In Episode 578, Rob Walling is joined again by co-host emeritus, Mike Taber for an update on his progress with Bluetick. Today we find out how Mike’s merger that he has been working on for the past year has panned out.
The topics we cover
[3:55] Mike reflects on time and effort working on partnership
[7:20] What to do when a deal stalls
[9:00] Doubling down on Bluetick
[14:50] Differentiating Bluetick
[17:47] Moving fast as a startup
[19:03] Finding your intrinsic motivation
[26:10] Mike’s 90 day plan
Links from the show
This episode of Startups for the Rest of Us is sponsored by Software Promotions. Get better results from Google.
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 back to Startups For the Rest of Us. I’m your host, Rob Walling. Every week for more than 11 years, we’ve turned out episodes of this podcast. In fact, for the first 448 episodes, I had a co-host named Mike Taber. Now, every three to six months, Mike makes it back on the show. He comes back. He updates us on his progress with his startup Bluetick.io. It’s been almost 2 ½ years since he stepped back from his co-hosting duties. He’s had several ups and downs during that time, and frankly, has had some challenges making progress with his product.
Recently, in the last couple of episodes where we talked about it, he was looking into merging Bluetick with another company. Today, we find out about the results of that, whether that merger was successful or not. If you’re interested in learning more about Mike, maybe you haven’t heard the prior episodes, just search for Mike Taber on the website and it will show you the last four or five episodes he has appeared on. You can get more background.
The bottom line is Bluetick is a SaaS product that is not supporting Mike full time, and he wants it to. He’s trying to push it forward, but he has struggled to make the progress that he would like to see with Bluetick.
If you listened to last week’s episode, you know that I mentioned that I was excited about an announcement coming this week. It’s actually going to be a special episode that comes out tomorrow where you’ll hear about this thing that I’m so excited about. I said I think it’s the biggest announcement that we have made since we launched TinySeed more than three years ago. I hope you’ll check it out. It’ll be in the feed tomorrow.
With that, let’s dive into my conversation with Mike Taber. Mike, you’re back. It’s been a while.
Mike: Yeah. How are you doing?
Rob: I’m doing all right, man. We saw each other about six weeks ago at MicroConf Europe in Croatia. The last time we spoke before that was on this very podcast. It was episode 552, June 1st of 2021, which is five and a half months ago since people have heard from you.
Mike: It feels like 18 months ago, given the pandemic and everything else. It’s so hard, not just staying in touch, but staying on top of what’s going on, what the calendar looks like, or when was the last time you talked to somebody. It was brutal.
Rob: I agree. There’s kind of a reason for that for the delay and bringing it back on, but also kind of not. I mean, basically, a bunch of stuff happened, right? There were four MicroConfs in four weeks. There were TinySeed applications that I was working on. Then the batch started and all that stuff. I wanted to have you come back on when there was a conclusion to the story that we had been talking about for the past 15 months, which is about your potential merger/partnership. I call it a merger because I think that was the goal.
I know everything was on the table. That was the quote we had many times, but it just felt like something where the two of you wanted to merge your companies or start a company, be co-founders in essence. That resolved itself and in August or September, we talked a little bit about it at MicroConf, and I figured it was a good time to bring you back on to chat through some stuff.
Rob: Yeah, which is a real bummer. This is something that I was concerned about as we had talked about. I think we had recorded two episodes, maybe three, but I think it was two during this time that it was happening. I had some concerns. In fact, I have some quotes here from the transcript from those episodes. One of my quotes was, and I think this was from five or six months ago.
I said, you’ve been working on stuff for a while now, like you said, eight to ten months, or somewhere in there. Then you’re talking about now, working for another three months. What if you get to a point where either one of you or both is like this isn’t going to work? Do you feel like you’ve wasted that time? It’s kind of wasted last year. How are you thinking about that? I had asked you.
And in a different episode I said, I have concerns about you working on this without something in place. I’m concerned there might be mismatched expectations, if you haven’t gotten down to brass tacks to say, let’s merge these two apps, let’s both focus on one, and here’s the equity split.
