In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike answer a number of listener questions on topics including VC prospecting emails, building features vs. integration, buying software businesses and more.
Items mentioned in this episode:
- ZenFounder Ep.193-“Productivity Hacks”
- All Side Projects
- FE International
- QuietLight Brokerage
- Empire Flippers
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 Rob.
Mike: And I’m Mike.
Rob: And we’re here to share our experiences help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s going on this week sir?
Mike: Well, I’m in the midst of polishing up by a bunch of screenshots for Bluetick to distribute with product listings that I’m posting on various websites at the moment. I started doing it and I realize the screenshots that I could take that would take me like two seconds to do just from various places inside the app don’t really tell a story about the app itself or any of the screens themselves because you kind of have to have used the product in order to understand certain pieces of it.
I kind of backed off a little bit and said okay, well how can I tell a story with these screenshots? I was like, most of the screenshots are actually like smaller versions of the screen itself and then like descriptive text around it and arrows arose and it kind of tells more a marketing story around what the product will do for you as opposed to like just strict screenshots that you see on a lot of those websites.
Rob: I agree. I think taking screenshots and making them palatable is such an art and just trying to take a screenshot of like an entire screenshot of a whole screen in your app almost never works. There’s just too much information, there’s no context, you don’t know what’s going on. It a very developer thing to do because we’ve seen screenshots and inspects before mockups inspects.
When I’ve seen screenshots that wind up being really helpful, it tends to be this really highly cropped thing that’s just one corner of the screen, is high resolution and like you said, it has some type of helper text. It takes a lot of time I guess is what I realized to make good screenshots. Much like making a good explainer video, it seems like you’re cranking out in a few hours tends to take a lot of time to do something like that.
Mike: Yeah, those things take a couple of days. I actually allocated a day earlier this week to basically create a new explainer video and that was just not enough time. I’ve done them before. I knew that it took more time but I guess I was overly optimistic about how long it would take.
Rob: Yup. I kind of always end up with those things. This blog post called How I Created 4 Startup Explainer Videos for $11 and that’s at robwalling.com in my essays section. I ran through how I created some pretty LoFi explainer videos for Drip and why I did that. It’s definitely a bootstrapper’s approach because it was time consuming.
I think I spent a full day from the time I wrote the copy until I recorded. I recorded four different ones but then as far as I can repurpose a bunch of a copy and the parts, basically the animations can repurpose them. Not something I’d recommend if you have the budget to just hire someone professional but definitely something that a scrappy bootstrap startup should probably think about.
Mike: How about you, what’s going on this week?
Rob: I’m having a tough week this week man. Sherry’s out of town she’s with her family. Her dad is pretty ill and it’s been a long time coming. It’s been more than a year of stuff kind of degrading there. So she’s out of town and I’m trying to figure out, I tend to do really well with just me and three kids and I can do it for about four days and then things just drop off a cliff. On the fifth day I wake up tired and then I think the kids are tired of me, kind of tired of each other and I kind of start running out of patience and it’s just this vicious cycle I’ll say.
At the end of the week, it’s Friday right now when we’re recording, we’re doing an emergency recording session because, I’m supposed to record next week but I’m going to be out of town. I think that’s the other thing, I usually don’t enjoy being on the road very much and I’m pretty much on the road for almost the next two weeks. So it is what it is, these are just times and stuff that I have to do. I think it’s stuff that will certainly help with TinySeed and a lot of it is work stuff and being face to face with some folks where it’s important.
For now, I’m just kind of looking forward to getting back here for Thanksgiving and getting pass this week. It’s probably been one of the I’d say worst weeks of maybe the last quarter. It’s not like some catastrophic lifelong trough. But last several months, this has been a tough one.
Mike: Yeah I’ve realized earlier this week that my kids have days off from school this week, next week and the following week. I’m just like, do you kids ever go to school?
Rob: Yeah, it’s like who’s going to watch these kids while they do that? Oh me, I’m just going to work less. Already an announcement to the listeners, you and I have been on the mic for almost 30 minutes and I’ve been interrupted twice by my kids. One kid is home sick and another kid I homeschool part time. But since Sherry’s not here, I’m home schooling full time and on and on. It’s just enough interruption that you can’t actually get anything done. So I feel your pain with the kids home.
Mike: It’s a good thing you don’t write code.
Rob: Maybe there’s a reason I don’t write code anymore.
Mike: It could be. Maybe that’s the trick, I don’t know. I forget who, there was somebody who commented on—I think it was Alex Yumashev he’s like, “Oh I was able to only spend 1% of my time on my phone this week.” and somebody asked him how he did it and he’s like, “Well, I had a third kid.”
Rob: That’s a good way to do it. So today we’re answering some listener questions. Our first one is about how to handle VC prospecting emails and it’s from a long time listener he says, “Hey guys, I got the email below and I was briefly excited and when I clicked on the link and opened up a form where I’m asked about my company’s earnings.” The gist of the email is it’s from a what looks like a venture capital firm and it says, “I’d like to speak to you about a financial opportunity regarding your SaaS business. As an acquisition advisor, I’m seeking to acquire business in this space season.”
So I don’t know this much of VC, it’s almost like private equity right? We may want to acquire you. So back to the original email he says, “Based on his email and the form that was presented, it seems like he’s not really interested in my company, he’s just casting a broad net seeing what’s out there. I think it would be interesting for you guys to discuss A, what to do if you get half asked acquisition related emails like this and B, what to do with all those VC emails, venture capital emails. People seem to get looking to connect when you have no interest in venture capital. Keep up the good work on the show.”
So what do you think? There’s two separate things here. I think anyone who’s built any type of business got any traction winds up on any list anywhere eventually gets these emails. I remember in the latter days right before the acquisition of Drip, I was getting probably three or four of the VC emails a month and I was getting I’d say maybe one a month of acquisition related, maybe it was one every six weeks but there was definitely a pretty steady flow of them. So what do you think about these?
Mike: I guess if we separate these two because as you said, they are two entirely different questions. The part about VC just looking to connect like on LinkedIn or sending emails. I get a bunch of these emails like, “Hey, can we hop on a call and talk about your business?” And I’m just like, “No, I don’t have time to talk to you and even if I did, this isn’t a good fit.” I’m just blunt with them and it’s like, spend your time someplace else because it’s just not going to happen. A lot of times, I will just let the email go and I’ll just ignore it and then if they send me a couple of follow ups, I think if I get like two follow ups, I have a cold emails folder that I just dump these into and then if it gets to at least two and it still looks like they’re still going to continue to email me then I’ll just respond and say, “Look, this is not a good fit. It’s not going to work. I’m just not interested. So take me off your email list.”
