This week Rob answers some great listener questions. We discuss the best way to validate a product idea, how to expand a product with traction internationally, advice on launching a restaurant product during COVID-19, and whether to start an affiliate program.
If you have questions about starting or scaling a software business that you’d like us to cover, please submit your question for the next episode. We’d love to hear from you!
The listener questions we cover
- 1:39 [Arturo Ceballos] What’s the best way to validate an idea and pre-launch without an audience?
- 13:33 [Ger Apeldoorn] When a product has product-market fit and existing customers, how would you grow internationally?
- 20:31 [Davis] Do you have any experience running an affiliate program. I’m worried about people that sign up for affiliate would be people that would signup anyways?
- 26:40 [Jacob Warren] Should I launch a startup in the service/hospitality industry during COVID-19?
- 28:21 [Casey Collins] Following the Stairstep approach, what’s the best marketplace to use?
Links from the show
- Vetting a startup (or two): The systematic birth of @WPEngine | Jason Cohen
- Idea Validation & Risk Avoidance | Episode 324
- The Stairstep Approach to Bootstrapping | Rob Walling
- Clay Collins on Leadpages and how they used affiliate marketing | Podcast
How can I support the podcast?
If you enjoyed this episode, let us know by clicking the link and sharing what you learned.
If you have questions about starting or scaling a software business that you’d like for us to cover, please submit your question for the next episode. We’d love to hear from you!
Welcome to this all listener question episode of Startups for the Rest of Us. I’m your host, Rob Walling. On this show, each week we cover topics relating to building and growing ambitious startups using a sustainable approach. I’m excited to hear from each one of you out there. We have a couple of voice mails to kick this off and we’ll dig into some text questions.
I’m going to be flying solo today. I’ve been doing several Q&A episodes over the last few months with guests, but I wanted to spend some time today and really dig into a few questions I’ve received. Also, I want to let you know that I’ve recorded two exclusive episodes of Startups for the Rest of Us that are available to subscribers of the email list.
The first episode is called Eight Things You Must Know When Launching Your SaaS and the other one is Ten Things You Should Know as You Scale Your SaaS. I cover both the launching and the scaling phase. If you go to startupsfortherestofus.com anywhere on that site you can subscribe to the email list on the homepage or the widget in the lower right. You will get both of those episodes, of those solo episodes of just me going through bullet points and thinking through the lessons I’ve learned in 20 years of entrepreneurship.
They also come with these really nice PDF guides that are well-designed and summarize each of the points. If you listen to the episode and you take something away from it that you want to refer back to, you have something in writing to jog the memory.
I think both of these episodes and the guides turned out really well and I think if you’re a fan of this show, you’ll enjoy them too. Just head to startupsfortherestofus.com, sign up to be on the mail list, and you’ll get those episodes in your inbox.
Let’s kick off with our first question from Arturo Ceballos.
Arturo: Hey, Rob. This is Arturo Ceballos out of Fresno, California and I actually know you from the Geekwise days when I was first learning how to code. Since then I’ve learned how to develop apps and I’ve tried to build by launching a handful of these now. It wasn’t until I started listening to your podcast that I realized that I was probably going about things the wrong way. Your podcast has been instrumental in changing the way that I think about starting a business and this time around, instead of starting by writing code, I like to do things your way.
I’m now an online marketing manager and I have an idea around helping other online marketers make better decisions with their ads by giving them context around what is and isn’t working for them. There are a couple of people in the market that do this, but not in the way that I’m imagining.
I think there are a lot of ways that we can innovate in the space and I want to see if my idea would actually help others. To get to my question, I listened to your podcast, the episode that came out last week around the first six stages of SaaS growth, and in there you mentioned that you’re running Facebook ads during your Drip pre-launch to different landing pages in order to test that different value propositions.
This is the stage that I find myself in right now. I’m assuming at that time your goal was to build out an email list. If so, what is it that you’re offering people in exchange for their email address? Were you just telling them that you notify them when Drip is ready? Or how did you know that people will pay for Drip? Or that the idea was even worth working on before writing any code?
