In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike recap MicroConf Europe 2018. The guys go through the list of speakers of the two day event and highlight some of their key takeaways from each presentation.
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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 Mike.
Rob: And I’m Rob.
Mike: We’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s going on this week, Rob?
Rob: You know, I’m still in Croatia. We’re taking an extended little vacation after MicroConf Europe ended a couple of days ago. Even actually the day the day this goes live next week, I think that’s a day before Halloween, we’re flying back on Tuesday in order to get the kids back for Halloween. They really didn’t want to miss Halloween.
Mike: Oh, interesting.
Rob: Yeah. About that time, we would have been here for over two weeks I believe. Maybe 16 days or something. It’s been a really fun time. I am pleasantly surprised. I found a lot of good things about Croatia. We have travelled a lot so I tend to have high expectations of the places that I go. I want them to be interesting, fun, have history, have natural beauty, have cities with cool thing, just have all the stuff. Croatia has offered that. I’m really impressed with it.
Mike: I came back yesterday. The place is amazing. I don’t even know how to put it into words, to be honest. It was just crazy how awesome the city was. I did a walking tour. I went around like a Game of Thrones tour there, so I went on that. I think Zander went on one of the six hours. Mine was only two but it was still fantastic. What I really liked about the tour was that it actually went into history of the city itself, it wasn’t just Game of Thrones because they also had a tour of the city walls that you could go on. I think it was self-guided.
But you could walk around the entire city, and of course, because the city was built in I don’t even know exactly what year, but I think the walls, they said, they think they were built anywhere between 1100 and 1400, and the city never been breached by a siege. It went into a lot of the history of the Ottoman Empire being nearby and how they were like a conduit back to them from the ocean. It was just fascinating because I’m sort of a history buff, I enjoy history, but I don’t necessarily know a vast array of history but I always find it fascinating.
Rob: Dubrovnik specifically is where the conference is. I think my favorite part of the trip, we were up North, there’s an amazing natural park, waterfalls that was great, we went to some islands, those were fun and sleepy because it’s offseason now which has been nice. I mean, the fact that it hasn’t been crowded, it’s still pretty warm, and it’s inexpensive to be here right now compared to the high season. Dubrovnik has definitely been our favorite time. I’m a wid bit […] we’re going to have been here a week by tomorrow and we’re going to extend our stay and stay for another two or three days and fly out directly from here just because there’s more to do. I went on the two-hour Game of Thrones tour as well and I had a great time. It was nice to be able to walk around and see the scenes, but also get some amazing pictures of the city. I’m impressed. Thumbs up for me.
Rob: How about you?
Mike: Well, like I said, I just got back. I’m burrowing through my emails. That’s the funny part because I’m going through and trying to clear up my email box and of course, because it’s the middle of the day, I’m still getting them in. It’s kind of brushing your teeth while eating oreos but I think I’m down to under a hundred or so right now. It’s just a matter of figuring out what to do with a lot of the rest of them and kind of […] them in and still like, “What to do? When?”
Rob: Yep, yep. It’s just getting it all, gathering it, and it’s like, “Do I throw this into Trello? Do I boomerang…” When I get back, I will boomerang things that I don’t want to log into Trello, I don’t want to put somewhere else, but I know that I need to get to it in a week or so. I will just boomerang it because I know that by that time I will have less in my inbox and I’m just trying to churn through things. I’ve kept up pretty well with email, fortunately. I got a sim card when I got here and so as we were riding on trains or ferries and boats and that kind of stuff, I’ve been trying to keep up with stuff, but it’s always tough on vacation to try to balance that.
Rob: Cool. We are talking about MicroConf Europe 2018 today.
Mike: Yeah. Why don’t we go through some of the speakers, kind of talk about the gist of what it is they were talking about, and kind of pull out some takeaways that the audience can use.
Rob: Sounds great.
Mike: The first speaker was Steli Efti and he talked about what he called, The 7 Deadly Startup Sales Sins. I don’t if he arranged or structured the talk exactly like this when he started because I know he’s given a very similar talk the past couple of weeks at different conferences, but he basically, took the talk itself and shortened it a little bit so that he could do a lot more Q&A. I thought that was a really great way to handle this especially for the size of the audience this year because he was able to really dig in and start digging into people’s specific problems and challenges that they were having about how do you address certain sales situations or how do you handle certain types of objections that other people would have, how you transition between one part of the sales process and the other, how do you get the sales team and the marketing team and the product team all on the same page. I think that was extremely helpful for the audience. He did a fantastic job.