Then I talked about how I had in the past merged apps, and we put a partnership agreement together. What’s the delay with that? Because you’ve been working on this for over a year now. So that was the one after that. I guess I want to get your thinking in retrospect. Obviously, I expressed my concerns about, is this wasted time? I think one time I said, I’m concerned you have a day job with no equity, and I don’t think that’s what you want, right? How are you thinking about that now, in hindsight?
Mike: In hindsight, I guess, a day job without equity was probably a more accurate description than I would have expected or thought it would have been. I’m disappointed at how things ended up coming to a conclusion. I think that he is as well, but it’s hard to know those things in advance. There were a lot of things that were going on on his side that were just taking up a huge amount of time and effort. That’s why things dragged along for so long. We didn’t really get to start working together side by side until the last several months of the partnership attempt, the merger attempt.
That’s probably the biggest problem. There was no way for us to really pull that together much sooner than we did, just because of the extenuating circumstances around it. I understood that when I was getting into it. I hadn’t expected it to take nearly as long as it did. Initially, we thought that it would be resolved, basically around June or July of last year. That just never happened. It ended up dragging out for a full year longer than it really should have.
But at the same time, at the end of the day, what am I going to do? We were already on the path. I suppose you could say that, oh, well, it’s sunk cost. Don’t worry about it. At the same time, we were still trying to work towards something and we just didn’t have a resolution yet. It was just a tough situation, I guess.
Rob: Yeah. What could you have done differently? Do you feel like if you had communicated earlier on or made a proposal for equity, or should you have walked away when you got four or five, six months in and nothing was moving forward? Again, with 2020 hindsight, would that have been better to just be like, this is just taking too long, I need to go away, do other stuff, and work on my business. Let’s revisit this once you have the time to dig into it.
Mike: That’s a good question, and I think the answer is complicated because it’s a question of who is better for me, him, or the business itself? The business was in serious trouble at the time when I came in. That was more because of all the technical stack problems. There was just a ton of technical debt that had been gathering up over the course of the last 8 or 10 years. Nobody had ever really been technical enough to dive into that stuff, look at it, try and figure out what was wrong, and get it fixed. I was in the middle of a lot of that stuff.
If I had just basically walked away, my inclination is to believe that the business may not even exist right now if I hadn’t done that. I feel that I would have had a hard time just walking away because of that because I know the person and wanted to maintain a relationship. But would it have been better for me? Probably. Would it have been better for him or his business? No, probably not. I just don’t know what the repercussions would have been had I walked away. My suspicion is they would have been bad.
Rob: That’s the thing, man. The way I think about it—now that we’re here on the other side of it—is you’re back to square one where you were almost. I mean, it’s 2 ½ years ago.
Mike: Eighteen months is really what it is.
Rob: Eighteen months there. You and I had a conversation the first time you came back on the podcast, after stepping away for a few months. It was August 2019. It’s more than two years ago. You and I talked through, hey, you’re doubling down on Bluetick. I think that was the name of the episode, Doubling Down on Bluetick, right? Because I said, go away and figure out, are you going to get a job? Do you just want to shut Bluetick down? I said all these things.
You said, I want to double down on Bluetick. You said, I have some marketing ideas. I want to write some code. I want to do this and that. I guess, as I think about it right now, you’re kind of still in that boat of I want to double down on Bluetick again, like you lost a couple of years.
Mike: Yeah. I won’t say that there were zero benefits to essentially having a job for that time period because a) it was steady income, and b) it was keeping the lights on. I’ve also had some fairly serious health issues that have come up over the past year and a half. I’ve been working through those and trying to make sure that I’m still being productive, and some days are better than others. It’s the basic problem with entrepreneurship. When you’re meandering, you don’t have this hockey stick growth, but things aren’t trending downwards either.
