In episode 694, join Rob Walling as he recaps 2023. He reflects on growing TinySeed, MicroConf, the YouTube channel and this podcast. Rob also addresses his struggle with “arrival fallacy” and the continuous journey of success. Alongside the growth, he describes seeing burnout on the horizon, emphasizes the importances of addressing that early, and what it means for him and his team in 2024.
Going from an idea sketched on the back of a napkin to a robust, stable product requires a wide range of skills. You can spend ages looking for a one-in-a-million developer who can do it all, or you can quickly ramp up an entire product team to help you build and launch your product with our sponsor – DevSquad.
DevSquad provides an entire development team packed with top talent from Latin America.
Your elite squad will include between 2 to 6 Full Stack Developers, a technical product manager, plus experts in product strategy, UI/UX design, DevOps, and QA – all working together to make your SaaS Product a success.
You can ramp up an entire product team fast, in your timezone, and at rates 75% cheaper than a comparable US-based team. And with DevSquad, you pay month to month with no long-term contracts.
Take the hassle out of assembling and managing a sprawling team of freelancers and work with a group that’s ready to hit the ground running.
Visit DevSquad.com/startups and get 10% off your engagement.
Topics we cover:
- 4:20 – 2023 growth, launch of The SaaS Playbook
- 6:04 – Audience growth and supporting the mission
- 7:24 – Seeing burnout on the horizon, content calendars, and travel
- 11:49 – Dealing with burnout if you are experiencing it
- 14:18 – Adjusting travel schedules and amount
- 15:39 – Doing the things that “give me life”, sustainably
Links from the Show:
- Get Your tickets for MicroConf Atlanta
- State of Independent SaaS Report
- The SaaS Playbook
- Subscribe to the MicroConf YouTube channel
- Start Small Stay Small
- Episode 670 | Relying on Luck, Avoiding Burnout, and Bad Player vs. Bad Instrument (A Rob Solo Adventure)
- The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Keeping Your Sh*t Together
- The Zen Founder Guide to Founder Retreats
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!
Going from an idea sketched on the back of a napkin to a robust, stable product requires a wide range of skills. You can spend ages looking for a one in a million developer who can do it all, or you can quickly ramp up an entire product team to help you build and launch a product with our sponsor, DevSquad. DevSquad provides an entire development team packed with top talent from Latin America. Your elite squad will include from two to six full stack developers, a technical product manager, plus experts in product strategy, UI/UX design, DevOps, and QA, all working together to make your SaaS product a success. You can ramp up an entire product team fast in your time zone, and it rates 75% cheaper than a comparable US-based team. And with DevSquad, you pay month to month with no long-term contracts. Take the hassle out of assembling and managing a sprawling team of freelancers and work with a group that’s ready to hit the ground running. Visit devsquad.com/startups and get 10% off your engagement. That’s devsquad.com/startups.
Welcome back to Startups For the Rest of Us. I’m your host, Rob Walling. And today I look back at my 2023, and I reflect on the highs and the lows of the year. I’m going to talk through my experiences working on and growing TinySeed, and MicroConf and this podcast because those are the three things that I focused on throughout the year, as well as give some reflections on how I can improve and make things better for myself and those around me in the year ahead.
If this is your first episode of Startups For the Rest of Us, or you’d prefer not to hear Inside Baseball about what’s going on with me and my professional life, maybe even a little bit personal, we’ll see where it goes, you probably want to either go backwards or go forwards. Skip back forward weeks, go ahead one week, this really is going to be me talking about my experience of this year.
And I’m not sharing it just to make myself feel good or to hear myself talk. I’m sharing it so you can perhaps see what it’s like for someone who, I think by all measures, is pretty successful, but the things that I still struggle with. I think, at a certain point, I thought, if only I had an app that did $3,000 a month, everything would be perfect. If only I had a $10,000 a month SaaS company, then I could quit my job and everything would be great. If only I built a company to multiple seven figures in ARR and then sold it for life-changing exit, if only, on and on and on. And it’s just something to realize that there is the arrival fallacy that you’ve never arrived. And when you reach that next mountain, there’s always another one on the horizon.
And so I’m sharing this, hopefully, to help motivate you, inspire you, and show you the reflection process that I go through at the end of the year to figure out how to make the next year better. So hopefully there are some nuggets in this episode that you can learn from, but my feelings won’t be hurt if you decide to skip to the next one.
