On today’s episode, Rob is joined by Asia Orangio as they answer listener questions ranging from how to find the right marketing channel, how to build a brand for your business, as well as how to decide whether to start or join a startup.
If you have questions about starting or scaling a software business that you’d like for us to cover, please submit your question for the next episode. We’d love to hear from you!
The questions we cover
- 3:13 Mike Lollar – How to find the right marketing channel
- 10:47 Cole Hooey – Feedback on freemium pricing model for an HR app
- 16:18 Robert Brandl – Should I invest in branding?
- 26:25 Etan Efrati – Decision framework for choosing whether to start or join a startup
Links from the show
- Asia Orangio | Twitter
- In Demand | Podcast
- How to Acquire Your First 100 Customers – Asia Matos | MicroConf Talk
- MicroConf On Air: How to Earn Your First 100 Customers | MicroCon On Air
- Regret Minimization Framework | Jeff Bezos
- Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work | Book
How can I support the podcast?
If you enjoyed this episode, let us know by clicking the link and sharing what you learned.
Click here to share your number one takeaway from the episode.
If you have questions about starting or scaling a software business that you’d like for us to cover, please submit your question for an upcoming episode. We’d love to hear from you!
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Rob: In this week’s episode of Startups to the Rest of Us, I’m joined by Asia Orangio. She and I answer listener questions on finding marketing channels, seat-limited trials, building a brand, and a bunch of other topics. We had a great time doing it.
Before I dive into that, I want to read a snippet from an email from a long time listener, Josh. He said, “Hey Rob, congrats on the 500th episode. Truly an epic accomplishment. I want to say I enjoyed the new format. The recent two-part episode with you and Jordan was epic. It could just be recency bias, but I don’t recall an episode that went so far into the weeds of the later bits of company building that I’m so familiar with. I also enjoy the following episodes with founders, and the way you intro those and talk briefly about their history, so you can get to the meat so much faster. The one this week with Derrick Reimer did that really well. Your solo episode was great as well, it resonated with many thoughts I’ve been harboring for years.”
He wrote a very nice email that I’m summarizing. He ends with, “Feels like I can just rant with you and have a beer about topics like this, which would be great. What this all circles back to is that I want to commend you for your approach. As one of the listeners mentioned in the 500th episode, your authenticity is very much appreciated. Everything you do is thoughtful, pragmatic, and truly helpful to the community you and Mike have built. Here’s to 500 more.”
Thank you so much, Josh. It honestly means a ton and I really appreciate hearing that. I know that we have been getting a lot more letters, and comments, and thoughts from listeners about episode types, topics, and just different approaches. I find that the more I’m experimenting, the more that people are able to weigh in. Like the recent Twitter poll I did where I said, should we redesign the podcast logo? I believe it wound up being about 58% no and 42% yes. We’ll see here in the coming months if I get the itch to think about redesigning it.
With that, let’s dive into our listener questions today. Asia Orangio, if you’re not familiar with her, she is Asia Matos on Twitter. She is the founder and CEO of demandmaven.io, where she helps SaaS founders find their first 100 customers, first 10,000 MRR, or first100,000 MRR, with the confidence and clarity of a custom growth strategy and roadmap, and she helps with implementation, too.
I have a ton of respect for Asia. She’s doing great work. She does some work with TinySeed founders, she does work with a lot of founders in the MicroConf space, and she just has a killer marketing instinct. She knows funnels, she knows how to get in, do jobs to be done at interviews, execute on marketing channels to find one that works, start to scale it up, and work with founders to do that.
Asia has a wealth of knowledge. Actually, if you haven’t been listening to the In-demand Podcast, she started it just a few months ago. It’s just her on the mic, sharing her thoughts and her wisdom. I highly recommend it. It’s called In-demand. And with that, let’s dig into our listener questions on finding marketing channels, seat-limited trials, building a brand, and a couple of other topics. I hope you enjoy it.
Asia Orangio, thank you so much for joining me on the show.
Asia: Thank you so much for having me. I always love just working with you guys in general and super excited to answer some questions.
Rob: Me too. I am stoked, and given your experience, we have some good questions about finding the right channels, about branding, and about all that kind of stuff. I’m stoked to dive in. Per our typical listener question format, voicemails go to the top of the stack. Our first voicemail is from Mike Lawler.
Mike: Hey Rob, I’m working on a modified first step of your stairstep approach. My app migrates subscriptions from whatever recurring billing software you’re using, charge fees, or Recurly, et cetera to Stripe Billing. The one-time fee that I’m considering eventually morphing into a productized service. I believe in the demand for the product. I’ve been contracted to this exact thing two different times and then contracted another time to migrate and app onto Stripe Billing. I’ve talked to some of my fellow engineering managers that I know and they’ve done something similar or have it on the roadmap.
What I’m trying to figure out is what would be the most effective way and who would be the most effective group to market my product to? I think that there’s a strong argument to market to both developers so that they can educate the CEOs if that ends up on their roadmap, and then also to the CEOs and founders of different SaaS companies. I’m unsure what would be the best channel to do this, LinkedIn, Twitter, forums, et cetera. I don’t think the SEO and SEM would be particularly effective because I’m not sure how many decision-makers are searching for things like switching from Zaura to Stripe Billing, or whatever it may be. Any suggestions you have would be awesome. Thanks so much.
Asia: I love this question because my honest first thought was why not SEO and SEM? Purely because, well, a couple of things to be thinking about from a more strategic perspective, and then what I would actually do, which is I think that from a questions perspective, to be thinking about and mulling over is, who is the person who is ultimately going to live a better life because the product or the thing, and the service or whatever it is it’s solving that problem for, is that ultimately the CEO, or is that ultimately the developer?
I think that something to explore, but my guess is that, while it might not be the fastest channel in the world, if this is enough of a pain or problem, someone is probably searching it somewhere. I think the SEO and SEM route is actually what I would start with. I would do the research, of course, and that wouldn’t be necessarily a thing. I would just double down immediately.
I think you’d have to use a tool like Moz or Ahrefs to come see are people actually searching this. Based on the result that Google is serving up, in theory, if the search results are relevant to what you guys ultimately do, then that actually might be a very valid channel. That was my first impression. I’m curious though, Rob, what your thoughts were.
Rob: I was thinking that SEO might be the longer-term play, so it’s something I would get in quick, but I think to run quickly for that, I would start looking at Quora and Stack Overflow. My gut is that, as you said, founders and CEOs, if it’s a 100- or 200-person company probably don’t care, but if it’s a founder CEO of a five-person startup, they’re still involved in the Stripe Billing or the charge fee migrations.
That’s one place, but I really think that in general, it’ll be the developer. It will be some kind of developer who winds up doing this. When they go to Google to search, migrate from any of these places to Stripe, Quora should rank pretty high.
Shouldn’t there be (I’m guessing) a question like, how do I move from Chargebee to Stripe Billing? I would Google that now and see what’s in the top 10, or any of those places where you can contribute. Any of those are kind of user-contributable forums or whatever, Stack Overflow is the other one because (again) developers are going to use that.
I think if you wrote an article about that today in a brand new blog, I don’t think it’s going to rank immediately. That’s where I like Quora, Stack Overflow, even LinkedIn, Facebook groups, Twitter. Twitter is not going to come up every day, but having a search for some type of monitor on this, sure, chime in on those conversations, maybe once a week you wind up with a customer, once a month. I don’t think that’s going to be some massive influx, but I do think that you have a bit of learning to do right now. You want to talk to as many people as you can and people with the burning pain point are just so much more willing to talk to you. That’s what I love about it
To your point, I love the idea. I’ve always loved the comparison, SEO approach, where you say, it’s in the old days, 10 years ago, it was like, here is Drip versus all of the other email providers. It was a big grid, a big matrix. Well, now, it’s Drip versus MailChimp, Drip versus AWeber, each of these individual pages. You do a bunch of long-form content, such that when someone says, comparing Drip versus MailChimp, either your page or MailChimp, or maybe Quora, I bet one of those three ranks at the top for that question. I feel like this could be a little similar.
My concern is, again, if I didn’t have a blog with any type of domain authority and I wrote 10 blog posts today, or 10 essays or articles, do you think those would rank anytime soon or do you think you’d have to build up that domain’s authority first?
Asia: No, it would definitely take some time. I’m actually kind of curious if SEM would be something that would be a little of a faster route, even if it’s not the most infinitely scalable channel today, just depending on, of course, the pricing model that you have, but SEM could actually be a way that you evaluate just the quality of some of those searches, if of course there’s enough traffic volume in general for that. That’s definitely what I would use to test ideas and also just to test the funnel overall, in terms of who is actually searching this and who is actually coming to the marketing side and converting, signing up, or asking questions. I completely agree with going wherever people are talking about this problem and this pain.
It sounds like it’s a very common behavior, which makes me think it’s something that people are talking about in some kind of capacity somewhere. Like what you’re saying, Rob, I would go there and join that conversation if I can. I didn’t even think about Stack Exchange, but yes, that would absolutely be another place or another channel. This may even be a stretch, but Quora could also be a place where you test the advertising platform as well. Quora ads also exist, and if I’m not mistaken, depending on the query, you can get some pretty qualified traffic industry engagement overall. It’s definitely a test channel, definitely something to just try with a limited budget, if you have an advertising budget in any kind of way.
I would be looking at what are the most intent-driven channels that you can identify, related to that behavior, and related to that person. I would put SEM in there, Google ads. I would put Quora in there, the same thing for Stack Exchange where people are intentionally looking for a way to solve a problem.
Rob: I like that you’ve just defined that because I think some folks might not know what intent-driven ads versus (I guess) demographically-based. That’s like the Facebook ads, where this person likes Dungeons and Dragons and they live in Minneapolis, versus this person just said, how can I migrate to Stripe? That’s intent versus just who they are. The platforms you named—Google and Quora—would be really good in 10 months.
