In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob checks in with Mike Taber’s progress on Bluetick. They revisit some topics that were brought up from their last episode together including motivation, personal retreat, accountability, the Google audit and more.
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Rob: Welcome to this week’s episode of Startups for the Rest of Us. I’m your host, Rob Walling. Each week on the show, we cover topics related to building and growing startups in a way that’s designed for the rest of us, for the folks who can’t move to the big city, can’t move to the Silicon Valley, don’t want to sacrifice their life or their family to grow a company. We value relentless execution and we have a long-term mindset so we think in terms of years, not months, maybe even decades. As such, we don’t burn ourselves out by working crazy hours, sacrificing our health, sacrificing our relationships. This week, I circle back and catch up with Mike Taber, again, on his progress and learn about how he’s doubling down on Bluetick. This is Startups for the Rest of Us episode 461.
Welcome to Startups for the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers, and entrepreneurs be awesome at building, launching, and growing startups, whether you’ve built your fifth startup or you’re thinking about your first. I’m Rob, and today with Mike Taber. We’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the mistakes we’ve made.
Welcome to the show, thanks for joining me. Today’s a bit of a longer episode because I find when Mike and I catch up, he just has a lot going on. The feedback I’ve heard is not to cut it short. Typically, our Startups for the Rest of Us episodes have been 25 to 35 minutes over the years, some of the interviews run a little long and the conversations with Mike, often, they’re just pretty fun. Frankly, I feel the conversation is valuable. We touch on a lot of interesting things today that I know a lot of people are struggling with based on the emails, tweets, and reaches out that he and I have been receiving. I did allow this one to go a little long and I’ll see what I can do in the future to keep them a little shorter.
I plan to do this about every month to touch-base with Mike, to keep up on his progress. It gives him enough time to execute on things, for things to change, and I really love following the thread of any founder and that’s what the show has been for 460 episodes. We’ve always had the teaching aspect, we’ve had interviews, we’ve had hot seats, but I think the most compelling thing that keeps people coming back over these years is our stories. It’s following the journeys that we’ve traveled as entrepreneurs and it’s interesting.
While I’m going to continue doing Q&A episodes, hot seats, some interviews sprinkled here and there, I do want to touch base with Mike every three or four episodes depending on what’s going on to hear what he’s up to and try to dig-in to both the good and the bad that he’s experiencing. With that in mind, I’m working on a super secret podcast project that I’m not quite ready to talk about yet but I’ve been working on for several months now and just stay tuned to Startups for the Rest of Us because I’ll be talking about it on the show once that’s ready to go live.
In addition, I want to circle back on a topic that we brought up, probably 10 or 15 episodes ago. It was a desktop Gmail client and switching to that. I had switched to Mailplane and then switched back to Gmail. But due to some recent changes with how G Suite—forwarding, groups, interacts, and those aren’t changes actually, Google’s been doing it for years—I hadn’t realized that I wasn’t getting things that were forwarded. They were sent to Google groups which is how they do email list.
I won’t go into details. It’s all frankly boring, but it’s irritating. I’ve always just funneled everything into a single Gmail account and then did send as in order to appear as if I had a bunch of email inboxes, but that no longer works. It’s broken based on how Google has implemented some stuff in G Suite. I needed a way to have a unified inbox where I can be in a single inbox and I can funnel everything in there even though it’s multiple inboxes that I’m checking. I went through several providers that do that and I’ve landed on the Airmail which is a desktop client and I believe it was $20, maybe $30 through the Mac App Store. I did try out Kiwi per Adrian Rosebrock’s recommendation but it did not have a unified inbox on, it was just a hard requirement for me given this current situation.
Just to close that loop, I’ve been using it for a couple of weeks and it’s good. I’m probably going to keep using it. I do like that it has dark mode and it has a lot of keyboard shortcuts. It’s actually got me a little spoiled already with command delete going through the inbox. It’s almost like a touch interface where I can just swipe, swipe, swipe, and get rid of emails. So far so good on Airmail.
Lastly, I wanted to announce, you heard it here first, that applications for the next TinySeed batch are going to open up on November 1st. It’s just a couple of months out, we’ll be following up with more information. If you’re on the TinySeed email list, you’ll hear about that. Go to tinyseed.com and look for the place to subscribe to our email list. We’ll be updating folks once we have more info on how that is going to go down. If you’re interested in potentially becoming part of batch two of TinySeed, be sure your email is on that list.
I enjoyed the conversation that I had today with Mike and we cover all kinds of stuff. He went on a personal retreat and really sorted some things out, it sounds like, and it feels like his trajectory has really adjusted from the conversation we had back in episode 448. If you haven’t listened to episode 448 and 458, there’s a lead up that’s the start of the story that we’re really following today. I recommend you go back and check it out. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Mike Taber.
Mike: thanks for coming back on the show.
Mike: Thanks for having me back.
Rob: It’s been a few weeks since we caught up and I know, you and I, we’re just talking offline trying to put that line […] episode. It sounds like a lot’s been going on, a lot of progress, a lot of interesting things.
Rob: I think the first question is, I’m curious, are you still on your social media, Twitter, podcast hiatus?
