In episode 526 of Startups For the Rest of Us, Rob chats with a long-time friend, Justin Vincent about his startup successes and failures and the importance of taking small steps when starting as a founder. They also talk about Justin’s latest project, Nugget, a startup bootcamp and academy.
The topics we cover
[4:04] Building Plugg.io
[10:30] Enthusiasm half-life
[16:03] Nugget Startup Academy
[25:54] Founder context
Links from the show
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 an upcoming episode. We’d love to hear from you!
Rob: Welcome to this week’s episode of Startups for the Rest Of Us, it’s episode 526. I’m your host, Rob Walling. This week, I had a conversation with Justin Vincent. You might recognize his name from the TechZing Podcast or from his project Nugget at nugget.one.
He’s launched apps. He’s had successes. He’s had failures. He’s done a lot of learning. Now, he’s doing some teaching at this website which started as an idea generation factory where he would basically sell new startup ideas. I still love the big corpus of ideas that he has there. Then, he launched education because he realized people were taking ideas and they weren’t being successful with them. He was trying to teach them how to bootstrap.
Before we dive into that, you should check out saaspodcastawards.com. We have all of our nominees and the voting has begun. If you head over there, you can vote for your favorite podcast in each of four categories. In addition, I’ve had a couple of emails with comments about recent changes to the podcast.
The first comment is about our news roundtable episode. Stephen wrote in, he says, “I’m a longtime listener. The podcast always jumps to the top of my queue on Tuesdays. The most recent news roundtable format was my favorite episode of the show. Not only was it riveting, but you all so effectively advocated for specific changes to help bootstrap companies. The only way these things will change is if people are aware of the issues.”
Thanks, Stephen, for writing in. I love doing those Startup Roundtable episodes about every 2-3 months as they become enough interesting stories that build up that I can bring a few people on and we can discuss them.
Another comment was about removing the intro song. I thought this one was kind of funny. An anonymous listener wrote in, he says, “I still can’t get over the fact that you killed the intro for Startups for the Rest of Us, i.e. the scripted intro with the song, We’re Out of Control, in the background. When you first started TinySeed Tales, I realized by listening to both how impactful the intro music is to the vibe of the podcast. Then, you got rid of the intro for Startups for the Rest of Us and I’m sure you have a good reason. I’m just curious as to what it is. I feel like it’s been gone for around a year now. I do love the show and it has absolutely helped me on my entrepreneurial journey.”
Thanks so much for writing in. That was a shift. It was about a year and a half ago, I believe. I asked on Twitter if people cared if it was there or not. I think at this point, it’s a really nice throwback. It’s something I want to bring in now and again, for nostalgia’s sake. I don’t know. I don’t necessarily feel like I need an intro song for the podcast anymore.
If you feel otherwise or if you agree, I would love to hear from you at email@example.com. Or, you can reach out to me at @robwalling on Twitter. With that, let’s dive into our conversation.
Sir, thank you so much for joining me on Startups for the Rest of Us.
Justin: Thank you. Thank you so much, Rob.
Rob: Folks may recognize your voice from the TechZing Podcast, techzinglive.com, if they want to check that out. You guys have been running that for almost as long as we have, right? Did you start it in 2010?
Justin: Yeah. You were first to the post, then we recorded initially a lot more shows and we got up to 250. Then, we went down to a show every three months. Now, you are well beyond us.
Rob: You’re a quarterly podcast at this point.
Justin: Well, this year, it’s even looking less than that. We’ll see.
Rob: Wow. It’s a longer form show. It tends to be, what? About an hour and a half? You and Jason Roberts get on and then you talk about tech, you talk about entrepreneurship. Sometimes you talk about The Walking Dead. You’ve talked about just kind of anything. I know Jason is doing a lot of body hacking, like working out, and stuff. It’s kind of a variety show of sorts.
Justin: We’ve also interviewed a lot of people. We have a good track record of interviewing people who then go on to build unicorns. Travis Kalanick and also Patrick Collison. If you go back to the back catalog, that’s a lot of good stuff as well.
