In Episode 591, Rob Walling chats with Cody Duvall about his story of acquiring and growing Keeping in a really crowded space of help desk and customer support tools.
The topics we cover
[4:34] Launching into a crowded market
[8:00] Keeping’s sales process
[10:01] Background on acquiring Keeping
[14:53] Outsourcing a team to rewrite the codebase
[20:03] Migrating customers
[24;01] Challenges with building in a established category
[26:09] Hitting product-market fit
[28:30] Applying for TinySeed
Links from the show
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: If you can believe it, it’s another episode of Startups For the Rest of Us. This is a show where every week we cover topics related to building and growing startups using an ambitious yet sustainable approach. This is where we talk about building real businesses with real customers who pay us real money. We seek freedom, purpose, and relationships.
Thanks so much for joining me again this week. Great conversation with Cody Duval. He is the founder/acquirer of a customer support app called Keeping.
I’m doing something a little different over the next two weeks. It occurred to me that the last time I did a really tactical tip-oriented learning episode, several people tweeted me and actually a couple wrote in saying, you should do more of those. Those are like the early days of Startups For the Rest of Us. Of course, I want to have a mix. I want to have a balance of different episode types.
What we’re going to do over the next two weeks is today, we’re going to hear Cody’s story of acquiring and growing Keeping in this really crowded space of help desk and customer support tools. Then next week, we’re going to hear from him nine tactics for amazing customer support because obviously, Cody, running an app with a bunch of customers doing customer support, sees the do’s and don’ts. He sees the strategies and tactics that win and those that are pretty big mistakes.
I’m excited for this format and I think it’s something I’m going to consider doing with additional guests in the future. Because someone running an app that sends a lot of email or that helps people do customer support probably knows a lot more about sending email and doing customer support than most of us do as generalist founders.
But before we dive into today’s show, I wanted to remind you that we launched the TinySeed Syndicate a couple of months ago. The syndicate is, in essence, an investment vehicle that allows us to invest in B2B SaaS companies that may be a little later-stage than the traditional TinySeed accelerator companies.
I think my rule of thumb guidance if you want to apply to get investment from the syndicate is that you should probably be doing $700,000 or $800,000 in ARR. It can be a little lower. It depends on the growth rate and a lot of things, but if you’re interested in raising from TinySeed like MicroConf, Startups For the Rest of Us, and investors, TinySeed Syndicate is something you’ll want to check out. We’ve been running 1–2 deals per month. Folks are raising, at this point, between $500,000–$1 million. They usually have some section of that filled. We get an allocation of a few $100,000, and it’s been going really well. It’s always exciting to be working on something new.
If you’re interested in that, head to tinyseed.com/apply. At the bottom, there’s a form to fill out info about the syndicate. Of course, if you’re an accredited investor and you want to invest in great B2B SaaS companies that would be listening to Startups For the Rest of Us, head to tinyseed.com/syndicate. It’s an easy application process. As long as you’re accredited, it’s all done through AngelList. It only takes a few minutes.
You get to see the syndicate deals as they come through and you can invest in one and not the next one. You basically get to pick and choose the syndicate deals because each one is an individual investment. The minimum investments are really low, usually between $2000 and $5000 for the most part. If you’re interested, tinyseed.com/syndicate. With that, let’s dive into my conversation with the founder of Keeping, Cody Duval.
Cody Duval, thanks so much for joining me.
Cody: Great to be here, Rob.
Rob: It’s good to have you on. Keeping is your startup. Keeping is a simple customer support tool that integrates with Gmail. You’re a single founder. You’re part of the current TinySeed batch. Do you want to give folks an idea of what stage you’re at? Some founders give MRR. Some founders do, hey, the team size is this big and we’re default alive. Just some ideas so folks have an idea.
Cody: I’m a solo founder. There are three remote engineers that I employed basically full-time. I would say we’re default alive but with the caveat that all of my profit is going into building the business. I could certainly go into solo mode and make a business at Keeping, but right now, we’re very much into investing and growing the business.
Rob: As so many of us are. You started a help desk software three years ago. There are already a lot of them out there. Some of them are good, some are not. What was the thought process there of, I’m going to enter this incredibly competitive market as a solo bootstrap founder?
