In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Mike returns to the podcast to give updates on the fate of Bluetick as well as progress updates on his motivation and health.
Items mentioned in this episode:
In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike talk about the current status of Bluetick. They discuss the Google approval process, external/internal motivations, current roadblocks, and Mike’s future with Bluetick.
Items mentioned in this episode:
Rob: Mike, which program do Jedi use to open their PDF files?
Mike: I don’t know what.
Rob: Adobe Wan Kenobi.
Mike: Oh God.
Rob: In this episode of Startups for the Rest of Us, Mike and I talk about Bluetick, where he’s at, and maybe where he’s headed. This is Startups for the Rest of Us Episode 448.
Welcome to Startups for the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers, and entrepreneurs be awesome at building, launching, and growing software products, whether you’ve build your first one or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Rob.
Mike: And I’m Mike.
Rob: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. To where this week, sir?
Mike: I strained my back somehow about a week or so ago, so sleeping the past five or six days has been rather rough. It’s on the left side. When I try to sleep, it gets really, really tight throughout the course of the night and it wakes me up. It’s been rough getting any kind of measurably good sleep for pretty much the entire week.
Rob: That’s a bummer. How did you strained up?
Mike: I have no idea. I think I was just alive and that was it.
Rob: Just. I was just old and I moved.
Mike: That’s a good way to put it. The thing is, I just woke up and it was like that. It got progressively worse over the course of two or three days or something like that. It was bad for about four or five and then it slowly gotten better over the last two or three.
Rob: Strained back is no good and no sleep is no good. You’re going back to your pre-CPAP machine days aren’t you?
Mike: Yeah, pretty much.
Rob: We’ll get into some of that more in this episode. We’re going to talk about, as I said in the intro, what’s going on with Bluetick and you and such. Before that, we have some good comments on recent episodes. In Episode 444, you and I went off on Gmail desktop clients. Carl posted a comment saying, “I switched everyone over to Mailbird last month,” everyone at his company. “We switched away from Office 365, Dropbox, and GoDaddy’s email service, and switched to G Suite Solutions. I needed to find an alternative to Outlook and I found Mailbird. It works great, love the Google integrations. My only complaint, one of my coworker’s complaints is that capability of right-clicking to create new folders does not exist. Not a deal breaker, just a complaint.”
What was the one I was using? I don’t remember now. It was Mailplane, like an airplane. When I right click, I often do right-click, paste as text or paste and match style or whatever, because I’ll be copying something that’s all weirdly formatted and I want it to go in the format of the email. In Mailplane, that’s disabled. Not a deal breaker, but I have to flip over into Atom, your […] text editor, I paste it in there then I Shift Command-A Command-C and then go back and paste it in. It’s this extra step that when you’re in a Chrome browser, you can right click, paste the match style, and then it’ll just go in. How about you? Are you still using the desktop Windows client you were using?
Mike: Yeah, I use it on occasion. I flip-flop back and forth between them because it’s an IMAP client and it’s got all that stuff. It’s nice to be able to use one or the other when I need it. The one that I did find with it was that I use the labels feature. I will take things and put them into, I refer to more folders than anything else, but in Gmail it uses labels for that. The one thing I find is that, if I go to use the shortcuts to move it into a folder or apply a label to it, some of my labels, depending on the folder, overlap.
For example I’ll have a customers label but there’s a customers label underneath a couple of different products. When I started typing it out, it doesn’t show me which customers label it is because it basically drops everything before the slash. I have no idea which customers label it actually is because it just doesn’t show me. I still use it on occasion but once I get into those use cases, it becomes a barrier for me. It makes it more difficult. I don’t know why they don’t show the whole thing, but whatever.
Rob: It’s weird. When we bring these things up, it’s like, “That’s kind of a nitpick. Right click, paste and match style, is that really that big of a deal? Is it the labeling?” It can be. It can become that. For me, it’s not that big of a deal, but label stuff, that gets in the way of your workflow and it can get in the way of the perfect solution unless you get used to the new way they do it.
Mike: Like I said, I flip-flop back and forth between them a little bit. I did notice when I was using it that I could shut it down and I would just have Gmail closed, but I’ve noticed that recently I’ve been having Gmail open again. With that, I know that I’m actually just going to close that tab entirely right this second because I forget to do that. Email can be distracting and disruptive. That’s a problem that I’ve uncovered with my workflow, is that when that is open, I tend to get pulled back into my email quite a bit. When that happens, I’m not as productive.
Rob: For sure. Another comment on Episode 447. Paul Mendoza was commenting on the Google verification stuff that you’ve been struggling with for several weeks. He says, “I’ve been dealing with Google verification stuff for months, you can see my day-by-day interactions with Google here. We just got a response from the security vendors, but our app still isn’t approved but I’m sending them emails almost everyday.” He has a URL. You can come to 447 if you want to check that Google verification status. He feels your pain, apparently. It’s not just something that you have manufactured in order to create drama and good radio on the podcast as you’ve been known to do. You haven’t been on […].
Rob: We got another couple of comments, because 447 we started diving in, we typically do our chit chat at the top end of the episode. When we talked about the Google stuff, we wound up spending 18 minutes just talking about that because I was asking questions and going through it. We’ve got some compliments like, “Do more of that. You guys aren’t digging into Bluetick enough,” was the comments, “or your own projects enough.” Part of the impetus for today’s episode was comments we’ve received but also, I think it’s been something that’s been on our minds for a while.
We have always liked doing updates, sharing what we’re up to, and what we’re working on, but it can be hard when it’s not good news. It’s hard to show up week after week and try to have an update of what you did in the past week if you didn’t get anything done or if things are going backwards. I think we tend to do update episodes every few months and I feel like this one today is really just a conversation about where you are, where Bluetick is, how you’re thinking about things, and try to find out more about what’s going on and even to give advice.
We talked for a while before this episode started and you’re bringing up things that I was telling you how I would approach them. We haven’t necessarily always been a ‘big advice for each other’ podcast. It’s a lot more answering listener questions. I think that can be helpful today, too, for you to hear how I would think of approaching different problems or how I have approached them in the past because I’ve done some of this stuff as well.
Mike: Do you want to relabel this as Mike’s therapy session?
Rob: Yeah, it’s going to be 50 minutes and I’m going to bill you […].
Mike: That’s actually cheaper.
Rob: Cheaper than you thought it would be.
Mike: Cheaper than a regular therapy session with […].
Rob: Indeed. Bluetick today, you’ve been working on it for two or three years, and it’s still not supporting you full time.
Mike: I went back and I started looking at my funnel metrics and stuff where I started tracking some of that stuff. I’ve got data in here from November of 2017 and that’s when I started tracking the numbers that I have here. I think that was shortly before I flipped the switch and said, “I’m just going to start billing people. If you’re not ready, then you can either cancel or that’s the end of the free trial or whatever that we have for you.” Obviously, my memory is kind of fuzzy as to exactly what state those things were at at the time so I don’t remember whether it was November of that year or what have you.
Rob: Was that November 2017?
Mike: Yes, November 2017. The reality is it’s not nearly where I would think that it should be if things were going well, the product had product market fit, and I was actively growing it. It’s just not. It’s not enough to support me full time. I don’t necessarily need it to, but at the same time if it’s going for an extended period of time and it’s not making enough money to do that, then why continue?
Rob: Yeah. It’s a waste of time and effort, opportunity cost, could you be working on something else that would be dramatically more lucrative whether that something else is a different product, or whether that something else is consulting, or heaven forbid a salary job? Not that you’re going to go do that, but you have skills. You’re a developer. You can write code. That’s a very valuable skill. To be wasting, I don’t mean wasting time on a day-to-day basis, but having 18 months, you’ve been charging for it, and to be only ramen profitable and not full time income is a struggle. It’s not just that you don’t have full time income but it’s not headed in the right direction anymore. You basically peaked at some point last year in terms of MRR.
Mike: Yeah and it’s more floundering than anything else. It’s not on a tailspin and I’m not bleeding out customers every single week or anything like that. It’s not tanking quickly, but it’s certainly not growing quickly, either. It’s really just meandering; go up on some months and then go down on some months. I have some customers who’ve been around since the very beginning and there are customers who will stick around for three to six months and then that’s it. I don’t feel like I’ve delve into the numbers of how long people have stuck around for and what the amount of revenue that I’ve gotten from each customer is enough, I just haven’t. It’s because I’ve spent a lot of my time on other things.
I feel like I have a hard time prioritizing where I should spend some of that time. Objectively, I think it’s like, “You should spend all of that time on marketing activities, analyzing what your current customers are doing, and who you should be targeting as those customers. One thing I struggle with is the fact that Bluetick has a very good use case for cold email and I don’t want those customers. I have a hard time justifying adding a lot more customers on there that are using the tool for that.
Rob: Is it an ethical thing? You just don’t like cold email?
Mike: Yeah, mostly.
Rob: Or a moral thing? Wait, what ethical is this? External and moral is internal. You’re internal code is like, “Meh. Not a fan of it.” Is that the idea?
Mike: The problem is that it depends on the customer. There are some customers that I’ll talk to, I’ll do a demo for somebody and I hear what they’re doing and they’re doing cold email. I’m like, “It’s not just a great tool that you have, but it’s also a great service. You’re doing great things with it and you are trying to make the world a better place,” versus some of the people just doing the cold email. They’re really bad at it and they’re doing things that are shady or scammy. I’m like, “Yeah. I don’t want those as customers,” but at the same time the tool works exactly the same for both of them.
How do I filter one out versus the other without having a conversation with every single one of them and how do you do that in the marketing that you put out such that you are catering specifically to a type of person who has a certain mindset?
Rob: I hear you. There are ways around it. You have options. You could, on your homepage, just be like the best tool for warm email interactions and then you could put in the FAQ, “This is not for cold email.” You could put it in your terms of service, “This is not for cold email.” You can have flags if people go in it, you see patterns of people doing cold email type things that you flag and you say, “Hey, this isn’t for cold email.”
We had to do this with Drip. People can’t use Drip for cold email. We had to build things and communicate that along the way. It was a pain. It was a lot of work and some people got really pissed off. Some people came in, signed up, uploaded their cold list and started emailing. Our system would automatically block them or they’d get enough complaints that are email spam. Dude would block them. That’s what you have to do if you really don’t want to do it.
The struggle is, with Drip, it will get you blacklisted. So, it’s a big problem for the business itself. With Bluetick, it’s not because they’re using their own inbox. You’re not going to get Bluetick itself, your IP doesn’t get blasted. You have to decide, “Hey, if ethically or morally or whatever, I only want to service certain type customer,” then you can do that. Just make it clear upfront.
It sounds to me like is it an excuse? If you accepted all the cold email, would Bluetick be where you want it to be? Or if you just focus on the warm email use case and ignore the cold email, would Bluetick be where you want it to be?
Mike: I don’t want to say it’s an unfair question, I think the question is a little bit off because it’s more a matter of holding me back from doing the marketing which would acquire those types of customers. It’s not about accepting them as customers or trying to turn them away or whatever. It’s more about holding me back from doing the marketing. I think it’s a very valid question about is that an excuse? I have a whole load of things I’ve looked at and thought about that comes to mind is, […] every single one of them is like, “Is that just an excuse?”
If you looked back at the stuff I did with AutoShark and then with Bluetick, I’ll […] frankly a lot of excuses along the way with AutoShark. If you think about objectively the stuff I’m going through with Google right now, there’s a huge question mark of this $15,000–$75,000 for a security audit. I’m apparently at the end point with Google where all I need to do is get this security audit and get a letter of—I forget what it is—authentication or something, this audit letter that I have to send into Google that says, “Yes, Bluetick is all up to snuff and we don’t have to worry too much about security vulnerabilities for the product,” but at the same time, is that another excuse?
If the products were much further along or had more customers and was making a substantial amount of revenue, would $15,000–$75,000 matter? The answer is no, it wouldn’t. The problem is I can’t point at Google and say they’re killing my business when the reality is the business isn’t making enough money. Really, that’s just the driver that says, “Here’s a hard line that you can’t cross unless the business is making enough.” If the business was making enough, that wouldn’t matter. The actual amount of whatever that is going to come out to would make no difference or whatsoever. So, is that an excuse?
I was saying in a way it kind of is, but at the same time I could almost point at anything that I’ve come across and say, “Is this an excuse?” Anything that comes up on the business as to why something is not working, you could ask that question and I think it’s a valid question to ask. I don’t have a good answer for some of those things. I just don’t.
Rob: That’s the thing. The cold email versus warm email thing, you don’t want to market it because people are using it for cold email. There are solutions to that. If I were in your shoes, I would decide, am I willing to let people do ethical cold email and warm email? If the answer is yes, then that would be on the website. That would be in my onboarding. I would mention that in every demo. I would probably do demo only for now in your shoes because you don’t have such an influx of trials. I’m guessing that you can’t do some type of demo with everyone at a minimum of screencast, 15 minutes of screencast that seriously talks about, “Look, we only do ethical cold email.” Just make that part of the whole deal. If that’s your hard line, then take the hard line and then move forward. That’s one option.
Second option is to not take the hard line and just say, “Hey, this is legal and it’s not going to hurt my IPs so I’m okay with people doing that.” That’s the second option.
Third option, shut the product down. It’s to realize, “Boy, I really built a product that people are going to misuse,” and the nuclear option would be to shut it down. Now that’s tough. I don’t know if I can come up with an easy fourth option. I feel like the ethical cold and warm is a perfectly viable non-nuclear option, and again, to just communicate that in every onboarding sequence.
Some people will sneak through, unfortunately. The good news is, it won’t get you on a blacklist like it did with Drip where we get on the blacklist and it’s like this, “Oh, […],” moment where a bunch of us were running around trying to figure out how to ban this customer and this and that. You’ll just have to have a conversation with that customer and say, “Look, by our judgment or by my judgment, you’ve gone over the line. I need you to migrate away or I need you to improve your things.” You can get a conversation with them where they say, “How do I improve my cold email?” You say, “Here’s a good example of a super ethical one. You only hit them four times over the course of a month, not 17 like you’re doing,” and blah, blah, blah.
All of this is work. It all takes work and that’s a crappy part. It’s the same thing with the Google approval, I think, that it totally gets in your head it seems like and it becomes this road block where really, it should be a speed bump that you look at your options. I say should. You’re going to encounter these over and over. I feel like if you look at the mess of speed bumps rather than roadblocks, knowing that there’s almost without exception, there’s always a way around it.
There are a few exceptions that are not. You can get sued into oblivion. You can get seriously injured. There are these extreme things where you can’t work or where your business is completely decimated because the whole platform just blocks your IP. There are certain exceptions but I don’t see that. Aside from Google disapproving you here in the next week or two, everything else you’ve mentioned to me is a speed bump, but I feel like it impacts you more than that.
Mike: That’s absolutely true. As you were talking through that and shifting the marketing to saying much more of it is ethical cold email and warm email, I actually got excited. I was like, “That’s exactly it.” I think that there are other ways to force that as well. I was talking to Josh from Referral Rock. He said that one of the things that they had done early on was that they charged a setup fee and that works really well for them. I was thinking about doing that as well and trying to figure out how can that work in there. That fits in really well with the idea of pitching it more towards the ethical cold email and warm email for people and then forcing people to do a demo.
That’s part of what the setup fee would be and making sure that they’re doing things the right way, that they’re not just spamming a ton of people just because they have the technical capabilities to. Honestly, that would make me feel a whole heck of a lot better about it. I was actually trying to figure out, “How can I justify this setup fee and how can I do that stuff?” I think that it falls directly in line with that. It makes total sense as to how that could happen now whereas before, I struggled a little bit with how do I present it or pitch it or make sure that people are doing the right things and everything is going well for them. I’ll say it’s like software augmented by services to some extent.
Rob: Absolutely. I feel like that’s one issue but it’s not as if we can now, “Alright and that’s the whole session, Mike, you’re all good,” because there are some deeper issues going on. It seems to me like the two biggest issues that I see with Bluetick and what you’ve been up to, number one, I don’t understand how Bluetick is any different than any of the other tools. I don’t think you’re differentiated. You can convince me otherwise but I don’t feel like there’s anything Bluetick can do that three or four other tools can’t do. That’s a problem because you’re picking up crumbs at that point.
The second thing that feeds into that is you have struggled to ship things. Whether it’s health issues, the distraction from the Google approval, I know you’ve had sleep issues for a long time. You talked at the last podcast about how you had a five- or six-hour workday. Two hours of it was with calls, then your kids were going to get home, and you’ve spent an hour on the Google thing. Your workday was just poof. Gone. You’re not shipping new features. You’re not shipping marketing.
When you look at the people who are making progress in these early stages, they’re shipping something every week. You look at Derrick Reimer. Even though he shut Level down, he was shipping features, he was shipping emails, he was shipping blog post. You look at Peter Suhm, who is the founder of Branch, which is a TinySeed company, was just announced today, he’s doing the same thing. He releases a blog post almost every week and he ships new features to Branch almost every week. You’ve struggled with that going way back.
I think that’s where we talked a little bit offline before this. You have reasons but you were saying to yourself like, “Are they reasons or are they excuses?” The health issues, there’s testosterone levels a few years back, there’s CPAP, there’s all that stuff. It impacts your motivation and that means that you haven’t shipped enough stuff fast enough to differentiate Bluetick and everyone else that you’re competing against is moving, I would say faster than you. You never catch up. Again, my impression is they are better tools, they just have more features, and they do more. So, how can you possibly grow an app that isn’t differentiated in any way?
Mike: A lot of them have definitely caught up in terms of the features. Some of them even started out further along than I was at the early stages. My difference in feature was intended to be the fact that Bluetick does not miss emails, whereas I know that people who were using the Gmail API, those types of customers tend to miss emails here and there. I feel like a lot of those problems have tended to go away. I don’t know whether that’s because the Gmail API has just gotten better in terms of what data that they’ve been sending or the frequency, but I don’t hear about those problems nearly as much as I used to.
Maybe the tools have just gotten better and they’ve fixed those problems. I don’t really know the answer to that because I don’t use those tools on a regular basis. But the fact is you’re right. I’m not shipping things nearly as much as I could or should be. There are certain things where I’ve gone through and I’ve reengineered something or changed how something works, and I’ve got all these data that is going through the system. I’m terrified in some cases of breaking stuff.
I’ve been going back-and-forth recently with one of the vendors who supplies the component that I use for synchronizing with IMAP. They won’t give me access to the stuff where I know for a fact it breaks and I can’t test it. I can’t put an automated test in place and they won’t give me a way to do it. I’m just like, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do here,” other than switching to some other component which again is non-trivial work. Is that an excuse?
Rob: It’s a problem but you’re going to encounter a problem almost everyday as an entrepreneur. If they become, they should be speed bumps. You could mock up an interface of some kind. Again, we had a bunch of APIs that we interfaced with Drip and we couldn’t hit the production or staging APIs so when our unit has ran, they would hit a mocked up interface. There’s a better word for it, but you know what I’m talking about.
You could feasibly break things but that’s what integration testing is for, and then you just have a checklist of like, “These are the five things that I’m always worried about breaking because I can’t test them well.” Those are in a Google Doc or a Trello board or whatever. Every time you do a big push or everytime you modify that code, you test those things. That’s how I would think about it. Again, it’s not perfect but it makes it into a speed bump. It makes it into a bump in the road rather than an actual road block.
Mike: The specific issue with that piece of it and the problem that I have with that, there are certain things that come up on occasion and I literally can’t do that because they’ve marked the class that I need to use as internal and sealed and there’s no interface for it. I literally cannot do it. The only way that I found to get around it is to create a constructor that uses the internal private constructor for it and basically fake the data, but I’m looking at obfuscated code at that point and I don’t know what the hell half of it does. I think all of this particular example is kind of immaterial, I agree it should be more of a speed bump than a road block. Going down the rest of that specific example is more of going down the rabbit hole more than anything else because it’s not the only thing.
Rob: The thing is, when these things come up, it’s not going to be perfect. I know that sounds silly to say, but you’re an engineer, you’re left brained, and you want every I to be dotted, every T to be crossed, every edge and corner case to be handled. Mike, your software is going to break sometimes. There is […] software that is doing seven, eight, nine figures a month and the stuff breaks. You can build a company with software that isn’t 100%. My guess is your software is going to be pretty dang good because you’re a developer and because you’ve been doing this most of your life, but at a certain point, you can’t let perfect get in the way of good and in the way of shipping.
Mike: And I do. I absolutely let that get in the way. I don’t know why it’s so hard for me to just let it go. There are some things where I can just say, “Oh, we’ll just do this. Yes, […], go ahead.” Then there are other things where I’m like, “No, it has to be right.” For whatever reason, I fixate on those things.
Rob: That’s the problem. If you can’t identify when you’re fixating, then tell yourself stop and approach this from a different mindset. What would XYZ person do? How should I think about this differently is probably a better question that when you find yourself fixating to stop yourself and have the introspection to say, “What is the hack to get the solution? What is the 95% solution to this? What are the three or four options I have?” We’ve talked about a few topics here and then each one, you see, I’m just breaking them down into what are your choices here?
You’re choices with this API or whatever or it’s the component that you don’t have internal access to and it’s sealed and whatever, Mike, here are your options. You can completely shut your entire company down. Honestly, let’s look at them. You could shut the company down because of that. You could build a solution that is 80/20 or 95/5, however you want to phrase it. That’s like the one I said earlier which has been attacked together. It’s not going to catch everything and you have a checklist, and that’s probably good enough for now. Or you can spend a lot of time fixating on it. You can fight with the guy over email, you can try to reverse engineer it.
Mike: I can replace the component.
Rob: That’s great, you could feasibly do that. You could rewrite the whole thing yourself.
Mike: No, I wouldn’t do that. I would find a different vendor where I can rip that out and replace it with something else, that’s what I would do. I would absolutely not going down that road.
Rob: But that is an option. What’s funny is you could replace it with a different one. You’re going to spend time reworking your code or you could just rewrite the whole component yourself. It’s ridiculous but it is an option. Those are your five or six options. When you look at them, some of them seem like the dumbest thing ever like shutting your business down or writing the component yourself; don’t do those. It’s obvious, those are dumb. But the other three, if we look at them, black and white mindset and try to think about them. Which of those gets you to full-time income? Which of those gets you to $10,000? Yeah, there’s a little bit of risk with the one I’m suggesting, but that turns it into a speed bump rather than a road block.
Mike: One of the challenges I run into with this is that I don’t really have a mastermind group anymore where I can bounce ideas off of people and they call me out on a weekly basis that says, “Hey, you’re not working on this,” or, “You said that you’re going to have this done. You’ve been working on this for three weeks. This should’ve been done a long time ago.” I don’t have that external forcing function anymore. I think that’s been a big challenge for me.
Rob: Yeah. You’ve talked about in the past. You’ve told me that you feel like you’re more extrinsically motivated, that having someone who’s keeping you accountable is the way you work best versus being intrinsically motivated. And that’s fine. There are successful entrepreneurs on both sides of that. This is not something that precludes you from being one. You lost your mastermind or it broke up how long ago?
Mike: A little over a year and then I started a new one but we’ve only met I think three times total.
Rob: In a year?
Mike: It was over the course of three months or so and then we haven’t had a call on five or six months, I think.
Rob: For all intents you’re not really part of a mastermind at this point. You ended a year ago. Now, didn’t your revenue peak around that time?
Mike: Yeah, it did.
Mike: I know.
Rob: A correlation?
Mike: Correlation, causation. That’s a valid point too. That’s an excuse.