You threw out a term, SEM, which you and I both know that means, but I’m imagining someone maybe listening to it, wondering how is that different than SEO? SEM, Search Engine Marketing, is just kind of a synonym for buying ads on search engines. It’s usually pay-per-click ads on Google is how I think of it, but of course, it could be. There is SEM in Amazon.
You can buy ads if you have a book or product up on Amazon and you see the sponsored ranking there. Obviously, you can buy on Bing, YouTube, Google, and Yahoo, I guess anymore, I don’t even know at this point.
I also really like the question that you asked at the start which was, who will live a better life because of your service or product? That’s such a good thing to be thinking about as you get out and try to launch this. Thanks, Mike, for the question. I hope that was helpful. Our next question is from Cole Huey.
Cole: Hey Rob, Cole in Minneapolis here. I’m working on an app that facilitates HR employee onboarding processes. The set-up takes a medium amount of effort. It’s not integral to the business but definitely takes some intentionality to set up. I had the idea of allowing them to create an account for free as a single user and take as much time as they want to set it up and have them pay once they start adding other users. Because of the nature of the app, they can’t get value out of it on their own, so I think it prevents any way to abuse it. Any pitfalls or drawbacks that I’m not seeing in this approach? Thanks.
Rob: Interesting question. Asia, do you have thoughts on this?
Asia: I have so many follow-up questions.
Rob: Let’s do it. We’ll just go. I’ll just answer your questions. We’ll make it up as we go along.
Asia: Okay. This is a tough one because, for me, I think so much of how you think about the onboarding process in general and then also how much do you give away and how much time do you give someone to start making a decision. I think so much of it does depend on just your overall positioning in the market from a product perspective. How white glove is your approach, for example, from a product perspective? Just how much friction is there naturally before time-to-value is ultimately met?
Those are all things that we don’t necessarily have all the information on, but I would say if there’s a lot more (for lack of a better word) friction to get to aha moment and the product, if it takes just more time, in general, to configure things, to get things set up, part of me wonders is ultimately possible to speed that journey up? Without forsaking, of course, the overall customer experience, and also just getting to that time to aha moment.
I will say that no time limit depending on, just again, that positioning in the product space and then how complex the product is. On the one hand, I think that can actually be incredibly beneficial, but I also think it just ultimately depends on the user at the end of the day. It’s unclear to me at least who exactly we’re selling to, but I’m thinking, if it’s getting sold to an HR manager, that person is in a million different directions. With a no time limit kind of scenario, unless you just had some really intentional onboarding, whether it’s a white-glove approach or a fully self-serve kind of scenario, I think that you might end up getting forgotten. That’s what would concern me.
Maybe in the no time limit scenario, I don’t know. I could see pluses and minuses for both. I would be much more concerned about just the HR person or whoever is ultimately using the product just completely getting distracted at the end of the day.
Rob: That was my thought when I initially saw this or started thinking through it. Without some kind of time pressure, some type of demo where they either see you face-to-face, or they’re on a call, they see the product working, then you follow-up with them, and there’s some type of personal relationship, just not sure how an HR product works. Again, I’m under the same assumption that a busy HR professional is running this and that they’re the ones that would be purchasing.
I don’t see drawbacks to giving them a free single-user trial that they can’t do anything with, but I do think that personally upfront, it would be demo only because the learnings you’re going to get from doing demos are going to show you the pitfalls of the product, the questions they ask. You’re going to learn 10 times more than you will from someone just kind of tooling around in the app on their own and then bailing, which is what most people will do. That’s the first thing,
I don’t know that I would keep demo-only forever, but selling it to HR like this, I would price it such that you can because my guess is it will be high-touch sales. You’re trying to build a 20 a month HR product, selling to orgs is, how do I say, unless it’s10 per seat or something, per employee that’s onboarded, permanently which doesn’t make a ton of sense, you need to have a high ticket price. I think you need to justify the demo only.
The time pressure thing is a little different. This is not going to be a self-service app. I don’t know of any HR apps like this that are just sign it and forget it. People sign up, they onboard, and it happens. It sounds like we’re in agreement, do you have other thoughts on it?
Asia: I completely agree. I think the only other thing I thought of as you’re kind of chatting about, who you’re ultimately selling to in the HR world at least. I’m just reminded of all the most popular HR platforms in general. What are the other SaaS tools an HR person might actually be using (like on any given day) today? I’m thinking about the experience that they have whenever they sign up for a product. Usually, they’re talking to someone at some point.
I just think it’s so rare to let an HR person, a professional, go willy-nilly into a product. I think if anything, in many ways, your experience will be compared to other product experiences, too. If a lot of other product experiences in this HR space is very much that personal touch, white-glove approach, then in a way, I would say, you’re literally competing with those experiences, but there might actually already be a standard that a demo can ultimately help you meet. Just from creating that personal touchpoint, but yes, I totally agree.
Rob: That’s one of the advantages you have as a founder, is in the early days and even as you go on, when you get on a call, it’s like, I’m the founder of this. I’m the lead developer and I’m going to make it great for you. There’s a little connection there. Now, that can scare some people off, so you’re not going to get Target or Best Buy to sign up with you the first day, but do you get a 5% or 10% percent target to be willing to invest in your solution? It’s possible. Thank you for the question. I hope that was helpful.
Our next question is about branding, it’s from Robert Brandl, and he’s from websitetooltester.com. He says, “Hello, Startups for the Rest of Us. As a longtime listener, I have a question for the show. I have become pretty decent at SEO and content marketing, but I was wondering if I should start investing in brand building at some point. I have a feeling this could accelerate our growth further.” Then he asks, “Can you maybe share a bit of the process of building the Drip brand or any other brands you’ve been involved with? Did you work with an agency? What were your goals and how did you measure them? Many thanks. Robert.”
Again, websitetooltester.com. What do you think, Asia?
Asia: I also love this because maybe it’s splitting hairs, just a tiny bit. I’m super curious to hear what you think also, Rob. There’s brand and then there’s branding. Branding is very much the colors and the fonts, and typefaces, and just things that you would leverage visually to represent your brand. Then there’s building a brand. I will say I am not a brand expert, but from the brand experts that I do know, many of them would say that brand is so much beyond just the colors, and the fonts, and logos, and things that you have in the graphics that you’re using, so much of it has to do with the overall culture of your business.
Culture (I think) is a word that can get sliced and diced in a million different ways, especially today. It might actually be very overused, but ultimately the core values of a particular business. Ultimately, when you think about building a brand, those core values are experienced by your customers, by your users, and people who look to your brand for guidance, wherever it is that you’re an expert in from an industry perspective, and then even beyond to where you get to the very highbrow Apple and Steve Jobs-level brand.
I think from building a brand perspective, I think what could be a different way to think about it would be, there’s a building that brand in that capacity, and then there’s also either generating more word of mouth from a channel perspective. I’d be curious if maybe how we think about and how we realize brand is really just looking to expand on the word-of-mouth piece as an extra channel to continue to just double down on, and what can we do around word-of-mouth to expand that, or is it literally, let’s actually build a brand, something that means something to someone. I would say that building a brand from a process perspective is much harder because it is so long-term, at least in my highbrow brand definition.
Rob: I like the idea of them building a brand. I think it will take them a while and I do think it’s a gamble. When I look at their site, they basically review website builders, ecommerce platforms, and hosting platforms. I’m sure they make buckets of money on affiliate links. It’s a nice site. It’s not the typical crappy affiliate referral set-up. It almost reminds me, given the quality of the content they have here (and I’m guessing their organic rankings, I’m guessing they’re just getting most of it from organic search), if I’m going to build a long-term business, it scares me. It concerns me that if no one ‘s typing my URL into the browser, then I am always beholden to Google.
The example I think of is similar to this if I were in his shoes, wanted to expand, and wanted to (a) diversify, but (b) get more traffic, I would personally look at Wirecutter. Wirecutter is just reviews and there were a bunch of reviews of all types of electronic stuff before Wirecutter. Wirecutter really just makes their money on a bunch of affiliate links, some […] ads and stuff now, too. But they just built a really high-quality thing. I will type in wirecutter.com and then I will search for their best earbuds, Bluetooth earbuds or whatever.
Why do I do that? Because somehow, they built a brand, and the way I heard about it was people mentioning it on podcasts, or linking it to an email newsletter, or something in the ether just started Wirecutter was a thing.
I don’t think that was by accident. I don’t think Wirecutter woke up one morning and is like, oh, everybody loves us. I think they had to pick some pretty deliberate steps to do that. If I was in Robert’s shoes, I would: (a) be looking at what did Wirecutter do, try to watch interviews with their folks and figure out if they had a plan, how did they execute on it, and (b) when I think about a brand like this, I want the founder to be quoted in all the articles that are on Forbes entrepreneur magazine, even trying to get on web shows and podcasts to get quotes, snippets, and press releases like an expert. It’s like, Robert so and so, the founder of WebsiteToolTester says blah, blah, blah, here’s our quote about this. You’re almost trying to become an expert, such that your site gleans with some of your expertise. I think that’s a first thought, and now I’m just brainstorming ways to try to build a brand.
The second one is, you have a bunch of written content, have you thought of starting, since we’re like a video show or a video review show of these things, is there anyone doing that and is that the next level here, or is it a podcast? I have to guess there’s a Wirecutter podcast. I’ve never looked, but given how strong their brand is, I would assume that there is.
I would think about, are there other media ways to go whether it’s starting that YouTube channel if you don’t already have it, is there a podcast. How do you elevate yourself above the other 50 website builder ecommerce and hosting review sites that are really just affiliate links, and they’re ranking the best one, are the ones that pay the most money at the top? How do you differentiate yourself from that? From there I think it’s going beyond just the written content and really thinking about what people resonate with and what other examples have come before me.