Rob: The nice part is having a talk that I think we had slotted 35 minutes for talks and then you get some Q&A time, 35-40 minutes I think, and he went out for 20 or 25 minutes, but you can pack a lot in that amount of time. We’ve actually shortened our talk times over the years. But for our very first year, we have everybody an hour. That’s a long time to get up on stage, even including Q&A, that’s got 50 minute talk just starts to feel long. We shortened to 45 and sometimes, we do 35, and then 30, and then we found as long as we can fill the days with good content, having more of a shorter talk I think is something that works pretty well. Steli knew, he didn’t accidentally go short.
We’ve had folks do that where they get up there and it’s like, “Boom!” 20 minutes and they’re done and that’s like, “Oh, no. What do we do?” But it was not like that at all. In his first five minutes he goes like, “Look, I’m going to do a short but we’re going to do a lot of Q&A.” and there was. There were a ton of questions. He totally filled out the time. I thought it was a well-delivered talk, as you would expect from Steli. He’s a good speaker, good content, it was a good talk. I thought that was well-received.
Mike: Next we have Ashley Baxter come in from Scotland. Her talk title was, Idea to Execution and Beyond. What I found fascinating about her and one of the reasons I sought her out as a speaker was because she’s in software, she’s been a software developer, and she’s also in the insurance industry. It’s not an industry where you would think that you would probably want to go, I think for the most part. I certainly would not want to deal with the insurance industry. But her company is re-selling insurance to freelancers. She talked about how she built her business and how she grew it, and what people were really looking for, and how to dive into the idea itself, and then also expanding and really hit on the actual pain points that your customers are having, and how to use those in not just your marketing material, but how you talk to them.
She showed some extremely crappy ways of how she was gathering information from the audience that she was going after just by using a simple type form where she’s like, “Oh, people thought this was part of the process to get the information and it really wasn’t. It was just I used that because I didn’t have any feedback loop from the insurance company themselves where they were actually filling-up the information.” She gathered all email address upfront and then send them over and people just kind of thought that, “Oh, this is part of that process.” and it wasn’t. It was so she can get the information she needed.
Rob: Yeah, this was the first time I had met Ashley. When she said she was talking about insurance, I was like, “Oh, no. What have we done?” But she’s like, “No, it’s kind of a joke. I’m not actually talking about the insurance. I’m talking about doing the startup and validating it and the steps I took.” I thought her talk turned out really well. I enjoyed it. I heard some folks talking in hallway about how they enjoyed hearing her journey because it’s a little bit non-traditional. It’s not a SaaS app, but we’ve had really good talks from some folks who sell information products, some people who sell physical products. There are things to be learned and passed along across this disciplines.
Yes, you do want to do that, but when you have a lawyer write that stuff, it’s very different in terms of tone and feel when the users are reading it versus when the marketing team writes it because you are presenting your company to the users like, “Hey, this is what we do with your data and this is why you should trust us.” Not saying you shouldn’t have the legal team review it afterwards, but it depends on your starting point and it’s going to have a very different tone and feel depending on who you have offer it.
Rob: This was another one when Aleth said she was speaking about GDPR. I was like, “Well, this can go one of two ways. It can be really boring or it can be super helpful.” What I like about what she said is when GDPR started coming on our radar at Drip—this is shortly before I had moved on from Drip—I said, “Let legal worry about it.” He said, “No. If they do it, it’ll be a mess. We, as product people, know the product and legal will not. They just won’t have the experience or the knowledge to be able to do this. We need to do it first then they need to make it legal speak.” and it worked out. That’s what we did. Brendan read the whole GDPR document, it’s 200 and something pages, and it worked out really well. She wasn’t recommending you read the whole thing, but she was saying, “You, as a product person, you have to own this.” I think that’s super important.
This is similar to negotiations I’ve seen. If your company is going to be acquired, you don’t want lawyers negotiating before the stuff needs to go to legal. There’s a point where it needs in a contract, before then, keep the lawyers out of it, and either have an investment maker or a broker, of if you’re going to be negotiating yourself, you handle it. But the lawyers in general will make things complicated and they can kill deals just with their approach. They’re trained to do things a certain way and it’s not always the right way.
GDPR, it was actually a really good talk. A couple of people said it was the best talk they’d heard on GDPR. It wasn’t like walking through legislation, it was saying, “Here’s a minimum viable approach to this. Here’s the next level up. Here’s some ways to think about.” It was much more from a more experienced person, not just someone who read a boring document.
Mike: It was definitely positioned as like, “This is the common sense way to approach it for companies that don’t have unlimited resources to be able to do it.”
