In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike talk about their 10 key takeaways from MicroConf 2018.
Items mentioned in this episode:
Rob: In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Mike and I talk about the 10 key takeaways from MicroConf 2018. This is Startups For The Rest Of Us episode 392.
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: I’m Mike.
Rob: We’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. To where this week sir?
Mike: Well, just following-up on all the post-conference work from MicroConf. We had the two editions back-to-back again. It was an overall resounding success. Most of the feedback that I have seen has been pretty good. The conference itself has been outstanding. If you downsize in terms of certain hotel rooms and things like that, but I think generally speaking, everything went really, really well.
Rob: Yeah, at this scale, we know now that something will always go wrong with someone. When you’re moving 400-425 people, whatever it is, something is going to happen at some point. You just hope that overall—the conference, the speakers do well, and the contents there, and the attendees are cool, and everybody gets along—you just kind of try to manage it.
I felt really good about this year. This is the second year since we split Starter and Growth, and I feel like this was perhaps, had better overall conference experience this year.
Mike: I agree. I definitely agree with that.
Rob: In other MicroConf news, I realized–I don’t know but we had promoted that our 2017 MicroConf talk videos are all available for purchase. It’s $99 for Starter, $99 for Growth, or $149 for both. We will link that up in the show notes, but if you go to Vimeo, and you search for MicroConf 2017, you can just purchase it right there through Vimeo.
I sent out an email yesterday, if you’re already on the list, but if you’re interested in hearing about future videos, we sell the videos in order to subsidize the cost of the recording, because it’s no trivial feat to get a company like LessFilms to fly two guys out with all the camera equipment and hang out for four days, in essence, and then edit all that, and produce it, so we’re selling to help augment that.
If you have enjoyed MicroConf videos in the past, we do have MicroConf 2012 through 2016 that are all live for free, available on the microconf.com website. You can check that out.
Another thing is we need questions for the podcast. I think we’re down to maybe three or four questions at this point, so if you have a question for us, you should record an mp3 and you can email it at email@example.com or you can call our voicemail at 888-801-9690 or you can always email a text question, and we’ll read it on air.
We’ve been doing one or two Q&A episodes a month and those seem to be pretty valuable to folks. It’s nice to have other voices on the podcast. If you have questions, please send them in.
Mike: I assume that our agenda for this week is the takeaways from MicroConf 2018. Correct?
Rob: That’s right. We’re going to pull some takeaways from some of the talks. Unfortunately, I was trying to do the math in my head and I think between Starter and Growth, and the attendee talks, there were 30 different talks on stage–give or take one.
I was trying to do the math in my head, but there’s no way we could possibly talk about all the talks even though the quality of the talks this year was very, very high. I’m not just saying that because it’s a conference we run. I was really impressed with a lot of newcomers who had never spoken on the MicroConf stage, and how typically there are some misses when that happens because MicroConf is such a high-speaking bar, and it’s so different than so many other conferences, but really, people kind of crushed it, almost across the board.
We can’t possibly mention all 30 talks, but we have distilled it down. We’re going to talk about 10 key takeaways that we got. If you want to do a deep dive into the talks, there is a site, it’s at microconfrecap.com. Thanks to Christian Genco for taking copious notes over the course of that four days and then John Hwang who was helping him by recording audio files, there’s kind of like 6-minute versions of some of the talks where they interviewed speakers, and then they’re posting it there, there are photographs of the speakers. They really did it up this year in a way that makes it look really cool.
Mike: That whole MicroConf Recap site that Christian put together is absolutely amazing. You can go over there and sign-up for a mailing list that he’s got there, but every single speaker is listed. There’s all sorts of stuff there.
I was talking with him about this, he wrote an app that would allow him to basically take these notes better and put them out there, which is just amazing that he went through all that effort to be able to take notes quicker, and to be able to publish them faster, and format them in a way that actually looks really, really nice.
Rob: conferencenotes.com. I see a SaaS app in his future. It would be a rough market, but it is funny and it was cool that he kind of put it together. Across the two conference, I think we had about 250 folks at Growth, and we had somewhere around 150 at Starters. Somewhere between 400-425, I think is what we’re talking about who came through over the course of those four days.
