In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike discuss several of their takeaways pulled from talks at MicroConf 2016.
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Rob [00:00:00]: In this episode of “Startups for the Rest of Us,” Mike and I discuss our key takeaways from MicroConf 2016. This is “Startups for the Rest of Us”, episode 284.
Rob [00:00:18]: Welcome to “Startups for the Rest of Us”, the podcast that helps developers, designers and entrepreneurs be awesome at building, launching and scaling software products, whether you’ve built your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Rob …
Mike [00:00:29]: And I’m Mike.
Rob [00:00:29]: … and we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s the word this week, Mike?
Mike [00:00:34]: Well, last Thursday, I added my first customer to Bluetick.
Rob [00:00:38]: Just shortly before MicroConf, huh?
Mike [00:00:39]: Yes, the day before my self-imposed deadline.
Rob [00:00:43]: Nice. So, what does that mean [?], then? They’re in early access, and they’re clicking around and sending emails – that type of stuff?
Mike [00:00:50]: Here’s the issue. I had them create an account, and we were kind of pressed for time because they were traveling on Friday, so I knew that we had to at least get them into the system so that I could take a look at stuff on the back end and make sure – because there’s a bunch of jobs on the back end that do a lot of data processing. I put them on. All of those things worked, but here’s your public service announcement for the day: don’t go in and change a bunch of things that are working perfectly well the day before you do that [laugh].
Rob [00:01:15]: Yeah, I was going to say – as soon as you started saying “…he created his account”, I almost completed your sentence, said, “And then everything broke?” because early access is always like that. All the stuff that worked two days ago totally breaks on them.
Mike [00:01:26]: I went in, and I had a bunch of changes made because I was going through and testing things. I was like, “Oh, this is a little bit clunky. It would be nice to make these changes here to make the flow a little bit easier”, and, unfortunately, we busted a couple of things. Of course, since it’s all based on different routes and stuff inside, the [rest?] API, you break one thing and the whole thing kind of falls down. There were a lot of things that worked, and then there were just certain things where there were core features that we ended up breaking which unintentionally. We got everything back and working within 24 hours; but, of course, I was leaving for MicroConf on Saturday, and he was traveling for the next couple of days. But we’re revisiting it this week or early next week, and we’ll go from there.
Rob [00:02:07]: Very nice.
Speaking of MicroConf, we just spent the last – what – three, four days in Vegas. This is our sixth conference in Vegas and our ninth overall, including the ones we’ve done in Europe. This was the first time we’ve had it at The Palms, and The Palms was – I’d say, cost-wise and décor-wise, it’s maybe a slight step up from the Tropicana, where we’ve traditionally had it. I really enjoyed the time this year. I feel like it was a good mix of – we had a lot of returning attendees, as we usually do. We had quite a few new attendees, and that was neat, a lot of first-year attendees. We even had a lot of first-year speakers. We didn’t have a lot of returning speakers from years past, a lot due to scheduling and other stuff like that, and also just wanting to have a fresh year to kick it off.
How did you feel about it overall?
Mike [00:02:50]: I agree. It was nice. I really liked some of the features that The Palms has versus where we had it at the Tropicana; for example, the food court and the fact that you can walk around a little bit more. It feels like you’re actually getting somewhere rather than just walking down massive hallways that almost have no end and seemingly no purpose [laugh]. Did feel like a slight upgrade. I liked the conference areas better; but, you know, it’s not necessarily all about the conference area either. It’s about the people that you’re meeting, the people that you’re talking to and things you’re learning.
Rob [00:03:20]: Yeah, that was the thing. As always, the hallway track as valuable or more valuable than the notes I took from the talks. It was great to see everybody who came. We had about 220, 230 people, and then we sold some “better half” tickets where folks bring their spouse and significant other, so I got to meet a lot of those. That’s always fun, because MicroConf – it’s not like other startup conferences where you’re there to talk about grinding away 90 hours a week. Our families are intimately involved in the startups that we’re doing, because many of us have significant others and/or kids, and it’s kind of cool to meet that person in a startup founder’s life and be able to have them have some glimpse into this crazy conference that that person goes to and maybe meet a few of the folks from it.
Mike [00:04:01]: Yeah, I had some interesting conversations with a bunch of people’s husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends – that kind of thing. It was definitely interesting talking to the “better halves” and seeing what they thought of not just the conference, but the things that their “better halves” were working on as well.
Rob [00:04:16]: Sure. So, let’s dive in. We have several takeaways that we pulled out from the talks. I think we’ll go kind of in chronological order. There’s not enough time to cover every talk, so we’re just going to pull out some highlights. The speaker that kicked us off was actually Des Traynor. He’s the cofounder of Intercom, and he talked about building and scaling products, his lessons learned from four years and 8,000 customers. He had a lot in there. He’s done a lot of talks for Jason Calacanis, like their launch incubator. You hear it on the TWiST podcast, and he just always has such brilliant insight. He’s such a product guy, right? He knows what to build, how to build it, when to build, how to communicate that. He’s really focused on product and how that ties into, of course, marketing and growth.
I’d say the key thing, probably my number one thing – I took several notes from his talk, but one priority list that I really liked – he said it’s these priorities from the top down. The first thing that you should think about in your development cycle is improving a feature. The second one is getting more people to use that feature. The third thing is getting people to use that feature more. So, first it was more people to use it. Now it’s getting people to use it more, like more often. The fourth one is building new features. It’s in that priority order, which is contrary to what most of us do and how most of us think about product development, right? Most of the time it’s build new features, build new features, and that’s what customers and trial users are requesting when, in fact, Des is saying you need to think about improving existing features, getting more people to use them and more often.
Mike [00:05:38]: I really liked there was a grid that he put up that essentially showed what you should be working on and what has the most impact. There were a couple of different columns that he had there, and it was all based around how many people are using a particular feature and how often. You could see things like, in the top right, if everybody was using it and it was very often used, those are the places that you should be concentrating on.
He also talked a lot about how you are divvying up your team and assigning them to different parts of the project, where most software development teams will say, “Okay, we’ve got these 35 feature requests. Let’s put five people on each of them,” and that’ll take up everybody’s time. The reality was that he talked about bringing a bunch of test customers in, or existing customers, or prospective customers and saying, “Here’s $100 virtual dollars. Please vote on what it is that you would like us to implement.” Inevitably, what you find is that most people will vote for a couple of features, and a lot of the rest of the ones are completely unimportant, and you’re wasting a lot of time and effort and resources building those things that people just, quite frankly, don’t care about. His main point behind that was that you care a lot about implementing certain new features, and your customers don’t care at all.
Rob [00:06:51]: Another talk that I think had an impact on the first day was Claire Lew’s talk. She’s with Know Your Company, which is a spinoff of 37 Signals. Her talk was titled “An Unconventional Business,” and she talked about having a business without recurring sales. It’s a software company that allows other companies to learn more about their employees and what they’re thinking and that kind of stuff. It’s a one-time sale up front. It’s $100 per employee, and then there’s no recurring. She talked about how that is unconventional in today’s model of monthly SaaS charges, or even annual charges. She also looked at the sales process and how there’s only two of them. It’s not this big team of people doing stuff.
What were your thoughts on Claire’s talk?
