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.
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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.
In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike give some updates on Bluetick and Drip. Mike gives some details of overcoming technical challenges and how he plans to shift his focus to a marketing. Rob talks about some of the changes to Drip since the acquisition as well as ways his role has changed.
Items mentioned in this episode:
Mike [00:00]: In this episode of ‘Startups for the Rest of Us,’ Rob and I are going to be giving updates on Bluetick and Drip. This is ‘Startups for the Rest of Us’ episode 309.
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 [00:26]: And I’m Rob.
Mike [00:26]: And we’re here to share experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s the word this week Rob?
Rob [00:30]: Well, yes, more than this week. I think we’re talking about stuff that’s been going on for the past few months, right? Because we haven’t done and updates episode in a long time. We used to try to do these once a month or so and then there were certain extents of time where so much was going on that I couldn’t talk about. And I think stuff slowed down for you for a while. And I think it’s really time to get back here and get back at it and give folks an update.
And it would be nice to do these a little more often. I don’t know if we’ll do them monthly. But I always find it fun and interesting to talk about what we’re doing. And the feedback that I’ve heard in general is that folks really like to hear more about what we’re up to.
Mike [01:02]: Cool. So let’s dive right in.
Rob [01:04]: Yes. So for me, you know, I look back. It’s been just over three months since Drip was acquired. For those who haven’t been listening I had a startup called Drip. I co-founded it. It’s email software and it was acquired by Leadpages back in July. And so now I work for Leadpages. I’ve moved with my family to Minneapolis. And it has been quite an adventure.
I think the hardest part of the transition was definitely — well, aside from the acquisition itself — it was very stressful. Once that was done, the hardest part has been the move and the impact it’s had on the family. Moves are always stressful and I think that it’s a bummer when you move and your kids are all disjointed and don’t know what to do. And they’re homesick and then they go to school and they don’t have any friends and then — It’s a transition to a new place.
We’ve tried to fill it with adventure and make it exciting. And now that we have been in Minneapolis just over two months and everybody’s over it. And now it feels like home. And nobody talks about how they liked the Fresno house more or about how rough school is because they’re having fun. So that was a big transition and I feel like we’re past it. It feels really good to be past it and I don’t think I want to move any time soon again.
You’ve done some moves in your time, huh?
Mike [02:09]: I haven’t moved for at least 10 years. And there are good reasons why.
Rob [02:13]: Yes, because you remember how hard it was. We hired movers. Everything was paid for and so, we hired people to pack and move us and unload us. We didn’t do any of the hard work. The unpacking sucks, of course. But even then it was so much time to do all the logistics and then your stuff gets here and then the unpacking is just days and days of chaos. Yes, it’s stressful. It reminded me how stressful this actually is. But it’s good to be past it.
And on the flip side, the work transition to Leadpages has been way, way easier. I don’t want to say it’s been a breeze because that would probably be glossing over some things. But in general, it’s been a very good transition for me and, I think, for the team. I talk to everybody. I try to keep tabs on even our remote folks and it’s kind of business as usual. But we have a lot more money to do things. We just have more resources so it’s like business as usual but better, I think, is kind of how I’ve been talking about it.
There are obviously things I had to give up that weren’t – you know it wasn’t the easiest to give up all of the marketing, essentially. And I can be as involved as I want but, frankly, I don’t have time given the focus on the product and the hiring of engineers and stuff that I’m doing now.
But that was a tough choice because I’ve always marketed my own products and Leadpages is just so good at it in my opinion. And from the outside and now that I’m inside, they’re one of the best SaaS top of the funnel marketers in the world. It’s just an amazing machine that they’ve built. So it makes total sense that they would do this when they have a team of 20 or 30 people, why would I want to slow them down and be a bottleneck, essentially.
But giving up the marketing website was a tough choice. Not even a choice. I knew it had to happen. It was inevitability. It was just when it was going to happen. Then, of course, they cranked on it and rolled out nice new gorgeous marketing site. It’s at Drip.co. If you go there you’ll see it. And they have videos and they have all types of cool stuff that just would have taken me months and/or years and a bunch of contractors and way more money than I had to produce. And then they spit it out after it was three or four weeks that this whole website was up. So it’s pretty cool.
Mike [04:08]: What was the reason behind the domain name transition? It used to be GetDrip.com and now it’s Drip.co.