Mike: I am. I still haven’t logged in to either Twitter or Facebook. I’m sure that I will in the near future if only to get Facebook Ads up and running and probably experiment a little bit with Twitter ads some more, because I’ve done that in the past and it can work out well, it’s just you have to actually dedicate the time to it and you have to log in. I haven’t bit the bullet and gone back in them.
Rob: Yeah, that’s the thing. I know that people build their entire funnel around being on social media and being a personality and typically, if you’re selling info products that works well and if you’re selling SaaS, it doesn’t as much. I’m sure there’s a counter example, but really, if you get to SaaS app to mid six or seven figures, you’re not going to do that on Twitter in essence. It can be a part of it, but it is such a trip to try to wade the value, the ROI of time and distraction, and frankly, sometimes, the stress that it can cause on you.
Mike: Yeah. I have all of the notifications turned off, whether it’s push notifications or email notifications. Literally, everything is turned off for both of them. I turned off my iPad the other day and I realized that apparently, I didn’t turn it off there so it’s telling me, “Oh, you’ve got a couple of hundred notifications here,” and I’m just like, “Nope, not looking at it.”
Rob: Uninstall, that’s cool. Good. I’m curious to see how that feels if and when you decide to re-enter that world. I know some folks that just go off permanently. I think like Marc Andreessen’s just done. He was known for having the big tweetstorms. There’s a rumor that he invented it or something, I don’t know if he did or didn’t, but he would write entire essays on it and then he just started doing likes only and that’s how people were tracking him, and now he said, “Nope, I’m just completely off,” it’s a trip to see that.
Mike: On my Facebook feed for people who I’m friends with, I have the Taber Household Conversations which is usually various conversations. They happen around the house with the kids and wife and they’re fairly entertaining. I’ve been told by a number of people that’s their most favorite thing to see on Facebook and they love watching that but I’ve been keeping track of them separately in a notepad document on my phone so that if I ever go back, I have probably 40 or 50 of them that I could post, I just haven’t logged in.
Rob: That’s cool. Talk to me about your personal retreat. When we last left you, there were some open questions that I had posed in episode 458, things like thinking about what challenges you wanted to tackle, whether you’re going to keep going with Bluetick. There’s a lot of stuff and we’ll cover that today. Part of that, I threw out an off-hand suggestion of, “Hey, maybe you should do a personal retreat to think through some of these things,” and it sounds like you wound up doing that.
Mike: Yeah, I did. It was more of a last-minute thing just because my wife had had time on her calendar when she wasn’t going to be teaching over the weekend, so she’s like, “Hey, you should go ahead and take one,” so I did. It was last minute like I said and it was really good because I sat down and started looking through my notes and stuff. I brought my notebooks that I had written in from previous retreats that I had gone on dating back to 2014.
Before I did anything else, I really just started looking through what I had previously written down as things to think about, goals, observations, and things like that. I realized that dating back all the way to 2014, one of the biggest things that came out every single one of them was I’m not sleeping well. I need to be able to figure out what’s going on and it was a continuing theme every single time. I have been taking retreat since before I was diagnosed with sleep apnea. It was eye-opening to go back and read those things and say, “Huh, that thing is basically taken care of at this point,” but it was eye-opening to see that, that was just a huge recurring theme over and over again and I couldn’t get over to figure out what was going on.
Rob: Yeah, that is such a trip, man. I think it is one of the benefits of doing the founder retreats, as we like to call them, is that if you do them year after year and you keep the notes and refer back, you can see patterns. A lot of us get so caught up in the day-to-day or looking ahead to the future—I speak for myself—I don’t frequently look back and try to see patterns, why am I feeling this way? What’s causing that? It sounds like knowing how much that’s impacted your motivation and your ability to execute over the past five or more years is a really good thing to know.
Mike: Yeah. I think what was eye-opening to me was just the fact that I recognize even then how detrimental it was to me, but because I couldn’t figure out a way to deal with it or figure out what was going on, it just kept continuing to be a problem. What I realized was that most of the time, it just snowballs. I’m not getting enough sleep, so I’m not as productive and I’m not thinking straight that I ended up on various medications for different things that are treating the symptoms, but nothing is really addressing the underlying problems, which just doesn’t go away. So then, somehow it just masks the problem. It just makes it so hard to move things forward.
It did make me realize that I’ve been beating myself up over the past 6–8 months or so just because I felt things weren’t moving forward and I was projecting past Mike to present-day Mike because I couldn’t get past those sleep issues. It’s like, “Wait a second, these things are actually mostly resolved at this point, so I shouldn’t be beating myself up over the problems that I used to have and project them on myself and continue to have motivation problems or anything like that. Each day is a new start, so just use it as that. Since I went on that retreat, actually things have really, really turned around for me.
Rob: That’s really good to hear, man. It really is. I think that’s another big benefit of founder retreats is the clarity it can bring you about big decisions or even it sounds like it was like a cleanse in a new start in a way. I’m curious how Sherry wrote The Zen Founder Guide, the Founder Retreats. Did you use something like that to help you or do you have your own system now that you’ve been doing it for so many years?