Cody: It is crazy that there are crowded markets and uncrowded markets. The help desk customer service tool space is huge. You’ve got Zendesk, Help Scout, Freshdesk. The real epiphany for me, at least as to why Keeping exists, is that a small business—perhaps a non-SaaS business—doesn’t need all the horsepower of a Help Scout or a Zendesk. For the most part, those tools are quite expensive and quite complicated. There’s a gap in the market between doing it yourself in Gmail just sharing an inbox, and then those big tools which are really built for customer support teams that are professionals.
If it’s not clear, when we say we integrate with Gmail, we actually prod into Gmail and turn your Gmail inbox into a customer support tool, which is basically just the right size for a lot of teams. If your team grows and you got a 10-person customer support team, then maybe that’s right, maybe you should go and buy Help Scout. But for the rest of the world, there’s a tool that’s the right size and we think that’s Keeping.
Rob: When you and I talked during the TinySeed interview process, I brought up a couple of concerns that I had. One is if you’re going after small teams, it’s not necessarily going to be a lower price point, but certainly a 2-person company is a little more price-sensitive than a 10-person support team. That was one thing. I’m just thinking that churn is going to be worse. The other is when they get to three or four support reps, aren’t people going to migrate off and essentially outgrow Keeping?
Cody: Starting with the second concern. I think most of our customers probably never will have customer support reps. They’re a wholesale business. They’re a B2B business. Customer support is a part of their day, but they’re not going to grow a big customer support team.
As far as being price-sensitive, when you’re at this part of the market, there is a little bit of, okay, what is the right pricing? It’s something we’ve talked about, especially in this space which is all per-seat pricing. You open up a bunch of pricing pages and you’ll see anything from $60 a user to $9 a user.
For the most part, the tool becomes so integrated into your workflow—this isn’t true just of Keeping but it’s true of the category—that they’re almost immune from churn because you really spent a lot of time setting up, you build it into your day-to-day operations, there’s a knowledge base where you spend a lot of time pouring in your content, and it becomes painful to churn. It’s not like an SEO optimization tool, which is you go in and use it and you’re done. This becomes really a core part of your workflow.
I think this is true for Help Scout and Zendesk. Once you get a customer on board, they’re pretty loyal. I’ve had customers from day zero that are still trudging along, and our churn continues to be really, really low. We’re really focusing on growth and we think we’ve got a good sense of, all right, this is the right tool for some segment of the market because they’re not churning out, at least not yet.
Rob: As much as on this show, I talk about higher price points and larger teams less likely to switch. The way that that cuts the other way is those folks take a long time to make decisions. There are often many people involved, and it’s decision by committee. Enterprise sales are a reason they take three, four, or five months.
With a tool like Keeping—or I had Christopher Gimmer with Snappa—or any tool that has that lower price point and is either aimed at (I’ll say) solopreneurs, solo founders, or just small teams, there’s one decision-maker with a credit card. If they like the tool, they sign up, and it’s done. It’s not a big, long process. Is Keeping’s sales process purely self-served at this point?
Cody: Totally inbound. Because of our ARPU (average revenue per user) being a little bit lower than some of our competitors like the Help Scouts and the Zendesks, the menu of growth channels available to us is limited. We’re all bidding on the same keywords in Google, but if your average customer is $300 a month versus ours which is way lower than that, we’re both bidding for the same keyword. We’re not going to be able to play.
SEO content marketing has become our core channel; it goes without saying. But even there, they’ve got fleets of writers and I’ve got a couple, so it’s really trying to optimize that inbound channel. Maybe there’s a day we graduate to a little bit of outbound, but you can do the math there and figure out that it really takes a lot of effort to drag one lead in the door with outbound sales. For now, we’re pretty happy with the inbound model.
Rob: I want to get into the later challenges of being a bootstrapper in such a massive market. But before we do that, let’s take a step back and roll the clock back three years. MicroConf 2019, you were working on another idea. Talk us through how the transition happened.
Cody: That’s right. You can correct me, I think this was the last big US MicroConf—it was in Vegas—which feels just like another lifetime ago. I was there kicking around a totally different idea.
