In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike give updates on Blutick and Drip. Mike talks about some progress he’s made as well as his current MRR with Bluetick. Rob gives his update on Drip continuing to scale and fill new positions.
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Mike: In this episode of Startups for The Rest of Us Rob and I are going to be talking about updates on Bluetick, Drip and other madness. This is Startups for The Rest of Us episode 339. 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 1st product or you’re just thinking about it, I’m Mike.
Rob: And I’m Rob.
Mike: And we’re here to share experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made, what’s going on this week Rob?
Rob: Well I’m back to feeling really good about Drip because for the last maybe month, prior to last week, which I talked a little bit about it. We just had you know scaling issues right, it’s like stuff comes up, you don’t know if it’s database, you don’t know if you can add more horsepower to it, code implementation, you know what it is. So, different times of day certain ques would back up and it’s like we’re shipping a lot of features, the team is kind of firing on all cylinders right now and I feel like we’re the most productive we’ve been in ages perhaps ever,
Rob: I mean just given that the time size is so much larger, we’re able to just ship stuff faster and yet, like every week was ruined for me because there would be this delay or whatever, this page load is slower, just whatever that like makes me feel like we’re aren’t living up to the promise that we make to our customers, but we turned like a big corner last week with it and I just feel great about everything. So that’s my week.
Mike: Yeah, I know what you’re saying. I think the best analogy, I might have heard this someplace but I kind of feel like I thought of it on my own at 1 point, is like when you’re working on a SaaS app like everything is in motion while you’re working on it, so it’s almost like being a heart surgeon like you have to make sure everything stays up and running while you’re still working on it.
Rob: Totally, that’s right, Reid Hoffman the founder of LinkedIn said building a startup is like jumping out of an airplane and assembling the parachute on the way down right, because you kind of in free fall and you’re burning through cash and the analogy works really well for running a SaaS app and having to do kind of performance improvements, refactors, anything like that that impacts a lot of things and this is where unit testing is such
Rob: a nice scaffold right, unit testing is like having good test coverage, it’s kind of like jumping out with the parachutes already half made or maybe the parachute is, I’ll just stop there because that was a really dumb analogy anyway.
Mike: I was going to point out, I wasn’t sure where you were going to go with that.
Rob: You’re like you’re really taking this too far, let’s ditch the parachute thing.
Mike: That’s almost like my analogy against a heart surgeon.
Rob: How about you, what’s going on this week?
Mike: Well minor champagne moment, I’ve recently crossed the 1,000 dollar a month MMR with Bluetick, so things are going in the right direction. Of course, because it’s the beginning of the month you look at the statistics for growth and stuff like that and they’re just tanked at the bottom which because it’s the beginning of the month instead of the end.
Rob: I know you’ve got preorders up front but this is active customers right, these are people that are actually using it and not people who have paid you and are planning to use it.
Mike: Yes, these are people who have paid me and are currently using it.
Rob: Sounds good.
Mike: Yeah, most of the people I had who had come in as preorders and then converted over into paying customers, a lot of them I had essentially applied credits to their account to give them credit for that preorder to some extent, mostly to kind of boost them over from being a preorder and kind of having an indefinite beta period over to like being a paid customer and those payments are I think going to be starting to kick in this month but even with all of that it’s still over 1,000 dollars a month and my goal for this month is to double it but we’ll see how that goes.
Rob: Wahoo, a 1,000 bucks a month man.
Rob: Are you going to Disneyland, are you going to go out and buy a new car?
Mike: No, I had a beer last night, that was about it.
Rob: Nice, that was your champagne moment, was to drink a beer.
Mike: Yeah, champagne, beer, I’m sure somebody’s going to have a coronary over that analogy.
Rob: Nice, do you feel like the pace is picking up in terms of how quickly you’re adding customers?
