In episode 685, Rob Walling goes solo to share his insights on 7 common mistakes that SaaS founders make. Be sure to listen to the end to hear Rob’s spicy take on launching a portfolio of products to see what sticks.
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Topics we cover:
- 1:29 – Sign the National Association of Manufacturers Letter, Section 174
- 3:52 – Compiling a list of things founders shouldn’t do
- 6:49 – B2C applications, “the worst of all the worlds”
- 9:42 – Don’t build a second product if your first has stopped growing
- 10:40 – Defining a new category of software is usually a bad idea
- 19:59 – Avoid multi-language support
- 24:13 – Dig deep to find root causes beyond the symptoms
- 27:41 – The portfolio approach
Links from the Show:
- The Small Software Business Alliance
- MicroConf Remote
- The SaaS Playbook
- Dan Andrews (@TropicalMBA) | X
- Episode 681 | Why Launching a Second Product is Usually a Bad Idea
- Inbound Marketing by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah
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!
And I’ve always wanted to avoid the lottery ticket approach, the big promise of, “You can be a millionaire tomorrow. Here’s an example of this person who did just that, and I’m going to teach you how to do that,” when in fact that’s bull (beep), when in fact it’s survivor bias, when in fact that’s one person out of 100 who each launched five products, and this one person got lucky and so it’s not repeatable, and I (beep) hated that stuff when I was coming up.
It’s another episode of Startups For the Rest of Us. I’m Rob Walling, and today I’m talking about seven things you should never do. And I want to caveat this with, it’s for the most part you should never do. I use never in the title as a way, of course, to get you intrigued. But I’m not the person who puts never in all caps on social media and says things like, “In your designs, you should never have buttons with rounded corners because I say so and you never should.” We used to get these comments when we were building Drip. It was just insane, the confidence with which people would proclaim their opinion as fact. So I’m not going to do that here today.
I use never kind of tongue in cheek. I think it’s for the most part, you shouldn’t do it. It’s a best practice. It’s probably 95% of the time you shouldn’t do these things. And some of these are things you’ve heard me talk about before, like bootstrapping a two-sided marketplace, or going B2C instead of B2B. This entire episode was inspired by a listener voicemail that I’ll play in just a minute. But before we listen to that, on this very podcast, we’ve talked about how in the US, Section 174 is really destroying our ability for software companies to write off expenses for software development, and instead having to depreciate that over many years. If you’ve just finished your taxes this fall, you probably saw them go way up with a lot more paperwork, and Section 174 is really the culprit.
And previously, you may have been a signer or at least heard about the former letter that our broader MicroConf and Twitter community sent to Congress in April on this issue. Well now, several business groups, everyone from the small software crowd, to biotech startups, to big companies like Boeing are coming together on a new formal letter to Congress.
So I’d encourage you if you want to get this fixed before the end of the year, which I think all of us in the software space should be worried about, go to ssballiance.org for the link to the new letter. Even if you already signed the one in April, this is the next phase, and I’d encourage you to check it out.
An important note, this is for us headquartered companies, but you do not need to physically be in the US or be a US citizen to sign. So really, it’s US domiciled entities.
The deadline is tomorrow, Wednesday, November 1st. So if you’re hearing this podcast before, then head to ssballiance.org.
Before we dive into the episode, I want to invite you to MicroConf Remote. MicroConf Remote is our virtual event that we host twice a year. This next one is focused on early stage marketing. It’s on November 1st and 2nd. If you’re interested, head to microconf.com/remote. It’s a very inexpensive event, and talks will include the bootstrap startup marketing checklist, when early stage SaaS companies should hire a copywriter, and how to hire one that doesn’t suck. Building a sustainable customer acquisition funnel, SaaS email marketing, plus our patented Founder x Founder speed networking to get you introduced and connected with other founders in our community. Again, that’s November 1st and 2nd of 2023. Microconf.com/remote if you’re interested. Even if you can’t make it, if you buy a ticket, you will get the videos after the event. Hope to see you there. So let’s dive into the meat of the episode, and I want to kick us off by listening to the voicemail that Dan from Austin sent in.
Hey Rob, it’s Dan from Austin, Texas. I’m listening to the September 19th episode, which is great, and there was a couple comments that really got me intrigued. You said don’t start a B2C software company, and you also said, “Hey, don’t start a two-sided marketplace,” with a few caveats for both.
