In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob checks in with Mike Taber on his progress with Bluetick. They talk about Mike’s motivation, specifically over the long term , the continuing Google security audit, differentiating from competitors 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 that help software entrepreneurs, developers, designers, people who want to launch a product into the software space and ultimately gain the freedom from their full-time job and even be ambitious beyond that. It’s not just about lifestyle, having a sustainable lifestyle and maintaining relationships. That’s all important, but a lot of the founders that listen to the show and that come to MicroConf are folks that are ambitious, but not willing to sacrifice their life or their health to grow their company.
We have many different show formats. Sometimes we do interviews, we answer a lot of listener questions, we have founder hot seats, but over the past 465 episodes, we have followed a lot of stories. We followed stories of folks in the MicroConf community. We have followed the stories of myself and Mike Taber. If you’re a new listener. Mike has been on the show since the beginning, but now he comes on about once a month and updates us on his progress as he’s doubling down and focusing on his software product called Bluetick. In this episode of Startups for the Rest of Us, we get a Bluetick update from Mike Taber. This is Startups for the Rest of Us episode 465.
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, we are going to share our experiences to help you avoid the mistakes we’ve made. Thanks again for coming back. We’re going to be talking with Mike here in just a minute. Before we dive in, I had a couple things I wanted to mention. First is, if you haven’t already left a review on Spotify, Stitcher, Apple podcast, Google podcast, I would really appreciate you logging and clicking that five stars.
We had a recent review from Josh Krist and he says, “The real experience of bootstrapping. This show absolutely rocks. If your bootstrapping a company, thinking about starting a company in the future or just curious to understand what it really feels and looks like to start a company without outside funding, this is a must listen. Thank you Rob and Mike.” Thank you so much for that review Josh and we’d love to hear a review from you as a listener, if you feel you’ve gotten value out of the show or you don’t even need to do a full review, you can click the five stars and that helps new people discover us.
We have, I believe it’s 354 five star reviews that actually contain text and we have another 200 or 300 that are just people rating us, but I can’t seem to find the numbers anywhere. It’s hard to get worldwide numbers and there was an app I was using that that stop working, so I think we’re in the 600–700 range of reviews and I would love to just add a few more this week. I haven’t mentioned them in a while and if you can be obliged to click that five star, we’d really appreciate it.
Next item on the agenda is MicroConf Minneapolis is April 19th to 23rd and tickets will be going on sale very soon in the next, I’ll say, week, maybe two, tops. If you are interested in potentially becoming a growth or starter, Minneapolis late April, head microconf.com and get on the email list. The other thing I wanted to mention is the state of independent SaaS report, which I record a little mini episode, a half episode that I put in the feed last week, that survey is alive right now. It’s only live for another couple of days after this recording.
If you’re able to head over to stateofindiesaas.com. I didn’t do independent because it’s so long and I got tired of typing it, stateofindiesaas.com, that takes you right to the survey and that will help yourself and your fellow independent SaaS companies because we’re going to try to get a bunch of metrics together and put out this MicroConf state of independent SaaS report. Listen to shore episode I recorded. If you want the full details on that, but that’s only open for another couple days now we’re going to start the data crunching and start working on that report.
With that, let’s dive into today’s conversation with Mike. Mike, welcome back to the show.
Mike: Thanks, how you doing?
Rob: I’m pretty good. It’s good to hear your voice, man. It’s been a while.
Rob: It’s been a month.
Mike: Has it been? Okay, yeah, I think so.
Rob: I think so. The episodes about four weeks apart and we record, I don’t know, a couple days before, so yeah. I think it’s been somewhere in the three or four week range.
Mike: I lose track of time when I’m not talking to people. Obviously, I haven’t talked to you, really, other than email, but there are certain things that used to be on my schedule that are no longer my schedule and I used to use those as benchmarks as time passes. I don’t really have as much of that anymore, so I lose track of even just what day of the week it is sometimes.
Rob: Yeah, I totally get it. I think not being on social media, I’m guessing you’re not reading a bunch of news all the time. You’re trying to keep distraction-free, so you don’t get it. That’s part of being an entrepreneur, too. If you didn’t have kids, you would really forget what day of the week it is.
Mike: Yeah, totally. Just because they have to go to school five days a week, so other than that, I would just completely lose track of time, I think.
Rob: Right. I remember, it was before our kids were in school and I was just working on my stuff solo, maybe with contractors and a holiday would come up, whatever, Labor Day, Memorial Day and I just be like, “Oh, are people taking that off today?” just out of the blue, I was not paying attention to any of that stuff. There was no vacation schedule.