Rob: That’s right. I’d forgotten. You interviewed Gabriel Weinberg. You interviewed them all pretty early. It was in my memory. Cool.
You’re on the show today to talk about a bunch of stuff, talk about your entrepreneurial experience, and then to talk about this project you run called Nugget. It’s at nugget.one.
I want to start by talking through a successful SaaS app you launched called Pluggio. The way I’ve explained it to a few people, I want to hear your story of why you built it and what it was like. I remember you kind of built Buffer before Buffer.
Justin: That’s right. Except, I made a mistake. This is a learning that I had, unfortunately, too late, which is I sort of built too many features. The main feature of Pluggio, which was Buffer, was sort of like a subsetting screen. It also did a lot of other stuff. It was a Twitter client, it was an RSS Feed Reader, it was a lot of things.
Really, what I should have done is just keep it small and simple right from the get go. Unfortunately, there was too much surface area—a lot of customer support, a lot of code to maintain. Also, I wasn’t spending enough time marketing it. If you look at the Buffer story, Joel basically built a very small app and then spent the rest of his time marketing. I built a very big app and spent most of my time dealing with customer support and a very small amount of time marketing.
Rob: Right. That’s the trap of being a developer. I’ve done the same thing where we just think the product solves everything. A new feature solves everything.
You built it and launched it in 2009. The thing that I think we should also call out is building a small product, going, and marketing it wouldn’t work if you were trying to build an email service provider, CRM, or that stuff today because it’s too competitive and you have to have a lot of features to compete.
Building a social media scheduling app, in essence, in 2009, you were so early to the space. Again, you built Buffer before Buffer that could actually work as evidenced by Buffer. I don’t want people listening to think, oh, I can just build a single or two features, just market, and that’ll be it. You might get lucky, but you kind of have to do it in a nascent space where there’s not already a lot of competition.
Justin: I think something that’s also worth talking about is what are your revenue goals. If your revenue goals are small, let’s say it’s just a couple of $1000 a month, even $5000 a month. If you go into a huge market, there’s nothing to say that you can’t take out a tiny part of that market. I mean, I’m just talking like .1% of a massive market.
Rob: Yeah, I wouldn’t disagree with that. I think someone’s goals have to play into that. Do you want to tell us a little bit about the origin story of Pluggio? I know that you built it to basically scratch your own itch.
Justin: Well, yeah, because we started doing the podcast and the idea was a tech startup podcast. From my perspective, the only real thing I was thinking about wasn’t bootstrapping, it was funded startups and that was the context. Then, the more we got into it, the more we started meeting people who were bootstrappers. That brought me into the bootstrapping world.
I basically just created some scripts—automated scripts—to post the show when it was released and to promote the show on Twitter. Those scripts subsequently turned into software. Then, I sort of spoke to people on Twitter and said, would you like to try out the software? That’s how it really turned into a SaaS app.
Rob: You spent a couple of years growing that—I think two or three years. Did it peak around $4000 MRR?
Justin: It peaked around $4000 MRR. If you listen to the 300 episodes of our show, it’s possible to go, download them all, and listen to them. The interesting thing is that I was never super into the product. I think that was another reason why it might have not been successful, because I didn’t personally like it that much. I liked it a bit, but I was sort of ambling along with it.
We’d have a lot of guests on and there’d be a lot of heart to hearts with those guests. They’d basically say, look, man, you need to do this with plugins. Okay, yeah, I’ll do that, yeah. That was sort of the journey of it.
Rob: Yeah. It’s hard, man. I’ve owned a lot of products over the past 20 years. I have absolutely had most of them, especially in the early days, where I just didn’t really care about the market, I didn’t care about the app.
That was okay because a lot of them were relatively on autopilot. They had SEO traffic or paid ads that I was just setting and forgetting. They didn’t require a ton of support and they grew to their natural plateau of $2000 a month, $5000 a month, $10,000 a month. grand. They were all pretty small and that was okay.
If I personally am going to spend years building Drip, seven figure and eight figure apps, I do believe that you have to care about that problem, care about that solution, or care about that customer base. There has to be something drawing you in more than money. For most people, maybe there’s an exception out there of like, I just want the money. I don’t care. I think you’re just going to be unhappy if you do that.