For the other ones if it’s like a situation that he described where it’s an acquisition related email and they’re asking questions about finances and stuff, my advice in that situation is really just like ask what their range of interest is because what you don’t want to do is you don’t want to go and fill out a form that gives all the information about your business because they may be looking to use that to justify a purchase price or to lowball somebody else’s business or something along those lines. You just don’t know what that data is going to be used for and there’s no trust. So why would you give over that information.
But if they’re actually really looking for those types of businesses, then they know how much they’re willing to spend. They know what their budget is and they know that below a certain threshold, they’re not going to be interested and they know that above a certain threshold, it’s probably not going to work because they’re not looking for a business that’s at large because they’re just not going to be able to pay for it. Ask them what their range is and if you fall within that range, then you might want to have a conversation with them. But otherwise, I don’t see any real obligation to start forking over information that is very specific to your business without actually going down the path of formal offers and all that other stuff. But if you’re not interested at all, you can say, “Hey look, it’s not a good time. Maybe let’s keep in touch.” But I don’t know if I’d entertain them. Just don’t spend a lot of time on them is really what the bottom line is.
Rob: I think that’s a great advice. I think especially the venture capital emails, I mean they call it junior partner, but just a junior person that is prospecting, it’s cold outreach.
Mike: Like an intern. That’s what you mean, intern.
Rob: An intern, exactly. That’s really what it is. They might be called the junior partner but that’s essentially what it is and it’s like, “Go find some deals.” So, with the venture capital stuff, I pretty much like you, I just put that all into a folder somewhere in case in the future ever I decided by some crazy thing that I was going to raise venture capital which is never on my radar. But at least then you have all the names you could reach back out to.
The acquisition stuff I agree with you. I used to respond directly like you said and just be like, “What are you looking at? What ranges are you looking at?” I mean basically what you said, I would never fill out a form like that and if that’s their requirement, then delete. It’s done. I feel like you don’t have to feel like they’re back to in a corner or something because they’re sending you this email. You don’t have any obligation to do any of this. Also, when those come into my inbox, I would tend to put them in my this week folder.
So I talked this week on ZenFounder I guess it’s last week when this was live but the ZenFounder podcast I did a solo episode where I talked about productivity hacks. One of my productivity things in Gmail is that I have this label and it’s _thisweek and the reason it’s underscore is so it goes to the top the list. Anything that is not time urgent for me or is someone else putting something on my to do list that does not need to urgently get done, I throw into this thisweek folder.
And then once a week, I have a 30-minute time box that pops up and says, “Go through this week folder.” And then, I would go through all these and respond and I would try not to let it get into some big back and forth because that’s how people suck time from you. They don’t do it necessarily intentionally but they do it because it is in their best interest and not necessarily in yours. That’s the biggest thing I would think about. You don’t have to respond to every email and even if you do, like you just said Mike, don’t spend a ton of time on this. That’s the key. So thanks for the question.
Our next question, it’s another anonymous question and he says, “Hey Rob, congratulations on selling Drip. I’ve been following you and Startups for the Rest of Us for a few years and consider you some kind of a role model. Thanks so much for all the useful tips and inspiration. I have a question, I’ve built a SaaS. It works well in the German market. Now that we’ve entered the English speaking market, it’s become clear that it’s scheduling feature, like scheduling for appointments is a deal breaker for most of our trial users. We don’t have it built yet so I’m thinking now if we should build the feature from scratch which would be a lot of work and distraction and it would be essentially expensive for us. Or, should we build an integration with some of the existing big players like say Calendly or Acuity or I’ll say YouCanBook.me. What is your opinion or experience with this? Thanks a lot for your time.” What do you think?
Mike: So this is something I’ve actually looked at for Bluetick and the path that I’m going down is to integrate with other ones who do exactly that. You could invest all the time and effort of building your own version of it from scratch but that is a value add to your products, not necessarily a core feature. For those other products, it’s their core feature. So you may be able to attract certain types of users who aren’t already using those but at the same time, there are huge numbers of people who already have those products in place and they work really well and they’ve got a lot of support infrastructure and customer validation and users, all the stuff that goes with supporting an entire product that does just that.
For you to replicate that inside of your own app is like a small piece of it is probably not the wisest move in the world. So I would lean towards going with an integration of some kind and if down the road it makes sense to build your own version of it so that your incoming customers don’t also have to have a subscription to those, then maybe that makes sense at that point. But I wouldn’t start there, I wouldn’t try to rebuild an entire application that other companies do and that’s all they do.
Rob: Yeah, I would agree with that advice. This is what we’ve seen with the all in one tools much like the infusion Infusionsoft or even the Hubspot where they have built all this functionality into one and so I guess I’ll speak to Infusionsoft itself if you’ve used it and you’ve tried to use their shopping cart, their affiliate management, their landing pages, their CRM, they’re not very good.
The core email stuff is decent and they were the innovator in the visual builder, but it’s a pretty rough product outside of that, I’ve never use those things. I’ve heard it from dozens and dozens of Infusionsoft customers who said, “Yes, I’ve tried their shopping cart and it’s not configurable and it’s kind of a kludge.” And so, that’s what we have to think about, are you going to build something that is a worst in class but is literally just a checkbox so the people say, “Oh, they have the scheduling feature.” the moment you build it, people are going to say, “Oh, Calendly does this and I can check this one box and I can put this buffer around my times or I can do it only every other day or I can do weekly this and that.” Suddenly it’s like you are almost on the hook to build this best in class product.
So I think that if you want to do that, you can make it a very deliberate decision to do that over the long term and think three years down the line. Do you want to still be maintaining that and adding to it and expanding it because it’s not a one-time build. Not only are you going to have to get it to feature parity with your competitors but then as they get better here and after they implement those features. So it really will be like having two products. Now, if you had funding or you’re going after huge market or growing very fast, then maybe that is the right choice.
Maybe it is the right choice to not send people off to sign up for Calendly or Acuity or YouCanBook.me because you would want to maintain those dollars, you don’t want to retain them. Having someone go and pay for those other subscriptions would actually be a loss of value to you and you need to capture as much value as you can. But when you’re a bootstrapper and you’re a small team and you’re going based on revenue, I would say by default, integrate first and do a pretty quick integration. Then do a kind of a V2 integration which is the next level up and is even better. Then if everything catches on, you’re six months down the line and you really have realized this is the core feature, then maybe you evaluate building it.
That’s a very common path to what you see even bigger startups do is first they go integrate and then they circle back and they build out the core features in the app that are the most popular. The most popular integrations become core features in the app but then you at least have more data and you kind of have a longer timeframe to think about it. You’re not making this rash decision of like, “Everyone’s requesting it over the course of this month. Let’s commit ourselves to this thing which lasts years.” you’re going to impact your product roadmap for literally years if you do that.