I think I’ll finish with this. When I think of a brand, I do like your differentiation, branding versus brand. I think branding is colors, logo, visual, this and that. I’ve read this somewhere, but brand is not what you do, it’s who you are. Brand is not how you see your company, it’s how your customers see it, or your prospects, or your visitors. It’s how they see it or hear about it.
When I say Wirecutter, if other people have heard of the site, they say, oh, that’s that reputable site that reviews these things and I trust their recommendations. Somehow, they built up that brand, it’s how we see them. Those are my thoughts when I heard it. I’m curious if you have other thoughts given our back and forth.
Asia: Actually, really a question for you, in your experience, how would you recommend someone build a brand from a personal brand and separating that. Or maybe it is just the same as the actual business brand, but how do you see building that personal brand versus the business brand, or do you find it’s very much the same?
Rob: I think you can do it either way. I’ve done both. Rob Walling started becoming a personal brand in the blogging space and then the podcasting space. Then we started MicroConf and MicroConf started becoming its own brand that was affiliated with Mike and I, the co-founders of MicroConf. Now, I was really all in. MicroConf was a thing we did on the side. Startups for the Rest of Us was a thing we did on the side, and really, I was still all in on the Rob Walling brand until I started Drip, and then I just got too busy.
What you’ll notice is, the Rob Walling brand these days is really tied heavily to the podcast, MicroConf, and TinySeed. Although I am the face of it, those brands are bigger than me. I’m not doing a bunch of personal. Go to robwalling.com and there hasn’t been a new essay in years, but you go to MicroConf, Startups for the Rest of Us, and TinySeed and there’s a bunch of new content coming out. Some of it’s from me and some of it’s from other people.
In his case, in WebsiteToolTester, unless Robert wants to become a personal brand himself (which he’s given no indication he has), although he can be the founder, the expert, and lend the insight, building a personal brand would involve him going out and maybe writing blog posts under his own name and starting a podcast where his brand is put ahead of WebsiteToolTester. But if you started the WebsiteToolTester podcast, and it’s just like, hey, I’m Robert, I’m the host of WebsiteToolTester, I’m the founder as well. Then he goes into it like, WebsiteToolTester gets the brand equity in that. In his case personally, again, unless he really wants to build a personal brand, I don’t think he needs to. I think he can build the brand without having to become the celebrity founder.
People can know who you are. Like Ruben Gamez with BidSketch and DocSketch, a lot of people, especially in our space, know who Ruben is, but he’s not some big personal brand, but DocSketch and BidSketch have momentum, and they really are these apps that have a lot of revenue, have customers and such. He’s been able to do that I think while being a little bit in the background.
If you look at Castos, a TinySeed batch one company, Craig Hewitt was the face of that brand. Then, he hired Matt Medeiros within the last couple of weeks from […], who is now the director of Podcaster Success. Matt is now going to start becoming more of that voice. I think the Castos brand is still very strong, and it wasn’t tied so closely to Craig that if Craig is only the co-host of the podcast, or takes a few weeks off of their podcast, or of blogging, or whatever. I don’t think the Castos brand suffers from that. I think that’s a really nice way to do it because it means that if you’re a 50- or 100-person company, Craig Hewitt doesn’t still have to be recording the podcast every week.
Asia: Thank you for that breakdown. I can hear that question in the back of some founder’s minds of, okay, but wait. Awesome, thank you.
Rob: Absolutely. Thanks Robert, I hope that thought process was helpful. Our next question is from Aton Efrati and he says, “Love, love, love the show, what you guys are building, and the message. Here’s my question, I got laid off because of Covid-19 and I’m looking to go back on my own. After more than five years of working for a venture capitalist, and then one of their high-growth portfolio companies, I know that I want to get involved in smaller profit-driven startups. I’m weighing a few different options of what my next steps could be.
I’ve got four kids at home, a supportive wife, and about six months of runaway. I’m trying to balance my confidence and enthusiasm with making smart decisions. I have a few options I want to layout for you and I’m curious to get your take.
Option one is high-risk, go out on my own which would start as contract work and evolve into a product type of service. I would continue to tinker on the side with other ideas and probably try to build a more substantial business in the next 1–2 years. This requires zero funding. Option number two, medium-risk. Join a fledgling startup that is inviting me to be the CEO to try to restart sales and marketing instead of closing down. They invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in angel money into building out technology, have dozens of paying customers, but it’s been several years and that company hasn’t taken off beyond break even. They have one full-time employee and two co-founders are still involved. They’d be paying me a meaningful profit sharing and equity.
Option number three is low-risk. Take a full-time job and tinker on the side with either freelance work, my own business idea, or someone else’s business idea. My market rate salary would put food on the table and then some, but I wouldn’t have much time to think or do anything outside of my full-time work. I appreciate any insight you have. Thanks in advance.”
Asia, what do you think? This is a fun one. This is an ‘it depends’ for sure, but let’s start with some thoughts.
Asia: From a decision-making framework perspective, if we really had to think about how we make decisions about just planning for our life and what’s important to us? Just looking at these options, it’s very clear that this person values entrepreneurship in some kind of way. This person wants to do something just on their own in some capacity. Going back to that statement of just becoming more independent. It’s very clear that this is a core value of this person.
From personal experience, I actually did number one. I lived option number one, which was going out on my own, starting as a contractor role, and then really building a service business over the next 1–2 years. I will say I did not quite go to the level of productized service, which I think is a step even further of the kinds of work that I do. But here’s the ‘gotcha.’ I don’t have children. I don’t have a mortgage. These are a few things about me making that choice and with the zero funding, I literally did it. I just started to do it.
The evaluation here is exactly right. It is absolutely high-risk. There is no guaranteed success for really any of these options. I’m very much someone who just doesn’t believe that job security is a thing that exists in the same way that it did 10 years ago or 20 years ago. Obviously, us even having this conversation, we’ve all got something entrepreneurial about us. I think in terms of thinking about how to make this decision, I think what I would do is a couple of things. I would try to really dig deep into what is it about being more independent and what is it about starting your own thing that gives this person the satisfaction and the fulfillment in life.
When we think about life just in general, what your goals are, and what you want to make sure that you accomplish before we exit the world. Not to make it morbid, but I think many of us, we’re motivated by something. There’s something about achieving that independence and achieving that level of independence that we’re obviously attracted to.
I think what I would maybe go back to the person asking the question with would just be, out of all the options, which one would you regret not doing? If you had to pick one, what would be the most regrettable experience out of all of them? Also out of all of these, what could you, in theory, do without? That’s how I would approach it.
I think in terms of just what I would do in this particular situation, given the context of just my family, my responsibilities, I hate to go in the middle of the road, but I actually think the medium-risk is probably the amount of risk that I would end up taking. Purely just based on my own personal values and the way that I think about what risk I would be comfortable taking.
I will say that it’s very clear that some amount of entrepreneurialism, or being a founder, or doing your own thing, or having a side hustle is very clearly important to this person. I would try to figure out what’s the minimum viable side hustle, or minimum viable foundership that this person can take and still be happy and feel fulfilled.
Rob: I love it. You kind of covered the bases, you covered regret minimization framework, although he didn’t say which of these would you regret not doing. That’s Jeff Bezos’ thing, regret minimization. Me personally even back in the day, I did go out on my own. I started as contract work and evolved into building and buying stuff on the side. I would have done option one and I had one child at the time, I did not have four, but there is some risk there and I think there always is.
The thing that I’ve always fallen back on is, depending on your skillset and your experience, unless there’s just a massive, massive recession, the odds of you being out of work are pretty low. You’ve worked for venture capitalists and then a high growth portfolio company. It sounds like you have some skills that are unique and will probably always be in demand. Especially now, we’ll be in demand remotely. I have to work for someone where I live.
To me, the low-risk of taking a job, I don’t know that I can ever recommend that for anybody in good conscience. Obviously, I had several salary jobs and I did it in the early days, but I think given that this is a turning point for you (it sounds like), I have a tough time imagining that you would want to take the low-risk. The fact that you were even evaluating the high and the medium, it implies that you probably (to me) shouldn’t take the low-risk.
The medium-risk one sounds interesting. That’s the one of joining a fledgling startup but it’s kind of failing in a sense and it’s flattened out. The fact that they’re only going to pay a meaningful profit sharing and equity, I don’t know if he’s getting a salary there or if he has to generate profit to do it. It’s hard to turn a company around. It can be really stressful. I guess if I knew more about the specifics of that, is it in my wheelhouse to do this, or is this a flyer where it’s like taking over this company just to see what I can do versus, I see the angle, I see the path on how to turn that around, that changes that calculus right there or some specifics there.
I did a turnaround with HitTail and I thought it was amazing. It was a great experience for me. I did it with a couple of other products before that, but it was a lot of work, and I didn’t know if it was going to work each time. There’s quite a bit of risk there.
I think something else to throw out is there’s a really good book recommended to me by Ruben Gamez, who I mentioned in an earlier episode. It’s Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work. It’s by Chip and Dan Heath, who are known for their Made to Stick and their Switch books. There’s a framework in there about a four-step process designed to counteract the biases that most of us have, the emotional biases, and the pattern matching biases, just all these biases that are built into so much of our thinking.
I don’t know if a ton of you have time to read the entire book before doing this, but that’s something. I got it on Audible myself. I listen to it, take notes, and I refer back to it every now and again just to remind myself. If you’re going to make a hard decision, there are some frameworks to do it with.
Asia: Something that you said that triggered this memory that I had of when I started my business. It was really an opportunity cost question of what is the opportunity cost of option one versus option two. When I started DemandMaven, I was absolutely terrified, if I’m being honest. It was the most high-risk thing I probably could have done with a plan, but at the same exact time, no real proof that my service had service/market fit (if you will) but something that the CEO of my previous in-house—he was actually my boss from my previous in-house role—who really encouraged me to go out on my own and to do option one. Something that he said was, what is the opportunity cost of you not doing DemandMaven?