Mike [00:07:31]: What I thought was interesting was the sheer number of demos they do and their focus and emphasis on gaining customer trust versus optimizing for revenue. Obviously, there’s the idea that you could charge a subscription model, or you could raise your prices, or charge some sort of annual maintenance fee or something along those lines. But when you look at what they’re doing, they’re really optimizing for the trust of the customers, and in some ways that reflects on their future revenue. I think Lars called it “expansion revenue,” because as those businesses grow, they will continue to pay the $100 for new employees. Or, if an employee leaves and they hire a replacement, then they’re essentially responsible for that extra hundred dollars, but it’s because they are so focused on getting the trust and buy-in of the CEO and the company executives and many of the employees that it makes a heck of a lot of business sense for those businesses to continue using their product and their software. So, it’s not necessarily recurring revenue but, as Lars said, it’s that “expansion revenue.”
I think that that’s an interesting take on it. I don’t think that most businesses, especially the ones at MicroConf, certainly don’t focus on, “How can we gain trust?” rather than, “How can we get more money?” More money is typically the focus, because it’s commonly easier to get more customers than it is to gain absolute, 100 percent trust of the existing customers that you have; but I also think that that’s probably true because of the way that their product is sold. You really need to be well-trusted by the company in order to just hand over contact lists and contact information for every employee you have.
Rob [00:09:08]: Yeah, and there was some discussion. There was a question during the Q&A and then that evening of folks questioning that one-time sale and wondering how they can make it a subscription business. I would guess long term that Claire’s got to be thinking about how to do that, because it is just so hard to grow a business when there’s a one-time sale; but all that said, I did like her principled rationale that the reason it’s a one-time sale is because they get that commitment from the company to implement this, and they don’t want them to cancel it in three or six months. She believes that once they do this, she wants them to have it forever. It’s a tough balance; and I think, perhaps, they’re in a bit of an edge-case scenario where – you know, personally, I don’t like one-time-sale businesses. I wouldn’t own one myself, and I think most businesses are moving towards recurring; but I wonder if hers could be in that realm of an acceptable exception.
[00:10:00] Another session we had on the first day that folks enjoyed was our Q&A session with [Stelle?] and Heaton, which turned out pretty good. An hour of Q&A is a bit long, and I think we made a little bit of a mistake in the schedule with that. I think I’d probably cap it at 30 minutes. That’s not saying anything about [Stelle?] and Heaton. It’s just too long to do a full hour of someone answering questions. But it was cool. It was like a live version of their podcast, and I thought that it was pretty valuable for the audience.
You were actually moderating that. You essentially read the questions and asked them the question from the audience and stuff. How did all that feel?
Mike [00:10:32]: As you mentioned, I was asking the questions initially, but we kind of primed the pump by having people submit some questions in advance and asked, I think, five or six different questions and then went out into the audience and started taking questions from there. I absolutely agree with you that it may have been just a little bit too long, but I think there’s good reasons for that. When you have a Q&A session like that, I think what tends to happen is that you get the people who are asking the questions who are the most vested and interested in the questions and the answers, and there’s probably a sizable chunk of the audience that isn’t necessarily as interested in that particular one. If you have too many of those in a row, then it’s difficult to maintain your focus and interest in the discussion. You and I have seen this especially with questions that come into the podcast, or when we’re doing internal, worldwide Founder Café calls where, if you don’t necessarily do any sort of moderation on the questions that are coming in, or filter them in any way, shape or form, then what you end up with is a lot of random things that come up that are difficult to maintain everyone’s interest for a long period of time.
So, I think that that’s probably what we ran into. For the podcast, when we do Q&A episodes, we typically decide which ones to manually respond to and do just one-off answers back to people versus ones that we think that are generally applicable to a wider audience. Those are the types of ones that we end up reading on the air in Q&A episodes.
[00:11:57] The one thing I do think is that, for the people who are asking those questions, they’re hyper-interested in those, so after the day, Heaton and [Stelle?] did an “office hours” after the first day, and they had so many people attend and so many questions, that they actually had to do a second day of them. It was only probably 20 or 30 people or something like that; but, still, that’s enough people with that hyper focus that it worked out really, really well for them.
Rob [00:12:22]: Another talk that had a lot of good takeaways was Patrick Campbell from Price Intelligently. He runs essentially a 20-person consulting firm focused on SaaS pricing. One thing -there were many, many takeaways from his talk, because he’s very tactical and he dove into a lot of stuff. He’s such an expert on the topic that it’s actually a little daunting when he says what you need to do in order to really get a good handle on your pricing. It’s a lot of steps; and I think he said it took him, like, eight hours to do it. There was a case study he did with his mom in a business she was starting, but I think that would take a long time for someone like myself, who hasn’t done the extensive pricing research that he has.
One thing that I really liked about his talk is – we’ve all heard of buyer personas, where you take a certain persona. If you have SaaS users, you might say SaaSsy Sam is your SaaS user persona. Then Billy Blogger is your blog user persona, and then you talk about their feelings and the decisions they use to buy and the factors they think about and if they’re price-conscious and all this kind of stuff. He took it a step further, and I hadn’t seen this. He actually added cost to acquire customer, so CAC values and LTV, lifetime value, to each of the personas. That was a real mental shift for me. I have all this in my head, and we talk about it internally about how we serve these three or four pretty tight verticals. With Drip, really it’s three verticals. Then there’s these other ones floating out there. Actually pulling out the CAC and LTV and all the other metrics by vertical is a pretty interesting idea, right, and it’s going to show you who your most profitable and least profitable are. In addition, he talked about you have to write all this stuff down; and that’s something that, while we have a bulleted list of the verticals, we don’t have the full-on list of all the buyer personas. That was a big takeaway for me was to sit down, draft this up and then do some data mining and figuring out some numbers to put to each of these.
Mike [00:14:14]: Next on our list, you talked a little bit about some different, unfair advantages, specifically, four different unfair advantages for faster SaaS growth. Why don’t you talk a little bit about those four unfair advantages?
Rob [00:14:25]: Sure, yeah. I did a shorter talk this year. It was a little bit a retrospective where I looked back and was trying to figure out at a higher level why has Drip grown faster than any of my other software products, like exponentially faster. Then I started looking around and saying of all the self-funded SaaS I know that has grown quickly, why have those grown faster than just the run-of-the-mill SaaS apps. I made a big list and did an analysis, and I talked to a few people and figured out that there really are four unfair advantages in order to have this 2X, or 5X, or 10X growth that we’re seeing in apps like Edgar, or Basecamp in the early days, or maybe Bytes Kits in the early days, or Drip, or like a SumoMe. There were these examples that were pretty obviously growing faster than everybody else.
I started with a long list of unfair advantages and, one by one, I realized that a lot of them actually didn’t make a difference. The four that I narrowed it down to – and you can have more than one – are, number one, to be early to a space. Second one is who you know, so it’s your network. Third is who knows you, so it’s your audience. The fourth is growth expertise; it’s how much expertise you have growing a company. It was fun. It was a little short, 20-minute talk; and I felt like, hopefully, it gave people ideas of stuff to be working on even if they don’t have a product yet; if they’ve already launched a product, how to try to get one of these in the space they’re in; or, to prepare for a future product that they’re launching.