I picked out some feedback because we’ve got the Growth and Starter surveys back where we ask attendees to rate speakers and give us feedback. I wanted to call a couple of them out. The first one, you had asked for jokes because that’s kind of our schtick, we tell kind of nerdy, programmery, and often bad jokes from stage, and one comment was, “I thought Rob’s jokes were funny and spot on.” Boom.
Mike: Was that comment from you? Did you put in that?
Rob: No. That’s a good guess. I don’t know. I didn’t recognize the name of who it’s from, but I think they were kind of implying like, “Why you’re asking for other jokes, it sounds like you guys got this dialed in.” I thought that was funny.
But then there was another comment that was like, “Any jokes but the ones Rob was telling.” It was the exact opposite. It was great.
Here’s this other–this would literally like one was above the other in the document. This is to show you, if you haven’t run an event like this or you haven’t worked with a community, the amount of information, and differing information, and differing opinions you can see is illustrated by these two things and I brought them in here because I literally read one above it and I went down, and I was like, “Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me.”
The first comment is, “The Q&A With Patrick Collison, Co-Founder of Stripe was outstanding. It would be nice to see more Q&A sessions with high profile individuals.” Right below that, “The Stripe Q&A seemed really out of place and was probably the worst talk for me. It was unrelatable. If I wanted to hear about Silicon Valley, I would go to a Silicon Valley Conference.” Isn’t that kind of just where you have to sit when you have this many people?
Mike: I think it is, but I think it also illustrates a big problem that as entrepreneurs, we kind of have to navigate where you get all these information that’s coming in and some of it is directly conflicting with one another. You have to interpret or read between the lines a little bit and see how certain things feel versus what’s the feedback is that you’re getting, because a lot of the feedback that you’re getting comes from a certain point view or a set of past experiences and interests that people have.
You can’t always align with everything. You can’t make everybody happy. It’s just not going to happen, but you have to do what you believe is right even if that means pissing some people off or making them upset about what the decisions you’re making are.
It’s a tough road to navigate I think, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to make the decisions to move forward. You can’t just be paralyzed and not do anything because then you’ll just never get anything done.
Rob: To realize that it’s never going to be perfect. You’re never going to please everybody and your apps are never going to be down, your conferences are never going to be down. This is our 15th time we’ve run a MicroConf and you’re always adjusting and trying to make it better.
With that, let’s dive into a few of the takeaways. I’ll start with some of the talks from Growth, in no particular order.
I really enjoyed Nadya Khoja’s talk. It was called the 12 Principles Of Viral Content. Nadya is the Director of Marketing at Venngage. It’s a SaaS app that helps you create infographics and interesting viral content in essence.
My takeaway from here is that there really can be a thought process and almost a system for creating content that is more likely to go viral. I’ve seen Matt Inman, The Oatmeal, he was interviewed by Andrew Warner of Mixergy about how do you make this stuff go viral and he was just like, “Look,” this was Matt, he was like, “I’m one of the best in the world at this. This is really hard to do.” Andrew kept trying to pull a system out and Matt just has one in his head, but he wasn’t totally able to communicate it.
What I liked about Nadya’s talk is that she broke it down into pieces. Just a couple of it—we’re not going to go through all 12, obviously—but a couple the things she mentioned were like, bust a myth, challenge the status quo, reframe the question, bring in a new perspective, mash up multiple topics like Star Wars with Game of Thrones or whatever. I enjoyed this and I also heard positive feedback from folks in the audience about it.
Mike: I think the other thing that I took away from her talk was because of her role at Venngage. They have all these things that they’re doing and they’re constantly doing that stuff. Not everything is going to be a hit, not everything is not going to go viral, but being consistent about trying these different things and putting out different infographics or making different articles, concentrated on different headlines, those all contribute to the overall success.
It’s not about whether an individual thing that you do goes viral, it’s about the number of attempts that you make and trying to get at least some of them to go viral. You don’t need to make everything successful, but as long as a certain percentage of them do well, then you’re fine.
Rob: For her, it’s pattern matching. They’ve tried a bunch of different things and this is what has worked for them, and that’s what I like. I always love those stories on MicroConf stage. It’s like coming out of the experience of someone who has actually boots on the ground doing it.
