This week we catch up with Mike Taber, he comes on the show every once in a while to share his progress as he grows his SaaS App, Bluetick. We haven’t checked in with Mike since before the quarantine, and the last time we spoke to him, he had more than doubled his revenue in the past 4-5 months. We will talk about how the COVID-19 crisis has affected Bluetick and other SaaS apps, some new insights that Mike has been learning about his customer base, and decisions he has made about the positioning and marketing of Bluetick.
It is difficult to try and land new customers when we are facing a global pandemic and a possible recession. If you are working on a startup, you might find it helpful to know how someone else is handling this crisis in their business.
The finer points of the episode:
- 5:00 – How Bluetick and other SAS apps have been affected by the COVID-19 crisis
- 8:35 – Mike’s biggest success and biggest defeat in the past 7 weeks
- 11:32 – Where Mike’s customers are finding him?
- 12:53 – What makes Bluetick different from its competitors
- 15:27 – An update on Mike’s email campaign to canceled customers
- 19:08 – Mike’s plans to change the positioning and copy on his website now that he understands how people are using Bluetick
- 25:28 – An update on Mike’s podcast tour
- 29:36 – What Mike is looking forward to over the next month
Items mentioned in this episode:
Rob: Hey, look. It’s Startups for the Rest of Us episode 494. As always, I’m your host, Rob Walling, and this week we catch up with Mike Taber. He comes to the show about once every month or two and updates us with his experience and progress growing his SaaS app, Bluetick.io.
Two things before we dive into that conversation. The first is we released the MicroConf Video Vault. Over 170 hours of talks across 194 different sessions recorded over almost a decade of events. We had previously sold some of these, some were accessible and some were not, but we took all of them.
They are on our YouTube Channel. It’s youtube.com/microconf. We’ve created several playlists for some serial speakers. There’s Patio11, a playlist of his talks. There’s one of mine. We have a playlist of the Top 5 Rated Microconf Talks of All Time as well as a brand new playlist called Building your First SaaS: The Ultimate Crash Course.
It’s ten videos and it’s like a course where it starts at the beginning with idea validation and it runs through most of the aspects of building and growing a SaaS. Check it out, youtube.com/microconf. I hope you enjoy it as most of us are sheltering into place. I think there’s some time to fit in some good marketing, growth, idea validation, and other MicroConf-type talks amid our Netflix binging and HBO watching.
The second thing is I’m trying something new this week. We have our very first sponsor. I do not plan to have ads run every week or anywhere near every week on this show, but intermittently a sponsor who’s particularly a good fit. I will entertain the idea of having an ad on the show. I’m proud to say that through a connection with MicroConf, Basecamp has sponsored Startups for the Rest of Us and they bought a handful of ad spots that will appear over the many coming months. With that let’s hear today from Basecamp.
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Rob: With that, let’s dive in with my conversation with Mike Taber. Mike, thanks for coming back on the show.
Mike: Hey, how’s it going?
Rob: It’s going good, man. Kind of sheltering in place here in Minneapolis. You as well in the Boston area?
Mike: Quarantine Mike here over the Boston area.
Rob: Quarantine Mike, Indeed. Stay safe. We haven’t talked since before all the quarantine stuff happened, really before the COVID stuff.
Mike: Yeah. You know what’s interesting is that you know that you’re mostly an introvert when the vast majority of your life simply doesn’t change when the entire country shuts down.
Rob: Right. It’s like, wait the only thing that’s different is my kids are home all day. You texted me and said, “I’ve been planning for this moment my entire life.” It’s great.
Mike: Honestly, there’s not a lot in my life that has changed other than like I said, the kids being home all the time, and then little things like you go to the store. Now, you wear a mask when you go to the store. We don’t order out pizza on Friday nights anymore because everything’s shut down and my wife’s business is a little different, but by-and-large, the rest of the stuff for me is not a whole lot different.