You’ve probably answered this question a million times in the past. I’m sorry if I’m bringing it up again, but any advice or resources would be super helpful. I really thank you for your time and I appreciate everything that you do with the podcast. Keep up the great work. I know it’s helping a ton of other people. It definitely helped me. Thanks.
Rob: It’s a good question, Arturo, and thanks for sending it in. Congrats on your progress. I do remember you from Fresno. I remember you going through the coding school at Geekwise. That’s cool that you’re getting into marketing because I’ll tell you what. There are few things more powerful in the startup space than a developer who knows how to market. Those are two skills that most people pick one or the other and learning both (at least in that space) is pretty incredible.
There are two answers to this. One is what I did and the second is what I would do in your shoes. I think they are related, but they are not identical if that makes sense. What I did with Drip was I went out and pre-validated that at least a few people would be willing to pay, at that time I said $100 a month. It actually ended up being $50 a month for what I had in mind to build at Drip, for the vision I had for the product.
I did that by getting into email conversations with 17 founders and other people I knew through MicroConf. This is really the first time that I used my network and my audience to grow my software companies. I have, of course, used the audience I had built over (by then it was) 7–8 years of blogging and podcasting. I used that to offer my book, to sell tickets to MicroConf, to create a couple of courses about some different things.
I had used that personal brand site for that kind of stuff, but really all the software, almost without exception that I have built before then. I hadn’t sold much to my audience and hadn’t really used my network to expand that because it was in these bizarre little tiny niches for a lot of the stuff. There was a job board for electricians, there was a wedding website builder. The stuff where me talking to other founders at MicroConf really wasn’t going to help or me talking to the audience of Startups for the Rest of Us wasn’t going to generate any kind of customer base. I did a little bit with HitTail, but it really didn’t. It was tens of customers from my warm audience and the rest of it was just hustle, marketing, writing copy, support, and all of that stuff.
All that to say, with Drip I did lose my network for the first time, but if you don’t have that, then you just have to go back and do what I did before. I had no audience which was to hustle, put in the leg work, and have conversations. I had 17 conversations. I had 11 people say we’re willing to try it out and if it works, we’re willing to pay that price point that you mentioned. That was the validation for me. I heard Jason Cohen did this with WP Engine and he wanted 40 people to give him the thumbs up.
He said 40 people at $99 a month, that was his number. I said 10 and I just picked it randomly. I don’t think 10 is right or wrong. I don’t think 40 and more is better, but it’s just how much time do you want to spend before writing code. Once the 10 had said yes, that’s when I approached Derrick Reimer who’s contracting for me on HitTail and I said do you want to build this other app? You’re not doing full-time work on HitTail, and he said yeah, let’s do it. We met at the Iron Bird Cafe there in Fresno. I talked to him through. I said here’s what I think you should do. I have some validation. Let’s just talk to some screens and just go off and build it.
In retrospect, was that enough validation? Probably not. I think I was a little overconfident in my own ability to market it and I was probably overconfident in my network and my audience that I would be able to sell it to them.
There’s this thing, the curse of the audience is how I refer to it where if you have an audience and you’ve been selling them books, courses, and stuff and you think that you can sell them software in the same way almost without exception, it doesn’t work that way. It is much, much, much harder to sell a SaaS or any software of any kind, but especially a recurring subscription because it’s just not an impulse purchase, people have to have it in their workflow. A lot of these courses, people buy and they never read. It’s aspirational. Whereas, if you’re not paying for SaaS every month, it’s if it’s aspirational, you can’t sell it. It’s a whole different ball game.
I’ve seen literally a few dozen info-marketers who have projections or think of that because they have been marketing courses, coaching, and all that stuff, that they can do the same with SaaS. Eventually, you do figure it out, but it’s different. I would say it’s a lot harder to get people to try it than to get people to stick around.
To circle back on your comment about Facebook ads, in my mind I have already validated it right or wrong and probably more on the wrong side. Once we launched, I think some of those people did wind up using it and other people started using it and said this really doesn’t do much for me. Of the 11 who said yes, I think 4 or 5 probably wound up being paying customers. I do kind of […] my shoulders.