I’ll say that makes it easier to just let things ride for a little while, but the downside of that is that you don’t have a clear resolution on anything either. It makes the decision of, should I shut this down and move on to something else a lot harder just because there’s revenue, there are customers, there are servers, all infrastructure, and all this other stuff. You can just turn it all off, but at the same time, you don’t want to completely screw your customers either. It’s a question of what to do there.
Rob: Yeah. If you were to start something else, I wouldn’t shut Bluetick down. It’s a small revenue service. For folks who don’t recall, it’s never supported you full time and it still isn’t, but there’s revenue there. I don’t get the feeling there’s a tremendous amount of maintenance or anything involved with it. I wouldn’t think you’d have to screw anybody in order to start working on something new. We can get into it later.
I’m not saying you should or shouldn’t do something new because each of us, as entrepreneurs, travels our own path. I guess it’s a bummer for me to be having this conversation that feels reminiscent of the one we had in August 2019, then a few months later, and a few months later. You know what I mean? It’s like you haven’t been able to push the business forward because you were—
Mike: Not working on it.
Rob: You were not working on it, yeah. You were focused on this other business. It’s not like you were working for free. You are not working for your full rate of what you would be able to make as a salaried employee. You were working for enough money that, as you said, it was a steady income, and it made it worth your while at this point. I think that’s something that is one positive thing to take away. It sounds like maybe it didn’t make sense, given personal circumstances to do it. I just hate to see the lost opportunity costs of 18 months-ish.
Mike: Yeah, that’s probably the biggest thing that I see is that lost opportunity costs. Because had I known going into it that it was going to be 18 months, I don’t think that I would have even started. That’s the whole hindsight of 2020. But what am I going to do? You don’t know those things in advance. Sometimes they’re very difficult to even foresee.
I didn’t foresee things ending the way that they did. It was all rather sudden. Like I said, we can chalk it up to miscommunications on both sides. At the end of the day, fast forward 18 months, I’ve basically got nothing to show for. In the meantime, I’ve let those other things slide and just not do anything. They just meandered. Whether it’s Bluetick or FounderCafe, either one, I just put those things on the back burner.
Rob: Right, and you were optimistic when we were talking about it. This is a quote from you, I think something will sort itself out, I have a good feeling about that. You thought that this was going to happen. I don’t think you had the same misgivings that I did about the situation. You were cautiously optimistic, it sounds like that.
Mike: Yeah, I was, right up until the end of the summer. At the end of the day, what do you do? It would have been much more difficult to walk away in that first six months or so just because of how bad things were with the app basically falling over on itself. You fast forward another six to eight months after that, things change quite a bit. Things were relatively stable. They weren’t perfect. They still aren’t. They probably would take another year, year and a half to finish cleaning it up. But at this point, it’s not my problem.
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So that leaves you looking at Bluetick, right? I presume you’re going to continue. You and I didn’t even talk about this offline. Is the plan to double down again on Bluetick and try to build it out? If you’ve lost two years, I remember saying two years ago, how are you going to be differentiated? Why are people signing up? Why are they sticking around? You either need differentiation in the product, or you need these proprietary traffic channels.
You don’t have either of those. I’m concerned you don’t have enough differentiation, basically. It’s hard to grow a business with that. You’re now even further behind because differentiation sometimes you can do with positioning, but usually, it’s with some type of features or feature set, and you haven’t been working on it for the past. Like we’ve said, barely working on it, not pushing it forward for a while. Where does that leave you?
Mike: I had a personal retreat a couple of weeks ago, which was great because it’s the first one I’ve had in probably two years. Probably even before the last time we actually had that first podcast episode where we were talking about it where I was doubling down on or what the intent was to double down on Bluetick. I went down and looked through a bunch of my old notes and started writing down new thoughts and ideas. A lot of the ones that I came up with were evaluating or thinking about, were essentially rehashes of the ones that I’d had back then.
I realized that what had essentially happened is I went on a personal retreat, had a lot of great ideas, wrote them down, and then promptly didn’t do anything with them. There’s a variety of reasons for that. This merger and partnership attempt is probably the biggest one. I look at that and say, well, those are the things that just need to get done. I spent probably about a week or so, a week and a half writing down and consolidating a bunch of my notes from various documents that I put together, and essentially got a marketing plan that I’m going to go through.