Mike: Yeah. Sometimes, the kids will have a vacation for something, I’m like, “Why did they have Monday off? What’s going on here?” and then like, “Oh, it’s a federal holiday,” or something like that, “Oh okay, whatever.” I just don’t even notice most of the time. I think that’s a direct result of working for yourself and not having to go into an office, because otherwise, if you work for somebody else, then your schedule is theirs and they tell you when you do you don’t have to come in, so you’re looking forward to those days versus when you’re on the other side of the fence when you’re trying to get things done, days off doesn’t, I’ll say, really mean a whole lot to you. You’re distracted sometimes, a little bit more disruptive than it would be otherwise.
Rob: Yes, especially if you’re in a flow, like a day-to-day or week-to-week flow. I think that’s a big thing, to touch on it like flexibility is what you’re talking about. It’s like the flexibility to take a day off when you need to, the flexibility to work on a holiday, and have it really move the needle circles back to what I believe is a big motivator for you in being an entrepreneur.
Mike: Yeah. I feel having kids, though, does tend to screw that up a little bit because if they have a day off then their expectation is that you do as well so I think that that throws a wrench in it to some extent.
Rob: Yeah, I would agree with that. We have some stuff to resume from our last conversation, whenever it was, three or four weeks ago. I have some notes here I work from to remind us where we’re headed, but I am super curious how your sleep has been because over the course of the last several years, that has tended to be a big source of ups and downs, that when you’re sleeping well, it’s easier to have a positive outlook, easier to find motivation and when you’re not, that can that can negatively impact it.
Mike: I would say up until about a week ago, my sleep was pretty good, but then I screwed up my shoulder, I almost always sleep on my left side and I screwed up my left shoulder at the gym, so it’s sore. It’s not overly painful, not enough that I would feel the need to go to the doctor and have them take a look at it because there’s going to say, “Don’t lift as much weight,” or whatever, because I’ve done that before and I messed up that shoulder and it’s just a recurring thing that comes up once in awhile, but because I sleep on that side, it has a tendency to wake me up. My sleep’s gotten better over the past day or two, but for probably three or four days, it was pretty messed up.
Rob: Did that impact you during the day? Did it impact your productivity?
Mike: Yeah, totally. I would wake up in the middle and then I couldn’t get back to sleep and then of course the cascade of thoughts throughout the course of the night, it’s like, “Alright, here we go again,” but it’s gotten better the past day or two.
Rob: Good. Glad to hear that. I guess that that leads to motivation, which is something I’ll probably be asking you about every time we talk. I’ll put it this way, over the past several years, you’ve seen times of extremely high motivation and extremely low and a lot in between. What has the last month felt like, look like for you?
Mike: I wouldn’t say it’s been really high, but I wouldn’t say it’s been super low, either. It’s one of those middle of the road, things are just plotting forward and I wish things were going faster, but at the same time it’s just takes longer to get certain things done that I would like. For example, I’ve got the Google security audit that’s coming up, where it’s just sucking up a ton of my time for something that I know is just not going to make a meaningful impact in my business, other than the fact that it’s going to allow me to continue to be in business. I would say it’s detrimental to have to be doing those things, which sucks, but you have to take the good with the bad and you have to do those things too.
Rob: Right, I feel the Google security audit as this slog, that’s exactly how I would describe it. It’s like the stuff you don’t want to be doing but that you’re really, in your case, you have to, to stay in business. How much of your time is that taking?
Mike: There’s two different sides of it. There’s documentation and then there’s the technical audit itself. For the technical side of it, that’s not scheduled until, I think, the 28th. It’s basically the week after MicroConf Europe, because they asked me, “Hey, when would this fit in your schedule.” They wanted to know if I had any vacations or breaks or anything like that where I wouldn’t be in contact with them. I said, “Look, this really has to start after this date,” and they said, “Okay, we’ll schedule it for that.” In the meantime, there’s all this documentation that we’ve got to get gathered. It’s all processes and procedures and things like that which are, I’ll say, a waste of time, because really, all these things are stuff that I would be doing anyway. It’s just that they want to document it.
It’s like, “Okay. Well, what do you do if this happens? What do you do if that happens? How is this handled and how was that handled?” They just want to review everything to make sure that, I don’t know, I guess you’re doing a good job, so to speak. In my mind, it’s all a bunch of paperwork for the sake of having paperwork. It feels like dealing with the government to be honest.
Rob: Yeah, it feels to me like PCI or GDPR or it’s just reams of docs that sit in a filing cabinet, figuratively or literally, and I agree with you there, that it totally sounds like that.
Mike: Yeah, in terms of describing that it’s a slog, yeah, absolutely. It sucks because there’s a lot of documentation and they said flat out that this is going to be the bulk of the effort and the most time-consuming part. Because it’s a different team, it doesn’t count towards this technical side of things. Hopefully, I can get most of that, all of it taken care of before they start the technical stuff and then when they do that, then they’ll do penetration testing, black box testing, and all these different things to try and make sure that the application itself is secure.