Rob [04:13]: Yes, it was to get away from people calling the app GetDrip. People on podcasts and all the time, “Hey, how’s your app GetDrip doing?” Well it’s not called GetDrip, it’s called Drip. And so for a long time I wanted, obviously Drip.com, which I think there was a squatter on it and he wanted six figures. And that wasn’t going to happen. But, yes, Leadpages was able to get Drip.co on the secondary market. And it probably – at the price, I don’t know I would have put the money towards it bootstrapped, but it made total sense to do it given the resources they have. So, that was the idea. It’s a four letter domain – six letters including the extension – so it’s nice and short, memorable. And it’s just nice to not be called GetDrip anymore.
Mike [04:51]: Back when you could actually get four letter domains.
Rob [04:54]: Yes, I know.
Mike [04:55]: It’s a thing of the past.
Rob [04:55]: I know. Well, Clay sought it out and bought it on the secondary market.
Mike [04:58]: Very cool. Couple of quick personal updates. My brother’s getting married this weekend so the whole family is leaving tomorrow morning so we’re recording on a Thursday.
Rob [05:05]: Wait. You have a brother?
Mike [05:07]: Yes. You didn’t know that?
Rob [05:08]: How long have you and I known each other?
Mike [05:10]: I don’t know. Like 10 years.
Rob [05:11]: 10 or 11 years. You have a brother? Do you have any – how many brothers do you have?
Mike [05:13]: He’s technically a half-brother. He’s 16 years younger than me so yes.
Rob [05:17]: Got it. Okay. You just don’t ever talk about him.
Mike [05:20]: I almost never see him, you know.
Rob [05:21]: Do you have a sister too?
Mike [05:22]: I do.
Rob [05:23]: You are kidding me. What?
Mike [05:24]: I have a sister.
Rob [05:26]: I just figured you were an only child. You never talk about your siblings. Do you know I have siblings? I talk about them, right, every now and then?
Mike [05:33]: I do know that you have them, I don’t know how many. I think you have a brother but I don’t think you have a sister.
Rob [05:37]: Yes, I do. I’m the youngest of four kids.
Mike [05:39]: Oh, I didn’t know that.
Rob [05:40]: With a sister and two brothers. Dude, how many siblings do you have?
Mike [05:43]: Well, it’s complicated.
Rob [05:46]: Two of mine are half as well, to be honest. I have two siblings and then one full.
Mike [05:51]: Yes, my parents, they got divorced when I was much younger and then they both remarried. And on one side I’ve got a stepsister and three stepbrothers and then there’s also a half-brother there. And then on the other side I’ve got, I think five or six … I think five stepsiblings in some way, shape or form. I think that there’s two boys and three girls. I don’t ever talk to them because I’m just never around.
Rob [06:15]: Right.
Mike [06:15]: But, yes, it’s kind of crazy. So there’s like 10.
Rob [06:18]: Got it. Alright. So you’re going to a wedding.
Mike [06:20]: Yes, so we’re going to a wedding this weekend. We’re leaving tomorrow morning. It’ll be Friday morning. The wedding is on Saturday. We come back on Sunday and then next weeks’ Columbus Day.
And then the other thing is I have to go off on a little bit of a rant here. It’s about Amazon and big data. I went on Amazon and I’m very particular when it comes to notebooks. And I’m sure people have their quirks about that sort of thing. But there’s a very specific type of engineering paper that I like for my notepads. So I went on Amazon and I bought one and next thing I know they’re trying to cram calculus and physics books down my throat. I’m like, dear God, please make it stop.
Rob [06:56]: Yes, that’s brutal.
Mike [06:57]: It’s just the entire line of recommendations from Amazon was nothing but college textbooks and I’m just like, no, I don’t want a $300 calculus book.
Rob [07:06]: It’s such a bummer. Yes. I wish there was a button you could click to be like dismiss these. Because that happens to me. My kids get on and shop. Or Sherry will get on and buy psychology books and it’s like, stop recommending that stuff to me.
Mike [07:16]: Yes. And it even happens if you borrow stuff from Amazon’s library. They’ll say, “Oh, well, you downloaded this thing about Barney the dinosaur. You might be interested in this too.” I’m like please stop.
Rob [07:26]: Yes, no doubt.