I don’t know, was that validated or not and I think that you can never get to 100%. Right now, you’re at zero percent or you’re maybe at 20% because it’s an idea in your head and how you get to 30%, 40%, 50%, 60%, even 70% is probably pretty high; 70% certainty. I was probably 70% certain but in reality, shouldn’t have been.
I was then trying to build the email list. That’s what the Facebook ads are for. I was trying to do that. I call it concentric circle marketing where on the circle, on the inside is your audience. It’s people you can reach directly on Twitter, via email, or even if they’re on your email list you can reach out directly to them.
Then, the next circle out is your network. It’s people that you may not be listening to but you do know and that you can reach out directly and say would you be willing to try this?
Then, that third layer is your network’s audience. Network’s audiences, which again, if you know people who host podcasts or if you know people who have any type of audience, then you can go to their podcast and get some distribution.
I was testing things around that and did get ideas that converted most. I tried a bunch of different copies. It was a fun experiment, but I didn’t assume that was validation because that was just someone being intrigued enough to enter an email which isn’t a big commitment. If I had not already validated it, I would have either gone straight to my network or my audience and if I didn’t have one of those, I would have probably have done cold outreach.
This is where I’m getting it to being in your shoes. Today, I would probably try to find other marketing managers who you think are in your same role. You can find them on LinkedIn. You could cold outreach and say I’m a bootstrap founder. I’m starting a new software idea that helps you get more insight into your ads. I’m wondering if I can chat with you for 15 minutes or I can even ask you questions via email if that works even better for you.
I think that cold outbound outreach, of course, you have to send a lot of emails in order to make that work. That’s one way to do it. Or if you have a little bit of budget, obviously running Facebook ads on your landing page, but I would be personal about that one as well, being like, hey, I’m Arturo. I’m a bootstrap founder and I’m thinking about launching a tool that does this. Are you interested in this? Just send your email and let’s find time to chat. Or you can put a calend.ly link right there and just embed it and be like, book 20 minutes with me.
In addition, if there are already other tools that are doing this, that’s good. I would lean into that and not try to call your tools something else. I would put it in that category of whatever tool it is, the advertising insight tool, or whatever. I would go to their forums and I would go to the Facebook groups that talk about those tools, whether it’s the marketing manager Facebook groups, the forums, get into the Slack channels, whatever.
There are two things. One, you want to observe and you want to see what people are complaining about these tools. Is anyone saying I really need these XYZ insights, and that’s the tool that you’re thinking about building. If they’re not, if you participate for a bit, then you just ask some questions like, I’m having trouble as a marketer. I can’t get this XYZ insight into my ads and I would like more context around it. Does anyone else have that problem?
You can just couch it like that just to see if everyone weighs in because if you say you’re selling something or you say you’re building a product, people are either going to be put off by it or they’re going to be like that’s a great idea. Do it. You should do it. They want to be encouraging. But if you say I have a problem. Do you have it, yes or no, then you can get thoughts, feelings, and I’ll say it’s more unbiased. It’s less biased information and thoughts because you don’t really have skin in the game. They’re not going to offend you by saying they don’t. They’re just not going to chime in.
At that point, if a few people respond, you’ll have some names, you can DM them and say I have this problem. I’m actually thinking of solving it for myself. Would you be interested and talk about it? Those are all the ways.
Again, should you get 10 people willing to pay you $50 a month, or $100 a month, or should it be $40, or should it be $5? It’s just a made-up number. To me, five just doesn’t sound enough. I don’t think you’ve proven a market with five people telling you they’ll pay. I think 10 is reasonable and 20 is better. When I had 10 people saying yes, I had an email list of who knows 10 or 12,000 people at that point. I knew that if enough people validated, I could reach a lot more fairly quickly who I thought would-be customers.
If you don’t have that luxury, then maybe that’s something that you think about that you want to validate it more or by the time you launch, if you have 20 people willing to pay you $100, that’s $2000 in MRR. It all won’t come through, but if half of it does, that’s still $1000 in MRR throughout the gate. That may be worth the time upfront to land more sales in advance so to speak. Then, there’s a whole nother conversation here about should they write you a cheque that you don’t cash? Should you take payment and use it to pay for the app? Should you take payment as a commitment to this and that?