If anything comes up, then I have to address those issues. Assuming that everything’s okay at the end of the technical audit, then they’ll give me the stamp of approval and I can immediately send it to Google, but I think that some of that’s contingent upon them receiving the final check and everything else as well, but it’s a slog, it sucks.
Mike: Yeah, it sounds like it. What’s the timeline on that? Is this a two week thing you’ll have this cert or is a month? When will this be over?
Mike: My hope is mid-November.
Rob: Wow. Okay, so that’s another six weeks when we’re recording.
Mike: Yeah. It’s wild.
Rob: That’s brutal. I should say as much as we’re bagging on this, I’m guessing that much like PCI and GDPR, I feel there’s a reason these things exist, but I think 90% of it is unnecessary at our scale and it’s probably 10%. If they do penetration testing and they find something, it will be like, “Cool, you fixed something.” I’m guessing there’s going to be a couple things that improve your security, a couple out of it. Maybe it’s 5% or 10%, but most of it I think is, as you’ve said, huge waste of time.
Mike: Yeah, it is. I’m not the type of person to go out and totally bash on other companies for the way that they’re doing things but Google in this particular situation, I really feel them taking back their “don’t be evil thing” several years ago, which probably is a decade at this point, but all the things that they’re doing, I just feel the company itself is really abusing their position to force people to do things in a certain way, in cases like for my app and things that are below a certain scale, really don’t make a difference. It doesn’t make a meaningful impact and it doesn’t help the world in any way, shape, or form but they’re forcing do it for no other reason because they can.
Rob: It’s CYA. They’re trying to cover their ass for if suddenly, there’s a breach, they’re going to be in the headlines, not you. If there’s a breach, they’re going to get called in front of Congress, not you.
Mike: I guess, but at the same time, the scale of the breach. For example, if I have 20 customers and Google has 10 billion—let’s call it 50 million for them and call it 50 for me. The scale between the breach between those two things is very, very different and forcing me to go through the exact same processes and procedures as Google or somebody of a comparable size just does not make sense. It’s just the way it is. Like I said, I don’t like to bash other people for the way that they’re doing things, but I feel this is just extortion 101 to be perfectly honest. There’s no other real way to put it .
Rob: How much of your time? Has it been 20 hours a week you’re spending on this?
Mike: It’s probably not quite that much, but things are ramping up as time goes on, because I have to fab this basically finished and all the back and forth done, probably before MicroConf, which I leave for that in a couple weeks. The next couple weeks, that’s probably going to be 30 to 40 hours a week of my time.
Rob: Yeah, that’s tough. Looking back over the previous month, you have had some time. If it was 15 hours a week then you got another, I don’t know, 20 hours a week or whatever to do stuff. This kind of stuff, this slog, doing things that I don’t want to do, tends to de-motivate me. I almost have a tough time then transitioning because it sucks the joy out of the day. It sucks the good glucose or the joy or whatever it is and when I turned it like, “Well, now I got to write code or I got to the market, I have a tough time separating those.” Are you similar to that?
Rob: Okay. This is negatively impacted your motivation then.
Mike: Yeah. It’s not just motivation but overall productivity. I’ve been trying to figure out ways to segment out my days, so that I’m not working on those types of things that are de-motivational, first thing, because what I’ve found is that, if I work on some of those things to start the day and then I take a break for whatever reason, the rest of my day is shot. Even if I’m trying to work on other things that would be motivational. I just don’t get anything done because my mind is wandering back to the stuff that I was working on before.
Rob: Interesting, because if I were to do it, I would think that since it’s the thing that I want to do the least, I would try to get into work, drink coffee, listen to loud music and hammer through it in an hour or two, such that I can breathe and reward myself with a break and then I can spend the rest of the day working on other stuff. That’s how I would mentally approach it, but you’re saying that’s not. It’s bleeding over, it sounds like.
Mike: Yeah, it definitely is. I don’t say this doesn’t factor into it at all but I’ve been talking to my wife about my exercise routines and stuff like that, modifying my diet and all these other things. It’s just like, “I hate exercising. I hate going to the gym. I hate dieting. I hate working on this stuff for the Google security audit.” I’m going through some third party integrations and stuff and going through all the fine print all the other things for that stuff. I can’t stand doing that as well. I’m stuck in this position where I’m forced to do all of these things that I absolutely hate doing. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but there’s not really fun parts of the day, either.
Rob: Yeah, that makes it tough. I’m sorry to hear that, honestly. I know exactly what that feels like, where everything on your to do list is […] and you don’t want to do any of it. I know what that feels like. “No, I’m not in that mode today,” but I have done that and had to deal with it throughout my career. Those are the times where it’s like, “This has to end soon or I’m going to burn out.” That’s what eventually what will happen. Hopefully, you’re done in a month, six weeks. It’s going to be a slog for a month or six weeks, but when that part goes away, it sounds like that could dramatically improve your day to day working conditions.
