In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob checks in with Mike Taber on his progress with Bluetick. They talk about the finale of the Google audit, a new integration. and trying to find differentiation in the market.
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Rob: In this week’s episode of Startups for the Rest of Us, I catch up with Mike Taber and get an update on his progress with Bluetick. This is Startups for the Rest of Us Episode 470.
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 start up or you’re thinking about your first. I’m Rob and today with Mike Taber, we’re going to share our experiences to help you avoid the mistakes we’ve made.
Welcome to the show. I’m your host, Rob Walling. Each week on the show, I cover topics related to building, growing startups in order to build yourself a better life and improve the world in some small way. We strive to be ambitious, but we’re not willing to sacrifice our life or health to grow our companies. We have many different show formats. We have some tactics and teaching. We have interviews, listener questions. Sometimes, we do founder hot seats and breaking news episodes. All kinds of things that just mix it up and the feedback I’ve gotten since the mix up 20, 25 episodes ago is that the people really like that and they almost like the unpredictability of it. I’ve been overwhelmingly told to keep going and keep doing what we’re doing.
Each month or so, about every four to six weeks, I catch up with Mike Taber. He’s still a regular guest on the show, but he only comes on every month or two to update us on what he’s been doing with his product, Bluetick, that he’s been struggling to get to the point of supporting him full-time. If you haven’t already heard episodes 448 and 458, I’d encourage you to go listen to those episodes because they do give you a background on really what we’re talking about, how I’m trying to help push Mike forward, and challenge some of his assumptions. Also, to get updates, just to hear what’s going on because I like to know what’s up with Mike and I’ve heard overwhelmingly that people want to as well. They want to know what’s going on with him.
Today’s episode is a fun one. I do push back on a few things that Mike has said and call him on why he hasn’t made more progress. Overall, it’s a positive episode and it’s fun to hear Mike rant about the Google audit and I think our editor even has to bleep him once or twice, which is unusual for Mike.
Before we dive in, I want to let you know that tiny TinySeed applications for batch two are now open. You can go to tinyseed.com, click the apply button. If you’re a bootstrap, SaaS app, or subscription software and you’re looking for mentorship and community in a small batch of motivated founders as well as $120,000 investment or more frankly, if you have a couple of founders, you should head over to TinySeed and see what we’re up to. We’re super bootstrapper-friendly and the idea is to raise the tide and to raise all the boats in this segment that is really an underserved group.
The venture capitalist has an agenda and it’s to go bigger or go home, it’s to be a unicorn or bust, and that’s not what we’re doing. Our thesis is that we can get a lot of folks who are wanting to build this $1–$20 million ARR, these life-changing SaaS apps, ambitious but not 90-hour weeks. We’re about halfway through our first batch of ten. This application process runs for the next couple of weeks and we’ll be doing another batch early next year. We’re getting that together. Good things have been happening there. tinyseed.com, if you’re interested. With that, let’s talk to Mike.
Mike, thanks for coming back on the show.
Mike: Hey, how is it going?
Rob: It’s pretty good, man. I was just counting the days. I think it’s been about five weeks, about right around 34–35 days since we last spoke. I know during that time you were out of town for five days with MicroConf Europe, but I’ve been getting feedback both at MicroConf Europe and then at a little founder retreat I went to earlier this week that folks do like following the story of what you’ve been up to, so I’m curious.
As usual, I have my list of stuff from last time that some stuff was up in the air and the threads that we’re following, so I look forward to hearing about it. I think the thread of the hour and the one that you’re basically spending 15 hours a week last time we spoke is this Google audit. You were a month into it and you thought it would be six more weeks’ worth of stuff. We’re essentially five weeks into that period so I’m fascinated to hear what that’s looked like over the past five weeks, where it’s at, are you wrapping up, that kind of stuff.
Mike: I guess for context of dates and timeline here, three weeks ago was MicroConf Europe. There was a Wednesday that I was basically either on a plane or over in Dubrovnik for MicroConf Europe. That spans a couple of weeks where, I don’t know about you, but a day or two before you travel, you really don’t get a whole lot done and then the day or two after is kind of the same thing so that basically makes it almost two full weeks right there.
My audit started last Monday and it was supposed to go from Monday to Monday, I believe. That process is finished. I’ve got a draft of the report and I’m going to go over it with them next week. I’ve got the letter of attestation or whatever it is, more like a letter of assessment. That’s already in my hands and I’ve sent that off to Google. Now, it’s a waiting game to see if Google just looks at it and says, “Yup, this is good. You’re all set for the next 12 months.” That’s the good news. The bad news is I’m super pissed about the whole thing.
Rob: Well, you have been the whole time. Are you more pissed now than you were the last two episodes? Has something more happened?
Mike: I’m way more pissed about it because basically they came back and said, “Yeah, everything looks fine. It’s pretty much it.” There was one thing they complained about and they’re like, “Yeah, you’re cryptography keys, the keys that you’re using to encrypt information, shouldn’t be on the same machine as all source code,” or not even a source code, but the actual application because before, I was compiling it directly into the application knowing that nobody else has access to that machine. You can’t get to it unless you break the machine open and hack into it, and then you’ve got access to the source code and everything else.