But I’ve heard you make these arguments before, but as you said those things with such confidence, I was nodding my head and I thought, “Man, I’d really love to hear some more things like that.” What are five other things that you think for the most part, founders just should not do based on all your experience? And if you had, I don’t know, some stories or some anecdotes about those things or arguments, I think that would make for a really entertaining episode. So I thought I’d toss it out there and just say thanks for the pod. We appreciate it.
Mark your calendars. I think Halloween 2023 is the day this podcast went big time. Because if you recognize the voice of that voicemail, it was friend of the pod Dan Andrews who runs the Tropical MBA Podcast with Ian Schoen. I appreciate Dan writing in with this great episode idea.
I’ll admit, prior to this, I haven’t sat down and tried to think of a bunch of things you shouldn’t do, but they just come up when I get questions, or I see something a founder is doing and think that’s an anti-pattern in my mind.
So in software engineering, there are design patterns that help you architect things and are general best practices, and then an anti-pattern or a dark pattern is something that you shouldn’t do, right? These are things, anti-patterns against what we would recommend. And so I think these seven things that for the most part you should never do fall in that category of anti-pattern.
I did pull a couple from my book. I remember I had a section in there about mistakes that founders often make, so there’s a couple in here from that. And then there’s a couple others that I thought of as I was outlining this episode.
So I’m going to skip one that Dan called out, which is the two-sided marketplace. I feel like I’ve railed on that so much over the years. You know the reason I have? Is because so many people write in, or apply to TinySeed, or email me, or DM me and say, “I have this idea and it is,” insert name of the next two-sided marketplace here. And I’m always like, “Great, how much funding are you raising?” “I’m going to bootstrap it.” Don’t bootstrap a two-sided marketplace unless you already have one of the sides. This is Rob’s rule of two-sided marketplaces, we’ll call it.
I’m going to stop there. I always get carried away with this. And I’m no longer answering questions about two-sided marketplace. If you want to do that, find two-sided marketplaces for the rest of us. It’s a new podcast, I’m sure we’ll spring up. It’s just one of those things that talking about them is I think not helpful to the rest of the people who are bootstrapping, who are stair stepping, who are starting SaaS companies, info products, and all that.
So with that, I’m going to move to number two of the seven, which is starting a B2C application. And again, I jokingly say tongue in cheek say never. Not that you never should. Obviously there are B2C applications that work, but what are the downsides of B2C?
Well, it’s low price point, it’s high churn, it’s high support demand, and it’s high and entitlement and less technical users. And all of that for the ability to charge someone $7 a month, or $50 a year, or $30 a year in a lot of cases. When you go B2C, you get the worst of all the worlds, and you don’t get enough money to be able to do any marketing other than free marketing. It has to be viral, it has to be content/SEO, or it has to rank in an app store, which I include as SEO. B2C apps are very, very difficult to actively grow like you can with B2B, because with B2B, the prices are higher. And what’s the second order effect of a price being higher? You can afford more marketing approaches. I covered this in my MicroConf talk about pricing. I covered this in the pricing chapter of the SaaS playbook.
I have owned multiple B2C products, some of which were eBooks, and some of which were software. And it quickly became obvious to me this was not the path I wanted to go down. And what was funny is that the very first MicroConf in 2011, I talked about this, about how bad it was… I’d never heard anyone say, “Don’t start B2C apps.” And I talked about it in my talk. That very same event, I think it was the next day, Patrick McKenzie, patio11 was talking about how B2C is tough and was talking about all the struggles he was having with Bingo Card Creator. And it quickly became a pattern of, “I think B2C is probably not a great choice.”
Look, if you want to build something fun, little tool, utility to 1,000 to 5,000 and deal with the high churn, it’s fine. Do it. Again, it’s not never, it’s for the most part you should never. And can you do a fun experiment? Can you scratch your own itch? Can you solve your own problem and then go and want to just share that with the broader world? Of course you can. I wouldn’t say… Do stuff that’s fun, right? If it’s a hobby or you’re doing it for a lark, you go do that.