Justin: Well, I love your term enthusiasm half-life. That’s really what it’s all about. That to say, Pluggio was a success. Here’s the thing, in spite of that, it still was a success and I was able to exit from it. I think overall, I made about $250,000 from that project.
Rob: Yeah, which is obviously pretty nice for a bootstrapper who’s working a day job and doing something on the side. When you said enthusiasm half-life, is that my term? Did I coin that?
Justin: I seem to remember being on a TechZing show with you and you talking about it.
Justin: I was thinking at the time, yeah, that’s a really good point, especially with the work on Pluggio.
Rob: Yeah, totally. I have to go back and listen. Of course, you say so many things for so many years, you kind of forget the stuff that you coin. I do remember talking about the domain name waiting period where I said, I don’t register domains without a 48-hour cooling down time.
I have, at one point, 80 domains and I was only using 50 or something. We talked a lot about that. A little known fact. You actually spoke at the very first MicroConf at the Riviera in Las Vegas in 2011. You told the story of growing Pluggio, although you hadn’t sold it yet. You were still working on it?
Justin: I was still working on it. That was such a great experience for both of us. We love what you’ve done with market confidence. Just the way that it’s grown has been fantastic.
Rob: Yeah. Both of us? You mean Jason Roberts?
Justin: Jason Roberts, yeah.
Rob: That was so cool having you guys out there meeting in person, I believe for the first time. It was quite an event. When we first came up with the idea for MicroConf, Mike and I were like, it’s going to be 225-250 people. It’s a great hotel.
By the time we got done, it was like 102 people. We had to give away 20 tickets to fill the room. It was that bootstrappers’ story of these things are a lot harder than you think they’re going to be, right?
Justin: Yeah, always. Yeah. You have to be small and scrappy at that time.
Rob: Then, much like most SaaS apps, if you keep that momentum, it becomes easier over time. Same thing with MicroConf.
After you exited Pluggio, then you started another app called Light. I remember when you were talking about on the podcast, I believe you described it as mobile-on-demand delivery via bike messenger. Was it via bike?
Justin: Well, that was just because it was just easier to do that. It would have been through a car or anything else. Just in the first place, I hired a couple of couriers to basically ride bikes around you.
Rob: When you were saying, hey, I’m bootstrapping this, I was like no way, you can’t bootstrap this. This is too big. It’s a network effect. It’s got a high cost. It’s got physical things—all of that. You want to tell us, did it succeed? Did it fail? How long did you work on it? What’s the story of Light?
Justin: The reason why I did Light, why I attempted something that big, is because I felt pretty cocky because of the success of Pluggio. I’d had an exit and I had been a conference speaker. Surely, the next thing I should do is something really big. I built out Light. I basically created the brand, built the mobile app, dispatch system, sort of slipped in different menus from Starbucks and Burger King with pictures and stuff, and it got onto the app store.
Then, I delivered 10,000 cards through Pasadena, had careers, and started selling stuff. It was making money. It was working. I mean, that was the point that it got to where we had revenue and it was working.
Then, something happened. The problem was I found out I didn’t actually like it. This has been a consistent problem for me I would say for 20 years—picking the right project for me. I’m one of those one man wrecking crew kind of people where I can do the development, I can do the marketing, I’m proven at sales, and I can pretty much do whatever you throw at me. The problem is, is it actually what I want to do? That’s the problem. A lot of the time since then has been solving that problem which I do believe I’ve solved now.
Rob: Do you feel like it’s finding something that you like/love or do you feel like you were really interested in Pluggio at one time? You were really interested at Light and you kind of got tired of it because after nine months or a year, you just got bored of it?
Justin: I think that is a great question, like shiny object syndrome. I think that’s definitely something that plays for me. A lot of founders that I’ve spoken to have that same issue. That’s a really good reason to pick something small, to work in very small iterative steps and chunks, and just keep getting that sense of just wanting to do it.