Rob: Wait, so pizza places are shut down? Because we can get to-go food. We pull up to the curb, we can get stuff delivered from Bite Squad, Uber Eats, DoorDash and all that. Are you not able to do that?
Mike: We technically could, but I wouldn’t say it’s a debate in our household. We want to support local businesses, but at the same time, what precautions were they taking? We don’t really know and we’re trying to cut down on the amount of junk food we eat anyway.
Rob: Fair enough. Cool, man. It’s been almost seven weeks since we last spoke and the prior two calls to that, that covered six or seven weeks each, you were upbeat, things were working, you had more than doubled revenue than that previous about 4–5-month span. I’m curious as we start off—set the stage for us—has that revenue escalation continued or have you—like the other SaaS apps I’m seeing—been kind of hit by the COVID slow down?
Mike: It has not increased at that pace. I’ve had churns like most other businesses have and unfortunately, the churn that I’ve had has offset the gains. I have added customers and I’ve had people come to me and say hey, I can’t let go see people anymore or they want to be able to stay in touch with people so they switch over and use email.
But then, I’ve had a number of customers that have switched and put their accounts on hold. Last year, what I’ve done is I implemented this mechanism for people to put their account on hold instead of charging them $50 in a mailbox, I would charge them $10. What that would do is it will allow me to keep all their data, still synchronize their mailboxes; they just really couldn’t just log in and use the app.
I think the vast majority of my churn has been in the form of downgrades to pause accounts. It’s not that the people are leaving. They are just saying, let’s put things on hold until things settle down and we can come back and do this. I’m trying to remember if I had any outright cancellations. I don’t think that I have.
Rob: Cool. That sounds reasonable and that is one note. If you’re listening, that’s why we look at revenue churn, not customer churn. It’s one of the reasons. The other reason is if you have a customer paying you $10 a month and a customer paying you $1000 a month, then when those customers cancel, if you look at customer churn the numbers look the same but the revenue churn will be vastly different. For those two reasons, you can look at customer churn and it’s interesting, but it’s not nearly as accurate (I’ll say) to your business health as revenue churn is.
I’m bummed to hear. I’m not surprised to hear that you’re plateauing or whatever. Is that what it is? What’s it look like? It’s just a plateau of revenue?
Mike: Yeah. I’ve added customers, but it’s just when I add a customer and then somebody downgrades, it’s only adding a tenth of a customer.
Rob: It’s a net zero.
Mike: Close enough to net zero. The thing is that I haven’t really lost customers, I’ve just lost the revenue that would have been associated with those customers. I have had more people put them at pause than I have added.
Rob: Right, and that’s still churn. It’s not customer churn. It’s revenue churn, but again I’m not surprised by this. How many people right now are doubling down on cold outreach or doing a lot of warm outreach? It’s probably not as many as we were doing two months ago because as we head into a recession, people back off on things and they’re getting a little more concerned about marketing purchases not working right now. There’s a lot to it.
I’m curious to see as with a bunch of businesses. I have insight into direct financials of—it depends on how you count it—about 35–36 companies across TinySeed batches and angel investments I’ve made before TinySeed. The loose pattern I’m seeing is there’s about 20% of SaaS companies are doing really poorly. They are tanking because they are in an industry that’s directly impacted by this, whether it be travel, senior living, something like that. Then, 20% are doing extremely well because they’re for remote workers or they have to do podcasting. They have something that a lot of people now are diving into remote communications.
Then, there’s that 60% in the middle that is slowing down, it’s what it really is. They’re not falling off a cliff, but the growth is either not what it was or they’re plateauing quickly, and I’m curious to see over the next 2–3 months as businesses are reopening here and around the world, you know what happens with those, right? What that means for that 60% in the middle. I feel like you’re probably in that bucket where it’s a wait-and-see type thing. Over the past seven weeks since we last talked, tell me about your high point, the biggest win, and your low point, perhaps the biggest defeat.