Mike [07:28]: But aside from that – and I’ve been talking about this for a while – but I finally finished migrating all the backend mailbox data inside of Bluetick. So everything’s over on a completely new storage mechanism. It’s not even a different storage system. It’s just everything is all indexed now and stored in a different way than it was before which makes it easier to get at the data and then make sure that everything’s synchronized. And I’ve got manual indexes that are built around a bunch of stuff so that I can – given any email address, for example, I can very quickly show you exactly who has emailed you from that email address or all the emails that you’ve sent to that email address. Which you can do inside of Gmail or most email clients. But it’s a lot more difficult when you’re trying to synchronize those things yourself. And the other thing that I’m able to do is I’m actually able to tie multiple email addresses to a single person. So that’s an interesting side effect of doing all this myself is that I can create those additional tie-ins that would probably be very difficult to do outside of something like Gmail or Outlook.
So then I can show you all the different communications that you’ve had with somebody. And the idea down the road is to be able to take that stuff and present it inside of the application so that you can see all of the activity related to somebody regardless of what email address was used to send to them or receive from them. So if you have a team, you’ll be able to see all the emails that have been received by your team from that person. And then you’ll be able to mark things as like, “Hey, this particular email was a private one. I don’t want that shared with the whole team.” And you can set preferences around that stuff.
The other thing it allows us to do is download the contents of those messages and display those as well. So, it’s kind of a first step down that path. It’s all looking good. Several million emails later and a huge WTF moment in the mill where I found that somebody had an email that was 65,000 characters long in the subject line.
Rob [09:14]: Wow. Okay. So, you’re truncating, right? You’re going to truncate it to 56 –
Mike [09:18]: Oh, yes, we’re going to truncate it back but I was not expecting it to go above – I was like maybe I could see somebody putting a few hundred characters in there. But the application just choked on it and it took me the longest time to figure it out. And it’s just like, “Oh. Whoops.” I mean that’s a no-brainer decision to truncate that but that’s what the spec says that there’s rules against it.
Rob [09:40]: Yes. It broke something. I was actually talking with a group of people a couple weeks ago and they started asking me about Bluetick and about the progress you’re making and about the technical issues that you’ve been mired in for the past 30 days, 60 days. And they were asking, “What’s going on with Bluetick? Is Mike going to launch? Is this another AuditShark?” They started peppering me with the questions and I was like, “I don’t know.” People don’t realize you and I don’t talk often. This is our conversation every week, right? We maybe talk about MicroConf but we don’t dig into each other’s apps and progress and that kind of stuff.
So, I think this is an interesting thing to dig into here because if I were to recount what I’ve seen over the past – so it’s October – so, if I thought back about the last six months since MicroConf, I feel like you’ve been working on a bunch of technical stuff, mired in technical detail. And I know you’ve worked with some early access folks and most of them came through, as far as I know, and they’re using the app. But it does feel like it’s been really slow going.
Mike [10:34]: Yes, it has. I don’t discount those thoughts. I’ve had kind of the same thoughts and reservations myself about the fact that certain things are just taking an extraordinary amount of time. And some of it’s the volume of data that I run into. So you do a migration and you’re targeting two million email messages and then it was like a million and a half through it where something went wrong. And I’m like, okay, now I have to figure out not only where exactly did this happen because it’s not always easy to pinpoint that stuff either. And doing a partial migration is a little bit challenging. So, the volume of some of those things is – just in terms of the prototyping. Because I’ve had to go through a lot of issues with trying to figure out how long is it going to take to query this particular thing. And you don’t think about those things when there’s only a 100 or 1000 items. But when you’ve got 150,000, 250,000 of them it makes a big difference about whether it takes a half second to query it or three minutes. Then sometimes it does take a long time. And one of the things I’ve found out is mail servers will time out on you if you don’t issue a command within a second, for example. And it’s like that’s not really going to work if all this stuff on the back end doesn’t respond a lot faster.
It sucks to be mired in those technical details but, at the same time, I feel like a lot of them are kind of past me at this point. So I’m really starting to shift my focus from the engineering side of things into marketing. Which I’m thankful for because it means that I don’t have to deal with a lot of those [?]. I think they’ll still come up but I don’t feel like the rest of the stuff that’s going on or that needs to be done is so critical that I have to not move forward with the app and I have to pay attention to it. I think that they’re little things. They’re little tweaks and little changes here and there as opposed to like, this needs to be fundamentally redesigned in order to make this work. Does that make sense?