At that point, encrypting things really doesn’t do a whole heck of a lot and yeah, the data is on a different machine, but I’m well aware of all the security implications there. In the grand scheme of things, that’s a very, very small thing. They’re like, “Yeah, that’s an absolute no, no. You can’t do that.” I was like, “All right. Fine.” I spend a couple of days using Azure’s Key Vault, I think it’s called. Basically, now I’m storing the keys someplace else, but the client’s secret and stuff are still on that machine, so it’s like, “Okay, now I have to go to this other machine, pull back that information, and then encrypt it.” I have to do that every single time that I have to encrypt or decrypt information. I’m like, “This is just stupid.” It’s just like, “All right, whatever. I’ll do it,” because I have to. I have no other choice.
Rob: Yeah, that’s the thing. You can get hung up on it and be pissed about it, but then you got to move past it especially if Google approves this certificate of attestation, I think is what you said. I mean assuming that that goes through, you have 12 months and it’s time to get on your horse and get things moving.
I’m curious. Over the past five weeks, how much of your time was that was it? You expected it to maybe ramp up to like 20 hours a week, like half your time, and I’m curious if that amounted to that or what it looked like.
Mike: It wasn’t that much. I had to give them a whole ton of documentation. It wasn’t quite a dozen different documents of policies and procedures and stuff like that, but some of it was just I’ll say personally frustrating because they’re like, “Document what your secure coding procedures look like and how you educate other people who come onboard.” I’m like, “Well, there really isn’t anybody else that I have to educate about it because it’s just me.”
I distinctly remember looking at one of the questions and it was something along the lines of, “Please describe how you do pair programming for code reviews.” I wanted to laugh at it and I had to hold myself back from saying, “I wait 12 hours, sober up, and then look at the codes sober to figure out what it was that I was doing.” It’s just so frustrating to have to go through that stuff and answer completely stupid questions and provide documentation for things that I’m not going to look at and nobody else will.
Rob: I wish you would have put that drunk answer on there and just to see what they said.
Mike: Well, it ended up in the report, too. Not that, but some of the other things that I wrote, they asked me a couple of clarifying questions and literally word-for-word, the stuff that I put in there, it was word-for-word what I said was in the executive report.
Rob: Yeah, that makes sense. I was joking, by the way, about the drunk comment. I’m glad you didn’t do that because that wouldn’t have gotten well. This feels like a win to me. I’m going to flip it on its head because I can tell you’re pissed and you have been for three months or more because the whole thing threatened your business itself.
When you got initial quotes or estimates, they were really high. Then you got lower quotes, then you negotiated, and then you got something that was reasonable enough for you to pay. Now, it sounds like your done and while it has killed some time, it didn’t kill as much time as you were projecting over the next six weeks. Right now, are you done? Do you have to make any more code changes to satisfy their recommendations?
Mike: As far as I know, no. I have the letter. I have to hand it off to Google. I believe, at that point, Google just takes it and says, “Okay. Yes, you’re approved.” And they toggle some switches on their side and they stop bugging me about all this stuff. My belief is that I’m done, but what pisses me off is how little they found and how big a deal Google made it out to be. They’re like, “We’re going to kill your business if you don’t do these things or you don’t go through this process and pay this large sum of money to this third party company to do a security audit.”
There’s no recourse there whatsoever. So, I go through the process and then when I get through it, I come back and I look at their end result of it and they’re like, “Oh yeah, you have to change this one minor thing here that’ll take you like a day or two.” Then, all the other documentation that I put together, which is a total waste of time because nobody else is ever going to look at any of it, it’s totally useless. It was a huge time sink for absolutely nothing. It didn’t benefit my customers. It doesn’t make the product any better. It doesn’t get more people using it. It literally does nothing other than allow me to stay in business. That’s the piece that’s so frustrating. That’s the part that really pisses me off and makes me angry at Google, for putting me through this when at the end of the day, you look at the report and they’re like, “Oh yeah, these one or two things.” It was almost completely unnecessary.
Rob: If you’re at home playing the Startups For the Rest of Us drinking game, you can know take your shot for Mike saying it was unnecessary and he’s angry at Google. Mike, I know. I totally get it. I think I want to say it again. I consider this a win because you’ve passed this. Six months ago, maybe more, you started talking about this and it was a big, big deal and you’re done. You made it through and it didn’t wreck the business. To me, it’s like the Bill Wolf quote, “Control what you can control and let the score take care of itself.” That’s where you are. You can be pissed. I get pissed all the time at stuff. You know me pretty well. I get mad pretty easily, but I try to let stuff go quickly and move on. You know what I mean?