Mike: One of the things that we talked about before was there was a fairly large customer that I was trying to get on board and I was trying to get them to go straight to buying Bluetick then they came back and asked if they could do a pilot program.
I’m about probably two-thirds to three-quarters of the way through that right now. They’ve sent me a few questions here and there and they are testing it out. They haven’t come up with anything major. There were two requests that they had. The first one was oh, can you add this font? Because our boss really likes this particular font, Mike? Yeah, I can do that. So that took like very little time to do.
The other thing was they came back and asked and said the email signatures weren’t showing up in the emails that they were sending, even though they had it set to the mailbox. Oh, that’s because you didn’t add in the shortcode and the reason why it’s not added in automatically at the end of the email is because some people like to put a PS at the end of it and they’re like, oh my God, I really love that feature.
Well, it’s nice to be able to explain that. Then I also added another pilot program that is actually a paid pilot program for a small company that could be worth anywhere from $500-$1000 a month.
We’ll see how that goes. They’re paying, I think, $100-$150 a month right now and they’re going to see how it goes. If it goes, well, then they’ll scale it up for other people in their company. But they’re kind of sidelined right now. They can’t go out and visit customers. That’s why they’re looking at Bluetick.
Rob: Cool, that’s exciting, Man. Congratulations. How about your low point?
Mike: I can’t point to anything where I’m like, oh, that was horrible or that was awful. I can’t think of anything off the top of my head that comes to mind. I wish that it hadn’t happened or that it was sucky to deal with. So I guess I would take that as a good sign.
Rob: Yeah, not having a low it just kind of like it just was going along. I’m happy to hear that.
Mike: The closest I could come up with if you were to put a gun to my head would be when I was outside trying to do yard work and I was trying to drill out a Rhododendron root in our yard. I have a power drill and I was a little too close to the roots. It caught on something and yanked my hand around and sliced my finger open. That’s the worst. It did hurt really badly for about two weeks. I don’t know if that’s ever gonna be the same, but it’s starting to heal now.
Rob: […] That’s not a business low, but it definitely is. I would qualify that in the low category. It sounds like I have another question here. You mentioned last time you had bigger prospects coming through the $500–$1000 a month.
The one that’s in the pilot was one you already had, but then you have another customer that’s approached you and I had commented like, this is a way to build a business fast. It’s large customers. I’m excited to follow that and I will definitely follow-up with you next time we chat to hear if they came through.
Once again, I’m gonna ask you, do you know where these people are finding you? Is it still word-of-mouth? You said it was one-on-one recommendations, word-of-mouth and there is an entrepreneur’s organization, EO Facebook group. Is that the gist or are there other places where people are finding you? You know why I ask this because if you can’t figure it out then how do you get more from there?
Mike: Yes. So, this one was the other prospect that I’m working on right now. They’re doing a pilot program, so the second one. They were a referral from somebody I know who has a SasS app. They’ve got a bunch of customers and their customers came to them and said, hey, do you know anything that could help us out?
So they essentially had pitched Bluetick to their customers and we worked out an arrangement to help figure out how that was going to play out. But they’ve got a customer base that I could potentially pitch Bluetick to if this works out for this one customer.
We’re trying to figure out how to make it work between that business and my business and if it works out great for this customer, then maybe they’ve got something that they can pitch to their other customers. If not, then, we’ll see how it goes but I might be able to leverage that relationship to help build Bluetick because they do have a customer base that could potentially use Bluetick.
Rob: That’s nice. It’s a good way to keep it moving forward. Let’s see. I’m glad you have stuff in the pipeline still even at times like these. Do you know why Bluetick? Why are these folks coming to you and not to one of your competitors? What’s the differentiation that they say, oh, this is why I need Bluetick rather than XYZ competitor.