Mike: It is and that’s both intentional but also as a byproduct of people talking about it because they are
Mike: using it and they’re having good experiences so they’re turning around and referring other people to it and saying hey I’ve been using this and it’s been working really well for me, that and coupled with some of my outreach efforts, they’re either going on podcasts or talking to people who are on mail lists. It’s a combination of things but I’m definitely pursuing things a lot more in that regard as well and it’s unfortunately a juggling act too because there are things that come in and people say hey, can it do this or can this be modified, can we add a feature or a function over here that does X, Y or Z and it’s prioritizing those against all of the other things that are going on, it’s really pretty hard.
Rob: Yeah, that’s how it always is right, especially in the early days man, it’s tough. That’s why starting on your own and really being the single founder is such a hard road to go if you’re going to build an app like this that’s not in a small niche market where you can move slow and there’s no competition and you can kind of trudge along but building something like this, where there is competition and you’re going to have to be keeping up, you need to get to the place where you’re keeping up enough revenue to basically hire somebody
Rob: soon and essentially, Justin Calcian says hire your cofounders, right that’s what he does now. He doesn’t have cofounders but he hires really early because he races around and he has a little he can back it with and he’s able to give our less equity but he brings people in very early, you don’t see him building something solo or alone because there’s just too much to do when you’re launching something that you want to see grow pretty quickly and it’s in a big market.
Mike: Yeah, I meant there is definitely things that are kind of falling on the floor right now, I mean 1 thing that’s been sitting on my to do list for well over like a couple of months at this point has been working on the sales website and even people who come through the sales funnel when I start talking to them, the biggest chuck of questions that they have is kind of what does this actually do, because the website doesn’t explain it very well and really the website is just 1 page, so there’s not a whole lot of explaining that it can do on that 1 page, it doesn’t provide use cases or examples or screenshots really, I mean there is very little there to go off. Most people are really reliant on what they’ve been told by other people or what they’ve heard about either from me or from other places where I’ve
Mike: done like a podcast interview or something like that.
Rob: You know it’s really cool when you say that some of your new customers are coming from other people using like word of mouth was a big driver in the early days of Drip, not as much with hit tail but there was some but if you have that already, like if you have that when you only have low double digit number of customers, that’s a good sign, right it’s a really good sign because as you grow that’s just a snow ball that allows you to continue kind of leveling up and when you add 100 or a1,000 if you still get that same percentage of people, you’ll always be lower as time goes on right but if you can get folks talking about it, it’s a really nice way to be involved in every conversation right, you always want people to say remember how like infusionsoft and Ontraport, it was always just the 2 of them and just by nature of that fact Ontraport which is nowhere near the product that infusionsoft is, you know had all of this growth and then I remember when Drip started to be part of those conversations when they would say of infusionsoft or Drip and I would like see it, I would say it’s
Rob: not in every conversation about it, but I would see it in these online forms, these threads and then get thrown out and I remember when that started happening and it was gaming changing because you just become another viable option rather than a tool that no one has heard about.
Mike: Yeah, 1 of the things I do, I think it was 1 of the 1st questions that I ask in the survey when you go to Bluetick’s website and ask for an invitation code, 1 of the questions in there is where did you hear about this, so from that I’m finding out exactly who people heard about the product from, so it’s nice to be able to track it back to people who either placed preorders or are current customers, I even have 1 customer who like has a bunch of customers that he works with and he’s going to start recommending it to them because he’s had such a good experience with it and they wanted to use it internally 1st and things have gone well in that respect, so now they’re turning it around and going back to their customer base and say hey let’s get you on boarded with this so that we can help you more. So, what about you, what else is new?