Another talk that was–well, it was the Q&A I mentioned earlier. It was Patrick Collison, co-founder of Stripe which, at this point, what’s their valuation, you think? $10 billion or something? $8-$12 billion?
Mike: That’s above what it is. I think I saw $9 billion but it’s almost immaterial when you get up to those many zeroes.
Rob: It’s crazy. The reason we have Patrick on stage, one of the reasons, is that he and his brother, John bootstrapped it for months and months. I don’t if it was over a year, but it was a long time before they went and raised funding and really at the core of the company is this bootstrapper ethos.
I enjoyed talking to him. I had interviewed him a couple years ago on stage. You had interviewed his brother, John last year on the Starter stage. It’s always kind of a pleasure to have those guys come into town and hang out with some of MicroConf attendees.
Mike: I do find his outlook on just the world and the technology industry very enlightening and very different, I think, from most of what you find in Silicon Valley, and most of the tech companies that are out there. They see their role as really to foster the tech community because by helping other startups, basically like you are raising the ocean, you’re floating all ships in the tech industry.
I think that that’s a really unique approach that they’re at the scale where they can do that at scale and not really have to worry about the finances and the ROI of certain things. They can just do things that they think are the right thing to do that will help certain parts of the ecosystem.
I think their Stripe Atlas program is exactly one of those things. One of the things that I thought was extremely, I’ll say gratifying in some way, but the fact that they essentially launched those on the same day that MicroConf started, and they started talking about it that day, and again, from the stage as well, it was just really nice to see that that was brought to the MicroConf community.
Rob: The Stripe Atlas LLC, right? Because Atlas had previously been C Corps. I guess, you could change stuff in the S Corps, but realizing that a lot of business just want to be an LLC and have pass through revenue and it took a lot of work for them to do this, and they basically kind of announce it at MicroConf. In essence, it was super cool.
Mike: The other thing I like is the humility of where they came from. The one quote that really caught me off guard on stage when he was talking about their early days, when they were trying to partner with one of the larger banks was he said, “We were like three squirrels in a trenchcoat masquerading as a real business.” Of course, it got a lot of laughs from the audience, but that’s, I think how a lot of entrepreneurs feel when they’re trying to pitch a big business. They’re just the small fish in the giant ocean. They have no power and they’re just sort of lying to everybody about who they are, but they’re not lying about themselves. It’s just that they feel that way.
Rob: I love that image of the squirrels in a trenchcoat. It’s just like in the cartoons. Our next talk was my talk. It was 12 Lessons I learned Moving from Bootstrapped to Venture Backed, where I talk about having bootstrapped really since 2000 was when I started bootstrapping companies and then in 2016, Drip was acquired by Leadpages and I had two years kind of looking on the inside of a venture backed company.
I pulled out the pros and cons that I felt like venture funding lent to this company. Now, I think it hurt the org and how I think it made some of the things we did a lot easier. I was less stressed and we could hire a specialist. We could hire senior talent instead of having to train everybody we could use a dedicated recruiter.
Didn’t have to worry about so much about little dollars—$100, $200 subscription. I used to spend hours and hours trying to find the cheapest thing because as a bootstrapper, every penny counts, but when you have some funding, you can be a tiny bit looser that and that saves quite a bit of time.
Mike: I think what you talked about was a really good contrast between being in a position where you can let things slip through the cracks and it doesn’t matter. I remember years and years ago, I was looking at various things that were going on in the industry. I’ve had a conversation with a support rep, or some piece of software wouldn’t work, or even when I was back at Pedestal, there was a bug that I distinctly remember, I was like, “We really need to fix this. This is a problem.” They’re like, “We’ll just push it. It’ll go out in the next release or the release after.” I was like, “But this is big. This is an important thing.” And they’re like, No, no. Later on.” I’m like, “How can you not care about it?” The reality is it’s not that you don’t care. It’s about prioritization.
I think, as a bootstrapper, your priorities tend to be around preserving money so that the business has financial room to operate versus when you’re a big business or you’re funded, it doesn’t matter so much. You can let things go until later on because they are not so large that it makes that big of an impact in the business or how it operates or customers at their tracks.