Mike: It’s a few different reasons. For a couple of them, it’s the price, which I found odd because I looked around at the competitors that I tend to focus on are the ones that are in the $20-$50 range. I know that Bluetick is priced higher than those, but I have found that there are higher-end competitors that are serving larger companies. They’re looking at Bluetick because those vendors charge a lot more than Bluetick. I hadn’t realized that initially, but some of their prices are much, much higher, like a couple of hundred dollars. They look at it from that perspective, especially if they have like 10, 15, 20 mailboxes. They’re not going to spend $200 mailbox for that kind of stuff.
Rob: It’s nice to position yourself against those folks. I remember with Drip, we were like, oh, everyone’s comparing us to a Mailchimp and AWeber. They have a free plan and $15 a month, then $19. Then the moment where it’s like, wait, why don’t we try to position ourselves against Infusionsoft which starts at $2000 upfront and $300 a month? And we did.
We built enough features that I felt that we could position ourselves against and suddenly we were easier to use, less expensive version of some really expensive software. Infusionsoft was the cheapest. It was like Marketo, […] all these things are thousands a month. If you can tap into that, that’s awesome.
Mike: Yeah, that’s kind of what I’m doing at the moment. For others, it’s word-of-mouth or referrals. The person who came from the Entrepreneur Organization was actually recommended by somebody else who’s in there (at least I believe that). Both of us talked and he thought that he’s the one who recommended it, but we’re not absolutely sure. But that was another one. And then, just general recommendations from existing customers.
Rob: That’s interesting. Obviously, it’s good to have customers recommending you and referral carry such weight when people vouch for you. It means that hey, this good software. I’m going to use it. I’m probably not […] as much of a comparison as I would in other cases, but…
Mike: Well, that’s why they found it. There’s a difference between why they find it and why they choose it.
Rob: Right. That’s what I’m trying to get at because I’m concerned that if all of your new customers come from current referrals, that’s only scale so far and I think for now, as you’re doing things that don’t scale, scraping, and […], I think it’s fine but longer-term, I think in the back of my mind, how are you going to get outside? If you get outside the bubble or this fear of folks that know you and current customers, how can you take hold of traffic and still even win those deals? That’s when you can grow predictably and know that you’re going to grow each month.
Have you gone back at all? Had your warm email campaign that was going out to canceled customers, you had people from Linkedin, and it was connections you had. You had run it for a while, you got so much feedback, and you were only getting really not that many customers from it. I believe you had turned it off last time we spoke. Is that something you revisited? Do you plan to revisit it? Or is it just kind of done at this point?
Mike: I got to a point where I didn’t feel like I was really learning anything from the people that I was talking to.
Rob: Yeah, I remember you said that.
Mike: That is why I turned it off, but then with this whole COVID-19 thing, I would say it’s not a great time. I’ve kind of shelved it for the time being. Will I come back to it? I can definitely see myself coming back to it once things settle down a little bit, but I just don’t think that it’s the right time. One of the things I found was I was spending a lot of time on the phone, so I wasn’t getting nearly as much done on the other things that I wanted to move forward with. Right now, I wouldn’t say that it’s downtime but certainly have the ability to put more dedicated time into the things that need to get done. So I have a hard time justifying doing that now is all is what I’m saying.
Rob: I just don’t know if it would work that well right in this climate because people are just holding their breath, waiting to see what’s gonna happen next, and the fact that you said last time as well, you just stopped learning because at first you can learn or you can try to get prospects, try to get sales, but the learning becomes […] after you’ve had 10, 20, (I think you said you did) 30 calls or something like that. It gets old having the same conversation, so I get it.
Mike: The other thing is, I’d rather spend the time working with these customers who are doing the pilot programs in an effort to help make sure that that money eventually comes in than hold all these calls where I’m not learning something.
Rob: Right, because that’s the thing. You had mentioned that $1200 a month, the big pilot customer that they might need the sealed .NET component replaced. We’ve gone back and forth over the course of 12, that may have been 18 months now when you first brought it up. But last time we talked, it was kind of like, well, just leave it for now. You have the ability to roll it out to one mailbox at a time and if somebody needs it, you’ll bite the bullet, you’ll write the code. But if it’s not going to grow revenue, if it’s not holding back people from signing up, then just leave it over in the corner. Has that changed?