My mastermind group is going to be holding me accountable for those things on probably a weekly basis. I’m basically putting together this 90-day plan, and it’s an arbitrary start date, I’ll say, because I haven’t actually pulled the trigger and started the clock on it. It’s got goals associated with it, targets, and concrete things to do and accomplish over the course of those 90 days. We’ll see what happens.
I feel like at the end of that 90 days, if things don’t look like they’re going in the correct direction or they’re still meandering, then maybe I’ll do something else. Maybe I’ll build something else, set this on the back burner, and just set it on autopilot for a while.
Rob: I’m glad you said the 90-day plan because given how long this has been going on, not just the last couple years, but just Bluetick in general, when did you start building it? Do you remember?
Mike: Technically speaking, I had the idea in 2013, but I didn’t do anything with it until probably 2016. I didn’t even pull the sign-up process that you had to go through in order to talk to me. It was still kind of more like in beta until 2017.
Rob: So for four or five years, give or take. If someone wrote into this podcast and told us this story, what would we say? I want you to have a timeline. Look, it’s your life. I’m not even your accountability partner. We’re ex-podcast co-hosts or whatever. I want you to succeed, but it also has to be your choice. From the outside, it’s tough to think of what’s going to be different this time is really the question in my mind. How can you make everything into a speed bump, not a roadblock? No excuses.
I know health has been an issue. There’s a lot of distractions, but that’s always been the case. I think for different people who have those issues, they overcome. I think if you give it a specific timeframe, like a 90-day thing, I think you should start it today or tomorrow. That’s one thing that I think you’ve struggled with in the past is making the decision and going for it. You think about things for a while.
You thought about freemium. You thought about AppSumo for months and months. I think we were four or five months apart on the podcast and you were still thinking about them, two podcasts apart. That’s too long in the startup world.
When I was the CEO of Drip after I sold it, he was my successor. It wasn’t Clay. It was John who took over, but he would say, in the startup world, a week is a month and a month is a quarter. Everything has to move way faster than at larger companies. To think about decisions and deliberate on them even for a month or two is a really long time, and you lose ground. Why not start the 90 days tomorrow?
Mike: There isn’t probably a great reason for it. You’re right. I could easily start it today. I’ve got a mastermind call later today. I can tell them, hey, the clock is starting as of today. Here’s 90 days. This is what it’s going to look like. So, yeah, we’ll see how that shakes out. Maybe we can talk again in 95 days or 99 days or something like that.
I hear what you’re saying and I don’t disagree with you. If somebody were to write in or call the podcast and leave a message and say, hey, this is the situation, this is the product, and this is what it’s been doing. I’m in 100% agreement with you and be like, yeah, pull the plug on this thing, bail, and find something else to do because it’s just not working. Nothing you’ve done so far has really moved the needle.
I did come to that conclusion when I was on my retreat a few weeks ago. The fact is that I have let things go on for too long. I’d say part of the issue is that there isn’t necessarily a forcing function for me. Money is not necessarily a huge driver for me. Everybody has their own internal motivations. Some of them are intrinsic, some of them are extrinsic. I have a hard time sometimes figuring out exactly what mine is.
Rob: Yeah, we talked about that in the past.
Mike: Yeah. If you think about it, just in general, you take a step back from life in general. What is it that gets you out of bed in the morning? What excites you? What is it that you want to do? I have a hard time pointing out anything. I really do.
Rob: I remember we’ve had this conversation in the past, remember? I said, take the ENIAC or something, then we talked through all that stuff. When we talked about it last time, and this is a year and a half, two years ago, I said, maybe you shouldn’t be an entrepreneur then. Maybe you should get a job, and that’s okay.