I mean this could’ve been a complete and utter roadblock that decimated your business whether because you failed the audit, whether it’s because you couldn’t afford the audit, whether it’s because you refused to do the audit on principle. Any one of those would’ve wrecked the business and you turned it into a speed bump. You said, “What are my options here? I can pay for this thing. I can negotiate this thing. With my teeth clenched, I can just force my way through,” and that’s what you did. I think I know it’s a pain in the ass. I totally get it and I’m really surprised that we have not had to use the beep noise over any of your words so far this episode, but cheers to you, man. I am happy. I look ahead at Bluetick and now, it’s all about execution. It’s differentiation. It’s writing some code. It’s marketing. It’s getting more people in. That’s how I feel about it. I have the outside perspective. You’ve been mired in this for months. Does that resonate with you? Do you feel that way or do you feel like I’m being too optimistic silver lining?
Mike: You’re absolutely right. Everything that you just said is 100% correct, but Google still pisses me off right now. I’m not the type of person who gets upset easily. I’m not the person who you can just poke with a stick and suddenly, I just rear my claws and just go after you. I just don’t do that, but this has been dragging on for so long and I really feel like I’ve been put through the ringer for this for no good reason. I just can’t point anything justifiable. The problem is I know I have to go through it again next year.
Next year, it will be better because I’ve got all the documentation in place and yeah, the product will change, certain things are going to have to be updated here and there and that’s fine, but the fact that they went through this whole thing and they made it such a big deal, and they get to the end of it and there’s this report that shows, “Oh, we found three things.” One of which is not even on my servers. I’m like, “Okay, this is total […]. Complete and utter […]. You’re complaining about an SSL certificate that I put on a server that’s not even my server. Come on. That’d ridiculous.” I even told them that. I’m like, “I have no control over this.”
Rob: Yeah. I hear you about having to do it again in 12 months. My hope is that the fact that you already have an existing relationship with an auditor and that you have the same docs or depending on where you are in 12 months, maybe you’ll have hired a developer or a senior developer that could do parts of this for you so you don’t have to mire through it.
I realized that’s a tall order. You’d have to make a lot of progress between now and then, but I think in the back of my mind, in your shoes, you’ve seen how frustrating this is and how much it emotionally derails you. With me, with Drip, it was blacklists, there were support requests, it was cues being slow. There were these things that I had to find people to do because they slowly tore away at me and they made me hate my job.
As entrepreneurs, we can’t hate our job because we control them. If we’re not enjoying it, it’s to a certain extent, our fault. Now, in this case, it’s not. It’s not your fault that Google made you do that but you did then have the chance to say, “Well, I’m just going to shut the business down,” or, “I’m going to pivot away from Google,” or whatever, but you gritted it and made it through, which is in my opinion, what you should have done. But looking ahead 12 months, I’d be thinking how can I not let this be six weeks, eight weeks of me being mad next time? What types of things can I put in place to help with that?
Mike: The fact of the matter is, I think that in a year when this comes up again, it will be a lot less stressful because I will have had full visibility of all the things that are going on, and all the things that they’re looking out, and I will have already had one report to look at that says, “These are all the things that we looked at and be able to at least keep them in mind moving forward.” Up until I got a final report, even during the week of the audit, it was just super stressful because I wasn’t getting anything back from them and I was expecting a daily report or something along those lines that says, “Hey, we looked at this and this is a problem. You need to fix it. Here’s a high priority. Here’s a critical thing that you have to do.” Because that all those critical and high items had to be taken care of before they could issue this letter of assessment and I was getting nothing.
I asked them. I was like, “What’s going on here? I’m expecting something here and I haven’t heard anything.” They’re like, “Oh, we haven’t found anything so far.” But of course, there’s a lag time between the time that I sent them an email and then they get back to me. I think some of their penetration testing staff are in completely different time zones like halfway around the world, so it just makes that back-and-forth a lot harder to do because, (1) they don’t report directly to me, and (2) they’re in a completely different time zones. It just makes it a lot harder and a lot more stressful, but I don’t think that it’ll be nearly as bad next time.
Rob: Yeah, I would agree. Looking ahead, let’s talk about some other things that you had in the works, some of which were on hold or I think one of which was on hold due to a code freeze and then there were some other stuff that step through. Just to keep going on the thread.
You have an untestable sealed .NET component. Startups For the Rest of Us drinking game just gets so good when we go over this topic again. I want to go back and I think it had to have been six or eight months ago when you first mentioned of this thing. You said, “I’m going to replace this thing,” and you put it on hold due to the Google audit. Have you replaced it yet? Is this top priority? Where do we stand with this?
Mike: I just got the letter of assessment this morning. I was expecting it on Monday because they said that they were working on it, and then Tuesday came and nothing, Wednesday came and still nothing, and finally, I got it this morning. It was like one o’clock in the morning. Until then, it’s basically been on code freeze. So no, I haven’t touched that yet. Is it on deck? Yes, at some point. When exactly? I don’t really know.
I have to go through and look at where that really falls in the priority list because I feel like it’s a lower priority than a lot of the sales and marketing stuff that I have to do. I hate to say that this is or isn’t holding me back because I’m not really sure. I want to get it out of there. I don’t know how hard it is to be able to pull it out because it is pretty integrated into the core of my code and I’m going to have to change the storage mechanism.