One thing I meant to say, or I should’ve said, is that growth is not the end-all, be-all. Everyone doesn’t need to want to grow all the time. Of all people, we are the lifestyle startup crowd, right, where it’s like – I don’t build these startups just so they can grow. We build them so that we can have fun lives and we can have these great lifestyles. Even having faster SaaS growth in the title, I debated whether to do that, but that’s really what the talk happened to be about. If you’re out there and you’re thinking, “Well, I don’t really want super-fast SaaS growth,” that’s okay. This is just something that was there to help folks who maybe don’t want to travel a ‘long, slow SaaS ramp of death,’ or at least want to move along a little faster.
Mike [00:16:31]: Our next speaker was Tracy Osborn, and I think Tracy’s story was pretty interesting, because she has run both a funded and a non-funded startup. She ran WeddingLovely, and I think she called it something else earlier on. She had gotten funding from 500 Startups and was working on it then, and then later on – did she say that she took it private, or was it a spinoff of what she was doing based on that?
Rob [00:16:55]: It was the same company, so it was still funded, technically, the whole time; but she basically tried to run it like a bootstrapper, yeah.
Mike [00:17:02]: Right.
Rob [00:17:02]: So, once the funding was gone, she didn’t shut the company down. She was then just trying to make it profitable, which is not what people who give you funding really want.
Mike [00:17:09]: Right, yeah. I got the impression that the people who had given the funding, initially they were just like, “Okay, yeah. We’ve decided this is a failure, and we’re going to write it off at this point,” but she still took it forward. It was really interesting to see the contrast between how she approached it before when she had money versus when she didn’t later on.
Rob [00:17:29]: Yeah, I agree. The real takeaway from her talk wasn’t that funding is bad. It’s that flip-flopping between funding and bootstrapping with the same company is bad, because the priorities and the way you build the business is just so different. To be honest, I liked her talk in terms of the narrative. We go for about an 80-20 breakdown of actionable/tactical versus inspirational and narrative-driven, and hers was definitely in that 20 percent. Maybe we’re 90-10 in MicroConf most years, but hers was definitely in that 10 or 20 percent of a good story and seeing a lot of mistakes that she made. Just her perseverance. She kept calling herself in the talk. She’s like, “I was the cockroach that would not die, and I just have kept the company going.” It was an interesting story to hear and kind of a cautionary tale in terms of figure out if you’re going to be funded or bootstrapped and then go that direction.
One thing that I would add, though, is, again, there’s this in-between of fund strapping, where you can raise a small amount of funding, but it’s from people who understand you’re not going to go for that $50 million idea; because WeddingLovely is a wedding marketplace. In that case, you really do have to get big. You have to hit scale in order to make it work. She had just started, let’s say, a B-to-B SaaS app; and she took some funding, then decided to go bootstrapped. I actually think it could’ve worked a little better, but it’s neither here nor there. I just think it was an interesting story and pretty well told on the stage.
Mike [00:18:53]: Yeah, I think the two, main takeaways that I got out of it was, one, her references to being “the cockroach that just wouldn’t go away,” and saying, “Look. I’m going to buckle down, and I’m going to make this work, and I’m going to make this happen. Even if I get slapped down, I’m going to come back, and I’m going to do something else and try and figure out something to make it work.” I thought that level of sheer tenacity and perseverance was very admirable, because I don’t think that you see that a lot. I think that most people tend to throw the towel in just a little too early. Obviously, there’re times where you can take that too far, but it was interesting to see the level that she went to just to even be able to meet people. That was the other thing, the lengths that she went to in order to meet certain people that she knew would help make a difference in her business.
Rob [00:19:38]: Another session we did on the second day was kind of the surprise session that we had not announced. Patrick Collison, the cofounder of Stripe, showed up. He was just there for about 24 hours. He had said that he’d been following MicroConf for a couple years and that he really wanted to come check it out, which was obviously a big compliment to us, given that Stripe is a $5 billion company. They raised $260, $280 million. He’s just a powerful dude in Silicon Valley, even as young as he is, so it was neat to hear that we were on his radar at all and that he would take the time to come down. He met with a bunch of attendees. He got feature requests, ideas and all that stuff, but he did a 30-minute Q&A up onstage about the early days of Stripe.
I really liked how he talked. They bootstrapped that thing. That’s what probably none of us remember. He said they bootstrapped it until it hurt, and then when they eventually hit the point where they could not go any further, then they raised their first round.
Mike [00:20:30]: Yeah, I really liked the focus of them on their early days about what their customers were doing and how they were using the product. One of the things that he talked about was that, because Stripe is essentially an API that you make calls into, what they had very, very early on was they had it wired up so that whenever somebody made a call to one of their APIs, it would actually email them. Obviously, that is not going to scale long-term. Obviously, it can’t at this point. There’s no possible way that it could do that; but early on they were watching what people were doing, what data they were receiving and what sorts of errors people were getting and what data was being returned to them. It helped them focus in to figure out where people were having problems, so that they could determine, “Is the code bad? Do we need to fix that?” or, “Do we need to go back and update the help documentation?” “Do we need to update some example APIs, or example code that’s on the website?” and things like that. It was really interesting to see some of the technical engineering things that they were doing to essentially help them do that product development.
Rob [00:21:33]: As day two started coming to a close, we had Peter Coppinger from Teamwork.com, and he basically talked about their eight-year journey. It was even more than that, because they were a consulting firm before that, but it was about an eight-year journey of their SaaS app Teamwork, which is project management. They were doing consulting at the same time as they were launching it. Then they made a lot of mistakes. He said that, as a developer, really he still wants to code even though he’s the CEO of a 63-person company, and that he still does write some code for it. He talked about just the mistakes that he’s made over the year and how he thinks that they could’ve gotten to their present level, which is 12 million in ARR – he thinks he could’ve gotten there years earlier if they had started marketing sooner, if they had started sales sooner. He said, basically, if you have your head down for too long and are just pounding away at features and such and not looking outside, that you’re going to hurt the business.
Mike [00:22:25]: Yeah. I think that it was interesting to see the number of mistakes and the types of mistakes that they were making. The fact that they were still able to make it work is a testament to the type of product that they were building. I hesitate to say that everybody can make those types of mistakes and still be able to get to where they are. Obviously, there are different types of products and different markets, and they will naturally break out into varying levels of success, but it’s interesting to see the path and the growth curve. Then looking back at it, they can say in retrospect, “Oh, had we done X, Y or Z sooner, then that would’ve seriously helped us.” I think the one big thing is just the marketing side of things. They just paid so much attention to the code, because they were developers, and that’s what they were comfortable with. It wasn’t until they really started focusing and buckling down on the marketing side of things that things really started to take off for them.
Rob [00:23:17]: Yeah, I agree with you. I think a lot of folks, if they made the same mistake, would probably tank. Teamwork had that advantage of being in a big space, and they were there really early. I think it was like 2007, maybe, when they launched the SaaS app, somewhere around there.
Mike [00:23:32]: Yep.