Rob: Right. I think my key takeaway, kind of the second takeaway for this episode is that you should never be dogmatic about being anti-venture or anti-bootstrapping or whatever. I did come to the conclusion–kind of in the talk that I don’t think anyone in this room should probably raise venture funding because it brings with it a board, and you lose the control, and it’s really tough but it does come with some pluses.
But that there is this in between ground that has just started to develop over the past, I’ll say, three to five years, and it’s this concept of fund strapping where you raise a small round and you never plan to raise institutional money. You only get from individual investors so you don’t have a board, and you don’t give up control, and you don’t get it to $100 millon to make a lot of money for everybody, and so that “could be” an alternative.
I was saying, at the top of my head, I was like, “I bet it’s like 5% of the people in here maybe should consider this.” Because you have to be growing fast enough, it has to be a big enough market for that to make sense, and everyone else should keep bootstrapping—just like we’ve always talked about—but this was just kind of one more alternative that gets you some of the advantages of raising funding without the disadvantages of going a true venture model because one you do venture, it’s institutional money, and the game changes.
Our next talk was How to Be Funny (Even If You’re Not): Improv-Inspired Copywriting Tips for Software Founders. It was from Lianna Patch and it was hilarious. It was really, really well-done. This was one of my favorite talks.
Mike: I agree. I would have to say it was probably my favorite talk as well. I’m not biased just because she wrote some of the copy that’s on the Bluetick website and in the Bluetick emails, but just her stage presence, her ability to break it down, and be serious about like, “These are the things that will resonate with your audience and these are the things that you should really avoid when trying to be funny in your copy.” She knew that stuff cold.
It’s obvious she practices her craft a lot and deeply understands what is going to work and what isn’t. I think that’s partly because of her improv background as well. She does a lot of that. I think she’d done stand up comedy as well, but she really appreciates the value of being able to put yourself in other people’s shoes and understand what is going to be funny to everybody versus being deprecating about your comedy to other people.
Rob: The takeaway here—there’s obviously a lot of takeaways. Again, microconfrecap.com if you want to see the detailed notes. But the big takeaway I got is humor makes people happy. You want people to be happy while they’re using your app. It gives your app personality. It makes people give you the benefit of the doubt. I really enjoyed this talk and hope to have Lianna back at a future conference.
Mike: I do think that it was ironic that the second question that she got in the Q&A was somebody who got up and said, “I’m in the funeral industry.”
Rob: Man, that was funny. I thought that was the first question. I don’t think he meant it to be funny, but I was laughing hysterically. Her reaction on stage, it was like a face palm. She’s like, “I cannot believe that’s the question.”
Mike: She had a great answer for it though. She said, “It depends a lot on how your audience views death.” I think that’s just very insightful. That’s part of why I like her so much because she has that ability to hone in on what makes it funny and why, and when is it appropriate and when it is not. I think that that differentiates you from people who are jerks about it versus they’re actually legitimately funny. Because they know when to be funny and when not to.
Rob: Another talk from Growth that I wanted to call out was from Ankur Nagpal, From $0 To $10M ARR: The Tactics We Used To Scale Teachable. He founded teachable.com. I imagine many people listening to this have heard of it and has done a lot of hustle to get where they are.
My takeaway was he talked about, they set a pretty aggressive growth pace, and that they found things that didn’t scale every month to hit that growth pace. Then at a certain point, they couldn’t get to that point anymore. They’d have to grow $100,000 of MRR in a month and they couldn’t just throw one-off things like they were doing for the first couple of years, that’s when they had to switch into this kind of sustainable flywheel mode. There was a lot of actionable stuff.
If you want to bootstrap a business and you wanted to let that business grow it to a few hundred grand, that’s great, and this talk probably won’t be for you, there’ll be some takeaways. But if you find yourself in a space like we did a couple of years ago with Drip where suddenly it was like, “Oh, good God. This is a huge market. It’s really big. We kind of need to grow or we’re going to get squashed.” This is the kind of talk that you need to hear. It was super actionable and I appreciated Ankur sharing that with the audience.