Mike: Usually, I have enough time in advance of going to be able to write things down and go through some old notes and stuff I have including stuff that Sherry had put together, but this time I didn’t. What I did was when I got there on Friday night, I started going through my old notes and I was going to put some stuff together. Then on Saturday and Sunday, I was basically going to go through it. I feel like I started going through my previous notes first and then realized that probably wasn’t necessary and it was vicious because things just popped out of me, it’s glaringly obvious in retrospect but not while I’m sitting at my desk every day.
Rob: Yeah, I think that makes sense. It sounds like you had a lot of long-term things to think about and didn’t necessarily need the search for topics to consider. You had an ample number of topics to consider just going into the retreat.
Mike: Right. I didn’t really find that it was an issue. The personal retreat was a pretty […] story, it prefers few hours to be perfectly honest. It didn’t take long for me to start to see what things have been holding me back and why and what my path forward was going to look like. Most of the time I spent was probably personal reflection on different things but not necessarily trying to answer those questions. It was just more thinking about the things that had already come up and that I’d already given thought and consideration to, that I thought I was going to need to spend a lot more time on during the personal retreat. It turned out that I just really didn’t need to. I spent most of the time just doing personal reflection more than anything else.
Rob: I have a few questions for you but I am curious to hear if there are other things that you made decisions on or thought through that I don’t ask you. These are questions that we had posed or I had posed the last couple of times we spoke and said if you want to retreat, you should probably consider this. One of them is, do you want to continue working on Bluetick?
Mike: Yeah, and the answer to that was yes, absolutely.
Rob: Was that a hard decision to make? Did you think through a lot of factors or was it like, “No, this is my gut feel and now I’m going to move on”?
Mike: I did think about it. It wasn’t just a gut feel. This is the answer that I want to have because I’m thinking that other people have expectations on me for that. What I really looked at was where is Bluetick today versus where it needs to be, and if I were to just toss the whole thing and go on to something else, would it take as long as it Bluetick has taken or would there be other risks? The reality is I know that there’d be a lot more risk if I went with something else and it would probably take me just as long because I still have to do all the customer development stuff.
The reality is, it’s a solid product that’s got a lot of things going for it. I just haven’t really put the time and effort needed in focus into the marketing side of things, and I haven’t talked to several customers. They like the product, it’s just that I need to get more of those customers.
I think that if I were to move on and try to do something else, could I sell the products ‘as is’ to somebody? Absolutely, I’ve had those conversations with people and I’m sure that I could sell Bluetick ‘as is’ to somebody if I wanted to, but do I want to start over? The answer is no.
The one thing that came to mind was is this a sunk cost thing that I’m thinking about? Is that why I’m leaning in the structure? I don’t think it is because I thought about that as well. It was actually something that […] probably thought about that more than I thought of do I want to continue on this.
Rob: I could see that because that would be the risk and that was going to be what I brought up was do you feel like you have sunk cost that was going on here and are chasing after something just because you’ve spent so many years building it.
Mike: Yeah, and that’s why I spent so much time thinking about that particular question and I don’t think that’s it. I think that there’s probably a little bit of contribution there for that particular thought but it’s certainly not the only thing. I definitely think there’s a lot more that could be done with Bluetick and there’s a lot more value there than I’ve uncovered, I just haven’t gotten in there yet.
Rob: There was another thing I had noted down and it was around, you raised this challenge, this struggle of motivation and the question I think you posted is like, “I’m not super motivated by money right now. It’s hard for me to be motivated to work on this tool and get up every day and do it. What should motivate me?” That was the question. I threw out, “Oh, you should go take the Enneagram.” That kind of was a joke but it was also helpful for me personally when I took it to have a little bit more insight into who I am and what drives you, and that’s part of what it does. It’s nice that it’s free and it takes 15 minutes to take.
I’m curious if you: (a) took the Enneagram, (b) whether that helped or not, and (c) did you also think about this question of what challenge do you want to tackle and what is going to keep you motivated this week, next week, and next month?
Mike: There’s a bunch of things packed into there. Keep me on track if I forget any of those things. I did take it, I didn’t realize that there was a free version of it. I paid $10 from the website and I took it. In my opinion, it was kind of BS, to be perfectly honest.
Rob: That’s totally fair. I’m not trying to force the Enneagram on anyone and I feel like it is. I liked it but I’m curious to hear why you didn’t like it or why you think it’s BS.
Mike: I think it could be helpful for certain people. The problem is that when I went through it, there are three different steps. The first one is to read these nine paragraphs and then you select how much do you think the whole thing describes you or not. The second step is to go through the ones that described you the most and select the ones that you affiliate the most with. I think there were three of them that you had to pick there.
In the first step, I think there were nine different paragraphs and eight of them were ranked exactly the same. In the second step, I basically completely self-classified myself. I’m like, “That’s not real helpful. I could have just read online paragraphs and then said which one do I want.” It was like throwing a dart at the dartboard, you have an equal chance of it in any of them.
Rob: The Enneagram should have been 40 or 51-sentence questions, is that what you saw? There were no paragraphs when I took it. One sentence, it would describe like, “When I’m in a situation like this, this is what I do,” but it’s just one sentence and I don’t even remember if you’ve ranked it on a one to five or if it’s just this is me or this isn’t, maybe that’s what it is. I think that’s all it was but yours is different, I wonder if you took a different test.