You’re a super senior engineer, you could get a really well-paid job. Then you don’t need intrinsic motivation because it’s hard. We know this game is hard. That conversation turned into you quoting a Dilbert comic to me about the pointy-haired boss, and I said, did you just justify not getting a job based on a Dilbert comic?
We don’t need to rehash all that, but I think that is something that each of us has to find. Some of us as entrepreneurs are seeking freedom. I was always looking for freedom. That was my big thing. That was my intrinsic motivation was I do not want to work for other people. I want it so bad that I’m willing to work a full-time job during the week and willing to work 20 plus hours nights and weekends to not have to work a full-time job. I actually struggled when I first had enough products that I didn’t need to work a full-time job.
I was like, oh […], what next? I hadn’t thought past that. That’s when the purpose and relationship stuff started. I can go down a whole rabbit hole there. Other people really want to have an impact. Other people really want to work on interesting problems. There are all these other things. I do think without that, you’re right, it’s tough to do the grind every day. Not even the grind because I think the grind can be fun sometimes, but to force yourself to do it on the days you don’t want to do it. If you don’t have that, I’m not sure where you go from there.
Mike: Sure. I think your point about having freedom is probably well placed with me as well. That’s one of the things that I want. You just now said that you basically had that once you got your products and you had them to a certain point. The reality is I don’t have to work a lot. I don’t have to make a lot of money. I’m kind of at that point now.
The challenge at that point is, well, if I don’t have to, if I could get up at 10:00 AM every day, blow off work half the week, and things are still fine, what difference does it make? That’s the position I’m sort of in, but at the same time, would having more money would be nice? Sure. Do I need millions of dollars? No, I absolutely don’t.
That’s something I feel like I’ve struggled with a lot. That was the primary motivation for me to put down, this is a 90-day plan. If not done in that timeframe, then cut bait and move on or find something else that is a little bit more interesting to me, I’ll say. I do have some ideas of other stuff that I can potentially go do, but nothing I want to talk about yet or nothing that I don’t even want to write a single line of code or even make an attempt because it’s just going to be a distraction.
Rob: Yeah. I think there’s a difference between you and I. It’s that I live perpetually in the future. This is actually a strength and a weakness of mine. That I’m always looking ahead, whether it’s a couple of hours or whether it’s a couple of years. Once I quit the day job and once I had products that were bringing in a full-time income ($120,000, $150,00 a year), it was great. I worked 10 hours a week, it was amazing. Some of the best memories of my life.
I got bored then because I don’t have any purpose. I need to actually do something interesting. But I was always thinking, what about next year or the year after? What if these businesses don’t work out? It wasn’t that I wanted more money. It’s that I wanted more stability. I wanted to ensure that the freedom that I had, I never wanted to get a job again because I was perpetually living in the future and a fear of losing what I had worked a […] decade for.
Look, for sure not everyone thinks like I do. It is a weakness in a lot of respects because I have trouble being in the present often. Sherry lives very much more in the present. I think that’s a benefit for certain things and not for others, so different personality types. Some people live in the past, right? I hear that you don’t have to get up, and that’s tough. I definitely struggle with that sometimes. Some days, I don’t feel motivated to do any of this. It just happens naturally.
I either take the day off personally, I do the minimum then take the rest of the time off, or I grind it out. I drink or whatever. I have my things. I drink caffeine, I listen to loud music, and then I just get in the zone and I do it. But for you, I guess you can decide how to do those day-to-day of whether you need to do it, whether you need external pressure, or whether the pressure of hey, I can live like this for a while. But I don’t think you can live like this for 10 years, 5 years, or 3 years.
Mike: No, probably not.
Rob: Right. It’s not like you can retire.
Mike: Sure, but that’s also part of why I put the 90 days on it because that is an external pressure. Another external pressure that I found over the years has not been helpful is coming on the podcast, sharing exactly what I’m working on, and talking about it. Because there are those days, even weeks, or sometimes a month or two goes by where I’m just not making progress or not moving things along. I just sometimes didn’t feel like it. I think that’s been a struggle is that I feel kind of disappointing the listeners, and which in turn disappoints me.