Mike: Yeah. That’s what I’m hoping as well. I say six weeks, mid-November. That’s what I’m hoping it’ll be done, but it could theoretically be as late as the end of November, because after the technical piece of the audit is done, if I don’t have everything fixed by the time they’ve done that, then I have to go fix a bunch of stuff. They can come back with a report on day one and say, “Hey, these 25 things are wrong or whatever and need to be addressed,” and then I could presumably fix them all that night and then the next day say, “Hey, you can retest the stuff now,” and during the course of the actual technical piece, they’ll continue to redo those things, but then once the end hits, I basically have 30 days to go back to them and say, “Okay, all of these other issues are fixed, you can retest it.” Then assuming that all of them fixed, great. If not or if it exceeds that 30 days, I can request that they retest it, but it is really expensive to have them retest it after that.
Rob: Got it. So, time is of the essence here for sure. We’ll move on from motivation in a minute, but I had this concern. It was at the last month or the month before where I said, “I’m concerned about your motivation over the long-term. Will you be able to stay motivated if flexibility is our only motivation?” You’d said, “Hey, am I running away from something, which is a crappy Dilbert job or running towards something and will that maintain over long-term?”
The times when that’s tested is when you’re in the middle of the slog. It’s when you’re not making progress because you said, “I’m motivated by progress,” and that motivates you, but it doesn’t sound like you’re making a ton of progress, right now. When you look out over the next month, do you feel is it time to just gather all the muster and just push it forward or are you concerned about what the next month or two months frankly might look like?
Mike: I wouldn’t say I’m necessarily concerned about the next couple of months. What I’m more concerned about, six months or eight months down the road. The reason for that is because there’s all the stuff that needs to be done right now, an example, one of the things that I spent a decent chunk of time in advance to this security audit was that there were multiple projects that I have that get deployed to different URLs and they are largely copies of one another and I had to merge them together. I wanted to merge them so that there wasn’t so much code for them to go through, so that it made sure that everything was consistent between every single API endpoint that I have out there.
Otherwise, I wouldn’t necessarily know. I think that they are, but you just wouldn’t have any real way of knowing for sure. I merge those together and made it so that it basically got one core API project and then three others import it and then use it as opposed to before I basically had two different separate copies of it. By spending time on that, I made sure that that was, I’ll say kind of fun, but at the same time, those things need to be taken care of.
There’s a lot of things that I’m not necessarily holding back from but I know that I probably can’t really get into until after this security audit is over. That includes making major changes to the product because I don’t want to be in the middle of making a major change and being unable to deploy it and have a discrepancy between the code that they’re looking at versus the code that’s deployed and not being able to push it out because it’s in a half completed state. There’s some stuff I’d just have to hold back on until the security audit is over. Those things are just on hold and I don’t really have much choice there.
Rob: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. On a perhaps related note, is one of those things, that untestable sealed .NET component that you’ve been wrestling with for months and for six months more, and you want to work on replacing it but you don’t want to. Is that the idea or you can’t?
Mike: Yeah. I can’t because it would involve a pretty major change. Here’s the part of the issue. The backend data storage system that I have in place to store the emails uses that component as part of a naming convention for everything. In order to rip it out, I’d basically have to rewrite it, then have everything imported again from people’s mailboxes, then stored in a different file format with a different naming convention. Just to process that is probably going to take a week and that’s not even testing that.
I have to wait until the security audit is over, which again leads me back to the idea that this whole thing is stupid because I’m basically just trying to get to the finish line here so you guys can do this stuff. Then I can make a bunch of changes to make the app work better. What’s the whole point?
Rob: Something that strikes me is that early on, you were most concerned about the cost of the audit. It turns out the monetary price is not what’s taken the most hole on you and on the product, on Bluetick. It sounds like the motivation and the time it’s requiring.
Mike: Yeah. Absolutely it is, which sucks but at the same time, it’s nice that it doesn’t cost me as much in terms of actual revenue but at the same time, I’m still going to need to make that up next year.
Rob: There are other things. Something you had mentioned at the end of the last time that we spoke is that you’re going to hire someone to help with marketing. Did that happen and how has that been?
Mike: It did. I hired somebody to help out with a couple of very specific projects. The first one that we’re just going to be kicking off on the next week or so is a podcast tour. Basically put together a list of podcasts, go take a look at, and pars out. Obviously, being a host of this podcast, you and I get pitched all the time for different things. Sometimes they come across well and sometimes they don’t. It’s obvious the ones that don’t. What I’m trying to do is say, “Okay, well. How can I position myself for a pitch in a way that is going to actually resonate with the people who are on the receiving end of it?”
I’ve basically gone through the process of having the marketing person help out with filtering a lot of those out and deciding what the best pitch or the best way to present it would be for each of those podcasts, take a look at the history of each of those. If they don’t have guests at all, then probably not a great fit. If they do, then how many guests do they have? Is it a regular thing? Do they have guests on specific topics? Basically, we’re doing a decent amount of indepth research there. Then start emailing them, see if I can do sort of a podcast tour to get onto those different shows and drive some traffic to Bluetick.