Mike: I think it was very insightful that he also showed the scale that they’re at, it takes people to get there, because you can’t just slap together an app, and expect that three people are going to be able to build something that’s going to get to millions of dollars of revenue each year and, yes, you hear those Silicon Valley stories about people who create this app and then it gets acquired by Facebook for billions of dollars, but that’s not common. Most people never go through that. That’s a unicorn story. But unfortunately, that resonates in the news and in the tech articles that you see.
He talked about how the fact was that in order to get to 12,000 customers, it took them 64 people to get there. It’s interesting that if you look at the graphs of the revenue and stuff that he showed, it takes time, and it’s a fairly steady slope. It’s kind of The Long, Slow, SaaS Ramp of Death from Gail Goodman from Constant Contact. She had that talk at Business of Software several years ago. Almost without fail, like you talked to most founders, that’s exactly what it looks like—it’s long, slow, and it’s boring but it’s what gets you there.
Rob: The last Growth talk I wanted to call out was just such an outlier, it was really well-delivered. It was an attendee talk by Chad DeShon. He runs boardgametables.com and the title was Everything You’ve Learned at MicroConf is Wrong*—with an asterisk by it. It was a little tongue and cheek but it was the fact that he basically started a B2C company make selling physical goods with no recurring revenue.
He had points like recurring revenue is so overrated. He talks about how if you get your LTV all upfront, you have more cash coming in and your plan is overrated. It is possible to move downmarket, just listen to podcast at 1x. He says, “Seriously, you don’t have to cram information into your ears as fast as possible. Take a deep breath and relax, it will be okay.” It was great. It was filled with humor but also, it’s a nice sanity check on the stuff that we pour out that yes, it is best practice and will get you to the multi-million dollar SaaS company or the hope you grow, whatever. He had another lens on it and I felt it was a bit of a breath of fresh air in his 12-minute attendee talk.
Mike: I think Chad’s real point is just that just because something is best practice information or that it’s a general practice that most people should follow, doesn’t mean that it’s an absolute, concrete rule that everyone needs to follow, and that will always work. There are cases like his where those things will not work or there are exceptions that you can leverage based on what your product is and what your industry is. You can still do what you want and be successful if you are mindful of those other things–those general practices, but don’t take them as absolute law.
Rob: Then switching over to Starter, in the interest of time here, this is really is a bummer, man. I wish we could talk about more of the talks because there were a lot of other exceptional talks that were given at both conferences. I wanted to kickoff Starter by giving a big shout out and a thank you to Justin Jackson. He emceed and he had basically the kickoff talk that kind of sets the stage for MicroConf. It’s a ton of work to emcee a conference, you and I know, and so to ask him to do it—volunteer basis—it was super cool that he was able to do it and he did a great job.
The first talk was Justin’s. It was called, An Unconventional Way to Validate Your Product Idea. In typical fashion, he tells a story, he talks about choosing the right customer is more important than what you sell, starting small is always almost better than going big, on and on. Other stuff that was, I think, really pertinent to the Starter audience.
I really liked the way he thought about there’s product market fit, product founder fit, and founder market fit, talking about what do you value? Do you enjoy this market? Then talked about customer resource. He kind of laid out a blueprint for validating. I think the talk was quite well-received.
Mike: Definitely, a big thanks to Justin. I do appreciate that he came on stage and he said the things that are not necessarily directly related to making the business itself successful, it’s making sure that it’s successful for you as well. Because as you said, the founder market fit, that’s a big thing. If you get bored by a particular product or industry, you’re not going to want to do it, you’re going to be less motivated.
I think that other founders have talked about that in the past in certain public and potentially non-public areas. I’m not going to name names or anything, but that can definitely happen. If you don’t really like what it is that you’re doing, it’s really hard to be motivated to go through those tough times, and it’s easier to give up.