It really came down to, you could probably go take another in-house job, which no tea, no shade on that, but then there’s also, what would an MBA, Emory University—I’m in Atlanta; I don’t know any other university here in the state—cost? I was like oh my gosh, 100,000–120,000 maybe. He was like, okay great, so you’re going to go start your business for free and basically go get your MBA, learn way more about starting a business than most MBA grads probably today. Again, no tea, no shade to those who have MBAs.
The way that he framed that opportunity cost for me was also really what helped me make the decision. I did end up going for the high-risk option. Maybe like what Rob is saying, it’s very clear you have a high-risk tolerance. You’re evaluating these opportunities, but that also could be another way to think about, does the opportunity cost of what you’re leaving on the table.
Rob: I love it. Asia, thank you so much for joining me on the show today. Folks want to keep up with you, you are @AsiaMatos on Twitter, and of course demandmaven.io if they want to check out all the work you do in helping SaaS founders reach their growth milestones. Thanks again for hanging out with me.
Asia: Thank you so much. This was great.
Rob: Thanks again to Asia for joining me today. If you love this episode, I would super appreciate a five-star rating in whatever device you use, whatever app you use to listen to podcasts. I really appreciate it even if you can’t write a full comment. Getting some type of review helps me keep going and helps us keep pushing forward with the show. Thanks for listening. I’ll talk to you next Tuesday morning.
Episode 457 | Starting a Marketplace, Marketing Channels, Resellers, and More Listener Questions
In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob answers a number of listener questions on topics including starting a marketplace, marketing channels, resellers and more.
Items mentioned in this episode:
Rob: Welcome to this week’s episode of Startups for the Rest of Us. I’m your host, Rob Walling. This week I’ll be covering a few listener questions about starting a marketplace, which marketing channels to pursue with the new app, evaluating re-sellers, and why the path from the agency work to SaaS is so hard. This is Startups for the Rest of Us episode 457.
Welcome to Startups for the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers, and entrepreneurs be awesome at building, launching, and growing startups, whether you’ve built your fifth startup or you’re working on your first. I’m Rob and today I’m going to share my experiences to help you avoid the mistakes I’ve made in the past.
I’ve tweaked the intro a little bit today based on suggestion from my 13-year old. He said, “Built your first product or just thinking about it” is too narrow. He says, “Aren’t there people who’ve started their first, second, third, fourth that are still listening?” and I said, “Yeah.” So, tweaked it there. Each week on the show I talk about topics relating to building and growing startups, in order to better your life and improve the world in a small way.
In our world of startups, we strive to have a positive impact on other people, be it your customers, your team, your family, yourself. We are ambitious founders, but we’re not willing to sacrifice our life or our health to grow our company. We have many different show formats. Sometimes, we come on and we teach a tactic, talk about philosophies and thoughts of starting startups and growing them. Other times we do interviews, then several of those over the past weeks. We have listener questions which is what we’ll be doing today, founder hot seats, and other things like that.
My co-host Mike Taber is on a brief hiatus. I do think he’ll be back in the next few weeks, and we can catch up with him, find out what he’s been doing with the enormous amount of free time he’s had not doing this podcast. Listener questions have been piling up, including a couple of voicemails. Today, I’m going to run through a few of those and give you my thoughts and insights on them.
First one is a comment from Adrian Rose Brock, fan of the show a long time, many times a MicroConf attendee, and his comment is about our Gmail clients, and even paste and match style which I was complaining that Mailplane didn’t support.
He says, “In the last Startups for the Rest of Us, you were discussing Gmail clients two tips. Number one use Kiwi for your desktop client for Gmail. Amazing client, works really well, has good integration with other G products. Number two, if you need to paste and match style, you do Command+Shift+V on a Mac. It will work in the majority of applications and saves a right click.”
Good tips. Thank you, sir. I have not checked out Kiwi yet, but it is definitely on my list. I’ve actually ceased the exploration for a desktop Gmail client for now. I have enough going on and somehow flipping back to doing it in Chrome it’s not bothering me anymore. There was some real performances which I was experiencing and I’m not seeing those any longer.
Our next question involves starting a two-sided marketplace and TJ’s asking whether he should charge from day one.
TJ: Hey, guys. This is TJ Astro calling. I’m focusing on a startup for artisan makers to get them more exposure. You guys have been a tremendous help to me, and I’m just trying to figure out if I can launch with a charging right away or what I should be doing. My gut instinct is to onboard them for few months. It’s a double-sided marketplace, so the synergy of all of them together as a collective community is where the value will be coming from eventually.
My instinct is onboard them, show them I’m active in the pro-members chat only in those forums, and that I’m committed to helping get more exposure and sales by offering strategies, advice, and such, then maintaining transparency with my site analytics as it modestly grows. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to get it quite grassrootsy and the way that I’m providing them these services and such, and they’ll be able to share the site because I don’t really have a marketing budget. Let me know what your thoughts are. Thank you so much.
Rob: TJ also wrote in and he said, “Hey, I just recorded a voicemail, it wasn’t very clear or well-spoken.” TJ’s launching a two-sided marketplace, no marketing budget, and it is a membership site. Primary focus is to aggregate the Instagram post of artisan brands. He has an email list of 2000 artists who he’d like to curate on the site, but they’re mostly cold contacts.
He’s going to have both free and paid monthly memberships. He says he has no market validation, everything he’s heard or read says, “Charge. Don’t give away your product or you won’t know if you have real product market fit. But since it’s a double-sided marketplace, both shoppers and artisans, I need to be able to demonstrate value to the artisans by attracting shoppers to the site.”
TJ talks about the different pricing tiers. There will be a free plan for artisans and also a paid plan. He says, “My gut instinct is I should onboard the artisans for a few months, a free trial of the paid pro member level but not collect credit cards on sign up. Show them I’m active in the pro-member only chat forums, that I’m committed to helping them get more exposure in sales by offering strategies and advice, maintain transparency with my site analytics as they modestly grow, encourage them to share my site with their list as it play to help them and other members gets more exposure. See where the analytics are in a few months, emphasize to them a growth trajectory. I’m hoping I’ll see and try collecting a card to charge them to stay on as pro members.”
Obviously a complicated question TJ. There’s a lot here. We’ve talked about two-sided marketplaces before, and my advice tends to be for bootstrap or indie-funded companies, is to not do it because they’re just so hard to get started. You even heard Tracy Osborn a couple of weeks ago, talking about WeddingLovely.
While we didn’t delve into the difficulties of two-sided marketplaces, she definitely has had some thoughts on that. It’s very hard, it’s hard enough just to get one funnel working, but you literally have to get two separate funnels working, and you have to have them at scale before things will work. You are definitely pushing a boulder uphill with this one. The way I always think about this is thinking back to how Uber did it. With Uber they needed at least a couple drivers in the field before they could release the app and have it provide any value.
If my memory serves me correctly, Travis Kalanick and his co-founder literally were driving the black cars just as a test. Obviously this doesn’t scale, it’s not what you’re doing, you’re just testing. If people have this app, will they call a car in Downtown, San Francisco? That was the hypothesis.
Once they started getting people calling them, then they had some data, enough metrics that they could go to black car drivers either cold-call them, or just approach them at the airport, or whatever and say, “Hey we have this app. Do you want to be on the receiving side of it? Right now we’re getting two calls, three calls a day, but it basically takes you right to them, and then you get paid directly, and you have to go through your dispatch basically.” That’s how they built it up.
Now it’s an incredibly long and painful way to build an app until the two-sided marketplace has a network effect. Then it’s amazing and it grows super fast. But almost knowing gets there. That’s the hard part. The challenge is getting past those early days. In the early days that you’re in, with zero marketing budget, the odds are even less in your favor. They’re very very difficult what you’re trying to do, but granted that this is what you want to do, you have to be super scrappy and it sounds like you’re thinking in those terms.
All the stuff you’ve read about […] charge, don’t give away product, if you have a SaaS app that provides value, people only pay for something that is providing them value. If I build an email service provider, or a long-tail keyword tool, or invoicing app, or whatever, when someone puts a credit card in, they pay, the next day they can get value out of it, or that same day they can get value out of it. That’s not the case with the two-sided marketplace with a no consumer, no demand side so to speak.
Getting suppliers on to your marketplace without the supply side, you’re going to have to have it be free to some extent. Whether you just have the free plan the whole time, whether you tell them, “You’re on a paid plan, this is the difference and in three or four months, by the time we have demands, I will be charging you $49 a month, is this interesting?” That’s the conversation to have.
I don’t see major problems with the plan aside from two-sided marketplaces are really hard especially when you have no money. But aside from that, I don’t see how you can possibly charge suppliers when there is no value being provided. I don’t know anyone who would pay for that without that supply side. The one thing I would say is if you haven’t already started building up the supply side, because you have the artist list, is there a way to get an email list, a blog following, an Instagram following, a podcast following, just some demand side built up so that you’re not starting at a standing stop?
You said you’re relying on defenders or the suppliers to promote it and while that’s fine, it’s not going to be enough, I’m guessing. I think that you are doing some type of marketing, you’re going to have to get creative. It sounds like a pretty creative having again, no budget and you’ve thought through pretty well. I would be looking at ways to have enough interested consumers.
Think about it this way, Groupon is also a two-sided marketplace. When Groupon went to a new city, they would cold-call the stores, the retailers, the supply side, and then they would post a landing page for the demand side. Getting the demand side is the consumers, and that landing page would then, they would advertise it, they would promote it in any way they can.
Obviously you’re saying you have no budget, so it’s hard to do this, but that’s how I would approach it. I would have a landing page up of like, “We’re coming here soon,” or “This is something were going to have soon,” and then I would have whether it’s Facebook ads, Instagram ads, or if you need to do it for free, then you’re going to have to put it in sweat.
It’s going to be a blog post or many of them, it’s going to be interviews, it’s going to be viral content, whatever it is that you can get. Guerrilla marketing style essentially with no cost. That’s one way to build up that demand side, and then you can point to the artist and say, “Hey, I do have 5000 or 10,000 people on an email list that are interested in hearing about it.