So I’m on the same page as you. I would integrate first and then I would think about what is does it look like improve that integration and then what does it look like to eventually if we need to build that out. But to do it very deliberately and to give yourself more time for again as to the ramifications of what that means. So thanks for the question, hope that was helpful.
Our next question is about going in circles, no traction, no investors so Gabriel Popan. He says, “Hey Mike and Rob, thanks the great show. I’ve been listening for a couple months now. I’m catching up on older shows as well. I’d appreciate some advice or starting point on this, on the single developer of a note taking app, I’ve reached to the point where the app needs a team and some funding to move forward. I would like to apply for seed investment. But given the fact that investors like to see among other things traction, some customer base etcetera. I know that the chances are slim for me to get investment. I did my homework and I am able to articulate the key differentiators properly. Right now, I cannot get any traction with the current state of the app. it’s not consumer ready. So I’m stuck in this loop. I’m reluctant to apply for seed investment as a single developer as I know this does not look good to investors. All I have is a website, screenshots, a blog, a demo and a deck. I know that’s not enough but I also know that this has some potential. How do you break out of this loop?” So Mike, I’ll totally let you handle this first. He has a lot of I know statements in here that I question if they’re factual.
Mike: I was going to call this out, I was going to call this out like, how do you know that it’s not enough. It seems to me like the core problem here is that you need money in order to be able to take the products to the next level and there are some customers there. There’s a customer base which looks like you’re getting some traction with it. How do you know that you’re not going to get the money unless you ask for it.
Rob: But he said he doesn’t have a customer base.
Mike: Oh he doesn’t?
Rob: No, he said, “The current state of the app is not consumer ready,” that all he has is a marketing website, screenshots, a blog, a demo and a deck. So he doesn’t yet have, I’m assuming zero paying customers at this point.
Mike: Does that mean he doesn’t have a product either?
Rob: He says, “I can’t get any traction with the current state of the app.” So that tells me there’s code written. I don’t know item maybe the UI is bad, maybe it’s just not usable yet. He said it’s not consumer ready, I don’t know what that means.
Mike: I wonder if this is a mobile app or like a web app.
Rob: It says note taking which tells me it might be both. Note taking app you think of like Evernote or something it’s like you kind of have to be mobile and web.
Mike: Right. Honestly, I would wonder more about whether it’s the space as opposed to the app itself because there are a lot of note taking apps. And there’s a lot of them that are free. That’s the thing, there’s so much competition and I feel like it’s like project management software or blog trackers. Developers for whatever reason love to build blog trackers.
Rob: To do lists.
Mike: Yes, to do lists, blog trackers, those are the things that every developer decides, “All these other ones suck and I’m going to create my own and it’s going to be better than all of them.” and the reality is that like, everyone has different tastes and that’s why there are so many of them and it’s hard to build like mass market appeal with any of them because everyone just has these different tastes associated with it.
It’s so easy to get into this space because the bar is really low to build most of those apps. I’m not saying that’s not complicated and there’s not a lot to it, it’s just that it’s fairly straightforward in terms of the technical challenges that you have to overcome. So everyone says, “Well, I can build one that’s better than that and it will do exactly what I want.” The problem is, everybody who uses those apps has slightly different needs and therefore that’s why the market is so incredibly fragmented.
I’m with you, I think that there’s a lot of “I knows” in here that are probably not justified but at the same time like, I don’t know how much traction you’re going to get with an app like this or how you would go about pitching this to investors to begin with without getting that traction. You even look at Evernote, I’ve used Evernote before, I still have my account but I barely use the product anymore. And why is that? It’s just like I got away from it and I found other things that I like better. So there’s huge term problems as well in those types of apps and I don’t know how you overcome those types of things.
Rob: Yeah, it’s definitely an investment play and I think that’s the struggle. Trying to build an app in a crowded space like this even with differentiators, you have to validate that that differentiation matters to anyone before anyone is likely to give you investment. Honestly in your shoes, this is what accelerators are made for. It’s made for people who have ideas and either no traction or maybe a little bit of traction. That’s why YC started. You can come with an idea.
I know a lot of people come in beyond that but you got put your hustle pants on in all honesty. You either need to apply to an accelerator if this idea is that big, you need to have a network of people who are willing to invest in you because of your past history. I’m guessing that that’s not the case, you would have already done that. You need to teach yourself to code or if you’re already a developer, nights and weekends.
I mean we’ve all done this years and years of nights and weekends I did to get stuff off the ground. If you’re not a developer, then work aside hustle, save enough money, hire a developer, have them bill that. I mean there are ways to get this done, they’re hard. It’s hard work. That’s what startups are. There is no easy answer. So you break out of this loop by just saying that you’re not going to give up until you have something to show people. If you truly believe that this is something that that’s going to be a differentiator.
That’s my first two thoughts one is I think accelerators are ideal for this. Number two, I think you’re going to have to hustle way harder than you’re letting on in your email. I’m not saying you’re not hustling, but you’re certainly not presenting that in the email that you’ve just gone to the mattress that are pulling out all the stops because that’s what it’s going to take to watch an app like this. My third thought is, have you validated this with anyone? Does anyone else care about the note taking differentiators you’re talking about.
So I would be literally going to local coffee shops and just ask if it’s a B2C app, I would just start asking people. I would approach people. I would be on forums. I would start on indie hackers, be on hacker news but I would also if this is a note taking app for veterinarians, I would be on the veterinarian forums. I would buy that ticket to the conference where you need to approach people that might use this app.
It’s just like have the conversations and try to invalidate your hypothesis. Your hypothesis is that these key differentiators are going to so differentiate your note taking app that it’s going to have all this traction and it’s going to grow big and grow fast. I think you need to validate that assumption.
Mike: The one thing that you mentioned in there that I think is actually something for him to key in on is the, you’ve mentioned the note taking app for veterinarians. The way this is presented to us is that it’s a generic note taking app. I think if your knee is down to a particular type of industry or market vertical or even a position in a company, that would probably be a great place to go.
I have seen apps that are specifically designed for the person who changes your tires at the car shop. They have apps that are specifically set up so that they can take notes on, “Oh, you last came in for your car and this is what things look like and this is what we should look, or this is what we should reach out to you about in the future because we see that there’s like a degradation on the muffler or something like that and it looks fine now. But what about in six months, what about in a year? Maybe we should send you a coupon or something like that.” Those are the types of things that you’re going to want to key in on to find who the audience is that’s actually going to pay for it. Then you have your value propositions and everything else.
