In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob checks in with Mike Taber’s progress on Bluetick. They revisit some topics that were brought up from their last episode together including motivation, personal retreat, accountability, the Google audit and more.
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Welcome to Startups for the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers, and entrepreneurs be awesome at building, launching, and growing startups, whether you’ve built your fifth startup or you’re thinking about your first. I’m Rob, and today with Mike Taber. We’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the mistakes we’ve made.
Welcome to the show, thanks for joining me. Today’s a bit of a longer episode because I find when Mike and I catch up, he just has a lot going on. The feedback I’ve heard is not to cut it short. Typically, our Startups for the Rest of Us episodes have been 25 to 35 minutes over the years, some of the interviews run a little long and the conversations with Mike, often, they’re just pretty fun. Frankly, I feel the conversation is valuable. We touch on a lot of interesting things today that I know a lot of people are struggling with based on the emails, tweets, and reaches out that he and I have been receiving. I did allow this one to go a little long and I’ll see what I can do in the future to keep them a little shorter.
I plan to do this about every month to touch-base with Mike, to keep up on his progress. It gives him enough time to execute on things, for things to change, and I really love following the thread of any founder and that’s what the show has been for 460 episodes. We’ve always had the teaching aspect, we’ve had interviews, we’ve had hot seats, but I think the most compelling thing that keeps people coming back over these years is our stories. It’s following the journeys that we’ve traveled as entrepreneurs and it’s interesting.
While I’m going to continue doing Q&A episodes, hot seats, some interviews sprinkled here and there, I do want to touch base with Mike every three or four episodes depending on what’s going on to hear what he’s up to and try to dig-in to both the good and the bad that he’s experiencing. With that in mind, I’m working on a super secret podcast project that I’m not quite ready to talk about yet but I’ve been working on for several months now and just stay tuned to Startups for the Rest of Us because I’ll be talking about it on the show once that’s ready to go live.
In addition, I want to circle back on a topic that we brought up, probably 10 or 15 episodes ago. It was a desktop Gmail client and switching to that. I had switched to Mailplane and then switched back to Gmail. But due to some recent changes with how G Suite—forwarding, groups, interacts, and those aren’t changes actually, Google’s been doing it for years—I hadn’t realized that I wasn’t getting things that were forwarded. They were sent to Google groups which is how they do email list.
I won’t go into details. It’s all frankly boring, but it’s irritating. I’ve always just funneled everything into a single Gmail account and then did send as in order to appear as if I had a bunch of email inboxes, but that no longer works. It’s broken based on how Google has implemented some stuff in G Suite. I needed a way to have a unified inbox where I can be in a single inbox and I can funnel everything in there even though it’s multiple inboxes that I’m checking. I went through several providers that do that and I’ve landed on the Airmail which is a desktop client and I believe it was $20, maybe $30 through the Mac App Store. I did try out Kiwi per Adrian Rosebrock’s recommendation but it did not have a unified inbox on, it was just a hard requirement for me given this current situation.
Just to close that loop, I’ve been using it for a couple of weeks and it’s good. I’m probably going to keep using it. I do like that it has dark mode and it has a lot of keyboard shortcuts. It’s actually got me a little spoiled already with command delete going through the inbox. It’s almost like a touch interface where I can just swipe, swipe, swipe, and get rid of emails. So far so good on Airmail.
Lastly, I wanted to announce, you heard it here first, that applications for the next TinySeed batch are going to open up on November 1st. It’s just a couple of months out, we’ll be following up with more information. If you’re on the TinySeed email list, you’ll hear about that. Go to tinyseed.com and look for the place to subscribe to our email list. We’ll be updating folks once we have more info on how that is going to go down. If you’re interested in potentially becoming part of batch two of TinySeed, be sure your email is on that list.
I enjoyed the conversation that I had today with Mike and we cover all kinds of stuff. He went on a personal retreat and really sorted some things out, it sounds like, and it feels like his trajectory has really adjusted from the conversation we had back in episode 448. If you haven’t listened to episode 448 and 458, there’s a lead up that’s the start of the story that we’re really following today. I recommend you go back and check it out. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Mike Taber.
Mike: thanks for coming back on the show.
Mike: Thanks for having me back.
Rob: It’s been a few weeks since we caught up and I know, you and I, we’re just talking offline trying to put that line […] episode. It sounds like a lot’s been going on, a lot of progress, a lot of interesting things.
Rob: I think the first question is, I’m curious, are you still on your social media, Twitter, podcast hiatus?
Mike: I am. I still haven’t logged in to either Twitter or Facebook. I’m sure that I will in the near future if only to get Facebook Ads up and running and probably experiment a little bit with Twitter ads some more, because I’ve done that in the past and it can work out well, it’s just you have to actually dedicate the time to it and you have to log in. I haven’t bit the bullet and gone back in them.
Rob: Yeah, that’s the thing. I know that people build their entire funnel around being on social media and being a personality and typically, if you’re selling info products that works well and if you’re selling SaaS, it doesn’t as much. I’m sure there’s a counter example, but really, if you get to SaaS app to mid six or seven figures, you’re not going to do that on Twitter in essence. It can be a part of it, but it is such a trip to try to wade the value, the ROI of time and distraction, and frankly, sometimes, the stress that it can cause on you.
Mike: Yeah. I have all of the notifications turned off, whether it’s push notifications or email notifications. Literally, everything is turned off for both of them. I turned off my iPad the other day and I realized that apparently, I didn’t turn it off there so it’s telling me, “Oh, you’ve got a couple of hundred notifications here,” and I’m just like, “Nope, not looking at it.”
Rob: Uninstall, that’s cool. Good. I’m curious to see how that feels if and when you decide to re-enter that world. I know some folks that just go off permanently. I think like Marc Andreessen’s just done. He was known for having the big tweetstorms. There’s a rumor that he invented it or something, I don’t know if he did or didn’t, but he would write entire essays on it and then he just started doing likes only and that’s how people were tracking him, and now he said, “Nope, I’m just completely off,” it’s a trip to see that.
Mike: On my Facebook feed for people who I’m friends with, I have the Taber Household Conversations which is usually various conversations. They happen around the house with the kids and wife and they’re fairly entertaining. I’ve been told by a number of people that’s their most favorite thing to see on Facebook and they love watching that but I’ve been keeping track of them separately in a notepad document on my phone so that if I ever go back, I have probably 40 or 50 of them that I could post, I just haven’t logged in.
Rob: That’s cool. Talk to me about your personal retreat. When we last left you, there were some open questions that I had posed in episode 458, things like thinking about what challenges you wanted to tackle, whether you’re going to keep going with Bluetick. There’s a lot of stuff and we’ll cover that today. Part of that, I threw out an off-hand suggestion of, “Hey, maybe you should do a personal retreat to think through some of these things,” and it sounds like you wound up doing that.
Mike: Yeah, I did. It was more of a last-minute thing just because my wife had had time on her calendar when she wasn’t going to be teaching over the weekend, so she’s like, “Hey, you should go ahead and take one,” so I did. It was last minute like I said and it was really good because I sat down and started looking through my notes and stuff. I brought my notebooks that I had written in from previous retreats that I had gone on dating back to 2014.
Before I did anything else, I really just started looking through what I had previously written down as things to think about, goals, observations, and things like that. I realized that dating back all the way to 2014, one of the biggest things that came out every single one of them was I’m not sleeping well. I need to be able to figure out what’s going on and it was a continuing theme every single time. I have been taking retreat since before I was diagnosed with sleep apnea. It was eye-opening to go back and read those things and say, “Huh, that thing is basically taken care of at this point,” but it was eye-opening to see that, that was just a huge recurring theme over and over again and I couldn’t get over to figure out what was going on.
Rob: Yeah, that is such a trip, man. I think it is one of the benefits of doing the founder retreats, as we like to call them, is that if you do them year after year and you keep the notes and refer back, you can see patterns. A lot of us get so caught up in the day-to-day or looking ahead to the future—I speak for myself—I don’t frequently look back and try to see patterns, why am I feeling this way? What’s causing that? It sounds like knowing how much that’s impacted your motivation and your ability to execute over the past five or more years is a really good thing to know.
Mike: Yeah. I think what was eye-opening to me was just the fact that I recognize even then how detrimental it was to me, but because I couldn’t figure out a way to deal with it or figure out what was going on, it just kept continuing to be a problem. What I realized was that most of the time, it just snowballs. I’m not getting enough sleep, so I’m not as productive and I’m not thinking straight that I ended up on various medications for different things that are treating the symptoms, but nothing is really addressing the underlying problems, which just doesn’t go away. So then, somehow it just masks the problem. It just makes it so hard to move things forward.
It did make me realize that I’ve been beating myself up over the past 6–8 months or so just because I felt things weren’t moving forward and I was projecting past Mike to present-day Mike because I couldn’t get past those sleep issues. It’s like, “Wait a second, these things are actually mostly resolved at this point, so I shouldn’t be beating myself up over the problems that I used to have and project them on myself and continue to have motivation problems or anything like that. Each day is a new start, so just use it as that. Since I went on that retreat, actually things have really, really turned around for me.
Rob: That’s really good to hear, man. It really is. I think that’s another big benefit of founder retreats is the clarity it can bring you about big decisions or even it sounds like it was like a cleanse in a new start in a way. I’m curious how Sherry wrote The Zen Founder Guide, the Founder Retreats. Did you use something like that to help you or do you have your own system now that you’ve been doing it for so many years?
Mike: Usually, I have enough time in advance of going to be able to write things down and go through some old notes and stuff I have including stuff that Sherry had put together, but this time I didn’t. What I did was when I got there on Friday night, I started going through my old notes and I was going to put some stuff together. Then on Saturday and Sunday, I was basically going to go through it. I feel like I started going through my previous notes first and then realized that probably wasn’t necessary and it was vicious because things just popped out of me, it’s glaringly obvious in retrospect but not while I’m sitting at my desk every day.
Rob: Yeah, I think that makes sense. It sounds like you had a lot of long-term things to think about and didn’t necessarily need the search for topics to consider. You had an ample number of topics to consider just going into the retreat.
Mike: Right. I didn’t really find that it was an issue. The personal retreat was a pretty […] story, it prefers few hours to be perfectly honest. It didn’t take long for me to start to see what things have been holding me back and why and what my path forward was going to look like. Most of the time I spent was probably personal reflection on different things but not necessarily trying to answer those questions. It was just more thinking about the things that had already come up and that I’d already given thought and consideration to, that I thought I was going to need to spend a lot more time on during the personal retreat. It turned out that I just really didn’t need to. I spent most of the time just doing personal reflection more than anything else.
Rob: I have a few questions for you but I am curious to hear if there are other things that you made decisions on or thought through that I don’t ask you. These are questions that we had posed or I had posed the last couple of times we spoke and said if you want to retreat, you should probably consider this. One of them is, do you want to continue working on Bluetick?
Mike: Yeah, and the answer to that was yes, absolutely.
Rob: Was that a hard decision to make? Did you think through a lot of factors or was it like, “No, this is my gut feel and now I’m going to move on”?
Mike: I did think about it. It wasn’t just a gut feel. This is the answer that I want to have because I’m thinking that other people have expectations on me for that. What I really looked at was where is Bluetick today versus where it needs to be, and if I were to just toss the whole thing and go on to something else, would it take as long as it Bluetick has taken or would there be other risks? The reality is I know that there’d be a lot more risk if I went with something else and it would probably take me just as long because I still have to do all the customer development stuff.
The reality is, it’s a solid product that’s got a lot of things going for it. I just haven’t really put the time and effort needed in focus into the marketing side of things, and I haven’t talked to several customers. They like the product, it’s just that I need to get more of those customers.
I think that if I were to move on and try to do something else, could I sell the products ‘as is’ to somebody? Absolutely, I’ve had those conversations with people and I’m sure that I could sell Bluetick ‘as is’ to somebody if I wanted to, but do I want to start over? The answer is no.
The one thing that came to mind was is this a sunk cost thing that I’m thinking about? Is that why I’m leaning in the structure? I don’t think it is because I thought about that as well. It was actually something that […] probably thought about that more than I thought of do I want to continue on this.
Rob: I could see that because that would be the risk and that was going to be what I brought up was do you feel like you have sunk cost that was going on here and are chasing after something just because you’ve spent so many years building it.
Mike: Yeah, and that’s why I spent so much time thinking about that particular question and I don’t think that’s it. I think that there’s probably a little bit of contribution there for that particular thought but it’s certainly not the only thing. I definitely think there’s a lot more that could be done with Bluetick and there’s a lot more value there than I’ve uncovered, I just haven’t gotten in there yet.