My background is a developer. I work and live in Brooklyn as a consultant in Series B, Series C startups and really understood some of the challenges affecting software teams. I thought, I’m going to build a startup that is being sold to developers.
I was at MicroConf. I had a cofounder who just had a baby and couldn’t afford to work full-time. The zero to one problem is real. At MicroConf, I met the FE International folks. They are—I think your audience probably knows—a brokerage that sells businesses.
Shortly after MicroConf, Keeping came along. It had a great domain. It was a single-word domain, keeping.com, and a handful of customers. The out-of-pocket was not very much. It was this epiphany of, wait a minute. I could spend a lot of time trying to get an idea past the zero stage to 0.1. What about this idea? It really resonated with me that in the world of buying businesses, by the time they reach someone like me, they’ve been through a lot of channels first. A lot of folks probably passed over Keeping because it was a technical mess.
The FEI pitch is it just needs a little marketing to scale and it’s ready to go. Of course, it’s more complicated than that, but being a technical founder, I thought, okay, wait a minute. I can do the work needed to get this back into shape. Again, the out-of-pocket wasn’t very much and it came basically with a validated idea that maybe just needed some iteration.
Rob: There’s so much to dig into here. Did you know it was a technical dumpster fire when you bought it or was that after?
Cody: The due diligence process when you’re buying a business allows you to get into GitHub and poke around. It was like, oh, this doesn’t look great, but it seems to be working. It wasn’t really until a few weeks in when I was really running the business. I had customers emailing me saying, hey, the server’s down. Could you restart it again? We’re doing, basically, my customer support.
In a weird way, that was a great sign because they weren’t churning out. They were completely tolerant of this service that was going down multiple times per day. I had to wake up at 3:00 AM to reboot the server.
It’s really hard to know unless you spend a lot of time with the codebase to know how bad this is. It’s definitely a lesson that if you’re buying a business off of something like FE International, make sure you’re ready to support it technically because it definitely could be the hardest part of it.
Rob: I have bought many small software products. I bought info products, ebooks, and an ecommerce site. I bought probably 20+ of them from about 2006 until 2011. That was my last acquisition. There were a few SaaS apps in there, too.
Most people don’t know or don’t remember, but in the early days when I started talking about micropreneurship and being a software developer who doesn’t take venture funding, a big part of that I used to say buy instead of build because if you can get past product-market fit, amazing. You’ve saved yourself 18 months or 2 years from no code to product-market fit. If it gets you to $1000 a month, maybe you don’t have a product-market fit. What did it save you? Six months or maybe a year of nights and weekends depending on how complex the product is.
The first product I ever bought was DotNetInvoice. It was $11,000. It’s a […] load of money. It scared the crap out of me. I grew up making minimum wage, $4.15/hour I think was my first job. The $11,000 was more money than I knew about. I had never driven a new car. It’s all that stuff. It was a huge risk for me. But the moment that I acquired it, I realized this just saved me a year’s worth of nights and weekends.
It had some issues. It was invoicing software. You have one job, it’s to do math right. And it had math errors in the invoices. It was not a technical nightmare like what you’re talking about. There were bugs, there were some overpromises, and customer support sucked. I fixed all that and it turned into a great business for me. Over its lifetime, it probably made me a few hundred thousand dollars. It was a side project. For $11,000 plus my time, it did that.
I think more people should be open to the possibility of buying apps. As a developer, oftentimes, the big complaint I get or the big reservation is how do you know what you’re going to get? How do you know if the code is going to be a mess? I’m always like, well, if it is, then you fix it. That’s your superpower. You are the person who has this ability, so what are you worried about?
Similarly, I don’t know if I’ve ever said this—and then I’ll actually continue with the interview instead of ranting—but I bought HitTail in 2011 for $30,000. It took me almost two months to get it technically to where I wanted it to be. Basically, I had to migrate servers. It was 40–60-hour weeks for 2 months, and I finally got it stabilized.
Over the life of that product, the revenue, which was almost purely net profit, plus what I wound up selling it for in 2015 was just over $1 million for a $30,000 investment and then months of my time.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like I was working full-time on that thing for a year before we started Drip, but I was willing to do the slog that other devs probably weren’t. There was a bit of risk because $30,000 is a lot of money. But at that time, $30,000 felt like $11,000 a few years earlier.