Rob: Yeah. This is a hard place to be. This is what every early stage entrepreneur, this is where almost all of us find ourselves in unless you have a Cinderella story. You’re Mark Zuckerberg and you’re at Harvard and you’re hacking away and suddenly your app is growing 9 million percent a month or whatever. That almost never happens, almost never. It’s always this struggle. It’s the untold struggle and I think that does us all a disservice because when you get to the point where Gabriel is at, you don’t realize all the hustle you have to put into it to get any type of escape velocity.
The untold hours and nights and weekends and the sacrifice that it’s going to take and the fact that it may not work out. You may spend the next six months or a year of nights and weekends and then realize, “This is no different than Evernote. I can’t get any traction.” or “This is different but nobody cares.” or “It was different, but Evernote implemented my feature and now I have to start over from scratch.” and this is the path that you’re going to travel as a founder.
I really think you want to ask yourself, “Is this what I’m signing up for? Is this something that I want to do?” because it is a life long journey I believe. From the time I first launched something in 1999 until I was even able to quit my job is for myself full time it was 10 years I think. There are some tough times there. I think all of us, each of us, each successful entrepreneur has that story to tell. Hopefully it’s not 10 years for you, hopefully it’s gotten shorter now that there’s better information out there. But I want you to think in terms of years, not months when you’re thinking about trying to build a successful business. That was a good question, thanks for sending it in.
Our last question of the day is all about buying a software business. It’s from Alex Bush and he says, “Hey Rob and Mike, thanks for making such a great podcast, very educational. I am entrepreneurial myself but so far, I’m in the consulting world trying to save up as much FU money as I can to go full time with my own business. I’m focusing on selling services and educational materials for iOS developers. I listened to a few of your episodes lately about taking on investment and it got me thinking about acquiring a business rather than building one from scratch. So question for you, how would you go about this? Specifically, how do I find an online or software business for sale? How do I approach them? How do I find all the info? How do I get all the data like their user base, their accounting books, what they’ve done for marketing etcetera that I need about them to make an educated decision. What are the price ranges I’m looking at for a profitable business. So far, I have found Flippa, flippa.com and it is very interesting but some of the prices in bids there seem to be too good to be true. How would I vet them? Is it even a good place to look?” what do you think Mike?
Mike: I’m going to give a couple of links in addition to Flippa for you. One of them is allsideprojects.com and you’ll find things there that have various price ranges and there’s different tags and stuff that you can sort and it does look like you can buy various websites and apps and products over there. But there’s also a new one that I saw, it was on products on Product Hunt, it’s called one 1kprojects.com and its pitch is, “Neglected side projects for less than $1,000.”
So you can go there and take a look and see what they have there and they’ll tell you what the MRR is, what the price is, what the product does and kind of who it’s aimed at. You can get a good sense of at least whether or not it’s worth your time looking at, but that’s the place that I would probably start over Flippa. It’s relatively new, I remember I saw it was within a month ago. So it’s relatively new.
I can’t voucher the quality of anything that you find there but it seems like they’re getting a fair amount of traction and the site looks pretty clean and polished. so I would imagine that they’re heading in the right direction because there’s a lot of people out there with projects that they started working on and they just didn’t go anywhere or they’re down to a certain point they just can’t make it work. So that’s a place I would start.
Rob: That’s a cool idea. I hope this sticks around. I’ve seen a lot of these things crop up over the years and then they just go away because they don’t make enough money. But I like this idea because of how many side projects people start and shut down. It’s like wasted value. You know how economists look at like, I think it’s like Christmas as this huge waste of economic value because you buy things for people that they don’t want and then they either have to sell them for less or they return them and they get store credits instead of getting value.
That’s why I see people building side projects shutting them down and then all these other people are coming in and saying, “I really wish I could take over a side project.” so I hope that this kind of thing sticks around. It’s kind of cool and it’s neat that they’re at a low price point. I mean I guess if they get traction, they’ll expand out because certainly sometimes there are things that I suppose could be worth more than $1,000 but I love that idea as you said, allsideprojects.com and 1kprojects.com. We will include links to those in the show notes.
The other thing I think you could look at and even five or six years ago, I wouldn’t have had this suggestion but there are a handful of basically website or app brokers. They do both, they do ecommerce websites and information products and software and all that stuff. There’s a handful of them that are pretty damn good and they’re specializing in this kind of stuff. So FE International is one and quietlightbrokerage.com is another and empireflippers.com. Those are the three that I tend to recommend to people.
You get on their lists and they get new listings each week. You kind of got to go through and look at them. Now those are going to be I would say definitely higher quality and also higher cost to something like Flippa. I have bought many websites, web apps on Flippa. Some of them are complete junk and scams. I had to spend a bunch of time vetting them even then sometimes it did mark out but the cost was so low that in the end, it was very much a net positive for me but it was a lot of time that I spent vetting.
It wasn’t just you walk down the street and find this amazing deal on this amazing piece of real estate, that never happens. If you’re a real estate investor, you spend a ton of time learning the market, learning how to negotiate, learning how to vet things, learning how to do the work and what it’s going to cost, same thing here. If you’re going to buy an app, you need to educate yourself. So don’t think that you’re just going to walk up and on the first day, find a great deal that you don’t have to vet and everything’s laid out for you.
Especially the cheaper you get, the more risk that there’s going to be. You just have to be willing to take that risk. So I have always been a proponent of buying or I say always, since my first acquisition worked out in 2005 and I realized, oh my gosh, this is like the shortcut. Forget all this building stuff. I mean as fun as the building is, it’s also super stressful. It takes too long and you never know if it’s going to work and it takes a year or two to get the product market fit. Whereas if you can acquire something that’s already halfway there or already has product market fit, honestly I think you are definitely ahead of the game by thinking in those terms.
Mike: Well I think that about wraps us up for the day. If you have a question for us, you can call it in our voicemail number 1-888-801-9690 or you can email it to us at email@example.com. Our theme music is an excerpt from We’re Outta Control by MoOt used under Creative Commons. Subscribe to us in iTunes by searching for Startups and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.
In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike talk about harnessing the power of your marketing data. Syncing information between marketing tools is a difficult task and its easy to make mistakes. The guys talk through some ways to make it easier.
Items mentioned in this episode:
Mike: In this episode of Startups For the Rest of Us, Rob and I are going to be talking about harvesting the power of your marketing data. This is Startups For the Rest of Us, episode 351. Welcome to Startups For the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers, and entrepreneurs be awesome at building, launching, and growing software products, whether you’ve built your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Mike.
Rob: I’m Rob.
Mike: We’re here to share experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we have made. What’s going on this week, Rob?