Rob: Something that I’ve raised a number of times is that Bluetick, the differentiation, right? I’m bringing that up because if you’re not differentiated yet, do you feel driving more traffic is worthwhile? Are you trying to drive the traffic so that you can get more people using the app to do customer development to differentiate more? Is that the idea or are you really trying to scale the funnel in order to actually get more customers using the product as it is today?
Mike: We’re going to discuss those chicken and egg problem here.
Rob: I know. I guess it ends at some point which you have product market fit but the pre-product market fit, never ending circle.
Mike: Right. The product itself, I feel has enough value for the people who would use the current features. I would agree with you that I don’t think that is differentiated enough from some of the other competitors out there but I also think that that’s okay. If people are out there who have thought of doing email follow-ups in various situations or they don’t even necessarily realize that, “Hey, I could use email follow-ups in that situation. I just had never really thought about it.” I feel if I can get in front of those people to reach them, then that is going to be enough to at least push the revenue in the right direction.
Does it need to solve everything? I don’t think so. Is it suboptimal by having a product where I’m going and doing a podcast tour like this where I don’t have product market fit, I don’t have a lot of differentiation? Yes, it’s absolutely suboptimal. Does that matter? The answer is no. I don’t necessarily care about that. If I were to wait until it was the optimal time to go do it, the thing would be worth millions of dollars and why would I care about doing a podcast tour at that point because I’ve probably outgrown that channel to some extent. So, I have to.
Rob: One of the problems you mentioned last time we spoke was you don’t have enough traffic. I was going to ask about progress, have you made progress towards that end. It sounds like you haven’t made direct progress in terms of driving more traffic but that things are in the works to hopefully drive some from these podcasts.
Rob: If I were in your shoes, I like that you have a podcast tour because: (a) you’re good on the mic, (b) it’s not very much of your time especially if you have this other person doing it and you can just show up, do it, and see what the results are. I’m skeptical that it’s going to drive enough to move your needle but given the amount of time that it’s going to take which is not that much, I think it’s worth trying.
I also think, in your shoes I would consider some short-term stuff. By short-term I mean something that gets customers in very quickly which is cold email. You have a warm/cold email tool. You’ve seen shady cold email and you’ve seen ethical cold email. We’ve talked about this in the past. You could do it in a way that isn’t garbage and that I think you could feel good about. You have your own tools. You don’t need to pay for another one. It’s really just finding the data or the list but that’s something that can start working. If you can get it, it can create leads now, right, to get a lot more conversations started. Have you considered that?
Mike: Yes I have and I’ve already started working in that direction as well. Obviously, you aren’t aware of this because we didn’t talk about it in advance to the show but what I did was I went through and I started bucketing a lot of my prospects list. I was fortunate enough that I went into LinkedIn before LinkedIn decided that they were going to yank all the email addresses out of the export so I have over 1000 people that I’m connected to on LinkedIn where I have their email addresses. It’s closer than 900 or so because I went through and sorted them out because there’s some that appear in that list that I don’t have all the contact information for them or they’re duplicated on another list that I have.
By separating those out, I’ve basically got multiple buckets of people. There’s people who are on that LinkedIn list. There are also people who have signed up for an account in Bluetick but either never finished the process or they signed up and then they cancelled at some point. Then I also have people who I had listed in my Pipedrive account at one point where I was walking them through the process and then they either dropped off for one reason or another. Part of why I built Bluetick was because I didn’t feel Pipedrive helped me as well as it could have. I’ve got those people that are tracked there.
I’ve also got a separate list for people on my personal mailing list. I’ve got people on the Bluetick mailing list as well. All of those, I can reach out to individually through Bluetick. I’ve spent quite a bit of time bucketing those people into different lists and it’s a matter of going through those and sending out those cold emails as you call it. I don’t feel it’s quite as cold but just because we’ve had some contact in some way, shape, or form.
Rob: Yeah. You’re right. It’s not totally cold. It’s lukewarm to warm depending on who you put in there. That’s interesting. What’s your timeline for getting that started because I think that could move a needle here?
Mike: I don’t know and this is something I struggle with a little bit because I’ve got this upcoming Google security audit then I’ve got some of those changes I want to make in order to rip out all that .NET component. Let’s say that I add 50–100 customers, something like that or even just 50–100 trials, each one of those are going to have mailbox data associated with it and then assuming that they’re still active when I start doing conversions. It’s going to take longer for the data migration to happen.
Does that matter as much? Probably not, but it introduces places where things could fail. Having to look at a lot of the stuff that comes out of mailboxes, the more data that’s in there, the more likely you are to run to an edge case where there’s an expectation that there’s a datapoint there and there isn’t. The code crashes and you have to fix it, then redeploy it and potentially have to basically restart the process, which sucks. I’m between this rock and a hard place where I have to do it. I don’t really want to, but I may just have to bite the bullet and kick it off at some point and hope for the best.