When I hear you talk about this, of course, I would have made that bet, too. But what I want to find out is when you were about to make this bet to put this money on the table and decide, hey, I’m going to go full-time, and I’m not going to build my own thing, were you reticent? Were you anxious? Were there second thoughts? How did that go down emotionally?
Cody: Absolutely. The amount of money we’re talking about here is not insignificant. It’s a big chunk of savings. I’ve got a wife and kids. There’s a partnership here, so it’s not as easy as just being like, well, this is going to work.
It’s easier now looking back because Keeping is working and it is successful, so I can have some hindsight. One thing that has probably changed from 2011 when you bought HitTail or even 2019 when I bought Keeping is that the buying pool is much wider now. By the time deals make it to us little folks, they passed over private equity and really well-funded aggregators of SaaS businesses.
I don’t want to say we get the dregs, but just be aware that the good stuff may be swiped up before it gets to you. In my case, I very quickly decided that I had to rebuild it from scratch.
As a consultant back when I was working at startups, that is almost always a bad idea. When I hear peers of mine that are saying, I’m going to do a rewrite, the honest advice I always have is you probably shouldn’t because it’s going to take five times as long as you think and it will never get done. But in this case, the app was just basically unusable.
One of the great decisions I made right away was to not do it myself and to hire a team. I hired a very, very experienced team in Poland, so it wasn’t like buying a team here in New York. Looking back, it may be a little counterintuitive. I probably could have put my head down and six months later or even a year later, come back with a working app.
I think that technical solo founders should stop developing as soon as they can afford it. They should move on to something else. They should start managing and stop developing. That’s an opinion that can’t be applied in all cases because obviously, you need to have some capital to be able to do that, but there’s some level—$2000 or $3000 a month—where the money needs to start going towards an offshore team or a person, and you become more of reviewing pull requests but stop shipping code. Again, I’m really glad I did that in my case.
Rob: That is a controversial take. It’s a take I have said many times. Anytime I say it, I get pushback from devs who say, but I want to write the code. I was like, well, who’s going to market it? Well, I’m going to hire a marketer. It’s like, huh, I think it’s harder for a developer to hire a marketer than to learn to market yourself and it’s easier for you to hire a dev because you know what you’re looking for. You have that superpower and the advantage of it.
That’s a trip. You didn’t rewrite it yourself, you hired a team pretty early.
Cody: I didn’t rewrite it myself. I even chose a tech stack. This is against the developer thing, though. You get to choose the tech stack. It’s written in Elixir and Phoenix, which is a very developer-friendly ecosystem. I was very excited to get in there and basically just spent my day writing code. But I knew from my experience elsewhere that it was just going to be a long, long slog, and I was going to be done and be at the same place as I started, except that nine months would have gone by. I didn’t have that time, nor that money to do that. It felt like, okay, my time is worth more than the rate that I’m paying for an offshore developer, so let’s do that.
The inverse is true as well, which is if a solo marketer is involved in a technical business, they should hire a marketing team as soon as they can. Don’t learn to code, but learn how to manage developers. Get a little bit technical, find a coach, and work with someone else.
Again, for me, as I said, okay, I’m going to become more of a marketer, I quickly said, I’m going to hire a content marketing agency. I realized I had no idea if they were doing a good or a bad job. I’m just sending them a check and blog posts are going up. I realized, wait a minute, I need to do this on my own for a little while to figure out how it works, what’s good, and what’s bad.
That’s true with every section of building a SaaS business. You have these little boss battles where you have to become good enough to manage the people you’re hiring. I don’t think we enter as founders there. You have to work for it, and that’s hard.
Rob: Yeah, especially when you don’t have buckets of funding because if you had half a million dollars, you could feasibly hire a really senior person who probably knows what they’re doing and can do the strategy. But when you’re bootstrapped like us, that’s just not an option. Like you said, you’re going offshore.
Like you, I did customer support for all of my apps before I hired it out. I did marketing for all my apps before I hired it out. I did development on all of them except for Drip before I hired it out, but eventually, I hired it out as soon as I could.