Rob: Well, you know as I talk about most weeks most of my updates involve scaling
Rob: Drip and hiring people, right. That’s kind of a big focus of mine now, there is some other stuff, I might get into it later depending on how much time we have today but I feel you know we have been pretty consistently, just we’ve had an open job, at least 1 job opening since we got acquired and most times we have either 2 or 3, so we’re constantly, we’re hiring other new front end like IUIUX, new rails folks or new people to help with scaling and I feel like I’m kind of in the groove of hiring at this point, like I’ve gotten pretty good. You know it’s kind of this skill that you go in and out of because when you’re not hiring you forget how to skim through a resume really quick, how to do a quick phone interview, how to do a quick phone interview but we’ve just been doing so many recently that I feel like I’m kind of in the groove of it which I don’t know that I necessarily want to be, hiring people is not an aspiration of mine, like I think we’ve always talked about like my book start small stay small, the small was about head count, not about revenue right. I always want to grow revenue but it’s like I want to keep head count down, but
Rob: in this case it’s even just looking ahead as we’re Xing, 2 Xing, 3 Xing every so often it’s pretty frequent that we’re doubling our customer base, we just have to hire a little bit ahead of where we actually are, as well as like I said earlier, being in a competitive space we need to continue delivering features, which as we’ve talked about in the past is harder and harder to do the bigger you get because you spend so much time just maintaining what you already have right, making sure the database is ahead of everybody’s need and the code base and the ques and just all of the stuff that you’re running. So yeah, I guess to summarize we’ve been hiring a lot, I’m hoping we can slow down here pretty soon, we’ve found some really good candidates and I guess it’s getting in the groove of it. I do like doing a bunch of hiring and stopping so that I don’t have to constantly you know being doing it and can kind of focus on other things.
Mike: So, is that going to be the focus of your next book is how to hire people at scale?
Rob: Oh, my gosh seriously. No, it will
Rob: definitely not, and like I say it’s super cool when you get a new person on board and you get them up to speed and they start contributing and like Derek and I looked at each other and we’re like we are shipping a lot of features and it’s because there’s all these people you know doing things that used to be either in our lap or we just pull, hey we have a scaling issue so we’d pull 1 developer off of something and now we don’t have too, like we have dedicated people who that’s all they’re doing and I keep saying we’ve hit our stride. I hate to keep using that analogy but it really does feel like we’re getting the right people in the right roles and it’s kind of a good feeling when you do slot somebody in and you see them start shipping things, you’re like man I’m really proud of what we’re putting out even we’re not doing all of the work anymore because you think back when you’re crafting this software or you’re crafting the UI, with Drip that was really all Derek right, it was he and I deciding what to build and me handling everything else but for so long it was all bottle necked by 1 or 2 people’s bandwidth but now with the growing team it’s neat to see that
Rob: we’re able to maintain the efficiency and still continue that hiring more people actually means we can push out more software rather than in other companies I worked at where hiring more people actually makes things worse, you know it like slows everybody down.
Mike: Yeah, I definitely hear what you’re saying. Do you find that as you are adding more features that like the individual features that you’re adding tend to be more invasive throughout the entire course of the apps, so it’s not like a little surface thing that you can toggle here or add over there, it’s like you’re adding this feature that needs to be added throughout a large part of the pipeline of the applications?
Rob: You know that doesn’t come up too much to be honest. I think in the early days it did because you’re just trying to get to that point where you built something that people want, but I think these days our product is so much more mature that there are things we add now and again that impact everything but our architecture is really solid, so things are broken out into their own subsystems and such. While there certainly are some that come through for
Rob: the most part a lot of these things seem to be more self contained I’ll say, I mean it may impact 5 files or worst case 10 files and you have to go through all of these layers of something and those are the ones that get a little scary right because you’ve got to make sure you have unit test coverage like crazy on that but yeah, I would imagine you’re probably in that boat though right where kind of everything you add it’s like oh gosh I have to go rearchitect this thing in order to do it.
Mike: Yeah, and that’s kind of why I was asking because I find that a lot of the changes that I’m making tend to be stuff that have to be tracked down or tracked all the way through from the front end all the way through the API and then into the service layer and the security layer and then into the database and it gets to be, I don’t want to say frustrating but it takes a lot longer to get some of those things done than I would like especially because of all of the maintenance and ongoing requests or butt fixes and things like that, there are just tweaks and adjustments that kind of invade into that space while I’m trying to get those things done, it’s
Mike: just, it’s honestly like the juggling act right now is really pretty hard, so I was just kind of curious of whether or not you still ran into those things, so maybe there’s light at the end of the tunnel for me.