I want to close this section out with a story from a friend of mine who had an iOS app. And I don’t even remember what it was honestly. It was like a B2C, some type of calculator or something that consumers downloaded, and he would frequently get people who would threaten him and say, “Add this feature or I’ll give you a one star review in the iOS App Store.” Or he had reviews he would screenshot and send to me. I believe his app was 3.99, let’s say, $3.99. And it would be a two star review and it said, “Would be worth it if it was 1.99.” And I remember I was just like, “Sir, this screenshot embodies everything that I think about building B2C apps.”
So the third thing that you should for the most part never do is build a second product because your first one has stopped growing. I’m going to point you to an entire 50-minute episode of this podcast. It was four episodes ago, episode 681. I had our very own Ruben Gamez on the show, and we ran through… This is actually the show that inspired Dan to send the voicemail. But we ran through the pros, the cons, which there are a lot of, and really the mistake or the myth of the second product.
That’s what we were trying to touch on is there is often this grass is greener mentality that, “If I just had a second product, then it would do this,” or, “It’s the same code base, I could just fork it off, and I don’t think about the hundreds and hundreds of hours I’ve spent building the domain authority and doing all the other things I’ve spent doing it.”
So I’m not going to belabor the second product here. You can go back and listen to 681 again if you want to be refreshed, but that is the third thing that I think you should never do.
Number four is one that I tried to do myself unsuccessfully. And this is one, you should never do it if you’re bootstrapping really. And again, you should almost never do it if you’re bootstrapping. Have I seen one out of 1,000 work? Probably, but these are my rules of thumb. And it’s create a category.
So this is where you go out and define a new category of software, where you are trying to be so clever and be novel such that you have no competition, and you build out the space, you create the demand. If you’re familiar with the five stages of customer awareness, when you create a category, everyone is unaware or maybe problem aware if you’re lucky. So the education that you have to bring… And if you haven’t seen the five stages, just Google an image, but it’s in order from least aware to most aware is unaware, problem aware, solution aware, product aware, and most aware. And so when you create a category, you are in the top two of those. It’s unaware. And maybe if you’re lucky, problem aware.
So to get people to be aware that there’s a solution, no one’s searching for that solution. To get people to be aware that there are products that do it when no one’s searching for those products, it’s a tremendous amount of effort, skill, expertise, time, and money to do this. So should you never create a category? No.
So I tried to do this with Drip actually in the early days. I didn’t want to build another ESP. I felt like it was super crowded. That’s email service provider. So I didn’t want to build a MailChimp, or a Constant Contact, or an active campaign, just felt like it was too crowded. And so I tried to be really clever. And instead of just saying, “We are email marketing,” or, “We are marketing automation,” our headline described what the product did. And I don’t honestly remember exactly what it was, but it was something like, “We send automated emails at the right time to your customer’s prospects,” and blah, blah, blah, and it was about being clever and automating. But people couldn’t put you in a category. They would think, “So are you like MailChimp? No. I guess that’s email marketing. Are you marketing? But you’re for customers? So are you like customer.io, or are you kind of a CRM thing?” People would be confused.
And as a result, I mean we basically plateaued at eight or nine grand. You’ve heard the story, didn’t have product market fit, and eventually I realized we should move ourselves into an existing category of software, and what we should do instead is carve out a corner of that using positioning. And so that’s when the headline changed to lightweight marketing automation that doesn’t suck.
So the category is marketing automation. Our positioning is that we were lightweight, and that we were great to use, and we were reasonably priced, and we were on the customer side because we didn’t suck, right? It wasn’t old software.
That was the moment where for us, things started taking off. That’s when Drip found product market fit. Now we had to build some features in order to get there, but that was the key so to speak, that unlocked the growth that became Drip.
There are exceptions. There are times when you should create a category. Think of what Dharmesh and his co-founders did with HubSpot. This is before the CRM. They created inbound marketing, and they basically created this inbound marketing hub where it was a combination of Google Analytics, and I think it was like a website builder, maybe some lightweight email marketing. But it was this bundled tool. It was a bunch of tools you could get individually, and you and I as developers could comp them together. But if you’re not a developer or you’re not really into MarTech, this was an easy way to get it all in one place. And so they had to define that because it didn’t really exist. People didn’t know what to call it.
And so if you go back to the book Inbound Marketing by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah, those are the co-founders of HubSpot, and they raised a kajillion dollars to do this, and I talked to Dharmesh about this at one point. He and I were speaking at the same event and I said, “You created a category, congrats. So few people do that. When should you do it and when not?” Or, “What did it cost?” I think was the question I asked. And memory fails, but something to the effect of, “You need $5 million and two to three years.” Maybe he said 10 million in three years or something, but it was more money than I had. It was more time than I wanted to spend.