Rob: Yeah, that’s right. And then we had some attendee talks in the afternoon. We have four attendee talks this year and that’s where admitted topics and they were voted on in advanced based on the topic. The presenter voted in advanced who should give the talks. I thought those went well. There were 12-minute talks, we did four of them in an hour, and they tend to move pretty quick. In general, we tend to have a pretty good luck in it, so that was the case again this year.
Mike: I would agree with that. I do want to call out a special thanks to Benedikt Deicke for putting together a attendee talk at the last minute because we did have an attendee talk that who had been voted on and was going to come and do that and he ended-up having to change his plans, and wasn’t able to make it to MicroConf Europe so I contacted Benedikt a few days before MicroConf and asked him. I was like, “Do you think you could put something together? Yes or No?” and I didn’t want to put him on the spot and force him to do it, but if he hadn’t been able to, we probably wouldn’t have been able to get away with it. But at the same time, I wanted to give him the opportunity if he wanted to. He put together a great talk. I thought it was exceptionally well done for the amount of time that he had.
Rob: Yup, I agree. Kudos to him for stepping up and doing that. And then I wrapped the day up with my talk. I called it, I really messed with the title a lot, and I finally landed on The State of Bootstrapping in 2018. I kind of talked through my journey as a bootstrapper, the phases of doing literally six years of nights and weekends, on and off and never making more $100 a month from the stuff I launched. Then there was this three-year period where I stair-stepped up to having like a house payment type of money, like $1000-$2000 a month. Then over that three years, I got to full-time income.
I went through the phases of what that looked like for me, funding options I have like, finding being nights and weekends, it’s a day job, or you can have savings or whatever. Then I looked at the funding options that we have today because they are definitely more a founder-friendly options. Obviously, I talked about venture capital, what that looks like. I still don’t think it’s fit for almost everyone in the room. Talked about fund-strapping which of course, I’ve talked about on this podcast before. I mentioned what I believe is the next wave or next generation of funding for our crowd basically, for the the MicroConf bootstrapping community which is kind of these funds like […] VC or accelerators I’m launching with TinySeed, at tinyseedfund.com which is bootstrapper-friendly accelerator.
I talked through all that and I got a lot of good questions afterwards. A couple of people said, “I wish you’d spend more time talking about TinySeed,” and I said, “The intent was not for it to be an advertisement for what I’m doing.” It’s not, “Hey, look at what I’m doing.” because if you don’t care about that, why are you sitting in the dock for 30 or 40 minutes. I really wanted it to be helpful to you no matter what you do. If it convinced you that bootstrapping is still the best way for you, then good, at least I convinced at something. If I convinced that you should consider fund-strapping or an accelerator like TinySeed or whatever, my goal was accomplished as well.
Mike: Then we had an evening event out on the terrace right outside where the main hall was where we had the conference itself, and that was sponsored by FE International. It was an absolutely gorgeous view from there because you could see, not just down to the water, the hotel was literally right on the water, and then they have like an infinity pool there with a swim up bar and a hot tub over to the side. It was just like, you could watch the sunset.
I think the second day I was there, there were probably 15 or 20 people just sitting out there, watching the sunset, and there were a few people who took timelapse videos. There’s a couple that got uploaded into the Slack group. It was just amazing view.
Rob: The hotel was the nicest, I’d say the nicest hotel we’ve had at MicroConf Europe at and by far the best location and the best view. Everyone commented on that. Every room has an ocean view. It’s really crazy. It’s so cool to be able to do that and to do it off-season so it wasn’t outrageously expensive. It was €110 a night for these rooms that I believe are twice that, I think they’re €220 in the high season or €240 or something. It’s nice.
Mike: I would say the only confusing thing about the hotel is that because you’re basically coming in from the back and it’s sort of on a cliff, the lobby is above all the other floors. The first floor is actually where you could go down, there’s a place to eat, and you can walk out into the pool area. But the lobby is actually–I think they call it the RC level but was like 9 or 10 or something like that. It’s at the top of the hotel and so the bottom.
Rob: Thank you to FE International for sponsoring MicroConf Europe and for sponsoring that evening event.
Mike: And then on day two, we had Adii Pienaar who came in and talked about fundstrapping. He talked about how he had bootstrapped his company and then he did a seed round, and then he almost did a Series A round and decided that instead of doing that, he just didn’t have the heart to try and convince people—the VCs—that that was the direction that the company really deserved to go in. Instead of trying to spend his effort there he turned around and said, “Okay, well let me just make this company profitable and I can do whatever they want.” They cut expenses, went through a couple of rough decisions, but ultimately, he has made the company profitable and they’ve been profitable since the beginning of the year. It was nice to see that path that he took.