Rob: There was another thing I had noted down and it was around, you raised this challenge, this struggle of motivation and the question I think you posted is like, “I’m not super motivated by money right now. It’s hard for me to be motivated to work on this tool and get up every day and do it. What should motivate me?” That was the question. I threw out, “Oh, you should go take the Enneagram.” That kind of was a joke but it was also helpful for me personally when I took it to have a little bit more insight into who I am and what drives you, and that’s part of what it does. It’s nice that it’s free and it takes 15 minutes to take.
I’m curious if you: (a) took the Enneagram, (b) whether that helped or not, and (c) did you also think about this question of what challenge do you want to tackle and what is going to keep you motivated this week, next week, and next month?
Mike: There’s a bunch of things packed into there. Keep me on track if I forget any of those things. I did take it, I didn’t realize that there was a free version of it. I paid $10 from the website and I took it. In my opinion, it was kind of BS, to be perfectly honest.
Rob: That’s totally fair. I’m not trying to force the Enneagram on anyone and I feel like it is. I liked it but I’m curious to hear why you didn’t like it or why you think it’s BS.
Mike: I think it could be helpful for certain people. The problem is that when I went through it, there are three different steps. The first one is to read these nine paragraphs and then you select how much do you think the whole thing describes you or not. The second step is to go through the ones that described you the most and select the ones that you affiliate the most with. I think there were three of them that you had to pick there.
In the first step, I think there were nine different paragraphs and eight of them were ranked exactly the same. In the second step, I basically completely self-classified myself. I’m like, “That’s not real helpful. I could have just read online paragraphs and then said which one do I want.” It was like throwing a dart at the dartboard, you have an equal chance of it in any of them.
Rob: The Enneagram should have been 40 or 51-sentence questions, is that what you saw? There were no paragraphs when I took it. One sentence, it would describe like, “When I’m in a situation like this, this is what I do,” but it’s just one sentence and I don’t even remember if you’ve ranked it on a one to five or if it’s just this is me or this isn’t, maybe that’s what it is. I think that’s all it was but yours is different, I wonder if you took a different test.
Mike: I think mine was different. Maybe it was the wrong one. I don’t know, let me go back and take a look at that.
Rob: Yeah. Let me see if I can find that link to the one I took because that would make more sense, I think.
Mike: Anyway, out of the three steps, there was only one of them, those nine was eliminated after the first step. Then on the second one, I had to pick out of the eight which one…
Rob: That’s not helpful at all. Dude, okay, I need to go and look. I bet I still have the link. Forget the Enneagram, it’s a tangent and we’ll try to revisit it at some point, but the other two things where have you thought about the challenge you want to tackle, really it’s what’s going to keep you motivated.
Mike: I think that it’s looking outside of what the thing is that I’m working on because I have a tendency to get so engrossed in what I’m working on that I will not look at other things in terms of what my social life, or health, or anything like that. I realized that when I get down the rabbit hole on certain projects, AuditShark being one of them, Bluetick being another, there’s a point at which I probably cross a threshold where I continue to become all consumed by that. I wouldn’t say that’s necessarily a bad thing in certain situations, but I think that I let it get the best of me and go too far.
What I really need to do is step back and say, “This is a means to an end, not the end for me. This shouldn’t be my all-consuming life purpose because essentially, it’s work. It is something I’m working on and I do enjoy it, but I can’t let it be the only thing that defines me.” I think that, that’s something else that I’ve struggled with to some extent where I look at the product itself and if the product is struggling, then I personally struggle because I see it as a reflection of myself, and that really shouldn’t be the case. It’s more of being able to step back and separate myself and my own self-value, or self-worth, or whatever form the product itself and how well it’s doing versus how well I am doing.
Rob: Yeah, I think that’s super important, it’s very hard to do. I personally drifted in and out of that over the years of having my entire, like you said, it’s like self-worth, self-confidence, happiness tied to my MRR at times. That can be tough. You said that’s outside of that. I think that’s a great realization. Easier said than done, but a great realization. What is it outside of the app that is going to motivate you?
Mike: Honestly, socializing with the people that I know that are in the area. I mentioned this several times in the past where I have a weekly meet up with a couple of guys that I played D&D with. It’s a great way for me to get out of the house, away from my desk, and away from my computer, away from technology. I find that it’s a very helpful and therapeutic for me to be looking forward to that as opposed to looking forward to getting up at five o’clock in the morning and going to work because I really want to work on something and then distracts my sleep because I’m so excited about it the night before. Being able to back off a little bit from that stuff and look at it and say, “Look, this is just a means to an end and it’s means to make a living, not an expression of me.”
Rob: Yeah. I think that’s good. I think the thing I’m missing though, because I also play D&D and I read stuff now, for the first time in a long time within the past year or two, I’ve started to read fiction again. A lot of it is graphic novels, but I’m doing hobby stuff again. I’m giving myself permission to do that, but that’s how I distract myself so that I don’t think about work all the time. Me personally, that’s my personality.
I’m missing how going and hanging out with friends, or playing games, or having a hobby is going to motivate you to stick with Bluetick everyday when it gets hard? Or does it? Or am I misunderstanding that? Because that’s what I’m trying to get at is you’ve talked about getting up and like, “I’m not motivated to do this. I don’t know why I’m doing this,” or you do know why, but it’s like, “I’m just not that motivated to sit here and work six or eight-hour days and crank away on this stuff.”
Mike: I think it’s a very subtle thing and that, as I said, Bluetick is essentially, if I view it as a means to an end, and that end being I get to go socialize with my friends and do these other things, I can’t neglect that and I can’t just let things go because if I do, then I won’t be able to do those other things. It becomes a way for me to create a balancing act that, can I let things slide sometimes? Sure. I absolutely can. Can I let them slide forever? Absolutely not because then, it puts me in a bad financial position, that I’m then stressed out and anxious, and I can’t focus on what needs to get done. But if I make myself balance those things a little bit more so that I’m not so single-handedly focused just on Bluetick or single-handedly focused on socializing with friends, if I force that balance, then it helps me to concentrate. Does that make sense?
Rob: I think so. Is it taking a break gives your mind a break and that when you come back, you’re re-energized rather than basically burning your mind out?
Rob: That’s what it is?
Rob: Fascinating. I get that. I definitely understand the link there, but I wonder if this answers the question that I posed earlier of everyday you’re going to have to get up and there are going to be things you don’t want to do dealing with the Google audit and whatever, firing a contract or hiring a contract, or maybe it’s writing code, maybe it’s marketing, maybe it’s whatever. You’re going to have to do some things you don’t want to do, some things you are excited about, but how are you going to push yourself to not sit there, stare at your screen, and churn away the time? Or whether it’s being unproductive because you are churning or whether it’s being unproductive because you are unmotivated to work on it?
Mike: I feel like that’s just more a matter of putting certain systems in place. One of the things I recognized is that systems are what really helped me stay focused, stay on track. and get things done, but at the same time, my personality is such that I hate being a cog in a wheel. In some ways, it’s demotivational to me to have a system but it’s motivational when it works. Like I said, it’s that balancing act.
One of the issues I had with me taking in the Enneagram is that by definition, I think that I’m very well-balanced in very many ways. I forget what it was called, it was a test that was given that business software like 8 or 10 years ago or something like that and afterwards, I showed it to the person who has given it, I think it was Paul Kenny, he looked at it and he’s like, “Wow, that’s extremely balanced in every direction.”
He said he hadn’t really ever seen that before which is, I don’t know whether that just speaks to how weird I am or not, but it was interesting to see. I have a lot of empathy and ability to see things in multiple ways and multiple directions and I think that’s a strength, but at the same time, it could be a downfall because I can easily find myself in a situation where I’m paralyzed because I’m like, “If I do it this way, then this will happen. If I do it this other way, then this other thing will happen.” It’s difficult to deal with that but at the same time, I also have to recognize, “Hey, you just need to move things forward. You need to make a decision and move on because you can’t stay here looking at this forever.” By timeboxing and things like that, that helps me to move things forward when I need to, but at the same time, it forces that structure which, again, I hate the structure but I do like the results of it.
Rob: Yeah, there you go. The hating structure and liking results means that you hopefully can plow through it. It sounds like the motivation will be the results that you see and I think the other side of that sword or the sharp edge of that is that if you are not seeing results, will you become demotivated? Again, last time I talked about some people are motivated by money. It’s like, “I want to make enough money so that I can support my family or that I never have to work again.” That, whether you’re seeing results or not, you’re still motivated by that.
If some people are motivated by this achievement, it’s the Jeff Bezos, “I want to start a billion-dollar company,” and that you’re just motivated to achieve. Whether you’re seeing results or not, you do still have that goal that you’re hungry for. Last time, we talked about how you’re not hungry for anything right now. I think probably my main concern is that if you’re not hungry for it, if you are not seeing results, are you going to get demotivated?
Mike: You bring up something that sparked my memory of something that came up during my personal retreat is like, “Am I running towards something or away from something?”
Rob: Yeah, because that is away from having to work full time. The last time you talked about that you had the Dilbert comic and you said, “I don’t want to go back because bosses are […].” It’s a pain in the ass to work for other people. There’s a commute, and this and that. We talked through some things about you should get a job with no commute, you should get a job where the boss is not dumb. I can remove all of those.
Mike: I’m screwed working for myself.
Rob: Yeah, but we can remove that. Are you just running away from working for other people? That’s what you’re referring to? Are you actually running towards, “I wanted to keep this,” or just running away from, “I don’t want a full-time job”?
Mike: Yeah. The sad part is I think it’s a mix of both and that’s part of what makes it a hard question for me to answer. I don’t have a specific answer for that. That’s one thing that I did come out of my retreat. One […] about is like, “What is it that I really want to achieve?” and I still don’t have a specific answer for that, but I do know that I want to have a successful SaaS application that is going to support me and my family, at least do reasonably well. If that means that I can take some time off in the middle of the week if I want to, then great.
Kids started school last week on Thursday and on Thursday, we were actually out looking for a new car for her because her Toyota Corolla from 2004 is about to die. It was nice to be able to just take the time and go do that and get it taken care of that day because I have that flexibility in my schedule. If I were working for somebody else, I wouldn’t have that. If I didn’t have an app that was doing at least reasonably well, I wouldn’t be able to do that.
Things do come up. There are bugs and stuff that will come up on occasion that I have to get those fixed and I have those come up as well last week. It’s nice to be able to rearrange my schedule, have the flexibility to move things around and work on it. That’s really what I want out of my future is to be able to have that flexibility.
Rob: Sounds like that’s the thing. That is the one thing that you have referred back to the most is flexibility, is like owning your own time. I wonder if that’s your number one motivator.
Mike: It’s funny because I think that it is, but at the same time, I also know that, as I said, those systems that I have to put in place sometimes to get things done and move things forward, those are restrictive. This weird dichotomy between them that sometimes I have to go in one direction and sometimes I have to go in the other.
Rob: Cool, that’s actually helpful for me and I want to revisit that at some point in the future, but I just want to hear how that how well that’s panning out. We can circle back in a future conversation such that I want to see what the motivation is and if you’re not seeing results, if it’s still working and if just the drive for flexibility is enough. I also updated the Enneagram link, it’s tests.enneagraminstitute.com is the official one, it’s $12 to take the test. I will Venmo you $12, Mike, Go take the test because you didn’t pay for the other one, did you?
Mike: I did. It was enneagramworldwide.com.
Rob: Oh, interesting. When I typed in like take Enneagram online, there’s a bunch of places doing it, and you paid for it and that’s what it gave you? I think go to enneagraminstitute.com, I believe those are the folks that developed it. That’s at least my rudimentary understanding right now.
Mike: Oh, well.
Rob: Anyway, it’s $12. Give it a shot. It should be a bunch of either-or questions. It will make a statement like, “I would prefer to be viewed as successful or happy,” or “I prefer to be successful or happy,” and then you can say, “Yes, this is me,” “No, this is me,” and some of them have partials, I don’t know. That’s what you should see. You should not have to read paragraphs to do this.
Cool. There’s a couple of other points we’re talking about last time that I want to revisit. One is the Google audit thing, the chaos that has been the ongoing Google going to block you if you don’t get this audit and go through their security process, update us on that status.