Mike: I think mine was different. Maybe it was the wrong one. I don’t know, let me go back and take a look at that.
Rob: Yeah. Let me see if I can find that link to the one I took because that would make more sense, I think.
Mike: Anyway, out of the three steps, there was only one of them, those nine was eliminated after the first step. Then on the second one, I had to pick out of the eight which one…
Rob: That’s not helpful at all. Dude, okay, I need to go and look. I bet I still have the link. Forget the Enneagram, it’s a tangent and we’ll try to revisit it at some point, but the other two things where have you thought about the challenge you want to tackle, really it’s what’s going to keep you motivated.
Mike: I think that it’s looking outside of what the thing is that I’m working on because I have a tendency to get so engrossed in what I’m working on that I will not look at other things in terms of what my social life, or health, or anything like that. I realized that when I get down the rabbit hole on certain projects, AuditShark being one of them, Bluetick being another, there’s a point at which I probably cross a threshold where I continue to become all consumed by that. I wouldn’t say that’s necessarily a bad thing in certain situations, but I think that I let it get the best of me and go too far.
What I really need to do is step back and say, “This is a means to an end, not the end for me. This shouldn’t be my all-consuming life purpose because essentially, it’s work. It is something I’m working on and I do enjoy it, but I can’t let it be the only thing that defines me.” I think that, that’s something else that I’ve struggled with to some extent where I look at the product itself and if the product is struggling, then I personally struggle because I see it as a reflection of myself, and that really shouldn’t be the case. It’s more of being able to step back and separate myself and my own self-value, or self-worth, or whatever form the product itself and how well it’s doing versus how well I am doing.
Rob: Yeah, I think that’s super important, it’s very hard to do. I personally drifted in and out of that over the years of having my entire, like you said, it’s like self-worth, self-confidence, happiness tied to my MRR at times. That can be tough. You said that’s outside of that. I think that’s a great realization. Easier said than done, but a great realization. What is it outside of the app that is going to motivate you?
Mike: Honestly, socializing with the people that I know that are in the area. I mentioned this several times in the past where I have a weekly meet up with a couple of guys that I played D&D with. It’s a great way for me to get out of the house, away from my desk, and away from my computer, away from technology. I find that it’s a very helpful and therapeutic for me to be looking forward to that as opposed to looking forward to getting up at five o’clock in the morning and going to work because I really want to work on something and then distracts my sleep because I’m so excited about it the night before. Being able to back off a little bit from that stuff and look at it and say, “Look, this is just a means to an end and it’s means to make a living, not an expression of me.”
Rob: Yeah. I think that’s good. I think the thing I’m missing though, because I also play D&D and I read stuff now, for the first time in a long time within the past year or two, I’ve started to read fiction again. A lot of it is graphic novels, but I’m doing hobby stuff again. I’m giving myself permission to do that, but that’s how I distract myself so that I don’t think about work all the time. Me personally, that’s my personality.
I’m missing how going and hanging out with friends, or playing games, or having a hobby is going to motivate you to stick with Bluetick everyday when it gets hard? Or does it? Or am I misunderstanding that? Because that’s what I’m trying to get at is you’ve talked about getting up and like, “I’m not motivated to do this. I don’t know why I’m doing this,” or you do know why, but it’s like, “I’m just not that motivated to sit here and work six or eight-hour days and crank away on this stuff.”
Mike: I think it’s a very subtle thing and that, as I said, Bluetick is essentially, if I view it as a means to an end, and that end being I get to go socialize with my friends and do these other things, I can’t neglect that and I can’t just let things go because if I do, then I won’t be able to do those other things. It becomes a way for me to create a balancing act that, can I let things slide sometimes? Sure. I absolutely can. Can I let them slide forever? Absolutely not because then, it puts me in a bad financial position, that I’m then stressed out and anxious, and I can’t focus on what needs to get done. But if I make myself balance those things a little bit more so that I’m not so single-handedly focused just on Bluetick or single-handedly focused on socializing with friends, if I force that balance, then it helps me to concentrate. Does that make sense?
Rob: I think so. Is it taking a break gives your mind a break and that when you come back, you’re re-energized rather than basically burning your mind out?
Rob: That’s what it is?
Rob: Fascinating. I get that. I definitely understand the link there, but I wonder if this answers the question that I posed earlier of everyday you’re going to have to get up and there are going to be things you don’t want to do dealing with the Google audit and whatever, firing a contract or hiring a contract, or maybe it’s writing code, maybe it’s marketing, maybe it’s whatever. You’re going to have to do some things you don’t want to do, some things you are excited about, but how are you going to push yourself to not sit there, stare at your screen, and churn away the time? Or whether it’s being unproductive because you are churning or whether it’s being unproductive because you are unmotivated to work on it?
Mike: I feel like that’s just more a matter of putting certain systems in place. One of the things I recognized is that systems are what really helped me stay focused, stay on track. and get things done, but at the same time, my personality is such that I hate being a cog in a wheel. In some ways, it’s demotivational to me to have a system but it’s motivational when it works. Like I said, it’s that balancing act.