Rob [12:22]: It does. It does. Given the conversations we’ve had over the past five years on this podcast about you building AuditShark and then now about Bluetick, you do have a tendency to get stuck in technical stuff. And to spend more time than probably is good for you before you get more people using it. And I’m wondering how can it be different this time?
Mike [12:47]: I think part of it is just making sure that people are using the app. I think early on I made the mistake of trying to go in the opposite direction, where I hired several developers to come on and help build the app and while they were building the app I basically was very hands off. I haven’t really talked about this before but I hired three developers back in January. They built the app, got it to launch or at least got it to the point where it was minimally usable. And then we ran into various UX issues with the front end of the app. Then there was a bunch of stuff that needed to be redesigned on the back end.
As I started digging into it – as I said I tried to do the opposite of what I did with AuditShark. I’m like I won’t touch any of the technical stuff. But then once we got to the point where I started putting it in front of people, we were like this needs to be changed mainly because it just doesn’t do what the customer needed it to do. And we went in to make some of those changes and the structure of many of the things was just fundamentally flawed. So, for example, permissions were all screwed up, the API was a total mess. A lot of the stuff that connected the back end to the front end, the interfacing was terrible. It made it very difficult to make changes. And there was a lot of heavy dependencies between those things.
So if you changed one thing it was very easy to break a bunch of other things. And because we tried to move quickly, we didn’t write very many unit tests. We still don’t have nearly as many tests as I would like which makes it painful and it makes me very hesitant to push that deploy button because I know that don’t exactly have a great strategy for rolling things back if something goes wrong. I’m working with a lot of production data and if something goes wrong I need to be able to have time to fix it and be reasonably confident that I’m not going to just destroy a whole bunch of data that I’m going to have to go back and somehow try to rebuild.
Rob [14:30]: The lack of unit tests, that’s brutal. I mean that’s like a classic mistake people still continue to make. But now you’re kind of hamstrung by it, right, because you -?
Mike [14:40]: Yes.
Rob [14:41]: It’s not good. We see this happen with certain software companies that aren’t built by software developers. They’re heavy marketers and they outsource the development and then they find out six to 12 months in, they’re like, “Oh, we have no unit tests and our code base is terrible. And, although we have customers, we can’t build new features.” Your velocity just completely comes to a halt.
Mike [15:01]: Right.
Rob [15:02]: And it sounds like you hit that already.
Mike [15:04]: I did. Yes. And, like I said, part of it was because the app was not designed with the levels of scale that need to be taken into account when you’re dealing with mailboxes. Like I said, it’s a fundamentally different story when you’re dealing with the expectation there’s going to be 100 items in here. Also, let me give you a very specific example. When you first connect your mailbox to the application, there’s a back end process that goes in and it looks at your emails and says let me find people that you may have emailed within the last X time period. I’m going to show you when the first contact that you ever made with them was; when the last contact was; who made it in each direction. That way you can very quickly and easily go in there and, once you’ve hooked up your mailbox, it will show you a list. You can just sort it and say who have I sent an email to in the last three months that never replied to me; or only replied once or twice; or I’m still waiting for a reply. Those are things that you can query in there. At very low volumes that works fine but when you scale it up and there’s people who have 1000’s and 1000’s of contacts, people that they’ve either sent emails to or received emails from and you go from 100 to 10,000 and suddenly lots of things break. And it’s not like it’s an isolated incident either. Several people have this problem.
So, going back and trying to re-engineer those things so that they actually work has been just very difficult. And, you’re right. I ran into these things much earlier than I anticipated. And the point I was getting at before – as I said, I haven’t really talked about this – I hired the three developers I would say shortly after I got it to the point where I was minimally usable. I ended up letting one of them go because I looked at the stuff he was doing and, as I said, I tried to stay hands-off, I tried to stay out of it. And then I go back and look at it. I left him in charge and I said, “You’re responsible for this.” And then I go back and look at it and it’s just way off base. It was very clear in retrospect this guy probably didn’t know really what he was doing. And I left him in charge of huge pieces of the infrastructure.