Rob: Do you ever notice that when you intro the show, you say, “Rob and I are going to be talking about XYZ” and that I say, “Mike and I talk about XYZ”?
Rob: You haven’t noticed that? Alright. I wonder if anyone else has.
Mike: Why do you think that is?
Rob: I think because you’re actually talking about the conversation we’re about to have because you know that 20 seconds later, we’re going to be talking about this, whereas I’m kind of like putting it up as an intro, as if it was independently recorded – almost like it’s done after the fact. “In this episode, Mike and I talk about blah blah blah.” It’s almost like it’s something that happened in the past.
Mike: Like you’re a time traveler, and you’re doing it in the future.
Rob: Exactly. Anyways.
Rob: Now that we’ve lost all our listeners, you know what’s up for me? This week – last week, once this episode goes live, Clay Collins stepped down as the Leadpages CEO, and he decided that it was a good time to bring in someone to scale the company. He made specific comments of – which I really respected – like this was his impetus. He initiated it. This wasn’t just him offering flowery language, as some founders get kicked out by their board. They say things like this, but I know the backstory of that guy.
I know the inner workings of what happened, and he said, “Look, I’m really good at growing a company from zero to $10-15 million, and we’re a lot more than that now. We need more process, and we need someone who can really scale this thing up to $50-100 million, so the COO John Tedesco, who I’ve worked with now for a year, in essence, since we’ve been at Leadpages – he is taking over as CEO.”
Clay is really taken some time off. He’s gonna spend more time with his family. The dude is super smart, and he reads a lot of stuff. He’s into investing. I mean, he has enough hobbies to keep him busy, and he won’t be down for long. He’s like one of us, where it’s like you’re just constantly – you have that next thing going. Frankly, I applaud his decision to do this, and I think he’ll have some nice – I hope he’ll have some nice restful time as he steps away from it.
Mike: Honestly, I think that’s really smart and insightful on his part to know really where he fits into the startup process and understanding where he provides the most value and realizing that there’s probably going to be a time, where either he’s not good at it or he doesn’t enjoy it. So it’s better to move things around and put a succession plan in place, so that he can go do the things that he really wants to do or is really good at, versus continuing down that road because you feel pressured to or you feel like you are supposed to do that versus “this is the right thing to do.” I agree with you. I think that that’s totally the best-case scenario – is he makes that decision as opposed to somebody else making it for him.
Rob: Right. And making it for him, like kind of overstaying your welcome, and then people are like, “Um…” They’re bored like, “Um…” Your C-Level Suite is like, “Dude, what’s going on here?” Yeah, I agree. It is genuinely – obviously there’s always uncertainty when this type of thing happens. From my perspective, when I first heard – which is a while ago – I was like, “Alright.” Clay and I worked close together, and I know him. He’s a known quantity. I know how we interact together, so I was a little concerned because they did a national search for replacement. They didn’t just say, “Well, the COO is gonna take over.”
My concern was like, “Who’s that gonna be? Is it gonna be someone that I don’t know that runs a company completely different than Clay did? It’s gonna be this big shakeup that I’m not going to enjoy working with all that stuff,” and then the more I learned and the more I heard they were thinking about going with John, I had an inner sense of relief because he’s a known quantity. I’ve worked with John, so there’s obviously gonna be some changes. I’m sure, John’s gonna run it a different company than Clay did, just because they’re very different people, but I’m really genuinely curious and interested to see what’s coming here in the next couple of months.
Mike: I wouldn’t think it’s unusual for a company to run a national search like that and then end up hiring somebody internally anyway. I would imagine that even if somebody applies internally – if they were planning on doing a search for a CEO anyway, they’re gonna do that just so that they get a lay of the land and see if there’s other things that they’re missing because the last thing you wanna do is promote somebody from within, only to find out that they’re really not a good fit for that particular thing and you feel almost obligated to give them the position, versus if you actually do a full-blown search. You’ll feel a lot better about making the decision – assuming you go internally anyway.
Rob: Totally. It’s almost like a fiduciary duty or could be considered. It’s like we’ve got to protect all the shareholders. Let’s do the right thing, rather than do something that may look like an inside job or an insider – almost like a nepotism thing, although it’s not family, but that kind of stuff.
How about you, man? You are knee-deep in a launch right now.
Mike: Yeah. I sent out my first launch email yesterday and trying to record a video today that I still have not gotten to, and I’m hoping to get to that soon. But I got a few replies for my email that I sent out yesterday, from people who are interested in signing up. I’ve got some other people, who I’ve talked to over the past week or two that they basically just said, “Hey! This is not a good time right now, but in a couple of weeks, let me know” or they’ve got a vacation coming up or they’re gonna be out of the country or what have you.
I’ve got some things that are coming up, but the real impetus is really push hard on the email list this week. I’ve got a series of, I think, four or five emails that have got to go out, and I’ve still gotta write most of them so that’s gonna be the big priority for me over the next several days – is getting those emails written and scheduled, and then making sure that all the signup code is in place, so that people can get in, and they know what to do and have some videos that will walk them through how to do different things. All that stuff. It’s not hard. It’s just time-consuming to be honest.
Rob: Yeah. I know how that goes. How would you describe your mood? Are you excited? Are you stressed out? Are you just wanting to get it over with?
Mike: Real stressed out, to be honest. It’s just because I know all the different things that need to get done. There’s like the short list and then there’s the long list. The short list is the time-consuming stuff that has to be done in a relatively limited time frame, and then there’s the long list of all the things that I would really like to do or should be done or need to get done, but I can push them off theoretically until after the launch date, but I’d rather not, if I could get them in. I just can’t. I don’t have the resources or time or anything to be able to do that. Plus my wife’s out of town this week, which I hadn’t anticipated until after I decided on the launch date, and then I realized, “Oh, she’s out of town from Wednesday morning until Sunday night.”
Rob: Piece of cake.
Rob: These kids are watching themselves, right?
Mike: Right. They’re cooking me dinner and making breakfast, yeah.
Rob: That’s perfect.
Rob: Totally not happening.
Mike: Yeah, totally not burning the house down.
Rob: Yeah, that’s pretty much what you’re trying to do. Oh man, I didn’t hear that part.
Mike: Yeah. What’s even worse is on the schedule, it was messed up. I thought she would be back Saturday night, because that’s what the calendar says. She looked at it and realized that on her calendar, it shows that she’s out till Sunday, but her hotel only goes until Saturday. It was like, “Oh, that sucks!” because I really thought – it was two days ago, when I found out that she was not gonna be back until Sunday.
Rob: I’m sorry. That’s not cool. Yeah, [inaudible 0:07:31] when you get this.
Mike: It’s nobody’s fault.