One of the issues I had with me taking in the Enneagram is that by definition, I think that I’m very well-balanced in very many ways. I forget what it was called, it was a test that was given that business software like 8 or 10 years ago or something like that and afterwards, I showed it to the person who has given it, I think it was Paul Kenny, he looked at it and he’s like, “Wow, that’s extremely balanced in every direction.”
He said he hadn’t really ever seen that before which is, I don’t know whether that just speaks to how weird I am or not, but it was interesting to see. I have a lot of empathy and ability to see things in multiple ways and multiple directions and I think that’s a strength, but at the same time, it could be a downfall because I can easily find myself in a situation where I’m paralyzed because I’m like, “If I do it this way, then this will happen. If I do it this other way, then this other thing will happen.” It’s difficult to deal with that but at the same time, I also have to recognize, “Hey, you just need to move things forward. You need to make a decision and move on because you can’t stay here looking at this forever.” By timeboxing and things like that, that helps me to move things forward when I need to, but at the same time, it forces that structure which, again, I hate the structure but I do like the results of it.
Rob: Yeah, there you go. The hating structure and liking results means that you hopefully can plow through it. It sounds like the motivation will be the results that you see and I think the other side of that sword or the sharp edge of that is that if you are not seeing results, will you become demotivated? Again, last time I talked about some people are motivated by money. It’s like, “I want to make enough money so that I can support my family or that I never have to work again.” That, whether you’re seeing results or not, you’re still motivated by that.
If some people are motivated by this achievement, it’s the Jeff Bezos, “I want to start a billion-dollar company,” and that you’re just motivated to achieve. Whether you’re seeing results or not, you do still have that goal that you’re hungry for. Last time, we talked about how you’re not hungry for anything right now. I think probably my main concern is that if you’re not hungry for it, if you are not seeing results, are you going to get demotivated?
Mike: You bring up something that sparked my memory of something that came up during my personal retreat is like, “Am I running towards something or away from something?”
Rob: Yeah, because that is away from having to work full time. The last time you talked about that you had the Dilbert comic and you said, “I don’t want to go back because bosses are […].” It’s a pain in the ass to work for other people. There’s a commute, and this and that. We talked through some things about you should get a job with no commute, you should get a job where the boss is not dumb. I can remove all of those.
Mike: I’m screwed working for myself.
Rob: Yeah, but we can remove that. Are you just running away from working for other people? That’s what you’re referring to? Are you actually running towards, “I wanted to keep this,” or just running away from, “I don’t want a full-time job”?
Mike: Yeah. The sad part is I think it’s a mix of both and that’s part of what makes it a hard question for me to answer. I don’t have a specific answer for that. That’s one thing that I did come out of my retreat. One […] about is like, “What is it that I really want to achieve?” and I still don’t have a specific answer for that, but I do know that I want to have a successful SaaS application that is going to support me and my family, at least do reasonably well. If that means that I can take some time off in the middle of the week if I want to, then great.
Kids started school last week on Thursday and on Thursday, we were actually out looking for a new car for her because her Toyota Corolla from 2004 is about to die. It was nice to be able to just take the time and go do that and get it taken care of that day because I have that flexibility in my schedule. If I were working for somebody else, I wouldn’t have that. If I didn’t have an app that was doing at least reasonably well, I wouldn’t be able to do that.
Things do come up. There are bugs and stuff that will come up on occasion that I have to get those fixed and I have those come up as well last week. It’s nice to be able to rearrange my schedule, have the flexibility to move things around and work on it. That’s really what I want out of my future is to be able to have that flexibility.
Rob: Sounds like that’s the thing. That is the one thing that you have referred back to the most is flexibility, is like owning your own time. I wonder if that’s your number one motivator.
Mike: It’s funny because I think that it is, but at the same time, I also know that, as I said, those systems that I have to put in place sometimes to get things done and move things forward, those are restrictive. This weird dichotomy between them that sometimes I have to go in one direction and sometimes I have to go in the other.
Rob: Cool, that’s actually helpful for me and I want to revisit that at some point in the future, but I just want to hear how that how well that’s panning out. We can circle back in a future conversation such that I want to see what the motivation is and if you’re not seeing results, if it’s still working and if just the drive for flexibility is enough. I also updated the Enneagram link, it’s tests.enneagraminstitute.com is the official one, it’s $12 to take the test. I will Venmo you $12, Mike, Go take the test because you didn’t pay for the other one, did you?
Mike: I did. It was enneagramworldwide.com.
Rob: Oh, interesting. When I typed in like take Enneagram online, there’s a bunch of places doing it, and you paid for it and that’s what it gave you? I think go to enneagraminstitute.com, I believe those are the folks that developed it. That’s at least my rudimentary understanding right now.
Mike: Oh, well.
Rob: Anyway, it’s $12. Give it a shot. It should be a bunch of either-or questions. It will make a statement like, “I would prefer to be viewed as successful or happy,” or “I prefer to be successful or happy,” and then you can say, “Yes, this is me,” “No, this is me,” and some of them have partials, I don’t know. That’s what you should see. You should not have to read paragraphs to do this.
Cool. There’s a couple of other points we’re talking about last time that I want to revisit. One is the Google audit thing, the chaos that has been the ongoing Google going to block you if you don’t get this audit and go through their security process, update us on that status.