Mike: I’ve talked to two companies that do that. I had two discussions with each of them, worked with both of them. I’ve selected one that I will be going to. Basically, I was able to work with them on the price a little bit, so it falls at the lower end of the range of $15,000–$75,000 it was originally given. Fortunately, it’s not closer to $75,000 but it is still 5 figures. It’s a difficult pill to swallow but at the same time, it’s also, I would say, a motivational factor for me. One thing I have recognized about myself is that I’m a completionist to some extent. If I were to pay for that, it would be hard for me to not follow through afterwards because that’s a huge chunk of money that needs to be paid every year.
But the other side of it is that it also gives me a defensible moat around Bluetick as well. I probably don’t have a whole lot to worry about from competitors coming in underneath me, which is a weird situation to be in. I still have those bigger fish that are above me but I probably don’t need to worry nearly as much about anybody coming in on our niche and stealing customers or what have you. Not that I really think that would happen for a while. Even if it did, it wouldn’t make that much of a difference, but it does create a barrier to entry for anybody else who’s trying to do similar things.
Rob: I would totally agree with that. Anyone who’s thinking about just dabbling in and they’re starting a little side project to do it or wanting to start just a small lifestyle business and doesn’t really want to go after, it’s going to be deterred. I would be deterred from doing that, it would discourage me from one drop, however much it is, $20,000–$30,000 to get in and just to get started. That’s a trip.
Was it a hard decision then to decide whether to do it or not? Because, again, if they quoted you $75,000, it would have been a reason to shut the company down. We know it’s a lesson in that boat. As you’ve gotten towards it, was it a hard decision or was it like, “No, this is once I’ve decided to do it, I’m also going to suck it up and do this”?
Mike: I think when the initial pricing came in, it was like, “Gee, I don’t know if that’s actually going to fly. I’m not sure if I really want to go through and do that because it would have been really hard to swing it.” Then after going back and renegotiate with them, it was much more doable. Yeah, it’s probably going to be something that needs to be […] each year, but at the same time, it’s a SaaS application. There’s only going to be so many changes that are between them. They didn’t specifically say that was a differential they would do from one year to the next, but that certainly does factor into it if you’d go with the same company for one year to the next.
Google could easily change their policies moving forward. I’ve had this discussion with other people in my mastermind group, where I think that they are just laying down the law, drawing a line in the sand and saying, “Okay, this is what it is, and screw anyone that has to deal with this in the next 18–24 months. We’ll figure it out before then. There’s going to be small players that gets screwed in that meantime, but oh, well, we need to protect our company and our users’ data. In two years out, things will be fine.” I think that’s the decision they’ve made and things will change in a couple of years but probably not dramatically.
Rob: Yeah, and I like the way you couched it as a motivating factor. There were two times that I really recall having my back to the wall and talk about sunk cost, you are talking quite a chunk of money. I bought DotNetInvoice for $11,000 and I bought HitTail for $30,000. Those were 4–5 years apart, but those were very difficult pills for me to swallow. It was a lot of money. It was all the money that I had saved up from doing all this consulting on the side.
I had an incredibly productive two or three months stretches right after that because my back was to the wall. I worked for longer hours. That was one of the seasons where I work long hours and a big part of it was I can’t have written that check-in vain. I have to make this work. I keep saying my back was to the wall, but that’s how I feel about it. I wonder if you can use this at least in the short term as motivation of, “I have to be a good steward of that money and make this worth it.”
Mike: Yeah. I’m definitely that type of person as well. Some people crack under pressure and I do extremely well under pressure, which is a double-edged sword because sometimes, I’m a procrastinator to some extent. In some ways, that helps me because I procrastinate and then I get to this part where it’s do or die and I’m willing to put in the time and effort to make sure that things happen and that things work.
I probably haven’t experienced that in a while but there are certainly things that I can point back to in my history where I […] my masters degree, for example. I was coming up to the wire in terms of being able to finish my masters thesis and they’re like, “Okay, you need to have this done by the end of August.” So, I buckled down and I wrote the entire thing in a month-and-a-half, or two months, or something like that and I went back to them and basically got it all done, but it needed to get done and it needed to get done fast. There was really no other option, otherwise, I was blowing $20,000–$25,000 down the train and I would walk away without anything to show for. Still, having taken those classes, I don’t have the degree, not that it means a whole lot if I’m self-employed but it was one of those personal accomplishments or achievements that I wanted to have.
Rob: Yeah. It comes back to that extrinsic motivation. It’s really an optimist scenario for you. Cool. A couple more things before we wrap up, I wanted to ask about that untestable seal.net component. You had made the decision to replace it with a different component, but you were saying while you get slotted in among things and I was like, “Look, you made the decision. Just go ahead and do it because it’s keeping your back. It’s technical debt, right now, it’s a liability that keeps you from making changes to things.” Where does that sit?
Mike: I still have not touched that. Most of my time has been spent going back and forth with the vendors on the security audit because just even scheduling a meeting with them takes a week. It’s a week before it happens but it’s several days of back and forth and trying to get an answer because they’re just busy and they have to slot in conversations when they get a chance. It’s a pain in the neck.
I’ve been stalling on other things to see how that works out because obviously, it did hold it back to some extent because of the final numbers for the quotes came back in $75,000, I was just going to walk away, but since it didn’t, it made things a lot easier to get working on other stuff. At this point, I do recognize that needs to get done. It’s a matter of looking at schedule and seeing, “Where can I slot that in between marketing activities?” because I feel like that’s probably more important, but I go back and forth on that.
Rob: When do you feel you’re going to pull out that component?
Mike: I think if I get a more detailed information from the security company about what I can and can’t store, that’s probably going to dictate that to some extent because I don’t want to get in the position where I spend all this time and effort replacing that component so that I can download all the data in the way that I want to only to find out that they come back and say, “You really shouldn’t be storing that,” or those other things that go into. It’s just I’m holding off and maybe that’s a bad decision.
Rob: I don’t think it is. That’s what I would do as well. It sounds like there’s a bunch of unanswered questions and you are right with the security audit. They can come back and say anything. I would personally also wait on that but I wouldn’t wait on other development on marketing because you can do that stuff before then.
Your mastermind group is meeting weekly and you have a pseudo business coach. Both those things still going on and do you feel like they’re working for you?
Mike: I do. I actually have an email in my inbox right now from the coach that I have to reply to today and then the meetings have been going on every week and we talk about all kinds of different things from conversion rates to where marketing should be focused or conversations to customers, but I find that the weekly accountability has been pretty helpful because it forces me to make progress on everything and part of it is schedule-related because I have to make sure that I slot time for those things but it’s also what am I looking at next and then making sure that’s getting done because I’m basically committing to each of those things.
Rob: That makes a lot of sense. Glad to hear that’s still working out. I do want to touch base periodically and hear more about that. I’m curious. We had a conversation, it was episode 448 where we really dug into this stuff for the first time. You raised a concern that you didn’t really want do the spammy-cold email and I threw out an idea of a warm and ethical code email or you can just focus on warm email, is that still your thinking that you want to focus on something that you feel better about personally and have you made any strides to make that part of reality?
Mike: I have thought about it quite a bit more and I had a conversation with a customer that I onboarded a couple of weeks ago where he’s like, “I definitely want to use Bluetick, and this is what we are doing right now and it looked automated and we’re using it for cold email.” After going through and talking to them about how he was doing it, I realized like, “Hey, you’re actually doing warm email, not cold email,” because they’re sending physical mailers and things like that. It reminded me of one of the original thoughts that I’d had behind Bluetick was using it as something of a multi-channel marketing campaign because if you send somebody something in the physical mail and then send them emails or you send them tweets and things like that, this is a functionality that really hasn’t made it into Bluetick yet, but the conversation did remind me to like, “Hey, that was the original idea here.”
It turns cold contacts into warm contacts because they’ve at least seen your name before and they’ve heard of you because you’ve reached them through other channels. Some of them can be automated. I think Postable probably has an API where you can send direct mailers to people “handwritten notes.” They’re not actually handwritten, but they look like they are. Things like that are ones that would probably do well in that type of multichannel campaign. There is not a lot of people who are doing that right now, most of the people that I’ve seen who were doing that, they do it by hand and it sucks.
Rob: Yeah, no doubt. Cool. It sounds like you’ve made a decision because I have talked about life-changing your website copy, changing your onboarding, and even considered potentially doing a setup, doing a setup fee and then verifying upfront that they are doing stuff that’s in line with what you want Bluetick to do. It sounds like you haven’t moved forward on that but are those still things that you want to put in place?
Mike: Those are still on my radar. I think the larger challenge or problem that I have is just that I don’t have enough traffic. That’s the biggest thing. I don’t think that adding in a setup fee or something like that, that’s not really going to move the needle for me, at least not right now, but if I were to triple traffic, for example, that type of thing is I’m won’t say easily attainable, it’s probably something that would move the needle for me a lot more than adding in a setup fee.
Rob: Right. I think as we wrap up, there are still this open question of how to differentiate Bluetick, how are you going to make it different from the other tools that I could go out and essentially do the same thing with? Have you given that more thought?
Mike: I’ve given it some thought. I wouldn’t say that I have any concrete conclusions on that. One of the things I have seen is that people who are most successful with Bluetick are the ones that integrated it into their marketing and sales pipelines. I think that integrating Bluetick into other products directly would allow it to have a tighter integration into other people’s marketing and sales funnels. Integrating into other tools directly is probably the most straightforward way to do that. Most of these tools that are like Bluetick have an API of some kind where you can upload stuff but it’s really those integrations that are going to basically keep people around and keep churn low. If I can keep churn really low, then I don’t have to worry about growing the product as quickly to counter that churn.
Rob: That’s true. I agree with all that actually.
Mike: But it doesn’t directly answer the question.
Rob: Yeah, which was differentiation. Do those integrations differentiate you or do your competitors have some or all of those?
Mike: I think most of them have a Zapier integration of some kind. I haven’t looked in-depth enough at them. I do have somebody that I hired to help me out with marketing. They’ll probably start later this week or next week, but that’s something I’ll probably look at a little bit more to do more in-depth competitive analysis and say, “What markets do these people serve, and why?” and, “Is there a place where Bluetick can fit into those and really shine as opposed to where it currently is?”
You’re absolutely right. It doesn’t really have any major differentiating feature other than I can offer direct support and you’re going to talk to the developer if you’ve got a problem. There’s some value to that but I don’t think that it’s enough to overcome the challenges that it has by not being able to be differentiated easily.
Rob: Yeah, I would agree with that. I think I’ve used the phrase picking up crumbs a few times where if you really are similar to most of the other tools in the space, you will get some customers, you are just picking up crumbs as you get lucky, you’re not going to have that key differentiator that people are like, “Oh, my gosh, Bluetick is the only want to do this or Bluetick does this the best.” What are you really known for? It’s positioning.
In your shoes, I would try to get an idea of the entire landscape for all the competitors, the big ones, the small ones, the funded, the unfunded, whether you have a mental model of it, a mind map, or notes on a whiteboard, whatever it is, try to sketch out how are they positioned and how can you try to find feature differentiation.
Mike: Yeah. I definitely have some thoughts on those. The issue that I think I struggle with there is that most of the things that I think would be great to be able to include are packaged into Bluetick that would beat those differentiators, are things that are going to require technical heavy lifting in order to implement. It’s hard to justify spending the time and effort there without solid data to back it up and that data is hard to come by without doing it and then seeing if it works, so to speak.
Rob: I would agree with that.
Mike: It’s exploration, I guess. I definitely think I have to talk to some of my customers a little bit more, though.
Rob: Yeah, that’s what it sounds like. More research to be continued. I’d love to talk about your marketing hire because that sounds cool, but I have another call I have to jump on. I got it, I have to end it here to the groans of both me and the listeners. But there’s one other thing I actually want to ask about. What was your low point over the past month? It sounds like everything is going up into the right in general. Things have been good, you’re in good spirits, you have good answers, you’re thinking about this stuff, but what was the hardest moment or the lowest point in the past since we spoke last, which I think was about three or four weeks ago?
Mike: I would say just making the decision to make certain changes. I think that it’s the inertia of not moving just yet. When you have an idea of, “Oh, this is how I want to solve this problem or these are the things that I need to do,” where do you even start? In terms of inertia, in the past couple of weeks, I’ve been getting up at five o’clock in the morning on average and going to the gym. That’s usually the first thing I’ve done. I’ve exercised three times today. If that gives you any indication, I was at the gym before five o’clock, then I went for a one-mile walk, and after that later on, I went for a two-mile walk.