Before we dive into that, we are running the next edition of the State of Independent Saas survey and report. Through Microconf, we’ve run the survey a couple of times, and then we decided to take last year off because the information coming through wasn’t changing. The survey is about 40 questions. It takes less than 10 minutes to complete if you have your metrics handy. And then we take that data from what usually winds up being between 600 and 1,000 independent SaaS companies. These are bootstrapped and mostly bootstrapped SaaS companies, and we compile a report with all the key findings and helpful industry benchmarks that you don’t get anywhere else. The survey closes soon. We could really use your input. All the data is kept anonymous, and every survey response we get makes the report that much better.
Head to stateofindysaas.com to complete the survey, and we’re going to enter everyone who completes the survey into a drawing for a free ticket to Microconf US 2024 in Atlanta. That’s more than a $1,000 value. I know it’s a lot for me to ask you for 10 minutes out of your busy day, but it really would go a long way towards making this year’s report the best yet. We are mixing it up this year asking different questions and pulling out different findings than you’ve seen in the past. So even if you’ve filled out a prior survey, it’d be amazing if you could head to stateofindiesaas.com and complete it.
If I were to describe how 2023 has felt, how things have gone, it really is almost polar opposites. It’s incredible growth. I think this year had one of the largest audience growth years that I’ve ever had. It might be the number one year in terms of how much my audience grew, between publishing the SaaS Playbook and doing the Kickstarter for that in May. Sold about, I think, just under 3000 copies there. And just last month, past 10,000 total copies sold of that book. And to put that into perspective, it’s self-published book, Start Small, Stay Small, which I published in 2010, has sold a total of just under 15,000 copies in 13 years. And that’s been amazing. I mean, that book has made me… I’d have to run the numbers. Between selling on Amazon and Audible and then selling directly, it’s got to be 350, $400,000 on Start Small, Stay Small. And the SaaS Playbook already passing 10,000 copies sold, I will admit is beyond even the ambitious goal that I had.
I was happy with the Kickstarter raising low six figures, $108,000, and selling, again, almost 3,000 copies. What I wasn’t prepared for was the continued strong sales. And I think I’m a bit naive. I’m a bit naive on that because I always underestimate, I think, the power of creating good content and the willingness and desire for people to share that. So I’m definitely stoked to have that many copies sold.
And then, in terms of the audience growth, this year, if you combine MicroConf, TinySeed and this podcast, our email lists and the listeners of this show and the YouTube channel subscribers, it is absolutely past 100,000 people being reached on whatever, a weekly and monthly basis. Depending on how you count it, even if you dupe and assume there’s overlap, we’re probably past 150,000. It’s a lot of people. Everything’s working as it should be. As my mission that I think has become the mission of TinySeed and Microconf is to multiply the world’s population of independent self-sustaining startups. And in order to do that, we have to reach a lot of people. The more people you reach, the more people that you can help and educate, potentially advise, invest in, match together, connect with one another, and have an impact on. And so, for me, audience building and increasing our reach is not a vanity metric. It is a top line key performance indicator of how well we’re doing.
And so you contrast 10,000 copies sold of the SaaS Playbook in the last seven months. You contrast our reach crossing 100,000 or 150,000, it depends on how you count it, say 150,000 person reach, and you contrast that with something I talked about in a podcast episode probably five or six months ago, I think it was during the summer where I said, “I’m not burned out, but I can see it on the horizon.” And I talked in that episode about a big piece of this… I don’t want to say burnout because burnout is a very technical term, and I have not been burned out this year, and I’m not burned out now, but it’s shorthand for being tired. Maybe I’ll say I’m tired or fatigued or world-weary, whatever adjective we want to use.
And for me, a big piece of that in the summer was the grind of our content schedule. I record 52 YouTube videos a year. I record 52 episodes of this podcast a year, and then 52 episodes of the MicroConf podcast a year. So you’re talking 156 pieces of content that we push out that doesn’t include MicroConf remotes in-person MicroConfs, five TinySeed events. It’s a lot going on. And while one could argue… The MicroConf podcast, I only record intros. It’s not a full podcast I have to do custom information for, but it’s all work and is something that it doesn’t go away. I don’t take a vacation, or when I take a vacation, I have to record ahead.
And so the way I started getting around that fatigue or tiredness of the grind was, A, we started finding some folks who could help fill in on the YouTube channel. So I didn’t have to record four videos a month, maybe it’s three. And I started batching recordings. So I would record four YouTube videos in a week, and then I was able to take three weeks off. And that worked until the fall. So this fall, I traveled more in a maybe 10, 11 week period than at any other single time in my life. And for those of you who travel a lot for work, especially if you have a family at home that you like hanging out with, I like my family. I like my house, I like Minneapolis. I like my dog.