Rob: Right, to keep pushing the idea forward. Almost like you’re dipping your toe in the next water to figure out how excited you are about it.
Justin: I found the biggest problem comes when you’re trying to take a step that’s too big. When you try and take a step that’s too big, that is really the time when it puts you off and it’s like, oh, man, this is just too much stress. You’ve got to work out your next steps, your path, quite carefully. You know what I’m saying?
Rob: I do. I think a big part of this is knowing yourself. I think if you know that you tend to not love ideas, whether it’s you getting tired of them or whether you just really need to love the ideas you’re working on, I think you do have to be really careful. It’s an iterative process, right? We talk about building an MVP, we talk about iterating in software, we talk about iterating in marketing approaches, and experimenting. You’re kind of saying we should be experimenting, someone like you, certain people, or whatever should be experimenting with the actual apps they’re launching to figure out, hey, do I enjoy this? Do I enjoy the customer?
Justin: Well, experimenting with your own self, like exploring the market, exploring everything about the idea, sort of like trying it on like a coat. What’s it going to be like to wear this?
Once I’d finished Light, for all intents and purposes, it was a success, but I’d realized that it wasn’t the right coat for me. I realized I really want to be good at understanding what is the right coat for me to put on, what is the right idea for me to do.
Jason and myself, we were talking about it at the time, an interesting mental model, which I termed hyper-iteration. It comes from the story of this guy, Paul MacCready. He’s the first guy to create a human powered flight. He did this by reframing the problem. Instead of focusing on testing out one flight idea at a time. He basically built a type of modular Lego kit for planes, something that would enable him to test out different ideas every day.
While other teams who are attempting to do the same thing, working on one idea over six months, he was basically testing out an idea every couple of days, over six months. He tested out 50 or 100 ideas. I wanted to do that same thing with startup ideas. That’s the reason why I came up with the idea to submit a mechanical Turk to get a lot of ideas from a lot of different people.
I created a Mechanical Turk on Amazon. I created an HIT on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk system and basically just asked two really simple questions: what is a big pain point in your daily work that is not yet solved by software? And, how could software help you?
I paid $.50 to ask that question and I couldn’t believe it. Within a couple of hours of posting it, I got back literally 50-100 ideas. I was just going through these ideas, trying them on, and thought that was just super interesting. Really quickly, it sort of dawned on me, wait a sec. I think other entrepreneurs might be interested in these ideas.
That was when I moved on to the next phase of what I was doing with my side projects, which was to basically create a subscription service to just send out one idea a day.
Rob: Yeah, and I’m fascinated by this. I love the creativity. I’ve never heard of anyone doing that. That’s like the founder mind and you in the developer mind, if there’s a problem, I’m just going to experiment and I’m going to try something crazy like submitting it to Mechanical Turk.
I think something else you’re touching on is there’s a ton of ways to find startup ideas, right? You can find a problem. Sometimes that problem is your own—scratch your own itch. Sometimes that problem is at your day job. Sometimes it’s your spouse or a colleague. Sometimes you have a crappy experience as a customer and you realize, hey, that software isn’t good. Other times, you’re maybe building on an audience, a network you have, you see crappy enterprise software, and you want to build a less expensive one.
There’s always mental models and frameworks. I’ve actually listed them out. I may write another book someday, I’m starting to think about it. I have that as a whole chapter of thinking about idea generation methods, but not just idea generation, because that’s often b*******. Actual, realistic startup vetting of, hey, here’s an idea that’s not terrible because it comes from some type of pain or some type of something that implies that it should be a startup idea.
The fact that you got these, you said you got 50-100 ideas when you went through them, were they relatively high-quality? As you launch this subscription service for this, which, again, I don’t think is going to be a multimillion dollar business, but I love the ingenuity of it as a kind of a Micro-SaaS or a micro subscription idea. As you started getting subscribers for that. What was the initial response? Were people over the moon with it? That is such a problem in the 0-1 crowd. The people who are pre-revenue, pre-product, the most common question is always: how do you come up with ideas and how do you get them?