I think I’m just going to have to make a judgment call at some point about do I just suck it up and leave it there even though I know that it’s the wrong decision? There are certain part of I think everybody’s application where it’s got words on it and you’re like, “This really needs to be rewritten or it needs to be refactored.” And you don’t do it because you know that you’re just kicking a hornet’s nest and it’s going to be terrible.
Rob: How long do you think it’s going to take you to get the new component in? I know you have to redo data and you have to remap stuff and namespaces. I get it. How long though? That’s the thing.
Mike: Just for me to migrate the data would probably take a week. That’s just the computers churning.
Rob: Yeah, so it’s a sizable thing, but you have decided that this is the right choice, right?
Mike: Yeah. That’s the thing. Assuming nothing goes wrong, it would take a week.
Rob: Sure. All right. It happened this morning and you’re not done with it yet, Mike? What have you been doing? No, I’m just kidding. Do you plan to start it? What is it? Thursday today so do you plan to start that tomorrow or Monday? Is that the next priority or you’re just saying I’m going to do this in a few months?
It’s tough. This one’s not so clear up to me. To me, in my head, it’s a bite the bullet type of thing where it’s overhead and I know it creates legacy, or cruft, or just hard code to work around. To me, I would bite the bullet and I would cover up two weeks and I would hammer this through. But I can also see an argument on the other side of this provides no value to your customers. On the flip side, it’s like, “I should be marketing, selling, and getting more people in before that.” I could see an argument either way. Again, I would probably make the product such that I feel more comfortable marketing and selling it, because I hate having crappy code. What’s your plan there?
Mike: The best thing that I can come up with is to plan to do it in about a month because that would put it in mid- to late-December, which I know there’s not going to be many people using Bluetick at the time and I’m probably not going to be fielding very many support requests. I’m probably not going to be launching very many new marketing or sales campaigns at the time. It’s a slow time where it would be a good time to sit down and bite the bullet and do that as opposed to now where people are still ramping up for the holiday season, doing email follow-ups, and trying to get deals and stuff. By the end of the year, it seems like my time is probably better spent doing that now and then plan for that slow period of biting the bullet.
Rob: Cool. That sounds good. We will connect with you again on that next time you come back. For our next topic, let’s talk about marketing. You obviously had the majority of your work weeks to be doing other things. You didn’t want to write code and the Google audit was taking some time. We talked about a marketing hire you were making. It was a contractor to do podcaster research and we had talked that through a little bit last time. Where does that stand?
Mike: Most of the stuff is already done and been sorted and prioritized. I got the information I need for all those things, so we’re basically waiting until the end of this audit to start queuing those up. Between today and tomorrow, the plan is to start queuing those up, start sending those emails out, and see if I can get onto a handful of other podcasts. I’ve already done one podcast interview. I actually did that last week. I’ve got another one that I was told by the podcast host that she’d love to have me on so it’s just a matter of reaching out to them and getting that set up as well. There’s no more roadblocks in the way of doing that so that’s get started ASAP at the moment.
Rob: It’s been five weeks. Why did it take that long? Why hasn’t that started two weeks ago?
Mike: Well, two weeks ago, I was in Europe. That’s why. Of the last five weeks, a good solid week-and-a-half to two weeks was spent in the middle of the audit and then there was another solid week or two that was basically over in Europe. I basically had maybe two weeks or so before MicroConf Europe get started on that. That was mostly the data aggregation and the actual work that was done behind the scenes.
Rob: Got it. Are you sending those emails through Bluetick?
Rob: That’s cool.
Mike: Well, that’s the plan. I haven’t actually sent them out yet.
Rob: How did you get on the podcast then?
Mike: Oh, there’s a personal invitation. Somebody raised that to me.
Rob: Got it. Cool. That would be an ASAP thing then. You could get that going tomorrow literally or Monday. You just got to write some copy and get her in.
Mike: That’s the plan for that.
Rob: Good. Looking forward to that. We already talked about that. I won’t go into it. Again, it drives a little bit of traffic. It’s more of a slow burn. It’s a one-time thing type of thing, but I think that it’s easy enough to do as long as it doesn’t take a bunch of time. I would probably be doing the same thing right now.
The other thing you were looking at was code emailing. It was really warm emailing. You said 900 email addresses from your LinkedIn connections. You had prior Bluetick cancellations, sales leads that never converted, that were in pipe drive, other stuff. You were going to bucket them and start warm emailing cold batches in the next week or two last time we talked. Talk to me the status on that.
Mike: I’ve got those all bucketed out and that’s another situation where I was holding off on actually doing it and pulling the trigger after this audit was done. That again is something else that got the green light at this point that I can start today or tomorrow.
Rob: That’s interesting. Why were you holding off on that? Because you knew you were going to pass the audit. That wasn’t a big question. I knew you were.
Mike: It was never a question of whether I would it pass it or not, it was a question of timing. There are two pieces of the audit itself. There was the technical piece where they say, “Hey, we’re going to beat on you servers for six days.” And then aside from that, there is all this policy documentation that I had to create. Anything that they saw that raised a red flag, I had to either change the policy itself, it’s not just text that I have to change, but it’s also I have to change how I do things.