Mike: I’ve talked to two companies that do that. I had two discussions with each of them, worked with both of them. I’ve selected one that I will be going to. Basically, I was able to work with them on the price a little bit, so it falls at the lower end of the range of $15,000–$75,000 it was originally given. Fortunately, it’s not closer to $75,000 but it is still 5 figures. It’s a difficult pill to swallow but at the same time, it’s also, I would say, a motivational factor for me. One thing I have recognized about myself is that I’m a completionist to some extent. If I were to pay for that, it would be hard for me to not follow through afterwards because that’s a huge chunk of money that needs to be paid every year.
But the other side of it is that it also gives me a defensible moat around Bluetick as well. I probably don’t have a whole lot to worry about from competitors coming in underneath me, which is a weird situation to be in. I still have those bigger fish that are above me but I probably don’t need to worry nearly as much about anybody coming in on our niche and stealing customers or what have you. Not that I really think that would happen for a while. Even if it did, it wouldn’t make that much of a difference, but it does create a barrier to entry for anybody else who’s trying to do similar things.
Rob: I would totally agree with that. Anyone who’s thinking about just dabbling in and they’re starting a little side project to do it or wanting to start just a small lifestyle business and doesn’t really want to go after, it’s going to be deterred. I would be deterred from doing that, it would discourage me from one drop, however much it is, $20,000–$30,000 to get in and just to get started. That’s a trip.
Was it a hard decision then to decide whether to do it or not? Because, again, if they quoted you $75,000, it would have been a reason to shut the company down. We know it’s a lesson in that boat. As you’ve gotten towards it, was it a hard decision or was it like, “No, this is once I’ve decided to do it, I’m also going to suck it up and do this”?
Mike: I think when the initial pricing came in, it was like, “Gee, I don’t know if that’s actually going to fly. I’m not sure if I really want to go through and do that because it would have been really hard to swing it.” Then after going back and renegotiate with them, it was much more doable. Yeah, it’s probably going to be something that needs to be […] each year, but at the same time, it’s a SaaS application. There’s only going to be so many changes that are between them. They didn’t specifically say that was a differential they would do from one year to the next, but that certainly does factor into it if you’d go with the same company for one year to the next.
Google could easily change their policies moving forward. I’ve had this discussion with other people in my mastermind group, where I think that they are just laying down the law, drawing a line in the sand and saying, “Okay, this is what it is, and screw anyone that has to deal with this in the next 18–24 months. We’ll figure it out before then. There’s going to be small players that gets screwed in that meantime, but oh, well, we need to protect our company and our users’ data. In two years out, things will be fine.” I think that’s the decision they’ve made and things will change in a couple of years but probably not dramatically.
Rob: Yeah, and I like the way you couched it as a motivating factor. There were two times that I really recall having my back to the wall and talk about sunk cost, you are talking quite a chunk of money. I bought DotNetInvoice for $11,000 and I bought HitTail for $30,000. Those were 4–5 years apart, but those were very difficult pills for me to swallow. It was a lot of money. It was all the money that I had saved up from doing all this consulting on the side.
I had an incredibly productive two or three months stretches right after that because my back was to the wall. I worked for longer hours. That was one of the seasons where I work long hours and a big part of it was I can’t have written that check-in vain. I have to make this work. I keep saying my back was to the wall, but that’s how I feel about it. I wonder if you can use this at least in the short term as motivation of, “I have to be a good steward of that money and make this worth it.”
Mike: Yeah. I’m definitely that type of person as well. Some people crack under pressure and I do extremely well under pressure, which is a double-edged sword because sometimes, I’m a procrastinator to some extent. In some ways, that helps me because I procrastinate and then I get to this part where it’s do or die and I’m willing to put in the time and effort to make sure that things happen and that things work.
I probably haven’t experienced that in a while but there are certainly things that I can point back to in my history where I […] my masters degree, for example. I was coming up to the wire in terms of being able to finish my masters thesis and they’re like, “Okay, you need to have this done by the end of August.” So, I buckled down and I wrote the entire thing in a month-and-a-half, or two months, or something like that and I went back to them and basically got it all done, but it needed to get done and it needed to get done fast. There was really no other option, otherwise, I was blowing $20,000–$25,000 down the train and I would walk away without anything to show for. Still, having taken those classes, I don’t have the degree, not that it means a whole lot if I’m self-employed but it was one of those personal accomplishments or achievements that I wanted to have.
Rob: Yeah. It comes back to that extrinsic motivation. It’s really an optimist scenario for you. Cool. A couple more things before we wrap up, I wanted to ask about that untestable seal.net component. You had made the decision to replace it with a different component, but you were saying while you get slotted in among things and I was like, “Look, you made the decision. Just go ahead and do it because it’s keeping your back. It’s technical debt, right now, it’s a liability that keeps you from making changes to things.” Where does that sit?
Mike: I still have not touched that. Most of my time has been spent going back and forth with the vendors on the security audit because just even scheduling a meeting with them takes a week. It’s a week before it happens but it’s several days of back and forth and trying to get an answer because they’re just busy and they have to slot in conversations when they get a chance. It’s a pain in the neck.