Rob: Another notable talk was from Adam Wathan, it was called Nailing Your First Launch. Also, good story with actionable takeaways, talked about launching essentially information products about teaching people how to use Laravel, and testing their Laravel, and that kind of stuff, and in just two years, he made about $650,000 from his info-products, kind of a not a cold start but almost. He pulled things in, he pulled my stair-step approach in, he talked about building an audience but gave super actionable things, of actual screenshots of tweets, and kind of what works, talked about picking an idea, testing it, and on and on. This was one of the talks that I heard the most about at Starter–that people loved. It was almost like a case study but it was entertaining as well, so it wasn’t dry. He just had a ton of info here.
Mike: I think part of the thing that resonated with most people is that it was starting from ground zero because most of the people at Starter are at that very, very early stage–anywhere from, “I’m still looking for an idea,” all the way up to, “I just launched but I’m certainly nowhere close to making a fulltime revenue on it. It’s going to a while before I get there.” I think Adam’s talk really resonated with a lot of people because it demonstrated how to get some of the growth and some of the different levers that you could toggle in order to get, and it’s obviously not all of them, but an info-product is a lot different than a SaaS product.
Being able to have the confidence that, “Oh, yes, it’s just a book or just a course,” but $600,00 over the course of two years is nothing to sneeze at. I think that that message alone resonates with people to be able to get to that point in only a couple of years versus the people who sit there and say, “Well, I’d really like to start a business but I’m not sure about it,” and it takes them five years or even 10 years to even pull the trigger and do something.
Rob: Another notable talk was from Alli Blum who has appeared on this podcast, title was, Why (and how) to start thinking about teaching people how to use your product… even if it isn’t built yet. She went deep into onboarding which is her area of specialization.
She calls herself a SaaS onboarding optimization consultant and so she’s knee-deep in tons of SaaS apps. She talked about the mistakes she sees that are super common, the vacation photos approach, the too much too soon approach, the bad intern approach, and then she talks about how to improve upon that, and how to keep it simple, but then really dives into the nuts and bolts of how to put your email together, and then the impact that can have, and then kind of had a case study at the end.
Again, what I liked about this is it was a process, and a very specific instructional thing that if this is the problem you’re trying to solve right now, this is like mind blowingly applicable.
Mike: I think that the whole email onboarding process is something that can be difficult to figure out when you’re first doing it because there’s so many things you could do. It’s a question of where do I start, what should I say here, how do I fit all these pieces together, and you can very easily find yourself in a situation where you’re going too far in a particular direction and you’re not thinking strategically about the whole picture of bringing somebody on-boarded into your app, so you go too far on one direction or the other. Alli’s talk was a great way to balance those things out and provide that instructional manual or the roadmap to tell you, “This is how to do it. These are the steps to go through and this is how it will work for you.”
Rob: Another talk I wanted to call out was from Mr. Mike Taber. It’s called Following up… Without looking and feeling like a dirt bag. You talk about email follow-up, why to do it, what happens on the other end, and why don’t we follow-up. This, of course, is from all your experience with Bluetick. How did you feel about your talk?
Mike: I thought it went really well. I gave a version of this talk in FemtoConf a couple of months ago. I did make some changes to it based on the feedback that I got. Overall, it was still largely the same talk, I just cut out pieces that were irrelevant or didn’t make much difference. I definitely spruced up the slides a little bit more this time around because I think before, there were some things that I think weren’t necessarily as clear, and the new presentation I think helped.
Rob: The key takeaway for me here was you had the four pillars of follow-up success. The first is when to send, second is personalization, third is clearly defining a single action you want to take, and the fourth is to automate it so you don’t have to sit there and do everything yourself.
Mike: I think that last piece there is the one that most people don’t really get to. They don’t systemize it or processize it so that it makes sense and can kind of operate in the background because most of the times, I see people coming over to Bluetick to use it. They’ve done a few follow-ups here and there, but lots of things start slipping through the cracks and that’s really why you need to have a process or a system in place that’s going to help prevent those types of things, because everytime you don’t follow-up on an email, whether it’s the third or fourth one, that’s what’s going to cost you the money.
Rob: Another talk that I thought was quite well-done was Marie Poulin’s talk. It was called The Sustainable SaaS: What Permaculture Can Teach Us About Building Software. She’s in the midst of co-founding a SaaS herself. She has online courses. She has all kinds of stuff, and so again, was able to pull from her experience.