For example, one of the things that they said was, “Oh, you have to enable multi factor authentication on everything including source control.” So I have to basically generate SSH keys and lock down all of my source controls, which means that I also have to generate API keys, then go into my build environment, and I have to change all that stuff, too. It’s not just a simple thing like changing some texts on a piece of paper that I hand to them. I actually have to go do those things as well. All of that stuff needed to be changed.
There was a bunch of other things that came up during the policy side of things where they said, “Hey, you need to change how you’re going about these things just in order to comply with the requirements.” Between that, I knew that I only had a week or two before I had to leave for Europe, and then immediately after that, I had to dive right into the technical side of the policy stuff.
What I didn’t want to do is start going out and start and try to schedule meetings, calls, and stuff with people. They were not going to be for a month-and-a-half because I didn’t necessarily know that earlier this week things were going to be done. For all I knew, they could come back and say, “Well, you’ve got these 25 vulnerabilities, and 17 of them are high or critical. You need to make code changes to do those.” I didn’t know that I was going to be done this week. For all I knew, it could’ve been another three to four weeks.
Rob: Yeah, but I think we talked last time and I had said cold email doesn’t just start converting overnight typically. Typically, you start it at trickle, you test some things, you tweak, you tweak, you tweak. It takes weeks to really start ramping it up. I had suggested, “Hey, you have this month or whatever,” I guess it was six weeks during the audit that was projected to be six weeks, “I would propose that you just start emailing 5 a day or 10 a week.” Just a very small trickle to start seeing something such that the volume of things wouldn’t have been like, “Oh my gosh, I have 50 calls.”
It wouldn’t have been so much, but just to start ironing those out because I bet if you start this on Monday, it’ll be a couple of weeks until it really starts getting going and now, you’re at a standing stop five weeks later. You know what I mean? Five weeks after our last call, you are at standing stop trying to get it going rather than having a little bit of momentum. That’s what I was more getting at. Why did you wait during the audit to get it going?
Mike: I think I agreed at the time and then realized that I just was not going to have time. Even if that started to turn into something, I wasn’t sure what the future would hold in terms of my timeline leading up to the week after MicroConf or two weeks afterwards. Like I said, for all I knew, it could’ve been another three or four of hard, heavy lifting in terms of code or code changes. I just didn’t know. That big blind spot is really what held me back there.
Rob: Okay. Next time, you should be good. You should be rolling on these things. Right now, cold email and the podcast tour, do you have any other marketing stuff that you’re going to be rolling out or are you going to be focusing on those two? I’m just talking over the next month. Let’s say we talk again in four or five weeks.
Mike: I do have one other thing that has finished up, which we haven’t really talked about. I just finished up an integration that I got approval for I think on Monday of this week. Now, if you go over to zapier.com and you search for bluetick.io, you’ll find it underneath the early access section. bluetick.io now officially has a Zapier integration that is no longer just buy and bite only.
Rob: Nice. Congrats man. That’s cool. Now, what’s funny is I have a note because I was going to cover that. The note says, “Mike is working on an integration that should be live at the end of this week.” I read that five weeks ago. Why did it take that extra month?
Mike: Because I had to email them and then there was a little bit of back and forth. They basically had to run it through their own testing and stuff like that. There was a bunch of things that needed to be changed both on my side and inside the Zap itself in order to get it live. It took a little bit longer to get finished than I thought it would or I hoped it would. And then I emailed them and said, “Hey, can you guys take another look at this.” When I got back from MicroConf, I emailed them again because I haven’t heard back. Maybe the email got lost or buried under all the other stuff that I’ve got going on, but I ended up having to ask them again to take a look at it. It only took them two or three days after that to take a look at it to say, “Yup, this thing looks good. Go for it.”
Rob: Cool. So people can go and search for that right now. Do you get any promotion out of that? Are they going to list you anywhere?
Mike: No. They don’t do any code promotion until you get to a certain number of users, which I think I was told it was like 50 users before that happens so I have to look and see if there’s any way for me to actually see how many active users I have. But I don’t know what it currently stands at so I don’t know how far I have to go between now and doing any sort of code promotion with them.
Rob: Got it. In order to get to 50 users, obviously, you need to get more customers yourself and then have something in a sequence somewhere that is asking people to hook it up, right?
Mike: But I will say having the audit and the Zapier integration behind me, I would call both of those huge wins for me.
Rob: Yeah, that’s good. Would you say over the past, since our last call, those are probably the two high points?
Mike: I would say so, yeah.
Rob: And then the low point was the audit? Just in the midst, that’s what it sounds like.
Mike: Well, the midst of it and then the end results been everything’s fine. It’s like if I wanted to pay somebody five plus figures to go not find something, I’m sure my kids would volunteer. Again, it’s just irksome. I mean you don’t know until after you’ve done it because you do have to poke at everything and I get that part of it, but it’s still frustrating especially being early on.