Then over the next couple of months, one of my other developers, he was very good at a lot of the front end stuff. But he ended up getting married and moving out of the country and, basically, wasn’t able to do any more work for me. And then then third one, there was a lot of micromanagement that was involved. So, I went from three developers to zero. And now I’m back up to one and it’s more of a senior developer. He’s very good, I’m very pleased with the work so far. He’s been able to get in there and be productive. But that’s only happened within the last month or so. And his time, at the moment, is very limited. I’m trying to transition things over but it’s been a long hard road for the past three or four months.
Rob [17:42]: So you had three hiring mistakes then?
Mike [17:44]: One of them was definitely not a mistake. The other one, she probably would have worked out had I been able to spend more time but I didn’t have the time to sit there and give direction. So, basically, I had to be very specific about everything almost to the point of micromanaging. It wasn’t a good fit ultimately. So, two out of three I would say. The third one, like I said, his life circumstances changed so there’s really not much you can foresee about that.
Rob [18:08]: Yes. It’s a lot of setbacks though. That’s a lot of things to happen in a short period of time.
Mike [18:15]: Yes. But I am very conscious of the fact that I don’t want this to turn into another AuditShark story because that’s certainly not the direction I want to go. At the moment what I’m trying to do is I’m trying to transition myself out of doing more of the coding work and more over into the marketing side of things. Next up for me is to, essentially, start looking at getting the sign up page in place and carving out some more of the onboarding emails. Potentially looking at an onboarding wizard because I think that there’s got to be something there to help onboard people into the app. But whether that’s a combination of videos or tutorials or individually onboarding people with onboarding sessions – I’m okay with that too. It’s a matter of getting people to the point that they’re able to be productive with the app as soon as possible.
Rob [18:55]: Yes. And that’s a big deal. I think you need to start building some momentum here because it feels like you’ve been stalled for a while. And just looking at that shortest line between you and getting more customers using it, that’s what I’d be looking to do right now. I don’t have necessarily advice just because I don’t know all of what needs to be done; what has been done; what your path is. But I think if there’s one piece of advice I could offer it’s figure out how to get more people using it and paying you for it as quickly as possible and then do that. And that may be building a website and that may not be. Maybe just continuing to manually onboard people for the foreseeable future.
Mike [19:33]: Yes, I agree with that. It’s an interesting thought experiment, I think, to consider do I even need to rebuild the website because right now it’s just a one-page site. It really does not do anything. There’s nothing that you can do aside from signup for the email list. And then from there I have an email course that I send people. It’s about 5000 words or so over the course of five emails. And that does pretty well at getting people to take that next step. But it’s also heavily slanted more towards this is a beta, contact to us if you’re interested. It’s not so much a push-the-product and let people know what it can do for them. It’s more of a showing them how to do things as opposed to here’s how the product can really help make things better for you. And part of that is just a result of the fact that when it was written, it was written before the product was launched or even available. So, I’ve got to go back and rework a lot of that – not a lot of the copy, but at least some of the calls to action in the emails.
Rob [20:28]: One thing you could think about – and again, I don’t know your road map, your plan or anything. But just hearing where you’re at and what you’re doing, one thing you could consider is either during that email course or instead of the email course, actually, on the one page just swap that out with a ‘Request a Demo’ button. And the ‘Request a Demo’ could lead directly to your Calendly page where people can just book themselves with a demo, it could lead to a Google form that asks for more information first and then you get back in touch. And the Google form – or type form or whatever – might be better because then you can get more info from them. And you can tell how much they might be paying you. Because I’m assuming your pricing tiers up based on seats or something like that. So, you can ask how many seats they expect; what they expect the product to do. That could be really interesting and it would be super fast.
Then if you just improved that single-page marketing site and didn’t really build everything out, that could save you some time and get you to the point of where you’re just driving people. Because I still think at this point, having automatic signup – no-touch signup – I don’t know that you’re there yet. I don’t know quite where the product is, but my guess is you still have more to build and you still need to figure out exactly what to build next in order to get it to the point where you could just send 100s of new trials, so to speak, through the frontal and actually have them stick. And, so, I feel like doing demos and driving more in-person conversations, that’s probably what I would lean towards at this point.
Mike [21:47]: That’s probably true. I kind of put it in my head these are the things that are on the list of things to do and I naturally surfaced like the website really needs some love and care. So I naturally surfaced that to the front of my brain. But I think you’re right. It’s probably not really, necessarily, the best place to be spending my time right now.