They wrote a book, they started inbound.org, which was like a social news site for inbound marketing. They went all in on defining this term, and Dharmesh had a pretty decent audience at the time, and it was still this massive uphill battle.
I think Intercom faced the same thing and then Drift came in. These are the chat widgets. And Drift for a long time, I don’t even remember what category they were trying to create, but they were trying to be different than Intercom. And I think it all kind of is one category in people’s minds now, but Drift raised a kajillion dollars based on David Cancel’s amazing reputation as a five-time entrepreneur, and it still took them years if you watched them grind that out.
So creating a category involves not selling in an existing category. It involves, “I’m a builder, I’m a maker. I have this great idea for something brand new that doesn’t have a two word phrase that describes it.” That’s how I think about it. Or maybe it’s I guess an acronym, or a three word phrase like customer relationship management, CRM, email service provider, ESP.
When you go beyond that, when you start using four or more words, this is Rob’s completely made up rule of category creation. But when you start needing four or more words or a complete sentence to describe what your product does, you’re in the danger zone in my opinion.
Now, someone could give a counter example and say, “Well, what about chat AI, PDF thingy, where you allow me to chat with my PDF? How many of these are out there?” Chat CSV, whatever AI, ChatGPT wrapper people are using these days to allow you to do something? Do those create a category?
And my answer is most of those wrappers are a single feature, and so you’re not trying to describe a complex piece of software. You can literally have a headline and it describes everything it does. All it does is allow you to chat with your PDFs. You don’t need a category, because it’s not complex software.
But the moment I tell you, “Okay, you have a form, and you’re going to collect email addresses, and they’re going to go into a list. You’re going to be able to send broadcasts and sequences to those people. You’re going to be able to tag them when they buy something or when they do something else. There’s integrations with payment providers and landing page.” You need a category for that, because it’s not just a single feature.
I had an app called HitTail, it was an SEO keyword tool, that was the category. But the one sentence description was, “HitTail tells you keywords you’re already ranking for that are low hanging fruit to increase your ranking.” All right, obviously that’s a very long description. I could tighten it up, we could workshop it. I can make it shorter. But you get the idea. It was just that. It was a single feature.
So it fit in a category of SEO keyword tools. I could also describe it as that feature, and that’s how I think of these AI wrappers is they are just a single feature. Now the moment your software does two, three, four, five things, you can’t put that in a headline. So what do you do now? That’s where buyers usually need categories to figure out what your software does, and so they can bucket you and compare you against other categories.
Here’s the other thing. I’m not talking about five, 10K lifestyle businesses, five 10K a month. I am talking about, how do we build a million dollar or multimillion dollar startup? Much in line with my latest book, The SaaS Playbook, which talks about building a multimillion-dollar startup without venture capital.
There are always these niche, tiny exceptions where could I go B2C, or have a second product and try to… I don’t know, create a category wouldn’t be the thing, but be outside of a category maybe is another way to phrase it. And can I get that to 5K, 10K, maybe 20K a month? Or if I have some massive Twitter following, and I do a product hunt launch, and I get a little lucky that I can get it up to 50K a month, these are all possible.
They’re very unlikely. They’re not repeatable. They rely a lot on luck. I like to rely on hard work and skill. I like to talk about things that are repeatable, and that through execution you could do over and over and over. And so that’s why I’m talking today about things like creating a category, which is an anti-pattern if you’re bootstrapping because it’s expensive, takes so much time, and for all the reasons I’ve already covered.
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The fifth thing you should probably maybe never do if you’re bootstrapping is translate your application into multiple languages. And I mean spoken or written languages, not coding type languages. This one, I see it much less often, I’ll admit, than the others, and this is probably less important. I won’t spend too much time on it.
I have seen multiple people, and in fact, there was one app that I bought where at its peak, this SaaS app was doing, think it was six, seven, $8,000 a month, single digit thousands. And yet they had translated the application, all the error messages. I think they even translated the entire marketing website into three or four different languages.