Rob: No. I don’t mean, not cool on Ally’s part. I just mean it’s not cool when that kind of stuff happens, and this is entrepreneurship. This is launching a startup, while you have a real life and you have a family, and this kind of stuff happens. It’s a drag, and it stresses you out, but it would almost be too easy without these wrenches getting thrown into the works.
Mike: Business would be awesome if you didn’t have to worry about customers or money.
Rob: Customers, people, money. Yeah.
Mike: Support issues. Yeah.
Rob: Yeah. Cool, so what are we talking about today? Is it one of the most fascinating topics that we’ve ever talked about on this podcast?
Mike: Absolutely. It’s all about harnessing the power of the marketing data that you have available to you and making sure that the data that you have in each tool is accurate, which doesn’t sound very sexy, but at the same time, it’s very useful. If you don’t have things wired up properly, you can very easily miss things from one tool to the next. Or let’s say that things aren’t getting synced properly between your app and either your marketing software, like your marketing automation software or your email list software. Your billing code, for example, because somebody can sign up for an account, but they may use a different email address – is their generic catchall for all the credit card statements and stuff that they sign up for because they want all of the billing emails to go there. But they don’t want to use that email address to actually sign up for your service, so now you’re going to end up with mismatches between things.
What we’re going to be doing today is talking about how to synchronize some of that information between your prospects, leads, and the contacts and the fact that – of course, generally doing that sucks, but it has to be done. One of the things that I’ve noticed is that inside Drip, for example – I think that Drip does a really good job of this. But they differentiate between tags, events, and custom fields. Since I look to that as the source of authority for those types of things, why don’t you explain a little bit about the differences between them? Because I think you guys are doing a fantastic job of explaining it on your website.
Rob: Thank you. I appreciate that. The reason we do a good job, I think, is that we have been asked that question, especially in the early days, so many times – “What is the difference between these things?” To me, this is the heart of marketing data. In almost any marketing system you go into, you’re gonna see tags and custom fields, for sure, and then we innovated in the marketing automation space, in the email marketing space. We brought in events, so we pulled that over from analytics like Kissmetrics and Mixpanel.
Here’s the simple answer. Tags are basically just a string, like a single word or phrase that you can attach to a person, so you typically use it to segment or bucket groups of subscribers. I might import 10 subscribers, and you just say, “I’m gonna tag them with ‘microconf 2017 attendees’.” That tag is just a piece of text, and it attaches to the record. Then you can later search who has these tags. I only want to send to people with these tags and not these other tags. Tags, I think, are pretty well-known, and they’re common now in marketing automation platforms and in a lot of others likes sales platforms and stuff.
Custom fields are really just name-value pairs. That’s how you think of it. If you use MailChimp, they call them “merge tags.” We call them “custom fields,” but it’s basically like if you want a first name, then the name is “first name” and the value is “Rob.” Or you could have last name or telephone number or address, so there’s just a name-value pair. It’s kind of like having two tags that are linked, but really it’s just name-value.
Events are the thing that – there’s no other marketing automation platform that has events, like Drip does. Again, we borrowed it. We migrated it over from analytics. Events are similar to tags, in that they have a name. There’s a text thing, but they also record a timestamp of when the event happened. You can look at how often it happens, so someone could – you can’t have a tag applied seven times. A tag is applied, or it’s not. It’s applied, or it’s removed, whereas an event – you can say they made a purchase seven times. That actually makes sense in the context.
Events also have a payload, meaning they have a collection, almost like a JSON Blob or a collection of name-value pairs. You think about an event like “Made a purchase,” what type of values do you want attached to that? You probably want a price, may want an item title, a skew – something like that. If the event is “Visited a page on your website,” what’s a metadata you might want to know about that? What was the page? Maybe you already know when it happened? Maybe you know how many times they visited this page. You could attach that all to that single event. They’re kind of like, in my opinion, a better version of tags, although tags still have some use.
I realize that was a long explanation, but I wanna describe it like if you’re a sophisticated marketer, it could have been shorter, but I wanted to make it approachable to lay people – basically a lay person. We have a good KB article on getdrip.com, and we will link that up in the show notes.
Mike: Yeah, I think the big differentiator there is just – with the tags versus events. The tags really give you a single indicator that says, “This person fits this particular profile,” and you can’t apply that tag more than once to somebody versus the event, where it can be – like you said, somebody could make more than one purchase. That’s an event. But the tags in Drip will just by default prevent you from adding a tag to somebody more than once, because it doesn’t make sense in that particular context.
The other thing that struck me was the payload side of it, because an event can have a payload associated with it. It’s really a description of that event and all the different parameters or properties of that event, and that may be important for something down the road.
Rob: Yeah, and the way I think about it is custom fields are – they’re like a description of the person, who the person is, because it’s like first name, last name, and properties about them – maybe have their plan and the price they’re paying you – stuff like that. Tags tend to be the buckets or groupings of people, and then events are things that people do. That’s the plain English version of it.
The reason we’re talking about this and defining these things is that tags, events, and custom fields are really the heart of your marketing data. This is how you have information and the learnings about the people that are on your list, coming to your site, etc. I think we’re gonna dive in now to – there are definitely other things, other data points, but these are probably a big part of what you’re gonna wanna try to be syncing between your marketing tools.
Mike: One thing to kind of point out in terms of those things, like Bluetick has tags and custom fields. One thing that I use custom fields for is tying contacts inside of Bluetick to other applications. You’re not always using, for example, a numeric ID or an email address, depending on which tool you’re using. Some of them will use one or the other, or they’ll even have a hash of some other data value or of the email address, and it’s difficult to match the data from one tool to another unless you have that information included.
I actually use the custom field in Bluetick sometimes to attach it to some other products. For example, a pipedrive deal – I’ll add a pipedrive deal ID in as a custom field. That’s the name of it, and then there’s a value associated with it that says, “Here is ID 123,” for example, that you can use inside of Zapier or other tools to tie the data back and forth, or to be able to map events from one tool to another.
But along those lines, let’s talk about some of the different ways that you can map information from one tool to another. The first one is a manual or custom sync. When you’re doing this, really what you’re trying to do is just export data from one tool into another, and you may either be doing that through the API itself or you may be downloading a spreadsheet or creating a CSV file and uploading it. These things are brittle. That’s the biggest problem with this is that the tools themselves – they require a lot of code or engineering work to take those things and translate them and move the data from one tool to another. It’s really hard to keep up with the changes. That’s really the biggest drawback to this.