He could’ve probably gotten funding if he really wanted to and he just said, “You know what, I don’t have to. I’m just going to make this company profitable.” and it gave some options. I think it was a nice follow-up to the talk that you had had where you talked about the different funding options and how money makes you make different decisions and profit from Adii’s […] but also gives you an optionality that I think that you don’t always have if you take a giant pile of money and you’re trying to build a big business that needs to grow fast because of the investors.
Rob: Yup. That makes a lot of sense. His was one of my favorite talks, to be honest, because he was so raw. Talk about the emotion, the ups and downs, and really kind of told the whole story. I didn’t feel like he held anything back, he gave exact numbers, he talked about a potential acquisition, and talked about, I believe he said what the price was. It was really so cool to hear all the details and then talk like that. I really appreciated him in coming into this with both the topic and the honesty.
Mike: Next, Dr. Sherry Walling came and she talked about mainly trying to keep the alignment that you have as an entrepreneur, making sure that you are aligned both mentally and physically with the goals that you have as a human being. She talked about how entrepreneurs are basically disruptors and there’s a sense that you want to do something that makes you belong but you also want to be successful. Sometimes those things have a little bit of friction between them but having alignment across that spectrum makes things a lot easier for you.
Rob: I missed most of her talk because I was watching the kids. We have three kids here with us and it was the middle of the day, so I had them, and then I caught the last 15 minutes of the talk. When I walked in, it was towards the end. All the eyes were up on her so I knew that she was capturing the audience. People weren’t off on their phone doing Twitter and stuff. It was good. I heard good things about it in the evening events as well.
But she spent a long time trying to figuring out exactly what she wanted to speak about this year and felt like she was going out on a limb with it. I felt like it really resonated.
Mike: The third talk of day two was Simon Payne. It was the CTO of LeadPages. He had left LeadPages I think shortly before you joined. He’s brought a couple of different things. He ran ConvertPlayer and more recently he’s been involved in a company called EventsFrame which helps event organizers sell tickets, and has different pricing structures.
What I found fascinating about that is that one of the things that they did to help get it out there was they did an AppSumo deal. He’s actually done two different AppSumo deals. First one was a while back and then this one was with EventsFrame. He talked about the behind-the-scene stuff like how that worked, what the, not necessarily the specific numbers of it, but what he saw in terms of like, “Oh, we started out with a hefty amount of traffic here and then there’s follow-up emails, and this is how we dealt with people who are already using the software,” and then they saw the AppSumo deal.
You do something like that where you don’t necessarily have control over who it goes to or the messaging, you may have to deal with customer support issues of somebody who says, “Hey, I bought this at this price and now I see this thing over here where you’re offering that.” He talked about how they handled that. I thought it was a really interesting way of approaching some of the objections that people may have about that.
Rob: For sure. And then we have typically seen this. If you’re doing a SaaS app, you […] craft a different plan that doesn’t match any of the plans on your pricing page. You probably put it in between two of the plans. Whatever you do, you just make it different so there is no direct comparison. They had some clever ways of working around that as well. Overall, it sounds like it was pretty successful for them and they’re off to a good start with EventsFrame. I enjoyed the talk. I like stories, he talked about the story and if you’re thinking about doing an AppSumo deal or even any of the deal a day things, it will apply to any of them. I felt like there was some value there.
Next up was Ashley Greene. The title of her talk was, Tech Changes, People Don’t: User Research Is Your Secret Growth Weapon. She is a user-research expert, that’s what she does for a living. She’s a consultant. She talked a lot about segmenting your users and surveying them, and figuring out which folks use which features, and which folks asks for which features. I caught most of it. I was actually in the middle of, there was this conference stuff coming up, so I kept having to get up. But the pieces that I caught I liked and I could tell there were certain folks in the audience who it really resonated with.
With talks like this, about user research, some people aren’t at the phase where it matters yet or they’re past the phase where it matters although you’re kind of never past that phase. But essentially, in the early days of customer […] that’s when, I would say, matters most. As a product matures, you can still do it, but it’s definitely, I would say not as, in my opinion, not as critical or something you should do. You’re doing everyday and make something in the early days. There were definitely some people who were really focused in on it, a lot of good questions for her at the end of the talk.
And then you wrapped up the day and the conference with the talk called, I’m Not Even Supposed to be Here. What’s that all about?