Rob [00:23:32]: And being a SaaS project management product at that point, there was really – what – Basecamp? That’s the only other one I knew. I’m sure there were more, but I think that they did have the wind at their back, and I think Peter’s right. I think they’d be further along at this point if they had made the right choices, but even making those mistakes, they still survived; and not every business could do that. You’d probably need one of those big four, unfair advantages, if you’re going to make all those mistakes, in order to get to where they are.
Mike [00:23:58]: One thing that I thought was really interesting was the fact that they acquired the teamwork.com domain for – I think it was like $675,000. You look back at their growth curve, and you could see this definitive inflection point at about the time that they got that. I don’t think that a domain name is going to be the turning point for most businesses, but I think that in their specific situation, because of the type of software they were – and the previous domain, I think, was teamworkpm.net obviously, kind of an awful domain. They knew that. That was not even a question, but when they got the teamwork.com domain, it really gave them a level of validity and, I guess, authority that people looked at it and said, “Oh, you have teamwork.com. This must be a legit website and a legit app, so let me give it a shot,” versus previously, you look at teamworkpm.net, and it’s like, “Meh, I’m not so sure about this.”
Rob [00:24:49]: Yeah, I get the feeling – there were a couple questions during the talk, and then someone asked me about it later that evening. There was kind of some folks who I don’t know that they believed that the teamwork.com acquisition was the actual reason that the curve spiked up like that. What made it even muddier was that, like the slide – I think when the slide was converted, something happened where he had an arrow to where teamwork.com was acquired, and it was in the wrong place. So, it was hard to tell exactly the inflection point, if it was before or after the domain acquisition. If it was, that’s pretty crazy. That’s a huge deal, and if just getting the dotcom for your business did that, it really is kind of a vote for maybe ponying up some dollars for a domain name.
Mike [00:25:33]: But I also think that that’s just a matter of looking at the website and being able to explain, “Oh, this is teamwork.com.” If it’s a one- or two-word domain, it gives it that, I’ll say, air of authority –
Rob [00:25:45]: Yeah.
Mike [00:25:45]: – you know what I mean – for the larger enterprises, and you’re able to attract larger customers based on the name alone versus, as I said, teamworkpm.net. You’re not going to get Johnson & Johnson saying, “Hey, let’s dump a lot of money into this and sign up for a ton of accounts.” It’s just not going to happen.
Rob [00:26:00]: Right.
Rounding out our conference, the last speaker was Lars Lofgren. He ran growth for Kissmetrics for many years, and he’s spoken at MicroConf Europe in the past, actually. This year, he was talking about the three SaaS growth levers. I’ve seen parts of his talk before, and I really like it. I took a ton of notes from him. It was definitely one of my favorite talks of the two days, because it just reminded me of so many things that we should be doing at Drip, things that I’ve had in mind, or are on a list somewhere. It reminds me of how important they are.
The levers are: fixing your churn and then getting cohort expansion to work, which means expansion revenue as people are upgrading; and, finally, getting acquisition going. So, a lot of lessons from Lars. One of them that rocked people’s worlds is he talked about if you’re really going to try to grow this fast, have world-class churn before you scale. That means that you have product market fit and that you want your churn in the 2 to 3 percent range. He used this expression if you’re above 10 percent, your business is “on fire.” I’ve always liked that expression when he’s used it.
Mike [00:27:03]: And not in a good way either [laugh].
Rob [00:27:05]: Exactly. Exactly.
Mike [00:27:07]: Yeah. Some of the parts of his that I really liked was the fact that he looked at churn, and he said, “Here are all the different reasons why somebody might churn out.” Or, not all of them, but a bunch of them. Then he listed a bunch of churn reduction ideas. Then he categorized each of those and said, “These are bad. They’re just not going to help you.” Then, “These are marginal wins, and then these are major wins.” The things that fell under the “major wins” category was fixing your product onboarding; improving the value of the product; and then 30-, 60- and 90-day onboarding programs. It was really interesting that he broke those down. Then he said things like removing self-service cancellation. That just does not move the needle for you. But if you fix the product’s ability to onboard people, that’s a major, major win; and you’re going to be able to scale up very, very quickly because of that.
Rob [00:27:53]: Yeah, that’s what I liked, is that he called out these tactics that a lot of us might think to reduce to churn, but he said that basically covers up your churn problem. It doesn’t actually fix it. So, things like down-sells, or forced annual plans, et cetera, are not things that you want to do if you want to grow to this scale; because it just covers up the issue, and it will hurt your credibility long term. It hurts your brand, and people start thinking about you as just more of a fly-by-night company rather than someone who’s building something valuable for the long term.
Mike [00:28:22]: The other thing I really like that he pulled out was the fact that there’s a big difference between marketing and sales, and they can be at real odds with each other if you get to a point the marketing team is able to bring in a lot of people into the top of the funnel, but if sales can’t close those because the product is bad. He called it the “alligator funnel,” because you’ve got that top of the funnel, which is increasing, and then the sales are just flat and they’re not going anywhere. Then the marketing teams and the sales teams are essentially pointing the blame at each other, and you have this internal problem. The root cause is essentially because the product itself is just not able to do what the customers need it to do. That was a very interesting thing. I’d never heard that before.
Rob [00:29:03]: Overall, it was a nice ninth conference. I feel like we’re just starting to get the hang of this thing now.
Mike [00:29:07]: Yes. Only nine or ten more, and we’ll be good.
Rob [00:29:10]: We’ll be [laugh] – exactly. No, so it was good. A big thanks to everybody who attended. Obviously, thanks to our sponsors, and thanks to Zander for all the help in pulling it off. I don’t think we’d really still be doing MicroConf if we hadn’t found someone to help us put it together each year, because that takes a lot of the burden and the time investment off our shoulders.
Mike [00:29:29]: Yes, definitely a big thanks to Zander and everyone else who helped out. It’s very nice to have people like that on the team.
Rob [00:29:34]: And if this sounds interesting, we’re throwing another MicroConf in just a few months, July 31st and August 1st of 2016. We’ll be in Barcelona, Spain. If you’re interested, go to MicroConfEurope.com. There’s a little Drip widget in the lower right where you can enter your email address, and you’ll be one of the first people to hear about it.
Mike [00:29:53]: I think that about wraps us up this week. If you have a question for us, you can call it in to our voicemail number at 1.888.801.9690; or, you can email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our theme is an excerpt from “We’re Outta Control” by MoOt, used under Creative Commons. Subscribe to us on iTunes by searching for “startups” and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript of each episode.
Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next time.
In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike review their 2015 goals and talk about whether or not they were able to achieve them and the reasons to why they were successful or not. They also set their new goals for the upcoming year.
Items mentioned in this episode:
Rob [00:00]: In this episode of Startups For the Rest of Us, Mike and I look at our goals for 2016, and we review the goals we set in December of last year. This is Startups For the Rest of Us, Episode 269.
Welcome to Startups For the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers, and entrepreneurs be awesome at launching software products. Whether you’ve built your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Rob.
Mike [00:29]: And I’m Mike.
Rob [00:29]: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. So where are this week’s, sir?
Mike [00:34]: Well, we have an email here from Simon who is referring to Episode 267 where we talked about scaling SaaS support. And he says, “Hi, guys. I’m a single founder, and practically speaking, the only employee, developer, support staff, etc. In that episode, Rob mentioned how the early days of DRIP involved a lot of hands-on support especially by the technical staff and Rob. I don’t have any employees, and I’m still looking to scale things up so that I can leave my day job. What suggestions do you have for a solopreneur such as me?”