Rob: Wait, are you saying you were frustrated with Google and the audit? Oh Mike, every time, I’m going to keep bringing it up.
Mike: My anger is interesting.
Rob: Oh, next call, I’m going to bring it up again just to see, just to troll you. Cool. A couple of other things before we wrap. One thing I had asked you about was differentiation. I’ve mentioned, Bluetick is very similar and undifferentiated from most of your competitors and you had said, “I need to talk to some of my customers more and ask them why did they decide to use Bluetick.” Think about it as a job to be done thing. You had talked to a few customers. You got a couple of ideas. One was to have customers in multiple sequences at the same time. In other words, to be able to re-add customers to the same sequence.
It’s a two part question. One is have you gotten more confirmation that those two feature ideas or differentiators are enough? Are you going to build those? And I guess the third part is, maybe we’ll start with this, have you had more conversations with customers since we last spoke? Talk about those other things.
Mike: I’ve had a few here and there, yeah. I still don’t necessarily know if what I have in mind is the deciding factor of like, “Hey, this is going to make Bluetick leaps and bounds better than the other things that are out there.” I believe that it is, but I don’t necessarily know that for a fact. I don’t have any real basis for that. It’s a gut feeling more than anything else.
Rob: How can you turn it from a gut feeling into something? I would say a gut feeling is like, “Yeah, I’m like 30%, 40%, 50%.” How can you get this to 70% or 80%? Whether it’s with one of these things or whether it is something entirely different that you start hearing from other customers.
Mike: I think the first step one, obviously talk to some more of my customers, but two is to start running the idea past. I almost want to say go back to basics when I was first flushing out the idea of Bluetick with a bunch of different people and ask them questions about, “Would you be […] this?” or a product that solves this particular problem. I think it’s a matter of going to some of my list and finding out, “Is this the type of problem that you would be interested in solving inside of your own business?” I feel like it’s more of a reframing of what Bluetick does versus selling what Bluetick is, if that makes sense.
Rob: It does. Now, is it reframing what it does just like, “Hey, it does this one extra feature or two extra features,” or is it in a whole position? Like it’s a more broad branding/positioning shift?
Mike: A little of both, I think. In order to do it, I would have to write some more code. Obviously, I don’t want to go in that direction unless I hear more from people about, “Hey, yeah, this would actually be very compelling for us to use that.” But the other thing is when you hear about an email follow-up tool, your inclination is cold email. There has to be some sort of a brand positioning of, “Hey, this isn’t just for cold email. This is how it is positioned differently in order to make it work for people who aren’t just doing cold email.”
Right now, Bluetick serves a very, very specific piece of functionality for people in their business and if they don’t have that particular problem, then they won’t use it, but that also makes it hard to identify the types of customers because two businesses who are largely identical, one of them may be doing that activity and the other one may not be. It’s hard for me to say, “Oh, go after SaaS companies that fits this profile or in this particular business,” because unless they’re doing that particular thing, it doesn’t solve their problem.
Rob: Got it. So between now and the next time we chat, is this high on your priority list, to speak with this additional customers to try to suss this out?
Mike: It is. I wouldn’t call it my number one priority, but I really need to find what that one differentiating feature or factor is that would make it easy for people to understand what I originally had in mind with Bluetick as a vision as opposed to what it currently is and does today and what people see it as.
Rob: Yeah. I wouldn’t disagree with that. It’s kind of what I’ve been saying the whole time back to episode 448 when we first really dug into all of this. My point was Bluetick is not differentiated and you’re not moving fast enough. That was the thing, whatever that was five months ago. Now, you’re through the Google audit and you’re through a lot of this speed bumps and does feel like, (a) step one, figure out how to differentiate it, and then (b) differentiate it and move fast enough such that folks you’re trying differentiate away from aren’t keeping up with you or aren’t going in the same direction or whatever. That’s what I’d be doing, too, in your shoes, would be a lot of conversations.
I think that cold emails probably can play into that. Again, they’re not cold emails, but it’s your LinkedIn connects and the Bluetick cancellations and such. In addition, I’d probably talk to every customer you have right and just try to figure out why they’re using it, how else you can make it to be sticky. You have those two ideas of those features I mentioned earlier. Those seem like nice to have as interesting tweaks but I’m not convinced. My gut is that they aren’t enough. They aren’t enough to be really, really differentiated and make people switch. Just like what can you have that will make people switch from other tools or choose your tool when they’re comparing yours to the three or four other tools that are top of mind for me.
Mike: I mean I have an idea of exactly what it is that I would want to talk to people about because it’s something that we can talk about it here if you want. The basic idea using Bluetick as a mechanism for identifying things that you need from other people and this is something that you can do with Bluetick right now, but let’s say that I need a W-9 from you or something like that, the question is, how do I get that from you and how do I make sure that I follow-up with you until I get it?
That was one of the things that Bluetick was born out of, was when basically before Xander started helping out with this stuff, I was doing all of the data gathering for all the sponsors for MicroConf. I would say, “Hey, I need logo. I need title text. I need an image. I need all these different things,” and asking them for it and then going back and forth like, “Hey, I’ve got these two things but not this other one or this third one over here or fourth one over here,” and using Bluetick instead as a mechanism for gathering that stuff.