We’ve actually covered that topic. You can Google that it’s in the transcripts. I don’t think I want to rehash that here. It’s already taken a bit of time answering this, but thanks for the question, Arturo. I hope you keep me updated on your progress and I definitely wish you the best of luck getting this going.
My next question is from Ger and I apologize for mispronouncing his name, but you’ll hear him pronouncing it in the voicemail.
Ger: Hi Rob and guest. My name is Ger Apeldoorn and I’m one of the cofounders of RoutineFactory. RoutineFactory is a set of tools that helps people with a learning disability and autism spectrum disorder to be more self-reliant. Our main customers assisted living facilities and workplaces.
We are growing rapidly in our home country, the Netherlands, and our info board has less than 1% churn per year so I would say that we have a good amount of product/market fit. The thing that bugs me is that there’s so much of the market that we’re not serving right now. Not only because we’re leaving a lot on the table but also because we hear a lot of stories via our customers that RoutineFactory is making a big difference for the client’s self-reliance and confidence.
Care professionals are very hard to reach over the internet. Word of mouth is extremely important but that is very hard to get started. With a few customers that we have, I do try to motivate and to write about their experiences on social media, et cetera, to get the ball rolling.
As for my question, what would you do to grow internationally if you were standing in my shoes? Anyway, thank you very much and I hope to see you again in Dubrovnik later this year. By the way, if the answer is find partners, I would like to follow-up with a shoutout for people that want to get started with an already proven product. Just write me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks.
Rob: Thanks for that question. A couple of things and note on Dubrovnik, which is MicroConf Europe. That was planned for October of this year 2020. We have had to postpone it due to COVID. It’s now scheduled for October of 2021. We hope to still have an event in Europe. It would most likely be in London in September and we’re obviously playing that by ear like everyone else is.
It’s interesting. I was not thinking about proposing that he find a partner in a different locale, but I think that’s an interesting enough idea that I left that part of the voicemail in. Obviously, if you’re interested in reaching out to him, he left his info in there. I think it’s email@example.com.
Of course, partnerships would be one thing I would entertain. I think the other idea, I was thinking of two different approaches. One would be to pick a country that is close to you, that’s culturally similar, that you feel like you have insight, and it’s easy pickings. It’s going to be probably another small market.
I’m imagining I’m comparing the Netherlands in my head to the United States as an example. Those are going to be culturally quite different but the size of the market is going to be substantially different. It’s going to be much much larger with care facilities.
When I think about you going to a bordering country that maybe you feel like you have more insight into, that’s going to be, I’m guessing an easier transition especially it’s in the EU. There’s just a bunch of stuff that makes it easier, but it’s not going to be nearly as big of a market. That’s the first thing I would think about.
The second one, of course, is to say what’s perhaps the biggest western market for this? I’m guessing the United States. I don’t have any knowledge on this, but it’s just purely based on population. Looking at English-speaking markets, I think that that would be a good assumption and then figure out how essentially to target building word of mouth in the United States.
I don’t know all the trade-offs there. My gut would be to go after the larger market. Might think there are some drawbacks there. Obviously, it’s going to be perhaps more competitive. It’s also going to mean that the support, the hours, you’re going to have to hire someone further west in order to have hours during US work hours and perhaps you’re not going to be able to charge in Euros.
I shouldn’t say I’m not going to be able to. It’s not going to be ideal for you to charge in Euros. That’s going to be a yellow flag for folks. There’s just going to be a lot of adjustments, I think, that you’ll have to make versus going after a much smaller market near you where it’s in the EU and you can still charge in Euros. Probably don’t need to change much about what you’re doing today and there may be care providers that reach across the boundaries. If they have five facilities, maybe there’s some of them in the Netherlands and some next door in a neighboring country. Those are some pros and cons that I think about.
Whatever you do, whichever approach you take, the way I think about getting into a new market like this is are there influencers? Are there? And there might not be, but that’s what I would just look at. Are there any podcasts, or blogs, or publications where getting a mention would make a difference and then strategize?
It’s not a cold email of hey, mention me, but strategizing how do we start that piece of it. You said they are hard to reach online and that’s fair, but are there anywhere online? Are they in these private Facebook groups, private Slack groups, forums? It’s places like that where you can hang around and be part of the community much like what I was talking about with Arturo.