Rob: Yeah. On this one, in particular, I think you got to do it. When I think of, “Is it an excuse or is it a valid reason?” I think you and I could come up with probably five reasons why you shouldn’t start sending these lukewarm emails. I think that your business is more important than that. Getting Bluetick to where it’s supporting you full-time because that’s your goal, I think that’s more important because if you wait until all these other stuff you’ve mentioned—there’s always going to be stuff you want to get done before you do whatever—I think you’re months out.
You could feasibly be two months out for the audit, you don’t really want to do this sealed .NET component before that’s done, which I get. As long as the audit keeps sucking up your time, I get it. It seems like that .NET component is really holding things up. I just would hate for it to be mid-December and have you start doing the cold email. You’re 2½ months from now and nobody’s buying at that point. Then you’re into January and it’s that’s a lot to push off.
Mike: Yeah and I’m feeling the best case scenario, if things go well with the security audit, as soon as that’s done, that’s when I should start sending out those emails. I’m okay with doing it through November but when December hits, it’s time to basically back off on that and say, “Okay, let’s pause this and let’s restart it in January,” because nothing’s really going to move in December. I just don’t think that it is unless I were to say, “Hey, you sign up this month and you get an extra two weeks to your trial, four weeks,” or something like that. “You get a six week trial instead of two weeks.” That I can see potentially doing, but aside from that, I agree. I’m not going to let the replacement of that .NET component be something that holds up pushing on that side of things, for the lukewarm outreach I guess.
Rob: Right but I would say, even this cold outreach, why wouldn’t you just start it this week? What’s holding you back from doing that?
Mike: Mostly I just have to sit down and write the email templates to send them. Then the big thing that I think holds me back from doing that is that when new customers come on, they typically need a lot of handholding in the early stages and that’s a huge time sync. As I said, I leave for MicroConf in two weeks, so if I have that coupled with all the documentation paperwork I’m trying to get together for the Google security audit which I know is going to take a huge chunk of time over the next couple of weeks, I feel what’s going to end up happening is I’m just not going to be as responsive to these customers and they’re like, “Well, why did I even give you a chance?” Because they’re lukewarm relationships, I don’t necessarily want to burn personal bridges.
Rob: Could you start with a small number though? Could you get these emails drafted, start cold emailing a ridiculously small amount like 10 a day? Normally, if you’re doing cold email campaigns, you’re sending thousands a month to be honest, but if you start sending 5 a day or 10 a day, so that you had 1–3 prospects in the pipeline? I know the MicroConf stuff is a problem and you’ll have to communicate that. It’s not a problem. It’s a speedbump, right? You’ll have to notify the people that you’re working with and be like, “I’m doing this conference, I’ll be out a few days.”
That’s a bummer but I just want to see you move forward with it, I think is how I feel about it with something. Again, we can think or reasons why you shouldn’t do this until after MicroConf, until after the audit, until after the .NET component, or until after Christmas. Pretty soon you’re in January and you’re 3½ months from now. I don’t think that’s good for your motivation or for the business growth, to be honest.
Mike: Yeah, I agree. I think you’re right. Starting with a smaller group would probably do it and that would at least get the ball started. Then I would have the whole system in place, so to speak, for ramping it up throughout November. That’s probably a better way to go than just holding off completely.
Rob: That’s how I feel about it because this stuff takes time.
Mike: I think that the other thing that comes to mind as a workaround for people who start to sign on a couple of days before MicroConf starts, I can email them, say, “Hey, look. I’m going to be out for the next week. I know you’re probably going to need help during this time but let me do this, let me extend your trial by another week or two weeks,” whatever, “to help get by that or overcome that just because I know I’m going to be less available during this time.”
Rob: That is such a roadblock to speedbump email that you just brought up. I love it. Seriously. You just figured out a way of like, “Here’s an objection. Here’s something that I can do that would probably work perfect.” It really has a low-risk of failure. That’s it man. When you’re building these types of funnels or these systems or whatever, this stuff takes a lot longer, not just hours in a day but a lot more duration in terms of weeks or months to get going.
If you’re starting from a cold stop in a month, then you’re not making any of that progress. If you start very slowly now, you’re going to see the bugs, the kinks, how you’re going to improve and you can tinker with it and lower risk and then you can basically ramp it up when you feel a little more comfortable about it. Awesome.
Mike: Other ways of it is to differentiate. In that weekly mastermind that I talk to you about, they’re still going with that, we still talk every week usually for at least 1 hour, sometimes 1½–2 hours. One of the things that we’ve specifically talked about is exactly how I can differentiate Bluetick.