I’m making some pretty dramatic changes and I feel like they’re going well, they’re giving me energy, and I’m able to get those things done which I’ve never really put a lot of emphasis on my own personal health from the past, but those first four or five days of doing that was just brutally hard. It was really, really hard to just get started. Now that I’ve been doing it for a little while, it’s not a habit yet, by no means are no stretch of the imagination, but I think it’s on its way there. I’d really like to keep seeing that continue.
Rob: Awesome, man. Thanks again for taking the time to come and update us and I’ll talk to you again in a few weeks.
Mike: All right, sounds great.
Rob: Thanks again to Mike for coming back on the show. It’s fun to have him pop in almost like a guest now and again. I wanted to remind you if you’ve been considering potentially becoming a part of TinySeed’s second batch which will start in early 2021, head over to tinyseed.com and enter your email address or if you just want to keep up with what we’re doing, it’s a nice way to do it. We don’t email very often and we will be emailing about news like this when the batch opens, November 1st of this year.
Again, if you have a question for this show that you’d like to hear answered on air, you can leave us a voicemail at (888) 801-9690 or you can email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can enter that as text or attach an MP3.
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In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike talk about handling failed payments, cold calling, and staying accountable. These topics come from more listener questions and Rob and Mike share their expertise and advice on the subjects.
Items mentioned in this episode:
- Blue Tick
- Churn Buster
- Successful DJ
- Startup Stories Podcast
Rob [00:00]: In this episode of Startups for the Rest of Us, Mike and I talk about handling failed payments, cold calling, and staying accountable. This is Startups for the Rest of Us, Episode 276.
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 [00:28]: And I’m Mike.
Rob [00:29]: We’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What do have this week, man?
Mike [00:34]: Well we’ve got an email from Will Samuels, who wrote in to us about our 2015 predictions, and he says he thinks that Rob was right on the storage. He gives us a link to … I think it’s hubic.com, it’s H-U-B-I-C dot com. They are a hosting provider, and they are, I believe the third largest in the world is what he says. According to the “”Way Back Machine, he says that back in March of 2015, they were offering 10 terrabytes of cloud storage for €120 a year, so that’s 5 terrabytes for $65.50. So according to that, Rob you were correct on one of your predictions last year.
Rob [01:13]: Wow, thanks Will, for writing in. Yeah, both you and I tried to look for some confirmation, or otherwise, from our 2015 predictions and it was kind of hard to find them and I think found some shady cloud hosting thing that did this, but I didn’t really want to call it good. So if these guys are the third largest in the world or thereabouts, I think that’s pretty good. Then when I made the prediction again for 2016, I can’t count that as a win, can I?
Mike [01:34]: I don’t think so. In fact, they’ve actually dropped their price, so 10 terrabytes is no longer $130, it’s more like $65 or so at this point. They’ve dropped the price since then, yeah, so 10 terrabytes personal cloud.
Rob [01:47]: Let’s be honest, this is kind of a gimmee. Every time you’re predicting that storage is going to get cheaper in the next year, it’s kind of obvious; like processors are reading it faster, phones are going to get better cameras and high resolution screens. This is not that interesting, but the fact that the price point was actually under that exact point is kind of cool. That’s a lot of storage, man. Five terrabytes, or now I guess, 10 terrabytes for that much?
Mike [02:10]: Yup.
Rob [02:11]: So, I’m running some split test right now on DRIP, on the homepage, and other pages, to try to nail down some messaging. We’ve had the same positioning and messaging for a long time, and I just want to see if something else resonates, because we’ve changed so much over the 18 to 20 months since we really nailed down that headline of “lightweight automation that doesn’t suck”. and I’m wondering if perhaps different ways to phrase that that might resonate with the current traffic to come rather than … the last split test I ran was 18 months ago. S, I always find split testing — I feel like it’s pain to get set up, even with something like Optimize.ly, but man, it’s so much fun. It’s so much fun when you hit Start and you’re just excited. Every morning, I wake up like a kid on Christmas and look at the results to see, is something winning?
Mike [02:52]: I thought you were going to say you’re excited to look at the credit card bill and say, “Oh, I just lost a thousand dollars yesterday.”
Rob [02:57]: Oh nice. Well, that could be the other thing, I guess, right? Like, “Doh! I totallt hosed it.” Yeah, I definitely a keep a close eye – when something like this, when it’s on the homepage, or it’s a high traffic page – I like to keep a pretty close eye, and tabs on it, because you’re right, you can, kind of, screw things up pretty bad pretty quickly, I think.
Mike [03:15]: Yeah, funny you mentioned that, because I’m just kind of in the final stages of finishing marketing plan for my product, Bluetick, and that’s kind of one of those things that I’m looking at pretty heavily right now, is to figure out what should the exact wording of the messaging be. I have my personal favorites picked out, but I’ve also got a list of about 10 different things that I want to go through and start testing to see what resonates with people, and whether or not those things take people through and convince them to actually sign up for, like a mailing list. So I’ve got to look through those, and do some split testing myself, and see what comes out of that, because whatever you think may not necessarily be the winner. It may be, but at that point, you’re just spending $1,000 a day or whatever, but it will be interesting to figure out what happens and what comes out of that.
Rob [03:58]: If I were you, I wouldn’t start with all 10. I would go back to the people who have already bought from you and run those by them and have everybody pick up their top one or two, and then try to aggregate a few from there. Because it seems like you already have a little bit of an audience, and if you have a mailing list as well you could toy around with that. If you felt like sending people an email or ask them to choose how they would describe it, or something like that. It might give you a little leg up so that you don’t have so many things to test, because you need a lot of traffic to test that many options.
Mike [04:30]: Right. I don’t think I was planning on going through and testing all 10 of them, but it also kind of puts in my head the idea that if I go to those list of 12 or 13 people that have place preorders so far, I’ve got their language, so I will essentially be finding more of those people, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s also a very self-selecting group. I wonder if there are other groups out there that it would resonate more with. I don’t know the answer to that, but I’m also not sure whether or not that makes a difference at this point, and I don’t think that it does.
Rob [05:00]: Yeah, yeah. You’re pre-launched now, and so I would focus on super small vertical target market, and if selecting now, then that’s actually good. Because if you go out and try to get multiple groups of people in there, then they’re going to be asking for different features, and it’s going to conflict. I would imagine you have small entrepreneurs and solopreneurs and single founders and probably some bootstrappers in there, that type of thing. If that’s where it’s working right now, I would focus on that for the time being until you feel like you’ve tapped that market out, rather than trying to expand out. Maybe it’s not even premature optimization, but it’s just going to be time consuming to try to do this, when I think there’s other stuff that you could better spend your time doing.
Mike [05:44]: Yeah. Either way, I still have to go out and start doing … I want to start doing some paid acquisition to start acquiring email addresses that I can start building up that mailing list. I think that tying back some of the messaging into that is probably wise at this point. It would at least give me some data points. But you’re right, I don’t think just testing all of them would probably be a good idea at this point. I haven’t really gotten to the point where I’m going to actually pull the trigger on that. I’m just starting that process now.
Rob [06:11]: I think I realized when you said dropping a thousand dollars a day, you meant on ads to split test, right?
Mike [06:16]: Oh yeah.
Rob [06:18]: Okay, because right now you don’t have any organic traffic yet. No, the DRIP that I’m doing, I’m not running any ads to this. This is all the organic traffic that comes through. We get a bazillion visitors a month, so it’s actually going to be pretty easy. I was thinking you meant, when you said losing a thousand dollars a day, I was thinking you meant that if you run a split test and one of them is doing really poorly, that you lose the trials and therefore lose the thousand dollars a day.
Mike [06:39]: Got it. no. I haven’t even thought about that, but I was kind of operating under the assumption that you were going to be doing paid advertising for those split testing, but it makes sense.
Rob [06:47]: Yup, cool. Hey, we have a bunch of new iTunes reviews. Can’t read them all, but I’ll read a couple here. This is from Jerry Weir. He says, “Great show, value in every episode. If you’re at all into starting your own business alone or in a team, you really shouldn’t miss out subscribing for Startups for the Rest of Us. Actionable advice in every episode.”
Then we have one from Prof. Duchamp. Five star review from the US. It says, “Listen or miss out, you choose. If you’re doing anything related to startups, you would be plain silly not to listen to this podcast. Mike and Rob do a really job of exploring the minutiae of building a platform. It’s not about interviewing the biggest names in the industry, or even talking about the trending topics. They get into stuff that really matters. Keep doing what you do.”
Lastly, from Zephron ADR, from the US, he says, “Great content for first time entrepreneurs, great knowledge, thanks for sharing.” We have 462 worldwide reviews in iTunes, and we’re looking to get that number up over 500, so if you haven’t ever given us a five-star review, it would be awesome if you could. Log in to iTunes, hit that five-star. Even if you don’t write a full review like these folks did, you can just click the five-star and it will greatly help us out. If you feel like we’ve given you some value, it would be great to get some back.
Today, we’re answering some more listener questions. We had some really good questions come in, the first one is from Don Felcor, and it’s about handling failed payments and dunning. He says, “Hey Rob and Mike, I’d love to hear how you guys handle subscription problems that relate to failed payments. For example, if you use the default Stripe subscription system, you have three options after the user’s payment method fails three times. Those three options are to “cancel the subscription, to mark it as unpaid, or to leave it as is.”
By default, Stripe selects “cancel the subscription”. I feel this is bad mojo because you then lose the subscription that you worked hard to get. Therefore, I’ve changed it to mark it as unpaid so I can follow up with the customer. Given the other options, what would you recommend SaaS companies do in this case?” Then he has a follow up question. Maybe we’ll answer this one first, and then look at that one later. You have any thoughts about this?
Mike [08:42]: It seems like that’s the way that it should be handled. You don’t necessarily want to just make that subscription go away. You want to go back and talk to those people for a couple of different reasons. One is that it could just be that the credit card failed because it expired or their account was hacked so they got a new credit card. There’s a lot of different reasons for the credit card to fail. So it’s not necessarily uncommon for those things to fail three times, but there’s also a lot of cases where customers have decided, “Hey, I know that my credit card is expiring. I’m going to use that as an opportunity to essentially wipe the slate clean on all of my paid subscriptions, and anything that I really want to renew or that I depend on, then I will renew it.”
Those are the types of people that you probably want to reach out to, that you can at least get some sort of feedback about why it is that they cancelled or why it is that they chose to go in that direction. A couple of other options for getting those customers back…I mean, obviously you can send some sort of dunning email to them if you’re not doing that already, but there are services out there like Churnbuster or Stunning.co that you can use that will go out and try to get those people back for you as customers. It really depends on whether or not you want to be the one reaching out to them or if you’re at a scale where…I don’t want to say that their feedback to you doesn’t necessarily matter, but it is less important to you to hear the specifics of what it is that those people are saying. Those other services might be an option for you if you have other things that are a little bit more important to you than listening to the specifics of what their feedback is.
Rob [10:08]: Yeah, I think the meat of Don’s question is about whether after three email attempts – because that’s what Stripe does, right, it’s built in that they email three times and you can set the intervals. And after they haven’t responded, or updated their card after three attempts, do you cancel the subscription or not? Don says he doesn’t, and that he then wants to touch base with them.
So in my experience of trying to do this manually, and I did this with HitTail for a while in the early days, just because I didn’t know any better and I was experimenting and trying to get the people back. If they didn’t respond to the three credit card expiration emails, I never got a response to a personal email. Either they weren’t getting the emails, they didn’t care about them, they were going to spam, they’ve abandoned the inbox — there was just something, where if they’re not going to open or come back after three emails, I never… and let’s say I emailed by hand maybe 20 or 30 people. It’s not thousands of people, but it was enough that I stopped doing it, because it just was a bad use of my time. So I didn’t get good results from there.
With that said, I think that if you have phone numbers, and you can reach out, I know that that is dramatically more effective. I saw an article by [Allan?] at Less Accounting, where he talked about – this was a couple of years ago – but he talked about, I think it was like his sister doing basically dunning phone calls to people, and that they dramatically changed the number of people who gave them a credit card, and basically an updated card number.
That’s my thought. If someone doesn’t respond to three, and you’re just going to send them another email, I actually don’t think it’s worth it, and I would put their subscription into cancelled mode. Now, with DRIP, we wrote our own engine. We didn’t use the Stripes subscription API, we just used a [bare?] charge API, and as a result, after three emails — I think it’s three, maybe it’s four – your account is pending cancellation, and if you come back and try to log in to that account again, then it says “Hey, your card expired, or your account is cancelled, Just enter a new card here and we’ll get you started again.” It is easy to undo that, and I’m not sure if it is with the Stripe subscription API, because obviously we don’t do that.
