, I think there could be something there.
Mike [40:14]: I do think that like going back to the one thing though I don’t know is that onboarding side of things is necessarily the only thing either. I feel like it’s more outreach and going to the mailing list and trying to individually follow up with those people and say, “Hey. You expressed interest in this. Can we have a conversation about it?” Or go to the list of other people that I have who I’ve previously talked to and said, “Hey. When you get Zapier integration done, let me know.” And going to them and saying, “Hey. Let’s get you started on this because this stuff is there now and it’s working.”
Rob [40:42]: Totally. And I think you could still do that. You could still be feeding the funnel and you’d hand it off to this other person, in essence. And from the time they sign up it essentially goes into someone else’s responsibility.
Mike [40:56]: Yeah. I’ll have to think a little bit more about how to arrange that.
Rob [40:59]: Yeah. It’s a thought for listeners. You and I have not talked about Bluetick since the last time we talked about it on the podcast. So it’s not like we talk about this all time. I’m going just based on the last 20 minutes of information. But that’s kind of my impression of where I would probably go next. Because it doesn’t sound like code is your limiting factor right now. Would you say that -?
Mike [41:20]: Yeah. I would agree. I’m doing small bug fixes here and there but other than that there’s not major stuff being implemented at the moment.
Rob [41:29]: Right. And that’s how it feels because you and I, I think naturally we’d be like, “Well, you should hire a developer. Hire the developer so you don’t have to do that work anymore.” It doesn’t sound like that’s the right thing to do right now. I don’t think that’s going to multiply your time. It sounds like there’s a lot of support, customer success and potentially sales that needs to happen. And I think you doing it right now is great. I think very soon you should not be doing it as much. And you are going to have to shift back to the code. And when you do that, this person would be able to seamlessly ease into basically handling all that stuff for you which I think would be a good thing.
Mike [42:01]: Yep. I agree.
Rob [42:02]: Sounds great. Well I think we’re over time, actually. But again, from what I’ve heard from folks who listen to these episodes, they really like to hear what we’re up to and kind of dig in. So hopefully folks stuck around with us all the way through this point.
Mike [42:15]: Well, as you said we’re out of time so I think that wraps us up. If you have a question for us, you can all it into our voicemail number at 1-888-801-9690 or you can email it to us at email@example.com. Our theme music is an excerpt from ‘We’re Outta Control’ by MoOt used under creative comments. Subscribe to us in 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.