And it was such a bizarre use of time and energy. It was kind of like a weird form of procrastination. I think about it like that, where instead of doing what’s actually going to move the needle, instead of doing the thing that makes me uncomfortable, which look, maybe it’s talking to customers. Who’s grinding out another big feature? I’m going to go watch TikTok, and I’m going to watch some YouTube, and I’m going to listen to an audiobook, or I’m going to go on my Trello board and stare at it, or I’m going to go translate my app into multiple languages because I think that’ll move the needle. It really feels like an odd form of procrastination and it’s a huge waste of time, unless you’re at the point where you have tapped out your entire market.
So I’m going to use the English-speaking market, or the US market for that matter as an example. If there are tens of thousands of people or businesses that could buy your product, and you’re doing five or 10K MRR and you’ve plateaued, figure out why you’ve actually plateaued. The reason is not that you’ve consumed the entire English-speaking market and you now need Spanish. Even if someone, three people requested we translate it to Spanish. The odds of you being able to translate it well, translate your entire application, just invest the dozens, hundreds of hours to… It’s somewhere, and it’s not hundreds. I mean it depends on how many many English strings you have in there, but to invest the amount of time, the effort, the energy to translate your entire app, and then translate your entire marketing website. And then, are you going to do support in the new language in Spanish? Are you going to translate your knowledge base into Spanish? Are you going to have a separate domain or the same domain? Are you going to market in Spanish? Are you going to do SEO, content, cold outreach, integrations, partnerships, attend events, all the 20 B2B marketing approaches I talk about?
When you translate into another language, you spread your focus. In all the conversations I’ve had with every founder I’ve ever advised, invested in, been involved in, anyone who asks my opinion, one founder convinced me that they should translate it, that it was the right time to do it. And I think he was right, and it was a really good conversation. It was similar to the conversation I talked about when we talked about second products in episode 681, where Jordan Gal just had really good reasons. I said, “You know, you’re right. You are the exception right now to my rule of thumb.” And I’ve had one founder be the exception to this translate to other languages rules of thumb.
He had tremendous market pull. Parts of his site were already ranking in Latin America. This is an English to Spanish translation. And he had some incredible resources. He already had a support person who was bilingual. It was like everything that I just said, every objection I just talked about, he had an answer to, and he had either thought of it, or he happened to have a good way to do it. And he was running a team of people. He wasn’t at 6K MRR. He was orders of magnitude above that and growing very fast.
And the other thing was that he had customers, but his customer’s customers often spoke other languages, even if his direct customers spoke English. So the people buying from him spoke English, and their customer’s customers sometimes did not. And so he was thinking about doing, I think it was like two or three of the most popular languages in the world, and he was getting multiple requests for this, and he was getting some not only inbound, but starting to rank in these other engines. And most of his support, he could still do in English. And I’m only using English as the example because these are the companies I deal with. Obviously, your native tongue would be the English equivalent in this example.
The sixth thing that for the most part you shouldn’t do is to treat symptoms instead of finding root causes. I realize this one’s a little meta, but the biggest example I see is churn. Churn is usually a symptom that you have something else wrong in the business. Usually. There comes a time when you’re doing tens of millions a year or maybe a month, and optimizing your churn by having people upgrade to annual plans, or making people give you a reason before they cancel, or offering a discount, or a subscription pause, or other options like that, those will reduce churn.
And at a certain point, that makes sense to just do it blanket, and it will lower your churn, make your business better.
The problem is I’ve seen founders who are doing, again, they’re early. 5K a month, 1K a month, 20K a month. And they’re churning too high, and so they start implementing these anti churn tactics forcing everyone to go annual, or making that the default, or making you have to call them on the phone to cancel, or just whatever. Putting up some type of friction to get churn down.
And what that does is it actually masks the root cause of that churn. That root cause is usually that you don’t have product market fit. You have not built something people want and are willing to pay for, or you have weak product market fit. There’s a bunch of things we could go down in terms of the root cause. But by attacking the symptoms, treating the symptoms, you are doing a disservice to your customers. You’re doing a disservice to yourself because you’re not learning.
And to be honest, the reason people do this is because the learning and the figuring out what’s wrong and then fixing is actually really hard. This is a hard part of being a founder. The easy part is let’s build a fun product, come up with an idea, and launch it on Product Hunt, and put it on Hacker News, and tell our friends about it, and get some people in. And boy, it got hard, huh? Everyone’s churning out. Well, guess I’ll move on to my second product. Let’s make this one a, B2C, two-sided marketplace in a new category that I can translate into six languages from the start. Anyways, I’m being facetious here obviously.