I’ve been stalling on other things to see how that works out because obviously, it did hold it back to some extent because of the final numbers for the quotes came back in $75,000, I was just going to walk away, but since it didn’t, it made things a lot easier to get working on other stuff. At this point, I do recognize that needs to get done. It’s a matter of looking at schedule and seeing, “Where can I slot that in between marketing activities?” because I feel like that’s probably more important, but I go back and forth on that.
Rob: When do you feel you’re going to pull out that component?
Mike: I think if I get a more detailed information from the security company about what I can and can’t store, that’s probably going to dictate that to some extent because I don’t want to get in the position where I spend all this time and effort replacing that component so that I can download all the data in the way that I want to only to find out that they come back and say, “You really shouldn’t be storing that,” or those other things that go into. It’s just I’m holding off and maybe that’s a bad decision.
Rob: I don’t think it is. That’s what I would do as well. It sounds like there’s a bunch of unanswered questions and you are right with the security audit. They can come back and say anything. I would personally also wait on that but I wouldn’t wait on other development on marketing because you can do that stuff before then.
Your mastermind group is meeting weekly and you have a pseudo business coach. Both those things still going on and do you feel like they’re working for you?
Mike: I do. I actually have an email in my inbox right now from the coach that I have to reply to today and then the meetings have been going on every week and we talk about all kinds of different things from conversion rates to where marketing should be focused or conversations to customers, but I find that the weekly accountability has been pretty helpful because it forces me to make progress on everything and part of it is schedule-related because I have to make sure that I slot time for those things but it’s also what am I looking at next and then making sure that’s getting done because I’m basically committing to each of those things.
Rob: That makes a lot of sense. Glad to hear that’s still working out. I do want to touch base periodically and hear more about that. I’m curious. We had a conversation, it was episode 448 where we really dug into this stuff for the first time. You raised a concern that you didn’t really want do the spammy-cold email and I threw out an idea of a warm and ethical code email or you can just focus on warm email, is that still your thinking that you want to focus on something that you feel better about personally and have you made any strides to make that part of reality?
Mike: I have thought about it quite a bit more and I had a conversation with a customer that I onboarded a couple of weeks ago where he’s like, “I definitely want to use Bluetick, and this is what we are doing right now and it looked automated and we’re using it for cold email.” After going through and talking to them about how he was doing it, I realized like, “Hey, you’re actually doing warm email, not cold email,” because they’re sending physical mailers and things like that. It reminded me of one of the original thoughts that I’d had behind Bluetick was using it as something of a multi-channel marketing campaign because if you send somebody something in the physical mail and then send them emails or you send them tweets and things like that, this is a functionality that really hasn’t made it into Bluetick yet, but the conversation did remind me to like, “Hey, that was the original idea here.”
It turns cold contacts into warm contacts because they’ve at least seen your name before and they’ve heard of you because you’ve reached them through other channels. Some of them can be automated. I think Postable probably has an API where you can send direct mailers to people “handwritten notes.” They’re not actually handwritten, but they look like they are. Things like that are ones that would probably do well in that type of multichannel campaign. There is not a lot of people who are doing that right now, most of the people that I’ve seen who were doing that, they do it by hand and it sucks.
Rob: Yeah, no doubt. Cool. It sounds like you’ve made a decision because I have talked about life-changing your website copy, changing your onboarding, and even considered potentially doing a setup, doing a setup fee and then verifying upfront that they are doing stuff that’s in line with what you want Bluetick to do. It sounds like you haven’t moved forward on that but are those still things that you want to put in place?
Mike: Those are still on my radar. I think the larger challenge or problem that I have is just that I don’t have enough traffic. That’s the biggest thing. I don’t think that adding in a setup fee or something like that, that’s not really going to move the needle for me, at least not right now, but if I were to triple traffic, for example, that type of thing is I’m won’t say easily attainable, it’s probably something that would move the needle for me a lot more than adding in a setup fee.
Rob: Right. I think as we wrap up, there are still this open question of how to differentiate Bluetick, how are you going to make it different from the other tools that I could go out and essentially do the same thing with? Have you given that more thought?
Mike: I’ve given it some thought. I wouldn’t say that I have any concrete conclusions on that. One of the things I have seen is that people who are most successful with Bluetick are the ones that integrated it into their marketing and sales pipelines. I think that integrating Bluetick into other products directly would allow it to have a tighter integration into other people’s marketing and sales funnels. Integrating into other tools directly is probably the most straightforward way to do that. Most of these tools that are like Bluetick have an API of some kind where you can upload stuff but it’s really those integrations that are going to basically keep people around and keep churn low. If I can keep churn really low, then I don’t have to worry about growing the product as quickly to counter that churn.
Rob: That’s true. I agree with all that actually.
Mike: But it doesn’t directly answer the question.
Rob: Yeah, which was differentiation. Do those integrations differentiate you or do your competitors have some or all of those?
Mike: I think most of them have a Zapier integration of some kind. I haven’t looked in-depth enough at them. I do have somebody that I hired to help me out with marketing. They’ll probably start later this week or next week, but that’s something I’ll probably look at a little bit more to do more in-depth competitive analysis and say, “What markets do these people serve, and why?” and, “Is there a place where Bluetick can fit into those and really shine as opposed to where it currently is?”