A big epiphany for me and something I tried to preach early on through my books and all that is there aren’t that many developers who start software companies, remain developers full-time, and experience the success that they want. There’s usually some type of transition to a different role. Not always, but I find that that’s pretty common.
You hire a small team in Poland and they rewrite the codebase. Did you have to migrate? Did you relaunch it? Did you have to migrate people over?
Cody: I bought Keeping with a handful of customers so it wasn’t like, oh my God, how am I going to migrate these thousands of accounts? It was small enough at that point that we could do it by hand. Literally, account by account got pushed over to the new database. Over a period of weeks, we moved all the customers over and then shut off the old app.
It worked, but again because we were small. I would be really terrified to do it right now. Mostly just the database side of it, but there are patterns that you can do to do that well. It was a scary couple of weeks, but we got through it.
Rob: You get everyone migrated over and then does it start growing? Did you launch it? What happened next in terms of getting traction? When you and I first spoke, it was about a year after you relaunched, I guess. It would have been January-ish of 2021. You got done with the codebase in March 2020 and you were far enough along that it made sense for you to join TinySeed. Some magic happened in those 9 or 10 months.
Cody: I would love to say that a bolt of lightning came through the sky. What happened was that the content marketing that I had been doing started to take root. It’s always a lesson. It takes a lot longer for that to happen than you think. I started to show up in search results for some really important high-intent keyword phrases. The growth just kept happening without me focusing too hard on marketing.
Unfortunately, that was a little bit of a trap because there was natural growth happening month-to-month, partly because I’m on the lower end of the MRR curve at this point. I realized after about six months, who my customer is? Who am I marketing this to? Keeping has grown organically to this point. There is a lot of advice in the bootstrapper community about niching down (for lack of a better term), which is like, oh, wait a minute, you’re a customer help desk for anybody. How can you market to everybody? You should be a customer support tool for school principals and lawyers.
Since Keeping already has a Gmail niche, number one, you can’t use Keeping unless you’re using Chrome and Gmail. I feel like we’re already sliced off enough of the market that we weren’t going to try to go and be yet another slice which was for some persona. Trying to build Keeping off of its revenue by the bootstraps was really hard when you’re sub-$5000 MRR. There’s just not enough money to pump back into marketing.
One of the reasons I joined TinySeed, frankly, was that you need to have a little bit of a war chest if you’re in this giant market. Zendesk has 6000 employees. It’s a publicly-traded company. There are some advantages to that. They probably move really slowly, but they also take up a lot of oxygen in the marketing space.
A lot of what I was trying to do on my own was just good enough, but it wasn’t quite enough to get over the hump. In mid-2020, I hired Asia Orangio at DemandMaven and we did a bunch of customer marketing research, which was also really revelatory and a key step in us growing.
Rob: Asia is a friend of the pod. She’s appeared here several times. She’s a friend at MicroConf and a TinySeed mentor. That’s awesome. She’s great.
You touched on this a little bit. You basically said you’re in this space, you’re starting to get traction, and you’re competing against Zendesk who has—I thought you were going to say customers—6000 employees. They’re that big. I guess they’re a public company, right?
Cody: They are public, yeah.
Rob: That’s still a lot of people. You’re competing in this market and you’re competing with big companies. I’m sure there are some really obvious challenges, but what are some of the challenges you’ve seen? How have you overcome them?
Cody: The biggest challenge is just that there aren’t new marketing channels sprouting up every day. Given a different category, I’d be paying a little heavier in paid search because you get a little more of an instant boost of customers. Just frankly, that channel’s closed because of investment that’s coming from these big publicly-traded companies.
The other challenge is that we did a bunch of customer interviews. Another truism that we all know at this point is you have to be talking to your customer and find out what they need. When you’re in a big category that’s been existing for a long time, like a customer support help desk, when you talk to customers, sometimes they say, I just want you to build Zendesk. The features that they know about are the ones that exist in other tools. You have to be willing to say, no, we just can’t do that right now.
An example of this is a chat widget. A lot of my customers want a chat widget, something we may do, but I have to be conscious as a solo founder with a small team that the doors open up from a support standpoint.