Rob [22:04]: Yes. You take your one-page landing page. It’s a Bluetick.io – by the way, for the listeners out there – and maybe improve the copy a bit just rewrite it based on what you know now. And not even rewrite the whole thing. Just add some bits here and there and then have a big ‘Request a Demo’ button and just gate it for now. And people who are interested in a demo, then at least you can have a conversation with them. You could see what kind of volume you’re getting. And you can have conversations with them both because it’s easier to sell things that way and you’ll be able to figure out how best to explain it. You can split test your message really quick. And then you can start taking notes on what your message is and then use that for when you revamp the page.
And then they’ll also just give you a ton of feedback about someone who comes in and is like, “Oh, there’s another tool I use and it does exactly this.” Or, “If you added this one feature I would use it.” Those conversations are just so valuable in this early stage.
Mike [22:47]: Yes, I agree. I had a demo that I did last Friday, I think, and I took notes before the demo and then I made it a point to take notes right afterwards about specifically what the objections that they had were. And wrote those down so that I could come up with answers that were significantly better than what I had so that I had something that was already written, already concrete as opposed to trying to think something up off the top of my head. I’ve done that before and it works really well when you consciously do it. But it’s very easy to just kind of overlook that.
The other thing I did was I had a VA go out and capture all of the marketing messages from, I think it was a list of about 30 different competitors that I put together. So, I’ve got all their primary calls to action and primary marketing headlines that they’re using. And then all the secondary headlines and then if they had any sort of bulleted lists about topics or pieces of information that they were trying to convey on some of the different pages, I had her capture those as well. And then I also had her build a feature comparison breakdown, which is more for me than for general consumption, but it will help give me an idea of when I get the question about, “I see competitor XYZ does this. How does Bluetick do that? Or how does Bluetick relate to competitor XYZ? What do you do better and what do you do worse?” I’ve been asked that question before and I haven’t been able to answer it for specific competitors. So, I got that information so that I could help answer those questions better.
Rob [24:10]: Whenever anyone says, “Can you compare Drip to XYZ competitor?” I always say, “Yes, we’re better.” People don’t find it very funny. For some reason those questions, they kind of infuriate me because it’s like we in particular have I think it’s like 400 or more email marketing apps. So people just name some app of the top of their head that no one’s ever heard of except for this person. There’s like 10 users. And it’s like I don’t know how we’re different. Major competitors we would say we’re easier to use, we’re easier to get onboarded with, we’re less expensive, we’re more powerful than most of our competitors. But to actually do a feature by feature comparison is really kind of a bit of work there.
Mike [24:41]: It wasn’t so much that I wanted to be able to provide a matrix to somebody but I really wanted to know what specific areas of the space that they operated in. So, are they more geared towards cold outbound emails; or are they more about sales funnel flow; or are they more about a CRM package? There’s very different ways to look at the sales process and different pieces of it that different competitors do better or worse.
For example, if somebody asks, “What’s the difference between this and Highrise?” I’m like well, “Highrise is a CRM. It’s not a mechanism for actually doing anything.” I hate to gloss over some of the difficulties or all the engineering behind something like Highrise but, at the end of the day, a CRM is basically a database. It’s a database of contacts and it doesn’t usually do anything for you, whereas with Bluetick, it’s more about automating a process of moving somebody from one step of your sales funnel to the next and making that visible to everybody. Now you can argue that, OK, that’s a CRM, that’s exactly what that does. But most CRMs don’t necessarily have built in functionality that does a lot more than that. They don’t do a lot of that automation right inside the app. They rely on a lot of external processes, external API’s, webhooks, that kind of stuff. And Bluetick has some of that stuff built right into it.
Rob [25:58]: I think this still points to you probably needing to find out exactly how to describe Bluetick. And before you were saying it was sales automation software and I actually like that. But now I’m realizing it may need to even be more specific and it’s like sales email automation software. Or email based sales automation software. Something like that because that’s really what it does, right? You could say sales automation and someone might think, “Is it going to do cold calls for me?” That could mean a lot of things but you’re really specifically focusing on using email to move people through a funnel. And so I think still seeking that description is something that you should probably do in the next few weeks and months.