Rob [00:59]: Well, you don’t want to hire a full-timer right out of the gate. You want to hire someone basically hourly, and that’s how I’ve been doing it since 2008 maybe, 8 or 9, which is when I hired my first support VA, they call themselves. But really it was just Tier 1 email support. And I’ve had folks supporting info products. We have someone who helps us with support for the Micropreneur Academy. And of course, SaaS apps, just help for products I’ve run. And frankly, until Drip, none of my support people ever worked full-time. It was always purely on an hourly basis. They would basically check the support queue once or twice a day as needed and respond, and they just build based on the hours that they worked. And it’s nice to do that through something like Upwork. Or if you don’t want to use Upwork, you can use Hubstaff to track their time because then they click the button when they working, and you’re really only paying for the hours they worked. But it’s a no-brainer. I don’t think it’s feasible if you’re still growing your app and you haven’t even quit your job yet to try to hire someone full-time. The economics just don’t work out at this stage.
Mike [01:56]: Simon doesn’t say it outright, and I definitely felt like this at one point as well, but it feels in many ways like support requests can’t really wait and you want them to be taken care of as quickly as possible. But I don’t think that most people have that expectation. When they send an email into support, they typically expect a 24- or 48-hour turnaround. And if you get back to them within 12 hours, awesome. But if not, then they weren’t really expecting it anyway. And a lot of times, those support tickets can wait probably significantly longer than you think that they probably could anyway. So that’s something else to keep in mind if you’re a little leery of going down the hourly support route just to have somebody essentially on-call for answering tickets that may or may not be coming in.
Rob [02:38]: Yeah. It really depends on your volume of tickets and how urgent they are. With most knowledge products as well as software products, there isn’t as much urgency as you probably think. And so if you need to hire someone, one thing I would advise, even if you’re going to hire someone part-time, is hire someone who is basically a full-time VA or a full-time freelancer so that they do have flexibility of schedule and they’re not just working in the weekends and the evenings. I had a couple of people like that, and it was a bit of a drag that boy, if they miss one evening because they had something, then it was like a two-day span until they checked in. That really, in my opinion, is unacceptable.
But there’s a lot of ways to make this work. I don’t like it when people come back and say, “Well, no. All the support is just really too technical,” or, “Well, I really need to get back to these people within an hour or two.” It’s like, “Pretty much no. If you’re a solopreneur, it’s probably neither of those is the case.” I know that it feels like that, but there are ways to do this. There are ways to set up a document with the process that people need to troubleshoot. Hire someone who’s intelligent, somewhat technical. I found a guy who was an old helpdesk guy, and so he doesn’t know how to code, but he was able to do some minor troubleshooting of people’s systems.
And it’s not a matter of, “Oh, this will or it won’t work.” It’s how much you’re willing to invest in terms of time to find someone and budget to pay. If you’re paying someone $10 to $15 an hour, you can get someone pretty good probably within your time zone who speaks your language. And they’re going to be pretty sharp, and they’re going to save you buckets of time. And it’s pretty valuable at this point to A, learn the skill of delegating this, but also to buy back that time.
So the other thing I wanted to mention before we dive into our 2015-2016 goals is that the first game from Patrick McKenzie’s Starfighter has launched. And if you listen to this podcast regularly, I’m sure you know who Patrick McKenzie is, formerly of Bingo Card Creator and the Appointment Reminder. He’s been a speaker at MicroConf several years in a row, and he’s launched his new app. It’s Stockfighter.io, and this involves some pretty in-depth programming challenges, and folks can play the game for free. And then certain programmers, as they rise to the top, I’m assuming they’re eligible for really high-end coding jobs in, kind of, a lot of the best employers or most technically oriented employers, in the Bay Area and then other places are looking to hire out of this pool of people who are scoring high on these games.
So it’s a cool freemium model in a way, right? It’s like a two-sided marketplace where you need to find developers, and you need to find people to hire. And they were able to quickly find people to hire, because everybody’s looking to hire high-end developers. But getting the developers in is always the hard part. And so Starfighters is basically doing it by building games that would interest programmers, and that have really difficult programming challenges. So if you’re interested in this type of thing, Stockighter.io looks pretty cool.
Mike [05:17]: Yeah, and definitely congratulations to Patrick for getting this out there. And it looks like it’s pretty involved. And I’m sure there was a huge amount of work that went on behind the scenes behind it.
Rob [05:26]: Yeah, and this is a long time in the making. They spent the last year plus developing it, and I know there’s been a lot of long nights. So it’s cool to see Patrick and his crew get this out into the wild.
Mike [05:36]: Well, I guess we’re going to dive right into our goals, huh?
Rob [05:39]: Yeah. So in Episode 214, we talked about our 2015 goals. And so those were the goals we were hoping to achieve over the past 12 months. And it looks like we each had five goals. And so we’re going to run through those briefly, talk about whether or not we achieve them or not, and why or why not. And then we’re going to look at our 2016 goals, something that we can look ahead and probably review again in 12 months.
So my first goal for 2015 was to 2.5X Drip, so to basically grow revenue by 250%. And we did achieve that. In fact, we achieved it a few months back. You know how I’m really bad at celebrating victories? I didn’t even notice that it had happened. It’s definitely a win for me. But in the sense of recognizing that it was a win, I think I need to work on that for next year. We actually 3.5Xed. There’s still eight more days left in the year here. But assuming that happens, then we’ll be at 350% growth for the year. So far, so good.
Mike [06:37]: Well, congratulations on that.
My first goal was to run a series of what I was calling life experiments. So that included things like going to the gym every day for a month, and getting up early, and eating differently, and various other things. And I would say this is probably about 30% to 40% successful. What happened was I had this list of things that I wanted to do, and the things I just listed were on that short list, along with one or two other things. And I got through that list and then saw that there was nothing else. And I said, “Oh, I need to think of something else to do for the next month.” And then I just didn’t do it, and I fell off the bandwagon at that point. So I ran out of stuff on the list and then stopped. But while it was going on, I stuck with it. So I would say that’s a partial win, and I’m not sure how to count that.
Rob [07:19]: Yeah. This was a tough one because it’s not easily measurable. We talked about the SMART last time, the, what is it, sustainable and measurable and attainable whatever. I think this one doesn’t necessarily qualify for all that. I think you probably want to make it more specific this year if you’re going to return to it and actually have 12 things, one per month, written out in advance. And then you can easily measure it.
Mike [07:41]: I think I had four or five. I think I started out with four, and then I added a fifth one, and then I just didn’t add any after that. And I think that was my problem is I just didn’t have enough to start with and I didn’t dedicate the time to following up on it and adding more to the list.
Rob [07:56]: So my second goal for 2015 was to return to the point where I could choose what I wanted to work on. Because especially towards the latter half of 2015, I was doing a bunch of work that was not enjoyable for me, and I had gotten away from this whole “I’ve run my own show and I can do what I want and have fun while I work,” and I just was not enjoying it in the latter half of 2014. And so this is one of those that is tough to measure, right? Because I had specifics in my head, but it’s hard to communicate them on the podcast without getting into the weeds. But the bottom line is yes, I achieved that.