Rob: Don’t say it. You’re going to say, “It’s hard to find a mastermind and it’s hard to be part of one.” I would say, “All right, Mike, you have choices. Shut your company down, number one. Number two, don’t be an entrepreneur anymore. It is a choice. Number three, email Ken of MastermindJam—mastermindjam.com—and try to hook with a mastermind. Four, keep doing what you’re doing. Don’t do a mastermind and expect your future results to be the same as they have been,” is probably what I would say.
Mike: Some of these things like the other thing that it could potentially be solved by us having a cofounder. I have talked to you about this before. I’m not opposed to having a cofounder or having somebody else who works in the business with me, but at the same time it’s a question of finding the right person and all that other stuff. But again, is that an excuse? Is that what I really want? The answer is I don’t know. Is that an excuse? Probably. Is it what I really want? I don’t know. I’ve gone out in that road before and I think things worked out fantastically with you, with Microconf, the podcast, and everything else, but my past experiences have not been all sunshine and rainbows.
Rob: That’s a tougher one because finding a cofounder is hard. You can’t rush that. That’s not an easy thing to do. I do think it could be a fit for you given that you would work better with someone pushing you on and you’re feeling accountable to that.
Mike: I totally agree with that. But most of the people that I know of, that I know well enough to say, “Yeah, I wouldn’t mind going into business with them at all,” most of them have their own things going on. It’s hard to find somebody who is in that same position because I’ve got Bluetick that is substantially far along at this point. One thing that I’ve run into when you have employees or contractors or whatever, is I feel like they’re not just motivated, but they’re way less critical of the boss’ performance or decisions and things like that because they’re like, “Oh, well. That person is the person in charge. I don’t want to challenge them as hard as I probably could or would if I truly believed in this other direction versus the one that they’ve chosen or decided to go in.”
Rob: Yeah, but that’s just a minor speed bump. I’ve worked with contractors and employees and I’ve had cofounders. It’s just something you get over. I think the deeper issue comes back to the two things that I said, number one, Bluetick is not differentiated. Number two, it’s because you’re not shipping enough. It sounds like you struggle with indecision quite a bit where you’ve ruminated on a question for a long time, for days or weeks, and sometimes just can’t break out of that to make the decision to move forward. So, you get stalled.
And then the motivation thing. You told me offline that you were bored, you weren’t motivated. At times you know what you should do, “I should go build this feature,” but you’re not motivated to do it. Is that right? Talk about that. Is it a health thing? I guess you don’t know. If you knew you would fix it, right? You don’t know if it’s lack of sleep. You don’t know if it’s low testosterone. You don’t know if you just don’t want to do the idea. Do you have any thoughts or even more background for people?
Mike: My doctor took me off of my testosterone and it wasn’t because it was too high, it was because one of my other blood tests came back, it’s too high. He was like, “This is way outside of the normal range so I’m going to take you off with testosterone for four weeks to see how that plays out.” I was about a week-and-a-half into it and I was like, “I have to take some of it right now.” The downsides or drawbacks of having it, having low testosterone is you get depressed, you have a hard time focusing, you can’t get things done, you can’t really think straight. That was happening to such a severe degree, I was like, “I have to take it today just to put myself at least a little bit back on track.”
I’m going to call him and try and see if we can cut this whole thing short because it is extremely detrimental to me right now but I don’t have any answers, I wish I did. There’s a lot of things where I’m just like, “This is boring to me.” Some of it has to do with the work that needs to get done. Again, is that an excuse? Is that just a reason that I’m using to justify not feeling bad about getting the work done? I get that, as an entrepreneur, not everything is always going to be fine. You’re not always going to enjoy everything.
There are some things that you like to do versus there are things that you need to do. If you can outsource those things that need to be done that you don’t like doing, great. I don’t feel like I’ve been in a position where I can outsource everything that I hate doing because there’s financial research and things like that.
Rob: You’ll never be able to do that. Even when HitTail and Drip were growing like crazy, I still came in and did a bunch of crap that I didn’t want to do. With TinySeed, I have more resources than I’ve ever had and there’s still crap that I’m dealing with that I don’t want to do. But (a) I tried to minimize it, and (b) I tried not to let it clog the top of my to do list. When it’s sitting in that Trello board I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I do not want to look at health care plans and setting up a 401(k) for us.” But it’s like, “I’m going to power through it, suck it up, and get it done. Then I’m going to come out the other side and reward myself by doing something super fun, make it some swag or something.” I don’t know. You can’t avoid that. You can’t avoid it entirely. You can minimize it.
We’re building businesses that we want to be a part of, that we want to run. We’re building it for our lifestyles. That’s great, but that doesn’t mean that 100% of the time, it’s like a trip to Disneyland. I know you know that. I’m being a little facetious, but that’s the thing I think you’ve struggled with a lot. There’s this indecision piece. You’ve expressed to me like, “I’m not motivated to do this thing.” Whatever it is, I know that’s what has to get done. I think you’ve got to figure that out because without that, you can’t move forward. You have to be motivated some days even through the struggles.
We have a mutual friend who runs a SaaS app, who has pretty major health issues. He struggles, he works four hours a day, and it’s tough for him to travel. There’s a lot of stuff that it’s just hard. It’s hard for him, but he runs a successful SaaS app, lives off, and has a few employees. He shows up everyday. In those four hours, I bet he’s pretty damn effective by the fact that his SaaS app still grows.
Mike: I haven’t found a system, I guess, that works for me in terms of preventing me from wasting time on the stuff that I don’t want to do or procrastinating to get those things done. I don’t want to stay here and say, “Oh, well. I just need to find the right system,” because I don’t think that’s the right way to go, either, or the answer to it. I do feel maybe I just need to experiment more and say, “Okay, try this for a week or try that for a week,” and be very deliberate about trying to get things done and shipping things, as you said, versus just showing up to work every day and a lot of motion without forward progress. I feel like I’m thrashing a lot. I don’t have an answer to that. Maybe the problem is that I’ve thought about what the answer to that is without actually doing anything to try and figure it out.
Rob: Yeah, not taking action. I think effectiveness is what you’re summarizing. Thrashing is the opposite of being effective. If this founder we’re talking about works four hours a day but gets a full day’s work done, he’s highly effective. Some people can work 10 hours. If they’re not effective, their business doesn’t move forward. We’ve talked about this in the past. The 80-hour-a-week startup people, I think, are probably not effective. That’s the reason they work 80 hours.
There’s a few exceptions but there’s a lot of younger folks. I used to work longer hours when I was younger too. It’s just not picking the right stuff to work on and then not focusing on that stuff, not wandering off to answer email, jump on Twitter, go to Reddit, really focusing. I think you can get a full day’s work done in 4–6 hours. Your full day’s work would have been 10 years ago, I believe, with the personal growth, experience, and stuff that a person can be more effective with less time.
There’s a couple things that I’ll throw out. One is that I feel like you should consider whether you want to keep doing this, to continue doing Bluetick, whether you want to continue being an entrepreneur. Here’s the thing. If you’re working in a contract job or if you were working a salary job, a lot of these issues go away because daily you would do a daily standup, or weekly, or whatever. You would have accountability. That external motivation would be there for you to ship stuff. That would make a lot of these go away. That’s a pretty nuclear option. In the interest of time, we probably shouldn’t go down that today. I do think it’s something for you to take a step back and just think about longer term.
Mike: Counterargument to that would be if I worked, did the right thing, and got Bluetick to a point where I was able to hire people to put on a team, that exact same result would come out of it.
Rob: Yeah, okay. That’s fine. That’s fine but you’ve got to get there. At the rate you’re going, you’re not going to get there.
Rob: I don’t disagree with you, Mike. This is Startups for the Rest of Us. The whole point is that we want to help people start businesses that give them personal freedom. The whole point of this podcast and everything we do is to feel free, to do what you want to do, and work on which you want to do. That would be my answer as well. It’s just, you have to figure out how to get there because you’re not making progress there now.
The second thing I would think about which is a less nuclear option, if we’re talking about options, it’s to go one step further than our mastermind and to find someone who would do a daily standup with you. Every morning, five minute phone call or five minute Slack. They keep you accountable. You subscribe to that. When you say, “These are the things I did yesterday. This is what I’m going to do today.” The next day, you come and you do the walk of shame if you didn’t get that done. You celebrate if you did and that extrinsic motivation is something that you think will help to do that.
What do you think about that is that, does it not matter? Because you’re so tired you can’t get anything done? Is the extrinsic motivation enough if someone was breathing down your neck? Would that be enough? Or do you think no? “I’m still too damn tired. I just have health issues and I shouldn’t do this.”
Mike: I would certainly try it. I would say, it’s pretty immature for me to say that it would or wouldn’t work. I suspect that it would. I seriously contemplated trying to find a way to get a one-on-one business coach or something like that, somebody who’s going to hold me accountable. You’re right. A five minute thing like that on a daily basis could be plenty. I don’t know. Without trying it, I can’t say for sure one way or the other. My inclination is to say, “Yes, that would work,” but it would also need to be somebody who is, I don’t want to say willing to yell at me because I don’t want to be inundated with thousands of emails saying, “Hey, I’ll yell at you.”
Rob: Sure because you don’t need yelling. You do need positive and negative encouragement and feedback.
Mike: I think that’s certainly worth exploring. I would say, it goes further than my thoughts about having a business coach who holds me accountable on a weekly basis because I think a daily basis would probably be better. That’s mainly because I feel like I could waste a lot of time during a whole week whereas from a day-to-day, I can’t. I don’t want to say the stakes are higher but the deadlines are sure. I’ve always found myself to be somebody who works extremely well with tight deadlines and time pressure.
Rob: Yeah, external motivation.
Mike: Yes. When I was doing consulting, the […] gets subcontracting through, they’ve held me in with a bunch of stuff. I stopped consulting from them probably a year-and-a-half or two years ago, but every single time I get an email from them it’s because something’s on fire. They want me to deal with it. I actually got to a point where from one customer to the next, every single one, everything was on fire and burning to the ground. They needed somebody to go in and fix it. I was their person because I was really good at it. I just got burned out with the travel. That was what the problem was. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy doing those things but I got burned out with the travel. The customers tended to be the same from one to the next. And the problem was repetitive. It got to a point where the problem was the same thing over and over. Then, I just got bored.
Rob: Yeah. Consulting is like a hamster wheel. You want to own something. You want an equity in something that has a longer lasting thing than just […] per hour.
Rob: Yeah, that desire.
Mike: Right. That was a big reason for me leaving and decided to do Bluetick instead because I wanted something that was going to need much more of that Rob’s flywheel as opposed to the hamster wheel.
Rob: Yeah. Obviously, we can’t solve stuff like these in a day. You and I talked about you taking some time to think about this, three weeks, four weeks where you think about both of what we’ve talked about today, some stuff we talked about offline, but really, do soul searching and figure out. I think there’s big questions here. It’s like, Mike, do you want to do this and do you want to do it bad enough that you’re willing to change? What you’re doing now isn’t working so you have to change it. Are you going to be willing and able to start looking at every problem as a speedbump rather than a roadblock?
Is this the right fit for you? Whether it’s this being entrepreneurship, Bluetick, it’s just those two. Does Bluetick have the potential? If you feel like you’re gaining your momentum and motivation to take a hard look and say, “How long will it take to get Bluetick to a point where it is differentiated?” My assessment is that, until you’re differentiated enough that you’re like, “Nope, we do this and no one else does,” or “We do this better than all these other tools.” Until you get to that point, you just don’t win many sales.
Mike: I totally agree with all that. I don’t even have to think too long about that one aspect of those. Do I still want to be an entrepreneur? For me, the answer is absolutely yes. The question for Bluetick is what does that look like moving forward? The reality is, the situation is I’ve got basically a seven month deadline at this point. I think you said there were some questions about how that shakes out with Google. I kind of know the answers to some extent. I still don’t have all the information, but I’ve gone past the last stage of Google’s verification with the exception of the security audit. That’s all that needs to be done. That’s the piece where I don’t know how much that’s going to cost. I don’t know what they have to go through or what other things I’m going to have to change. I’m still waiting to find out what that’s going to cost.
Then, I have to make a judgment called the end of it to say if it’s $15,000 and I’m going to make that $15,000 back in a reasonable time frame, not a big deal. Even if it was $75,000 or $100,000. If I were going to be able to make that back within three or four months, it’s not a big deal. If I’m in a revenue standpoint where it’s not going to happen in six months, eight months, ten months, then, no. I can’t justify even continuing with the product to that point. I don’t know what the price tag on it is right now. It’s a question of how far can I get in the next six to seven months to the point where I know how much revenue I’m going to be making three or four months down the road to be able to justify putting the cash out for that security audit.
Rob: You understand that while the security audit is one thing like we’ve talked about today, there are bigger issues. It’s shipping. Let’s say you pass the security audit and you pay for it. Bluetick is still not growing. Bluetick is still not differentiated right now. The reason again, going back, is you haven’t been motivated, or you’ve been bored with it, or there’s been health issues. There’s been all these things along the way. If that doesn’t change, it doesn’t matter what happens with the Google audit.
Rob: We talked about you taking some time to think about it and actually stepping back from the podcast here for about three or four weeks. Give you some clarity.
Rob: Some time alone. I know, give you a chance to maybe find clarity. These are hard decisions. This is retreat level kind of stuff where it’s a lot of thinking.
Mike: Yeah. The weird thing is these aren’t nothing we’ve really talked about. So far, things I haven’t thought about or considered over the past couple of years, it’ s just like I haven’t really taken the time to step back, objectively look at things, and take a hard look. I mean, if I do look at stuff and how things have gone, one constant that has been throughout the whole thing is me. Is it me? That’s a hard thing to say and the hard thing to admit to as well.
The question, can things change? Or will they change? Or do I want them to? I think that I want to. It’s just a question of how is that going to happen? How do I make sure that I don’t go through this process and come out of it and say, “Yeah, I’m motivated. I’m amped up. Let’s do this,” then put in time and effort for six months, then fall back into the same patterns again, I’ll say? That could happen. I don’t know but I need to step back.
Rob: That’s for sure. You know, Mike, I’ve always respected your technical chops, your intelligence, your writing, and you just have a lot of positive qualities. You’ve accomplished stuff in your life but you’ve definitely gotten in your own way. You’ve gotten in your own way more than I think you want to or should have. I think if you can start thinking about it, in terms of, how do I not do in the next six months what has happened in the past six months? We’ll see.
I’m going to be holding down the fort here for a few weeks. It’ll be good to hear from you. I’m sure people will be waiting with bated breath. We’ll have an episode, I don’t know, will it be 452 or 453? It’s the return of Mike. We get to hear from you, what you’ve been thinking about, and stuff.
Mike: Yeah, I don’t know. We’ll see what happens. I got to talk to my doctor and go back on a testosterone because it’s just, my God.
Rob: It’s kind of […].
Mike: It really is. You wouldn’t think that that does it. It was like, “Oh, that can’t possibly be that bad.”
Rob: I would totally think, any chemical in our body, when it gets that out a whack, it has these negative impacts that can be pretty brutal.
Rob: Well, thanks for delving into this today. I know this is not easy stuff to talk about. I appreciate your openness, honesty, and willing to delve into it. I’m sure the listeners do, too. This has over and over been voiced. This is like one of the favorite aspects of our show is when we do these things. We talk pretty open and raw about what’s going on.
Mike: Yup. I guess with that, why don’t you take us out then?
Rob: Yeah. If you have a question for us, call our voicemail number at 888-801-9690 or you can email it to us at email@example.com. Our theme music is an excerpt from We’re Outta Control by MoOt. It’s used under Creative Commons. Subscribe to us on iTunes by searching for Startups and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening and I’ll see you next time.
In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike have a casual conversation about what’s going on with each other recently. Some of the topics they touch on include Dungeons & Dragons, personal computer setups, new ideas for MicroConf, and Bluetick/TinySeed updates.
Items mentioned in this episode:
Mike: In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and I are going to be having a casual conversation about what’s going on. This is Startups For The Rest Of Us episode 438.
Welcome to Startups For The Rest Of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers and entrepreneurs be awesome at building, launching, and growing software products. Whether you’ve built your first product, or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Mike.
Rob: And I’m Rob.
Mike: And we’re here to share experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s going on this week Rob?
Rob: I just felt like we haven’t done kind of a casual episode in a while where you and I talk about things that are going on. We often get stuck in this odd place where we might have a lot going on, but it’s not necessarily stuff you can talk about or feel comfortable broadcasting to tens of thousands of people. I feel like we’re in a good place, we’re obviously pre-recording this episode because it’s going to go live after MicroConf—I think the week after—and we’re recording it the week before just because so much is going on that whole week. Since we do Growth and Starter now, I mean the week is just torched for me. When do you fly out and when do you fly back?
Mike: I fly out on Friday. I get in at like 8:00 PM or so on Friday night and then I don’t leave until the following Friday. I think my flight is at 12:00 PM or 1:00 PM or something like that.
Rob: Yeah. It’s a full on week for you. I go Saturday to Friday. It’s only six days but still, A, six days, seven days in Vegas is too long. B, pretty much the whole time—I don’t know about you—but all I’m thinking about is, what am I forgetting? What am I missing this year? Oh yeah, we need that opening slideshow for the first 10 minutes of each conference. I need to update that. There’s all these little things and then stuff just really ramps up Sunday. Honest question, do you sleep very well at MicroConf typically?
Mike: I haven’t slept well in 4-5 years so it’s not a really fair question.
Rob: Yeah, you’re the wrong person to ask. I tend to sleep well. I don’t have many sleep problems in general aside from grinding my teeth which is irritating as heck for Sherry. At MicroConf I always struggle and I think it’s just how much I have going on in my mind. I wake up at 5:00 AM and I got to make sure to do that one thing or to tell that to that one person who needs to be at that one place at that time. There’s just a lot of details.
Xander has changed the game for us absolutely. But even then, I’m still thinking about stuff. Frequently what happens is I think of it, “Oh yeah, we need to do that one thing.” Then I wake up in the morning and I text you and Xander and Xander’s like, “Yeah, I already took care of that a week ago.” That’s actually the most often thing, but it still wakes me up in the middle of the night.
Mike: I think when I am in Vegas for MicroConf, I tend to actually sleep better I think when I’m there than when I’m at home, but that’s also I think partially a result of me remembering to bring a sleep mask because otherwise, the blinds of the hotel rooms are absolutely horrendous. You flip and shut but any hotel I’ve ever been in, they’re never very good so you have to have something else.
It feels like it gets so light so early and it just screws me because I tend to be up late and then the light comes and wakes me up in the morning. That’s the biggest problem I think I have. I agree with you in like having all those little things that are hanging out, they come up and you have to remember that, “We have to do this. I have to go back and tweak that from last year’s slides,” or whatever. That obviously comes up just constantly.
I carry around a pen and a notebook at all times just so I can make sure to write things down as they’re happening, or keep track of what has to go on with different sponsors, or different times of each conference. There’s just lots of little things to keep track of and trying to keep them in your brain is just not going to happen.
Rob: Yeah and that’s a good point too, because in my day-to-day workflow, I use email a ton. I use Trello. I just have a system that all goes out the window when I’m at MicroConf because I’m not checking email very much at all and I’m not looking at my Trello board. I have email to Trello basically. If you and I are talking in day-to-day or I’m at a dinner party and someone mentions a book I should read, or a something I should check out, a website, a person I should contact, whatever, I pop open Gmail, I email my own Trello board and it goes to the top of it. The next time I sit on my computer, I put it into the right queue. It’s an Amazon wish list, or an Audible wish list, or I fire off an email or whatever.
I don’t do that at MicroConf because I’ve just not checked my Trello board at all. That pen and paper approach you’re talking about, it’s either that or Simple Note because I have Simple Note on my phone. I just open up like a MicroConf-only to-do that I have to keep referring back to because I just find that my systems don’t work when we’re just running 110% for five days straight.
Mike: Yeah, I agree. That’s why I kind of switched over to the pen and paper. One of the things that tends to drop down on my list is the email and text notifications, though text notifications are different than Slack notifications. I totally don’t pay attention to it. You’re right though, being in a different environment like that where you’re not at your desktop, you don’t have all the tools available to you because you’ve just got so many other things going on, and you’re not really able to get into any sort of deep work because you don’t have your desktop, or laptop, or whatever. It’s just a very different operating environment.
Rob: Do you still use a desktop, Mike?
Mike: I do.
Rob: Are you going to bring that with you to MicroConf?
Mike: No, I’m not. I think the 30-inch monitor would probably be hard to get through.
Rob: For the love of god man, why do you use a desktop at home and not a laptop?
Mike: I have yet to find an actual laptop that I like and like enough to take with me, that’s part of it I think. I built my desktop from hand, because I’ve always kind of built my own computers even back when I was in college. I like the hardware that went with it but at the same time, because I built this 5-6 years ago, actually no, it’s more than that because I just recently reformatted everything, but I didn’t replace any of the hardware. I’m trying to remember, I think I found a software that was installed like 2010-2011. Most of the hardware is that old. I think it’s a hex core machine. It was a top of the line Core i7 at the time. I’ve got 64 gigs of RAM in it and SSD drives. The thing is it’s still a beastly machine all things considered.
Rob: Given that it’s 10 years old or 9 years old I guess, that’s a trip. I guess my question is and it’s going to die eventually. It’ll either fail or it’ll just be too slow to run stuff. When that happens, are you going to buy or build another desktop or you just kind of pony up for top of the line, because you’re in Windows right? It’s top of the line Dell, or HP, or whoever’s making Lenovo these days.
Mike: Yeah. For a while, I’ve been using a MacBook Pro and just ran VMware on top of it.
Rob: Dual booting or VMware. Are you going to just buy a high-end MacBook?
Mike: I don’t think so. I have not heard anybody have great things to say about the newer Macs. Everybody I see talking about them kind of hates them. They’re like, “I wish I could go back to the 2013 model.” Funny enough, I actually have a 2013 MacBook Pro. I use that when I travel, but I go back and forth on this. I think the biggest thing for me is, in order to be productive, I feel like I have to have more screen real estate available to me. I run three monitors at all times. One of them is a 30-inch and a pair of 20-inch monitors. That really works well for me. Going to a laptop kind of sucks. I looked at like the Surface Books…
Rob: You can do that because I run two monitors, two 24-inch or whatever off of my laptop. My laptop is one monitor and it’s retina so it’s amazing, and then I have the two 24s, so I essentially have three. How is that different than what you’re doing?
Mike: It’s not, except that on the one laptop that I was looking at was the Microsoft Surface Book and it doesn’t have the ability to do three monitors at 60 hertz because of the bandwidth limitations or something like that for 4K monitors. They’re so close, they really are.
Rob: That’s the limitation. I wonder if there isn’t a laptop out there—you don’t need to drive three monitors, you just need to drive two because the laptop itself if it’s high-res, you can use that in the center. I have an elevated thing. My laptop is up at eye level, and then I have a remote Bluetooth keyboard and mouse that I sit on my lap, basically on a panel, that’s the center monitor and then I have two on the other side. I just need to drive two. A, will that situation work for you and B, can you find a windows laptop that can drive two 4K monitors?
Mike: I haven’t tried doing that yet. Would it work for me or could I make it work for me? I probably could, but your comment about, “Oh, eventually my machine is not going to be able to do it.” My machine’s lasted long enough. Since that time, processors haven’t gone to six or seven gigahertz. I don’t think it’s an issue of that so much as just being able to have the laptop itself. I don’t have a justifiable reason to just go drop $3000-$4000 on a new laptop.