The challenges come from just trying to play a feature-to-feature war with these big companies. You just can’t do it. Navigating, finding my little seam in this big space, and understanding why people choose Keeping over these other tools is just super important. Otherwise, I’m just building Zendesk and I’m going to lose, right?
Rob: Right, because your customers are going to just keep requesting like, I want that feature. They used to do that with Drip. Everybody wanted us to build Mailchimp. It’s like, no, that’s not how we win. We need to either have a unique feature set, unique positioning, or own a traffic channel. Just get ranked one higher than Zendesk and Google and you’ll do really well. Will you be willing to pay more than Zendesk for an ad? I know you can’t, but then you’ll do really well.
I hear a lot of people wanting to just replicate an idea. It’s like, I don’t mind people building competitors. I think that’s great. But how are you going to win at least in this small segment? What you’re talking about is understanding your differentiation, right?
Cody: Yeah. It’s communicating that in a way when folks are looking at Keeping. How is this different is the challenge. It is to immediately say, right off the jump, here’s how Keeping is different.
What we find for most folks is another tab and another tool. A lot of folks don’t want that. We have to somehow zoom that into them and say, listen, you can do everything you need inside Gmail. Wouldn’t that be nice?
That takes a little bit of communication. It takes a video. It can take more than you can get off of an h1 on a website. The core challenge right now is making sure that we have space from these giant competitors and there’s a reason to choose us.
Rob: I’m going to start a new segment on Startups For the Rest of Us starting today. I’m going to ask every founder who comes on here. I hope you keep me accountable to this. This segment is called, How Did You Know When You Hit Product-Market Fit?
The reason I want to ask that is because you know it when you see it. I remember pointing to two graphs when Drip hit product-market fit, which obviously is a continuum. You can have it with a smaller group and then more.
It’s not this binary thing, but I remember pointing and telling Derek and Anna, that’s what product-market fit looks like. The two graphs were churn plummeting, trial-to-paid accelerating, and traffic was flat, but all the numbers are going right. I knew it, and we launched automation and blah-blah-blah. But that was my experience of it. I know that a lot of people are always asking, how do I know? How did you know? Do you remember that moment?
Cody: I still don’t know. I’m waiting for the email from you, Rob, to tell me that product-market fit. I think you’re right. Churn is a big indicator. When you’re talking to customers, you can hear it from them whether they’re excited or happy that they found the thing you’ve built. I don’t think you always see it in MRR graphs. A lot of folks imagine product-market fit being this big hockey stick in ProfitWell or ChartMogul. I don’t think that’s the case because you still have to expose your product to the world and you have to sign up folks. It’s really as with these smaller metrics.
For us, we’ve generally seen a really good trial-to-paid conversion. We have some metrics internally that we use, about when is somebody an engaged user, and when did they actually go to paid. And those numbers continue to get better.
That’s how we say we’ve met product-market fit, but honestly, I think it’s a constant thing. You’re always polishing, iterating, and maybe expanding your product enough so that you’re fitting a few more customers at a time.
Rob: That’s perfect. That’s exactly how I think about it, too. Not only is it a continuum. It’s not a winner’s era. It’s more like a 0 to 100 but with a certain group of people. And that ring gets bigger and bigger, hopefully if you’re doing things right. That’s why it’s so hard.
You have this successful business, it’s growing well, you start ranking for these terms, and you applied to TinySeed about seven months ago. Is that right?
Cody: I’m in the November batch.
Rob: When did we run them? I think we ran it in August. Is that six months? Yeah, you applied about six months ago. What went into that decision? I always preface this question with, I don’t bring TinySeed founders on here to make it an advertisement for TinySeed. I think that of the founders I know who have really interesting stories, there are a lot of them that wind up in TinySeed. In addition, it’s not for us to sit here and say, oh, TinySeed is amazing and this and that even though I think it is.
I do want to know, from the outside, when you’re considering whether to take money—whether it’s from TinySeed or someone else—it’s a big decision. It’s a little bit like buying an app. It’s a hard decision to undo and it is a risk. You are giving something up. In the case of buying the app, it’s cash, and in the case of TinySeed, it’s equity in your company. What was that thought process for you?