Justin: Well, people were over the moon with it. The ideas were basically very high-quality because of the question. The question was just: what is your biggest pain point in your daily work that’s not yet being solved by software?
Literally at this point, I’ve got 4000 very high-quality ideas. This brings up a very interesting point. What I’ve truly learned after going through 4000 ideas and working with hundreds of entrepreneurs, because I shifted to teaching entrepreneurs rather than giving them ideas—we’ll talk about that in a sec—is that ideas are both the most important thing and also the least important thing. It’s very, very interesting.
At the beginning part when you haven’t started the business yet, they are the least important thing. That’s when people place too much importance on an idea. They sort of think, oh, wow, this idea is really important and they really double down on it. They really work on it. What they should really be doing is iterating through hundreds of ideas, looking at lots of different markets, and lots of different concepts until they find just a few that begin to crystallize.
Then, when you actually hone in on that one idea from hundreds, that is when the idea becomes the most important thing, because you’ve just done a lot of digging, sifting through, and then you found something that’s good. Ultimately, the idea is the most important thing, because it’s the idea that actually people buy. Is it something that people want? You need to create something that people want and that ultimately comes back to, well, what’s the idea?
Rob: Yeah, so nugget.one, if folks want to see the website and how that started, I remember, as a subscription service for ideas, but you quickly realized that people were taking ideas and not being successful. You want to talk us through that? Then, you basically started teaching from there saying, hey, you’re not being successful because you don’t know how to do it. Here’s essentially a curriculum to do that.
Justin: Yeah, that was that was the problem. It’s not a good feeling to have people paying you and not succeeding. I had a lot of people who were using these ideas, but through conversation with them, I didn’t see anyone succeeding. I was like, okay, what is actually going on here? I got on the phone with a lot of entrepreneurs, had a lot of different conversations. Ultimately, what I realized was founders didn’t really need ideas, they needed education. That was why I sort of pivoted there.
Rob: Yeah, and that’s a common story, right? I think that there are a lot more pre-idea or pre-revenue founders than there are founders who are at $1 million MRR or who are at $10,000 MRR. We see it in MicroConf, we see it in the podcast listenership, we see it in the TinySeed applications. I see it in the State of Independent SaaS.
You can just look from left to right in the State of Independent SaaS Report. The lower revenue is on the left. The $1 million and more per month is on the right. It is tall on the left and it just goes straight down, linear to the right, because that’s just how the distribution works.
If you go pre-revenue, it’s even larger. It’s aspiring founders in essence. It’s a big market. That’s why there’s so much room for this kind of thing. You can look at what I was doing back in the day. We start small, stay small. Even this podcast years ago was much more focused on early stage thinking and idea generation.
Patrick McKenzie did some teaching. Justin Jackson has talked about this. There are a lot of people moving from developer to entrepreneur type. It’s how to level up from there. That’s essentially what this Nugget Academy is. You built this curriculum and you’ve been selling that. Is it a subscription or is it like a one time fee?
Justin: Yes. Basically, I built the Nugget Startup Academy which is the first content piece that I built. It’s more than just content. It’s because of my background. I’ve built learning platforms and the Nuggets Startup Academy is in fact the fourth complete learning platform that I’ve built. I customized it very specially for the experience. It sort of feels like a little virtual incubator. It’s not just the content.
Also I worked with a friend of mine who’s got a masters as an instructional designer. I’d originally written it all out as just content to read but she showed me how much more powerful it was to have people interact with each other and then to do exercises as they go along. The whole thing’s created that way. That’s why we’ve gotten over a 50% completion rate for the product. I think the industry standard is less than 5% completion rate.
Rob: Yeah, that’s pretty impressive because the completion rate or even the consumption rate, so many information products for courses is very, very low.
Justin: You also asked about if it is a subscription or is it a revenue. This is a really interesting thing. Going through the different pricing models, what I realized about creating content versus creating something like Pluggio, which is a SaaS service, a subscription service, is that you just really get your revenue upfront.