That said, it can be the easiest way to get up and running or to get an initial prototype of “Hey, how does this data sync or data transfer work?” but longer term, as you expand what you’re doing, it’s probably not a great strategy to rely on that too much because it is probably not automated. Yeah, you could create a scheduled job or a cron job someplace that runs it on a periodic basis, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to be the best way because it is so brittle. It can fall down, and when it does, you may not even know that something went wrong or that it’s not doing what it’s supposed to until much later. Then it’s almost too late.
Rob: Yeah, unless you’re kind of at scale and you’re really gonna monitor it. I’ve written some manual – they’re like cron jobs and stuff that would sync up between systems, and it just seems like every three to six months, something would go pretty badly wrong, and I would have to investigate. I have to stop what I was doing.
It’s like if you have developers – have a team of developers and you’re maintaining a whole system, and this is just one piece of it – that’s cool. But if it’s literally you hacking together a PHP script and putting it in a directory and having it run on a cron, meaning on a schedule-basis, that’s not set-it-and-forget-it. You’re gonna need to send yourself emails when it fails. It may die. A bunch of stuff can happen with it, and so this is not an ideal thing, if you’re just running it on your own and you want a set-and-forget solution.
Mike: I think your point about having something break every three to six months is spot on, from what I’ve seen. I used to export the data from Gumroad into a spreadsheet, and then I would take that and then I had a small script that I wrote that would take that data and then upload it into Infusionsoft. Like you said, every three months, something would change, and then something would break. Then I’d have to spend time on it. It just really was not worth the time and effort. Because they didn’t really support a lot of other ways to get data in and out, it just made things harder and more difficult. It’s hard to deal with a time-consuming time sync.
Rob: The problem is as developers, it’s super easy to build this thing for the first time, and so it’s very appealing to do so. It’s kind of like, “I can just hack up a script here in an hour. There’s an API here. There’s an API here. I pull it out and put it in.” You can. That’s right. It’s not that part though. It’s the maintenance of it that’s the pain.
Mike: The next mechanism that you can look at is using a tool that’s built specifically for syncing data. The tool that come to mind right off are Zapier and If This Then That. I think that mostly what I found is that for individual events, this tends to be something that you turn towards. Zapier obviously has a huge base of applications that they work with. I think they’re up over 800 at this point. Finding an integration between one tool that you’re using and another tool is generally pretty straightforward, but the problem with doing those is that, depending on how complex your sales funnel is or your marketing funnel and what data you need to move from one to another – it’s very easy to miss or realize after the fact that you should have been forwarding this particular data over and you weren’t. Then you have to go set it up, and there’s this line in the sand drawn, so to speak, which is not – before that point, you almost have no data. You can go back and upload it afterwards using a Zapier integration and a spreadsheet or something like that, but it still means that you have to do extra work in order to get it.
I do find it really useful, to be perfectly honest. I have a lot of stuff tied in through Zapier, and it’s supported in Bluetick. So I don’t want to make it sound as if that’s not a viable route, but it can be easy to miss things – is really the point – if you don’t have your marketing funnel mapped out.
Rob: Yeah, I think Zapier’s pretty handy for marketing stuff actually. I know we use it with our own internal stuff and in our own internal marketing communications and getting data in and out. I know we recommend it to customers a lot. It kind of takes the place in the short term of a first-class integration, because we build a lot of integrations. I think we have 40-plus that are direct with Drip and something else, but Zapier gives us another – I don’t even know – hundred maybe, and that’s helpful. Then we can get reports on which are the most common Zaps, and then we can say, “Well, we should build first-class integration with that – with those folks.”
From a business owner’s perspective and you’re running your own startup, I think it’s definitely cool to have that Zapier integration. Then I think as a marketer, it can be a really valuable tool. You’re right. There is that thing of if you miss stuff, and then it’s a fiasco. They do have rate limiting, so if you hit Zapier’s endpoint – if an app hits it more than (I forget what the limit – it’s fairly low) – but if they hit it more than X amount per hour, then those things will just bounce, and so that app has to know to retry, which obviously we do with Drip, but I know there are a lot of other apps that are not doing that. There are pluses and minuses, but overall I give Zapier two thumbs up.
Then you mentioned If This Then That, which I’ve always viewed – I think it’s more of a consumer version of Zapier. If This Then That came first, and I remember some people being like, “Isn’t this just a clone of If This Then That?” It was like, “No. It’s like a B2B version.” They integrated with the apps that we, as entrepreneurs and business owners, wanted [inaudible 0:20:25]. If This Then That’s integrated with Yahoo! Pipes and all this kind of stuff on the internet that isn’t necessarily applicable to businesses. But I haven’t actually used If This Then That. I’ve only used Zapier.
Mike: Yeah. I signed up for If This Then That account a while back, because I was trying to link things between Dropbox folders, and it wasn’t – neither Zapier or If This Then That were able to look into a subfolder and monitor a subfolder that hadn’t yet been created. You can point it to a folder, but if you wanted to monitor it for files in directly that folder, it was fine. But if you wanted to monitor for a folder getting created and then files being added to that folder inside – neither one of them can do it. That’s not their fault. It’s basically Dropbox not being able to offer that.
I found the UI of If This Then That extremely confusing. I signed up for my account. I tried to use it. I probably spent several hours on it, and I’m like, “You know what? I’m done.” I literally deleted my account entirely. I couldn’t deal with it. Because I couldn’t figure out how to do anything. It didn’t seem like it gave you access to a lot of the underlying pieces of how it works. Your description of “it’s aimed at the consumer market,” that makes sense to me now, because I was just like, “How do you even offer a product like this?”
Rob: I think If This Then That has done a lot of integrations with home automations stuff. I think Zapier really has not. That says where they’ve differentiated.
There are other alternatives, of course, to these two, and we’ll link up a core, a thread when someone asks, “What are the alternatives.” There’s a big list there, if you’re interested in looking at more, but for my money, Zapier’s definitely the leader in terms of B2B and marketing data that we’re talking about.
Let’s say that you decide to move from one tool to another. Tool 2 is gonna be the go-to later on. You can always just turn that new one on and pipe all the previous data into it. I always thought that that was like a really fascinating way of doing things. They used to have a different pricing model as well. They would look at the tools that you were sending data into or pulling data from, and they would charge you more based on what those tools were. Like Salesforce, for example, tends to be an expensive tool, so it ended up being in a higher price tier even if you weren’t using it very much.
Rob: I didn’t realize you could replay old events with Segment.
Mike: I’ve not done it myself. I have seen – there was documentation. Like the last time I looked at it, in terms of how to do that stuff, that was my understanding was you could basically replay things to – basically pipe all your previous data into a second tool.