Rob: Yeah, yeah there is but it takes a while. I remember we refactored Drip, like major database refractor probably twice before we got to launch right, so Derek broke ground on code December of 2012 and we really launched to the world in November of 2013 but we had kind of our 1st group of 10, 20 customers coming on as early as June of 2013, so that was 7 months in and I think within that 1st 6 months before we really had people he had to do a massive rip apart of things we just had made decision to couple and they shouldn’t have been coupled and then there was another 1 when we launched, automation right so that was early 2014 as he was building automation that was just painful, it was like 2 months of standing still and then he built automation, once he had it done the automation stuff was actually not so hard to build but it was like we have to rip
Rob: separate these 2 database tables and you know as you’re falling down making your parachute and it was gnarly but after that like once we hit there, we’ve had limited need to do that because I think the building blocks got in place and the product was solidified. Now us marking automation and we’re not going to add on shipping cart landing page, affiliate marketing management, you know what whatever else, that would all I think impact some of this other stuff where as you’re still figuring out, like where I would guess at your stage, we were still figuring out I should say, so really trying to figure out should I build this feature, what is this product going to become, what is the vision for the product and is my vision still aligning with what the market is asking for and that makes things very fluid, I think is probably a good word for it.
Mike: Yeah, I’m having the same types of general conversations with most people when it comes to either features that they want implemented, like the road map that I have in my head, it’s obviously different than I originally started out with but over the past several months it really hasn’t changed a lot and most of my time is spent trying to
Mike: get those things done, so that’s more of the challenge, it’s not trying to figure out what to do, it’s figuring out what order to do it in and how to get it out as quickly as possible without wrecking things along the way because like you said, there’s that issue where if you go to roll out a new feature or a new piece of the code, if it touches a bunch of different pieces of the application and you don’t have as many unit test around it as you would like than it’s a little scary to hit that deploy button. So most of the time what I do is I deploy it out to my development server and I just try to beat on it a little bit to see like can I break this or is there any obvious things that I might have missed that may not be covered by unit tests because the front of the UI, like there’s very little unit tests are on the front end stuff, like the services and all of the back end stuff, like there is unit tests there but the front end is not tested well but that’s also because I know that the front end is changing a lot, so it’s much harder to put something in place where I’m just going to have to change all of those things anyway.
Rob: Right, and
Rob: you know the front end unit testing, which I guess now becomes what integration or system testing, there’s like a different name for it when you’re going all the way from the top down, that’s stuff runs super slow right and I consider it a more advanced method of testing, not a bad thing to have for some critical paths, I think it’s just my opinion, others may disagree with me but it’s like your sign up flow yeah you should probably have, it would be nice to have a nice UI test for that and maybe sending a broadcast in the sense of marketing, I mean it’s your basically fundamental things but A I would not be testing settings pages or like little corners of the apple out that people don’t use and I’ve heard of folks who separate those front end tests that hit that UI into a completely different test sweep because they can take 30 minutes to run or an hour to run, because they are so slow because they have to speed up browser instances and click on things. So, I don’t know, I would say at this point you will be better off annually QA your stuff and then just having unit tests below the surface, that’s probably what I would have. I don’t think I would spend a bunch of time doing UI tests yet. I actually don’t think the UI
Rob: testing suites are that still, they’re still not that great.
Mike: Oh, they’re terrible.
Rob: I know, I was using Selenium in 2008 maybe, 2007 to 2009 in there to test on an invoice and it was horrendous and I’ve heard there’s like another layer now built on top of Selenium and I heard it’s still not that great.
Mike: Yeah, I poked around it a little bit but realized that there was just too many things changes to really make any sort of difference and it wasn’t worth going down that road. I mean the API and stuff gets tested and some of the different layers but you know once it’s passed that, I mean the front end of the app, it’s all this massive Java script application because it’s all written in angular so there’s not much there other than the smoke tests in that if I make a change on the front end UI I can be reasonably assured that the APIs and stuff underneath are working but that’s no guarantee that if you click on a button it’s still going to do what it’s supposed to do.