Mike [12:06]: I’m not sure if Stripe actually sends those people emails if their payments fail. I think that it initiates a web hook – or you can have it initiate a web hook back to your site – but I don’t know that it actually sends them an email on its own.
Rob [12:17]: Oh got it. Okay. Thank you for that clarification. Absolutely then, I would capture that web hook and send some automated emails – whether you use Stunning or Churnbuster, or whether you just write some code to handle that web hook instead of emails – that has to get done, yes. I don’t think that you – even at a small scale – you don’t want to handle this manually, because it’s going to happen a lot more than you think.
Mike [12:39]: I really like the idea of capturing the phone number and getting in touch with them. It just sounds to me like that’s something you would probably want to do much earlier on in the cycle of them becoming a customer. So maybe a week or two weeks after they’ve become a customer, you pop something up and ask them for their phone number. And you can use that – maybe bribe them in some way, shape, or form. Either you give them an extra amount of service, or discount, or free white paper, or free consultation, like that, in order to gather that information, so if it does happen down the road, then at least you’ve kind of planned for it in advance.
Rob [13:10]: I’m glad you said that. It reminded me of what I did with HitTail. We do something similar with DRIP, although we do it during the guided set-up. We’re asking some other questions, and we do ask phone numbers and say, “We’re going to contact you for billing purposes.” It’s not required, but we get a good response rate to that. With HitTail, I’d coded up this form where it was like every fourth or fifth time you logged in, if you didn’t have a phone number, it would do a little pop-up, and it would say, “Hey, just in case your account gets messed up, can we ask for your phone number? We’ll use it for billing purposes.” We got a nice chunk of phone numbers, and then I went – this is before Stunning and Churnbuster, right – I went and I got an account with, I think it was Coalfire, and they basically do Robo-calling through an API. In essence, I recorded a 45-second call from me, it was just like, “Hey, this is Rob, I’m the owner of HitTail and your credit card is expired, and blah-blah-blah. Go to hittail.com/account to update your credit card.” Something like that. Then that would then fire, after all the emails had gone and people weren’t doing it, then it would put them into a call thing and they would basically get an automated call from me. Most of them hit voice mail – you can see how many hit voice mail and how many didn’t. But the impact of calling versus just emailing was substantial, I will say. I don’t want to give exact numbers, but it was substantially better. Even with Robo-calling, which is not going to be nearly effective as actually having someone do it. So if you’re at any kind of scale, you’re definitely going to want someone to help out and actually make the phone calls.
Then the second part of Don’s question, he says, “On another note, I know from conversations with Derek,” – that’s my co-founder with DRIP – “that he built the billing system for DRIP from the ground up, and it does not use Stripe-built subscription system. If you’ve built it that way,” – which we have – “how do you guys handle this kind of stuff?”
To be honest, we handle it similar to Stripe. We basically just, we retry, and if it fails, then we email. If you notice – I don’t think we’ve ever gotten our dunning emails. I think they might be published on the Stunning.co blog, to be honest, because he did a dunning series. They may have changed since then. But you’ll notice that they’re not shaming, and they don’t sound like they’re coming from a Fortune 500 company. They’re very much personable, and they’re like, “Hey, this happens to everyone sometimes. No problem. All you have to do is…I mean it’s just like talking like a person. I think I sign it as a co-founder of DRIP.
We do that a few times, and like I said, they go into cancellation. They can come back after any length of time, frankly, and reactivate the account. They just have to enter their credit card and make that payment. So thanks for the question, Tom. That was a good one, I’m glad we’re able to discuss it today.
Our next question is from Glenn at archived.io. It’s about cold calling, and he says, “Hey Rob and Mike. I’m in the very early stages of business development. I was wondering if for your B to B businesses, in the early stages, did you do much, or any, cold calling, or possibly cold emailing.” Then he addressed something to you, Mike. He says, “How did you go about finding the prospects to interview while you were doing customer development with Audit Shark.”
Mike [16:00]: So back when I was doing sales level, what I found was as I was trying to do cold calling it generally didn’t work very well for me. What I ended up running into was the fact that, in much larger size accounts, what tends to happen is that those types of accounts have enterprise sales reps who are talking to them from Dell, and HSI, and Tiger Direct, and HP, and places like that, and they’re all basically in the door. So, unless you’re talking to those people, and you’re getting introductions from those people, it can be very difficult to get anyone’s attention.
That tends to be more at the manager, or director of IT, level. I wasn’t trying to get in at the lower level people, like the end engineers or things like that. Although I did try to do that as well. I never had much success with it, but it could be just a matter of either the calling scripts that we were using, or the types of people that we were calling, and the leads that we ended up dredging up. It honestly just didn’t end up working very well for me. I do know that there are people out there who are making it work, and they’re doing extremely well with it, but they’re also in, I would say, different businesses where their products are not necessarily aimed at the IT department. So I can’t really speak outside of the IT department, because I haven’t done anything with larger companies outside of that area.
Rob [17:20]: I have not done cold calling in the early stages of a product – frankly in any stages of a product. I did used to do some cold emailing outreach, but it’s very, very specific, when I was consulting and contracting. I would email designers and other folks, to try to get work, and that actually worked pretty well. I mean, if you really hone it, and I wouldn’t email a hundred or 200 people. I would email like 10 in our local area and I would say, “Hey, here’s what I am. I can be your outsource developer, blah-blah-blah.” I had a pretty well-written email that got me some leads. I think cold email like that can actually work reasonably well. The other option is something that’s pretty popular these days, with the publication of Predictable Revenue – which is a book by one of the guys who helped grow Salesforce – is this cold outbound email to these large lists. So you can use a service like LeadFuze, or LeadGenius, and they will put together a lead list based on your criteria, and they will email them. If you don’t have the budget for it, you can totally Google this and people will show you how to do it. It’s not that hard, it’s just a lot of manual, grinding work, because you can’s mass email this lists. That’s spam, but if you send each email individually using a tool like Tout or Yesware – there are a lot of tools in that space – and you customize the email reasonably well, you can actually get some traction here and get some demos if you have a decent value proposition.
So I wouldn’t say that cold calling is dead, or doesn’t work, or anything like that, but I don’t think it’s a good use of your time, necessarily, early on, unless you really are trying to access a market where a cold email isn’t going to work. Maybe if you’re selling to realtors, or you’re selling to someone who is by the phone all the time and is going to pick up, I think that might have some legs. I think that may be the best way to get a hold of them, because in general, realtors tend not to respond to emails. If you’re marketing to designers or online marketers or software developers, or something, cold calling is probably not going to be a good way to do it, and you either got to do it through cold email, or frankly, just getting some semi-warm introductions. I think before I’d start doing cold stuff, I would think about running ads to a landing page and getting some prospects there. You get 10, 20, 30 emails and you don’t then have to go outreach. You can just basically say, “Hey, you’re interested in this. Let’s talk more about it.” That’s an interesting idea.
Another one is to think about going to your network before you try to do cold outreach that’s so time intensive, and trying to figure out if you know people who can recommend others who might be interested in this. So I think there’s two ways to think about this cold outreach. It’s like in the early stages of your company, when you’re just doing customer development and you’re just trying to figure out what to build, it’s not going to scale. But yeah, I think that maybe you should consider doing it if that’s really what you need to do and you can’t figure out a way using ads or using the network to get around it.
Then in the later stages, once the company’s growing and you’re looking to scale, I think that cold emailing has, kind of, been proven to be an effective medium. For the time being, anyways, everyone’s getting into it, and when everyone gets into these marketing approaches, they tend to stop working. I’m getting so many cold emails now that I’m already seeing the effectiveness of them drop. So I think, like infographics and like – what was it five years before that – certain things come into vogue, and then they go out of vogue. I think that cold emailing will be around, but I think it’s effect in this – especially with the technorati, who are getting all these same emails from everybody – I think the effectiveness of it is going down and will continue to do over time.
Mike [20:50]: One thing that you mentioned in there that I want to expand on was the idea of asking for introductions to people. I found that that works extremely well, especially if you find one person who is interested in what you have to offer and is interested in talking to you. So even if you don’t have a product yet, and you have one person in your network that you can talk to, you can ask them for an introduction and say, “Hey, are there three people that you can think of that you can introduce me to that might have this particular problem?” If they can’t get you one right away, I think that there’s a couple of videos from [?] talking about exactly this thing, where even if they say no right away, just say “Okay, just give me one. I just want one,” because that one person can lead to three others who are not in your personal network. And after a while, when all of those roads start pointing back to the same people, then that method has probably been saturated to some extent, because when I was going through this for Bluetick, I was asking that exact same question of people. What I found was that there’s one person who’s several people in a row would start recommending me back to him, and I’m like, “Okay, well, this network of people is probably, at least, a little bit saturated.” Obviously, I didn’t go through every single list of everyone that I had access to, but I got to a point where it was obvious that a lot of people were pointing back to the same people.
Rob [21:53]: Good question, Glenn. Thanks for sending it in. Our next question is a voice mail from Rudy, and he’s asking about starting two product ideas at once.
Rudy [22:01]: Hey there, guys. This is Rudy. I own [?] I have a quick question. I’ve been [?] for a little bit of a short while now, and I ran into a problem and some people then came up with a product idea for the solution to that problem. As guys that are involved with multiple ventures, and kind of dabble in different projects. What’s your advice on trying to manage maybe starting two product ideas at once, or trying to build something that would both solve your present need with a different existing business, as well as solve other users’ needs in different niches. Thanks.
Mike [22:41]: I think the technical term for this is Objectivius Shinium Syndromus, which is Shiny Object Syndrome.
Rob [22:47]: Yeah, the scientific name.
Mike [22:49]: There’s a scientific name for this.
Rob [22:50]: Episode 170 of this podcast, 12 Strategies for Avoiding Shiny Objects Syndrome. That’s exactly what I was thinking too.
Mike [22:55]: Yeah, it just seems to me like, yes, it’s a problem that you kind of need to be solved, but if you’re looking at it as something else that you can build, it’s very easy to get distracted from what you’re currently working on. It’s also very easy to let your attention, kind of, drift off to those other things.
Now, if your current business is kind of stalling out, and it’s not because you’re getting distracted, then maybe it’s worth looking at that as kind of the next area that you’re going to go at, but it seems to me like trying to build something like that and making it into a full-blown product is probably not a good use of your time.
One of the things that come to mind is Rob with DRIP. Very early on in the stages of building DRIP, what you had wanted to do was you wanted to be able to collect email addresses on the HitTail website. So you built this little widget that you could install onto the site to help collect email addresses and send them into an email campaign. That eventually turned into what is now DRIP, but you didn’t let that distract you too much from building on HitTail. You still buckled down and got everything on HitTail that you needed to do, and you didn’t turn that into a product until you had made the conscious decision that, “Hey, I’ve taken HitTail really as far as I want to go right now, and I want to go do something else, because everything is fine here and I just want to build a different product.”
So it seems to be like this may very well be one of those situations where if you build something, make it something for you, make it something you use internally, and if it gets you to where you need to go with your current products, awesome. But I would not spend any time and effort to build it out into like a full-fledged product for other people, because that involves a whole world of other problems that you’re going to need to dig into.
Rob [24:42]: Yup, that would be my advice as well. I think that it’s easy to see something and think of it as going to be more fun or easier than what you’re working on now. If you are ready to completely abandon what you’re doing now, then I’d say consider this. Because in essence, your summary of the HitTail to DRIP transition is mostly accurate. Basically, Derek was contracting for me at the time and he built that little widget. I was at the point where HitTail was already – we were not starting out. It was already generating somewhere between $20,000 to $30,000 a month, every month, as a SaaS app. Given the return and a bunch of other factors, I saw that it was topping out. I could have pushed it further by really digging in and building a bunch more features and doing a whole revamp, but I started evaluating the landscape, the SEO space, the [not provided]?. “There’s just a bunch of things, factors that are coming into play, and you know what? I think I’m kind of ready to move on. I think I’ve accomplished a lot here, and I’ve learned a lot.” And I was ready to move on to another business. I did keep HitTail running on the side. It declined over time, slowly, but it was able to fund the next project, which is now bigger.