Several things have come up which I won’t go into in detail here just because they bleed in for direction and they tend to be an extended conversation, but for the most part, if there are several things that I’ve looked at and say, “This would be a fantastic way to go but it’s almost a completely different product at that point,” it sounds nice in theory but I have to say no to it at that point because I’m not building another product at this point.
Rob: Yeah. It’s not even a pivot. It’s just a start from scratch.
Mike: It would probably be easier to start from scratch at that point. Yes. I don’t know.
Rob: On the plus side, you might not need the Google audit.
Mike: Right because I’ve already committed to that. I don’t know.
Mike: Then you’re like, “Is this a…”
Rob: Sunk cost?
Mike: Sunk cost, I don’t know.
Rob: No, no, no. At this point, you recommitted. We went through this two or three months ago, right? It was like, “Should you keep working on Bluetick? Should you keep being an entrepreneur?” You went on a retreat and you decided, “No, I’m going to do this.” That’s not just so you can’t pivot Bluetick to something but if you literally have to start from a new code base, if it’s that far off from where you are, it’s not the time. Maybe you’ll wind up doing that in a year or two, hopefully not but I don’t think that’s the time because you have all these other stuff moving forward now.
Mike: I think that if we’re incrementally going a direction like that and it’s through customer discovery, then great but this isn’t really that, I don’t think. At least a couple of different directions I thought of, I don’t really feel that’s it.
Rob: Yeah, that makes sense. I’ve come back to this question a lot. Do you know how to differentiate? You had mentioned the integrations could potentially be a differentiator and you mentioned a few minutes ago that you are working on some integrations? Is that part moving forward?
Mike: Yeah. That part is moving forward. I’ve got an integration I’ve been working on the past couple of weeks, on and off. I’m hoping to have it done and submitted by the end of this week but we’ll see how that goes. Actually, I have to. I committed in my mastermind group to absolutely having that done and submitted by the end of this week. I’ve got another day-and-a-half to finish it, but it’s close.
Rob: I missed it. Did you say who’s the integration’s with?
Mike: I did not.
Rob: Okay. Cool. This is the fun stuff is when you’re doing things that are covert and that you don’t want to say in public because you’re worried about a competitor or whatever. Obviously, you’ll announce it in public when it’s done. So you have been making progress then. You’ve been writing code and getting that in place.
Rob: Cool. Good to hear it. When I asked about differentiation last time you said, “I need to talk to some of my customers more, ask them why did they decide to use Bluetick.” What was that decision process to find out if you already have some type of differentiation that we just don’t know about or what that is? It’s like a job to be something, the switch interview. “Why did you decide to do this?” Did you have a chance to do any of that?
Mike: Yes. I talked to a couple of different people and I still have to get through, go in, and take a look at some of the other customers I have. What I’m trying to do is go through and actually talk to all of them. Unfortunately, some of them are run by agencies, the people running the account are not necessarily the people paying for it. They’re running 3–5 accounts or something like that. I’d be talking to the same person for five different “customers.”
I still have to sort out some of those because I don’t necessarily know exactly who all those people are. But from the conversations that I have had, one of the things that keep coming up, for example in Bluetick, you can have somebody in multiple sequences at the same time. I’m working on making it so that you can add somebody back into the same sequence multiple times. Something else people have been asking for a little bit is being able to add the same person to the same sequence multiple times.
I’m still trying to sort out exactly the use cases for those. I’ve got a couple of calls scheduled in the future to discuss those in a little bit more detail. But for my understanding, those types of things that are not things that any of my competitors can do because they are explicitly geared toward cold outreach. Once you have reached contact with somebody, once they have responded to an email, they’re so hands off that you literally cannot send them another email. I feel that’s a differentiator for some of my competitors but probably not all of them.
Rob: That’d be interesting. We actually got that request with Drip. We weren’t cold email obviously, it’s warm marketing list but originally, you could go through a sequence which we call a campaign, you can go through campaign once and you couldn’t restart it. We did it for a bunch of reasons. It doesn’t often makes sense to do that and there are some really, they weren’t spammers per se but there were people that were just doing really shady internet marketing stuff and they have a 52-week sequence. If you were still there at the end, they wanted to start over. We’re like, “Oh my gosh. I don’t want you to do that.”
Then there were some legit reasons for this like, “Hey, I throw an event twice a year and I have an email sequence that goes out to all the attendees around the event time and it’s the same sequence. In essence, I’m just going to update the dates in the emails, so I want to start them over with a bulk operation and just be able to boom drop people there. If they can’t go through it again, that doesn’t make sense.” There are totally valid use cases for these kinds of stuff.
Mike: That’s what I’ve found as well. Simple things that you wouldn’t necessarily think of dumping emails which coincidentally, my credit card expires at the end of next month and in the past two days I’ve gotten over a dozen emails saying, “Hey, your credit card expires at the end of the month.” I’m like, “Oh God, now I got to go update it,” like it does in different places but that is one of those cases where adding somebody into an email sequence in Bluetick would be a prime use case for that would be very simple to do that.