I still think your approach of going with no credit card, not charging them but giving in the expectation upfront, is fine, but then you don’t have to start from a standing stop. That’s how I would think about it, I hope that’s helpful.
My next question is another voicemail. Voicemails always go to the top of the stack. This one’s a bit long, but I will have our editor clean it up a bit and it is from Keith Gillette with tasktrain.app.
Keith: Hi Rob, my name is Keith Gillette, My founder-funded B2B SaaS startup tasktrain.app is in private beta right now. TaskTrain is lightweight process management platform that allows service managers to integrate standard operating procedures, and just-in-time training into everyday workflow, enabling teams to deliver service quickly and correctly.
Based on our expertise and our early customer development feedback, we’re targeting IT operations directors and digital marketing agency COOs as our initial customer segment. Our launch plan has been to market and sell per user subscriptions directly to customers via the web. I have two questions. One, what marketing channels would you recommend pursuing? We have a PR plan when we’re ready for a full public launch, but are not sure how aggressively to invest in building a social media presence and/or in paid advertising, neither which we have yet tried as we’ve been too focused on getting a functional product.
Rob: We’re going to cut the voicemail there and I’ll answer this question and then we’ll roll in to his second question. Congrats Keith on getting to launch. It’s sounds like, you’ve been too focused. You’ve made a traditional mistake of heads down basement coating. I know you’ve been having customer development feedback, but you haven’t done any marketing. I guess the first thing I would say is go to robwalling.com and enter your email address and you’ll get a book that I wrote called Start Marketing the Day You Start Coding. Whether you read the book or not, just having the title is really what I would say.
It’s typically before I have anyone break ground, I will validate the idea and then put up a landing page, such that even if you only have 50 people on an email list at that point, that’s your starting ground. That’s where you begin when you launch. Talk about having a PR plan in place, which is fine. I haven’t seen PR work for apps like this that are just line of business apps. They aren’t that interesting and PR likes to tell a good story. If you happen to have a good story, that’s fine. I don’t think you need a social media presence at this point.
Reserve your twitter handle or whatever. That’s not going to bring you customers yet, especially if you don’t have an audience, if that’s not your thing. Obviously, if you have a podcast, or an audience, or a blog, or something and you are on Twitter talking to people, you’re taking the Ben Orenstein, the Derrick Reimer, the Brian Castle approach, then that would be one thing. But you’re not doing that yet, so I would not spend any time really in building that out.
What I would do is, there’s an endless number of traction channels you can go after. Obviously SEO and paid advertising are two nice ways to get traffic. But whether that traffic converts is a real question. An outbound sales is the third and those are the three avenues that really scale well.
Which of these do you have experience with? If the answer is none, pick one and dive in. That’s how it is when you’re starting out. One reason why I espouse the stair-step approach to bootstrapping is that which your first product from the standing stop, trying to manage all the complexities of building and launching a SaaS app and then looking at the massive array of marketing options available, it’s hard and it’s overwhelming. Without the experience, the confidence, the budget, it’s not an easy question to answer in essence.
I’d say, of all the episodes of Startups for the Rest of Us—what is this? 457?—more than half, I would guess 2/3 maybe ¾ deal with this question of how do I market? How do I get more customers? How do I get more leads? What do I do? Literally, books have been written on this topic. Two books I would recommend, number one is Traction by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares, they go through 20–22 traction channels. You can look at those as starting point for zeroing on each of those areas. It includes paid acquisition and SEO, running events, and all kinds of stuff. The other book is SaaS Marketing Essentials by Ryan Battles. That’ll be a pretty good start for you because this question of, “What marketing channels would you recommend?” really depends. For me, just looking at it I would do some content and I would do some LinkedIn ads. That’s probably where I would start. That’s not to say they’re going to work. It’s just the two things I would start with—Facebook ads and Google AdWords—just to see, are they going to work? I don’t know.
Audience building, is that a skill of yours? If it is, build an audience. If it’s not, then don’t. There’s a lot of variables in terms of how much budget do you have, how quickly do you want to need to grow, what is you skill set? Do you have experience with any of these? Any desire to try any of them? It’s a pretty broad question, but that’s where it comes down to doing your own research, making that list. Basically, your marketing gameplan.
I’ve talked about them on the podcast in the past about how with each app I would build or acquire, I would make this marketing gameplan. The HitTail marketing gameplan, the Drip marketing gameplan, it was a huge bulleted list. That was seven pages, single spaced, bulleted list with some headings of, “These are the types of things we want to do right at launch,” and, “These are the people I’m going to talk to who’ve agreed to perhaps promote it.”
Then, I want to try Facebook Ads here in the market segments. I wanted to try AdWords in these segments. Then, you’re going to a spreadsheet and you put out the ones that you think are going to work at this stage. You take a guess at how much traffic you can generate, how much cost you think, time you think it’ll take, and figure out, do you do it yourself? Do you hire it out? Do you hire someone internally to do it? There’s so much to think about it here. You have a little bit of research and thinking to do. Good luck with that, Keith.
Now, let’s dive into Keith’s second question.
Keith: Second question, one of our beta users has expressed interest in becoming a reseller of our platform as a value-added offering in his virtual CIO consulting service portfolio. I had the potential for bars in mind when designing TaskTrain. I had not expected to pursue the channel until we were bit further along. Now, we have zero paying customers at this point, no data on margins, customer acquisition cost, or lifetime value of a customer, on which to base sales commission or revenue sharing. How would you recommend we think about structuring a potential reseller contract? Thanks for any guidance on those early stage marketing and sales questions.
Rob: Every product that I have launched typically gets interest from resellers and whitelabelers. This is very common for you to get reached out to by folks who want to resell or whitelabel your software. When we launched Drip even really early, we were getting two emails a week from people. “I want to do this but for realtors.” “I want to do this but for mortgage brokers,” “or for the hair salon,” or whatever. “Can I whitelabel it?” It’s just a totally different market. Whitelabelling is one.
I realized you’re asking about reselling here. Whitelabelling is one thing that I discourage people from exploring in the early days. It dilutes your brand equity to huge distraction. It’s almost a completely separate product. It’s very rare that people make it work. It, of course, can work, but it’s not something I would encourage you to do unless that’s really what your heart is set on. Don’t let it be a distraction.
Resellers are different because it’s not a product distraction. It’s going to be more of a, I would say, almost a founder distraction in terms of having to come up with the model, sign a contract, work with them to help promote, and make sure they’re not reselling it to people who don’t want to be part of your customer base, I guess. That’s the thing. With the SaaS app, are they just an affiliate? Are they reselling it? I guess the difference with affiliates is affiliate would just sell it based on your pricing and they would keep a commission to pay them 10%, 20%, or 30% of the recruitment revenue. Whereas a reseller, maybe they have an account that they can put a bunch of people in and they’ll pay you a certain amount. Then, they just sell it for more. That’s probably the difference I would think about.
I know in the IT, since you are targeting IT operations directors, marketing agencies, COOs, maybe resellers would be helpful. I would only consider it if this reseller already has a huge network, already has leads. If this person’s just going to go out, run ads, and do cold outbound, you can do that. You don’t need them. If they have a list, if they already have an audience that they essentially want to pitch it to or market to, it’s worth considering.
Personally, I don’t have enough experience with it to do it. I would get offers like these and I would basically say, “Nope, not right now,” or “Not until we know our customer acquisition costs, our margins, our LTV,” all those things that you’re saying you don’t have. My advice would be to kick it down the line a bit. Once you get some customers, you know what your churn is and your revenue share. You want to be in your sales commissions and all these stuff. It’ll be a lot easier to get something like these done. It’s just there’s so many things flying in so many directions right now that having yet another distraction is not something I’d be super stoked about unless this really is a golden opportunity.
In my experience, people who want to resell a product that has zero customers, it doesn’t tend to be a golden opportunity. I’d be pretty surprised if they did actually have an audience that they had a lot of reach into. I would kick it down the line, three months, six months, and just say, “Hey, we need to revisit this. There’s so much going on right now with the launch.” It’s easy to say that you’re busy because you are and you have competing priorities. I would try to revisit that later.
Keith: A final postscript. I want to take Mike for his immense courage in being so open and vulnerable in sharing his Bluetick blues with the Startups for the Rest of Us community. As a fellow still struggling in Boston area, B2B SaaS founder, I empathize with him in the challenges he’s facing and deeply appreciate his willingness to share them in public. I wish him the best in deciding what’s next. Gratitude for you both for your Startups for the Rest of Us work.
Rob: Thanks for that, Keith. I appreciate it. I hope my discussion was helpful.
My next question is from Ash and it’s about agency to product journey. He says, “Hi, Rob and Mike. I’m a big fan and listen to almost all episodes over the past five years. In the past episode, Rob mentioned the path from agency to product especially Saas, is a hard path which I understand. Could you please dive a bit deeper into why? If one is on that path, how to run that transformation successfully? Thanks a lot. Keep up the great podcasts.”
Good question, Ash. So many of us have done this. I didn’t run an agency per se, I’m more of a consultant. I did have some contractors working for me, so I was a micro agency. It was a handful of us. I was doing sales, doing some of the codings, and such. The reason it’s hard is because when you’re an agency or a consultant, you can bill $150 an hour. Whatever it is you’re billing, it’s really hard to not just book more hours and to make that $250,000 a year or $300,000 a year just by coding for someone else with frankly very little risk.
You have some headache dealing with clients, of course, but there’s not a ton of risk in it versus turning down work to block out a day or two, a week, to work less, to get paid less, to build something that you don’t know if it’s ever going to work. You don’t know if you’re ever going to get it launched, if it’s going to have a product market fit, if it’s going to make enough money to ever pay it back.