Let’s say, somebody wanted to switch from AWeber or something like that to Drip. They could take a lot of their old data and pipe it from – they used to go into AWeber – let’s say it’s 30 days or 60 days or whatever – and they say, “Okay. Take this 30 or 60 days’ worth of history and send it into Drip instead and replay it, so that that now in Drip will get all of that information.” I don’t know how far it goes back, but that was the sales pitch for it.
Rob: That’s interesting because I was going to say, “That would be hefty if they were keeping all your data forever.” That’s always the thing I thought they didn’t do, just because of the volume that they would have to absorb.
Mike: Yeah. My suspicion is that they don’t do that forever, but I would imagine that they probably have at least a semi-limited history. Even if it’s a couple of weeks, that couple of weeks could be important to you. If you wanted to just try out a new tool, it gives you a much easier way of doing that because when you sign into a new tool, especially if it’s any level of complexity, you’ve got nothing there, so you don’t really have a good idea of what it can do for you. But if you can prepopulate it with actual, live data from your own systems for the past couple of weeks – you sign up, pipe it all in, and boom! It’s there. You can actually use it and see what it would really do for you.
You could pull stuff into and out of HitTail, like they integrated with us back in the day. They actually wrote that integration, but now when you do it, I think you have to write your own – is my recollection. It’s a good tool, and it’s for masses of data. I think that it can be super helpful for getting data into and out of systems, and being able to report on them and not necessarily in Segment, but they integrate with a bunch of analytics and reporting tools.
That’s something – some people will come in. they’ll use Drip, and they’ll say, “I want all this fancy pivot table capabilities and blah blah blah. I want all this stuff.” It’s like, “We’re a marketing automation platform. We’re not a business intelligence platform. We’re not gonna build that into Drip,” but here, we integrate with Segment. We send a ton of data to them, so just hook up your Segment account, then pipe that into one of these BI tools and you’re set. You can do whatever you want. It allows us not to have to build the world into Drip and to be able to put boundaries on things.
Mike: I think using it as a data hub is extremely helpful. The downside of it is, of course, there’s a lot of complexity there, too, so you could easily spend hours, days, or even weeks just evaluating it and seeing if it’s gonna fit into your business and just spending the time learning how to use it. I found that when I first signed up for it a long time ago was that it was a huge time sync to really get up and running with it and understand how the different things worked and how it pipes data from one place to another and how you would do some of that data piping. That said, it is really powerful. You can do a lot with it.
Moving on to the next section. I think one of the key pieces of advice in a situation, where you’re trying to get all the data from one place to another is to settle on a single source of authority. That’s a phrase that I’ve used for years, talking about systems management software and trying to manage large numbers of machines, whether it’s a couple of 100 or 25-100 thousand machines all at once.
It’s very difficult to do that, if you don’t have a single source of authority for that information. Because if data gets out of sync, you need to know what is the master source where this information comes from. Who’s the gatekeeper of this?
Let’s say you got Tool 1 and Tool 2, and Tool 2 doesn’t have a piece of information, is it not supposed to have that information or does it not have it yet? You have no idea by looking at that tool or the other one, unless you’ve already decided which of those two is going to be the master data source.
Rob: Yeah. This is actually an interesting thing happening, with ESPs and marketing automation platforms – is we build Drip – I keep bringing back to Drip because this stuff’s really something we have dealt with a lot – is all this data syncing. This source of authority – I think Brian Dunn calls Drip his source of truth, in terms of the data. Or you could call it the customer database. Some people might call it a CRM, because really it is customer relationship management, but that has now been, in terms been bastardized into sales software.
What you’ll find out is if you do a lot of email marketing, then quickly your email provider (assuming it stores data like clicks and purchases and has your tags and has your events) – it can quickly and easily become your source of authority or your source of truth. That’s something we have been doubling down on as we notice more people doing that.
First it was solopreneurs who said, “Drip is where I keep all the data, and I want to get all the data in there.” Then we started seeing two and three-person companies. Now we have five and ten-person companies. Really interesting to see. We’ve [inaudible 0:28:36] down and started building more stuff to allow people to do that, and so I think if you are gonna do a lot of online marketing, that’s something to think about. It’ll probably be a CRM or a marketing automation platform that’s gonna be this customer database for you.
Mike: I think that actually brings up an interesting point that I run to – is that what is the idea or how do you identify who a person is in your source of authority? Is it gonna be an email address? Is it gonna be some sort of a generated unique identifier or something like that? Because it’s difficult when you get into a situation, where somebody signs up like they put in their credit card. All the billing information goes to that one email address, and then they sign up and they have a user account that is a different email address.
In marketing, the automation software – a lot of them, the email address is kind of that source of authority or that unique identifier for that person, and in the case of billing information, especially if it’s a one-user account, now you have two email addresses. It really is the same person, and it’s hard to differentiate between them sometimes. That’s why some people will go towards using a CRM for that, but again, there’s pluses and minuses in both aspects, whether you’re using a marketing automation tool like Drip or if you’re using a CRM. Both of them are gonna have pros and cons for that type of schema.
The last thing to talk about is how do you keep some of these data paths straight? I think there’s pretty basic guidelines about how to track the information flow from one tool to another, but the basic – you can start it out with is just a pen and paper. That’s easy to get started with, when you’re just trying to build out and map what your sales and marketing funnels look like, because you can just really quickly draw something out. But as it gets more complicated, you’re probably gonna have to graduate more towards a tool or a document or a spreadsheet that is going to allow you to put a lot more information in there.
Something that I found useful is to implement some sort of a workflow in either a desktop or a cloud-based workflow tool. There’s a bunch of them that I’ve tried. I’ve tried things like Gliffy. I’ve tried Draw.io. I’ve tried Moqups. I’ve tried doing things in Drip’s workflow tool as well, and that works great so long as you are operating within the confines of Drip. Once you start to go out of that and do things that are not involved directly with Drip, it sort of falls apart a little bit. That’s not a knock on Drip specifically.
Rob: Sure. Just the reality of it – yeah.
Mike: Yes. It’s just the reality of it. That’s not what it was for. The one I’ve actually settled on is a product called Lucidchart. Fairly inexpensive. It’s like $8 or $9 a month for one of their more advanced accounts, but you can get it for $5 a month on the lower end.
Rob: I’ve heard of it. I haven’t used it, but I’ve heard some people speak highly of it.
Mike: Yeah, it’s really good for being able to map out what a workflow looks like, in terms of how people enter your marketing funnel and how they go into another one. Then you can also have a bunch of different things wired together, so you can zoom in on one specific piece of it. Then you can just encompass it and say, “Okay, this is how people get onto our mailing lists,” and that’s like the whole workflow. Then once they’re there, you have a different diagram and document that describes how they move through the sales funnel itself or the onboarding funnel. Each one of those could be a completely different document. You just link back and forth between them.
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