That’s basically a way to build a process into Bluetick such that solve a very tightly-defined problem to gather digital materials from other people and they may fit a specific format, or they may be documents, or Excel spreadsheets or something, and then Bluetick can manage that back and forth process to say, “Hey, I’ve got these three things but not this other thing over here.” Does that make sense? There are like 30 different use cases for it but just very simplistically, that’s the idea.
Rob: Yeah, that makes sense. That’s a clear path or a clear job to be done. The job to be done, you’re saying, is not cold email, it’s not increasing sales, it really is to get something in a workflow from other folks and to do that with email. My first thought when I hear that is right now, the tool I use for that is Gmail and Boomerang. If I email someone for an image, and a this, and an invoice, I Boomerang it in a week if there’s no reply or two weeks if there’s no reply and then I just respond to it again. I know that’s different. Probably in Bluetick, you could put a whole sequence together and if they don’t reply, it automatically does it. I don’t have to type the next one.
I think that Boomerang does a really good job on a small scale and if I only had five sponsors to deal with, that’s what I would do. Bluetick is going to be limited only to those that needed that scale. Cold outbound email or sales emails, you’re a 1000 a month or 2000 a month. There’s no way you would do that via a Boomerang, so everyone in that boat needs or should be using a tool like Bluetick or one of your competitors’.
Whereas, the niche you’re talking about, I think, not only is that a lot smaller and it’s further away from the dollars that the people are trying to generate for their business, because more of a back office thing, but it has to be people doing that at scale. Again, if you’re onboarding five clients a month, you’re probably just going to do via email. If you’re onboarding 100 clients a month, 100 sponsors a month, now it makes a lot more sense to use a tool like you’re talking about.
Mike: A lot of what you’re saying makes sense but I had a conversation with somebody who does onboarding at a small scale and they already know let’s say 30 or 50 different things that they need from the customer. Rather than saying, “Here’s the list of all the stuff that I need,” they only ask for two or three. The reason they only ask for 2 or 3 is because if they ask for 50, it’s going to be overwhelming to the customers. Instead, they only ask them for a couple of things and then they modify that list over time.
So the idea would be you’ll have this, I’ll say a workflow, where you’re asking for something from somebody and you need Bluetick to follow-up or you need a follow-up mechanism in place to basically manage the process of gathering that stuff and you don’t want to overwhelm them with everything all at once. That’s just one instance.
But also, I’ll tell you from experience of managing the sponsors. Once you get up to more than about five conversations in parallel like that where you have different things that you need from people, it gets really hard to manage. It’s not 1000, it’s not even 25, it’s like 5 or 6, and it’s just a nightmare to manage, even 5 or 6.
Rob: It’s interesting. I think, in the interest of time because we’re wrapping up, I want to make a note of this and circle back once you’ve had more conversations, I don’t think it’s a terrible idea. It’s an interesting position. I think there’s a hole we could dive way into how I would think about this because if you’re going to build a generic tool to do that and there are three different use cases, you have a problem. If you can pick one, what’s the biggest one of those used cases, the biggest pain point? Back to conversations we’ve had in the past, is it conference organizers trying to get sponsors and speakers to give them stuff? Is it, whatever, we could pick any vertical and is that where you start? Or is it lawyers trying to get stuff?
Mike: Is it CPAs trying to get tax information from their customers?
Rob: Exactly. Right. All that stuff.
Mike: I’ve had those conversations, too, and it’s a nightmare. I hate to go down the road of going after real estate brokers where you’re trying to get a loan and you need all these different things to apply for. I don’t want to deal in that particular business, but that’s another particular use case where there’s a lot of back and forth and a lot of information that’s needed.
Rob: That’s the thing, is all those verticals we just named or several of them are a pain in the ass to sell into. They are inundated with cold outreach. They don’t adopt new technology quickly. I tweeted this out a few months ago where I said you’re either dealing with competitor pain or customer pain these days if you’re building a SaaS. It’s a general comment but 10 years ago, you could go into a greenfield market with somewhat sophisticated customers, and you could build a SaaS app, and they would come and adopt it, and that was it. It was cool. But things changed over time and today, there’s not much greenfield left and a lot of the greenfield is like, “Well, there’s not a really good this and that for lawyers, or this and that for CPAs, or this and that for dentists.” And so, there’s not some specific thing for them. It’s like, “Cool. I’m going to build for that because I don’t want competitor pain. I don’t want a bunch of completion that chomping at my heels all the time.”
On the flip side, you’re now going to have customer pain. What I mean by that are high maintenance customers, they could be long sales cycles, they could be high price sensitivity, they are high support because they’re not technical, that’s kind of stuff. I’m not trying to make an unequivocal 100% of the time this is the thing, but these are the patterns that I’m seeing. When I look at the TinySeed batch, or when I look at people who apply to become in TinySeed, or when I look at my experience, you got to pick one of those. Trying to get away from both of those is very, very hard, I would say dang near impossible these days unless you get pretty lucky and be early to a certain market for early adopters where the market is just emerging.