There was a good MicroConf talk a few years ago. It was one of our attendee talks and it was by Ted Pitts from Moraware software. He talked about how he and his co-founder launched good jobs and then they launched the software. When he traced it forward, they were doing millions a year and pulling out quite a bit of profit before he felt like they hit the breakeven line of how much money they could have made if they just kept working their jobs, if they have just stuck at day jobs with promotions and bonuses. Just a steady pitch the whole time versus the ups and downs of some years they make more and some years barely make any in their early days, and not paying much. But they wouldn’t have any other way. They didn’t do it for the money. That’s part of it, obviously, but they did it for the freedom and satisfaction. The freedom, the purpose, and the relationships.
It’s hard to see that. It’s hard to look ahead. It’s especially hard to convince a significant other that instead of making $300,000 a year like you could as a consultant, or $250,000, or whatever it is, I want to make $125,000 and I want to launch this app. It’s going to take me six months or a year to launch. Then, maybe two or three years to get to the point where it’s even making as much money as I could be making if I just work full-time on this consulting work, and then the payback period of the money I lost is even years out from there. That’s the hard part. That’s a big part of why moving from agency work which pays well to starting a SaaS app which doesn’t pay anything for a very long time, takes a really long time to get going, and here’s a bunch of risk that’s why most people don’t make the transformation.
If you were in college or if you were like me when I first started launching products, I was working construction. I was an electrician. There really wasn’t much downside to me. I did it all nights and weekends, obviously, because I was out on a construction site. I had learned to code when I was 8 years old. I’ve been coding for years, but I didn’t know a lot in the modern web languages. I literally went to the public library. I got books on PHP, HTML, a little bit of Perl—this was obviously years ago—and I started to hack in the way of stuff on nights and weekends. That’s how I learned.
I eventually did make the shift into full time employment as a developer. That helped increased my […] really fast. Then, when I went to build stuff on the site, I was way, way, faster at it. But it still was a 9-5 and it was helpful for me that I could go in 9-5 and when I left, my time as my own.
Once I transition to consultant and I was billing hourly, I was obviously making a lot more money, but it became hard for me not to just do consulting work all the time because to consult 50-60 hours a week, I can make more money than I had ever seen or ever heard of anyone making. It was crazy to bill $125 an hour and works 60 hour weeks. This is 15 or 20 years ago. That money really went a long way. It’s tough. It’s a long term view. It’s having a confidence in yourself. It’s being able to look in five years and say, “It’s going to hurt for now, but long term, I think this is the better path.”
In addition, this is why either stair stepping your way up is better because you can get some small wins along the way. It builds confidence in yourself, builds a little bit of recurring revenue, build confidence from your spouse or your significant other if you have one. But also, acquiring. Acquiring small products or even large products is a nice way to do it. If you are running an agency and you have money—you should be making a decent chunk of money—acquiring a product gets you past that product market fit, that wall. It puts you forward, hopefully, in 18 months, maybe 24 months depending on the space that you’re in. That’s one reason why I acquired products early on. I did have more money than I had time. Once I was at that level where I could build $125 an hour and stay busy full time.
Not everyone has that. Maybe you’re scraping by to get agency work. Maybe you do have downtime during the week or during the month. That’s nice because then, you can use that to focus on the product. I always felt guilty just focusing on the SaaS product, not going out and finding more work. I thought to myself, if I ran out of work and I don’t have any in three months, am I going to look back on this and regret it? You get over that guilt if you’re going to do it.
I’m guessing a lot of folks listening are experiencing this or thinking. It’s the conundrum of nights and weekends are hard. This is one reason why people raise funding so they don’t have to do that. It really is interesting to see someone raise around $150,000– $300,000, with the sole purpose of they don’t have to make this decision. They don’t have to scatter their focus. They don’t have to worry about agency work or doing it nights and weekends. They can just focus for a year or two on getting something to the point where it’s viable, where it’s making enough money, that it’s sustainable, that’s it’s default alive, as Paul Graham would say.
I’m not saying you should raise funding or shouldn’t. Obviously, I never did. Building my stuff up, it also took me a really long time to get there because I did it this way. It was nights and weekends for me. It was building an app, acquiring an app, parlaying one, stair-stepping from one to the next, and that’s why it took me so long to get to Drip. If I had raised funding 5–10 years earlier, I would have built a larger SaaS app like Drip. But I just didn’t have the resources, the experience, perhaps the confidence to do it at that point.
It’s a good question, Ash. I appreciate you asking that. That was helpful.
That about wraps us up for the day. If you have a question for the show, call our voicemail at (888) 801-9690. Voicemails go to the top of the stack. Or you can email us at email@example.com. Our theme music is an excerpt of We’re Outta Control by MoOt used under Creative Commons. Subscribe to us by searching for startups and visit stratupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time.
Episode 381 | SaaS Marketing from Square One
In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike talk about SaaS marketing from square one. Topics include where to start marketing, what types of channels to use, and what your timeline will look like.
Items mentioned in this episode:
The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Keeping Your Sh*t Together: How to Run Your Business Without Letting it Run You
- Product Hunt
Mike: In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and I are going to be talking about SaaS marketing from square one. This is Startups For The Rest Of Us episode 381. Welcome to Startups For the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers, and entrepreneurs be awesome at building, launching, and growing software products, whether you’ve built your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Mike.
Rob: And I’m Rob.
Mike: We’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s going on this week, Rob?
Rob: I had never realized that we say Startups For The Rest Of Us three times in the introduction.
Mike: Yeah. I stumble over it a little bit sometimes. I think you did it well.
Rob: It’s a long title. Yeah, I know. We should think about changing that.
But aside from that, things are actually going really well this week. As you know, I mentioned on the show before, Sherry and I have put together a book called the Entrepreneur’s Guide to Keeping Your Shit Together. Sherry was very much the first authored and the driving force behind this and I can contributed topics, stories, anecdotes, I did some of the writing, but for the most part it was Sherry writing. But super stoked to have it out, men.
It launched on Wednesday of last week and so far, sales have been good. We’re going with an all Amazon approach, which is interesting. It’s something I haven’t don’t before. It’s a trip because you don’t get your customer email addresses but the one click buy makes it so much easier for people to buy versus coming to your website and entering credit card and phone into a Stripe form or whatever.
So far two thumbs up. I think Sherry’s learning a ton. I’ve obviously been offering advice and helping draft emails and put the wrong link in the launch email, that was me in my own software. I said it though Drip and I told Sherry, “If it’s a bug in Drip, or it’s my copy paste error, I’m still screwed! I can’t even blame it on anybody. It’s my fault.” It wasn’t a bug in Drip. I just made a copy paste error and left the ‘h’ off the http for the book link. I had to resend the correction which I pretty much never done, ever in my launch career. I always triple check stuff and I was in too much of a hurry.
Mike: That’s funny. I was actually going to accuse you of writing only one line in the entire book and it was the little anecdote where it says Rob’s thoughts and then there is, “Uhm, no.” and then “and Rob.”
Rob: Yeah. Exactly. I wrote that. I also wrote a bunch of the stories in there. It was a fun project. You know what’s fun about it for me, was being able to contribute, I did more than just consult on it but the redrafts and the edit and help shape things. It was not the full burden. I was not the founder on this one, I was more like the board member, adviser or something. That’s kind of cool.
It’s also fun to see someone launch a product like this at this scale for the first time. Because you feel vulnerable, you’re excited but you’re not sure what to do, and you’re just stumbling along. I can just see all the stuff shaping up as she’s going through the process.
Mike: Yeah. I’m sure it’s nerve wracking for her too. When you first put something out there, especially with a book. I think with software there’s that layer of obstruction like, oh yeah, you created this but you’re in the background and the software is the thing that people are seeing. I think with the book, you’re putting your expertise out there as well and that can be a little nerve wracking, especially because you’re not sure how it’s going to be received, did you hit on the right pain points that people have, are they really the things that people are feeling. Not that you’re not confident, it’s just that there’s a difference between a small subset of people that you’ve actively worked with versus a much larger set, especially when you don’t know who those people are.
Rob: Totally. It’s always just vulnerable. I think vulnerable is the right word, when you throw something out and thousands of people in essence are going to wind up buying this book here and hopefully most of them read it. You just have to be prepared for thoughts and comments and that’ll be both positive as well as critiques. It’s just a lot to put yourself out there, whether it is with software or a book.
Mike: Yeah. I’m very glad that I got both the paperback version and the Kindle version because I had to fight my wife off for the book because she saw it and she took it.
Rob: Oh, that’s funny. Cool. Glad to hear it.
Mike: Yup. Anyway, we went through that over the weekends. It’s a good read, I liked it.
Rob: I was going to ask what you thought of it.
Mike: It touches on a lot of topics that have not been well talked about but they’re starting to and I think that Sherry’s probably a very big contributing factor to that just based on her talks at MicroConf and how well they’ve been received, but I think it’s a topic of discussion that people are a little bit more comfortable discussing now than they were 5 years or 10 years ago. It’s nice to have it now but I almost wish it was out there 10 years ago.
Rob: Yeah, I know. Absolutely, I wish I had this book when I started. If you don’t know what this book is about, it’s about how to run your business without letting it run you. It’s how not to spin out of control and be super stressed out and how to know yourself more, how not to burn your relationships, how to stay human, how to stay connected to people. She calls it like Founder Mental Health but I always think of that as like, I don’t know, if I’m not depressed, or I don’t have an anxiety, I don’t need it. But it’s not that. It’s just how to fight through and really stay sane and maintain solid relationship to not piss off your wife, and your kids, and neglect your family, and gain a bunch of weight, and go crazy. I was so freaking stressed running Drip and selling Drip, I wish that I had a resource like this.
If that sounds like you, or you think you might be encountering that anytime soon, you can search on Amazon, there’s a Kindle and a paperback version, Entrepreneur’s Guide To Keeping your Shit Together, and we’ll link it up in the show notes for sure. Sherry recorded an audio version and has submitted it to Audible but it is not approved yet. I’ll probably talk about that once it’s approved as well.