Rob: I agree and I don’t think you should do that now. I was just wondering when your desktop fails because it will. Something’s going to happen or it’s going to get too slow in the next five years. It’s not going to last 15 years. I was just wondering what you were going to do at that point, but maybe you’ll evaluate it when you get there.
I guess the thing of just working on a laptop all the time is then when you’re traveling, you’re not in this weird environment where you don’t have your stuff and it’s not the way it is. I have a 13-inch MacBook Pro and it is the new one with the touch bar. I don’t love the touch bar but I’ve gotten used to it. When I’m at home, I have extra screen real estate it’s amazing. When I’m on the road, I don’t but you can flip back and forth between the windows and I have the exact same shortcuts, icons everywhere, the same files, everything. It’s the same hard drive.
To me, traveling isn’t this big issue. I hate switching computers I guess is what I’m saying. I figure that’s why most people have moved to laptop so they can be mobile and go to a coffee shop or do something and it’s not this step down, aside from screen real estate, it’s not a step down in productivity. That’s all I was wondering for you.
Mike: That’s something I look at. My preference I think would be able to have a laptop that can do everything that I want and needed to do and that I just have a docking station. Just plug it in and everything’s the same. I can go on the road, or go to a coffee shop, or something like that, but I don’t work well or at least I haven’t historically worked very well in coffee shops or remote locations. It’s partly because I have back problems.
For me to sit at a coffee shop or in some weird chair that doesn’t do a good job of distributing my weight, I have kind of a hard time just sitting there and trying to be productive because I’m just sitting there in pain more than anything else. Maybe that’s part of why it doesn’t matter nearly as much to me as it probably would to somebody else. But I do want to at some point be able to switch and just say I just grab the thing and go, and that’s my entire environment, and nothing’s changed, I don’t have to worry about any of the stuff that you talked about where syncing things back and forth.
Most of the time for the current setup I have like, I have a MacBook Pro but then I have a windows VM that’s running on it. I reinstall all the software there. It’s a very similar environment. It’s not exactly the same, but anything that needs to be there, I just keep it in Dropbox, or Google docs, or something like that. It’s not that big a deal and Chrome keeps all my bookmarks in the same places. It’s not nearly as painful as it probably was 10-15 years ago.
Rob: That’s what I was going to say. With Dropbox and being able to sign in to Chrome and have your browser. You’re in your browser a lot of the time anywhere unless you’re writing code so it is nice. We were talking about MicroConf and we veered into that. I’m pretty stoked man. You’re running a little mini campaign fifth edition D&D on Saturday.
Mike: I am. I’m looking forward to that. I’ve got a bunch of stuff that’s already kind of laid out. I have just a couple of things I got to send you guys. I have to do that in the next day or so. It should be good. I almost wish I could talk a little bit more about it because I think it’s going to be interesting. I’ve actually run it twice so far. It’s not like everything is completely new. There are certain places where I know that there’s a few issues to iron out, but I think I’ve got them all straightened out. I took all of your characters and I gave them to other people and said, I want you to play these characters and I wanted to see how things kind of shook out. I’m hoping it’s well prepared.
Rob: That’s cool. If you’ve done it multiple times, to me it’s like a conference talk. The second, third, and fourth time I do a talk, it just gets better and better until to the point where I get bored of it, and it starts getting worse. I think you’re still on the upswing with this campaign.
Mike: Yeah. We’ll see. I mean it’s just a simple one shot. I expect it to take maybe three—like both times I ran it before, it’s taken four hours. I got to come and tighten that in somehow.
Rob: A little bit, yeah.
Mike: I have an idea of how to do that, I’m not sure you guys will like it though.
Rob: To kill it, do a TPK.
Mike: No. Well, I could do that. The very first room you walk into, “Hey, nobody dies. Let’s go get a beer.” I was thinking something along the lines of like a timer or something like that would be like, “Hey, this is kind of timed here, you’ve got to go a little bit quicker than you normally would.” I don’t know.
Rob: There’s a nuclear bomb waiting to go off and goes off of you if you don’t get this done. Is this campaign something you came up with or is it like a module?
Mike: It’s a module. Somebody ported it from fourth edition to fifth, and then I ported it from that platform because it was made for Fantasy Grounds which allows you to play D&D online. You get tokens and stuff to drag around and stuff, but the module itself because it was ported from fourth edition to fifth edition, it’s got errors in it. That’s why I wanted to play it a couple times in advance because the very first time I run it I was like, “This is a problem. That’s a problem. This is wrong like flat out.” They’re referring to things that just simply don’t exist and the authors never went back and fixed any of it. It’s like, “Well, what’s my interpretation of what it should be or how it’s supposed to be?”
Rob: It’s going to exciting and for folks who don’t know, it’s fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons that we’re talking about which is the current edition of that. You and I have never gamed together before, so this would be kind of cool. Frankly, I got out of D&D until 4-5 years ago when my oldest son got old enough to start playing, then I had the impetus to get into it again. Did you also take a bunch of time off from it and recently get back into it?
Mike: When I graduated from high school and went to college, I think I played once once or twice. I played once in college that I remember and I might have played over the summer the year after I went to college or something like that with some friends back home. But like you, I took a bunch of time off and I started again. When they first published fifth edition, I bought the books as they came out. When those were published I think back in 2014, this was about five years ago, that’s when I got back into it and started rereading stuff.
I basically skipped from the second edition all the way to the fifth and know very little about the third and fourth editions other than what I’ve read about what the differences are between those and the fifth edition. Just because some people I play with have played the version three and I didn’t know much about it. I was trying to educate them about what the differences were, but most of the people I play with now, they’ve either played second edition or they’re kind of new.
Rob: I did the same thing. I played basic back in the early 80s and then played [inaudible 00:15:39]. When the first edition AD&D came out, we played that. I don’t think I ever played second edition, never played third or fourth. When I got back into it, let’s say 4-5 years ago, I Googled, “Coming back into D&D. I’m going to teach my kid. Should we play first edition because that’s what I’m most familiar with or is fifth edition good?” There were some really cool threads talking about the pros and cons of it.
In the end, people are like, “Fifth edition is a better,” not better, that was not the word they used, but it’s a faster rule set. The game moves quicker. It’s easier to understand for someone who’s never played it and there’s tons of new stuff being put out for. You can do either one, but consider checking out fifth edition. It’s nice that the rules are available for free. There’s a PDF that Wizards of the Coast lets you down. I downloaded it and I was blown away by the simplicity and how they’ve gotten rid of all of descending armor class, and all these tables to hit, and saving throws and stuff and it’s just come down to difficulty checks with advantage and disadvantages. It’s just really elegant to me—elegant simplifications of things.
I know folks who are used to the old stuff, adapting something new is like changing programming languages from SEED to Ruby or something, seed.net where it’s like, “Oh my gosh, this is such a different paradigm.” Even if it might be more elegant or whatever, it doesn’t feel that way because it’s different. When I was 10, 12, or 14, I just had hours and hours to pour into it, invented our own stuff, and read every book, but I just don’t have that time now. It’s like, “Look, I have two hours a week maybe three hours to hammer something out. What’s fast and what’s fun to play?”
Mike: Now you can go online and there’s like random dungeon generators, and random character generators, and all the stuff, they’re fantastic tools that streamline things. I remember I used to spend an hour or two creating a character and now you can just go and use one of these tools, and you can have a character done in 10-15 minutes tops. That’s just fantastic.
Mike: I agree. I love the fifth edition rule set overall the other ones over the basic edition, the AD&D first edition, and second edition just because I think the biggest thing that I think it has going for it is that your character will get more powerful as they level up, as opposed to depending so much on items and things like that in order to make you more powerful. That’s the thing I think I disliked the most about some of the previous editions, because you could just make somebody completely overpowered at a super low level just by giving them a bunch of magic items. Whereas with this one, you’re competitive every step of the way with no magic item which is kind of awesome.
Rob: Right, it makes sense. I know we can talk about D&D. This could be a casual D&D conversation with just Rob and Mike, or tabletop gaming. Folks who don’t play D&D might have already tuned out. Those two listeners are gone. I have a question for you. Have you ever been to a conference where the opening 10 minutes, where the host gets on stage and talks about things, sets the stage so to speak, for what’s going to happen during the conference. What’s the best one of those you’ve ever seen? Have you seen any that have blown you away, I think. Obviously, the reason I’m asking you is, we have adapted ours over the years especially last year changed, the whole slide deck changed, the format changed, and stuff. I’m just trying to think about the best way to keep improving that.
Mike: I don’t know about best. I would say the most interesting one I ever saw—and I wasn’t there personally for this—I’m think this is a little bit of secondhand information. I was there the year after and I think that as a result of that previous year, things have changed in terms of policies of the company. It was at a Altiris conference back in, I want to say 2007-2009 timeframe, or something like that maybe it was even slightly before that, but the founder of the company came in through the back, and went through the aisles, and up on the stage riding a motorcycle.
Rob: Okay. Let’s talk to Xander, and on Monday, I want you to do that.
Mike: Sure. I do have my motorcycle. I could do that theoretically.
Mike: I think we may need to update the insurance, and waivers, and various other things.
Rob: And all the things, yeah, and rent a motorcycle, and get the drop to let us drive it through the hall. Alright, so that’s not helpful. That was completely unhelpful.
Mike: That’s my job here I think, to be completely unhelpful.
Rob: Exactly. Doing it 438 episodes since 2010—being unhelpful.
Mike: Yeah. I don’t know what the most interesting thing is. I mean I’ve been to conferences where the founder of whatever the business is, will come out and then give a really good opening talk or presentation, and it talks about the future, but it’s not like a 5 or 10 minute intro. It’s usually the keynote speech or something like that.
Rob: It’s a keynote, right. It’s an actual talk. Obviously, at MicroConf, for folks who haven’t been, you and I get up and we have between 10-15 minutes right at the start of the conference where we welcome everybody, we talk about what MicroConf is, we go through a breakdown of attendees, and stages they’re at, and that kind of stuff. It sets the stage for where we’re headed. Because it would be weird if everyone shows up at 10:00 AM on Monday and you and I get up and we’re just like, “Ladies and gentlemen, Jason Cohen, Chris Savage,” or whoever our speaker is and they get up on stage, because it’s not a program, it’s just a disjointed speaker after speaker. There’s no context for all of it. That’s why we’ve always done the welcome of like, “Welcome.” I don’t know. I’m just trying to think of something that’s not a keynote per se. We could do whatever we want. We can’t do it this year because the schedule is already set but next year, you and I could…
Mike: Are you looking for something different like to change it up in terms of saying how can we do this differently, or just looking for ideas of what other things, or are you just looking for validation of, “Is this the best thing for us to do or not?”
Rob: I think we should do it. I don’t think that’s part of the conversation of us not getting up there. It could be super weird if we weren’t there to welcome the people. Someone has to be there. I think we should do something. I think what we did last year was better than what we have done in prior years. I just am looking, is there anything else we can add to that to make it even better. That’s what I’m thinking about.
I think the best one I’ve seen was at SaaStr. Jason Lemkin got up and talked for maybe 15 minutes. It wasn’t a keynote, it was kind of like the state of SaaStr. He talked about the conference, and he talked about their community, and he talked about their fund, and it really was just an overview. It’s like when you think about writing a 10-page paper. You start high level, and then you dig in deep, and then at the end you come back to high level to conclude, and that’s how I think we structure MicroConf.
We have that introduction that really is this high level context setting, and then at the end, we should wrap it up with context and stuff, and we even have to structure the talks that way. We don’t tend to put a super tactical talk as the first talk on Monday because the vibe is off if you do that. That’s it. I think I might try to think back to what SaaStr’s opening was like and see if there’s any elements of that that could apply to us. We are similar to that opening and that we do set context, but I think there’s just ways to do it better.
Mike: What we do is we set context for the attendees at the conference. An idea that comes to mind—and obviously, there’s zero time to do that for this year—this is actually something that I have had an idea of the within the past couple of years like, “Hey, it would be cool if somebody kind of headed this up.” Not that I really had the time to do it, but it’s something that either we could potentially put together because of the audience and community.
But as you said, kind of give the state of self-funded entrepreneurs, or the state of SaaS applications, or the state of software in general for extremely small software companies like ours. Give a 10-15 minute overview of, “Hey, this is some of the major changes that have kind of come out over the past year. This is how things are progressing. These are things that are going on in the industry that people should kind of either be on the lookout for or be careful of. These are some opportunities that you guys might want to think about.” As opposed to what we do right now which is welcome them to the conference which I do think we still need to do that. But I also think that it would be nice if there was this extra piece there that was kind of an opening that did set the stage for other stuff. I think what that would actually probably take is doing interviews with founders, or calls, or surveys, and things along those lines to help gather information from the community to be able to compile that and show it to them.
I did a talk in MicroConf Europe in 2016 that I basically did that. I asked people for information and say, “Hey, could you submit this?” I’m basically writing a talk about it. I included a bunch of that information, but it’s not something I could potentially do like every single year so I just didn’t keep it up. I think something along those lines could be helpful and useful for the audience.
Rob: Do you know what the name of my talk is on Monday afternoon? You have not looked have you?
Mike: You know, I don’t even know the names of all the speakers.
Rob: I know. Well, we do keep a firewall between speakers and sponsors. Literally, we were talking last week I guess and I said, “Yeah, I don’t know.” I know some of the sponsors because there’s a lot of them returning, but I tend to wait until a day or two before to look through all the sponsors. Because this is our editorial firewall. Advertising versus editorial, we don’t link those two up. I don’t want that to influence decisions.
Rob: But the name of my talk is, The State of Bootstrapping in 2019. It’s not exactly what you are talking about, but I am trying to give that overview and talk about trends, and what’s happened over the past 10 years. I mean, you saw my Europe talk from eight months ago, or six months ago. It’s an expansion of that.
Mike: That would be cool. I mean obviously, you don’t want to do a one hour talk at the very beginning like that.
Mike: I don’t know how you would condense your talk into 10-15 minutes. That’s the other thing I think I would struggle with is how to gather enough data that is meaningful and useful to the audience, and present it in a short enough timeframe that isn’t distracting, or it doesn’t create a whole host of other questions.
Rob: Right. We have all these questions and then it’s like, “Alright and now our first speaker.” And people are like, “No wait, I want to hear more. That was in the middle of it. I’m so confused.” What’s up with Bluetick?
Mike: Oh, let’s see here.
Rob: Oh, that? What’s Bluetick?
Mike: What’s that? Could you spell that? I need to Google it real quick while we’re on a call.
Rob: What’s the news on that? I’m sure people want to hear it. Have you been working on it? Are you too bogged down with MicroConf stuff?
Mike: I’ve been so bogged down with MicroConf stuff and all sorts of other things going on. I think we talked about it a little bit in the last episode or the one before that. Just the timing of MicroConf and lots of other things that are going on has been so incredibly bad that I have not had time to look at it. Last week I had to sit down for a day or two and look at renewing my health insurance, because I think most people renew their health insurance at the beginning of the year and mine’s up for renewal on April 1st. I and had to call them and I’m just like, “Look, this is really bad timing.” They’re like, “We need to have this paperwork in by the 1st. Otherwise, it’s going to renew at the current rates.” I’m like, “Dear god.” It’s the worst timing.
Rob: I don’t renew my health insurance. What does that even mean? You have to reapply and fill out paperwork? I’ve never done that.
Mike: They change the plans every year. I don’t know whether this happens for everybody. They change the insurance plans that are available and the rates for all of them change as well. Sometime they will move things around. It’ll change the prescription coverage, or they’ll change what is covered under a particular plan, or they’ll change copays or which hospitals they cover. It’s just like, “Dear god, this sucks.” I have to renew by April 1st or basically, I just don’t have coverage.
It will automatically renew but because of the timeframe, I have to look at it now and figure out whether what I’m going to be doing now is the right thing or not. I was like, “Well, what about an HSA account or something like that?” They said, “Well, in order for you to do an HSA account, we have to give you entirely new plans because these are not HSA certified.” I’m like, “Oh my god.” Then there’s like a health savings account which is not…
Rob: Wait, that’s not HSA. You’re FSA, flexible spending account.
Mike: I think that’s it. Yeah.
Mike: Yeah. All these terms that are very close to one another that I’m not familiar with because I’m not in that industry. I’m just like, “I’m so confused. Why do I have to learn this right now and have 10 minutes to do it?” Like I said, it’s just bad timing and lots of major things all in a very compressed timeframe and it sucks.
Rob: You’ve been doing health insurance, taxes, prepping for MicroConf, right?
Rob: And so Bluetick is just kind of ‘blue ticking’ along?
Mike: Yeah, basically. I mean aside from the things that I talked about the last couple weeks. The webcast I’m going to be doing. That’s scheduled in late April. I’ve been doing little things here and there trying to move things along. I’ve also been doing research on the backend framework that runs Bluetick. Maybe this is a good time to talk about that, or maybe we should talk about it in the future episodes. I talked to Andrew Culver briefly about it because he is the founder Bullet Train which is essentially a framework that you can use as a starting point for your app whatever it happens to be. He takes care of all of the fundamental things like sign in, password reset, Stripe integration, and all these things. Basically, you start plugging the logic of your application.
When I was first building Bluetick and started out, I couldn’t really find anything like that, but I did find an open source project where they said, “Hey, here’s the MIT license for this,” or whatever, “and you can use this stuff.” It looked like it was pretty decent it’s just it didn’t do everything that I needed to do, and then you’re seeing some of the same library. I based a lot of stuff in on it, imported some of the code, but then there’s obviously a divergence there. They did their own thing and I did mine.
I went back and looked at it and it’s much farther along than it was at the time, and more advanced in certain cases which would actually make it easier for me to use that and plug in more functionality, but the database tables don’t line up. I’d have to port things over and deal with that stuff. I’m just like, “Is it worth it?” I’ve done a little bit of exploration there, but by porting it over would give me all the core functions or the features of just like a SaaS application would be taken cared of for me, and I wouldn’t have to worry about them. I just don’t know if I have a good sense of how long it would take to do that or whether it’s worth it. It maybe something I just do it over time and not necessarily worry too much about it.
Rob: I think the question I asked is like, to me, your number one goal right now is more paying customers. It’s ensure problem-solution fit, ensure product-market fit, and more paying customers, and this doesn’t do that. I know that it makes longer term, it’s a good call. If you run this app for 10 years, 20 years, then yeah, it’s good to be on a framework assuming that they maintain it. But I think that’s pushing off the number one priority which is get more people in your funnel, close more deals, get more revenue because that’s really the point you’re at. Just my take.
Mike: I totally agree with that. That’s why I haven’t tried to bite the bullet and actually do it. There are certain issues that the app has in terms of team accounts and things like that. I’m just like, I don’t want to go down the path of some of those things right now until I have more customers and more revenue because it’s just not—I don’t want to say it’s not important—it’s not the top priority.
Mike: At some point, I’ll do it, but I have a hard time doing it now.
Rob: I would agree. There’s always a lot of distractions like that. I think we talked about last time where customers give you more things or even you have more great ideas and you can never implement. You, as part of being a founder and making the right choice, is picking the ones that are going to have the most impact for you. It’s like, “What are you trying to impact now?” To me, it’s your top line, or bottom line, or however you want to phrase that.
Rob: Cool. I guess in the interest of time, we’ll wrap up here in the next couple of minutes. There’s some new stuff at TinySeed but it’s in that weird phase where we have all these applicants and I’m interviewing a lot of them. I’m having fun doing it. It’s super busy and then like you, trying to get taxes done, prepping for MicroConf. My talk is not done and I fly out basically in 48 hours. I know. The dirty little secret of you do enough talks, and you find that you’re closer and closer to your deadline.
I remember Dharmesh Shah at BOS years ago; it was probably a decade ago now. We were talking and we’re both doing a talk that year I believe. I might’ve been doing like a lightning talking and he was doing a full one. Anyways, he said, “Yeah, I’ll start my talk at 11:00 tonight,” and he did it the next day. I was like, “What? I’ve been prepping for weeks.” I was obviously much earlier in my conference speaking than he was. He said, “Yeah.” He typically sits until three in the morning and just writes his talk all at once the night before and that that’s kind of his best way to work.
That’s not mine because I don’t like staying up that late, but I do find that the pressure of having to get it done often forces me to really focus and ship good material. I can burn dozens of hours over the course of weeks if I have all this time to write the talk. Now the practice of it I think is another thing. I think having more time to practice does improve the talks. Off to figure out some good times to do that.
Mike: That’s something I kind of struggle with too is, getting the talk done early enough to be able to also do a lot of practice. I don’t know about you, I have little hacks and stuff that I put in a bunch of my slides where if I’m going through it—and I have a couple bullet points—if there is a bullet point that has a period at the end of it, then I know that hitting the button again goes to the next slide and things like that. Most people wouldn’t catch those types of things, but there’s little things that I use as visual indicators for myself to know what’s coming next, or to pay attention to a certain thing, or make a certain point.
Rob: Yeah, that makes sense. I guess the last thing for me is with TinySeed. As with any startup in the early days—here’s the difference actually is, nowadays, if I were to start a new company that’s going to build a software product, I would go to Stripe Atlas and I would form an LLC or a C-Corp through their one click thing and it creates a bank account that does all these stuff. It’s a solved problem now. I know that you’re then going to need some other paperwork as you hire employees and stuff. There’s gusto and there’s benefits. There are ways that have simplified it.
It’s not there yet with starting an accelerator and essentially an investment fund. The nature starting those is not as refined. You go straight to law firm, and you’re forming multiple LLCs that reference one another, and there’s just a lot of complexity there. Luckily, Einar, my cofounder with TinySeed, has taken care of most of that. But there have just been a few points where I’ve been involved in conversations as we’re trying to get term sheets nailed down and stuff. I had one simple question about changing one word to make things clearer and it wound up being this 10 email back and forth that got more and more complicated.
I don’t know if I wasn’t explaining myself well, but it was one of those moments where I finally said, “I give up. It’s just going to have to be complicated on the dock because to change it from pre-money to post-money would require a huge paragraph, and all these exceptions, and this huge bulleted list in what is otherwise a 10-word sentence right now.” If we do pre-money, then it’s 10-word sentence. If we do post-money, I think based on what he was telling me, I couldn’t actually understand, it just [inaudible 00:36:04] out of control. That’s the kind of stuff that is so frustrating to me as someone who is trying to get things done.
I was trying to send things to people three days ago and then it winds up being this back and forth back. We were going to jump on the phone, I know it would have helped, it would’ve been the same conversation that happened via email. I think the perpetual frustration of being a founder is, you always have these things that are just outside of your control or maybe your expertise. They get complicated and they become time sucks beyond what they should I think. I’m learning when to just throw my head up and say, “I’m going to give up on this one. I’m not going to fight this anymore. I’m not going to waste anymore time.” I think as a younger entrepreneur, I wasted a lot of time fighting against things like this rather than eventually just saying, “Look, it doesn’t really matter. Just do it the way it is.”
Mike: You raged against a machine when you were younger?
Rob: Indeed I did, over and over.
Mike: I think that that type of problem happens in general when you start a business. There’s going to be certain things that are out of your control and it sucks because you want to move fast and you want to get them done. At the same time, I think that one of the issues that you’re running into is that, when it comes to legal terminology, there’s hundreds of years of history of legal things that have happened, and there is precedence that has been set. When you say one word versus another word, it can drastically change how that is interpreted in the eyes of the courts. It sucks to have to deal with that stuff.