You can participate and kind of not be overt that you have a product, but just learn the market, learn the space, and get a little bit of a reputation. Again, that may not be possible, either. There may literally be no forums for this, so in that case, then I would seriously consider doing cold outreach.
This is what really cold outreach is made for. It’s for folks who are not online often. I say not online, of course, they have email or phone numbers, but they are not spending all day on Quora and Twitter, like some of our audiences are.
That’s where getting good at cold outreach and the thing, the advantage you have is it sounds like you have something pretty unique that’s working and you have a reputation in a geographic space. I know you can get testimonials and it sounds like a product is pretty mature. It’s also a pain point and it helps people. I think that’s a big deal.
This is probably the same strategy for whether you would come to the United States or just go to a country right around you. It’s like when people aren’t online that much, how do you find them? You can email them. You can call them. You can go to local events like trade shows. Obviously, right at this moment, that’s not happening, but in six months, in nine months, that’s a way to reach them as well.
I hear some people scoff at the idea of going to in-person events, but I’m personally involved with a couple of companies who before COVID were just killing it at these offline events because their audience really doesn’t gather online, but they gather offline once or twice a year at a couple of industry events. You pay $10,000, you get a booth, and it feels terrible when you do it, but then you get 10,20,30 leads that you close.
You have the pricing to make this work. You can’t be charging $10 a month to make an app like this work with this type of sales process, but assuming you have that enterprise price point, I think that you have a lot of options in terms of expanding. Hopefully, those thoughts were helpful. Thanks again for the question Ger.
My next question is from Davis and it came in through Twitter back in January. Man, it seems like a lifetime ago. Pre-COVID times. Davis, it took me so long to answer this.
Davis says, “Hey, Rob. I sent a voicemail a few months back but I don’t think it ever aired.” Actually there was a voicemail that came through that’s all static, maybe that’s what happened. He says, “My question was about referrals/affiliate programs. We have many customers asking if we have one and we do not currently. Do you have any experience running a successful affiliate program?”
The answer is yes I do, but I have seen people do it more successfully than I have. I’m going to talk about what they’ve done. But then he follows up and he says, “My concern is that the people who would sign up and share their affiliate link are mostly the same people who would share our site anyway, so we might end up paying for the organic word of growth we would have gotten anyway sans affiliate programs, but on the flip side, one affiliate sending anything to their massive mailing list could be a huge source of traffic and customers.”
Here are my thoughts. I think that some people will share it organically and others will essentially want an affiliate program and they won’t share it unless you have one. I think that if you have people asking and they are willing to share it, then yes, I would set one up.
Now, there are some folks like running an affiliate program and just starting it, and having a link available almost no one is going to come in who has an audience and promotes your stuff. This is more like business development. At this point, it becomes enterprise sales, or at least having a big network, or at least having customers with audiences.
There’s a certain level of luxury to marketing to other net marketers as we saw with Leadpages, for example, in the early days where Clay Collins built Leadpages and a bunch of the customers were internet marketers with audiences. Boom, it was just like one, two, three. Set up that affiliate program, line up the webinar for next week, and that was the playbook.
That is a very unique conflux of things because if you (say) build software for construction firms, then whether you have an affiliate program or not, your customer’s probably aren’t going to be sharing with their massive audiences their construction firm. At that point, you have to do probably more of a reseller or an agency model if you need implementation.
Back to the original question. There are some dangers with affiliate programs that I think it’s not most people think. Number one, one danger is you spend a bunch of time implementing it and barely anybody uses it. The other is that I’ve heard this phrase used by someone who has seen the books of a popular SaaS app that is used by a lot of affiliates and a lot of webinars.
It’s not Leadpages. It’s a different one and the person told me they built a large business in terms of ARR, but it’s one of the least profitable SaaS companies I’ve ever seen. The reason was that they have this enormous affiliate commission. In internet marketing circles, giving away 30%, 40%, 50% commissions on an ebook or a course that really has no or very little marginal cost can be standard.