I did do an interesting hack that I think other people might be interested in. What I did was I’ve tried various different price points. The happiest one that I landed on at that, let’s say this time last year, you can pay $997 right now to become a lifetime alumni or you can pay over time and it will add up to $2000. I basically gave them a big incentive to take the current price or pay a much bigger price over time. Interestingly, 50% of people chose the upfront.
Rob: Sure. You’re marketing to mostly technical people, I’m imagining, who have the high paying jobs and $1000. It’s not nothing, but they certainly are not missing car payments or missing their rent payments.
Justin: Right, exactly. Which I wouldn’t want to do. I say that as part of my sales copy. Like, if this is in any way bad for you financially, then please don’t do it.
Rob: Right, because you’re not promising success. You’re not doing that info marketer back in the day where, hey, become a gazillionaire. This is sure to succeed—all that stuff. It is much more of a realistic, I think, of the indie hackers website, which is a lot about the reality of doing it. I think of startups.com, which is about early stage. It’s also about the 0-1 of getting to a product with revenue.
I think of Nugget, certainly MicroConf Starter, and there’s a lot of folks in MicroConf Connect, our Slack group, that are still in that phase. That’s why there is room for many communities because there are so many people trying to do this and tackling it from different angles.
You built this academy and you have hundreds of people run through it, did you mention?
Justin: I’ve had over a hundred people run through it, yeah.
Rob: Then, you realize you were telling me offline that you had all this great content. I have felt this pain before. You had all this great content. It’s all behind a paywall. You’re in a conversation, you’re emailing with someone, and they’re like, oh, tell me about that. You’re like, oh, man, I need to now go turn stuff into PDF.
Justin: Yes, I’ve got to break my own paywall to get this information that I want to give to you for free, because I just want to help you. Ultimately, the goal for me from Nugget is not about making money. It’s ultimately about helping people. I do need to make money. Otherwise, my wife will be a bit mad at me, but the main goal is to actually help people.
Rob: Right. You pulled out seven of the lessons and turned it into what you’re calling the Bootcamp.
Justin: Yeah. It essentially is the sort of key, most important information from Nugget. Refactored is a great way to say it. Refactored into seven lessons, seven success factors, I call them.
Rob: Got it. I believe you quoted and linked to me in several places.
Justin: Oh, I did. Sir, you have been very, very fundamental and instructional for my whole bootstrapping career. You’ve written a lot of seminal thought pieces.
Of course, as I’m writing out the pages, it’s hard to remember exactly where you draw all your ideas from, but there’s certain points where I’m like, oh, yeah, Rob wrote something about this and it completely backs up what I’m saying right now. Then, I put it as recommended reading in the course. Yeah.
Rob: Of these seven lessons you walk through context, customers, market, product, price, competition, and longevity. In context, you say level up within your founder context. I have a note here that you link to my blog post, The Stair Step Approach to Bootstrapping. You want to talk us through what that context means when you say your founder’s context and how it integrates with the stair step approach, realizing that if folks listen to this podcast, they know what the stair step approach is?
Justin: Yes. I think that one of the main things that I’ve really learned is that at least 50% of this whole thing is about you, about who you are. That’s what I really wanted to get across as the major first lesson.
Really, the whole bootcamp is wrapped up in this concept. Even the second lesson is learn what your ideal customer will pay for. The third lesson is pick a market that you can reach and prove it. We’ll get into that later.
Just to answer your question, basically, I wanted to create a predictable model for success. I wanted to create something like a Ruby on Rails framework in this bootcamp so that it could just work for anyone.
The first problem that I’ve seen with most founders is that they’re working way ahead of where they should be. The further away you work from what you already know how to do, the less predictable the results.
I’ll give an example. What I mean by that, let’s say you’re walking up some stairs. If you take one step at a time, that’s a predictable result. You’re going to achieve that one step and you’ll get to the top of the stairs. Let’s say you decided, okay, I’m going to take five steps at a time. That actually does become a bit difficult because five steps are kind of hard for anyone to walk.
If your context was you were an NBA All-Star trying to walk upstairs five steps at a time, you can do it because you’re really tall and that’s really easy for you to do. It’s a pretty easy feat for an NBA All-Star to do that.