So while I don’t mind being away from home taking whatever it was, six, seven trips, two of them to Europe in a pretty tight timeframe with the time zone changes and all that, it starts to take its toll on you. And there’s a physical toll of the sleepless nights and taking melatonin to try to get on time and then flying back and waking up at four in the morning and trying to operate during the day. And there’s the mental toll and the emotional toll of not being around “my people,” my family at home, and the comfort and I think the stability of what we’ve built here in Minneapolis.
And so this fall was tough, and it was a combination of things. It was a perfect storm of, we had multiple TinySeed events, we had multiple MicroConfs, and I agreed to speak at a couple of events. And now that I published the SaaS Playbook, I’m getting speaking invites again. And around all that travel, of course, I was continuing to try to ship YouTube videos or I would say continuing to ship YouTube videos and episodes of this podcast. As I commented on a previous episode, you’ll notice there were more solo episodes than usual, and it because I just didn’t have any time to plan to record with anyone. And when I was at home, I needed to hop on it real quick. And oftentimes I had to record an episode last minute right before a flight was taking off. So I didn’t have time to schedule it.
And so the show must go on, as I say, and I feel like I was able to maintain the quality of the YouTube videos in this podcast, but it all takes a toll. And so that’s what I’ve been reflecting on as the fall has wrapped up, because I’m done with work travel until January. I have one trip there, and then I don’t believe I have any more travel until April, which is MicroConf in Atlanta. If you don’t have your tickets yet, microconf.com/us.
And so any year where the podcast and the YouTube channel and our audience in general grew faster than any a year prior, where TinySeed was firing on all cylinders, we funded 40 something companies this year, bringing our total to more than 150 companies. And the MicroConf YouTube channel, I realized I got an email the other day that our YouTube channel passed 3.5 million total views, which is pretty incredible. And we ran… I’m trying to think of how many in-person events. I think it was six or seven successfully broke even, made a profit on those. We matched hundreds of folks into mastermind groups. Everything’s working, everything’s up into the right, and yet you can still feel fatigued. You can still be approaching burnout. And if you don’t catch it early and do something to mitigate that and make a change, then you’re going to hit it.
Once you get into burnout, it’s really hard to undo. Usually, you have to take months off. Sherry and I have a chapter in our book, the Entrepreneur Guide to Keeping Your (beep) Together, about if you’re dealing with burnout. And it’s pretty drastic what you need to do. And so I don’t want to get there. So you have to make changes early because if you ignore it, it’s not going to go away. The ostrich approach to burnout, putting your head in the sand and thinking it’s going to get better by itself, it doesn’t work. And in fact, I’ve tried that in the past and it didn’t turn out well. And so my thinking at this point is, all right, all this has happened. How do I avoid this next year? Because I’m in a lull now, and I say that in the most positive way that I possibly can, relax, not traveling, don’t have a ton of work on my plate other than things like this podcast and the YouTube channel.
And so as I look ahead towards next year, I think to myself, okay, how can I do this better? And so there are a few changes, and it’s a few changes I’ve talked with my team about already. One is to continue to lean on my team around me to help create YouTube videos such that every YouTube video doesn’t need to be me. And it looks like for the next couple months, I think I’m recording about half of the YouTube videos that I traditionally have, which is great. I’m also taking time off. I’m going to take between three and four weeks off over the holiday break here, Christmas and New Year’s, and then in the early parts of January because it is pretty quiet and the ability to just unlock, unplug and not feel like I have to be thinking about, I love SaaS and I love startups. I mean, this is my life. It is my life’s work. It is my life’s mission. It’s what I think about every day, but even something you love, you sometimes need a break from. And that is the case with me right now.
And so after recording this episode, I have another couple calls and then I’m unplugging. I do have some calls tomorrow, actually. This is what always happens, is I plan to take time off and things sneak in that are important and that I need to do, but that’s what I’m thinking about and that’s the direction I’m heading towards is temporarily taking some time off to recharge the batteries. I’m going to not think about work or… Actually, what I will wind up doing is thinking about work, but at a very high level. I’ll be thinking about strategy and high level vision of what do I want 2024 to look like, where do I want MicroConf, TinySeed and this podcast to be at the end of 2024? What are changes that may need to happen that are beyond things that I talk about on this show, beyond just handing off a couple YouTube videos each month?