Mike: I did go in and I took the time to rewrite that stuff. I’ve been testing, rolling it out to a couple of mailboxes and I had so many volunteers say, yeah if you want a guinea pig, I’ll do it.
I’m working on making sure that the transition from between the old storage system and the new storage system is functional and doesn’t break anything moving forward. But the sealed .NET component is in the process of being ripped out and I’d say it’s pretty close. I’m not done yet because I still have to resynchronize data for all the existing accounts but it’s getting closer.
Rob: It’s cool, that’s exciting. At least here, you have one-off accounts doing it and kind of in a beta phase because I know that was something that was on your mind for a while and we always talked about it. It’s gonna take a week or two weeks or whatever.
Mike: Two years.
Rob: Two years? Yeah. I took some mind space for a while.
Mike: I was more concerned about the amount of data that I would have to resynchronize. I wrote this script to go out and pull back the data and just say, oh, how big is this? And it was a lot bigger than I thought. There’s a lot more data out there than I had expected.
Rob: Last time we talked, I’ve kind of for a while been saying, what is Bluetick’s positioning? What are people using it for? And you had said it was mostly warm email that originally you thought, cold and warm. You didn’t want it to be cold, but a lot of this stuff is people using for in getting values. Mostly, warm email is moving people through a sales process, but there’s not much prospecting going on. With that in mind, are you going to change your positioning, your copy on your website to lean into that?
Mike: I will. I’m not sure where to start with some of it, to be honest. It’s like I’ve pushed off on prioritizing that as the thing to sit down and dedicate time to and think about, but it is something that I need to do. That’s on my list to do. I just haven’t made that a priority. It is something I have to do, though.
Rob: Right. The priority sounds like onboarding and sales of large customers, writing some code to keep those large customers moving through the pipeline. Is that pretty accurate? What else have you been up to? If you talk about it in a given week?
Mike: Honestly, that’s 90% of it. Just making sure that those things are moving forward and that existing customers have what they need. Some people are moving stuff around inside of Zapier or they have a problem because like, oh, I’ve got a couple of hundred email sequences in here. I’m having issues with this piece or that piece. What do I do? Can you implement a different search mechanism here? The current one just simply doesn’t scale for the data that I have.
Rob: Yeah. So it sounds like support plus plus.
Mike: Yeah, I would say so. Also thinking about how the application itself is going to scale out when somebody has 20, 50, or 100 different users under the same account. Right now, the way it’s designed and set up is you have a subscription and there’s an account associated with it, so a subscription is really just the billing information. Then underneath it, you can have all these different accounts.
That’s the way it was designed initially, but it was never implemented in such a way that you could have multiple users in those accounts and also how they met other accounts outside of your subscription. Does that make sense?
Mike: It’s hard to describe, but the backend storage system was not written to support that. The database and stuff were all designed properly, but there are certain things that I guess I just didn’t think about at the time or just hacked them together and just threw it out there and now I’m in the middle of saying, how do I get these larger customers on? I’m realizing there are certain ways that the data is stored that it fundamentally would break if I were to have multiple accounts for each of those. So, if they have 50 sales reps and each of them has their own account that breaks. It just doesn’t work.
Rob: Yeah. I’ve built so many things like that where you’re trying to get it out the door as an MVP or something that people can use in production. You don’t want to gold plate that from the start. That’s something that I would absolutely imagine needing to rework.
There’s gonna be code to rewrite. There’s gonna be database instances to upgrade. There’s going to be failovers and redundancy with stuff to add. That’s the thing that I don’t think if you’ve ever built or hosted a SaaS that does start to scale at a certain level, or you just start getting some larger customers even. If your use case to date has been 1–4 person teams and then you get somebody with 50 or 100 people in there, it’s bound to break something. So obviously, it’s a bummer to hear that you have to get into the code and constantly do that.