Mike [26:31]: Yes and no. The email piece of it is like the v1. It’s just like the version one piece of it. So, I’ve had conversations with people about automating text messages, for example. They get a list of customers that they’ve done business with and they have high volume; and they want to be able to turn around and send text messages to their customers; and hook it up through Twilio, for example, so that they can have those replies go directly into Bluetick. Well, that’s kind of like a secondary – I don’t want to say secondary action – but it’s an additional mechanism for interacting with the customer. You could have email; you could have phone call in theory. That could initially just be like you plug something in and write down what you talked about but I think that Close.io actually goes an extra step beyond that and even records the calls and allows you to make calls through Close.io.
Rob [27:18]: Right.
Mike [27:19]: I’m not saying I want to do that but –
Rob: [27:21]: Yes, but I think you’re getting ahead of yourself.
Mike [27:22]: Oh, I agree.
Rob [27:22]: I think if you called yourself email sales automation at this point and then later on you drop it – You think about Drip we were like epic autoresponders early on. And it was all about the promise of raising conversion rates with the email capture widget. Then it was like now we’re automation software, email automation. And then it’s like now we’re marketing automation. We evolved over time. So don’t feel like because you call it email sales automation and I’m not saying that’s the term to use but if you picked on that had the word email in it you could change that later when you add SMS.
Mike [27:49]: Yes.
Rob [27:49]: You adding SMS, I’m guessing, is six months out so that gives you plenty of time. And maybe more, maybe six to 12 months. I think there’s still a lot of progress to be made with just the email front.
Mike [27:58]: Yes. There’s a boat load of stuff that could be done. It’s more a matter of prioritizing it. And I had a brief discussion with my developer this morning and we were talking about even just like a data import. And we kind of scaled it really far back in terms of what the initial plans were because it was just like we could do everything that we want to do but it’s probably going to take at least a month and it’s really just not worth the time investment at this point. So, we scaled it back. It will probably take a couple of days to do it instead of a month which obviously frees up time to do a lot of other things. But now that the, I’ll say that the bulk of the cleanup work is done, and I really do feel that way. A lot of the technical debt that we assumed early on to get something out the door as quick as possible, a lot of that stuff has gone away at this point and it’s a lot easier to make changes now. And there’s more documentation; everything’s more standardized; the code itself has not got three different standards that the code is adhering to. It’s just a lot more manageable. So hopefully at this point we can move considerably faster than we were before.
Rob [28:59]: Some other things from my side as I was reflecting on the past three months after the acquisition. I talked about a few of these things but a lot has gone on in terms of Drip. We launched a $1 plan, we doubled our affiliate commissions, which is nice to do, up to 30% recurring. We’ve hired three engineers which has been extremely time consuming. I forget how much time it is to start from nothing and to write a job description and to post it, take the incoming clients. The nice part is Leadpages has a recruiter and so she actually goes out and emails people prospects, essentially, which I was doing in the old days. It’s just some much stuff that I used to do that I’m able to hand off to other people. But even then all the interviews. You have the phone interviews and then the in-person interviews and then the decision and then the salary negotiation and just all that stuff. Even though I’m not handling all of it, it still does require a lot of time and energy.
Hired three engineers which has been mostly the bulk of my job, bulk of my time in a week doing that. And then I’m hiring one more new employee here in the next couple weeks. Interviewing people right now. I hope to slow down hiring. I don’t really expect to keep growing at this pace. I’m a big believer in small teams and being super efficient and scrappy and agile. And I think that growing the team too large too quickly is really a mistake that some startups make. And then you see them slow down because if it gets bigger you have to involve process and then the process slows down. I just don’t think that that’s the place we want to go to. Doesn’t sound like a fun way to go to grow the team that quickly. So hoping to slow that down and give myself some time to look at other stuff.
Mike [30:34]: Well, I think that as you grow the team people need to become comfortable – not just with each other but with the things that they’re working on and how they work together. And if you grow too quickly – I saw this at Pedestal Software to some extent because we grew from I think I was the fourth engineer that was hired and within probably a year we were up to 10 or 15 or something like that. And when you have that many people added to a team that quickly, it’s difficult to – get on the same schedule is not quite the right way to phrase it, but get in the same mental mode of working together. Get on the same page in terms of how you’re doing stuff. You know what I mean?
Rob [31:12]: Yes, totally. There’s just an adjustment period when you’re working with a new group of people on a new app.
Mike [31:17]: Yes, that’s it. It’s that adjustment period. It’s hard to do that and scale it up very quickly without having things go sideways very quickly as well.