I don’t want to say it’s exactly like programming because with writing code, you have to be very explicit about what you wanted to do, and then what the exceptions are. But with legal terminology, there’s always—I don’t want to say ambiguity—but there’s different ways to interpret the exact same words. It kind of sucks sometimes.
Rob: Yeah. It is what it is. I know that people out there are probably not in their head. It’s like taxes, legal stuff, there are others. I don’t know, plumbing code in your SaaS app. It’s things that don’t move your business forward.
Mike: You said plumbing code and I thought the actual plumbing pipes.
Rob: That too.
Mike: [inaudible 00:38:09].
Rob: It’s stuff that doesn’t move your business forward.
Rob: That’s all I have to say. We should probably wrap it up for the day huh?
Mike: Yeah, I think so.
Rob: Most of our episodes are not this casual. We answer a lot of listener questions as well as dive into detailed and interesting startup topics. If you have a question for us call our voicemail number at 888-801-9690 or you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our theme music is an excerpt from We’re Outta Control by MoOt used under Creative Commons. Subscribe to us in iTunes by searching for Startups.
In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike talk about the Bluetick marketing plan. Mike breaks down his plan in three categories, one-time, ongoing, and long-term. The two go back and forth on the most effective strategies for each category.
Items mentioned in this episode:
- Price Intelligently
- Product Hunt
- CSS Gallery List
- Whitetail Software
Mike: In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and I are gonna be doing a teardown of the Bluetick Marketing plan. This is Startups For The Rest Of Us episode 384.
Welcome to Startups For The Rest Of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers, and entrepreneurs be awesome at building, launching and growing software products, whether you’ve built your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Mike.
Rob: I’m Rob.
Mike: 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: I’m doing alright. I was just looking through our 584 worldwide iTunes reviews. We’re approaching 600 people, 16 more and we’ll be crossing that 600 mark, which is quite a milestone. Some recent reviews, there’s one here form just last week, from […] and he says, “Great podcast, been listening for years.” One from Mr. Man Man from the UK, he says, “Full of great practical advice. Discovered the show recently and now a regular listener. Extremely valuable advice for anyone who wants to build tech products.” Limons from the US says, “Every episode is invaluable. Somehow Mike and Rob ensure that every episode has at least one and usually a ton of valuable info. I love the presentation style and how much they pack in. I don’t think anyone just started tech business without listening to this podcast.” Thank you very much for those.
You can log into iTunes, or Stitcher, or Downcast, or Overcast, and leave a five-star review without even typing in all those crazy technical words and phrases and sentences. Just hit the five star button and it will go a long way towards helping us stay motivated to record the podcast. Also, helps us grow our audience which convinces us to keep doing every week, to ship every Tuesday, as they say.
How about you? What have you been up to aside from-so you lost power. People know I did a solo episode last week. How was that with no power and no water?
Mike: Oh, that sucks. It was about a day or so that we lost power. We lost it, I think, at around 10:00 o’clock or 11:00 o’clock at night and then we didn’t get power back until probably 6:00 or 7:00 the next day.
Rob: It’s tough.
Mike: Yeah, it sucks. The real hard part is that with no running water either because we have a well and the water comes up through the well with the electricity that powers the pump. We actually have some giant jugs of water that we keep downstairs just in case we do lose power or something happens with our water because we’ve had issues with our pump as well. You lose your pump and you can’t have any running water which is surprising, you use it a lot but you never ever think about of what would happen if I didn’t have water today or what would happen if I don’t have electricity today. It’s just inconvenient to say the least.
Rob: Right. I’m glad you’re back. You went to Germany recently.
Mike: Yup. Went to FemtoConf which was pretty awesome. I had a great time. There were probably about 40-50 people there. There were some issues with a few people getting into FemtoConf just because they were flying in from the Eastern US. Of course the snow storm came through and hit the New England area so some people were delayed, some people just didn’t get there at all. Travel for a few people was kind of a mess. Fortunately, I flew out on Thursday and got there and kind of recovered, no real major issues with jet lag. But I really like the feel of it.
It was a lot like MicroConf when it was much, much smaller. Just much smaller groups, intimate conversations very much like MicroConf. The feel of it and the vibe was very reminiscent of that, I’d say in the very, very early days of MicroConf 2011-2012 when you didn’t necessarily know everybody or you’re just kind of getting introduced to what other people’s businesses were. There were a couple of talks on the first day. Then the next day Sherry gave a small workshop. Then we split off into a couple other ones where Alex Yumashev from JitBit did one on kind of like engineering growth hacking that you could do. Then Mojca Mars gave one on Facebook Ads which I went to that one. She went through and basically set everybody up with their Facebook Ads account, walked them through exactly how to get things started, and kind of helped them figure out what it was that they needed to do moving forward.
Rob: That sounds super cool. There was just one or two talks a day?
Mike: On Saturday there was four talks and then on Sunday there was Sherry’s workshop in the morning, and then there were two other workshops after that. Thomas Smale from FE International was supposed to be there, so there was supposed to be two workshops, and followed by another two workshops. It kind of run simultaneously in different rooms but because Thomas couldn’t make it, Sherry ended up doing one for everybody, and then the other two were split. First speaker on Saturday was Claire Suellentrop who’s also going to be speaking at MicroConf in a couple of months.
Actually, what’s that? Six weeks away right now? Claire spoke first and then it was followed by Aleth, she spoke about GDPR, and then I spoke about email follow-ups, and then Patrick Campbell, he was one of the people who was delayed, he spoke about modifying your pricing and how to figure out what an ideal pricing model should be for your business, and then using it as one of the biggest growth leverage in your business. I think I got a lot out of that talk because I’m kind of right in the middle of evaluating pricing and figuring out what to do with it, and how to pitch it to people.
But he also pointed out the fact that SaaS has gotten substantially more competitive over the past several years. He had graphs and charts to show the number of competitors, the people that started five years ago had versus people who started two years ago versus people who started last year. It was just fascinating the amount of data that he had on that based on all the stuff that they do for Price Intelligently.
Rob: Yep. His talks are always super valuable and have a lot of data. It sounds like a lot of fun, man. Sherry was there, obviously. Told me about it and said she enjoyed it as well and said there was a ton of overlap with the MicroConf crowd. I think she said most people go to one of the MicroConfs which is fun. It’s fun to get together in almost a more mastermind-y arrangement. I know it’s not that small but I bet you kind of know everybody and know what they’re up to and you can literally talk to everyone at the conference.
Mke: Yeah. If you don’t know them before you get there then it’s easy to at least have those conversations and get to know them by the end of it.
Rob: For sure. Cool. What are we talking about today?
Mike: Well, I had asked a few people what they wanted to hear on the podcast. One of the biggest things that came out of it was what is going to be the initial marketing plan for Bluetick now that the new website is up and running. I wanted to talk about that and kind of just go back and forth, and giving I guess a high level indication of what I’m going to be doing. And then you and I can talk about either specifics of it or vet some ideas around or even just tear some of these ideas apart, and say, “Look, don’t do this,” because more than happy to hear some of the advice that you have to share.
Rob: For sure. I know I had shared with you at one point the Drip marketing game plan and the HitTail one actually. The HitTail is a little bit out of date but did you look through that, at all, to populate this list you have?
Mike: Some of those things are pulled from there. I haven’t gone back to either those in a while. I probably should do that at this point. Most of what I’ve been doing lately has been really focused on either MicroConf or getting the new website up and running and now that that’s in place and things are settling down a little bit with MicroConf, I can go back and take a look at those. But some of these things are pulled from that.
Rob: Yeah, that makes sense. One thing I would consider before we dive in, you have it broken down into two categories, kind of, “I’m gonna do these things now,” and then my longer term things. Maybe you do them over as you get time or as you get budget. Something I would think about is to even have one before now or to split the now into two buckets is to have one-time things and on-going things. One of your bullets here is product listing sites, like product on beta list, and I would even go so far as to say all the CSS Galleries.
There’s 50 different things; there’s getapp.com, there’s Capterra, there’s AppStorm, there’s this whole list that you can put together. Those are truly gonna be one-time things. I think it might help your mental model of like, “Okay, gonna do those once. Gonna get the heat of traffic.” Even podcast store is kind of a one-time thing. You’re not gonna do that for a year whereas webinars, joint webinars, and that kind of stuff I think is more on-going. Does it help for you to think about it like that?
Mike: Yes. In Teamwork I have a project that’s specifically called Bluetick Marketing that just has lists and lists of things there. I’m looking at it now there’s probably 20 different lists in here and there’s about 162 different to-do items in there. One of them is specifically one-time marketing tasks. Things like going into the Chrome Web Store and looking to see if there’s anything that can be leveraged there, submit into the Google Apps Marketplace. The products listing sites, inside of that various accounts are different places, and documented certain processes, etc. Mostly just one-time things that I need to do it once or is it’s a task that needs to be done but the output of that could then be leveraged over and over again.
Rob: Okay, that makes sense. What I’ve done is update the list a little bit and I just kind of threw some things that’s called one-time and then we have on-going, and then a later list. Will that work for you?
Rob: Let’s see. Let’s dive in.
Mike: You wanna go straight into the now sort of things?
Rob: Yeah. Let’s talk about the one-time things because I think that these are things that I have all of my marketing plans. But specifically, I’m gonna keep talking about HitTail and Drip because that’s when I formalized this and put it into a doc. I really thought through where are the places that I can get a bump now that I’ve launched. It’s like the website’s live, every time I try to get written up on Venturebeat, and Techcrunch, and ReadWrite web, and GigaOM when it existed, all these things. It never worked but at least I tried it. I was trying to get some type of buzz.
Then there are the ones that are easier or guaranteed. It’s like startupli.st and BetaList, and makeuseof.com, all the things we just talked about, like Producton and that kind of stuff. You’re almost guaranteed to get a listing even though it might take a while to do. I think if you ever venture back, maybe those little-oh, and CSS Galleries is the other one. If your site is good enough and is a custom-design, I realize yours is probably more templatized, but always got a lot of traffic with HitTail and Drip from the CSS Galleries.
Did it convert amazingly well? No. But did it to convert to some trials for almost zero effort because in essence I would have a VA or I think I may have even hired a service at one point because there are like a hundred different CSS Galleries. I think there was someone who productized it and I paid $99 and submitted some info and they submitted it to all of them. To me, that’s a great zero time $99 investment because if you get one or two trials, depending on your price point, that pays it off.
That’s how I always entered it. I think if you ever venture back then need to make a bazillion dollars then maybe these kind of little initial approaches could be a waste of focus or a waste of time but I think given that every trial counts for you, I think those things are important to do. Chrome Web Store is the other one you said in the Google Apps Marketplace. I had zero look with the Chrome Web Store. What’s the difference between the Chrome Web Store and the Google Apps Marketplace?
Mike: I’ll be honest, I don’t know. I’d have to go and take a look at that. I think the Chrome Web Store was specifically for Chrome plugins. At one point, I had on my list of things to put into Bluetick like a small Chrome extension. Obviously, it never materialized. It’s not that it’s not a road map, it’s just I didn’t get there. I don’t know if that’s even viable or something that I could do because they may just say, “No, you have to have an actual Chrome extension to be able to put that in here.”
Rob: Yeah, that’s what it is. While you were talking, I went to the Google Apps Marketplace. It’s now called the G Suite Marketplace. If you integrate essentially into the G Suite, it also looks like you can just integrate with Gmail as well. Since you do that and neither Drip nor HitTail did, I never submitted to the Google Apps Marketplace. That would an interesting distributing channel.
On the Chrome Web Store I did get a minimum Drip and HitTail in and it had zero traction. But I’m not saying it’s not worth the time but it didn’t do anything. It’s pretty crowded in there now. It’s kind of like the iOS app store I think about, in the early days it was a lot easier to get found. I know that PipeDrive said that a lot of their early growth came from the Chrome Web Store but that was a different time. It was five years ago or whatever. It’s one of those things where you have to create some images and you have to create some XML and you have to submit it and it will take you probably half a day to do. You gotta wait if you wanna do that or not. It depends on what else you have going on.
I would probably lean towards doing it just because it is one more distribution channel and you could get lucky but I think it’s not as high priority as pitching podcasts as an example, because that’s gonna have a really high success rate for you.
Mike: Right. The other thing that comes to mind is going through the process of putting out on all those products listing sites. It contributes to long tail SEO as well.
Rob: Yeah, that’s right.
Mike: It contributes to your page authority and Google will see all those lengths coming in and just building those backlinks is kind of important.
Rob: Yup, I would agree with that.
Mike: You said CSS Galleries, fill me in on this because this is something that hadn’t even crossed my mind.
Rob: The only reason that they even came on my radar is when I acquired HitTail–no, it wasn’t HitTail. It was a different site. It was a productized service I had. It was called CMS Themer, CMS Themer at the time.
Mike: I remember that.
Rob: Yeah. It had a really nice design and it would get quite a bit traffic from CSS Galleries. The interesting thing is CMS Themer was really targeting designers and so that traffic converted very well. I’ve just always made it part of the marketing plan. Obviously, it doesn’t convert nearly as well when it’s an app like HitTail or Drip, but again, this posted a link into our docket. It’s cssgallerylist.com. For $60, they submit to hundreds of galleries. For $60 and almost no time it’s worth it for the backlinks, it’s worth it even if the traffic doesn’t convert, it’s just another channel to get out there. Again, the last time I did this was five years ago, there maybe a better resource than this cssgallerylist.com but I do know that I used these guys and it saved me a lot of time.
Mike: Yeah, for sure.
Rob: This is not something that’s gonna grow your business overnight or be some huge game-changing thing but it’s just all these little parts of the snowball that you’re kind of turn the pack on and then seeing which ones get you any kind of traction.
Mike: Right. I think the important thing to keep in mind when going through this stuff is that every little bit helps and you don’t always know that any one link is going to contribute anything but if it gets one person over and the ROI on that is gonna be almost no way to calculate that but you may get three people over and one person converts. It’s not a 33% conversion rate for that obviously but that can help.
Rob: That’s right. Have you considered how you could do an ‘ask me anything’ on Reddit or you could do a Show HN where you say, “Hey, here’s this business. It doing…” whatever the revenue is, or I don’t know if you can be vague about that or not, but I don’t know how you wanna handle it. Then basically say, “I’ve grown it to this. Give me your feedback,” or whatever. Have you thought about that? I don’t know if that’s worthwhile or if that’s just a big waste of time.
Mike: I have. I’m in a couple of Facebook groups. That was suggested to me a couple of months ago via somebody that said, “Hey, you should do an ‘ask me anything’ on Reddit.” I put it on my list but it wasn’t something that kind of rose, I’ll say, close to the top of things that I thought were, not necessarily game changers, but in terms of weighted priority, I didn’t feel it was something that would help out a lot.
Rob: It’s tough. If you’re marketing directly towards developers, then it would make more sense.
Mike: Right. If it was something like ‘ask me anything’ on growthhackers.com for example, that’d be a totally different story. That’s something that I probably should add to the list to be honest.
Rob: Oh, I think you should, yep.
Mike: Anything else in terms of one-time activities that come to mind that’s not on this list?
Rob: I was just trying to think about that. On startups.com, answers that are on Startups used to be kind of a place but I don’t even think that exist anymore. The bummer about Quora is that it’s really not a one-time thing. What I would do with a one-time thing is set-up, subscribe to some topics, there’s probably a cold email, or even just email. You want email sales, you want the email sales channels not the email marketing channel because email marketing tends to be bulk email and that’s not what you’re doing.
I would subscribe to categories or topics that fit your thing so that you’re notified when questions are asked because you wanna be an early answer. You don’t wanna go on a bunch of old Quora threads and add your answer because those threads already have a bunch of up votes and you’re not likely to be the answer that shows for everybody because that’s really what you want. I did that in the early days of Drip. It’s a bit time-consuming but what I found was the questions that come through tend to be so far into your wheelhouse, that they’re really easy to answer.
Even if I type a couple of paragraphs, it just flowed out. I didn’t have to research because it was things like, “What are approximate open right rights? What’s a good open right for a list?” It’s like, “Well, I actually know what the range is. Here, I’ll talk it through.” It’s gonna be stuff that these questions for me would be tough to answer because I’m not knee-deep in this warm email engagement the way you are. Anyways, I would consider as the one-time part of that just subscribing and seeing how it shapes out.
Mike: Yeah,that’s interesting being able to rattle off some of those numbers right off the top of your head. Because it’s part of my talk that I did for FemtoConf. I looked specifically into that and looked across 70,000 emails that had been sent out through Bluetick and looked to see what the open rates were and what the response rates were across those, and then I cross-sectioned them and got the average, the best case, worst case, across everybody’s accounts. It was interesting what the numbers came out to be and then asking the audience I said, “Hey, here is a number, what do you think is this in terms of the open rate?” It was about, I’d say a third of the audience got it right which means that two-thirds did not which indicates that these numbers are, I’ll say, a little bit obscure or opaque and not everybody knows that they are.
Rob: Yeah, that makes sense.
Mike: I think a couple of other things that come onto this list is, I don’t know if they’re one-time or you would classify them as one-time, but like a podcast tour, for example. I feel like it’s something that you can do it once when you start and then if you’re going to try and do it again you have to have something compelling to follow-up with, I’ll say.
Rob: I do think of a podcast tour as a one-time thing but it’s not as one-time as say CSS Gallery submission, but it’s gonna move the needle more than them. CSS Gallery and the BetaList and all that stuff. I just posted a link to whitetailsoftware.com and Robert Graham had that pre launch email list building directories. We can include that in the show notes but I think you have 50 or 100 that he had his VA submit to, so that’ll help as well. But all that to say, podcast tour is gonna take several months because you’re gonna email and get scheduled, and by the time it comes out, it’ll be months down the line.
I think the big thing, the advice that I would give when doing a podcast tour is it would be easy for you to just go on a bunch of entrepreneur podcasts and say, “Look, I launched a product. I’m building this SaaS product.” You’ll convert some of those, it’ll be a low conversion rate. The audience who’s gonna convert the best for you is gonna be folks doing sales. It’s gonna be folks both doing cold outreach and then doing the warm nurturing that Bluetick allows you to do, this stuff that comes right out of your inbox and looks very personable. It’s not bulk email like MailChimp or Drip but it’s the one-on-one connecting whether it’s cold or warm. Who’s doing that, right? This is BDRs and salespeople. I know some of those are also founders but I don’t think that’s gonna be your market.
I think initially, you can get SaaS founders, and you can get our audience, and the MicroConf audience, and not crew. It’s good to talk about it here. I’m not saying you shouldn’t go on Mixergy and talk about it but compared to the size of that audience, the conversion rate is gonna be pretty small. The podcast that I would target that I think are gonna be your low-hanging fruit, is to go on podcast that are talking about sales, and talking about tech sales, selling SaaS apps is probably the B2B sales approach.
You can come on not to tell the story of your product but you can pitch it as, “Look, I’m an expert in this because I’m in it day-to-day and I’m seeing dozens or hundreds of customers who use our product and I’m seeing the patterns. I’m seeing the successes and how they’re doing it well. I see the failures and the mistakes people are making.” Does that make sense? I would definitely go after that space rather than focus on the founder and entrepreneur space.
Mike: Yeah, it totally makes sense. That was actually my hesitation, I’ll say, of doing that because I didn’t think that approaching those, the startups community would be something that will really resonate. Like you said, I’ll get some sales out of it but it’s not gonna be a high-converting channel for me.
Rob: Yeah, in all honesty, I will probably do both but I would start with the sales folks, the sales podcast. We both know at least a dozen people who have podcasts that I’m sure you could come on and talk about some aspect of your business. Try to vary it because we have this small community and so if you go on all the podcast of our friends and talk about the same thing on every podcast, everybody hears it, there’s only so many people in it. I will try to suggest different topics, different aspects. If you could talk about the launch on one, you could talk about the stress on another, you could talk about marketing approaches on another.
I do think that is still worthwhile because it’s easy for you to do because you’re used to doing podcasts and it’s 30-45 minutes of your time once it’s booked. It’s not actually that much of a time investment to be in the earbuds of likely several thousands or tens of thousands of people, but as I said, I do think I would start with trying to assess out what are kind of some B2B sales podcast that I can get on?
Mike: The interesting thing about that is there’s two different ways that I could approach that particular problem of going out to the people who are running those podcast. One of them is send directly into Bluetick and let Bluetick follow up with those people. The other one is that there’s a company I’ve stumbled across that will take kind of what your requirements are for appearing on podcast and will go out through the different network of podcasts that they have contact with, and essentially pitch you to them. I’ve mixed feelings on doing that, to be perfectly honest, but at the same time, there’s a time component that it’s gonna suck up some of my time to do it myself but in many ways, it comes across better if I do it myself.
Rob: Yeah. That’s hard. There is a balance because we get a lot of pitches on this show and on Zen Founder. If it’s not the person pitching themselves, I tend to delete them, that’s just a thing. I do glance through them but I don’t think we’ve ever had anyone on the show who wasn’t pitching themselves. When I had an executive assistant who is doing stuff back in the Drip days, when I was still running the business, she could email people as me, look straight out of my inbox, and so you could develop the pitch and have someone else send it as you. But it just depends on what you wanna do. I don’t know but I don’t have a good answer for that.
Mike: But again, at that point, I could just put it through directly into Bluetick and have Bluetick send out the email.
Rob: That’s true. Ta-da. That’s cool.
Mike: It’s interesting because occasionally, when I’ll email people whether they contacted me to ask me something about Bluetick, occasionally they’ll have heard the podcast and they’ll ask in their email as to whether or not it was sent from me personally or whether Bluetick sent it. I’m just, “If you can’t tell, doesn’t that speak to what the product does?”
Rob: Right. Does it matter? Yeah, that’s funny.
Mike: Does it matter?
Rob: We’ve talked at length here about the one-time upfront things. You have nice list of the things that you plan to do on an on-going basis, why don’t we look at a few of those?
Mike: Sure. The things that pop-up high on my priority list-actually, you know what, now that I’m looking through this, one of the other things that is on the on-going list should probably be moved over into one-time is the public Zapier integration.
Rob: Oh, yeah.
Mike: I’ve got a private integration right now but I’ve not taken it public and that’s something that I’ve been asked about a couple of times by Zapier. I just haven’t done it yet to be perfectly honest. There’s a lot of edge cases that either are not handled well or I know that there’s other changes that need to be made and I’d rather make those changes before I open it up than have to fix a bunch of other stuff. Because there’s some things that I do some manual data manipulation just to make sure that things are working right for certain customers. I need to put a more permanent solution in place for those.
That’s something that after going through the process, I believe they put it out through their mailing list. I forget what their mailing list is but it’s something like 1 million people or something like that, something ridiculously large. The conversion rate is not gonna be high but it’s more about driving awareness than it is about converting people at that point.
Rob: Yeah, you’re just trying to get the word out so people have heard of you at this point. One other one-time thing that I would do, it’s not a marketing approach, but I would set up Google alerts for relevant terms that you wanna monitor like company names of competitors, try to hear about like articles I think are relevant or conversations that are relevant, you have to use your judgment there but I do think getting something setup so that your kind of participating or at least aware of what’s going on in your space is helpful.
Mike: Yeah. I have a couple of them set up right now but it’s mainly for Bluetick. What I find is I’m getting a lot of emails about dog conversations that are happening.
Rob: Yeah, I could see that.
Mike: I guess if we’re gonna jump right into the ongoing stuff or the short term things that I was looking at, the first on my list is webinars.
Rob: Yep. Are you planning, because right below that you have JV webinars.