And I was able to do it through two ways. One is I hired someone who, I don’t know what you call her, but, kind of, an executive assistant, I guess, you’d call. She’s remote. She goes through my email inbox and catalogs stuff, and handles some minor tasks like appointment setting and that kind of stuff. And that helped get me out of the weeds in terms of that stuff. The other thing I did is hired Anna, who runs customer success at DRIP, and has been helping with growth for the past, what, six, eight months. Both of those things allowed me to step a little bit higher up in terms of setting vision and setting direction, and thinking more strategically about things. And so within probably the first four to six months of 2015 I felt like I had returned to the point where I could choose what I wanted to work on again.
The interesting thing is towards the end of 2015, we spun DRIP off as its own corporation, which required a bunch of legal stuff because we have to deal with lawyers, and then move payroll and health insurance. All the stuff had to transfer. And so as I was back to the very same spot of returning to the point where I was working on stuff I didn’t want to. But it was a very defined season, and I already feel like I’ve been coming out of that in December. So I’m hoping that heading into 2016, I’m able to stick to that.
Mike [09:37]: My second goal was to spend some dedicated time each month figuring out how to systemize more of the things that are going on. And I would chalk this up to a complete and utter failure. I just didn’t do it. And I didn’t really have any reminders in place or mechanisms or [forcing?] functions that would remind me that I needed to do that. But I’m using Teamwork.com, which has the ability to schedule tasks, and I have a scheduled task in there now to do that on a monthly basis. So near the end of the month, I think it’s set for the 28th, to essentially go through and start reviewing everything that’s happened over the past month and where there are things that need to be done better. So I’m hoping that now that I have a system in place to systemize stuff, it’ll help out with that. That’s a little bit meta, but I think that’ll help.
Rob [10:18]: My third goal for 2015 was to host two MicroConfs. And my intent here was to host two MicroConfs that were as good as, or better than, previous years’. That’s what I really wanted to do, was maintain the quality and really impact other entrepreneurs and founders. And while this one’s a little bit of a gimme, and it’s a little bit hard to measure, I would give it a thumbs up. Because we put a lot of thought and care into running these conferences, and so I wanted it to be prominent last year because it’s something that takes enough mental space that I wanted it to be listed as a goal. And I feel like we had two really good MicroConfs in 2015. It may have been the best Europe conference we’ve ever thrown actually, in Barcelona, and the one in Vegas was among the top as well, in terms of the Vegas ones we’ve thrown. So I consider this one a success. Although, as I said, it was a little bit of a gimme, so it’s not as if it was some big stretch that I was concerned about hitting.
Rob [11:11]: My next goal was to build a system for maintaining an inbox zero, and I’d say I did really well with that. I hit inbox zero on a very regular basis. Obviously emails come in all the time, but I have, I don’t know, between 50 and 100 rules set up inside of my Gmail account that mark things as read or move them to different places so that I can review them as needed. And then I also go through my email once in the morning and then periodically throughout the day to make sure that if there’s anything important that’s coming in, I can deal with it right away. But at the same time there will be things that I will let sit there until I get a chance to take those things and either deal with them or put them on a to-do list someplace. So I would chalk this up to a success. And it’s interesting that maintaining that inbox really close to zero also frees up my brain to focus on other things because it’s not remembering, “Oh, I got to go back and I got to deal with this in some point in the future.”
Rob [11:59]: Yeah. inbox zero is surprisingly productive for me as well. I was always, kind of, [pooh-poohing?] it thinking that it wasn’t going to be valuable to do. But when I do it, it definitely releases a mental weight.
My fourth goal for 2015 was to launch another podcast, and that was a success. So that’s ZenFounder over at ZenFounder.com. I launched it with Sherry, and we talk about startup, family, and life, and the balance between the three. And so far, so good. The podcast is growing really well, and we’ve put out I think 48 episodes, or a few more than that. So we’re just about to hit 50 and we’ve had some good series going on over there. So I consider this one a success.
Mike [12:36]: My next one was to do a better job of systemizing my different revenue streams. And I have a tendency to jump around sometimes, and it’s a little bit haphazard at times. And I recognize that I needed to be a little bit more calculating with what I did. And over the course of the past year, I’ve come to realize that it’s not just about me jumping around. It’s about not necessarily taking a plan – and I’m good at putting the plans together, at least starting to put plans together – but what I have a tendency to do is start working on the work before that plan is finished. So what will happen is that I will have this half-finished plan, and I will get through that entire half-finished plan, but I don’t have the rest of it in place, or I haven’t really thought all of it through. So because of that, I get to the end of that and I don’t really have a good idea of what I should be doing next because I haven’t planned it out. And I don’t necessarily put together the time to plan out the rest of it. So I’d say I probably did a 50-50 job on that. There’s definitely places where I made really good progress. And then there’s other places where it just didn’t go so well. But I think that the recognition that those plans need to be taken just that much further is really going to be helpful this coming year.
Rob [13:42]: And before I talk about my fifth goal for 2015 I wanted to circle back and talk about how I do a retreat every year and that’s when I typically set and solidify my goals. And we set these goals before I did the retreat last year. And I think within a month after setting them, I went on the retreat and I actually decided not to do this fifth one right away, and I came back and mentioned it on the podcast. But it was essentially an honorable mention, and it was to write another book. Maybe that would be the second addition of Start Small, Stay Small. I didn’t know at the time what it was going to be. But I basically said it on the podcast, and then a month later, said, “Yeah, not going to do that.” So that’s what this one is, is to write another book. Obviously, didn’t do that. And I knew relatively early in the year that I didn’t want to take the time away from the other things from the second podcast, from the two MicroConfs, from growing DRIP, to sacrifice those things in order to write that second book. And so that’s where that one is. So definitely not a win there, but it is something that I realized early on in the year.
Mike [14:36]: My last goal was to keep up my writing habit. And at the time I set this goal it was because I knew that I was going to start through that process of writing The Single Founder Handbook. And I was able to push that out. I finished it, and I forget, it was March or April of last year. After the book was out, I didn’t do so well in keeping up that habit, but the first several months of the year it was good enough to be able to publish that book.
It’s a fairly lengthy book. It comes in at 327 pages. So it was quite an undertaking, I’ll say. So I don’t know how I would count this one as well. Maybe half or three-quarters. But I’m pleased with how the book went, and I’m pleased that I was able to finish writing it.
Rob [15:13]: I think if we were to go back to that episode a year ago, I would probably have asked you to make this one more specific, because keeping up the writing habit is a little vague. I think a better goal would have been to launch your book, because then it’s very measurable. And maybe even launch your book in the first six months or something, first six months of the year, because you achieved that. But keeping up your writing habit, it feels to me like you didn’t achieve that, even though you had a success along the way, in essence getting your book live.
Mike [15:37]: Yeah. I don’t recall whether I had come out and said, “Hey, I’m going to be launching a book,” at the time. I don’t know if I had said that on the podcast yet, but I distinctly remember having that in mind at the end of the year. It’s like, “Hey, I want to buckle down and get a lot of good writing done on this.” But you’re right. I should have probably been a little bit more specific about that.