So this one comes out of me seeing founders, aspiring founders posting on Twitter usually, a conclusion they’ve come to about reducing churn. “Look at this thing I tried. Churn was high, now it’s low.” And usually, I don’t think you’re actually attacking the real problem.
Another thing is split testing too early. “I’m going to split test headlines because my conversion rate on my website is low. My visitor to trial,” often it’s like well, maybe the whole website. You just haven’t built something people even want to try out. And that’s the root cause, and it’s hard to figure out what that is. It’s easier to look at a tactic like churn reduction or split testing, and implement that thinking that’s going to save you. But usually, what you’re doing is you’re messing around with a local maxima rather than a global maxima actually jumping up another level, which if you get to the root cause, you can start to attack. This frankly could be a book chapter, multiple podcast episodes, because finding root causes of these things, it’s challenging. But that’s why I do see people treating those symptoms. Maybe it’s a form of procrastination or maybe it’s just a form of not knowing any better. It’s asking the wrong question, right? It’s, how do I reduce churn? Where it’s like I guess that’s the question, but really the quick easy answer is the tactic, “You can try these five things to do it,” but the hard answer is usually digging in, finding the root cause.
My seventh thing that I think you shouldn’t do if you want to build a multimillion-dollar startup and bootstrap it, is to launch a bunch of products. And I have quotes in the outline that says, “Hoping one sticks,” end quote.
I’m a builder. I love the idea of building 12 products in 12 months, 52 products in 52 weeks. Building and shipping is a dopamine rush. It’s amazing. Getting your new product, or feature, or ChatGPT wrapper or whatever into the hands of people on Product Hunt, and Reddit, and Hacker News, and your friends. And look, I’m not mocking. I know earlier I was joking about Product Hunt and Hacker News launches. Those are a mixed bag, but they’re not a bad thing. If I was launching a product today, I would 100% want to get on these social news websites. I do take them with a grain of salt in terms of actually gathering customers that will stick around, but I do think there’s some value there. It’s probably a topic for another podcast episode.
But the idea of launching a bunch of products, hoping one sticks has a couple problems, pretty major problems for me. One is you don’t learn very much. Because if I launch 10 products and one works, it’s unlikely I’m going to know why. It’s really likely I got lucky. And again, I don’t like to teach approaches that need or rely on luck. I’ve been doing this for… I don’t want to sound too old, but let’s say in the neighborhood of two decades. And I’ve been successful at it for less time than that, but I’ve been talking about it on this podcast, my blog, my books and everything for whatever it is 15 years, 17, 18 years.
And I’ve always wanted to avoid the lottery ticket approach, the big promise of, “You can be a millionaire tomorrow. Here’s an example of this person who did just that, and I’m going to teach you how to do that,” when in fact that’s bull (beep), when in fact it’s survivor bias, when in fact that’s one person out of 100 who each launched five products, and this one person got lucky, so it’s not repeatable. And I (beep) hated that stuff when I was coming up, when I was trying to become a successful entrepreneur, and I could just smell snake oil. And the further I dug in, the more I found out that the person promoting the approach had gotten lucky, hadn’t really built the business they talked about.
And so the idea of learning, and not just being successful, but knowing why you’re successful, and knowing that you could repeat that again, or actually repeating it again showing that you have the skill to do it multiple times. This is something I’ve always held onto pretty tightly. As someone who has been both a doer and a teacher, not just a teacher, not just someone who had a middling success and then claims I started the biggest startup and had the biggest exit anyone’s ever talked about. I’m really sensitive to the people out there who oversell what they’ve actually done. And the folks who oversell what they’ve actually done usually got lucky, and usually don’t know why they’re successful. That’s the problem.
So let me tell you some people who are not in this camp, so people who are successful and I think could do it 20 more times if they had the time.
Jason Cohen, Heaton Shaw, Rand Fishkin, Ruben Gamez, David Cancel, Dharmesh Shah, I can go on. There’s more than that, right? There’s people in TinySeed who I have a lot of respect for who I know could do this again.
And they learned what it took. They had to grind, they had to make mistakes, and then overcome those mistakes and figure out, what is the thought process? What is the approach? What is the troubleshooting? If you never make mistakes, are you smart or are you just lucky? If you make mistakes and overcome them, you learn. You become just a little bit better as a founder.