Even that, trying to manage two things at once- trying to grow one and manage another – was a challenge. I would be very, very hesitant – not just hesitant, I would never start two projects at once. Don’t try to grow two things at once. That’s my unequivocal advice, is not do that. Owning two things at once is doable, if you get someone to manage one. As long as you’re not trying to grow both of them at once, because it’s the growth that really takes the founder and the creative thought, and it takes some mental energy. If you split that between two things, neither of them is going to go very far. If you’re thinking about building this other product, I would abandon the first one. That’s a decision that you have to make at this point.
All right, last question for the day is another voice mail. It’s about how to manage a project from conception to completion.
Bran [26:25]: Hey, what’s up guys? Big fan of the show. This is Bran from successfuldj.com. What my question is is about project management. I was listening to a little bit of the startup documentary, Rob. I just want to say that was awesome. Thank you for putting that out. But I’m curious about how you guys do project management. I was hoping you could do an episode where you walk us through how you go from, let’s say, the concept of DRIP to the creation of DRIP. I know you did that in the documentary, but if you could take maybe a smaller project and concept, and just give us some ideas in terms of software you use – [?], Trell, to do it, whatever it is, and some mistakes you made in the past with project management, and how you just keep everything streamlined and efficient in terms of breaking things down into small pieces, and what to put on the “to do” list, et cetera, et cetera. Keep up the good work, guys. I’m loving the show as always. Talk to you later.
Rob [27:20]: To clarify, he mentioned the Startup Documentary. That is the documentary that Derek and I recorded. It’s an audio documentary, as we were building DRIP, over the course of 9 months. That’s at startupstoriespodcast.com if you haven’t heard that before.
Mike, the reason I wanted to talk about this in this episode, instead of doing an entire episode around it, is I actually think it’s a lot simpler than most people think. I think he asked for mistakes that we made, and the mistake that I made in the past is putting too much process, or going too heavyweight. Seeing someone break out Microsoft Project to manage a three- or four-month software project. I have a couple of tools that I use pretty loosely, with some light process around it in order to manage features or even entire DRIP process. But I’m curious to hear, before that, what you use. Because right now, you’re in the middle of building Bluetick. What kind of tools and process you have set up?
Mike [28:13]: Sure. I think there’s two different aspects to this question that, kind of, came to mind when he was talking about it. The first one is what tools do you use, and how do you basically manage the flow of data back and forth between them. Then the second piece of it is, how do you decide what to do, and when? I think that those are related things, but the tools do not necessarily dictate what you’re doing and what order. They can, especially if you were to use Project, or anything like that, where you can put up cascades between one task and the next.
For what I’m doing now, I use probably three different tools pretty extensively. The first one is FogBugz, which is where all of the development tasks go. So anything that is related to code, or back end or front end application changes, all of that stuff goes in FogBugz. Everythig that’s basically product development oriented goes in there. I manage all of that code, and all the various sprints, and what we’re working on, all of that goes in there.
For all of the marketing stuff, I have a teamwork.com account, and I actually have two different projects that have been there. One for the engineering team, which I did not expect them to use, and they have not used at all yet. So it’s there if they need it, if they need to share files or whatever, but we also have kind of a Dropbox on the back end that everybody has access to the same sharer. So if they really needed to share larger files, they could, and it’s all connected to my account, so it counts against my storage space. Then I also have inside of Teamwork, I have a specific project set aside for just all of my marketing tasks.
Now the other thing that I use pretty extensively is a Goggle Doc, where I put together a marketing plan for Bluetick. What I did is – I actually have been working on that for the past couple of weeks. I sat down and I decided what my goals are, how am I going to get there, what the product is, how do I describe it to people, what are some of the descriptions and potential headlines that I used, what are the concerns that people have about the product, why would they use it? I have stuff in there about pricing, and all these other things that go into the marketing document. But most of them are really just notes. They are things for me to look at and review, and think about how I want to address that problem, or some of the different ideas or thoughts that I have about that particular piece of it.
Then what I do is I take those things and then I translate them into my Teamwork account and say, “These are definitive things that need to be checked off as something to do.” For example, in my marketing plan I might have the idea of hiring writers. Then I have like a bunch of different job boards, or places where I might find writers. Then I take that over into my Teamwork account and I write it down and I say, “Okay, if I’m going to through, and I’m going to do a content marketing campaign, these are the places that I can go and evaluate a writer. But, one of my tasks is going to be to go each of these things, do a little bit of research, find a writer, and then hire them.” Then it then leads into the other tasks. The document itself is really just for me to kind of basically spew out all of my different thoughts on a particular topic, because Teamwork is much more for lists of tasks, and being able to iterate through those. There is like a notebook section, but because it’s not really tied over to the tasks section it’s a little bit more difficult for me to use it in that way. So those are the tools that I use in terms of process. I kind of start from that marketing plan document and decide what needs to be done, and then it goes over into Teamwork. Again, all of the software development stuff gets managed directly through that other side of things inside of FogBugz.
Rob [31:44]: For me, when I’m first starting a project out, I don’t use any type of issue tracking. I go into basically a Google spreadsheet, or an Excel — it used to be an Excel spreadsheet — and sit down with a developer, or if I’m building it myself…I forgot what are the top objects. Typically if it’s a web app, I look at web pages. If it’s a mobile app, I would look at screens. If it’s a desktop app, I’d look at screens or forms, I guess you’d call them. Then I’d try to throw some time in there for database development, and some project management, and database design, and that kind of stuff. Then go right to the screens and say, “How long it’s going to take to build each of these?” And throw estimates at everything in a big Excel spreadsheet, or Google spreadsheet these days. Then start working and deduct those as I go so I know where the project is. So it’s basically an entire project tracking mechanism just within the spreadsheet.
There are some more exotic stuff you can do that I’ve talked about in the podcast before, but you basically can say how many hours a day you’re working on it, and then you can set a date, using – there’s a workday function – where it just automatically tells you when you’re going to deliver this, based on how many days a week you work. So If you don’t work a few days, it just continues to push the date out. You can physically see at the bottom of that Excel spreadsheet continually getting pushed out. It’s pretty motivating when you see that.
The reason I do that, instead of stuffing everything into an issue tracker, like a FogBugz or Github Issues, or Codetree, is because early on you might have 50 things that all have to get done, and you’re kind of just hammering through them. I don’t want to have to update 50 issues independently. I’m just trying to aggregate everything, because you really are coding this in a block, right? And this is maybe a three- to six-month project, and if it’s one or two developers just sharing that doc with someone working with them like me basically driving the project, this is I found to be a lot more efficient than having every individual task in a tracker.
Once we start getting towards the end and it becomes more of a punch list thing, we were actually looking at maybe 10 or 12 individual tasks left in order to get to a certain milestone, and then you really do need to start measuring stuff, that’s when I switch over to more an issue tracker and enter them individually. Of course, at Drip we use Codetree, which is built over GitHub issues essentially. It’s like a nice sprinkling layer on top of that that helps your prioritize and do other stuff.
That’s really it. I’ve never been a fan of the heavyweight project management tools. I think, if you are managing 10 developers, or you’re on a big enterprise team where you have a lot of communication, you do need it. You know, you’re a big company. But for small startups, the gift that we have, or the advantage that we have, is that we move quickly. I’ve found that a lot of the PM tools that I’ve seen tend to weigh you down a bit more. Now with that said, I still have not tried Teamwork. I have an account that we got for MicroComf Europe, and I do want to try it, because I’ve heard so many good things about it, and I know that Peter and his team have certainly built something good there. So I’m tempted to do that, perhaps for a future project. So I think that would be the one othercaveat I would lend to it.
Mike [35:05]: Yeah, I think that in terms of the development side of things, I think that it’s more a matter of personal preference than anything else. There’s no right or wrong answer, it’s what works for you. What I was running into was that for the development team that I’ve got working with me on Bluetick, I wanted them to basically handle everything. Because of that, when I took all the different UI mockups that I’ve run through people who have placed preorders, I took a PDF of those mockups, sent them off to the development team and said, “Look, this is what you’re going to be responsible for building, and I want you to give me a time estimate of how long it’s going to take you to build each of these screens.” From those, they were able to break those down into individual tasks inside of FogBugz, and apply an estimate to those and say, “Okay, to put the screen together is going to take me, let’s say, two hours or three hours or whatever. And then to wire it up is going to take another hour. And to do unit testing. or whatever, it’s going to take another hour on top of that, whatever those numbers happen to be.
What that did for me is it allowed me to go from there and then look at the total report and make sure that none of their task estimates were more than four hours. If they were, I could go back to them and say, “Hey, you need to break this down a little bit further, because we need to be sure that this is probably more accurate than not.” Then using that information, I was able to go back in and, kind of, look at a report and say, “Where on the timeline is getting all of this stuff done going to fall? Is it going to be closer to four weeks, is it going to be closer to eight weeks?” Just having all of those hours added up was really helpful. The point is really what those hours add up to; how you do it, whether it’s in FogBugz or in a spreadsheet, it is almost immaterial. It’s more a matter a matter of personal preference than anything else.
Rob [36:17]: I think that’s a good point. It’s like, don’t get hung up on the tools. Seth Godin will often not talk about the tools he uses to write, because he doesn’t want everyone to try to use the tools he uses to write, because that’s not what makes him Seth Godin. I would say the same thing with project management. You can ask for advice, you can get a suggestion, try out a couple of different approaches. Obviously Mike and I have very different approaches. Try out both of them, and just pick one. Don’t go looking for the tool that’s going to make your project succeed, because it’s not the tool that’s going to do it. It’s you and your developers and your team that’s going to do it. You can even use some pretty shoddy tools and get some good work done. It’s happened in my career, where we’ve been forced to use things that don’t work that well, and you can still produce good product. Other times you can use the best tool available and you can turn up crap. It’s really much more you and you’re team in terms of actually getting things done on time.
Mike [37:00]: I think that about wraps us up for today. If you have a question for us, call it into our voice mail number, 1 888 801 9690, or you can email it to us at email@example.com. Our theme music is an excerpt from ‘We’re Out of Control’ by MoOt, used under Creative Commons. Subscribe to us on iTunes by searching for startups in business, 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 talk about setting your yearly goals and some processes to use in order to make sure you meet those goals.
Items mentioned in this episode:
Mike [00:00]: In this episode of Startups For the Rest of Us, Rob and I are going to be talking about how to set annual goals. This is Startups For the Rest of Us, Episode 268.
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 Mike.
Rob [00:23]: And I’m Rob.
Mike [00:23]: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. How are you doing this week, Rob?
Rob [00:27]: Doing pretty good. I’m gearing up/down for the holidays, gearing up to hunker down. I want to do some reading, some thinking, and some high-level plotting of next year. I don’t know if I’ll be able to take my retreat in the next two weeks, but it’s getting to be that time, because I really need to nail down how I want 2016 to shake out, the goals that I want to achieve, and frankly taking an in-depth look at how 2015 went and measure it up to the goals that I set last year. And we’re going to do that in an upcoming episode. I think it’s next week where we actually revisit the goals we set last year, talk about whether or not we achieved them, and then look at our 2016 goals. So I’m hoping to take some time in the next couple of weeks, and then go on my retreat hopefully to nail everything down. How about you?
Mike [01:09]: Well, I’ve been recovering from about two weeks’ worth of major back inflammation. My back’s been acting up on me again, so there were several days where I literally just could not even sit down.
Rob [01:19]: That’s a bummer.
Mike [01:19]: So I basically just laid in bed and read the entire time, because I literally couldn’t do anything else. So five chiropractor visits later and a ton of Aleve, I’m feeling better, but there’s still lingering issues to get over.
Rob [01:32]: Yeah. It’s really hard to get work done when you’re debilitated like that.
Mike [01:36]: Well, when you can’t even sit at your desk. Literally I was just sitting there. It was painful.
Rob [01:40]: Yeah, it’s a real issue. So MicroConf sold out pretty quickly.
Mike [01:43]: Yeah, what was it? Do we have official time on that? Was it seven minutes, or was it six?
Rob [01:48]: Yeah. It was pretty bad. So we did it in waves this year where we sold through Academy members first, then returning attendees, and then the early bird list. And each year it has sold out faster and faster. So we’re having some internal discussions of what we want to do next year in terms of there’s a lot of possibilities, right? You could throw a third conference. You could expand this conference, which is something we haven’t really wanted to do in terms of the size. There’s a lot of alternatives. I think as [Xander?] said, it’s a success problem. It’s a good problem to have, but it’s definitely a problem that we need to think about ways to work around.