I’m imagining that whoever’s listening to this, you’re probably a coder or a designer. If you took that same NBA All-Star, put them in your context, and asked them to do your job, they would have to go one stair at a time.
This is the problem. A lot of 0-1 founders go straight for a SaaS app. You know what I’m saying? That is like stair number five. I think you need to learn the fundamental stuff first. Even you’ve written about this. One of the first things you should do is learn how to get some traffic. That’s just like a basic how you play the indie founder level up game step one. That makes sense?
Rob: Absolutely. Gosh, I’ve been preaching this since, maybe 2006 or 2007, when I really started pivoting my blog into talking about entrepreneurship. The first thing I realized was building the product—this is going to sound so boring to anyone who’s listening to the show—it’s so fundamental. How many times a day on Hacker News, or how many emails do I get, or how many questions to the podcast, or on indie hackers do you see a post of I built this product, now how do I market it? It’s like, no, I understand. I made the same mistake. I want to market, but I just want everyone to know that. That’s essentially what you’re saying. It is like, nothing happens until someone visits the website and considers buying something.
Justin: In the context lesson, I basically linked it to the mental model of level up games. There’s three types of level up games that we play. We play the indie founder level up game where we level up our career. We play the product level up game where we level up a product. We play the skill level up game where we just get good at stuff.
If you look at the indie founder level game, the first thing you need to do, as we just said, is level one, how do I get some traffic? You could write a blog post, you could do some SEO. There’s a lot of different things. Then, level two and this is sort of my level. You can jump in, Rob, if you think something’s wrong here. Level two, I think, is just a very simple thing, like a template, a plugin, or a course.
Rob: That’s step one of the stair step approach.
Justin: Okay, yes. I guess I’m just sort of separating out the steps like step one, as I’m saying, build a bit of traffic. Step two, which is your step one, is just build a tiny thing. Then I’m saying, okay, so now you’ve built a tiny thing. Let’s learn how to maybe grow that through a few different channels, maybe do a second one.
Basically, you’re what I call a grower. The first one is a noob, level two is a seller, level three is a grower, and then level four is a builder, which is what I’m saying this is where you start to validate and sell a more complex product like a membership site or a SaaS. Don’t even go there until you’ve mastered the early level stuff.
Rob: Yeah, I like it. It is right in line with what I’ve been talking about. Something I have realized is there are certain people who don’t want to do that. All I say is, that’s cool, you’re just going to have a harder time. You’re just going to have a lower chance of succeeding if you haven’t built these skills. If you don’t know how to do copywriting, If you don’t know how to run PPC ads, you don’t know how to do SEO, you don’t know how to do customer support, you don’t know at all how to build a product, there is a chance you will succeed.
Through survivor bias, you and I hear stories about it all the time on these podcasts. I’ll say, some strikes against you is a little more challenging way to do it, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go and do it. It doesn’t mean that you can’t succeed if you don’t go through these steps. This is just the more repeatable, the more blueprinted way that I see people doing it.
Justin: If you just want to be someone who doesn’t want to interact with people, because that’s really what it comes down to, it’s like you’ve got to learn how to interact with people, how to market stuff, how to speak to people. If you don’t want to do that, then just focus on the automated SEO approach.
I have seen founders be very successful at that. One guy I like to talk about, Michael Lynch, who’s got a site called, Is It Keto? You just Google, Is It Keto? This was a great example of a site that he built that I think has 60,000 uniques a month. He’s monetizing via ads.
I know another guy who has built other different services where he gets a million uniques a month. It’s very possible to do that if you just want to do that as an engineer. Even then, it’s kind of hard to monetize.
Michael moved away from Is It Keto? because he found it difficult to monetize beyond $1000 a month type of thing. Ultimately, he ended up moving back to a regular thing. He now creates a product called TinyPilot which is a little USB that you plug into your laptop and it lets you remotely manage the laptop.
Rob: That’s fascinating. That is something I like about getting Is It Keto? out there, getting it up to $1000 a month. What did he learn? He learned how to generate traffic, probably how to rank in SEO, as you’re saying. He learned just how to have stuff in production, how to deal with potential. There’s all this stuff that he learned, even though it’s like, oh, I only got it to $1000 a month. There’s success in learning if you can parlay it to the next level.