And so that’s the first thing I don’t like about this oping one sticks is I don’t think there is much learning in launching and getting lucky with one out of 10, one out of 20, and then writing that. If that were to be successful, I question if you can ever do that again, if you just caught lightning in a bottle. So the lack of learning and really truly understanding why you’re successful, I think is one thing.
The other thing is oftentimes in most cases, I’ve talked to literally thousands of founders now, many of whom are successful and some of whom are not. Most of the time, the thing you initially launch with is not the same product that gets you to product market fit. Most of the time, you launch with something you think the world needs, and you miss the mark. Sometimes by 5%, sometimes by 95%.
But great founders then ask the right questions, have hypotheses. They just pivot around. They add a thing, they make a guess, they change their positioning. They don’t just willy-nilly do it, but they learn, and they take those learnings, and they build them into the product, and the positioning, and the marketing, and the sales, and slowly they grind to the point where they’ve built a business that people want and are willing to pay for and are saying, “Shut up and take my money.”
Sometimes that process takes months. Sometimes you get lucky. I know there’s someone out there, one in 1,000, who what they launched actually did get them to product market fit. We see those examples on Twitter. Right? We see the examples on Product Hunt or Reddit, and we say, “Oh my gosh, they did it. I can do this too. It’s totally feasible,” and it is totally feasible. One in 100, one in 1,000, whatever. There’s some minuscule number of times where it’s truly what you thought the market needed was what they actually needed.
Most of the time, it takes you six months to get there from launch, 12 months, 18 months, 24 months. It takes a long time, and it takes a lot of grinding and there’s a lot of uncertainty. And that, in my opinion, is the worst part of being an entrepreneur, the worst part of starting any company. And let’s specifically say SaaS companies or products that people want, the worst part is the uncertainty when you still don’t know if you’ve built something people want and you’re willing to pay for.
And so that’s the part that people want to avoid because it’s painful, but that’s the part that I believe makes you a great founder. Those are the moments, those are the days, weeks, and the (beep) months that you grind it out, and you come out the other side if you find it, if you suddenly see your churn plummet, trial to paid going through the roof, and people searching for your brand name in Google, and you’ve caught the rocket ship, you’re starting to catch what I call escape velocity. Once you’ve made it there, you can look back and be like, “Wow, that was hard and it took a long time, but I’m a much better founder for it, and now I know why I’m successful, and I think I could do this again.” I love having that confidence, right? The repeatability of it.
So again, this is the second point. The first one was hoping it sticks doesn’t teach you anything, doesn’t make you a better founder. But the second thing is it’s a disservice to a lot of those ideas, because I think a lot of ideas you launch, and you get the bump, and you get the dopamine rush, and everybody turns out, and you don’t then know how to market. You never make it past the starting line.
To me, launching a product is the starting line. People who think about it as a finish line have never built a multimillion dollar product, because really launch is the starting line where you start to learn, you start to learn what you’ve done right, and mostly what you’ve done wrong, and usually you’ve done quite a bit. And that’s where you then gain the skills, right? That’s where you gain the skills of, which marketing approaches do I try, which do I try first? And you actually start doing repeatable things that if they work, will be skills that you take with you for the rest of your life.
I think if you’re of the mindset that you should launch and see what sticks, I think you’re probably given up too early. We certainly are doing your product a disservice, because it could be successful with work, with the grind. And I think you’re doing yourself a disservice because you’re never going to learn the nuts and bolts, the blocking and tackling, as Dan Andrews would say, of building a business, and that grind and actually getting there.
Look, when I say grind, I don’t mean 70-hour weeks. I just mean doing things that are hard and you kind of don’t want to do. They’re new, they’re uncomfortable, and they’re uncertain, And you might waste time because you might try a marketing approach and it doesn’t work. But then iterating, and building those features, and getting to product market fit is incredibly rewarding. And that’s the process that can take you from being a wantrepreneur, a brand new entrepreneur, to someone who knows how to build great products and great companies.
So I hope you enjoyed those seven things you should for the most part, never do, especially if you’re bootstrapping. I really appreciate Dan Andrews writing in with that voicemail. I had a fun time putting these together. Thanks for listening this week. And every week if you keep listening, I’ll keep making these. This is Rob Walling, signing off from episode 685.