Mike: But honestly I’m pretty close to having those things dealt with as well. Actually the code is deployed to the point where new users are using the new storage system so they presumably would not have this problem. It’s the current existing users where I have to migrate their data and verify that everything’s going to move over properly.
Then there are a few switches I have to toggle in order to pull the lever to make sure to have everybody move over to the new storage system. I’m kind of doing it slowly because I don’t want to break things for existing customers. With new customers, if something’s broken, I’m not as worried about it because their business is not dependent on it yet, whereas old customers, I know that they’re using it and I don’t want to break stuff for them.
Rob: Yeah, and that’s the balance, right? That’s the dance of launching an app, having users, and then meeting. I was going to say having everything is great until pesky customers get involved, but you could feel me.
Mike: I knew you were going to say that. I knew you were going there.
Rob: But yeah, and then you’re trying to keep the train going while you’re changing one of the axles. That’s essentially what it winds up being.
Mike: And in the middle of a pandemic.
Rob: In the middle of a pandemic. Cool. Back to positioning, marketing. It hasn’t been top of your list. Again, it’s like we’re in the middle of this global chaos. I’m guessing your traffic’s not way high and people aren’t coming and leaving because you don’t have the exact right positioning on the home page.
To me, this is something you want to do in the next couple of months. If you do realize that there is a value prop here that really no other tool offers and that these big customers that’s really what they want, it’s not a cold/warm email tool, but it’s an email tool to move people through a sales process, that’s pretty interesting positioning because then, all the features on that home page are what are the actual features that do that, that the other tools that call themselves cold/warm email that they don’t do. You do have those, right? You have those features because you’ve built it to check every 10 minutes. You’ve built it to look in people’s trash folders. There’s a bunch of stuff that rattled off a couple of episodes ago. Everyone knows I don’t listen when you talk.
Mike: Are we married?
Rob: No, but you do have differentiators. I’ve been trying to find out if you just throw a bunch of your differentiators. These are our differences. Then it feels like a feature race or a feature competition. But if you start at the top and you’re like, this is our H1. This is our positioning and why we’re different than everyone in a headline. We move warm prospects through a sales process or whatever, and then follow up with the actual features in it. It feels more like this is similar to XYZ cold competitor.
But these folks are just one step into the process and if they’re designed for that and I need that, then it becomes a no brainer. That that’s all I’m thinking is it should probably change at some point. But again, it probably doesn’t need to happen in the next week or two.
How about the podcast tour? You had scaled that back because you had some emails sending out of BlueTick. You had scaled it, but you did it a little bit. Then you scaled it back because you got busy with sales and some development. Then you had ramped it back up. What’s the status of that?
Mike: I scaled it back down. More because of time than anything else. I more or less just got distracted with some other stuff. I’ve still got the email campaign set up that I could go out and kick those off again. I just haven’t done it.
Rob: I know I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but this is a time, during this pandemic, the sheltering in place, and the potential of on the precipice of a recession is like I think it’s great to really hand-hold prospects as they come in. I think it’s time to refactor code. It’s time to rewrite email sequences. It’s time to do some things. I’m not sure that right now is the best time to be reaching out to do a bunch of stuff.
Maybe a podcast is probably exceptional because there are a lot of podcasts being recorded. A lot of content being put out. But if it comes down to that balance of I can onboard expensive customers or I can be marketing myself on a podcast, it may be better to do in a month or two.
Mike: We’ve gone through a bunch of stuff where the way I look at it is I’m prioritizing, trying to land those large customers over, trying to go out do outreach and outbound marketing activities and things where it could lead to new customers. I don’t necessarily know if it will, but if I don’t buckle down and land the customers that are currently in the pipeline, then I’m not going to learn anything about that process, nor am I going to be able to put myself in a position where I can add more customers like that because I’ve learned what the problems are with the software, where it breaks down, and where it doesn’t do the things that those larger types of organizations need. Then, I’m back at square one where I’m just going after those small customers that are only one and two people. I don’t think that that’s doing me any favors. I really think that I need to learn the stuff about those large customers because if I can land more of them, it’s exponentially more profitable to land those types of customers than it is to go out and do a podcast for money which may or may not ever show up in the future.