Justin: I recommend people check out his website, mtlynch.io because it’s a great example. He does retrospectives and he talks through everything he’s thinking. He is the reason why I reached out to him in the first place. I was so impressed to see that level of self-introspection as he was working through the process.
Yeah, he talks about his whole journey from the get-go and the learnings. It’s, again, the reason why it’s so good, in my opinion, to start at level one, really understanding, okay, what is traffic? How do I get people?
Think of it this way. If you have a seed and a plant pot and you throw that seed in the pot, there’s no soil. It’s not going to grow. You need to learn where to get soil from. You need to learn where to get the soil because a seed will not grow without soil.
Rob: Indeed. Do you have any other success stories or folks who have built interesting things out of the academy?
Justin: Well, I’d say my best example is a guy called Mateo Mosca. He’s in the product of hyper-iteration validation. We’ve gone through a lot of ideas to get to the point where he’s sort of—I don’t know what you call it, where you are testing three main ideas. I guess it’s A/B testing.
Basically, he’s got three landing pages. One of them is heyhi.io, the other one is replayhero.io, and the other one is pitchwall.io. He’s got those three things out. I’m pretty sure that he is going to get somewhere very soon. He’s already made sales for the HeyHi one but that has other issues.
Rob: Well, very cool, sir. Again, are the nugget ideas now free or those behind a paywall?
Justin: They are free.
Rob: The ideas are free and the bootcamp is free?
Justin: Yes. So if you go to nugget.one and you just sign up for an account, you instantly get access to those 4000 ideas and you’ve instantly got access to the bootcamp. At the end, if you do complete the bootcamp, at the end of the boot camp is when you will get the option to join the actual full Startup Academy that will be presented to you. I believe that I’ve got a 50% discount there so you can get in for about $500 right now.
Rob: Oh, wow, that’s crazy. Folks, if they do the other free stuff, there’s no hard pitch? You’re not going to call them over the phone?
Justin: No, not at all. Not on the slightest.
Rob: Yeah. That’s why I wanted to have you on here. Some folks might be thinking, why am I having someone on here that is essentially selling a course which I don’t really do. A, you and I have known each other a long time and I know the content you put together is good. B, you are giving away a tremendous amount of value for free.
If folks want the ideas or the bootcamp, it’s free. There really are no strings attached. I’ve actually been inside Nugget which is a custom piece of software. You built the curriculum, but also the software around it. It’s really well done.
Justin: Oh, thank you, sir. Of course, don’t forget, you will also see links out to a lot of Rob’s stuff as well. You may discover some posts that you haven’t read as his. That’s another good reason to check it out.
Rob: Very cool. If folks want to keep up with you, obviously, nugget.one, they can check it out. You are @justinvincent on Twitter.
Justin: That is correct. Oh, can I just say the best place to look at my best profile page—it’s probably a good thing to say—is if you go to nugget.one/jv for Justin Vincent. That just lists all my different projects, how much revenue I’ve earned just doing side projects, all the different podcasts that I’m part of, and stuff like that.
Rob: They can check out your Roblox app you’re working on.
Justin: Yeah. Dude, I just want to say thank you so much for everything that you do for founders like me and for all other founders. It wouldn’t talk about giving a lot away for free and paying it forward, you have done that for so long. I just want to say a huge thank you. Seriously, you have been a major, major influence on me. I really do appreciate that.
Rob: Thanks for saying that. That means a lot, sir. Thanks again for joining me.
Justin: All right. Thank you.
Rob: Thanks again to Justin Vincent for coming on the show. You can hear him over on the TechZing Podcast.
If you’re enjoying these episodes of Startups for the Rest of Us, I really would appreciate it if you would mention it on Twitter. You can just mention @robwalling or @startupspod and share a little love if it’s something that you feel like you get value out of and then other folks might get value out of, too, as they are starting, building, and growing their SaaS products.
Thanks again for listening. I’ll see you again next week.