Permaculture, if you’re not familiar with it, it’s a set of techniques and principles for designing sustainable human settlements. It’s a lot about like farming, and gardening, and keeping things so that you don’t need a bunch of outside resources in order to live. It was cool that she kind of had her timeline, 2014 through 2018 of these missteps, and how they line up with things that you would do on permaculture. It was a running metaphor the entire time.
Mike: As a running metaphor, I think it fit really well because the audience itself at MicroConf, whether you’re talking about the Growth edition or Starter edition, the vast majority of these people are coming because they want to build a life for themselves and their families that is going to be sustainable over the long term.
They’re not looking to come in and find a market, build something, get a bunch of money into it, and flip it in two years, three years, four years. They’re looking much longer term and it’s not to say that they won’t sell it in two, or three years, or fours years, but they’re trying to find something that’s going to be sustainable for them moving forward, that they can build a life around that allows them to do the things that they want to, and have the freedom of flexibility that being an entrepreneur should be able to give you.
Rob: The last talk from Starter is Courtland Allen’s talk, Navigating the Startup Landscape. Courtland Allen who has also appeared on the show, he founded IndieHackers, they’ve been acquired by Stripe. He and his brother now work for Stripe and run indiehackers.com. I thought he nailed it. He compared starting a startup to this four different landscapes. One is like an airplane taking off, one is panning for gold, one is climbing a rock wall at a gym, and he had these pretty deep metaphors that run well.
He talked a lot of the myths and that’s what I appreciate about him. He’s done, I think he said 300 or 400 interviews with startup founders. If you go to indiehackers.com, there’s this big wall of apps and revenue, and all that kind of stuff. He’s kind of pulled that out between him and his brother have pulled that out of all of these people. To me, I loved hearing the myths of like, “Well, this is probably how you think. You think that Dropbox just started growing because they had this dual referral system and that’s what everyone always talks about. Here’s what it actually look like,” and then he called some other apps where the common myth is that they grew through this one big thing.
Hotmail, with their email link and the footer or Airbnb where they added photographers and hockey sticked them. It was kind of like, “Yeah, it helped.” But there were also 50 other things they were doing really doing well and they had a huge team of people constantly executing, and eventually they just hit critical mass.
I appreciated the reality check and I also thought his talk was really well-delivered. I thought the metaphor held up and I thought the analogies helped me kind of understand the content better.
Mike: The one I actually thought was really funny in his talk was the startup runway of almost certain death. He had a picture of an airplane going off of a cliff and on the other side of the cliff, there’s an ocean, and it’s got a shark jumping out of the water, and there’s snakes, and a wall of spears, and fire. It was just very on point, I’ll say.
Rob: Yeah, that was cool. Two more MicroConfs down, sir. 14 and 15, I think it took a lot out of both of us this year.
Mike: Yeah, definitely for sure. Although, I do want to say there’s one other thing that we did this year that we have not done at scale in the past, which was we instituted the scholarship program for Starter Edition.
Of all the things that have happened this year, I’m probably most proud of that one because it was a lot of behind-the-scene stuff that we really didn’t talk about on the podcast, and we didn’t talk about or market too much because I was still trying to figure things out. But we had a bunch of sponsors who stepped up and really helped make it happen. I think that it’s something that we could do more often moving forward. In the past we’ve had individuals do it, Patrick Mackenzie has done it a couple of times.
We’ve obviously offered sponsors quietly in the background because we can’t help everyone, but there are certain situations where it feels warranted and you really just want to do the right thing and help people who are in a position to help themselves but they just need that little extra push.
I want to send a big thanks out to Stripe, Sureswift Capital, Brian Marble, Scott Nixon, and Balsamiq Software, and Azlo for helping put the scholarship program together and make it possible for, I think it was between 12 and 15 scholarships that we gave out this year for Starter Edition. Definitely, a big round of thanks to those guys.
Rob: Sure. You know man, you obviously headed this part up, I know you put a ton of time and energy into it, so thanks for doing that. I think it’s a huge win for MicroConf and I think it’s a big win for the community as well.
Mike: I think, with that, we’d call it a day. If you have a question for us, you can call it into our voicemail number at 888-801-9690 or you can email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.