Mike: Very cool. I’m in the middle of working on my FemtoConf Talk and it’ll probably be something of a preview of my MicroConf Talk to be honest. It’s nice to be getting that much of a jumpstart on it. I don’t think that usually I start on my talks until probably a month or so before the conference. It’s like two and a half, three months out at this point. It’ll be nice to get that done in advance and then give a preview of it and see what resonates and what doesn’t and be able to go through it a few times in addition before a live audience as opposed to just getting up there and giving it in front of a live audience for the first time at MicroConf.
Rob: Yeah. I could see that. It’s really nice to be able to give a talk twice. I always give a talk better, almost always given better the second time.
Mike: And the other thing is paper spiders. If you enjoy pranks of any kind, go into the bathroom, and on the other side of the toilet paper roll, draw a giant black spider and then put it back so they can’t see it.
Rob: Really. Even though it’s just drawn?
Mike: Because you can’t see it until you flip the roll over.
Rob: Nice. Where did you hear about this?
Mike: I saw it online but I practiced that yesterday and my son was not pleased.
Rob: Yeah. That’s funny. Cool. What are we talking about today?
Mike: Today we’re going to be talking about SaaS marketing from square one. This actually comes to us as a sort of a listener question. I put out on Twitter a couple of weeks ago asking if there were any topics specifically that people wanted to hear about. One of them is from Phillip who’s asked, “How to start a product from scratch? After my MVP is ready, because growth hacks are everywhere but nobody talks about starting marketing from a blank page. No social media, no newsletter recipients, no SEO, nothing, zero traffic.” I thought we would go through this and talk though some ideas around where you would even start with that.
At the very base level, you’ve got an MVP, we talked about this extensively. If you haven’t done marketing before, you get to this point where you got a product to put out there, then you’ve done things wrong but I also feel like we just get a number of questions that are around this where people have already made that mistake and it’s too late to change it, so now what do I do?
We’re going to talk thorough where you start, different types of channels you can use, and strategies to put the product out there and try to make it into a success even if you haven’t started doing any of the marketing beforehand.
Rob: Sounds good. I know this is a common question. It’s something that overtime, if you listen back to previous episodes, and if you look in both of our books, Start Small, Stay Small, The Single Founder Handbook, or even blog posts. This is just such a common topic that we’ve covered but it’s worth revisiting every so often and trying to see if there is either new information or just to revisit for all of our edification and a reminder for all of us.
Mike: The first question to ask is where do you even start? I think that in a situation like this, you need to work a little bit backwards. The first thing to look at is knowing what’s your timeline and your runway look like. By this, I mean really what date is it that you need to be making x dollars and MRR, whether it’s $5000 a month or $10,000 a month. How much money is it that you’re spending on a monthly basis, how much do you need to leave your job, how much money do you need to recover in order to pay back a particular loan or something like that. What are the hard deadlines that you have set that you need to be conscious of? Then based on those things, what are their current pricing plans that you have, how many customers would you need in order to be able to meet whatever that MRR goal is?
Establishing this timeline really does two things for you. The first one is that it provides you with a required trajectory. How many customers do you need to add on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis in order to get there? And the second thing this does is it helps you to eliminate certain types of marketing channels, because if you have a really short timeline, some longer term marketing channels are simply not going to work for you so you can completely throw the out the window and focus on other things that are shorter. And they may not be repeatable or suitable but they will help get you to where you need to be.
Rob: I like the idea of this one. I think that as you get more experience, let’s say it’s your second or third app, or second or third success, I think you can get really good at determining these timelines, build timelines, actually building the product and then ramping up marketing and taking a half ass guess at it.
I remember that doc I put together for HitTail, it was like the marketing game plan. It wound up being somewhat accurate but I wasn’t as experienced as I was when we launched Drip in 2013. That doc, I put together this whole analysis of how many uniques I thought I could drive to the site each month, how many would convert to trial, how many would convert to paid, what the growth would look like. I mapped it out and it wound up being shockingly accurate. The only thing that killed us was we didn’t have a product market fit yet and so I underestimated churn.
When you don’t have product market fit, your churn can be 20%, 25%, so you lose a lot more people. If churn had been closer to what I thought, the growth would have been very, very much in line with what I was guessing at.
The one issue I have with this, with the thing that I think could be hard, if this is literally your first time, you don’t know any of the rules of thumb. You don’t know, hey if I asked for credit card up front, I’m going to get between 0.5% and 2% of visitors convert to trial depending on how appealing my site is, what the price point is, and all that. You don’t know if you’re asking for credit card upfront, you should convert between 40% and 60% of trials to paid users and then your churn should be pretty thing in the first two months and then drop.
It’s just all that stuff you can either learn from experience or you can listen to podcasts like this, when we had Ruben Gomez on the show, probably, 50-100 episodes ago, he and I threw out a bunch of rules of thumb exactly around this and it’s towards the end of that episode. If you want to go back and listen to it, I also put it in my MicroConf Talk last year or the year before. I just had one slide, the rules of thumb things I use to do it.
I like the idea of asking where do you need to get to because this is something investors would ask you if you took them. If you’re not taking investment, it is nice to think about where you’re going and not just go out and wander. I feel like if you don’t know where you’re going, how do you know how to get there?
Mike: That introduces the idea of having a fudge factor. The timeline that you can put together based on your pricing plans and how many customers you need and the timeline, that’s a best case scenario. You’re going to have to go over that. Let’s say that you need 200 customers in order to get to 10,000 a month, how many do you realistically need to shoot for? Is it 200? Probably not, because you’re going to have people who sign up and then decide that they are not going to become customers or they go through a trial and then they say, “This isn’t for me.” Or they just never even set up the software, or set up their account and do anything with it. There’s lots of people who fall into that category.
You have to overshoot by some margin but at the same time you need a starting point of some kind. This simple calculation of your timeline runway and number of customers is going to at least help put you in the right ballpark. That’s really what you’re looking for. How do I get in the right ballpark? How do I get started on the right path versus I’m not going to do anything because I don’t even know where to start.
The next step is once you got that information in mind, the next thing to do is to break out your plan of attack into the different types of marketing channels that you’re going to go after. These aren’t specifically marketing channels you probably find in a book that it would say that okay, these are all encompassing.
These are two that I thought would apply specifically to this type of situation. The first pair of marketing channel is sustainable versus unsustainable. It’s really just a broad categorization of the different types of marketing approaches you might try. And then the second one is inbound versus outbound efforts. There’s lots of different ways to categorize or classify different marketing efforts but let’s just focus on these two pair.
Sustainable versus unsustainable, the way I really put these into perspective or talk about these is that with sustainable, it requires some sort of systematic repetition over time. It’s usually harder to get going but they tend to have a longer life to them.
Some examples of this will be things like SEO, content marketing, blogging, email newsletters, video channels on YouTube, paid acquisition, etc. And then with unsustainable marketing channels, these tend to be one time or burstable activities. If it’s one time, typically you can do it once and then that’s it. An example of something like that would be listing your website on product time. You could do that once but the chances of you being able to do that more than once for the same application are probably pretty slim. You can come out with new features or subsets of things you could add on there but they tend to be things that you’re not going to do for a while.
And then there’s burstable activities like doing a podcast story. You’re probably not going to go on the same podcast over and over again but you could go to multiple podcasts and do it like a podcast story. You could answer a bunch of questions on Quora, you could do joint seminars with other people, you could do integration marketing. Again, that’s an example of something that you would be able to do one time but you’re not going to integrate with Calendly more than once for example.
Those are the types of sustainable versus unsustainable activities that I would look at and I will classify your marketing activities as one of the two. That leads us down the road in the inbound versus outbound.
Rob: Yeah. Some of the sustainable channels you mentioned, most of them require ongoing work but they’re like a flywheel, they’re this big heavy wheel that just getting going is going to take you months and months. It’s going to start yielding rewards maybe three, six, nine months down the line. But the longer you push it, the faster it’s going to go.
SEO is that where boy, you’re going to see nothing for maybe six months. Obviously, there’s ways to hack around that and stuff, I’m just setting some expectations. It’s like don’t expect a bunch of results right away. But if you start seeing results, then you just build on those and build on those and then they last for a long time.
As you said, the unsustainable are those one time activities that I do actually think so you have questions on Quora in the unsuitable. I’ve seen some folks take an approach where those get upvoted and they wind up being popular and they get a lot of SEO traffic overtime. It depends on how you do it. I think there are still some question I’ve answered on Quora that continued to get votes two, three years later. When you look at it, they’ve had thousands and thousands of views.
I think you need a mix of both but as I said, I think it was last episode, an answer to Craig Hewitt’s question. The one time things or the things I would do early on because they get you the big boost, they’re one time and they’re quick. Doing that joint webinar, if that gets you 10, 20 paying customers, you might not see 20 paying customers from SEO for six months or more. Right now, what you need is revenue. You need customers, you need people paying you. Once you have the people paying you, then you can use that money then to par lay up and reinvest it back into more joint webinars or you can invest in SEO content marketing, etc.
Mike: When I mentioned answering questions on Quora, it wasn’t so much that your traffic was sustainable, it was like you can’t answer the same questions on Quora more than once or it’s a burstable thing where you might answer 10 or 15 or 20 different questions and then you wouldn’t continue looking for more questions because there aren’t more questions to answer. You basically have to wait a while. That’s really what I meant by classifying it as unsustainable. Not that ongoing benefit from it is not sustained, but the activity that you do around it is just that one time or you do it a couple of times and that’s it. Does that makes sense?
Rob: Oh yeah, totally.
Mike: Again, I think as Rob pointed out, some of these things will cross over from one side to the other. It’s not very much black and white. Some things will cross over from one type to the next. That leads us over into inbound versus outbound. The way I separate or classify things as inbound or outbound is inbound is functions on the basis of attracting people versus outbound activities and marketing channels, they function on the basis of actively and proactively going out and contacting people.