Back in the day, there were these trashy affiliate marketplaces. They would have commissions of 70%. It’s like you take 70% when you make the sale and I only get 30%. That doesn’t work with SaaS and if you’re solo and you build some $10,000, $20,000, $30,000 a month, okay. Yes, you can give away as much as you want. But SaaS net margins are kind of at the scale of let’s say 20%–50%, 30%–50%. If you build a SaaS company that is doing $10 million a year and it has 50% net margin, you are doing very, very well in terms of profitability.
If you’re giving away 30% of that or 30+ percent of your MRR to your affiliates forever if it goes past the first year. Some of these folks are limited at a year and then that shuts us down, but if you literally say perpetual commissions on anyone you bring and it’s 20%, or 30%, or 40% you can build a SaaS business that is barely break even or that really doesn’t just have the profit that most SaaS companies do.
That would be something that I would think about and I’ve actually talked to some founders who are doing affiliate stuff but they’re being careful not to have all their eggs in the affiliate basket because they don’t want 80%–90% of their customers to essentially have this massive lack of profitability or being barely profitable. That’s something that I think you need to certainly think about.
In addition, I guess circling back, if you have customers who do want the affiliate program personally, I would set it up and figure it out. Is it 15% or 20% affiliate commission? Is that viable? Is that respectable? Is that enough in your space? Are competitors doing it whether they’re affiliate commissions?
See what you’re comfortable with and if it has to be 30%, I would say 30% for the first year or for the first 18 months or something. Some time limit on it so you’re not giving away effectively the vast majority of your potential profit on every customer.
Then once you do set it up, that’s where the business development piece comes into play. You figure out your network. You figure out if anyone in your network has an audience that would potentially make a good customer, good prospects for your app and you can also do some cold emailing.
I remember doing this with HitTail which was an SEO keyword tool, I reached out to several ranked trackers which are in essence complementary apps, and I sent six or seven emails figuring I’d get zero or one response and I got six or seven affirmative responses immediately. It was literally a joint venture.
I just said we’re not going to build anything. We’re not going to integrate, but let’s just email our respective customer basis. Here’s how many customers plus the marketing list we have. Here’s how many you have. We did a mutual one and I said no affiliate links and let’s just recommend. I went in and used the tool of course and made sure I should become a customer for quite some time.
I only did it with one of them. I didn’t do it with a bunch, but it was a pretty nice way to go. In this case, you could do it where you don’t even need that list and do the reciprocal mailing. You can say would you be willing to promote? Here’s what you get out of it. I think there’s a way to be creative with this and I do think that affiliate stuff, while some people just take it too far and make it really spammy, there are viable ways to make it work both in the info product space and in software.
Thanks for the question, Davis. I hope that was helpful.
My next question is from Jacob about launching a startup for the service/hospitality industry through COVID. He says, “Hey, Rob. Big fan. I’ve been listening to you since I was in high school. I’m bootstrapping a startup that is a self-served reputation management tool for the service/hospitality industry. It’s called Grow Glad and it helps you turn unhappy customers into happy customers and happy customers into advocates through SMS and machine learning.
As you can imagine, this is probably the worst time in history to launch this which is why it’s just sitting on a server right now not live. Luckily, I’m gainfully employed, so I’m not desperate to launch it, however, I’ve put quite some money into it. I ran growth marketing for a successful tech company, but even with my experience, I can’t figure out how to launch this company in the midst of COVID when restaurants and service-based shops can’t pay the bills. I’ve considered putting the bills for customers for up to three months, but that would wipe out my savings. What would you recommend based on your startup experience? Thanks.”
It seems pretty cut and dry to me. I would not launch it right now. I don’t see any way. The only way would be literally to launch it and say you can use it and don’t pay for three, or six, or nine months. As you said, that would wipe out your savings, so I don’t see that as a viable option.
In your shoes, I would just sit and wait. You’re gainfully employed. You don’t have a gun on your head or deadline to launch this, and I would wait until things start to ease up or continue to ease up and the environment becomes more conducive to this.
It’s just probably a bit of bad luck that this happened. Obviously, you’re probably working on this since long before COVID and that’s a bummer, but as a startup founder, we have to be agile. We have to make last-minute, quick decisions with incomplete information. Frankly, in this one, I think you do have more than enough information to make a sensible decision. Thanks for the question.