Rob: Sure, and that’s where I think about having code that doesn’t have a bunch of side effects on it or places on it so if you’re working in a
Rob: certain part of code you know that you don’t have to go test all of these other things right, that you can test this 1 thing and be fairly confident that you’re not going to break something in the UI and do a cursory test as you deploy it and then just let your customer finds your bugs, no I’m only kidding. That’s like the worst, some of our competitors do that and it has tarnished their reputation.
Mike: Yeah if I can find and fix a bug before the customer ever sees it or knows that it was an issue than that’s the probably ideal scenario but it’s still hard, I mean I’m just constrained on resources and time and speaking of time, things have gotten even worse for me because as of 3 days ago my wife acquired a larger fitness studio here in town, so commence schedule craziness at this point. It’s just her schedule is all over the place and obviously, mine is pretty swamped as it is, so just kind of trying to overlap enough so that we make sure that the kids are taking care of and dinner is ready and all of the other stuff that needs to be taken care of
Mike: is done and out of the way is really been super challenging in the past couple of days.
Rob: 2 people running business in the house, that is tough. I can imagine that is really complicated and having flexible schedules sounds great until you realize that like 2 people with flexible schedules is chaos, like Sherry and I have run into that in the past where it’s like I think I have a flexible scheduled but like you said, you actually have kids and you have like some other responsibilities to get kids picked up and get dinner made and this kind of stuff, so I totally get it.
Mike: Plus our youngest was sick yesterday, so it was either yesterday or the day before, 1 of the days this week he ended up staying home from school and then last night he had a fever and we thought he was going to be home again from school today and it turned out he was fine, but it’s hard to juggle all of that stuff and then plus with her new business, I mean it’s a larger business so she’s got multiple contractors that she didn’t have before and there are scheduling issues, and moving to a new space
Mike: and new software and all of this other stuff that goes with it, it’s a pretty large learning curve is what it comes down too.
Rob: Yeah, I bet man. Well good for her, big congratulations to the both you I guess for her acquiring that studio, sounds kind of cool. I bet that’s a good move for her to kind of up her game, she’s leveling up, stair stepping up if you will, boom.
Rob: how involved are you in her business?
Mike: You know I help look at the business financials and stuff early on but beyond that stuff and just kind of verifying hey is this a good move to make, I really try to kind of stay out of it. Just kind of point out here’s something that you might run into or here’s something else that could be an issue or just don’t worry about this over here, but just kind of try and stay aways from it. I mean that’s kind of her thing so I’m not trying to get in the way, is really what it comes down too, trying to stay out of the way.
Rob: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So, speaking of all of the scheduling madness and how to juggle that, Sherry and I made the decision early in the year actually, we were talking to
Rob: someone who said they had an au pair and an au pair is someone who is typically young woman who comes from oversees and wants to come to America and is basically like a live in nanny. So, we were talking to someone who had an au pair and said it was life changing and said it was the best decision ever and so I started noodling on it and we realized that we were both going to MicroConf and I was going to be gone for a week or like 6 days and Sherry was going to be gone for like 4 or 5 and every time we go away for overnights A, it’s expensive, really expensive to hire someone to watch your kids overnight and then there’s always they don’t know your routine and they don’t know your house and there’s just so much to communicate that it’s super stressful. So, we’re just like let’s hire a live in nanny, like let’s see if we can find essentially a local au pair, you know, someone who Sherry was like a young college student would be prefect right, and so we did. So, I interviewed, I don’t even know a dozen people here in Minneapolis and right before MicroConf, like the week before she moved in and she lives in, we have like a basement living suite, it has everything except
Rob: for a kitchen right, so it has a full bath or a 3 quarter bath and then it has laundry and a bedroom and then we share the kitchen but it has been game changing man and for exactly the reason you said, it’s like sometimes Sherry and I just are 30 minutes off of where we’re not going to be there and the kids are going to be there or sometimes we need to be in 2 places at once or Sherry goes out of town, she went out of town for like 4 or 5 days to Austin for a yoga, some training in aero yoga and it’s like during that time I could handle the kids but they get on the bus at 9 15 in the morning and so that would put me to work at 9 40 and now it’s like you don’t need to be around that much to watch the kids because they’re both in school but I can leave at 8 30 or whatever and someone is just kind of hanging out with them for 45 minutes, so it has been game changing for us.