Rob [31:26]: Yes. And so, other transitional stuff that’s happened that’s been really nice. I’ve been able to basically hand over support. Leadpages has, I don’t even know, 20 people or something. 25 people on their support team and we had one. And so to have trials go up as high as they did as quickly they did, which is where the bulk of support’s going to come, we just never would have been able to hire that quickly. And certainly didn’t have the budget to do it. I’ve handed over the reins of that to their very capable team at HR. Obviously all HR stuff. There was no reason for me to be managing payroll and employee onboarding and insurance plans and just all that stuff. So that was good to hand over to them. Legal, affiliate management.
Mike [32:03]: All the crappy parts of running a business.
Rob [32:04]: Isn’t it funny? Yes. Everything I’m naming is like we are product people. We want to build product and there’s all this other stuff that you have to do to have a company. And it’s really nice when there’s someone else there to do it. So my job has actually been filled with less as Anders called it in his question. You said the crap work. And for me this is crap work for me personally because of how I’m wired and because of my focus and what I’m good at. But it’s actually someone else’s sphere of genius. You know what I’m saying? The HR person, it’s her sphere of genius so she should be doing it. And the legal and the affiliate management, this is what they do fulltime. And so me having it as one of 50 things that I’m managing it’s just not going to be done anywhere near as well.
To be honest, I feel right now we’re getting to the point where we’re starting to ship pretty quickly again. The first 30 to 60 days after the acquisition was like, oh man, we need to add servers; we need to scale; some things are starting to get slow. We had people come in trying to send spam. There’s just all this stuff you’re fighting. And then we got enough code written that we’re out well ahead of that now. And that’s given us a chance to really get back in and dig into features.
And so, we’ve shipped some pretty cool things in the past couple weeks. And there’s some fun changes I won’t talk about yet but that are going to be coming here in the next month or two.
Mike [33:21]: Awesome. Well, I think we’re kind of running out of time here. But I guess to wrap things up a little bit, one of the things you’d asked me earlier was how to make sure that things are moving forward in the way that they need to; and how I’m going to move the app ahead; and put more people into; and actually scale up the customer side of things as opposed to digging in, as you said, and focusing too much on things that are not going to be as important. Or just simply aren’t as important. And I think for that, for me it’s really a matter of putting together some goals. And I think that early on, when I was first doing the customer development for it, I had some very concrete goals and I was highly focused on making sure that I was achieving a certain number of calls per week and having conversations and converting people into the preorders. And I think I need to get back to that. I think I need to pick maybe one or two different KPIs that I’m going to go after and use those as benchmarks moving forward for at least the next month or two. I don’t know off the top of my head what they are. I have some ideas but I think I may need to sit down and first thing is determine exactly what those are and then track those moving forward.
Rob [34:24]: Yes, totally. That sounds like a good thing. I feel like your number one focus right now should be getting more people on and getting them to pay you. And figuring out if there are sticking points between them paying you, what those are. Getting them hammered out moving as quickly as possible.
For me, to wrap up, over the next few weeks I’m going to be going to the Converted conference which is the one Leadpages puts on. I think I’ll have some stage time. I don’t think I’m doing my own talk there but talking about Drip and some other stuff. I’ve been spending a lot of time recruiting speakers for the two MicroConfs we’re putting on in six months. Which is a bit of an effort.
And then on more of a personal note. It’s a trip, I’ve been getting back more into investing. I kind of put that on the back burner a decade ago as I dove headlong into entrepreneurship, but it’s always been an interest of mine since I was a kid. I bought my first share of stock when I was like 14 or 15. I had to do it through my dad’s account because, obviously, you have to be 18 or something to do it. Read a lot of books when I was younger and I thought that was a way to make money. And as I learned it’s like investing is a way to grow money slowly and stay ahead of inflation but almost no one gets rich or makes their millions purely from investing starting with nothing. There’s like two exceptions in the history of mankind or something. But now that I have a little bit of a nest egg from the Drip acquisition, it just makes a lot more sense to be more deliberate about it because with a larger sum of money, it’s like just knowing more and doing 1% or 2% more per year, being a little more deliberate about it, it really is worth a substantial sum. And so that’s actually been a lot of fun. I’ve been listening to audiobooks. Actually, maybe at some point we could do a whole episode on it because that’s what I’m doing what my spare time is really thinking and looking about that and educating myself again and updating my skillset there. So, I have a lot of thoughts on the topic.
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