I can name a few. Baremetrics is one. Early on, he didn’t have either. Now, he has competitor pain because he has a bunch of competitors, but he got in so early with the Stripe Metrics. I think another one is Tuple, Ben Orenstein’s. They filled a big gap that was left by a startup that have been acquired and shut down and right now, they don’t have competitor pain and they don’t really have customer pain either because it’s a lot of developers.
In the long run, Tuple will have competitor pain because people are watching that and there are going to be competitors that are developed there. They have a bit of a technical mode but in the long term they should just expect to experience that eventually, but since they have a head start, that’s good.
That was my long diatribe about that’s where as you decide if you want to do one vertical or five verticals to start with or wherever you want to position this. I certainly think making it a generic horizontal tool where the headline says get anything from anyone in an automated way, I think that’s a really tough way to go because in a lot of examples, people are trying to fit it into like, “What it is actually then? Is this like Mailchimp?” “No.” “Is it a cold email outreach tool?” “No. It’s not that.” So they’re trying to fit it into a bucket. That’s what people do when we go to these sites. If it’s something that’s just completely new, it’s always you’re just explaining the same thing over and over.
This is interesting. I’m making a note here because I think this is the key to unlocking something with a small group of people. This is how you find early signs of product market fit with a small group, and they love it, and they rave about it, and they say, “No other tool does it this way.” And they have different feature request for you than they would if you’re a cold email tool. If you can make it work and it’s a big if, that the direction you head. That’s how you find that you start growing.
Mike: Yeah. It’s just interesting how many conversations I’ve had have led me in that particular direction. There are a lot of things that remind me of, back when I first started working on Bluetick. It was some of the problems I ran into in trying to onboard sponsors for MicroConf or to sales for AutoShark. A lot of them are overlapping in a very similar way. Some of those features, they just never really got built.
Rob: So wrapping us up today, each time we’ve tended to talk about motivation, sleep, exercise, and stuff—I don’t want to run so far over what we dive into all of that today—I’m curious, over the last five weeks, what has your motivation been like?
Mike: I would say it’s fluctuated. It’s gone up and down. There are definitely days where I don’t have a whole lot of motivation and I feel like the world is pressing down around me. It’s not that I don’t have any options, it’s just that it’s hard to figure out what to do. And then there are days where I don’t even think twice about it and I just sit down and start working and banging things out, but it fluctuates from day-to-day. I can’t say that there’s a great pattern to it or not a great pattern but like an identifiable cause for anything that’s going on. It’s not really sleep-related. It’s not really exercise-related because I’m sleeping fairly well and exercising pretty well. So I don’t know. It’s hard to say.
Rob: I was going to wrap up the interview anyways, but the recording software crashed right at that moment and then Mike and I were basically just text chatting. But I feel like we’ve got a pretty good feeling of where Mike’s at and I’ll probably dig more into motivation, sleep, and exercise in the next episodes. It’s kind of got short shrift here. But I, for one, am feeling good for Mike about his Google audit effect that it’s done and I feel like he can get past it and move on. I’m super interested to hear what progress he can make on trying to get on this podcast as well as really the cold email as the one that I’m banking on as well as the differentiation. Those are the things that I’m going to be continuing to press him on.
These are the points of accountability that I think helped us all to move forward, is to have someone bring up what we said last time and say, “Where are you with that? If you’re not as far as you should be, why not? Okay. Let’s talk about that again in a few weeks.” Is starts to get in your head that this is a real thing that you need to move on and make progress on. Otherwise, the business doesn’t move forward.
I always enjoy talking to Mike. I feel like these are enjoyable conversations for me when I listen back to them. I feel like there are a lot of value for folks to follow his story, to hear what he’s going through as well as to take away how to keep pushing a business forward and have accountability. In a way, it’s a one way mastermind. It’s a little bit how I think about it. It’s kind of he’s reporting on things and I’m helping move it forward. I appreciate that Mike takes the time to keep us posted and we’ll keep doing this as long as it’s interesting.
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One loose thread to pick at on the next Taber’s Travails is whether Mike took up Rob’s ten bucks to run an Enneagram test, as mentioned in episode 461 and others. https://tests.enneagraminstitute.com https://www.startupsfortherestofus.com/episodes/episode-461-doubling-down-on-bluetick
Regarding ditching the .NET package that makes testing hard, it hasn’t been made clear why the application code needs to change. A re-implementation could take the subset of the API that the application uses and provide just that; none of the application code would know or care. And then whatever’s needed to ‘peek through’ for testing added. This seems much simpler than altering the application code to use a new API that would need designing in parallel thus take less time and be easier to justify slotting in.
It may not give as nice a result as an API designed with testing in mind, but migrating to that can be a second phase implemented gradually and with testing already in place. And that phase may never be needed, or high enough priority to schedule.
We just keep hearing how much of a pain the all-at-once solution will be, but what’s the minimum that can be done that provides regression tests to allow development to continue apace?