Mike: Yeah, I can imagine. I mean that’s something that we’re kind of struggling with right now is just trying to manage schedules and it’s just really so early on, but you know hopefully that will straighten itself out but I would love to have a nanny.
Rob: I know, it’s something to think about long term
Rob: man, I mean especially 2 people running businesses right, the idea is your schedules are going to be gnarly and in the long run the business should generate a lot of cash, right. I mean it should turn out more money than you would make with a salaried employee and with those 2 things in mind it’s like all right, then we outsource as much as we can and that’s you know, if you’re still mowing your own lawn or snow blowing your own snow I think that honestly, I think that’s not a good use of our time as entrepreneurs. We moved to Minneapolis and 1 of the 1st things that I did, we already had a lawn service but I was thinking like I’m not shoveling walks and it’s not because I’m above it, I used to do it but now the time versus money trade off is insane. So anyway, that’s kind of my soap box about outsourcing stuff and of course I’m not talking about outsourcing someone raising my children of course, I know that’s probably the joke or what folks are thinking, but it is like outsourcing driving them from school to the house, or outsourcing our live in nanny like the kids go to bed at 8 or 8 30 and so she’s hanging out in her room reading and
Rob: Sherry and I are like it’s 8 30, we’re just going to go out for 2 hours and like have a late dinner and have drinks and talk and you don’t have to hire somebody, there’s no clock running where you’re paying somebody 15 bucks an hour while you’re sitting down the street at a restaurant. I think that about wraps us up for the day, if you have a question for us call our voice mail number at 1 888 801 9690. No one ever calls us anymore.
Mike: They don’t love us.
Rob: I know, we get like 1 call every 2 months. I tell you what if you want us to answer like go to the top of the queue of questions, just call it in because we get so few of them and they’re fun because you get to hear the person’s voice, you can remain anonymous, you don’t have to say your name or your URL if you don’t want too but it’s kind of nice to get those every now and then. You can also email us questions at questions at startups for the rest of us dot com. Our theme music is an exert from We’re Out of Control by Moot and it’s used under creative comments. Subscribe to us in iTunes by searching for Startups and visit Startups for The Rest of Us dot com for a full transcript of each and every episode.
Rob: Although you know what Mike, did you hear that our transcription service again, this is like the 5th 1 we’ve used, they just like disappeared. I know, this happens like probably once a year. I seriously think, we’ll we’ve been doing the podcast for 6 years maybe, 5 or 6.
Mike: Something like that.
Rob: And I literally think we’ve gone through more than a half of dozen of these.
Mike: Are we at 7 now, 7 years?
Rob: Are we? Was it 2010?
Mike: I think so, yeah it was.
Rob: Gosh, dude we are old.
Mike: I know, our podcast is older than most businesses who listen to us.
Rob: Yeah, I know our podcast is older than a lot of children. All right, so anyway transcription service I think Josh, our editor is looking for 1 right now, but it’s just funny how these things just come and go. I guess it’s just such a commodity you know, it’s tough to stand out.
Mike: Well I think that’s the issue with all of them and I think that’s why they come and go because you get the transcriptions and they go for a while and they have a really hard time raising the price because most of them tier their pricing
Mike: in terms of how quickly you get it, like oh if you need it in 24 hours this is what it will cost and it’ll be some outrageous number and then it goes down if you don’t need it for like a week or so and that’s the issues is that there’s that race to the bottom in terms of getting it transcribed and I think that most of them just can’t make ends meet and it’s not just because they don’t have enough business but it’s because they’re not able to pay enough for those people and the business just kinds of implodes at some point.
Rob: All right, back to the outro here. Visit Startups for The Rest of Us dot com for a full transcript of each episode. Thank you for listening and we’ll see you next time.