Mike: Right. I wouldn’t say I lumped them together but I think the general process is going to be similar for them whereas with the webinars, there’s joint webinars and there’s just the regular webinars. The regular ones are ones that I was probably gonna promote to my own email list and then maybe do one on a regular basis or promote it on a Tuesday every other week or something like that. And then with the joint webinars those would be much more scheduled where I’m leveraging other people’s audiences and contacting influencers and see if they’re interested in having me come and talk specifically to their audience about how Bluetick can solve a particular problem for them. I see it almost like the podcast tour but with a little bit more, I’ll say, pinpoint accuracy or a little bit more focused specifically on those people because I don’t wanna go pitch somebody and say, “Hey, can I just do a joint webinar with you?” But not actually have something that’s gonna be valuable to offer to their audience.
Rob: Right. I would the joint webinars before I try to do internal webinars because it is such a nice way to reach out beyond your own audience. Just through doing webinars to your own list, you’re gonna one and then you’re not gonna fill anymore, you know what I mean, until you get more people either using your product or on your email list. We tried early on with Drip to just run Facebook ads, get people to opt into a webinar, and we’re gonna try to run one every week, and we just couldn’t get people to show up at a price that was worth it for us.
Again, not saying it’s not possible but it’s an entire funnel that you have to develop. It’s gonna take you quite a bit of time and money to do whereas the JV webinars is a low-hanging fruit for you, because JV webinars is about who you know. You do have a good network of people who I think you could contact and have access to their audience right away, basically for free, without running all the ads and developing a funnel. It’s just conversations. I’d definitely prioritize the joint webinars above do your own.
Mike: How would you structure any sort of special offers for those people going to a joint webinar? There’s a lot of discussion and I’ve thought about this myself. I was like, do I wanna offer a discount or I wanna give additional services or special templates like, “Hey, you can only get this here because you’re coming to this particular person’s webinar.” My concern is really putting a lot of extra effort into something that-at the end of the webinar, it may turn out to be nothing. I may not get very many sign-ups out of it or I may get a lot but I don’t know. It’s hard to predict how much time and effort to make things custom for that person’s audience. You know what I mean?
Rob: Yeah, I do. I would lean heavily towards some type of bonus and it’s time-limited. You say, “Hey, free to sign up in the next two or three days, then you get this extra thing.” whether it’s a discount or the thing that you billed. Discounts are the lazy way to do it. It’s like the zero time way but it chews through your money. If you have no time, absolutely no time, then yeah, give people a discount, but discounts are not exciting. They’re not as exciting as like, “Get this complete email series,” even if it’s only three or four emails, my guess is, you can crank that out just using copy+paste from what you’re using already or from what you’re recommending to people and just edit it for their specific niche.
If you talk to a bunch of freelancers then it’s like, “Here’s the way they follow-up and do it for freelancers.” A lot of it is gonna be the same as any other sequence you have but you’re just gonna tweak a few things. I’m guessing, in about half an hour you could probably crank something like that out. You don’t even need to do that in advance of the webinar because if you don’t get sign-ups then you just don’t build it. But if you get sign-ups using that coupon code then you just manually reach out to people because it’s not like you’re gonna get 500 sign-ups. You’re gonna get 10, or 20, or 30. It’s gonna be a small amount. You can just hit people up and distribute that to them. I’m thinking of something like that. It’s high value for someone signing-up but it’s pretty low effort for you to create.
Mike: Yeah, that makes sense. I think right now when you go and sign up, I was probably gonna pull this off as things progress, but when you go and sign up right now, there’s kind of an offer there that basically says I’ll create an email sequence for you based on whatever scenario you describe and that will be your first sequence. It’s kind of concierge onboarding but I’ll say it’s probably not very well described in the website right now but it is something that I just offer to people as they come to sign up.
Rob: Yeah. If you get 30 sign-ups at a time that’s gonna get tough. I think you’re gonna have to stop doing that because it’s too time-intensive. You have to back off as you start getting more sign-ups.
Rob: What else? You have direct follow-ups with the following; invite to demos, you have current mailing list, prior prospects which I think is good, and personal LinkedIn contacts.
Mike: Yep. I have a couple of different spreadsheets based on when I was doing early validation. Some people said, “Hey, now is not a good time. Maybe later on when you’re further along.” And then there’s people who have come in and I’ve done a demo with them and things just didn’t work out for whatever reason, or they sign-up but they never followed through or they used it for a little bit, and then they said, “Yeah, this isn’t working out for me.” I’ve got this pool of people that I can go to that fit into that criteria, that I can put them into a Bluetick sequence, for example, and invite them to come back and check it out or go to a demo or something like.
But in addition to that, I also have the mailing list that is in the Drip account which I have been putting on the website where there’s an email course that you can go through. It’s like a 5-day course which I’m in the process of copy+pasting all the content all of that to make it a slightly longer course. But those people that I can go to directly, I can take them out of Drip and then plug them into Bluetick, and individually follow up with each of them. I could do that based on lead score for example and just sort them by lead score and then add them in in that order and say, “These are the people that I’m gonna approach first versus these are all the people who are probably, I’ll say, less interested, but still on the list.”
Rob: Yeah. I think that’s a good idea to kind of approach. I was definitely gonna say anybody who’s cancelled in the past, if the product’s a lot better than when they’ve tried it, you definitely wanna contact them. Prospect who haven’t converted, people who’ve been paywalled because they don’t wanna give their credit card, now is the time when you’re doing this to just circle back and clean all that out.
The personal LinkedIn contacts, you gotta use your judgement there, you don’t wanna come off as… I’ve never done that but if you know someone who really should value out of it and you do a very soft pitch like, “Hey, just to let you know I just launched this. I thought it might be helpful.” Not anything that’s forceful like, “Jump on a call. Jump on a call.” Then, I think, it’s halfway reasonable.
Mike: Yeah. I wasn’t planning on doing that. What I was gonna do was go through my LinkedIn contacts and just look. Obviously, I’m gonna hand pick which ones i’m gonna contact and which ones I’m not. I’ve got people who I know are software developers or they’re engineering managers, or something like. They’re really not a good fit for it but that doesn’t mean that I can’t go to them and say, “Hey, I just wanted to check in with you and see how are things going, and let you know I just recently launched this. If you know of anyone who could use this, I’d love an introduction just to kind of help me out.” I’m leveraging my personal relationships at that point.
Rob: I could see doing that. I just added a couple things to the list. Actually, you have retargeting on there, mostly Facebook. I think it says Facebook primarily, I think that’s a really good idea to get set up whether you use perfect audience, you have the display networks like Google and stuff already, you just tick Facebook and it gets probably a material but I think you should get that set up pretty quick. That’d be probably towards the top of my list. Do you already have the pixel installed?
Rob: Okay, good.
Mike: yeah, I’ve had that in pixel installed for a while. But then, the reality there is, I’ve put it under ongoing because there’s a one-time piece of setting it up and there is the follow on activities where you go in and you analyze how much traffic you’ve brought in, do you have a critical mass yet, what kind of advertisements you’re doing. It’s kind of two different components to that but I do find that even with my two-step process for the sign-up, you put in your email address and password, and it takes you over to a credit card page, and there’s people who don’t fill that out.
Obviously, those people, I wanna follow up with anyway but I also wanna make sure that people who come to the iste and then go over there but never even fill out that first page, I still wanna be able to retarget those people to bring them back. Because obviously, they were interested enough to go look at the signup page but they didn’t actually sign up.
Rob: I think in the interest of time here because we’re running pretty long today. I think you should consider-paid acquisition I have written here, it’s a tough one. It all depends on if you have budget and if you have time to sit there and test a bunch of stuff, so something to consider, maybe it goes on your later list but it’s definitely if you can get it to work, it’s really, really good. Cold email outreach, you have the tool to do it, nice to use your own tool. You can go to something like LeadFuze and get a list of people, and start doing the outreach yourself, or you can hire someone to the outreach for you.
We had mixed results when we did Drip but it definitely drove enough trials that have made it worth spending. We were spending money on it at that time and it definitely had positive ROI for us. Integration Marketing which is you just think of all the top 10 integrations that you would wanna have and think about trying to get either in their director. If it’s Stripe or Basecamp, they’re probably not gonna co-promote with you because they’re so big but they have these integration directories. Or if they’re a little bit smaller, if they’re a startup, they’ll probably have a list and are willing to email out and promote you. That requires dev time, of course, so it has to be worth your while.
But that was something we did 30 something integrations with Drip and it makes a lot of sense with a tool like Drip because it it a hub of data and so we integrated with a bunch of shopping carts and all types of marketing tools. That both helped our customers but it also really helped to start to get traction and kind of be everywhere in their early days. I think those are the other three I would throw out that you may wanna do sooner rather than later.
Mike: Yeah. I’ve already been asked by people about integrating directly into Bluetick using the API and I’ve kind of pushed off mainly because I know that there are parts of the API that are still changing, so I haven’t really structured it in a way that says, “Hey, this is available for you to use and it’s pretty solid versus these other pieces where you shouldn’t touch it.” I had a conversation with somebody at FemtoConf where they said they actually have three different versions of their API published. One of them was for them internally, and then there’s another one that’s a public API, and then they have special endpoint specifically for Zapier. It’s interesting they split theirs out and I think it makes a lot of sense as well. It’s just a matter of rearranging some things a little bit to allow people to do that and say, “Hey, this area is solid. This area is off-limits or don’t touch them.”
Rob: Yep, that makes sense. Anything else that you wanna pull out of here? Either in ongoing? It looks like you have a couple more and then you have some stuff for later?
Mike: Yup. The one idea that have come to mind that somebody had mentioned to me at FemtoConf was the idea of having Bluetick offered as sort of a managed service for x thousand dollars a month. Then they’ll send all of their contacts over into Bluetick and then, it’s my responsibility to make sure that things are running smoothly for them so that they don’t have to go in and manage anything which, if you set up a lot of the automation and stuff, you don’t have to worry about that, but there’s also ongoing tweaking, A/B testing, or making sure that, “Are these numbers any reasonable ballpark of what they should be?” If you’re getting a low open rate, for example, how would you necessarily know unless you’re looking at all the other data. I have access to that but other people don’t. Those are the things that I can provide a lot of additional value for customers but they don’t necessarily have access to it on their own if they just signed up.
Rob: Yeah. That makes sense. There’s a risk with managed services because they can just suck up a bunch of your time and also the revenue is not worth nearly what a SaaS revenue is in terms of a multiple-whether you’re gonna raise funding or whether you’re gonna sell or whatever. If you have a bunch of consulting revenue, it’s worth like 1X, 1X the revenue versus actual recurring revenue, it’s a different story. I shouldn’t say recurring. It’s higher margin revenue where if it’s software it has 70% or 80% margin. If it’s consulting it has what, 10%, 20%, 30% margin. It’s something that I would consider in the early days but it just matters what cash position you’re in. I think you would do it for the cash and not really for the long term prospect of the company because I don’t think you wanna grow a big kind of productized service long term.
Mike: No, I agree. The way I was gonna structure it was like, “Hey, here’s a managed service that if you wanna subscribe to you can,” and it’s either a three-month or a six-month contract, and then that’s it. If I decide to continue offering it then they can continue paying me for it but if I decide that we’re not gonna do this anymore, then things are kind of pushed back. It wouldn’t be something that you can just go to the website and buy off the shelf but it’d be limited three to six months contract or something like that. You’re right, it would absolutely be for improving cash flow for example, but it would also put a solid number on, “Hey, what is this particular customer going to be worth to me in the next three months or in the next six months.” Does that make sense?
Rob: Yeah, I think it’s interesting. Certainly trying it with one customer is not gonna hurt much. That’s the thing, is to see how much-if it’s valuable to them, if it’s workable for you, and obviously if you do it for 10 or 20 people, you’re getting yourself in pretty deep but you don’t have to do that. You can just dip your toe and then figure it out.
Mike: Yeah. I was gonna do it for probably one to five. The other nice thing that I thought that would deliver to me is the ability to work hand-in-hand with those customers and see what exactly what it was that they’re trying to do as opposed to, “Hey, here sign up to Bluetick,” and then after that, I don’t really have a ton of visibility into their business or exactly what challenges they’re trying to solve. I know generally what they’re trying to do but I don’t get that insight or I don’t have calls with them to really see on a weekly basis like, “Hey, what are you really trying to get out with this?” I think that those insights would actually help me build a better product longer term.
Rob: One of the thing I see on your later list that I like, that I don’t think we’ve covered, is you have this library of email templates, lead gen, and you use this as a lead gen to acquire email addresses? I think that’s intriguing both for the SEO and you can always run ads to it, you could retarget to it and you’re basically giving something away. I think that’s gonna take a ton of time for you to set-up. It’s a little more complicated than it sound but I’m glad you have it on your later list so at least, in a few months, once you get some of these other ones done, you can move into that, and start thinking about how to shape that up.
Mike: Right. The other nice, I’ll say, by-product of doing that is that, I could create those inside of Bluetick as a library where you can when you create your account, you can just select from a bunch of them, kind of a similar to the way that Drip has those pre-made blueprints for different situations, this would be exactly that. Like, “What situations have I run into with different customers that they’re trying to get a response or get the customer to take an action? What sorts of things work? What sorts of things don’t? What sorts of approaches do you wanna try?” You can almost categorize them. It’s like, “This is extremely aggressive versus to do the exact same thing to get somebody to a call. This one is much more laid back and hands off, and it depends on the situation whether it’s cold email versus a warm email with somebody who’ve had three or four conversations with us.” Which one you would use?
Rob: Cool. Well this was a good run. Thanks for bringing this on the show. I had fun talking about it. I’m guessing we’ve provided quite a bit of value for the folks who are thinking about this kind of stuff.
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In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Mike and Noah Kagan of AppSumo, talk about the evolution of Bluetick. Mike discusses how the idea came about, development, and issues faced along the way. Noah provides some post launch marketing advice and tactics.
Items mentioned in this episode:
Mike: In this episode of Startups For the Rest of Us, I’m going to be talking to Noah Kagan about Bluetick marketing tactics. This is Startups For the Rest of Us, episode 353. Welcome to Startups For the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers, and entrepreneurs be awesome at building, launching, and growing software products, whether you’ve built your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Mike, you got to say, “And I’m Noah.”
Noah: What’s up, man? I’m Noah.
Mike: We’re here to share experiences to help people who made the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s going on this week, Noah?
Noah: This week, I’m doing marketing. That’s kind of what I’ve been thinking about with our sumo.com business, just who’s the customer, where are they, what kind of plan can we put in place to help reach out to them.
Noah: Yeah. Our whole company’s purpose is we help the small dudes or the little guys become sumos. We have two businesses, one’s AppSumo which is a GroupOn for geeks, and sumo.com which is the tools for people to be able to promote themselves, mostly around growing their mailing list and growing their customer base.
Mike: Awesome. Today, we were going to dive into Bluetick. I just launched it a couple of days ago, I think this episode will go out actually a week or two later. I wanted to talk to you a little bit about it just because you’ve got a knack for all things marketing, to be perfectly honest. You’ve done a lot of different work with some very high profile companies like Mint and Facebook, especially in the early days of those companies.
I wanted to talk to you a little bit about if you were running Bluetick based on where it is today, what would you do and how would you approach things moving forward? Take that not only for my own selfish purposes to use that moving forward, but also to illustrate to the listener what sorts of things are possible and what sorts of things they should be looking at when they’re trying to get their product out the door right after they launch.
Noah: Totally. I don’t know how much you shared with your audience on the podcast, maybe you want to give a little bit of a background for possibly new listeners or to anyone who haven’t heard about Bluetick yet?
Mike: Sure. Bluetick is a warm and cold email follow up tool. The basic idea is that if there are certain points in your sales funnel that you know where you typically have to reach out to somebody more than once to get them to do something, whether that’s to reply or to fill out a form, or to submit information, something along those lines, then you put them into this email sequence. It will email them. If they don’t perform that action, it will email them again. It will keep emailing them again until it either runs out of emails to send or the person does that. You can have them pulled out of the email sequence, put into a different one.
It integrates with Zapier. People use it for integrating into a variety of tools like Asana and various CRMs to help them move people through so that they don’t have to do it manually. Otherwise, you have to copy from spreadsheets and things like that. It’s a pain in the neck to track of how many emails you’ve sent to each person and how far down in the email sequence they are.
Noah: How did it come to where it is today? Were you on the toilet and you’re like, “Hey, I really am tired of doing follow-ups. I need to go build software because I’m a smart developer.” How long did it take? I’m curious more of where the problem and the creation came from.
Mike: You were actually one of the first speakers at MicroConf back in 2011.
Noah: I thought you were going to say I was one of the first speakers to never be invited back, which that is true. I’m still waiting for my invite.
Mike: The hot sauce incident, I think that’s what did it. There was hot sauce 12 ft up in the wall.
Noah: [00:03:49] incident, it will not be talked about.
Mike: There was a no hot sauce rule after that. Disregarding that, when Rob and I were running MicroConf, he typically handles a lot of the speaker side of things and I handle the sponsor side of things. What I found was that when I was emailing sponsors to see if they were interested in sponsoring MicroConf, what would happen is I would send somebody an email and they wouldn’t respond. I would have to send them another one and possibly two or three more.
At some point along the way, they would reply. Usually, these were sometimes warm contacts, sometimes they were cold contacts. In most cases, because my email fell much lower on their priority list, they didn’t necessarily see it as necessary to respond right away. Of course, there’s good intentions there. “Oh, yeah, I’ll get to this. I don’t have time right now because everything else gets in the way.”
I would find myself emailing them two, three times, four times, over the course of a week or two, or three weeks, something like that. I found myself saying the exact same things to them over and over. I had the idea that there could be a piece of software out there that would do this for me.
I know exactly what the second, third, and fourth emails are going to be. The first ones are usually customized, Bluetick allows you to do exactly that. But those followup emails are all heavily driven from a template. They’re pretty much automatic. It’s really just to kind of get a response from somebody and help move the conversation forward.
Noah: So you had the idea, you’ve had these problems with these guys. I’m just curious, these are the things I’m thinking about. How did you go from that to saying, “Alright, I’m gonna build a software around that.”
Mike: I started doing a little bit of validation around it. My thought was oh, I could sell this to other conference planners and event planners. What I did was I looked into it, tried to figure out what a pricing model would look like, and realize that unless you ran a lot of conferences on a very regular basis, then you probably wouldn’t use the software.
Just because the pricing model didn’t really work out in terms of finances for me. If I charged a couple hundred dollars, it’s a little bit of a tougher sell than if I were to charge $50 a month for it. But if I’m only charging $50 a month, how many times are they actually going to pay me? It maybe two or three because they’re doing sponsorships for a couple of months leading up to the conference, and then they don’t need it for the rest of the year.
I tried doing the validation for a while and then I said this just isn’t going to go anywhere. And then fast forward a few years, I kind of came back to it and said well, there’s actually a lot of other situations that this applies to. Following up a consulting services company where they’ve got a proposal out to somebody, or they’re just trying to get the conversation started, or they’re just trying to find the right person to talk to. Those are all situations where this type of tool applies. But initially, I was looking at the wrong type of buyer for it. The right solution, wrong target person.
Noah: Who were you hitting up originally?
Mike: When I was first trying to figure out who to go after, I was looking at event planners and conference coordinators because I knew what that looked like. Right now, what I’m looking more at is services companies, anyone who has a price point that’s probably above $2,000 but less than $10,000. It’s well worth your time and effort to follow up with those people, but a lot of people don’t just because they either feel bad or they don’t want to go through that emotional hassle of sending that second, third, or fourth email.
I’ve got lots of data that shows me if you send that first email, yes you may get a 30%, 40% response rate, but if you send four or five, your response rate can increase dramatically to 70% or 80%.
Noah: That is really interesting. I found the same thing. I’ve used a similar tool. What was shocking for me is 50% of my replies to people came on the second email. It was like oh wow. It’s one of these things where most people I’m sure, Mike, you get a bunch of emails and a lot of people get a bunch of emails. You delete them. If it’s really important, people will follow up. If it’s something that’s important, the data actually really shows that.
Did you go and just build this right away or did you sell a bunch of them and get customers before you made it? How did that go?
Mike: What I did was I created this little explainer video. It was about a minute and a half long. I sent it to a handful of people in my network who I thought would have this particular problem and ask them, “Hey, is this a problem that you have? If so, are you willing to talk to me about it? I think I have a solution that would solve it.”
I got probably about a dozen conversations out of that fairly quickly, out of about 20 to 30 people that I send it to. I had those conversations. That was the initial discussion. I would ask them, “Is this something that you would pay for?” Most of them said yes. Once I got to the point where I had 12 people who said yes I would pay for this, then I sat down and I created balsamic mockups of what the application was going to look like, how it was going to work.
And then I went back to those people a month later and said, “This is what it will be, what do you think?” Then walked them through everything, gave them a “demo” of the product using those mockups. And then I asked them for a credit card, for a pre-payment. People gave me anywhere between a one month to three months pre-payment, I let them choose how much they were going to pay which helps me figure out what the price point was going to be. If that would make sense for me—if it was going to be $5 a month, I didn’t want to deal with it. But if it was $50 or $100, that’s reasonable.
After going through that, I ended up with about 15 or so people that gave me pre-payments, anywhere between one and three months, and anywhere between $40 and $100. I ended up with close to $2,000 worth of pre-payments.
Noah: Dude, go you. That is awesome. I think most people do it backwards. Build, build, build, hopefully someone comes. You’re like let’s see if people buy. I think one thing that’s a good thing for your audience to think about and it’s a good reminder for myself is that you had people already that you could reach out to. Either you had a mailing list or you had some audience or you had some type of network. I think most people do that way too late.
One of my favorite silly examples is people want to eat vegetables so they go like they have a garden. They dig a hole, plant a seed, and then they try to eat the seed the next day. I’m like obviously you have to water it, wait, and nurture it. I think you did a really interesting job where you’ve been doing this over a year so it made it easier for you to go validate this type of business idea. For people out there, go start a mailing list, go start a website, go start joining Facebook groups, go to conferences like MicroConf or whatever that is. It’s just a really good thing.
One thing I’m curious is who are the people that pre-pay? I think that’s amazing. What were they really excited about?
Mike: Most of them were services companies who wanted to get somebody into their sales pipeline or wanted to get somebody to a meeting so that they can have a call and talk to them. The issue that they had was that they would send somebody an email and say, “Hey, can we hop on a call?” The person wouldn’t respond, or they’d send them the link to their Calendly, youcanbook.me, or whatever that they were using. They’d suggest a couple of times and the person wouldn’t do it. Then, they would have to go back and follow up with them.
I built Bluetick in such a way that you can send them that link and it will send and inject data into the query string for that. So that when they click on it, they schedule a time, it closes the loop so that you don’t have to go back and pull the person out of the email sequence, it’s all done automatically for you. It tracks that on the backend so you can check what is your conversion rates and things like that on those emails that you sent, which one was the most effective, and it really just helps automate that whole process so that you don’t have to do anything beyond that first email. You just set it and by the time that person gets to that end of the sequence, the email has done its job.
Noah: You sold $2,000 worth to people, most of them wanted it for sales. What did you do next?
Mike: After that, I sat down and hired a couple of developers to help me build it. Spent about four months or so doing that. Then, probably two or three months after that trying to work through very early issues with customers, trying to figure out is this going to work for you, how does it work in your business, and just trying to get them to use it.