Another one of those changes is the amount of travel. And I know that for me at this point in my life, I can totally travel a handful of times a year, but six, seven trips in 10 or 11 weeks, it doesn’t make sense. And it is 100%… Especially with the time changes, the eight-hour time changes were rough. And so that’s something I’m looking at for next year is, how do we adjust schedules to make things more productive for everybody?
That’s the other thing is I say this as if I’m the only one that got burned out. There are other people on my team who have really struggled with just getting back into the mindset of being productive. Pretty much everybody got sick, and that’s a travel thing, I think, less than a being around people. But whatever it is, almost everybody on my team who traveled got sick. Knock on wood, I didn’t. But really took a toll on the team as a whole. And so it’s one of those things where you look at the calendar, you’re like, this isn’t that bad. Hopping a flight to Miami and then heading to Tennessee to do a talk and then heading back and then a week later doing something else. It didn’t look that bad and it doesn’t look that bad. But the way it felt, for me, now I know. In the future, I just have to say no to some things. I can’t do everything. We’re all still learning.
And when I was younger or at a different time in my life, maybe if I wasn’t married, didn’t have kids, there’s all these things that could make it different and could make it feel different. But for me, as I evaluate what gave me life this year and what didn’t, the things that gave me life, were shipping this podcast, the reactions to the YouTube videos, publishing the SaaS Playbook, putting content into the world, putting things into the world that inspire and motivate and educate people so that they can change their lives. Because after all, that all serves my mission of multiplying the world’s population of self-sustaining independent startups. And that mission brings me so much excitement and joy and motivation. And so being able to ship that content… Content’s such a generic word, but it’s books and it’s podcasts, and it’s YouTube videos and even conference talks. Being able to inspire, motivate, and educate people has been super fulfilling.
And so I have to figure out how do I keep doing that in a sustainable way such that I… I’ve been doing this, what? I’ve been blogging since 2005, so 18 years, almost 19 as of a few weeks from now,.and been writing books since 2010, been podcasting since 2010, 13 years, almost 14 years. I’m going to keep doing it. I hope you don’t think this episode is me saying, oh, I’m retiring from all this content because that’s not the thing. I’m actually figuring out how do I continue to do that at the pace and the quality that I have been, and maybe even improving the pace and improving the quality, but you get the idea.
And then on the flip side, when I look at things that took life for me or that drained energy, definitely travel is one of them. And it was the pace of travel. It’s not ever getting on a plane because I’m going to Cancun with my family in a couple of weeks and that is going to energize me. Being on the plane will not sap energy at that point. And so it really is the pace of travel and the grind of it. And there are some additional things that wind up on my to-do list in my email box, in my Trello board that certainly don’t give me life that I’m also revisiting in the sense of, do we really need to do this? Can I hand it off to someone? Can I just not do this? So I have my shortlist there that isn’t as relevant to share with you on this podcast.
So as usually happens at the end of the year, I’m cautiously optimistic about what the next year looks like because I feel like I’ve experienced some high highs and some low lows, some incredible challenges that I’ve overcome, but also some challenges that have really beaten me down, but I’m making a change. That’s the key, is if I were to continue doing the same thing and expecting different results, that would just be dumb. And so that’s my charge to you as you listen to this episode, is what do you need to change in your life to keep doing the things that you love to do less of the things you don’t? That really starts with just evaluation. What do you love doing? What’s brought you life this last year? What has sucked energy over the past year?
And whether you get away and do a true founder retreat, which actually I have not this time, I just haven’t had the time for it, or whether you just spend an afternoon or a few days, evenings, weekend just thinking about these topics, make that list, do some journaling, make some bullet points in a notebook, and then figure out what changes that you need to make to live a better life, to enjoy your work more. If you don’t like your job, it’s no one else’s fault because you’re your own boss. You run the company. If you don’t love running your company, then change it. Figure out how to make it sustainable. Figure out how to make it enjoyable for you.
If you are going to go on a full founder retreat, my wife, Dr. Sherry Walling, has written a book called The Zen Founder Guide to Founder Retreats, and it’s an ebook. I think it’s $20 on Gumroad. You can just Google it. And it’s super helpful. It’s a whole list of questions and practices for thinking through what gave you life and what didn’t, and it goes more in-depth on that. But whether you use that or you just do a very simple version like I’ve done this year, I wish you the best of luck as you embark upon this journey and you transition from ’23 to ’24. And I hope that when you’re done with this exercise, I guess whether you do it or not, I hope that you’re looking forward to 2024 with cautious optimism as well.
Thanks so much for joining me this week and every week on the show. It’s great to have you here. And if you keep listening, I’ll keep making these. This is Rob Walling signing off from episode 694.