Rob: It feels crappy.
Mike: It does.
Rob: I know how that feels. I just really haven’t been motivated. Yeah, especially coming on every week or every two weeks. I don’t want to keep talking about this because sometimes these things take more time. Sometimes I want to move slower because that’s just where I’m at in my life right now. Maybe that’s just the pace I want to go. We bootstrapped businesses for a reason, right? So that we can dictate if we want to move slower, make an amazing lifestyle business, or move faster and be more ambitious with the growth.
So what is the plan then, man? What is the 90-day thing? I mean, you don’t have to go into all the details. Is it getting your marketing in order? Is it figuring out product differentiation? What is the story there?
Mike: It is probably 95% marketing stuff. There’s a couple of ideas I have for features that would differentiate Bluetick pretty dramatically from other things out there, but they would take time to implement. I don’t think that I could do a lot of those marketing activities and implement the features in such a way that I’d be able to do them within 90 days.
The plan or the intent is to see how those 90 days go and evaluate at the end of it whether or not things are on that upward trajectory that I’m looking for. If they’re not, then that’s when I’m going to have to find something else. I’ll put it on the backburner. I’ll keep it running and keep everything operational. I’m just not going to dedicate a ton of time and effort to it anymore.
Rob: I don’t think anyone will begrudge you that.
Mike: Sure. That said, it’s been largely on autopilot for the last 18 months. It’s not like I get very many support calls, emails, or anything like that for it. It’s a fairly stable product that works great. I really just need more people to see it and use it is really what it comes down to. That’s all marketing. It has nothing to do with features at all.
I’m cautiously optimistic about the fact that putting 95% of my efforts and energy into the marketing side of things, as opposed to building features or anything, is really what’s going to hopefully push the business forward. I’ve got several pages worth of stuff that I’ve written down and various channels and got them essentially ordered. Within each of those channels, what I would do, what needs to be done, how to do it, that kind of stuff.
Rob: Well, I’m excited. How do you feel about it? Are you excited? You don’t seem super excited?
Mike: I don’t know. I think the problem is it’s hard to be excited when it’s dragged on for as long as it has. I guess maybe I should be excited about the fact that I know that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. At the end of the 90 days, I’ll have an answer one way or the other. I guess maybe that’s something to be excited about, but I don’t know. I mean, I don’t have a good sense of whether or not the things I’m going to do are going to make any difference. I’m not really going to know until after I start doing them.
Rob: Thanks again, man. You’re @singlefounder on Twitter if folks want to keep up with you.
Mike: Sounds good. Well, thanks for having me again. Appreciate it.
Rob: Absolutely. Take it easy, man. Thank you so much for joining me for that conversation. I’d love to hear from you. If you like these episodes when Mike comes back and gives us updates, you can hit me up on Twitter. You can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Those go directly to me.
If you feel that they’re not helpful or not interesting, I’d love to hear that too. Just want to hear your thoughts and opinions. Thanks for joining me again this week. I’ll be back in your ears tomorrow morning with a special bonus episode.
Thanks to our sponsor, SoftwarePromotions. SoftwarePromotions has been managing Google ads and Google SEO for clients for 22 years, if you can believe it. They’ve worked with more than 600 businesses. They’re no-nonsense, lots of transparency, and one of the co-founders Dave Collins has spoken seven times at MicroConf. You’ve likely seen his videos if you’ve checked out our YouTube channel. He’s also spoken at Business of Software and countless other conferences around the world.
If you’re looking for someone to help you with your Google ads, whether you’re just getting started, whether you want an expert eye, whether you want someone to manage that for you, as well as SEO from audits to getting down and dirty with organic search, Dave and Aaron know what they’re talking about. Those are the co-founders of SoftwarePromotions. You can head to bit.ly/tamegoogle to learn more about SoftwarePromotions, or head to softwarepromotions.com and let them know you heard about them at Startups For the Rest of Us. Thanks to Dave and Aaron for sponsoring the show.