Inbound would be things like the SEO content marketing where you’re publishing things and you’re trying to attract people to your platform or you blog or email newsletter, things like that, versus outbound which is you’re actively doing cold calling, sending out cold emails, doing outbound email prospecting on LinkedIn or doing paid advertisements. Paid ads is kind of a mixed bag as well because that flips a couple of different categories of these channels. That’s the main differences between inbound versus outbound.
When you’re early on and if your timeline is short, you want to focus mostly on the outbound efforts. The reason for that is because you need a lot more control over the activity. You want to be able to tie the activity that you’re doing to the number of people coming in because waiting for customers to come to you is not going to be enough. You could wait for months or years, you may not still get the number of customers that you need versus doing those outbound activities where you can essentially drive the conversation and you can go actively get in front of those people as opposed to waiting for them to come to you.
Rob: I agree. I think that outbound has become more and more prominent in SaaS. I think it’s become more prominent as the enterprise players or enterprise software has come in. If you think back 10 years, they were very, very few enterprise SaaS or even mid-market SaaS companies that were targeting mid-market and enterprise companies. In those fields, there’s a lot outbound. There’s a lot of outbound cold calling, is what it’s traditionally been.
I think when SaaS was mostly focused on the Fortune 5 Million as 37signals says, it’s so much more about creating content. It’s the Joel Spolsky approach, it’s the Basecamp approach, and those were the models that I think we saw and those are the models that certainly resonated with me coming over as a developer. I didn’t want to do the cold calls, and the cold emails, and the outbound stuff.
I see a lot of value in both, to be honest. Probably not cold calls myself these days but I think even if you’re bootstrapped, I think getting over the mental stigma of not doing outbound, I think is something that you’re going to want to at least wrestle with internally and not just focus on the SEO, and the split testing, and the content marketing. Those are the things that I was blogging about 2007, 2008, and they do still work but they’re not nearly as easy because there’s so much more competition.
If you want to get somewhere faster than I do think you’re going to a mix of inbound and outbound. Again, going back to HitTail, I did no outbound except for JV emails that I would do with folks, but with Drip, we absolutely did outbound cold emails and we did a lot of paid advertising both for HItTail and Drip.
Mike: Once you’ve established a revenue base or gotten to your initial goals, you can switch over a little bit. Or if your timeline is long enough because you’ve got a lot of runway to work with or you love your full time job and you don’t want to quit but you like doing something on the side, then it’s easier to wait for those longer term strategies to pan out. Basically, it gives you more options when you’ve got a longer runway or you’ve got a longer timeline.
At that point, things like concept marketing make a lot more sense because you can decouple the customer acquisition rate from the activities that you’re doing. You can do link building, you can create content, create videos for YouTube, all those different things because you have the time to spare. But if you are in a position where you want to find out quickly whether or not this is going to go anywhere, you need to push on those things and you need to do those outbound efforts in order to verify quickly versus waiting because you could wait for a very long time to find out, and you almost never know for sure. But obviously, if somebody posts a link on Reddit or something like that and you get 10,000 customers, yeah, that’s a pretty good stamp of approval. But the chances of that happening are so minute that it’s not realistic to even think about depending on those things.
I think with the things that we’ve talked about so far, the next question that comes to mind is, okay, all of this sounds great but where do I actually start? We’ve talked around the issue and I think to address it head on, the first place that I would start is looking at your personal network and seeing if there’s anyone in that personal network who can help you.
The prime example that I think I would point people to in most cases is go to your LinkedIn profile and see who you’re connected to, who you’ve worked with in the past, or go to your Twitter profile and see who you follow or who follows you and find those people, contact them, and say, “This is what I’m doing, this is what I’m working on. Is there a use for this either in your business or do you know somebody it could be useful for?”
There’s ways to go about it without seeming overly salesy. You can definitely just say, “Hey, I’m working on this. Can you take a look at it and give me some advice.” Or, “I’d like a little bit of help. What do you think that I should do?” Those are great places to start the conversations because it’s asking somebody for help versus, “Hey, can I sell this to you?”
That’s a much better starting point for conversation especially if you don’t have a good working relationship with that person or you haven’t met them in person before because then it opens the door for them to put themselves in a position of “expert” where they’re giving you advice. People love to give advice on whatever your new product is.
No matter what you built, people will always want to give you advice on it. It doesn’t mean that it’s good or bad or that it’s going to be exactly what you should be doing, but it’s at least a starting point for conversation. From there, you can branch out, find out who they know, see if there’s channels that they can promote it through, or if they’re just interested.
Some types of products are going to resonate very, very well with certain people and they may say, “Hey, I can’t personally use this but I have an audience that I cater to and they would love to take a look at this. Can we take a look at it and do a deep dive, or get on a call and talk about a little bit more, or maybe go through a demo?” That gives them a little bit more materials to work with than you just sending them a cold email saying, “Hey, I would like you to take a look at this and I think it might help your business.” Those conversations and discussions are going to get you a lot farther if you have some sort context with the person, try to help them to understand what it is that you’re doing.
Rob: That’s a good point. I think that if I was starting out today, some of the approaches that I would focus on early on, I would definitely be looking at paid acquisition. I’d be looking depending on your product, it’s going to be Facebook, or Instagram, or LinkedIn, or Twitter probably. AdWords is probably not going to work because it’s just too expensive these days. It depends on how much you want to get in to run the ads.
I know some people just are averse to it and I had someone doing some marketing for me at one point. I was mentoring and teaching him and he said, “Is there anything I can do aside from running ads?” He just really didn’t want to learn that. It’s an interesting opinion and perspective.
Some people want to do it more the viral approach or with content. You have to figure out what you’re going to enjoy. If you have budget to hire somebody, that’s great because folks who know how to run ads are going to be way, way, way better at it than you. But if you have to suck it up and you don’t have any money to hire someone, then obviously, that’s going to be an option.
The thing that I like about paid acquisition, man, is even in the early days, if it’s not profitable at least you’re getting people in there to try it out and you get some kind of feedback.
Another thing I would consider right off the bat of course is an email newsletter. Email has just been a critical part for everything I have ever done including MicroConf, and my blog, and selling books, and selling software, getting people to use SaaS. It’s just such an asset to have.
I don’t know these days that I would start a blog if I were going to try to market a new SaaS app. If I was going to do content marketing, I would probably take a different approach to it. I would at least debate whether the resources that I would need and the on-going publication, the on–going article cost would not be better spent doing more bigger content efforts. We did this with Drip, we started getting success, we had an ebook, and then I did an audio version of that ebook. It was about email marketing automation I think I was getting started with.
I think maybe we did a video course and we submit those to Producton, and we put it on Gumroad, and we sold a bunch of copies but we gave it away for the first few days and it got a bunch of traction through those. They were more one time bursts but they did help longer term with SEO because we had so many backlinks from these things. It’s an interesting thing to think about instead of publishing content constantly.
Is it an option to do less frequent content but just try to make a bigger splash? This is part of the thing that you see, let’s say Neil Patel or some of the other big blogger, content marketers moving in that direction writing. Even if they aren’t doing ebooks or package products that they’re giving away, they are doing this longer form stuff. It’s less content or fewer posts but they’re a lot longer form.
Of course then that leads you to SEO. If you know how to do SEO and you’re good at it, by all means do it. If you’re trying to learn it from scratch today, it’s going to take a while, I’m not saying don’t do it but it is much harder than it used to be and it’s going to be a big road up there, but if you can get SEO content marketing, email newsletter, and paid acquisition, if you get two of those working, you’re going to have a pretty nice growth engine.
In the early days of Drip, I just have alerts on Quora and when stuff would come up in the email marketing category or startup category, I try to jump in and answer those. I’m a big fan of podcasts tours. I have done them for years and if you can pull one off, I think there’s a lot of value there, for not a lot of time investment.
And then of course, join webinars if you do have the network. It all depends on what your unique asset it. If you’re really good at SEO, then go after that, if you’re good at paid acquisition then go after that, and if you have a good network then you can work that to get people to email you.
If you have none of these, one day, back in the day, all of us had none of those. You have to pick one, you have to start from scratch, you have to hustle.
That’s the thing is it’s never going to be as hard as this first app. When you’re starting it with no revenue, no customer base, no network, no audience, that’s when it’s going to be the hardest. That’s when you have to push the hardest. It’s only going to get easier from then on.
Mike: Something else I mentioned that goes along with what you said was that in those early days, when you’re trying to get the product out the door and get it in the hands of people, there’s almost no substitute for getting directly in front of somebody and talking to them about your products and what it is that you’re trying to achieve and how it solves the problem that you went after.
There’s a lot of credibility and trust that goes into signing up for a SaaS app these days. You can overcome a lot of objections just by having a conversation with somebody. Whether it’s a phone call, or a webinar, or one on one demo through a Zoom account or Skype or something like that, you can overcome a lot of trust issues just by having that one on one conversation with somebody and answering their questions. Your website doesn’t need to look fantastic, you don’t have to have a great onboarding experience.
You can hand walk somebody through your onboarding and talk them through every single question they have and the information you’re going to get from them about what concerns they have or just the questions that they ask are going to be very valuable to you and being able to come up with answers that will not only answer them but also answer everyone after them who’s going to have the same types of questions. If they ask, “How do I use this piece over here?” You know that that’s probably going to come up for other customers. Or if they say, “What does this button on the bottom right here do?” If it’s got a weird icon, they may say something to you. If they do, you can use that to make the product better and hopefully reduce the number of questions which ultimately reduces the friction which helps people move through the sales pipeline a little bit better.
Yes, it’s tedious. It takes a long time to get through that but the insights that you’re going to get from that are massive. It just helps you move things along. It is slow, it’s a slow process but it does work over the long term. You just have to walk through every single step of it.
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