Cody: It’s funny you asked because my decision to apply to TinySeed was always in the back of my mind. I think this is probably true for a lot of bootstrap founders. Like, oh, I think that I’m going to try that someday. If you’re paying attention to the MicroConf ecosystem, you hear the announcements that it’s happening. I was listening to Startups For the Rest of Us and you announced it like, hey, TinySeed batches are opening up. I literally, on an impulse (in my boxers), went over to my computer and said, I think I’m going to apply.
It was a 5-minute or maybe a 10-minute process of putting in some numbers into a form. I wish I could say it was more considered. You just gave a great preamble about what a big decision it is, but for me, it was like, well, I’m just going to do this first step, see if I get it, and then I’ll make the next decision.
The honest answer on why is twofold. If you’re a solo founder who has two kids—I’ve got a five-year-old and an eight-year-old—there’s the money. Of course, that’s an important reason. But the real honest answer is that you are desperate for validation as a founder. I’m like, am I doing the right thing? Should I keep doing this? It’s not just to your buddies in the business community, but to your wife and your partner.
Joining an accelerator, whether it’s TinySeed or another one, is a really important validation of being like, hey, you’re on the right path, keep doing this. It’s easy to overlook that part of taking investment or joining an accelerator. It’s an external validation that I think we all need as founders. Then, there’s a community that comes with it, which has been, frankly, as worthwhile as the money. We’re all in our basements right now with COVID doing the best we can, but it’s a grind. If anyone tells you that it’s not, they’re not telling you the whole story. Being able to do that in a cohort with other people and to be able to do masterminds with folks that are in the same spot as you is great.
The second reason is the more obvious one which is I’m in a big expensive category with lots of competitors and I need money to market to them. Going to my savings to do that is a limited option. I can’t do that forever. I can’t pour all of the profits into marketing forever, so having an outside investment when you’re in a big category is really important.
It’s allowed me to really invest in content marketing. I’ve hired two writers. I have a content strategist. There’s a whole bunch of folks that came on board because of the investment. That would just not be possible if it wasn’t for that.
Two separate reasons why TinySeed, one financial and the other is emotional.
Rob: I think you touched on some good points. Einar and I talked at one point about why don’t we just raise a fund before we launch the accelerator? It would be so much easier to just write checks because the accelerator is a lot of work. It’s what we signed up for, but we wanted to not just write checks. We wanted to be able to mentor, advise, and build that community.
If you listen to all the Startups For the Rest of Us and the TinySeed Tales interviews I’ve done with TinySeed founders, they keep coming back to that community. The advice is actually as important, if not more important, than the money.
Cody: Right. There’s a “playbook.” It’s important that folks understand that everyone’s journey is their own journey and there’s no, okay, you follow steps A, B, C, D, E, and you’re going to be a unicorn. That’s absolutely not the case. I do think that there are things that you don’t know that you don’t know, that are incredibly helpful, and you can learn in—again, I’m using this more generally—any accelerator environment. It doesn’t have to be TinySeed that gets you up a level. That’s really important if you’re going to be a founder and a CEO of a company.
Rob: Cody, thanks so much for joining me today. Great story and told very well. If folks want to keep up with you on Twitter, you are @codee. I get the double meaning there; you’re a coder and you’re Cody. That’s if they want to see your latest Wordle. And keeping.com, of course. Again, your h1 is “Delightfully Simple Customer Support in Gmail.” You never have to leave Gmail.
When I first saw this idea, I thought, I like this because Hiten Shah with Crazy Egg and whatever else he had done—I don’t think his metrics stayed in Gmail—I know that to this day, Crazy Egg, which is a very profitable business and quite a few employees, everything’s done in Gmail. They have custom labels and all that. Have you talked to him? Have you heard about that?
Cody: I have not talked to him, but there’s a whole ecosystem of businesses that are riding on top of Gmail. God bless us if Gmail decides to not allow us into their world. Platform risk is real. But there are also three billion users there, so it’s nice to have access to that.
Rob: Awesome. Thanks again for coming on the show.
Thanks again to Cody for taking the time to tell his story and for coming back on the show next week where we’re going to dive into nine tactics for amazing customer support.
If we’re not connected on Twitter, look me up. I’m @robwalling. Thanks for listening today, and I’ll be back again next Tuesday morning.