You’re absolutely right. It doesn’t really have any major differentiating feature other than I can offer direct support and you’re going to talk to the developer if you’ve got a problem. There’s some value to that but I don’t think that it’s enough to overcome the challenges that it has by not being able to be differentiated easily.
Rob: Yeah, I would agree with that. I think I’ve used the phrase picking up crumbs a few times where if you really are similar to most of the other tools in the space, you will get some customers, you are just picking up crumbs as you get lucky, you’re not going to have that key differentiator that people are like, “Oh, my gosh, Bluetick is the only want to do this or Bluetick does this the best.” What are you really known for? It’s positioning.
In your shoes, I would try to get an idea of the entire landscape for all the competitors, the big ones, the small ones, the funded, the unfunded, whether you have a mental model of it, a mind map, or notes on a whiteboard, whatever it is, try to sketch out how are they positioned and how can you try to find feature differentiation.
Mike: Yeah. I definitely have some thoughts on those. The issue that I think I struggle with there is that most of the things that I think would be great to be able to include are packaged into Bluetick that would beat those differentiators, are things that are going to require technical heavy lifting in order to implement. It’s hard to justify spending the time and effort there without solid data to back it up and that data is hard to come by without doing it and then seeing if it works, so to speak.
Rob: I would agree with that.
Mike: It’s exploration, I guess. I definitely think I have to talk to some of my customers a little bit more, though.
Rob: Yeah, that’s what it sounds like. More research to be continued. I’d love to talk about your marketing hire because that sounds cool, but I have another call I have to jump on. I got it, I have to end it here to the groans of both me and the listeners. But there’s one other thing I actually want to ask about. What was your low point over the past month? It sounds like everything is going up into the right in general. Things have been good, you’re in good spirits, you have good answers, you’re thinking about this stuff, but what was the hardest moment or the lowest point in the past since we spoke last, which I think was about three or four weeks ago?
Mike: I would say just making the decision to make certain changes. I think that it’s the inertia of not moving just yet. When you have an idea of, “Oh, this is how I want to solve this problem or these are the things that I need to do,” where do you even start? In terms of inertia, in the past couple of weeks, I’ve been getting up at five o’clock in the morning on average and going to the gym. That’s usually the first thing I’ve done. I’ve exercised three times today. If that gives you any indication, I was at the gym before five o’clock, then I went for a one-mile walk, and after that later on, I went for a two-mile walk.
I’m making some pretty dramatic changes and I feel like they’re going well, they’re giving me energy, and I’m able to get those things done which I’ve never really put a lot of emphasis on my own personal health from the past, but those first four or five days of doing that was just brutally hard. It was really, really hard to just get started. Now that I’ve been doing it for a little while, it’s not a habit yet, by no means are no stretch of the imagination, but I think it’s on its way there. I’d really like to keep seeing that continue.
Rob: Awesome, man. Thanks again for taking the time to come and update us and I’ll talk to you again in a few weeks.
Mike: All right, sounds great.
Rob: Thanks again to Mike for coming back on the show. It’s fun to have him pop in almost like a guest now and again. I wanted to remind you if you’ve been considering potentially becoming a part of TinySeed’s second batch which will start in early 2021, head over to tinyseed.com and enter your email address or if you just want to keep up with what we’re doing, it’s a nice way to do it. We don’t email very often and we will be emailing about news like this when the batch opens, November 1st of this year.
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Duncan from Vetter
Did you manage to find a link to the enneagram test you spoke about?
At 30m10s in, Rob says it’s https://tests.enneagraminstitute.com
Hi Rob and Mike,
Interesting episode. Despite Mike feeling he’s happier and now better motivated, etc., it seems to me the end of the show where Bluetick’s differentiator is tackled remains key.
My summary of coverage to date: since Bluetick started, competition has moved on; without a differentiator being identified and developed, Bluetick will presumably stay ‘picking up crumbs’ from the table of the main products in its market.
This could be fine and still produce sufficient income, especially given a growing market. But, the Gmail security audit is costing ‘towards the lower end of $15K to $75K’ for the first year, with the hope year two will be lower if they can take into consideration sections of the source code won’t change. How much is that new overhead as a percentage of current profit?
If we assume each year’s audit is $15K, being generous for Y1 and a little pessimistic for Y2, then that’s eight customer’s annual fees of $150/month, $14,400, assuming it’s pure profit with negligible hosting costs and a founder’s support time is free. Can the audit be making such a dent that Bluetick goes from ‘worth sticking with’ to ‘overheads are too high to continue’?
Also, would trying to keep the future changes down in size, in the hope of cheaper audits, hamper product experimentation, e.g. new features. (I suspect audits beyond Y1 won’t be that much cheaper: it won’t be too hard to say the changes have potential for significant reach in security terms; the supplier knows switching to another auditor would cost more; and prices rise over time.)
Lastly, I wonder how much this all being so public affects Mike’s evaluation and choices. It’s our benefit that Mike is willing to discuss this so openly with a wide audience, but I can’t help feeling it could be to his detriment.