The problem is that you can’t really restart them so you could do it once. Then you have to delete them from the sequence then add them back. There is a workaround in place right now but people want the ability to basically restart them in the sequence and then also have the same person in the same sequence multiple times. Again, I’m still trying to dig in to exactly the reasons behind that. I’ve heard from 2–3 different people that they wanted to do that.
Rob: Got it but you want to talk to more customers, you were saying, just to get more ideas.
Mike: Yeah, well I want to talk to them more about the individual use cases for that because if I understand why it is they want to do that, it may dictate how those changes are made inside the code itself because I could just slap something in there that says, “Oh, just restart this person.” But then it has an impact on the data and statistics as well, for example. Bluetick goes, when it does a response to an email, it does a threaded response and it includes the text of the previous email that was sent. If I restart it, it basically has to be email one, for example and it can’t include the previous email that was sent in that thread because it shouldn’t.
Rob: Let’s talk offline about this because we came up with a solution that it’s just too deep in the weeds to go into here, but I remember how we designed it and we’ll see if it works for you.
Rob: But that’s exciting actually. I’m pleased to hear that there are these things that other tools can’t do. The interesting thing is that you can build these as features, but how do those bubble up to positioning? Not just as a feature, but how does that change your headline? What are you now? Are you the most robust one or all these use cases around specific things that then you become the niche player, you pick a couple of verticals that really need repeating, and then you just go after those? There’s a thread here that I think you should keep pulling.
Mike: Yeah. One of the things that has come up in conversations with one of my customers was like most people, they use Gmail as their email client but it’s immaterial which one you actually use. One of the thoughts that I have is about how do they use Bluetick without logging into it?
Let’s say that’s a one off situation. Typically, somebody will send an email from their mailbox and then that’s it. They’re hoping that somebody will come back whereas Bluetick, the expectation is the email sequence is launched from inside of Bluetick. That use case falls apart if they reply from their mailbox. There is a way to create a task, assign to Bluetick, and then you’ve got the email template. It’ll pop up a task and you can go in. You can change that first email and then the rest of it is templated.
Let’s say that there was a way to do that from inside your email client whether it’s Outlook, Office365, or Gmail. Let’s say that there was a folder there called _Bluetick so that it appears right at the top of the list. You send an email and you drag it over into that and then Bluetick picks that up and says, “Hey, I see that there’s this email here. I’m going to essentially add this to a particular email sequence and follow up with it using this first email that that person had as their original one.” Then it’s going to reply to that email several times until they get a response.
The question is, how does that mechanically really work? I don’t know the answer to that yet, but it seems like it’s a really good use case. I think that it would differentiate from the other things that are out there.
Rob: Yeah, I hope this pans out in a way that you can find more people who also have that need because that’s a question mark of course. Is this so niche that there aren’t going to be hundreds or thousands of people that need it? I think that’s TBD and I think that’s more conversations then figuring out how to present that to people when you’re positioning and in your marketing.
Rob: Sounds good, man. I guess I would summarize the past month, it sounds like it’s been okay but not great. The Google audit is really throwing a wrench it things and really impacted your productivity.
Mike: But it could be worse.
Rob: It could be worse and it has been worse. I’m pretty happy to hear where these threads are going. Let’s circle up again in about a month. I’m imagining you will either be still in the slog, I’m guessing you’ll be hopefully wrapping up the slog of the Google audit. Now, you’ll still have another two to potentially four weeks after that, actually.
Mike: It’s just going to be 45-minute recording of a solid continuous profanity beep. That’s all it’s going to be.
Rob: That’s a good idea. “Well, hey Mike. Welcome back to the show,” and then it just kicks off. Then I do an outro. “Thanks again. Thanks, Mike, for coming.” I hope things go well over the next month and we will catch up with you soo.
Mike: Sounds good. Talk to you soon.
Rob: All right, bye.
I was enjoying my conversations with Mike and of course, wish him well over the next month of slogging through the Google audit. We know that Mike has some challenges ahead of him with Bluetick, not just this audit but in continuing to prove out the market and differentiating Bluetick. A lot of work to be done, but it is nice to hear that he has continued to be productive since our last conversation. We’ll catch up with Mike again in about a month.
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Another benefit of rolling out warm emails to a small number of contacts is it allows for the almost inevitable realisation after hitting Send about what could have been done better to make it into the second batch.
If Mike’s future plans involve parsing emails, e.g. MIME multi-part headers, then it may take longer than expected to be robust. Although RFCs define the format there are many violations in the wild, e.g. a missing mandatory parameter. And it’s not just spammers; a popular PHP email library was getting it wrong before we told them, Gmail violates the RFCs with the emails it sends and I’ve never been able to get a message through to anyone that cares. Hmm, I wonder if they’d pass one of those pricey audits…