On to our last question of the day from Casey Collins who said, “Hey, Rob. I know you mentioned often that a founder should start small by building a WordPress plugin.” Breaking in here, the stairstep approach to bootstrapping doesn’t specifically say WordPress plugin. That is one of the examples. But step one of the stairstep approach is to build a small thing that’s relatively easy to build and sell on a one-time basis just so you can cut your teeth and learn some basic skills, make a little money before you try to do the hard stuff.
I would say SaaS is harder than a lot of these things. Back to Casey’s email. “Do you have any suggestions for alternatives to that? What about an Office 365 or G Suite add on? Any idea if paid for products in those marketplaces get any traction?”
My answer would be those are great ideas. The idea is not to stick to any one of these. I often say WordPress plugin, info product, Shopify add-on. I throw out random stuff. The commonality there usually is that there is a marketplace where you can easily get discovered. That’s the part that I think helps you get distribution without having to learn how to do all the marketing and all the other things around building a brand from scratch.
You can piggyback on these larger apps like G Suite or Office 365. I don’t have intimate knowledge of Office 365 or G Suite add-ons, but I bet you can go to research, find out are there forums where they hang out? You can DM some people. You could just try to build a quick one on a weekend, launch it, and see what happens. There’s a bunch of ways to do this. I don’t know if any of those add-ons are paid, that would again be a research thing, but there are obviously many other ideas.
There’s the Magento add-on. Obviously, there are WordPress plugins, there are themes, there are Shopify, there are Photoshop add-ons. Does Discourse base have a marketplace? That would be one I’d look at. Salesforce has its own Salesforce cloud ecosystem.
Even the ThemeForest family of companies, there’s a bunch of Envato and a few others where they sell things. Of course, they take a cut, and of course, I don’t think you’re going to build a million-dollar software company there, but could you build something doing $2000–$3000 a month? Yeah, I think so.
Maybe you have to get a little lucky. Maybe you have to put in a little bit of hard work. You’re going to build some skill, but it’s doing it with training wheels. Once you’ve done that where you learn how to write the code, how to shift the code, how to support it, how to do some type of copywriting, and how to interact with customers, then you can move up.
You can get a few more of those and pay for your time. The one thing that I do mention that is not in these ecosystems is I’ve often said create an ebook or a course and launch that. Those can obviously be one time and with those, you may have to build an audience.
If you just write an ebook, you probably are going to have to build an audience first because you’re not going to be able to run ads to it. If you don’t have people who know, like, and trust you, it’s going to be a hard way to go.
Ebooks may be one that if you don’t already have an audience then you look at the others. I do think building a course now that there are the Udemys, the Udacitys, the Teachables, there’s this whole class of course marketplaces. It’s basically the same thing. Building courses, recording yourself, talking to a screen, having some expertise and editing it, then getting in there and getting some discoverability, probably doing some marketing on your own, but you don’t have to do all of the work.
Again, this is not the end-all-be-all. If you already sold a seven-figure SaaS app or you’ve already built a bunch of your skills, they already have a head start, then I wouldn’t go back to step one. But if you never had a successful product, this is just a good way to go about learning how to do that.
If you want to see examples of founders who’ve done that, google Stairstep Approach to Bootstrapping. I give a bunch of examples in there and I probably know two or three more dozen that I didn’t know about when I published that blog post.
Thanks for that question, Casey. Sorry I couldn’t answer the specifics about Office 365 or G Suite specifically. Frankly, I don’t have intimate knowledge of a lot of these marketplaces, but I do see people having success in them, and assuming that there are paid add-ons, I have to imagine that there are some people having success in those marketplaces as well. Good luck, sir. Thanks for writing in.
That wraps us up for the day. If you have a question for me or me and a guest in a future episode, just send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you send it as an attached voicemail, or as a Dropbox, or a Google Drive link, then that goes to the top of the stack, but I always appreciate text questions as well.
I love to hear from you and hear how the communities think about things and the challenges folks are facing and thinking through. That’s it for this week’s episode. Thanks so much for joining me. I’ll talk to you next week.