I ended up taking my entire development team that I hired, fired them all because everything behind it was really just not very good. I spent about six months re-architecting a bunch of things. At that point, probably around November this past year, that’s when I added my first customer who started paying on a monthly basis. Since then, I’ve been adding customers over the course of the past six, seven months or so. Right now, it’s sitting at around 20 to 25 active customers, and around $1,100 to $1,200 MRR.
Noah: Hold on, dude. That was crazy. What happened? You’re working with these guys or girls, and then you fired them after?
Mike: Basically. It was a team of three people, and they didn’t know each other. It’s just three independent contractors. I tried to position to them like hey, one of you needs to take the lead and step up and do this particular role and manage stuff. None of them really wanted to do it because it was all off of Upwork, they’ve never worked together before. In terms of management, I was trying to hand that off to them so that I could focus on customer stuff. It fell apart.
I blame myself for it because I didn’t necessarily give them as much guidance in terms of the design and engineering upfront as I probably needed to. My expectations were probably too high for them.
Noah: How would you do that differently? It’s funny, in the past six months as I’ve been doing more personal stuff, I was building some recruiting software. I used actually the Pakistani in the outsourced team that helped me build AppSumo seven years ago. Man, it was a freaking struggle. “Alright, cool, we’ll do those features.” Then they come back with the features and I’m like this is not even close to what I exactly told you guys to do and I showed you what to do.
I’m curious, how would you better communicate, hire a better team, how would you do that next time you build something?
Mike: I think that the design itself really needs to have more details or more screencasts or walk throughs with me explaining things. One of the things that I did was I would give them a document that says, “Hey, this is what it’s supposed to do.” It’s really dry and boring to look at those things. Even if you have things on the screen, it doesn’t necessarily lend itself to everybody on the team doing things in the same way.
If you have three different people who are tasked with building three different areas of the application, you still need somebody to coordinate between them to help understand, “This is the style we’re going to use, this is how we’re going to do paging and sorting,” things like that. There’s a lot of backend stuff that was just an absolute mess. It was implemented completely differently from one page to the next.
From the end user standpoint, the app barely works. It was because of all those issues. There wasn’t enough focus, I’d say, on letting them know about areas where they really need to be concerned about, which were things like you can’t just assume that you’re going to get ten records here, you might get hundreds or thousands of records, or even hundreds of thousands.
The replaces in the app where it just wasn’t scalable in any way, shape, or form and it would fall apart once you started using it. That’s what a lot of the reengineering effort was focused on.
Noah: That’s actually interesting. How much did that cost you to begin with, and then how long did it take once you took it back over to just finish it?
Mike: I’d have to go back and look but I don’t think it was more than probably $15,000 or so to have them work on it, between the three and six months that they worked on it. Most of them were working on it part-time. I don’t think it was more than $15,000.
Noah: Then how much was the new version?
Mike: The reengineered version, I did all that work myself. It took like six months to do it.
Noah: If you could go back, it sounds like ten months plus some of the validation. A year, give or take. What do you think would’ve been an alternative to get it out sooner? If you had to start this all over tomorrow, what would you do?
Mike: I’d probably stub out certain parts of the code base myself so that it’s clear how to do certain things or clear how to manage certain types of problems. There’s typical things you would do in an app like security controls, team accounts, and things like that. You really need to have those types of designs engineered upfront. If you don’t, then you’d have to figure out what to do with them later.
But there’s also that trade-off that you have to think about. Are you going to over engineer upfront to make sure that you get it right, or are you just going to slap something together and put it out there and see if it works and if it resonates with people and then re-do it afterwards so that you don’t figure out later on if you’re making a mistake? I think it depends a lot on how much money you have to spend on it and how much time, versus how quickly do you want to get to market and make the mistakes.
Are you okay with prototyping certain parts of your app, for example? Are you okay with prototyping the whole thing and throwing it away once you’ve validated that the idea’s going to fly? It depends on where in that spectrum you fall.
Noah: Where do you think most people make mistakes around that?
Mike: I’d say that people spend probably too much time building the app as opposed to putting it in front of people.
I had something that was barely functional in front of people in about four months. I realized early on where the problems were, why they weren’t using it, and what sorts of issues they were running into that made them not want to use it. That was helpful in that I got there quick, but at the same time those types of problems took a long time to solve partially because I wasn’t familiar with some of the technologies. Using a stack that I was probably more familiar with would’ve been a little bit better, but I can’t really do anything about it at this point.
Noah: One thing that I’m considering, and then we can get into the marketing plan about how to scale this out, cause I actually use a competitor tool, we could talk about that as well. If you couldn’t have built any software, you’re an engineer so you’re obviously very smart. Engineers are smarter than everyone else. If you couldn’t build a software, how would you have done the software and how would you have just done the service without the software?
I think what people miss a lot of the time, they’re like oh, software as a service, it’s just a SaaS recurring revenue. They don’t know that SaaS means you’re doing a software that’s replacing a service. I think that’s really critical that people just jump to the software. I’m like do the service a few times. In most businesses, you can actually implement ghetto versions of it to see if it’s something valuable for people before you go out and build software.
Mike: Yeah, I think for this, to figure out whether or not that was an idea that would fly, like in terms of the validation piece of it, to see if the process itself works. If you didn’t know that the process worked, then you could probably just create your own email account or ask somebody, “Hey, can you create a mailbox on your domain? I will send the emails for you.” When people get replies, then I will shoot it over to you unless you take over the conversation. You could do that, that would probably be the easiest way.
Noah: Dude, that’s a great idea.
Mike: If you don’t know how to code, if you don’t know how to do anything like that, you basically have to say how can I insert myself in here to do what a computer would do?
Noah: Dude, I love it. I’m just going to repeat it cause it’s so good. You’re like, “Hey, just give me access to your inbox or give me a separate account. I’ll even write the emails,” and you do it for them and then they’re like oh shit, this is working. Then, you could actually go build software.
Mike: Yup. I think that would work if you didn’t know anything about it or if you weren’t technical. I think in my case, I had done some of that early validation because I was doing this exact same process for MicroConf sponsors and I basically just took that process and implemented it as a piece of software. I think it depends on the type of problem you’re going to solve, whether or not that specific solution will work. But I don’t see any reason why if you’re going to build software that solves problem X, you can’t just do it manually until you can program a computer to do it.
Noah: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. You finally got it built six months later because you took over, you did it yourself. I’m curious for the people who aren’t technical, a lot of MicroConfs and your listeners are, but for the non-technical, how would they find someone to build it? Let’s say they validated it. Where would you go?
Mike: I started out with Upwork. I think that they combined with freelancer.com or something like that, I forget what the other one was. There’s also weworkremotely.com. The issue you find though is that the better developers, you have to pay more money. If you’re operating as a bootstrapped business or running it on the side, then you have this constant challenge or balance that you’re trying to strike between paying somebody to develop something versus either doing stuff yourself or paying somebody who is a lower cost so that you’re not burning through your runway as quickly. Cool?
Noah: Any of those different types of services, does Fiverr have any development?
Mike: Ah, I don’t know. I’ve never looked on there. Maybe they do, but my guess is that it’s probably very certain problems.
Noah: That’s fair. You finally build it and you give it to these people. What do they say? They’ve been waiting for it.
Mike: Depends on where you are in the timeline. After the four to five month mark, I count from January or 2016, because that’s when I broke ground on code. And then in April or May is around when MicroConf was, and right after that I came back and I started putting it in front of people. It really just wasn’t ready.
I had a hard time getting people to use it, I created accounts for them and they just really wouldn’t use it. I spent several months trying to figure out why it was that people weren’t using it, what was it not doing for them. There were just a ton of issues here and there, basically throughout the entire app. A lot of it just needs to be re-architected. It took me six months to get it to the point where I was getting people to start using it and realized now this is at a point where I could actually sell it to people.
I actually took somebody from outside of that core group of people and said, “If you want access to this software, you’re going to get charged on day one.” I was still trying to on-board those people, but I had given carte blanche access to use the software or not until they were getting value out of it, that’s when I would start charging them. There wasn’t any real impetus for them to start using it because it was obviously putting something on their task list, because then they have to start using it.
But then if they start getting value out of it, then I’m going to start charging them. I didn’t really draw the line in the sand for them until probably four or five months ago.
Noah: Interesting. Now you finally got it out, you finally got most of the bugs fixed, let’s jump to the marketing thing. Let’s get to the meaty stuff where a lot of people say, “Hey, how do I get more people to find my product and buy my product and grow my business?” I think the missing part sometimes is do you have something people actually want? Do you ever wonder about that, or think about if this is something people actually wanted?
Mike: For this product, no. I think that’s actually an interesting question, the way you phrase it because I don’t think that most people, when they’re building something, even question whether or not people want it. I don’t think that they do. I don’t think I’ve ever questioned anything that I’ve ever built and said do people actually want this? You don’t know that or even really consider it until after you put it out there, and then people don’t buy it. You’re like, “Oh, do people really want this?” You’re not going to build something that you don’t think people want.
Noah: Yeah, we think that. I don’t think anyone tries to be like, “I can’t wait to build stuff that no one’s ever going to use.” You know what I mean? I generally don’t think that’s the case.
Mike: Exactly. That could just be self-delusion too. It’s not to say that that’s not a possibility, it just means that no, I never really seriously thought that, and I still don’t. But it doesn’t mean it’s not a fair question, objectively, do people care?
Noah: What was your plan to get it out there? This is where we can start going through the marketing plan stuff that we went over in your document.
Mike: There’s different stages that I would say the app needs to get to. There’s the early adopters or beta users, whatever you want to call them. That group of people needed to get on-boarded and start being successful with it. Then there’s this level where I feel like it needed to start getting a critical mass of 20 or 30 people before I can go public with it and start pushing it out to larger numbers of people. That’s where it is today.
Most of the people who are on there now have either been using it for several months or were part of the very early access group, or just heard about it through word of mouth. I’ve actually gotten a lot of referrals from people who have been using the software and then recommended it to somebody else and said, “Oh, you’re having problems with X? I was too. I switched over to Bluetick and those particular problems went away. I found a lot of success in asking specific people for referrals and getting into other people’s networks and leveraging those networks to add more people into Bluetick.
Noah: Referrals, and then did you pick a goal, did you pick a customer? How did you organize that at a high level?
Mike: With the referrals, a lot of them were people that I didn’t know. It wasn’t as if I necessarily had a particular goal in mind, it was just who do you know that has this particular type of problem, and then is Bluetick a good fit for solving that problem for them? Most of it boil down to doing a demo for them, talking to them about their problems, if there were ways to reengineer the software a little bit to fit that particular use case.
I found a couple of use cases that people have hit on, one is podcasters who want to get sponsors for their podcast. It’s funny that that has come up because several years ago, when I was first doing the early validation, I was looking at event coordinators and conferences. They just didn’t happen often enough, but podcasters record every week or every other week. There’s a much higher frequency, and they could actually use the software to do exactly what it was originally going to be for for event coordinators.
Noah: A few other things. It seems like one challenge you’re figuring out is who is the ideal target customer?
Mike: Yup, that’s absolutely true.
Noah: For me, I use Outreach, there’s Mixmax, there’s Boomerang, there’s FollowUp.cc, there’s a good amount of different people doing this. Even with sumo.com and AppSumo, there’s always competitors. I’ve never seen a business where there is not competitors, even people like Tesla. There’s a bunch of other car companies, and guess what, there’s public transportation, there’s biking and Uber. Sometimes, their biggest competitors don’t even realize.
I guess the thing for you and people out there is just not to get discouraged. That’s also advice for myself. There’s always some competitor.
I think that what I’m curious for you is who do you think your customer will end up being? Is it for SMBs that are small sales teams, is it the podcast marketing tool? I do think with the outreach and some of these guys, I think we’re paying $500 a month per person or something pretty crazy and you can’t just sign up for it, you have to have a demo and all this other stuff.
Mike: I have talked to people who have been using Outreach or switched away from Outreach. One of their biggest complaint was the fact that it costs so much per license. I talked to somebody a few weeks ago and they said that there were quoted $150 or $160 a month per person. Bluetick is only $50 a month per person and it does largely the same type of things. I’ve heard from people who have used various competitors that they had problems with them.
What I did early on when I was doing the validation was I focused in on those problems and said how can I avoid Bluetick having any of those problems? I worked really hard on the engineering side of things to make sure that those things don’t happen. For example, being able to add somebody into more than one email sequence at a time and recognize when they’re in one versus the other and pull them out of the correct one for example.
Another one is being able to make sure that the emails are not being missed. If a reply comes in, how do you guarantee that the software does not miss a reply? I do that by synchronizing the entire mailbox, which I don’t know of anyone else who does that. It’s basically brute forcing to make absolutely sure that does not happen. And there’s a few other little things here and there, but those are kind of the main pieces that I focused on because the people I talk to were generally unhappy with other options.
In many ways, I won’t say the target market is this but I feel like a good chunk of my early customers are probably going to come from people who are fed up with other products and are looking for a solution because of specific things that they run into.
Noah: We can go about how I like to think about marketing plans and some of the things I’d recommend for you to do.
How do you know which customer you’re going to finally be like let me hone in on this customer and this pricing?
Mike: That’s a good question. I don’t know what that looks like right now, that’s something I’m still trying to work out. I’ve shied away from honing in specifically on one particular use case or one particular type of customer so far because I don’t feel like I have enough customers who fit a given profile yet to be able to say I’m going to go in this direction.
My concern is really that the tool gets pegged for getting sponsors for podcasters, for example. I don’t want the tool to be pigeon-holed into something like that too early. I don’t know what the best customer looks like. Maybe that’s not even a valid concern, maybe I shouldn’t be worried about that.
Noah: I think you should, and I think that’s where you’re going to win. Winning means just making the business a lot easier. What I’ve been thinking about a lot in the past few weeks is called PPD. Who’s my person, what’s the price for them, and what’s my differentiator? Your PPD, I guess PDP or whatever way you want to organize it, for yourself is this is something that when I was doing marketing at Mint was probably one of the reasons that we did well. It obviously was not just me, there’s a bunch of people that made Mint.
What we did is we targeted people who read personal finance books. It was free. Your price is zero which is good, and then differentiator was it was free, and the people was very exact. It was like if you’re reading a personal finance blog, I want you. If you’re not reading personal finance blogs, I don’t care. The more that you can do that, and even commit to it for three months.
I think what I’ve noticed with marketing is that people don’t want to be very narrow because they’re going to lose out on customers. An example of that was yesterday I was talking to my friend who helps me with design work. He said, “Hey, the most lucrative customers are my web app and mobile app designs, but I get all these other businesses and I want money but I’m not making a bunch, so what do I do? It’s hard to say no to that.” I said great, more you’re saying no, the more it means you’re focused and you have the right customer. But find someone else that you can pass them off to and say hey, this is a great person for all these things you want, I’m this. In reality, he can get better at that skill and he could start charging more.
If you had two today, Mike, I’m curious, if you could only serve one person and you said for the next month, let’s just keep it really short, I’m only going to focus on this person. Who do you think that would be?
Mike: I would probably say the owner of a services company that has less than ten people in it. By ten people, I would say ten people total but probably two or three that are charged with doing the outreach efforts and marketing and sales for that business to help them build the business and build the relationships they need with their customers.
Noah: Let’s go with that, now we’ve got something. We’re doing service people who need more customers. Web design agencies, what’s an example of that?
Mike: Software development, web design. You could go so far as print design. Anyone where there’s a service based component where you typically have to talk to the customer in some way, shape, or form before you can really start working on them. Because of that, you end up with the type of business where you have multiple people involved in the creative process because you’ve got a sales rep or marketing person on the front end and they’re really doing business development, and then they hand off the business or the work to be done to somebody else, and then that person does it but they’re the ones getting compensated or the money is being generated for that consultant company based on their work. It’s not really that sales person upfront.
The price points for them tend to be higher. It may be a couple thousand dollars, maybe $3,000, $4,000, $5,000 a week, but it’s worth it for them to follow up with their customers. That’s really the key point that I found, the price point that they’re selling at has to be high enough for them to justify doing those outreach efforts. We talked about this earlier, the second, third, fourth emails, those are the ones that you also see a fairly high response rate.
If you can get to the point where you have a business if a lead is worth $4,000, $5,000, you only send them one or two emails, it’s probably not enough. You need to get to a point where you get an answer, you don’t want to send an email into a blackhole and just assume that they’re not interested. You have to follow up until you get an answer one way or the other, even if it’s no, you don’t care, you just want to know if that lead is dead.
Noah: You have that, and then what’s next? What’s next for you with that? I think sometimes when people ask for advice, this is why I tend to never give advice, is because we all have our own plans. You already have some kind of plan that you already want to do. I think when people are giving advice, just try to understand what people’s plans already are and see if you can assist that, that’s why I asked that before I tell you to go do all this stuff.
Mike: Yeah, I think the biggest question in my mind is how do I get in front of those people? It doesn’t even necessarily need to be at scale either. It’s how do I get in front of those people so that I can capture enough of their attention and enough of their interest to get the conversation going when they don’t know who I am, when they don’t know what Bluetick is or what it can do for them. Maybe they’re familiar with cold or warm emailing software and CRMs and sales funnels and things like that, but they aren’t necessarily looking specifically for these types of tools.
Noah: I am curious. How come you’re not targeting… MicroConf has how many people on their mailing list and you have so many on your mailing list. How many people are on that mailing list?
Mike: I’d say between them probably 8,000, 10,000, something like that.
Noah: Just out of curiosity, how come you didn’t focus on serving those people? Or tailoring this more to them?
Mike: I won’t say that I haven’t. Bluetick is my business, and then there’s also the Micropreneur Academy which under that umbrella you have the podcast and MicroConf and Founder Cafe. We don’t really mix email lists. I would say I wouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable going out and trying to do a sales blast or anything like that to them, just because that’s not what they were there for, it’s not what they signed up for.
It’s different if I talk to somebody at MicroConf where they come up to me and ask me questions about Bluetick because they’ve heard about it and they’re interested in it. I have no problems doing that, especially when they’re coming to me. “Oh yes, I know this person, I feel like I can trust them. They’re going to do the right thing for me.” That’s not an issue, it’s that going outbound to that audience, to those particular mailing lists is too head-putted.
Noah: That’s just one feedback, and then we can go through marketing plans. We’ll do a marketing plan in 15 minutes or less, it’s like dominoes. I think most people with marketing, and this is something that I think why sometimes my marketing is done well is that I do go to the people I already know first. I try to serve them first.
What I mean by that is I don’t know, and maybe you do and I’m totally off-base. I don’t know how many people you have that are already running software development firms, and maybe it’s a lot. The easier thing you already have for sure is you have a bunch of people who already like you, who probably have businesses or know someone who has a business that I would try to tap my close network first before I even try to think of my secondary or fourth networks I have no clue of.
Mike: No, that’s a good point. I just have to think of creative ways to do that.
Noah: I don’t even think you have to be creative, dude. Not to be mean about it, but those people already like you. I don’t know if they hate me or like me but for sure they like you. You don’t even have to sell them. Be like, “Hey guys, there’s something I’m launching, you guys are launching things, I’d love to get anybody’s feedback on it or if you guys want to use it, feel free.” You can hook them up if you want, that’s totally on your discretion.
It’s just like when I started AppSumo, I started a business for startups because I love startup software. I like promoting stuff. I had a network of that. I went out to my network on LinkedIn, I went out to all my friends and said, “Hey, can you tweet this?” It just made it really easy cause I tried to help and serve the people I already had access to versus ones I had no clue of.
Mike: That’s a good point.
Noah: Just something to consider. It’s been really interesting talking about this, here’s just a few thoughts about it.
What’s your goal for the year with Bluetick?
Mike: My goal with it, by the end of the year, I kind of classify the end of November as the end of the year because December I don’t think a whole lot is going to get sold. By the end of November, I’d like to hit $10,000 in MRR.
Noah: Okay, that is key. I just want to highlight it for people out there. If you don’t have a goal with a timeline, I just don’t think you can be successful. Someone said this quote, it’s like a boat without a router. You’re just going randomly. Maybe you’ll end up in America, maybe you’ll end up in South America, who knows?
I love that you have a goal. And then to that goal with that timeline, what’s your plan now to hit the $10,000?
Mike: I have a bunch of notes and stuff that I still feel like I need to organize a little bit better, kind of like you said just going without a router. I have a lot of tactics and specific things that I could do kind of written out, probably have a couple of hundred things. I haven’t really organized them to what your PPD, the person price differentiator. I haven’t narrowed down to say these are the people that I’m actually going to go for and these are the tactics that I’m gonna slot in to actually do that.
I have some ideas that have kind of worked in the past few months. One of them is doing influencer outreach and going on podcasts and things like that. I’ve also taught about doing joint webinars, I’ve talked to a few different people who have fairly large audiences themselves and said that they’d be willing to talk about Bluetick and have me on the podcast to talk about cold and warm email strategies, things like that.
Those are the things that I would probably lean more towards right now just because I’m more comfortable with them. I think that there’s also plenty of other things that I either haven’t done before or I’m not comfortable with, or just don’t even know about or haven’t thought about that I could do to increase traffic and add sales and customers.
Noah: Do you mind if I give some suggestions of what I do?
Mike: Absolutely, that’s what you’re here for.
Noah: Do whatever you want, but here’s how I would organize your marketing a little bit tighter. Number one, I think you should just pick a specific customer and then make your website very tailored to them. When I go to bluetick.io, it’s not very clear who it’s for. It’s like, “Hey, everyone should send cold and warm email followup software.” There’s feature driven, demographic driven, and then psychographic driven types of headlines. It’s not speaking to anyone.
For me, if I come to Bluetick, it should be we help service companies make two times more money. Oh, how the hell do you do that? And then that hooks me into what you do.
This is getting there. We send follow up emails so you don’t have to, but what does a followup email actually mean? If you’re talking to your specific audience, let’s say you target podcasters just to get guests, it’s like we help two times you book your guests, or don’t waste so much time booking guests. “Oh yeah, I’m a podcaster, I waste a bunch of time. That’s really painful.”
I think your marketing, the way that I would do it, is think about who your customers are. This is what I do. Either use live chat or just talk to them and ask them how they describe your business. Use a recorder, record it interviewing for the podcast, interview a customer, and take their language. I don’t know how they talk to their friends, but the way they talk to their friends is the way you need to talk to them, or their colleagues. That would be number one.
Number two, with your overall marketing plan, the way I like to do it is I love your goal, $10,000. You need to break that down monthly. What does that mean for August, for September, October, November, December? From each month, you should have how much MRR do I need to be to get my $10,000 by the end of the year? Then within each month, I break out if I need to go from $1,000 to $3,000, I need $2,000 MRR. What are ways I can get that? What I like to do is list out ten different ways, then I make estimations about how much MRR I can get from each activity.
For example with sumo.com, we were trying to double the amount of customers we have in the next six months. I have a list of six different things, it’s content marketing, affiliate marketing, paid marketing, free tools, SEO kind of stuff. I estimate based on some historicals and just guesses, how much I think each one is going to happen. I sort it, and then I pick just three. I don’t think we can do that many things great. I execute on just those three for the month. At the end of the month, I’d say, what did it actually produce versus what I expected?
The beauty of that then is I can cut the one that doesn’t work, keep one or maybe two that do work, and then add in another experiment, the 80-20 rule. What that does is it forces some discipline on accountability. “Wow, this is what it should do if I actually executed correctly,” and help you hit your goal. Does that make sense?
Mike: That makes perfect sense. That’s dead-on accurate. That’s fantastic, to be honest.