Mike: Well, we had a speaker who canceled at the last minute. I was flying out on Friday and I got an email on Thursday saying, “Look, there’s some stuff going on.” I’m not going to talk about it on the podcast because it’s his story, but I totally understand why he had to cancel. I feel more bad for him that he had to cancel than me for having to fill in. But just because he wasn’t able to make it, I didn’t want to leave the attendees in a lurch so I ended-up coming up with a talk at the very last minute to basically fill the time.
You could tell me how it went, but I completely pulled it out of thin air to be perfectly honest on extremely short notice. I had to work from notes. I would say that the presentation was probably the worst talk that I’ve ever given, but given the timeframe and the zero practice and everything else, it probably wasn’t terrible.
Rob: That was the thing, you had no practice, and you literally had notes that you had learn from, so it was tough. I would agree with you. Certainly, you’ve given talks that are a lot better than it both in prep, it’s hard. The first part, you have a lot of jokes, Morgan Freeman kind of internet meme stuff, and I felt the timing on some of them was off. I think by that time, people were tired. It was two days into the conference and I think it didn’t necessarily resonate with everyone but then you went into like, “Things go wrong, what do you do when they go wrong?” You started giving examples of all the things that have gone wrong behind-the-scenes at MicroConf over the past 16 conferences we’ve run. That part was fun for me, for sure. I think people got a kick out of it. And then you went into stuff that has gone wrong with you, like health issues and such, and kind of wrapped it up with, “Here’s what we do about it. We’re entrepreneurs.” I felt overall it was a good message.
The content was good, the delivery was unpracticed. It is what it is at that point, but we need some way to wrap up the conf.
Mike: After that, we had another evening reception on the terrace again and it was sponsored by SureSwift Capital. Again, another big thanks and shout out to SureSwift for stepping up and helping us to sponsor and support MicroConf. This is the third time that they’ve sponsored MicroConf. Honestly, it’s great to have sponsors like SureSwift Capital and FE International who really just want to support the community. They want to help people be successful. They like to interact with the attendees too. I think in general, the sponsors we have at MicroConf are fantastic in their attitudes and their willingness to just come in and help. They’re like, “We just want to support this community.” Obviously, I can’t say enough good things about both FE International and SureSwift.
Rob: It’s really nice to have, like you said, sponsors that I would do business with or have done business with because then you know, I can genuinely vouch for them, I don’t feel bad about letting them come up and talk on stage for two or three minutes or ask for information or intro-ing them to people, or whatever. We would thank them up from stage like, “Thanks to these guys. They’re legit. We like them.” It’s nice to have that luxury I think.
Mike: Yeah, it’s nice for everybody I think, everybody involved.
Rob: Overall, 16th, one in the bag. How does it feel?
Mike: It feels good. I’m hoping that I will get a goodnight of sleep tonight. I just got back yesterday. I think I left at one o’clock, Croatia time. When I got home, it was 9:00 PM for me, so it was like three o’clock in the morning, something like that. 13 hours of travel, 14 hours of travel which I really shouldn’t be complaining because I know that there are some people who come into MicroConf Vegas and they travelled 25 or 30 hours to be there.
Rob: Totally. That’s the thing for me too. I don’t know if you can hear it in my voice, but I have a little bit of head cold, I’m also super tired. It’s Thursday and the conference ended Tuesday night so you’d expect on Wednesday you’d be tired, but then last night, Sherry and I just went down to the bar to literally have a drink and to have a conversation. Of course, we’ve run into some MicroConf and the we stayed way too late. I still haven’t caught up on sleep. I’m trying to make a plan to do that tonight. But it’s almost dinner time and already I’m thinking, “You know, it’d be nice to just hit the bar and just have a little…watch the sunset right now.” We’ll see where all that leads.
Mike: After the evening reception was over, there were a ton of people that went down to the —actually, I should say up—to the reception area or the lobby area because they have a bar there and they have a piano and somebody went and got on the piano. One of the attendees plays piano and he just played for like 1 hour, 1 ½ or something like that. It reminded me a lot of the very first MicroConf when Marcus got onto the piano up in Andrew Warner’s room. We were all hanging out there. It reminded me a lot of that.
Rob: Yeah, it was fun. It was impromptu. I thought it was really neat. It kind of showed the community that’s like, the conference was over, the conference party was over, and yet, there people were gathering, hanging out, talking, networking/making jokes/playing the piano and just having drinks. I thought that was nice.
Mike: I would totally agree and I would totally go back.
Rob: I know. We’ll have to see if we can pull it off again next year because Croatia sure is a nice destination.
Mike: Well, with that said, I think you should take us out.
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