Mike [02:18]: Yeah. As you said, there’s a bunch of different potential solutions, but every single one of them also comes with its own set of problems. So trying to figure out what the lesser of two evils is – or the lesser five evils, I guess in some cases – is a little bit difficult.
Rob [02:33]: Right. Because is MicroConf still MicroConf if there are 325 people there?
Mike [02:37]: Yeah. I don’t know. The thing is it’ll change no matter what. I mean, if you’re just adding people it will it make it change? But I also think that much of it is the factor of how much year-over-year growth there is. So if you go from, let’s say, 250 to 400, obviously that’s a much bigger difference than 250 to 325. But even that doesn’t necessarily solve the problems. So tough call, tough call.
Hey, we’ve got all good listener question here come in from [Jeremy Vot?], and he says, “Hi, Rob and Mike. Love the show. I’m curious about something I’ve seen, and recently I’ve seen Rob do it with DRIP, which is to giveaway e-books and video courses for a limited time, and then charge for them. I assume they’re free for things like webinars as gifts. So in all reality, these are free items. So my question is about the strategy of putting a cost to them. Do people actually buy them? Is it simply to give them more value in their minds? Thanks, Jeremy.”
Rob [03:24]: Yeah, that’s a good question. The bottom line is the reason we put a price on them is to communicate the value of what they would be worth if they were not subsidized by the main business, which is obviously the software business – the email marketing software known as DRIP. What we did is we literally sat down in the office and said, “What would this be worth if we were running an info product business, and how much would we sell this for?” And we released a set of three e-books a few weeks ago on email marketing, beginners’ guides, and we released a 20-part video series. It’s an interview series with Patrick McKenzie on DRIP email marketing and tactics and things like that. In both cases, we set it less than I think I would have if we were really trying to turn a profit.
But the idea was, A, to communicate the value, and B, yeah, we have actually sold several copies. It was funny, several hundred dollars’ worth of the e-books, and I was surprised that that happened. But it’s a nice little perk. We were joking that it’s our espresso/snack fund for the office, because it’s not any real revenue compared to what the main product is driving. But it does, A, make these things worth it. So it’s not like we’re giving away a free e-book on XYZ, because instantly that makes you think that this thing’s probably not very good. And they are good. We spent literally thousands and thousands of dollars across writing, editing, and the design and the layout and all that stuff. And we packaged something that is worthwhile, and so we wanted to put a value on it. And there’s also a nice thing. We give it away free for seven days, so there is a little bit of time urgency for people to download the thing. And it’s not something that is going to be free forever, and so you’re able to get it into more people’s hands sooner.
But coming back to it again, I don’t think you can just put a price tag on some white paper that you crank out that’s not actually valuable or not worth it, because that will come back to bite you. It negatively impacts the brand. People start thinking, “Well, they’re putting out crap and putting a price on it just to try to fool people,” and that’s not a good way to go. And so we’ve been very careful that any of these things we do put out are what I consider very high quality. They are production-level, things that I have no qualms about selling. And the people who have purchased them, no one has asked for a refund. So they’re obviously worth that to these folks.
Mike [05:22]: Yeah. The first thing that jumped into my mind when I saw this question was part of it was to set that time urgency so that people would pick it up sooner rather than putting it on the back burner. And that would also, I assume, drive people to your email list so that you can then do marketing to them afterwards.
Rob [05:37]: So what are we talking about today?
Mike [05:38]: Today, what we’re going to talk about is how to set your annual goals. And we’ve talked in the past about goal-setting in general and using a system that’s commonly known as SMART. It’s setting goals that are specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time-bound. And in this episode, what we you want to do is we want to focus specifically on how to set your yearly goals. Because this is essentially a timeboxed set of goals that you are going to have for a one-year period, and the idea here is that you want to be able to meet all of those goals. So obviously, in setting your annual goals, we’re going to conform to that SMART system. But this is going to talk through the process of how to go about setting those goals and some other things that should go along with it that are associated with that process, but not necessarily part of the goals themselves.
Rob [06:23]: Right. So we’re not going to rehash SMART here. We have talked about it in the past. A lot of folks have talked about it, and it’s. kind of, the elementary thing that you may have heard a little too much about at this point. Really we’re going to talk about seven ways to set goals that are meaningful and that are worth setting.
Mike [06:39]: And to make sure that you’re achieving them throughout the year, because obviously I think that there’s a lot of people who set their yearly goals and then they just don’t look at them for the rest of the year. They’ll maybe revisit them in September or October or November timeframe and say, “Oh, yeah. I haven’t even started on that yet.” So this process is really about not just setting those annual goals, but making sure that you’re putting systems in place, or forcing functions in place, that will help you to meet those goals throughout the year with various milestones.
So we’re going to walk through the seven different steps in this process, and the first step is to make the time to set your annual goals. And the problem I’ve been guilty of in the past on occasion is to set goals when I have time. Or I’ll think about them and say, “Oh, I should do this” or “I should do that.” And what I’m not doing is I’m not really dedicating time to sit down and really give some serious thought to it and making sure that those things are a priority rather than an afterthought.
Rob [07:33]: Yeah. And I typically do this in an annual retreat. We’ve mentioned it here before. And we did spend a whole episode of ZenFounder — if you go back to the ZenFounder Episode 2, we talk all through founder retreats. And this has been an impactful part of my entrepreneurial journey for the past, I think it’s three years, maybe four. And it’s a bit of a learned skill, but the more you do it, the more addicting it becomes to do it because you realize the value of it. I, kind of, view like It’s like an annual meditation where you go off by yourself and you carve out this time to review the past year and look at the future. And I use it as my goal-setting device. My goal of coming out of that two-day retreat that I do is that all my goals are set, and my vision for the next 12 months is secure.
Mike [08:20]: Exactly. And the first part of this process is making sure that you’re setting aside the time to do that. Because if you don’t set aside the time, you’re not really planning it out. You’re thinking about it, it’s, kind of, on your mind, but it’s not really a main focus. And I think if you’re going to do something as serious as setting these annual goals, you really need to make it a priority and make it your main focus for whether it’s several hours or a couple of days with a weekend retreat, something like that. It needs to be the primary focus of what you’re looking at, not just something you do a couple of hours here or a couple of hours there, or even just when 20 or 30 minutes here or there.
Rob [08:51]: Yeah, I agree. And you may have to do some trading. If you have kids, and your spouse needs to watch the kids for that weekend, then you may have to trade and work something out to where this is possible. If you want to do an overnight somewhere, it’s not always straightforward, and there may be some sacrifice involved. But I think there’s a lot of value in taking the time to set these goals.
Mike [09:08]: So once you’ve set aside that time to do it, Step 2 of the process is to recap the current year. And you have to give some thoughts on what went well, why did it go well, or what are the things that you didn’t accomplish that you wanted to, or are there things that you want to happen in the current year that you just weren’t able to fit into the schedule? I also think that what you want to do is you want to make sure that on your list for the following year, you want to keep in mind what it is that you want to be celebrating the following year. So at this time in December of next year, what is it that you want to be looking back on and saying, “Yeah, I’m really proud of that. I set this goal and I was able to achieve it.”? What is that? It might just be one thing. It might be two things. But you have to give some thought to what that is, in advance.
Rob [09:46]: Yeah, and this is a loose outline and, kind of, a high level. It doesn’t cover all elements of basically the outline of what I used for my retreat. And I took that, of course, from Sherry and adapted it for my purposes. And then she had also taken it from some monk from the 1300s who had a meditation and looked back and said, “What gave me life in the past year? What took life? What do I want to do more of? What do I want to do less of?”
There’s a brainstorming element of it. I always use my Moleskin notebook and I write a bunch of stuff, just page after page of notes. Sherry has a big sheet of butcher paper, sketches ideas out, thoughts, and she keeps the butcher paper from year-to-year. And, of course, I keep the Moleskine notebook. You can do it whatever. You can do it on your computer if you want. I find that the computer tends to tempt me to go check email, or go screw around on the internet, and so I like the feel of pen and paper because it is just so different. It doesn’t make me think of work like the computer does. But to each their own, and you want to figure out which way you do it. But I think recapping the current year and really looking at what you want to do more and less of ,and how you’re going to get there is your first step to setting these goals.
Mike [10:46]: And if you go over to ZenFounder.com or look it up in iTunes or whatever your favorite podcasting app is, there’s a really good episode. I think it’s Episode 2 in ZenFounder where it discusses how to go about a personal retreat. And I think we’ve talked a little bit about it on this podcast before as well.
So moving on, Step 3 in the process is to limit yourself to one or two major goals. And the thought behind this is that these goals are going to take quite a while to reach, and it might take you four to six months to even reach one of them. But you also have to allot some time for essentially a little bit of extra padding in case things go wrong, or you get sick, or some family emergency comes up and it’s going to set you back several weeks or a couple of months. There’s always other things are going to come up, and you have to make sure that you take those into account. But once you’ve got your one or two major goals set then you start doing backwards planning in order to set your quarterly, monthly, and weekly goals. And along with this, you can start setting milestone goals that will give you specific feedback about what your progress is along the way. What you don’t want to do is you don’t want to have this big, fat, hairy audacious goal that you’ve set, and no real way to track how far along you are on that goal. So if it’s writing a book, for example, you don’t want to just say, “Hey, I’m going to write a book.” You want to be able to spell out how far along you’re going to be at different points to be able to make sure you are on track to finish that goal.
Rob [12:04]: I think that especially if you’re not totally in control of your time yet – meaning you have a full-time job, or consulting, or things where you’re not just working on your own products – I think one to two goals is where you want to be. And I think one goal can be, “I want to have quit my job by the end of the year.” Or it might be, “I want to only be doing 10 hours of consulting a week, or zero consulting.” That, for me, was my goal for several years in a row. I didn’t go through this process at that point. I wasn’t doing retreats. This is, let’s say, back in 2006, 2007, and 2008. But I knew that that was my one goal, and then I work backwards from that. And I have just focused all my energy on growing my apps, or acquiring apps, or building apps, or doing whatever in order to hit that revenue mark, and there was a number that I needed to make.
And so if you don’t have your “freedom” yet from your job, or from contracting, that, I think, has to be a goal of yours, assuming that you want to do the entrepreneurial life. If you already have products or you’re already working full-time for yourself in essence on your own products, and you’re making a full-time living from them, I think you can have more than one or two goals. I think you’re in a position where you have more control over it, and I think that having a revenue goal and then maybe a goal of launching something new, whether it’s a new, I don’t know, podcast or blog or even a new product or some new major marketing efforts around your existing product, I think all of those could be included in your goals. And it, kind of, depends on how you label the major goals, but I think early on that you’re going to want to keep it to one to two, and then you can maybe expand it a little later as you get a better feel for how much you can actually get done in a year. Because I think most of us early on overestimate how much you can get done. And then you become more and more pessimistic as you set these goals and you review at the end of each year, and you realize, “Boy I really didn’t get that much done.” And you start pushing stuff off to the next year. You become a bit more realistic about it.
Mike [13:58]: Step 4 in the process is to identify specific ways that you can hold yourself accountable through the various milestones that you’ve set up. And the idea here is that you want to set up an automated system that will essentially ensure that you don’t forget about the milestones along the way, or that you aren’t letting things slide. And you can do this through a variety of different ways. You can use a mastermind group. You can use an accountability partner. Your spouse or significant other is also a good one, or a fellow business owner. If you meet up for drinks, or lunch, or dinner, or something like that on a regular basis with anyone else who is doing the same types of things as you are, you can use them to essentially to bounce ideas off of, and essentially just put together an outline and say, “Hey, every week or every two weeks, this is what we’re going to talk about.”
And you have to schedule this time. One of the things that I’ve found is that if I don’t set aside the time for this, if I don’t actually schedule these periodic check-ins to go back and look at that, it’ll be three or four months before I even go back and look at my goals. So you have to schedule the time and make sure that in some way, shape, or form, that you are paying attention to that moving forward. Because it’s very easy, as Rob said, to just push things off. I find that if you have an automated email that comes in to you every week or every two weeks – this is one of the things that we do in our mastermind group – is we have a link that just gets emailed to us every Monday morning that points to the Google Doc, and that tends to work really well just by drawing attention to it. But at the same time, it’s also fairly easy to almost ignore that, or bypass it, just because it comes in on a Monday and we don’t meet until Tuesday night. So depending on the timing or scheduling of that, it might be a factor. But if you schedule it very close to a particular meeting, it’s going to pop into your email and you’ll see it shortly before the meeting. It’ll be essentially a trigger to remind you, “Hey, we need to discuss this.”