Noah: It’s a basic spreadsheet, I don’t use crazy software, it’s totally free, Google Spreadsheets, or illegally download Excel or maybe open source it. Even for you, you could even do one on one. A lot of times I do that in the beginning, just referral.
With sumo.com, when we started it, I just literally went out to people that I knew. If you don’t know a bunch of people, go join MicroConf, go get involved in things if you don’t know people before you need them and before you want to work with them. If you do have people, how can you go one by one and do that? We literally went through every single person on my LinkedIn account.
You know I’ve been doing internet stuff for 15 years, it took me a long time. But at the end of it, it was like oh wow, we have a good amount of people using this now and paying us. It’s one of your tactics, I wouldn’t want to discount even direct selling one by one and say I think I could probably generate $500 from that and then you do it at the end of the month. You’d be like, “I did $300, it was pretty damn good versus other things. I’ll do more of that next month and then less of something else.”
Mike: That point, I could export all my contacts on LinkedIn and just look through them, see who I think would be a good fit, or should just be filtered out entirely and then throw them into Bluetick and just do that personal outreach. I can do that. There’s nothing preventing me, I don’t think.
Noah: I think that’s even more genius. Use your own product, use your own dog food. I think that’s epic, man.
Mike: I actually use that during the course of demos. Previously, up until this week, I had just a little field on the website where you could ask for an invitation code and then they go to the next page, fill out a survey. Anyone who filled out a survey, I’d look at what they said and then plug them into Bluetick and then use Bluetick to get them to a demo. During the demo, I would show them, “Hey, this is how Bluetick got you to this demo.” It works really, really well. We got an 80% response for it.
Noah: Dude, that’s genius, I love that. This is a new method that I’ve been using with my marketing and I’m starting to apply it in other parts of the business, and it’s called Proactive Dashboards. The idea there, Mike, and for people listening is that you create a dashboard for yourself and your team of things you can do on a weekly basis that is fully controllable by you.
What do I mean by that? Mike, can you control if someone responds to your email or not?
Mike: Not directly, no.
Noah: You can’t force somebody to respond to your email. You can be like, “No, do it, I’ll kill you.” I’m going to be like meh, whatever.
Mike: There’s 300 of them.
Noah: Yeah, and then we’ll just filter emails or whatever. Point being is you can’t control them but can you control how many emails you send?
Mike: Yeah, absolutely.
Noah: Completely. I create Proactive Dashboards for my podcast, The Noah Kagan Present one that we were talking about earlier, and then for sumo.com we have a proactive dashboard. For each of these teams, it’s things that we can control that help us hit our goal.
Let’s say your goal is this MRR goal, you have a person doing sales for you or for yourself. It’s like can I send ten emails a week? That’s controllable by you. Each week, we do a green or red, whether we hit our goal. Then, you can have other things. How much ad spend? Did you spend $50 in ads? One of the guys in our team, it’s like hey, did you run two marketing experiments this week? I don’t really care which things they actually do, I just care that they do it or not do it. I want them to take initiative and all that other good stuff.
The point of the proactive dashboard is that it’s kind of this living controllable dashboard that will help you hit your goals. You can adjust it as needed, meaning you’ll probably be doing stuff like we were doing a bunch of Pinterest for a while. It was just doing nothing. After a month, it was said kill Pinterest, what’s working better? Quora. Okay, let’s increase our Quora. We did and we saw Quora go up. This week, we’re experimenting with LinkedIn. I’m seeing a lot more LinkedIn traffic and engagements so we’re experimenting with one post on LinkedIn a week.
Basically, I encourage everyone to think about what are controllable things I can be accountable for or make my team accountable for on a weekly basis that will help me hit my goals?
Mike: That’s awesome. I guess in terms of psychology, what does that do for you? Obviously, you do have control over these things. Is that why this works? Is it a psychological hack that doesn’t put you in a position where you just freeze because you’re not sure what to do?
Noah: Dude, I’ve gone to a bunch of therapy. I know everything.
I think why I like this and why the teams like it is a few different reasons. One, you want to play games you can win. If you’re doing things and your end vanity metrics aren’t working, it’s very demoralizing. But this is something where I can control it completely. I learned this from my friend [davidgrasshopper.com 00:44:07].
One, it’s controllable so you feel like you can actually win. Two, a lot of us like to see that we have streaks. The green and red every week and you start seeing you have green, you’re like okay cool, I’m doing well, I’m getting my stickers.
Three, I do think the fact that you make—I don’t know if this is as much with the psychology of it but the fact that you adjust it. For example, these marketing tests. If we were doing marketing tests and it would never help our goal, we would just cancel it. I think it just makes you a little bit more short term, like alright, am I doing the activities that I can control that are helping me move to where I want to be? So far, it’s been really great. I’m starting to implement it and I’m looking forward to it.
With the Sumo team, the webinar guy, it’s like hey you have to make one YouTube video a week. He’ll start doing it and then it’s like holy crap, that’s actually really driving traffic and customers, now you got two. And then maybe it’s like you have to do a collaboration every other week. Did you do that or not? That’s less control but did you email five people to collaborate with? That’s controllable. I think more ultimately, I have power to choose in this. I think with certain other times, you feel you’re at their mercy of hoping things work out. I don’t really believe in hope, I believe in making sure things work.
Mike: I think I have a blog post or a conference talk some place called hope is not a strategy. I completely ripped that off from Scott Adams.
Noah: I think with marketing, that’s why I always tell people to spreadsheet it. I call it quant-based marketing and I’ve written a bunch about it on OkDork. The ideas, if you need to hit $10,000, map out all the ways you think you would get to $10,000, execute on it, see which ones are right and which ones are wrong, and then keep iterating on it versus I want to be $10,000, I’ll just do a bunch of random shit and hopefully it gets there.
I don’t think if you’re trying to travel somewhere you would just say alright let’s just get on a plane and hope it lands where I want to go.
Mike: Yeah, I can’t imagine that works out for most people.
Noah: It doesn’t. A lot of the time, you’re going to try things, some of it is gonna work, some of it is not going to work. The point is that for sure in business, things aren’t going to work, that’s a guarantee. Knowing that things aren’t going to work, it’s great, but you have to say now that I know that, what things are working so that I can do more of them?
Mike: I think your point earlier about playing games that you know that you can win, I think that’s probably the killer insight that really needs to be a high level takeaway from all this.
Noah: I think that’s great, man. It sounds like overall for your marketing, one, you already got customers and revenue which is further ahead than most other people which is amazing. I would just put a little bit more organization around the PPD. Who’s the person, what’s the price, what’s your differentiator. There are options out there, so who’s your exact person?
And then in your marketing plan, I think it’s just hey, here’s my plan laid out for the year, here’s my things for this month, let me go execute on them. Let me have my weekly dashboard. And then, start iterating from that. You’ll be like holy crap, I hit $10,000 sooner than I thought.
Mike: Awesome, that’s fantastic advice. I know that you’ve got a gig going here soon. Where could people find you if they want to follow up with you?
Noah: If you’re interested in my personal stuff, Noah Kagan Presents podcast or okdork.com, I talk about business stuff that I’m learning from our business which is sumo.com, which is tools to grow your email list. We also have the AppSumo.com which is GroupOn for geeks. Any of that you can find me, I’m pretty darn accessible. If you can’t find me online, I don’t know, something is wrong.
Mike: You’re not looking hard enough I would say.
Noah: I didn’t get enough attention in high school so I’m desperate for it now. I hope to get invited back to MicroConf one day if I can earn that right. There will be no Sriracha, or I might just bring one bottle.
Mike: You take it easy. Thanks for coming on the show, I really appreciate it. If you as a listener have a question for us, you can call it into our voicemail number at 1-888-801-9690 or you can email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our theme music is an excerpt from We’re Outta Control by MoOt used under Creative Commons. Subscribe to us in iTunes by searching for Startups and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening, we’ll see you next time.
In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike give updates on Drip and Bluetick. Based on listener interest Rob dives into details on the continued growth and scaling and Mike talks about what areas he is focusing on to increase the number of paying customers.
Items mentioned in this episode:
Rob [00:00]: In this episode of ‘Startups for the Rest of Us’ Mike and I gave our updates on Drip and Bluetick. This is ‘Startups for the Rest of Us’ episode 328.
Welcome to ‘Startups for the Rest of Us’ the podcast that helps developers, designers and entrepreneurs be awesome at building, launching and growing software products whether you’ve built your first product or you’re just thinking about it.
Mike [00:27]: And I’m Mike.
Rob [00:28]: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s the word this week, sir?
Mike [00:33]: Well, as I said on a previous podcast – I think we last recorded about two weeks ago and last week was the interview with Wade Foster. But last week I was at an alternative conference up in Vermont called Big Snow Tiny Conf.
Rob [00:46]: Why do you say “alternative?” Was there bands there playing emo music?
Mike [00:49]: Well, you know. It’s the whole alternative facts thing. So this was an alternative conference.
Rob [00:52]: Alternative facts. Nice. So that was cool. Brian Castle runs that and you were there with what – 10, 11 folks?
Mike [00:59]: Yeah. It was about a dozen people up there. Yeah. It was a lot of fun. The weather was a little bit better this year. The first day of skiing was absolutely phenomenal. And then the next day I got a little bit tired near the end of the day and I’m just like I’m just not going to go back up there because if I do I’m probably going to get hurt. So I decided to skip out on probably an hour or two of skiing which wasn’t too bad. It was a lot of fun. I think that virtually everyone who was there was also going to MicroConf this year as well.
Rob [01:25]: What was your highlight of the conference? I mean, it’s not really a conference, I think that’s a misnomer. It’s like a group. It’s like a mastermind group, you know. Which is super cool. But I think of a conference like with people standing in front and sometimes there’s sponsor tables and such.
Mike [01:40]: Right. Well, I mean the thing is everybody gives a brief presentation or a talk or a topic for discussion and we go through like a dozen of them over the course of those three days. I think the first day we did like two or three and then the next one we did four or five and then the day after that we did another four or five. So we’d ski for half a day and then there’s just talks and presentations and stuff like that for the rest of it.
It’s really interesting to see the types of things that people are working on that you either just wouldn’t think of as a business or you wouldn’t think of how to do those things as – like marketing plans or things that you can do to find customers or to drive sales. It’s just really impressive to see the types of things that people come up with.
Rob [02:21]: Yeah, I bet. It’s nice to get in-depth exposure like that to other people’s businesses. I think that a conference or a gathering of this size there’s a real unique aspect to it. You and I’ve talked about doing a super small – you know we didn’t even know if we were going to lend it the MicroConf name – but it was going to be something like 30 or 40 people. And getting them together over the course of a few days. And Big Snow Tiny is even smaller than that so I can imagine it being a lot of – Especially if there’s good chemistry between the attendees. I bet you could get a lot of varied and good advice from experienced founders.
Because that’s the cool thing right, it’s not eleven people who are dreaming of starting a business. I would guess that everyone there has a business and is making money and you all have different experiences so you’re going to get a lot of valuable – some not valuable probably. If someone’s running an ecommerce site and you’re telling them about your churn rate maybe that person doesn’t have a good opinion or an experienced opinion on it. But I’d imagine the majority of stuff you come away with is pretty detailed and pointed towards your particular case. I’m conjecturing here. Is that kind of how it feels?
Mike [03:23]: I would say so. To kind of correct you on a couple of things, in terms of where people are at, there was one guy named Chris who had started a business literally a week before. And it was based around running Facebook as to drive traffic to a website and then you pay a couple of dollars and you can have a physical letter mailed to a congressional member of your district or a senator or something along those lines. So basically what he does is he looks up the information of where to send that letter and then uses geolocation based on where you’re at and says these are the people that you would send this letter to and, by the way, here’s the template and it’s related to whatever the issue is that you are interested in. So if he drove ads based on EPA stuff or gun control or what have you –
Rob [04:08]: Immigration.
Mike [04:08]: Yeah, immigration. He’s got all these things templated and, based on which side of the issue you’re on, he will give you the template. You can customize it and then he will send it for you for a couple of dollars.
Rob [04:20]: That’s pretty cool.
Mike [04:20]: And he started it like a week ago. He was literally printing them out and putting stamps on them and mailing them. And he’s like, “This is all, I’m just validating, just kind of seeing what’s here.” He’s like, “It’s interesting. It may not turn into nothing.” But to me it was interesting. It was extremely interesting to see what he was doing and how he was doing it. We all gave him feedback and we’re all like double your prices.
Rob [04:38]: Right. Well, and it’s cool to see someone validating like that. Those are the fun days. As stressful as they are because you don’t know if you should do it or not. Like the validating stuff is just new ideas, you know they’re actually putting into practice. So that’s kind of cool someone attended at that stage.
Mike [04:53]: Yeah. And then you’ve kind of got the flip side where like a guy named Chad DeShon was there and he ran a Kickstarter campaign where he did like $2.6 million in sales of board game tables. So he talked a little bit about his experience outsourcing to China and having things brought over. And it was really interesting seeing, I’ll say, both ends of the spectrum where you’ve got somebody who is just starting out. They literally just started trying to validate this idea. And then somebody else on the other end where they’ve already got the money, they’re basically trying to get their logistics pipeline down to deliver everything to people. And it’s just amazing to see the differences between those stories. And they’re both interesting, I think.
Rob [05:32]: Yep. I agree. Speaking of board game tables. If you’re into board games, you need to check out BoardGameTables.com. That’s Chad’s business. Those tables are awesome. I have been eyeballing one for a long time. Just love that you can cover it up and leave. It has a felt surface but it’s sunk down. And so, let’s say you have a big D&D game spread out, it looks like hell and you’re going to run that for months if you have a long campaign. But you can cover it. And that’s the big plus for me is that it looks like a real table on top. Anyways. And there’s cup holders. It’s just designed perfectly to play board games. So a little plug for Chad there. I’ve been a fan of the tables for a while.
Mike [06:09]: So what about you? You went to SaaStr last week, I believe?
Rob [06:12]: I did. Yeah. I was in San Francisco with several folks from the Leadpages crew. And, as expected, SaaStr was – they said it was 10,000 people, I’m not sure if it was actually that many. It didn’t feel that big but it was a big conference. And the most value I got was from the team building, the comradery of hanging out with the folks from Leadpages because I don’t often get to hang out with five or six others at once. We had dinner together. We were doing happy hours together. It was just a fun time where you can really dig into some interesting conversations. There are only so many people in the world that have that much in common with you and know that much about your business and what you do and you know what they’re up to.
I was talking to the CFO and he’s like, “What would you think if we did this to pricing?” And it’s like, “Oh, what a cool thought experiment.” I was able to say, “Well, we tried that and it did this.” Or, “Here’s my opinion.” You would never set up meetings to talk about these kind of high level things that you’ve had. Almost thought experiments, to be honest. And yet doing it can be really fun. I enjoyed that part of it.
I ran into a couple people and I set up a couple meetings with folks. Overall, my crowd, I went through my whole rolodex like of all the MicroConf speakers from the past several years, like is anyone here? And they weren’t. I was thinking may be Heaton or Stella would be there. Jason [Cohen?], Dan Martell. Just anybody – because I would love to connect with them – and they weren’t there.
I ran into a few people but overall it was probably not something I’ll be going back to. It was just too big, the sessions are interviews and panels, which I don’t get a lot of value out of because they’re just not actionable and I can hear them on podcasts. I think you really go there for the networking. And the networking was actually with my own coworkers. So I started thinking it might have been cheaper if we spent a couple happy hours with the same crew.
Just my opinion of it. I respect the heck out of Jason Lemkin and like the SaaStr brand and I like what they’re up to. But a conference that big is just not for me.
Mike [08:04]: I think that’s a great way to get company funded happy hours. I think that’s what you’re going for here.
Rob [08:10]: Totally, right. That was it. So this week, by popular demand, we get requests to hear more about what we’re up to. And we like to do update episodes every once and a while. Frankly we could probably start doing them a bit more frequently. Today we’re going to talk through some stuff that’s been going on recently with me and Drip. And then we’re going to dive into what you’ve been up to with Bluetick. It’s been a few months, I think, since an update and I think there’s a lot to be said here.
So to kind of kick us off, Drip is continuing to grow and it’s growing quickly. And since we were acquired by Leadpages seven and a half months ago, I think we have six times more users than we did, I mean it’s just this crazy fast growth. It may even be more than tha, it might be like seven. It’s a lot. We have seven times the number of trials coming through each month. At every scale you imagine just almost 10Xing in every direction. And so that has been a focus of ours just scaling the technology. We hired a couple more engineers a couple months ago. I just hired one, we’re in front end who’ll start in a month. And then we have an open Ruby on Rails position.
And these are good problems to have. You need to scale stuff up. But what we’re trying to do is continue to ship features because that was the thing for a couple months we almost spent a lot of time just getting enough servers up to keep handling the queues and to keep everything running. We’re definitely – knock on wood – We’re out ahead of that right now. But that does continue to be a focus.
We have basically two full time engineers now. All they do is scaling and performance. And they’re just rewriting, they’re refactoring, they’re adding servers, they’re figuring out what’s going on here. I think I’ve said it before, now I understand how you can get an engineering team of 20 or 30 people on a product because you just have so much stuff that you are trying to keep going.
Mike [09:51]: Yeah. I’m curious about that a little bit more because if you were at a certain scale before and you were obviously at some point running into scaling issues to begin with, you’re looking seven and a half months down the road and you multiply your size by six from where you started. That’s a lot, I mean you’re adding basically an entire customer base just about every month at that point. So what sorts of things have you run into that have been especially difficult or challenging to resolve. Are there things that came up that you would never in a million have dreamed that you would have run into that and suddenly now it’s a problem?
Rob [10:28]: There are a lot of edge cases that come up. So there’s two things, one is just scaling to that level. Another one is when you’re sending tens of millions of emails and you have thousands and thousands of customers, the littlest bizarre edge case is just bound to come up. So we do find ourselves kind of troubleshooting things and trying to figure out how to best handle those.
In terms of scaling, I think there’s kind of three fronts and probably four. One is just the database. We continue to have to increase the size of the hardware that it runs on and give it more RAM and then give it more IOPS they’re called. IO per second that allows reason rights to the disk. And I find about every four months we have to increase something on that. It’s nice that Amazon keeps pace and continues to add larger and larger server instances because I don’t think, at our current pace – again, knock on wood – we’re going to outgrow what they have to offer. But the place that we hit – probably about three months ago – was when there was one aspect of Drip, where you know where you’re going and you just create ad hoc subscriber queries basically. You can just create a segment and you’re like anyone who has this tag and hasn’t visited this page and has opened this email. We just basically let you “and” and “or.” You’re almost building a sequel query it’s just with a nice visual interface. That can get incredibly complicated as you can imagine. Some people will “or” together 10 things and that’s like joining on 10 tables in the database and some of which have a billion rows. So that doesn’t scale. And we eventually hit the point where no matter how much hardware we threw at it for our largest customers it was still not fast enough.
So that was the big one that we really had to have that breakthrough on. And I talked about it on the show a few months ago where we were going to shard the database, which is just catastrophically complicated. And we figured out a workaround and it’s was just way to technical to go into here. But we figured out a way to just completely rethink and rewrite that whole piece of it, the subscriber querying, to where we’re not querying the database live. And we’ve seen 10X and up 100X speed improvements on that. It just completely changed the game. That was kind of the biggest pain point. And I think that improvement alone will give us a year, two, three years of more expansion now, which is a really good feeling to have.
It’s not to say other parts of the app won’t experience slowdowns. Your reports are always going to slow down as you get more data in the database. Other things like that. We are also adding read replicas now. We don’t just have a master database with a hot backup which is what we’ve had for a few years. We’re now starting to add other replicated databases that we can hit and not impact. You’re just reading from them, right, so we don’t impact the main database.
So those have probably been the biggest scaling things recently that we’ve been tackling.
Mike [13:06]: I think dealing with that centralized storage in the background for the database itself, that’s the hardest thing. I’ve seen a lot of different strategies for people doing that. Some of them just say, “Oh, well. We have a separate database instance for each customer.” And I guess that’s one way to go so you don’t have a multitenant database. It’s just each customer has their own. There’s all sorts of other operational challenges with doing that. If you have to make a schema update, for example, you have to make it across every single customer’s database. And that’s not always the easiest thing to do in the world.
It’s just kind of interesting to see the types of things that you’re running into. From my perspective, I’m thinking about the things that I might run into because you had just said, for example, the customers can create their own ad hoc queries. And that’s something that I started looking at and then I realized how complicated it was going to get and how difficult it could end up being because of performance issues. And I kind of backed off from it and I just said, “Look, just make it simplified for now and I’ll come back to it later.”
Rob [14:01]: I think that’s a good call. Yep. I like that we have this feature but it has obviously been quite a bit to keep up with, because as soon as you allow ad hoc stuff people will build crazy stuff and expect it to work. So I would almost lean, especially in the early days, lean towards not having it and having just a few canned things that people could do.
Mike [14:17]: In terms of the other aspects though, obviously just dealing with the scaling challenges alone is one problem, but what about building new features and what about customer support and onboarding. Do you have any things that get escalated from the customer support side that you need to deal with? Because I’ve run into some of the stuff recently where a single customer support problem can chew up easily several hours of time.
Rob [14:40]: Right. Luckily, and to Leadpages credit, pretty quickly after we moved over they started adding support people from their team and then they started hiring – I think they hire externally now. And we went from one support person when we were acquired. One fulltime. And I think we have six or seven fulltime now. And I have had to pretty much do zero work on that. And that’s the kind of thing that- Because how else could we have scaled that. I wouldn’t have had the time to hire that many support people. And they’ve done it with customer success, they’ve done it with sales, they’ve done it with marketing. All those aspects I’ve been able to hand off has freed me up to be able to focus on exactly this. I focus on scaling, focus on shipping features and hiring.
It’s pretty rare that stuff gets escalated. The support team is very, very good and most stuff doesn’t come back to me anymore. There’s just enough layers who know how to make judgement calls and it’s pretty rare something comes back to me. And that’s the support side which feels great, to be honest. As much as supporting your app is something you have to do, it’s not necessarily something, as product people, that we want to do. It doesn’t move the core product forward which tends to be my focus.
In terms of shipping features, we slowed down, I’d say, for the first couple months after the acquisition and then we started speeding back up and we’ve been at a pretty even keel hiring pace of an engineer every month. Maybe every two. That’s allowed us to continue to ramp people up. Like the two engineers we hired a couple months ago are fully ramped up and they’re shipping a lot of features now. So we’re probably at a faster pace than we were before the acquisition even with the scaling. And that’s purely just hiring new senior people who can get up to speed in a month and get it out.
So I’m pretty excited right now. I go through stressful times of, “Oh, no. Are we going to scale? Are we shipping fast enough?” And right now I’m pretty optimistic based on who we have and all the stuff that’s almost – there’s a bunch of features that are almost done. And that’s a good feeling to have. It’s not like everyone is bouncing around. It’s like there’s some things that are literally three or four pretty cool features within a few weeks of shipping right now depending on how we roll those out. That’s exciting because I think shipping features is what we do. That’s the dopamine rush.
Mike [16:44]: Very cool. What else is kind of on tap for you guys?
Rob [16:47]: Yeah. I think just to round it out and wrap up my part. Basically the free plan is still going strong and that’s got us a lot of notoriety in the space. And free plan is a long term play and it’s something that takes a lot of time and focus from a certain group of people to make that work. You don’t just start a free plan and then people magically convert to paid. You have to be very strategic about what’s the limit on the free plan, how do you think about getting people on a value that they get to that limit. And so there’s a couple people – at least two or three – who are thinking about this a lot and customer success is working on it and so far so good. It’s a long term play.