Rob [15:53]: So I got to be honest, Mike. You had five goals. I think you achieved like one or two of them. Pretty shaky record for you this year, man.
Mike [16:01]: Yeah. As I said it comes down to the planning aspect of it. And I think the other part of it is that I don’t really go back and look at my goals. Or at least I haven’t historically gone back and looked at them and stayed on top of them very closely month over month or anything like that. I think that with the reminders and stuff that I’ve put in place this time, I think that I’ll do better. But obviously time will tell.
Rob [16:26]: I think something else you could do is put it in your mastermind outline every week. Have that be some part of it so that you can check in, “How am I doing on these goals for 2016?”
Mike [16:36]: Yeah. I think we put something in there to review them on a quarterly basis. It was either a quarterly or monthly basis, I forget which, but that’s something else. We’ve actually discussed this a little bit in our mastermind group to try and figure out a better way of tracking our progress towards our [?] goals, because I don’t think any of us do it very well. And it’s easy to let things slide through the cracks because you’re focused on the low level stuff, and you’re not really paying attention to the macro goals.
Rob [17:02]: All right. So that was 2015. Let’s dive into what we’re looking to do in 2016.
Mike [17:06]: I put together my list, and I spent, I don’t know, it was probably like a day or two thinking about what I wanted to do for the coming year, and came up with a couple of really high level goals, and then some milestones to reach along the way, and some sub-goals that fit into those overarching goals. So I have two major goals that I want to achieve this coming year, and the first one is to launch my new product, ideally by early next year. And by early, I mean by April at the latest. I want to have people onboarded and using the products in March or April, and then be able to do essentially a full blown public launch by mid-year, mid-year being June or July.
Rob [17:43]: Okay. So hold on. You named many different months there.
Mike [17:46]: Sorry.
Rob [17:47]: So launching your new product by early next year is too vague. So I’m going to hold you to it. Let’s talk about a date. That is when you email your launch list. What is your goal in terms of a date for that?
Mike [17:59]: Well, I want to have people using it early on because I don’t know how much system resources it’s going to take, and a lot of things are up in the air. So I want to have the 10 people who’ve prepaid me using it by April 1st.
Rob [18:12]: Okay. So then how long do you think from there it’ll take you to launch? A couple of months?
Mike [18:17]: Yeah, I think so. Maybe two months. Possibly three. Probably three.
Rob [18:20]: Okay. So April, May, June, so July 1 then is a reasonably conservative view, assuming it takes you three months from the time you get your 10 early access people in there.
Mike [18:31]: Yup. I think so.
Rob [18:32]: Cool. So I’m going to note that down, July 1.
Mike [18:34]: Hold me to that one [?]
Rob [18:35]: Or at least holding you to it or not, I think it’s just good to have an actual date in mind. And I’m noting down early access by April 1, and then email the launch list by July 1, because I think it’s good. The July 1 is the one that I actually think has more flexibility either way. Because you remember with DRIP, it took us months to do the slow launch to build the features people needed, and iterate on that. And that’s stuff that is hard to rush. The April 1 deadline is one that at this point, since that one’s only, what, essentially 90 days out, and it’s really just you building software, that’s when you have much more control over is that you know what features you have to build. And you have to get the code out there. I feel like hitting that April 1 deadline should be much more in your control.
Mike [19:17]: Yup. Totally agree with that.
Rob [19:19]: Exciting. And when do you plan on starting to mention it on the podcast, in terms of what it is and what it does?
Mike [19:23]: I’m going to give it a couple of more weeks. I’ve got quite a bit of planning that I need to do for it to figure out how long different pieces of it are going to take, and prioritize some of the things that need to be done. There’s also some stuff that I need to learn about, because there’s pieces of it that I technically don’t know exactly how it will need to be done. So there’s a little bit of a research component there. And I don’t know how long some of those things are going to take. But I want to get through those before I start talking too much about it.
Rob [19:48]: You also need to get a landing page up.
Mike [19:49]: That, too.
Rob [19:51]: You got it.
Mike [19:51]: I’ll start a landing page up, too. [?]
Rob [19:52]: You got to start collecting emails, yeah. All right. So my first goal for 2016 is to 2.5X DRIP. So it’s basically the same goal I had last year. To grow by 250%. I’m going to need to focus heavily on this and get all my team on board and all that, because it feels like an ambitious goal. We’re on pace right now, given our current growth rate, to grow by about 1.7 or 1.8X. And to go to 2.5, it doesn’t sound like that much more, but when you actually look at how many more trials and how many more conversions we need throughout the year, just how many more people we need to use it, it’s a substantial amount. And so I feel like this is certainly measurable. It’s definitely attainable, but it feels like I’m really going to have to focus and pull some new levers this year, some new traction channels we’re going to have to find in order to hit this mark. Because we’re talking substantial numbers at this point, right, to 2.5. We’re not 2.5Xing from $10,000 a month anymore. It’s a lot more than that. It’s, sort of, finding that many more people to grow the app is going to be both a lot of work and also a lot of fun, I think.
Mike [20:53]: So my second major goal is to re-run some of the different experiments that I was running last year. And as I said before or earlier in the episode, I feel like I fell off the wagon a little bit mid-year just because I didn’t have the rest of them scoped out. So what I’m doing over the next week or so is writing down 12 different things that’ll essentially keep me busy for the next 12 months, just doing one per month, and focusing really hard on that, just that one thing, in order to see what happens. Part of it’s just about combating boredom. Part of it’s about trying new things. But I just want to try a bunch of different things, see what works, what doesn’t, what resonates, what’s fun, what’s not, and see how things turn out. But the first step is to put together that list of 12 things in the next week or so.
Rob [21:34]: All right. So I have a challenge for you. On next week’s episode, I would love to see your 12 things and which month each of them is going to be done in.
Mike [21:44]: Okay.
Rob [21:46]: A, I think it’ll make it better for you because then it’s super easy to be accountable to it. And you can review it with your mastermind group, or you can review it here on the podcast every month if you feel comfortable. And then I also think that one of the few reasons you said you weren’t able to achieve it last time was that you only had three or four of them, and then you wandered off after that. So if you think you’ll get it done in the next week, I think that’ll be a really good thing to just revisit quickly on next week’s episode.
Mike [22:05]: Sure.
Rob [22:05]: So my second goal for 2016 is to support Sherry with her ZenFounder book. She’s starting work on a book about startup, family, and life. And I think my role is going to be helping her shape the outline, reading drafts of it, helping contribute to it, and adding anecdotes and stories to help beef them out. Because she has a lot of research background, and she has done consulting with founders. But obviously I have more reach into the community and stories of my own. And so I think, technically, I’ll be listed as a second author on the book. That’d be my role, but I really want to help support her to get it out.
I found that over the years, I love being involved in a lot of projects. And in the past, I’ve done too many of them myself, right? I want to write the second book. I want to start the startup. I want to run the conference. I’m going to do all these things. But I’m finding now that the more I focus on running DRIP and just doing only a few things, but if I have a little bit of input into other things like advising startups or doing some angel investments here and there, being able to talk to entrepreneurs, that I get that same endorphin rush and that same feeling that I am involved in a lot of things. And so this is one of those ways where I feel like I can be involved in a book, but the weight of it and the vast majority of the work will not be on my shoulders. But it will still allow me to learn and be interested and to be involved in something exciting that’s happening. So Sherry’s goal is to get it out before the end of the year. To be honest, I don’t know if she has a particular month in mind yet, but we’re working out the details. And so my goal is to basically support her and help her get that out the door.