So again, any of those things – mastermind group, accountability partner, all of those things – if there are triggers that you can set in place, especially if they’re automated to remind you that hey, you need to review this on this periodic basis, that will help you to hold yourself accountable to those milestones.
Rob [16:01]: I pretty much always have a revenue goal for the main product I’m working on, which has been DRIP for the past few years and was HitTail before that. And what I have found as extremely helpful for me in the mastermind groups that I’m in is at the end of every month, the next mastermind that I have, I say what the revenue was. And just forcing myself to calculate it to the penny and report it in the mastermind group, even though people aren’t necessarily holding me super accountable to anything in the meetings, it really helps me visualize where I am on the path to that goal. And the nice part is your mastermind folks aren’t going to remember your revenue from month to month, so it forces you to basically say, “Hey, two months ago, I was at this. Last month, we were at this. And now, we’re at this.” And it makes you actively think, “Oh boy, we only grew by a thousand each of the last two months. I’m not going to get there if I grow that slowly.” Or if you can say, “Well, last month we grew by 5000, like the month before,” then suddenly you just become more aware of it because you have to explain it to another person. It’s like the concept of how you really know something once you can teach it. I think that, for me, I’ve always calculated monthly revenue. I’ve always looked at it. But something that helps me absorb it and process it is to then explain it to the folks in my groups. And it really helps solidify that, and it adds this level of a recurring accountability milestone.
Mike [17:21]: The fifth step in the process is to identify your motivational triggers, and these motivational triggers can be either positive or negative. So a positive motivational trigger would encourage you to do more work, or to be more productive, while a negative one would essentially hold you back from that, whether it’s making you procrastinate or just doing some form of work avoidance, or spending too much time on certain things because you feel like maybe they’re ultra important and they need to be just perfect. Those are the types of things that you need to identify so that you can implement additional ways to make sure that those things are not holding you back, or that you are encouraging those motivational triggers that are positive. And these are essentially feedback loops that you want to set up.
Everyone has a different motivational trigger. Some people are positively reinforced by money or fame. Or other people who just say, “Hey, I just want to be healthy.” They don’t necessarily have these giant, grandiose goals, but they just want to concentrate on their family, or they want to concentrate on personal learning. Each of these things, there’s nothing right or wrong with any of them, but you have to recognize what your own motivational triggers are and then set up feedback loops so that you can make sure that you positively reinforce and double-down on those ones that are positive and reduce or eliminate the ones that are negative.
Rob [18:34]: Recently with DRIP, we’ve launched those two knowledge products; that e-book that I mentioned that we gave away for free for a week and then started selling, and then the video series with Patrick McKenzie. And what I’ve noticed is the motivational trigger during that time was that the positive feedback of doing something risky and doing something scary in public, right, because you launch it, you email the list, and you’re wondering, “Boy, are people are going to like this? Is it going to go well? Or is all this time and money we spent just going to go out to crickets?” And I saw excitement in the team as we were reporting the numbers and the number of downloads, and the number of uploads on product time, and the number of comments and all that stuff. And so for me, doing things in public and getting positive or negative feedback has always been a trigger of one kind. And I think the further I’ve gotten away from that, You know, I blog less than I used to due to time constraints. Luckily, I still have the podcast and the conference and stuff. But I think that getting back to the things that really matter to you, and push you in a virtuous cycle, I think, is important. I know that I’ve just recently rediscovered that and remember it. I published just a couple of blogs posts in the past few months. And the feedback, and just knowing that I pushed something out into the world again, and writing – it was something I don’t do often – was really a motivational trigger for me. And so I think that learning that about yourself, and then noting it down and not forgetting – which is frankly what I’ve done as I’ve stepped away from that – I think it’s a positive thing.
Mike [19:57]: And some of those things you just talked about lead us into Step 6 of the process, which is to identify the patterns that indicate that you’re demotivated. And some of these things just boil down to a basic sense of procrastination, but sometimes you can recognize certain patterns. So, for example, maybe you wake up later than you usually do because you lack focus, or clarity, or lack a sense of drive to just get out of bed and start working on your product. And this is especially true if you own your own time and you aren’t sure what you should be doing. And it’s very difficult to motivate yourself to get out of bed and sit down and be motivated to be productive if you’re not really sure what it is that you’re driving for, or what you’re trying to do, or you’re not sure what to do.
Another symptom, or a pattern that you might be able to recognize, is if you’re playing an excessive amount of video games, or watching a lot of TV or movies, or you’re just making a general lack of progress towards your milestones. Any of the activities that you typically do that are essentially time-wasters tend to fall into this category of patterns where you can recognize that you’re demotivated. And I think the recognition piece of it is really important, because if you don’t even recognize that this is a problem there’s nothing that you can do about it because you don’t even know where to start because you don’t know that there is a problem. So recognizing that the patterns that you undertake during those situations is really important. And it warrants writing them down so that you have it in your mind that, “Hey, these symptoms, or these things that I do, or these things that go on in my environment, are demotivational to me, and will hold me back.” So as long as you have that in mind and you’ve written it down, you can use that as essentially a trigger to recognize them. And again, going back to identifying specific ways to hold yourself accountable, these are things that you should review on a periodic basis to make sure that you’re not falling into any of those traps that are going to hold you back.
Rob [21:44]: We’re all going to become demotivated at one point or another throughout a year. The key is, as you said, to identify it, and then to figure out if it’s a short-term or a long-term dip. And if it’s short-term, you can often pull yourself out using tactics, or making small adjustments. And the tactics I tend to use are music, getting a playlist together that matches the mood and that I start to loop and, kind of, puts me in the zone. I will up my caffeine intake for the short term and do it at really key times or about 20 minutes before I’m going to start working. I’ll also change my work environment. If I haven’t worked from coffee shops in a while, I will go work in a coffee shop. Right now, I’m actually working at our house – that’s currently on the market – that we’re not living in, so there’s no one here. And I’m here maybe once a week. It feels like a new environment, and that is extremely motivational to me. And I think to most people, to be in a new environment, it tends to spark creativity and ignite something in your brain, because you feel like you’re in a new place.
I think something else to think about is if you find yourself being demotivated for longer periods of time, it might be that the work is just crappy. Or you’re doing the wrong thing? It’s not a good fit for you. If you feel like you’ve wandered off and you’re, I don’t know, writing an e-book or an info product because everyone’s saying you should, and you’re really, really struggling with it and hating it, then maybe that’s not for you. Maybe you’re more of someone who should launch software. Or vice versa. If you’re sitting there just toiling away at your SaaS apps for months and months and months and you haven’t launched it, and it’s demotivational, maybe that’s not the right path for you. Maybe you should take some expertise and put it into an e-book instead and do something in public, get that virtuous cycle started and go off in another direction.
It’s something to think about and reevaluate, and not just take things at face value that what you’ve decided to do is what you have to do. Because if two, three months down the line you’re still feeling this way, something is probably wrong, either chemically with you – which is certainly a possibility. Wintertime is definitely tough when it’s dark and cold and you don’t go outside. Or it may be that the work is just not a good fit for you and that you’re not going to be happy even once you launch. That’s the thing. If you’re not enjoying the journey along the way, for the most part, then you’re not going to enjoy the destination when you get there.
They’ve done studies and such with doctors, or folks in med school actually. And the people who are really unhappy and just grinding it out, trying to get through, and they’re saying, “Well, as soon as I’m a doctor, everything will be great,” it doesn’t tend to be great for them when they get to be a doctor, right? Because they really didn’t love the work and the journey. And it tends to be the folks who are enjoying themselves along the way. Even though they know it’s hard work, they are enjoying it along the way. And then when they get to their destination, now they can look ahead at the next destination. And it’s not like, “Oh no, I need to grind it out for four more years.” It’s like, “I’m going to enjoy the journey to the next destination as well.”
Mike [24:23]: And a little addendum to that is that if you recognize that you are in those situations, it might be a good time to reevaluate what your yearly goal is. Just because you’ve set those yearly goals, it doesn’t mean that halfway through you might change your mind and decide that it’s not something that you actually want to achieve. You shouldn’t just grind it through just to make sure that you meet that goal if it’s not ultimately going to make you happy. So keep those types of things in mind as well.
Step 7 in the process is to set up a reward system for meeting your milestones and major goals. Know what it is that you’re working for, both in the short and the long term, and use those motivational triggers to help push through some of the hard times. And some of the different rewards that you can give yourself — they don’t even have to be very big. You might just treat yourself out to lunch at Qdoba or something like that. I mean, just go to a taco place in the middle of the day for no other reason than it’s a Thursday afternoon and you decided that one of your milestones was to get to a thousand subscribers, for example, and that you just recently met that goal. So treat yourself.
And there’s a lot of different ways that you can treat yourself in small ways that will help with that positive reinforcement. And it’s great to be able to hit those milestones, but tacking on additional rewards to those things can be really helpful as well. And it could just be a dinner and a movie out with your spouse or your significant other. It could be a new video game. It could be some new music. It could be a new album, a new book, for example, or it could just be a short trip, or even just a day trip out to a museum or a theme park or something like that. Everyone’s is going to be different. Everyone wants different things. And some of those rewards are going to be more appealing to you than others, but make sure that you’ve attached some of those rewards to some of the different milestones that you’ve set up in order to make sure that you’re getting that closed feedback loop that is going to help reinforce you moving forward.
Rob [26:05]: I’m actually really bad at this, and I’m trying to get better. You know who’s really good at this, is Phil Derks. And he has his WordPress Simple Play plugin and a couple of others over at Moonstone Media. He did an attendee talk last year at MicroConf and he lives here in Fresno. And all along the way, he had these great milestones set up when he hit a thousand in revenue and X thousand in revenue. And it was fitting, too. They got bigger along the way. It was like, “Oh, it’s a nice dinner with my wife.” Then it’s a, I think, wine club membership was another one that I thought was a great reward for yourself, because that’s a non-trivial cost each year. But if you’re thinking to yourself, “Boy, when we hit five grand a month in revenue, it’s a big milestone for me,” then do something worthy of that. Go out of town for a night without the kids, or do a really nice dinner, and spend more than you typically would. Or do any of the things you said, or set up a wine club membership, something that you wouldn’t normally do, and that is really icing on the cake to give yourself the payback for all the work that you’ve done.
Because although the journey should be fun, and the goal should be worth doing just for itself, I do think there’s a lot of value in celebrating with some other people around you, and then just having that cool thing that then reminds you of the goals that you’ve achieved, right? Because then when the wine arrives in the fall, then you can think to yourself, “You know, I earned this. I built a business that supported this, and that goal paid it back.” And it’ll remind you of achieving that goal, which I think is something to relish. Because as entrepreneurs, I think oftentimes we are trained to be a little more pessimistic. Maybe it’s just me, but we can tend to look at the dark side of things or look at what’s not going right rather than what’s going right. And so I think we need as many reminders as we can.
And speaking of going and seeing a movie, opening night, Star Wars Episode 7, baby. I’m going to see it with my kid.
Mike [27:55]: We’ve threatened the kids with leaving them home or going to see it while they’re at school.
Rob [27:59]: Nice. That’s great. I love it. That’s a great punishment. Yeah, I wish I had a goal that I had achieved recently and I could attribute it to this, but alas, it’s just I want to see it. And it’s weird that they’re selling tickets Thursday nights. Are you seeing it Thursday? Because it’s supposed to open Friday, but then they have a bunch of Thursday showings.
Mike [28:16]: I didn’t know that they were doing it Thursday before midnight. Usually I like doing it on opening night for a movie. Like if it’s a big movie, they’ll do it at midnight, and so they’ll have midnight showings. I haven’t heard of anybody showing it before midnight on Thursday though. But I haven’t looked either. We haven’t really set aside the time to figure out when we’re going to go.
Rob [28:31]: Yeah, there’s a bazillion showings here starting at 6 or 7 p.m. on Thursday night.
Mike [28:35]: You could just say that your reward is for your lifetime achievement of being the oldest today that you’ve ever been in your life.
Rob [28:41]: Boom. That’s it. So to recap what we said in today’s episode, we had seven steps for how to set annual goals. The first one was make time to set the goals. The second one was to recap the current year and then look ahead. The third was to limit yourself to one to two major goals. Fourth was identify specific ways to hold yourself accountable. The fifth was identify your motivational triggers, both positive and negative. The sixth was to identify patterns that indicate you’re demotivated. And the seventh was to set up a reward system.
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