A few people have asked me, “How’s the free plan working out?” And it’s like, “It’s working.” But it’s like you can’t even tell until months after you start this thing until you get enough numbers to actually be able to make a judgement call on it. I can’t say, “Oh my gosh. It’s the most amazing thing ever and we’re going to do it forever.” And I also can’t say, “Oh, it’s not working.” It’s kind of like yeah. The early signs, even though we’re months in, the early signs are that things are going well and it’s bringing a lot of new folks our way.
So that’s it for me. Let’s talk about Bluetick. And for those who don’t know, it’s also an email app but it’s not really email marketing. It’s called Bluetick.io and you want to give the one sentence description of what it does?
Mike [17:57]: Yeah. It’s essentially a way of systematically and automatically following up via email with people that are, I’ll say, later on in your sales funnel. Kind of like after they’ve gotten into your marketing funnel, they have expressed some interest, this will essentially help move them through that early sales process where you’ve got a warm lead who has expressed some interest of some kind. Whether they opened up a bunch of emails or they sent you an email and say, “Hey. We just wanted to talk a little bit more about this.” And then you can use it to push them into like a conference call or something like that. And if they don’t respond to the first email it’ll send them another one and send them another one and kind of move them through that process automatically so you don’t have to think about, “Oh, is this the second email I’ve sent them? Is it the third? How long did I wait?” And you don’t have to manage that process at all. It just does it for you.
Rob [18:43]: You realize that was more than one sentence right?
Mike [18:44]: Yeah. I know, I know. I was giving examples of what it could do beyond that.
Rob [18:47]: I know. So you took pre-orders, you had some folks pay you – I forget. How much was it? The pre-orders?
Mike [18:53]: I gave people the option, more because I was just flushing it out. I said, “You set your own price and then tell me how many months of service that you’re willing to essentially prepay for.” And people paid anywhere from, I think it was around $40 a month to $100. There was one that was at $100. Everyone else was between $40 and $50. So then I basically went back to them, and my final pricing at this point is $50 a month.
Rob [19:18]: And so, have all the folks who’ve preordered from you, have they had a chance to get into the app and dig in? And how is that going in terms of converting them?
Mike [19:26]: I on boarded all of them, and I would say I definitely made some mistakes in that aspect. When I took the preorders I said, “I’ll onboard you and I won’t start charging you until you’re seeing value from it.” And the problem is that because that is such an open ended thing, it doesn’t force it to the top of their priority list. So this month what I’ve started doing is going back to them and saying, “Look, I need to draw this line in the sand for anyone who’s placed a preorder.” And I’m trying to put it towards the end of this month, which I may end up being three weeks out or four weeks out or something like that. But there’s going to be a line in the sand that says, “Look, up until this point, let’s get you on boarded as a paying customer and convert your extended trial into a paid subscription or let’s kill it if it’s not going to help you or, if you just don’t have time.”
Rob [20;12]: Yeah. That’s a good way to go. That’s why free trials work rather than often, especially if you’re a beginner, free plans versus free trial is a different thing. And the difference is free trial has an expiration date. And wether you do a 14 or a 21 or a 30 or a 60 or whatever it is, at some point there is that line in the sand. And that’s some time pressure to get someone to commit or not. I think it’s very good that you’re switching to that.
In the early days of Drip when I had preorder folks in there, I said the same thing. Once you get value out of it we’ll do it. And then about every week or two, I would email them and I had all these emails boomeranging back to me. And when I got a boomerang from someone, I would log in and I would look and see what are they doing in Drip, have they actually imported a list, are they sending email and then I would ping them and I would be like, “Hey. I see you’re not sending emails. Are you interested? Let’s get this moving forward.” And if they had emails, then my questions became, “Hey. Do you think you’re getting enough value out of Drip to pay $49 a month now?” That was it. And then I’d follow up every two weeks and eventually some people converted. I think most people converted and some didn’t and that was okay.
So I hear you. It sounds like you didn’t do that early enough. You said you kind of made a mistake with it. Like you didn’t have enough time – not even time pressure – but maybe enough follow up. Ha, ha. That’s kind of funny. Follow up. You go to run them through Bluetick.
Mike [21:27]: Actually, I am at this point.
Rob [21:28]: That’s cool.
Mike [21:29]: Yeah. I basically set up all the automation for that so it’s not going out to them. And I’ve got a whole sequence of emails that’s being sent out to them. So if anyone’s listening, yes, those are completely automated emails at this point.
But, no, I think for me it was an initial hesitation to really push forward. Because I kind of had it in my head like I made a mental promise to these people like, “You can have this until it provides value.” But that doesn’t do them any favors and it doesn’t do me any favors. It’s not helpful to either one of us. So there really needs to be that emphasis on some sort of a timeline or reckoning so to speak to just say, “Look, it’s got to move forward and if it doesn’t, that’s okay. I just need to know.”
Rob [22:06]: Right. You’ve got to channel your inner sales person and ask for the close. Cool. And you were telling me offline that you added a couple more customers.
Mike [22:16]: Yeah. Just yesterday I added one new customer and then yesterday I also converted one of the prepaid customers into a paid subscriber. I gave him 20% lifetime discount, applied his prepayment as credit so he’ll have several months of the service. And then after that it’ll start charging him on a regular basis. But basically gave him a credit for that and just said, “Yes, now it’s providing value so let’s just start charging you and we’ll cut into that credit.”
Rob [22:42]: That’s cool. Always good to get new customers. Is that your plan? To keep getting – because we had talked about awhile back you were going to do a public launch. But it sounds like you’ve continued to add a couple customers here and there every few weeks. What is the plan right now? Which direction are you headed?
Mike [22:58]: I was talking about this to my mastermind group last month – it was around the last time that we’d discussed it here on the podcast – and they actually talked me out of going through and doing the launch on the 31st of January.
Rob [23:10]: Why is that? What was their argument?
Mike [23:13]: Their argument was they didn’t feel like I had pushed enough people through the system and it wasn’t getting enough usage to help me identify the places where I would run into problems in terms of support or scaling or just answering questions accurately or in a way that doesn’t overwhelm me. I looked back at it at the time and I said, “Well. You know. Maybe you guys are right.” And I look back at it now in retrospect. It was like, “You guys were definitely right.” I really needed to back that off because there’s times where I will burn through an entire morning just going back and forth with people on support calls. Literally – I did it this morning as well – where somebody will say, “Hey. How do I do this?” Or, “Got this problem here.” Or, “I’m trying to import a bunch of people and what’s the syntax for this or that?” And I’ve got support documentation but I’m starting to find that there’s places where it’s just incomplete and there are a lot of edge cases where the questions just simply aren’t answered because they’re not well documented in the documentation. I can go in the code and look at it, and I can tell the person how it is but that doesn’t help them because they can’t just go to the support site and just pull it up because it’s not well documented.
Rob [24:15]: Documentation like KB’s are so time consuming to get started. I remember when we first started Drip it’s just like, there’s so much information that’s imbedded in your head and in the code. And trying to translate that into helpful articles and figuring out what people can help with, it’s hard. It is really hard. And if you recall, our early docs for Drip were me recording screen casts and it was purely a time thing. I just did not have time to write that all out. I got mixed emotions from that. People have said, “This is fine for now,” but often somebody was in an airport and the Wi-Fi wasn’t fast enough. And then another person was saying, “I don’t want to watch a three-minute screencast. I just wanted to skim an article.” And of course, creating an article takes a heck of a lot more time. I later circled back and paid someone to turn those screencasts into articles. Not to just transcribe it but to actually turn it into a well-written thing, take screenshots. And then we had a customer success person who had some free time. He then became the KB czar and he just started cranking out KB things. But as a one person show, you just don’t have the time to do all that.
At best, in my opinion, you’re going to respond via email and then you’re going to take that response, you’re going to paste it into a KB article and it’s not going to have screenshots and it’s not going to be fully flushed out but it’s going to be something. And I think that’s probably where you need to start.
Mike [25:33]: That’s, honestly, like what most of my KB articles are right now. People ask me how to do something and I took some screenshots and I sent it over to them. And then I took those same screenshots and I posted them into the KB article and said this is how you do this.
Rob [25:45]: Yep. That’s how you do it.
Mike [25:47]: It’s quick and dirty but it works and it doesn’t suck up a huge amount of my time. But then there’s things where, “How does this need to be formatted?” And I’m like, “I don’t actually know because that’s a library that I used.” So then I have to go figure it out and then come back to them with the answers. And, of course, while I’m doing that I also add in a couple of unit tests. Be like, “Hey. Does this actually work?” Because if the library gets updated, for example, and whatever gets through I want to make sure that those things still work later on.
Rob [26:12]: Right. So you’ve backed off from the public launch. And here’s the thing. Your mastermind group has more intimate knowledge than any of us. Including me. But certainly more than any of our listeners in terms of exactly where you are, how things are going. Just because they get so much more in-depth information about it. I think I know the folks in your group and if they’re recommending that I actually thing that’s probably the right way to go.
Did they not think you had product market fit and you still need to tweak some things and get some more features out? Or is it that – feeling like support. I think you mentioned that support might not be able to scale or something. And that sounds kind of like maybe work a few extra hours or hire someone to help you part time with that. I would probably dive in and not try to prescale stuff like that. You know what I mean?
Mike [26:59]: Yeah. I think what they’re looking for is me to get to somewhere between 20 and 30 paying customers before I flip the switch. I think there’s a difference between having people who are on the system and using it in name but not really exercising a lot of things versus somebody who’s paying for it and they’re probably using it a lot. And if they’re not using it, they’re going to cancel. So there’s that, I’ll say, scale that you get by virtue of just having people pay for it because they’re not going to pay for something they’re not using. By constantly using it and finding bugs or edge cases or integrating it more fully into the automation systems that they have in place, that finds those edge cases.
And it also helps me flesh out some of the marketing stuff. I worked with somebody yesterday who said, “Hey. It would be really great if, when somebody finishes this email sequence, if it could go over to the pipe drive and just automatically close out that deal or whatever.” And I’m like, “Oh. Actually you can do this and you can actually do it now. You don’t have to wait for anything.” And I sent them screenshots and I basically walked them through and said this is exactly how to set that up.
But that’s not something that is going to come up until I get to that point where lots of people or a kind of critical mass of people are using it that let me know that, “Hey. I have this question. How do you do this?” And then those different use cases can end up on the sales website to help attract more customers. It kind of feeds back into itself at some point.
Rob [28:19}: Yeah. That makes sense. I do think that that 20 to 30 paying customer mark is about the point where you really know that stuff is working. And then, of course, you realize when you get to 100 customers that you really didn’t know that stuff was working. But at least you know something. It was somewhere between 20 and 30 with Drip where we basically started doing those launches to the 300 to 600 emails on our list at a time. Sounds like you still have more work to do.
That’s the thing. It’s like launching is – You could launch today. You could just send out an email and get everybody in. And you may bleed everyone out because you don’t have product market fit or you might not be able to support them and so they get pissed off and leave. Or your onboarding may not be good enough or in existence and so you’re not going to convert them. Yeah. I don’t necessarily agree with that. I think the danger in stuff that you and I have talked about over the years with Audit Shark is that the launch just keeps getting pushed out. That you never get to that 20 to 30 customer mark. So I guess at this point your number one goal and focus should be getting to that mark. Is that the idea? It’s like getting one person a week, two people a week, whatever it takes and when you hit that then you’re able to pull the trigger.
Mike [29:28]: Yeah. [Heaton Shaw’s?] got a newsletter that he sends out – I don’t know whether it’s the same newsletter or not but he’s sent out something to his email list basically saying what’s the one thing that moves the needle for you at this point. And I read it and I thought about it and the one thing was basically moving people from either a trial into a paid subscription or just adding paid customers because those are the types of people who are going to be actively using it, versus the software sitting there in the background and possibly not doing very much for them. My focus at this point is just adding paying customers. One of the people who signed up yesterday, I started redoing some of the signup stuff on Friday so he couldn’t signup on Tuesday when he wanted to. So I ended up pushing him off and I said, “I’ll give you an invitation code. We’ll get you set up and then we’ll process your credit card later.” So I ended up doing that but he was thinking, “I’ll just log in and then I’ll hook up my billing stuff.” And I was like, “No, the billing stuff inside the app isn’t there yet.” And I honestly don’t care. It doesn’t need to be there right now. I can do that stuff manually. But I’m actively looking for ways to avoid touching any of that stuff because the product works. It does what it needs to do. So at this point it’s a matter of getting that marketing message right, getting the people in and getting them using it. And that’s my focus. Finding people who will actively use it.
Rob [30:46]: Yep. And I think, as your number one goal, I would focus less at this point on trying to scale documentation, or on trying to have stuff that people can find and you’re going to need to do, I think, a lot of hand holding for the time being. And I know it chews up time and you can’t really work on the product necessarily but that one on one time for those first 20 customers is going to be extremely valuable. I think if you have your launch list, you could start emailing one of those at a time. Like maybe do it in blocks of five or something. But pick five off the list. If you’ve surveyed them and you can tell which are most interested, you could start with the most or you could just go with the most recent and email five of them individually and be like coming from Mike to one person. Not a BCC. And be like, “Hey. Super interested in getting you onboard. You signed up for this. Here’s the big thing. Still in early access,” and trying to get, one at a time get people on boarded. Is that what you’re up to at this point?
Mike [31:43]: Yeah. This past week, I replaced a couple of pieces on the main page where previously it just had the email of course and it didn’t really say much about how you could sign up. Now I’ve replaced that and there’s a request invitation area right at the top of the main page. And if you enter in your email address it kicks you over to another page where there is a survey and it asks you to fill that out. Those replies go directly to me and it gives me some marketing information. But if somebody signs up for that and then goes through and fills out the survey, then I know that they are essentially more interested and I can pay attention to those people a little bit more.
You talked about emailing people individually. I can literally export my list of subscribers from Drip and put them into Bluetick and then just say, “Hey. Go ahead and just start emailing these people individually. Because that’s what it does. It emails people one on one. And I can send them into a sequence and try and get a response from them of some kind depending on what it is that I’m trying to get them to do. Whether it’s that survey or have a call or what have you.
Rob [32:44]: That’s cool. I like it. I think you’re making progress on the right things.
Mike [32:49]: Yeah. And it’s hard to figure out what is the right thing to be doing today or this week. At a high level, I know it’s get people in who are most likely to convert into a paying user because that’s kind of proxy for getting value out of it. But there’s all these other little things that kind of factor into that. And then, as I said, somebody can email you something and then it burns through three or four hours of you trying to figure out how to best help them and how to let them know this is what they need to do or this is how to do it. Or trying to do it for them and then show them after the fact.
Rob [33:19]: Two thoughts that I have with that. Number one: I think every task that comes onto your plate whether you’re pulling it off your Trello board or whether an email comes in. I think you need to ask yourself will this get the next customer on boarded or will this get the next customer paying me? And if the answer is yes – if it’s from a customer who’s trying to onboard and they’re struggling – then you do it. But if not and it’s from an existing customer who says, “Hey. Can you add this feature?” You can totally log that somewhere. But I would not stop then and build the feature. You know? Because your goal right now is to get to 20 to 30 customers. And so I would try to laser focus and ask that with every task that you start.
Mike [33:57]: Yeah. All the stuff that is taking up the most time is people that they’ve paid and they’re going through that onboarding process and its mostly, “How do I do this?” or, “Can you do that?” And some of it, like I said, it’s, “It would be nice to be able to do X, Y or Z.” And usually they can already do it. It’s just not clear how they get to that point so then I have to explain it and kind of mentally note it to say, “Look. I’ve got to explain this better.” Or explain it in a way that doesn’t make me have to repeat myself 25 times.
Rob [34:26]: Totally. No, that’s right. And that is something that, as you get more and more customers on boarded, it’ll become pretty obvious. Certain things will come up once. Don’t do anything about it. But if certain things come up five times, well now you should carve out a KB doc. Even a few paragraphs or whatever it is. Or improve that tool tip. You know, there’s something in the app you can do.
Mike [34:45]: Yeah. When the feature requests come in, I’ve been pushing people off and saying, “Yeah. I’ll put that on the roadmap.” Or usually it’s something that’s already on the roadmap. And then, because I use FogBugz for bug tracking, I’ll go in and I’ll create a tag with that person’s name. And then if the case inside of FogBugz ends up with enough of those tags that say these five people or these 10 people want it, then I’ll push it more towards the top of the list as being much more important. But if It doesn’t then it’s usually something that either surfaced up internally that maybe somebody mentioned in passing or I see it. And those are not technically all that important. Just because I want something in there doesn’t mean that it’s going to be genuinely helpful to everybody or everybody’s going to use it.
Rob [35:24]: Here’s the other thing that kind of comes to mind. You said the statement like, “It’s chewing up time. It took me a few hours to do this dealing with the customer.” I feel like you should hire someone to do something. It’s either going to need to be the engineering side or it’s going to need to be support or it’s going to need to be help with onboarding. It sounds to me like help with onboarding may be that number one. Because support, I think right now, is really heavily intertwined with onboarding.
Mike [35:49]: Yeah. There almost the same thing.
Rob [35:50]: Yep. So I think support and onboarding – again, when I think back to my experience with products like having someone there in the early days, typically I would do support for about the first 60 days of a product. Maybe 90. And then once we hit 20 or 30 people, I was finding someone to help with it. And then maybe a year – I’m trying to think into Drip when we hired Anna – but there was a real game changing moment when I was able to bring someone on who was a higher level. Who wasn’t just an email support person but could actually get on calls with people and do the onboarding. Which is something as the founder and the product owner you think, “Surely no one can do it as well as I can.” And what I found out is that Anna was way better at it than I was. Because she’s just more of a people person and she’s just better on the phone, she’s better on calls.
Sure, the first month she couldn’t do it better than I did because I knew the product inside and out. Two months, three months in it was game changing. So she became the defacto. She was onboarding, she did some light support, she did strategy stuff of like, “Here’s how you want to set it up.” She also did sales. And we never called her that. She was always customer success. But she did the upfront like, “Hey. Someone is thinking about using Bluetick. Walk them through a demo.” And it wasn’t a salesy demo. It was a, “Here’s how you would use this. Tell me about what you’re up to. Blah-blah-blah.”
And so, if you think about it it’s like sales/customer success/customer support. But we called it customer success because it was all about finding the right customers and making them successful. And this sounds like some magical combination that doesn’t exist but I’m now seeing a lot of folks who are able to do this. Especially at Leadpages. We hired two at Drip. We were a team of eight fulltime and two contractors and two of them were customer success because we found it so incredibly valuable. There time was just a multiplier for all of us. And now that we’re at Leadpages, they must have 10, 15 customer success people who are not just answering email queries all day. They’re actually involved.
So that would be my advice to you is that if you have any budget, even for part time, is to look for that person that can take that piece away from it because that’s the piece that you and I as product people I think are least good at. As much as you and I enjoy talking and we have this good podcast, we’re not great on the phone. We’re not great demoers. We’re not super people person like some of these folks are naturally. So I’ll throw that out there. What do you think about that?
Mike [38:04]: I think it’s a good idea. I’ll say my hesitation would be the fact that I think when people first get on to it and start using it, that’s when they have the most questions and then it tends to die down rather quickly. And I feel almost compelled to answer those questions a lot more because I know that they’re busy and if they email me in the middle of the day and they’re having a particular problem I almost feel like I need to drop what I’m doing to help get them through this particular problem because if I don’t they’re more likely to go find something else to do and either not come back to it for a few days or potentially not come back to it for a week or two. So that’s my only hesitation with that. And I don’t know what the scheduling would be like for somebody who would be doing that because I couldn’t afford to have them fulltime.
Rob [38:46]: Right. So you’d have to get someone part time. You’re worried about urgency.
Mike [38:51]: Yeah. I guess there’s other ways to solve that too. For example, I could say, “Okay, I’m only going to onboard people like Thursday’s,” for example. And then hire somebody and say, “Hey. Look. You only have to work the second half of the day on Thursday,” for example, “and that’s it.” It’s like these four hours. And then onboard first thing in the morning. And then let them come through with questions and stuff. And if it comes up after that, the next day or several days later, it’s probably not a big deal. It’s not as time sensitive. But if I have literally just signed them up and two hours later they’re emailing me with something, I feel much more compelled to answer right away.
Rob [39:27]: Yep. I think that’s a good way to think about it. And it’s tough. I realize it’s easy for me to say, “Hey. You should hire someone who’s really good at this with all your free time.” Because that alone is a big deal, trying to find someone. But I think that your number one goal should be getting new customers in. When I look at multipliers here, like what’s going to multiply your time right now? And what’s going to multiply and greatly accelerate you getting to 25 or 30 customer? I don’t think it’s writing more KB articles. There’s a lot of other things it’s not. And answering individual support requests, that’s a step towards it but I don’t think that’s going to help you get there faster. But throughout this conversation I think that’s kind of my one take away. And I realize it costs money to hire people. There’s all this stuff. But if you think creatively about it, I think there could be something there.
Mike [40:14]: I do think that like going back to the one thing though I don’t know is that onboarding side of things is necessarily the only thing either. I feel like it’s more outreach and going to the mailing list and trying to individually follow up with those people and say, “Hey. You expressed interest in this. Can we have a conversation about it?” Or go to the list of other people that I have who I’ve previously talked to and said, “Hey. When you get Zapier integration done, let me know.” And going to them and saying, “Hey. Let’s get you started on this because this stuff is there now and it’s working.”
Rob [40:42]: Totally. And I think you could still do that. You could still be feeding the funnel and you’d hand it off to this other person, in essence. And from the time they sign up it essentially goes into someone else’s responsibility.
Mike [40:56]: Yeah. I’ll have to think a little bit more about how to arrange that.
Rob [40:59]: Yeah. It’s a thought for listeners. You and I have not talked about Bluetick since the last time we talked about it on the podcast. So it’s not like we talk about this all time. I’m going just based on the last 20 minutes of information. But that’s kind of my impression of where I would probably go next. Because it doesn’t sound like code is your limiting factor right now. Would you say that -?
Mike [41:20]: Yeah. I would agree. I’m doing small bug fixes here and there but other than that there’s not major stuff being implemented at the moment.
Rob [41:29]: Right. And that’s how it feels because you and I, I think naturally we’d be like, “Well, you should hire a developer. Hire the developer so you don’t have to do that work anymore.” It doesn’t sound like that’s the right thing to do right now. I don’t think that’s going to multiply your time. It sounds like there’s a lot of support, customer success and potentially sales that needs to happen. And I think you doing it right now is great. I think very soon you should not be doing it as much. And you are going to have to shift back to the code. And when you do that, this person would be able to seamlessly ease into basically handling all that stuff for you which I think would be a good thing.
Mike [42:01]: Yep. I agree.
Rob [42:02]: Sounds great. Well I think we’re over time, actually. But again, from what I’ve heard from folks who listen to these episodes, they really like to hear what we’re up to and kind of dig in. So hopefully folks stuck around with us all the way through this point.
Mike [42:15]: Well, as you said we’re out of time so I think that wraps us up. If you have a question for us, you can all it into our voicemail number at 1-888-801-9690 or you can email it to us at email@example.com. Our theme music is an excerpt from ‘We’re Outta Control’ by MoOt used under creative comments. Subscribe to us in iTunes by searching for “startups” and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript of each episode.
Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time.