Mike [23:37]: Very cool. That’s, kind of, exciting.
So the next things I have in my list are essentially sub-goals, and they fit into the two that I just talked about. And the first one is to be much more deliberate about where I spend my time. And that involves separating things out into work time, family time, and then me time. And my intent is really to work less and enjoy my off time more, and essentially be overall healthier, both physically and mentally. Because I have a tendency to think about work when I’m not working, and I really need to start drawing walls of separation between those things so that when I start working, I’m essentially more fresh on it. I can just sit down, and with a clear mind, start working on things that need to get done, and then draw that line on the sand that just says, “Okay, this is family time,” or “This is alone time,” or “This is time I’m spending with my wife,” and I’m not going to be thinking about work, or thinking about other things that are going on.
Rob [24:25]: Do you know how you’re going to measure this one?
Mike [24:27]: I have some ideas about it. It’s a little difficult because I think that if you start thinking about work, for example, in the middle of the evening while you’re eating dinner, it’s a little difficult to just turn that off. But part of it’s going to involve time-boxing a little bit and saying, “Look, these are the hours that I’m going to be working on this. And these are the hours that I’m going to be spending doing that.” I think that’ll help me to put things in perspective a little bit. And I’ve also found that just putting that added pressure on myself of saying, “Oh, I’ve only got these hours to work on something,” that really, really helps me.
Something else I’ve found is that earlier in the week I’m much more productive than I am at the end of the week. So Mondays and Tuesdays, I can put in 12-hour days very easily and I don’t really get interrupted by the kids who are coming home from school, and I don’t have to watch them when they get home because my wife’s around. And what I find is that later in the week, on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, I don’t have that – I’ll call it a luxury – but it affects me more. It gets me out of the zone much, much quicker when they walk in the door. So I think that focusing on the Mondays and Tuesdays as being my highly productive days will help with that, and then blocking off Thursdays and Fridays and saying, “Yeah, I know for a fact I’m just not going to get as much work done. So I’m just going to, rather than try and fight it and try and get things done anyway, I’ll just accept it and say, “Look, I’m just going to push these things off and not worry about it until Monday because I’m not going to be as productive on it anyway.””
Rob [25:45]: This is one that I think you’ll need to review on probably a twice monthly or monthly basis or else you’ll forget it, I think.
Mike [25:51]: Yeah, I agree with that. I wouldn’t call it so much as a goal, as more of a strategy of trying to get to some of the other things.
Rob [25:58]: Yeah. That’s what it seems like. It’s like a behavior change rather than an actual goal that you’re striving for.
Mike [26:03]: Yeah, I guess that’s probably a better way to put it. Maybe calling it a goal was a misnomer, but that’s the way I was thinking of it. It’s like what has to happen, or what do I need to do in order to be able to achieve those other goals that I set forth.
Rob [26:14]: Very cool. So my third and final goal for 2016 is to make another handful of angel investments, and I’m thinking probably three to five in 2016. And what I found is, in total I’ve made about nine small angel investments – about six of them I’m a little more involved in, where I’m actually helping and advising, and they’re a little more substantial. And I found that my sweet spot is, not surprisingly, helping folks with B2B SaaS. Hopefully if they’re at product market fit, post traction, that kind of stuff. So folks who are at $5000, $10,000, $15,000 a month in revenue, and there’s some type of path to start getting this thing going.
And frankly, as weird as this sounds, it’s like investing in bootstrappers. And that doesn’t make a ton of sense, right? Because typically bootstrapping means that you’re doing without funding. But it’s this new model of “fun-strapping”, as Colin from Customer.io talked about, where essentially folks have the intent of raising a single seed round to grow quickly, get to profitability, and then that’s it. They don’t plan to go the venture-funded route. And those are the businesses that I like. And I’ve made a couple of investments recently that I’m very excited about because A, there’s a lot of value that I can bring. But B, they’re not trended to grow hundred million dollar businesses, and they have a very high likelihood of becoming seven-figure businesses and potentially even low eight-figure businesses. And that’s where I’m looking to be.
So that’s where I really enjoy it, and where I have some insight and value to add. And this again comes back to I don’t want to start other things because I really want to focus. But just being involved in a little way with these founders who are getting stuff done is exciting and it keeps me learning. And it keeps me, kind of, interested in knowing what’s going on. And so I guess if you are a bootstrapper and you hit that point where you start getting some traction and you’re thinking about raising this small, single round, certainly drop me a line because I’ve been talking to several folks lately.
Mike [28:09]: The last thing I have on my list, as you pointed out earlier, is more of a strategy than a goal, but is to be more complete with my planning. And essentially that involves creating a full plan rather than a partial one, essentially walking the process of the projects that I’m working on all the way to completion and mapping out everything that needs to be done, as opposed to getting it 70%, 80% of the way and then stopping and saying, “Oh, that’s enough of a plan. Let me dive right in and start getting things done.” So, as I said before, I have a tendency to get to near the end of those plans and then I’ll start thrashing because I don’t really know what I should be working on because I haven’t planned it.
Rob [28:43]: Yeah, that makes sense. Again, like you said, this is a strategy or a behavior change. It seems like launching your new app by April 1 to early access, and then July 1 to your launch list, is probably your main goal, and that’s where you listed it, as number one. And so, if I were in your shoes, that is what I would totally be focusing on and getting weekly milestones nailed down and planned out. Especially if you know you have that tendency to not follow through in the end; to get to the point where, like you said, you start thrashing, I think that you need to be keenly aware that around March or April, your lizard brain is going to start finding reasons why you shouldn’t be working on it, or why you should wander off and try to start something else. Or other stuff is just going to magically come up because it always does. So I think it’s good to be aware of this in yourself, and I think that as you go through the year, it’s something to review on a monthly basis of like, “Am I letting this one get the best of me like it has in the past.”?
Mike [29:45]: Yeah. I noticed that I’m for thrashing a lot because my productivity just plummets. I spend more time looking at my ever-growing list of things to do that there’s things that just get added to it. And I’m like, “Oh, I’m not sure what I should be working on.” So what ends up happening is I don’t work on anything. And I’ve already started putting together the weekly milestones like you just pointed out, and finding ways to hold myself accountable to those different milestones, and making sure that things aren’t getting pushed off, and making sure that I’m also assigning a reasonable number of tasks to each of those milestones so that I don’t get so far behind that things just go completely sideways, and then I’m in a position where I’ll never catch up.
I don’t know about you, but I think this coming year it’ll be pretty exciting.
Rob [30:24]: Yeah, I’m stoked to get started with it.
Mike [30:25]: Well, I think that about wraps us up for the day. If you have a question for us, you can call it into our voicemail number at 1-888-801-9690, or you can email it to us at email@example.com. Our theme music is an excerpt from We’re Outta Control by MoOt used under Creative Commons. Subscribe to us on iTunes by searching for “startups” and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time.