Ron: I hear you and I agree with that. I do have a concern longer term, that if you’re just getting one or two prospects trickling in each month that you’re working with, you need to turn that into something sustainable and that has to be lead gen, it’s demand gen. Whether that’s through just marketing, doing podcast tours, whether it’s through the warm email outreach, whether it’s through all the other things we could rattle off, SEO, content marketing ads, blah-blah-blah, which you don’t want to get into right now.
But I do think that the podcast tour is something you already have set up and it could go on probably earlier than I think you want to because that’s going to take time to pick up. It’s going to take days or weeks for someone to get back to you, then to book it. and then for it to appear. If you push that plan out in 90 days, maybe start getting appearances after 100 days and 120 and 150 days. It just takes a long time. I had never thought the podcast tour was the end all be all and going to be your big lead gen, but if you’re able to land larger customers, then you don’t need that many and podcasts are easy for you, right?
It doesn’t take a lot of time assuming that the email sequence is totally automated. In your shoes, I would not be sending them right now, I think because of this current situation. But I think if we get back to our old normal or at least not back to but start approaching that old normal of the pre-Corona and things start opening up and people start feeling a little normal, I would hit start on that.
The interesting thing is it sounds like you’re doing a pretty good job of landing some of these big accounts. You had landed that $500 a month client who then upgraded to an annual plan. You have one or two pilots going on, in essence, right now. One about to start, one going on with. It’s a lot of revenue in terms of the state or the phase that the Bluetick’s at. Just getting a few more prospects into that pipeline (I think) could really continue to make a difference.
Rob: When we last spoke, I asked you, what are you most looking forward to over the next month? And you said two things. The first was to have you all the IMAP stuff fixed. There was an issue with that IMAP. Second is you were in the process of onboarding the $1200 a month customer and you were looking between our next call. You were hoping that that would be there. Obviously they’re in a pilot now. I’m going to assume one of the things you’re looking forward to is them actually you’re in the same boat with them. Talk to me about the IMAP.
Mike: Actually the step back for that, like I had wanted to get them on board as a customer, and what I think that I learned in going through that process was they said, can we do an unpaid pilot? They wanted to extend the trial, which was basically four weeks instead of two weeks and I said, yeah, just because of the size of it, which totally makes sense.
What I learned was like, if they’re switching from a competitor to use Bluetick instead, then chances are good they’re not just gonna jump in and get married to the products immediately and try switching everything over.
I put together a proposal for him and I said, look, I won’t charge you for four weeks so we can get you everybody moved over while you’re doing this. That way you’re not paying for two products at the same time. I set up this whole big proposal.
They looked at it and they thought it was great. They said, we’d like to do a pilot first and in retrospect, it’s obvious that that’s the next step. But before that, my mind was if I can get them on board as a paid customer, that’ll be great. I’ll have the revenue in about a month. But obviously that didn’t happen and what I learned from that is for these larger customers, they’re going to want to do a pilot first.
I still consider that a win because it’s still moving forward. They didn’t walk away. They didn’t decide to go do something else or say, no, this isn’t going to work for us. It moved forward just not to the level I realized because I didn’t think hard enough about knowing that there were extra steps in the middle there that we’re going to need to be taken.
Rob: Sure. It’s a win for a couple. I wouldn’t say a full win, but it’s an in-process potential win. It’s a win in the sense that they haven’t canceled and backed out. And it’s a plus because you learn something, right?
You learn that you should probably propose a pilot from here on out with these larger customers. Obviously you should pitch to pay and sign up, but if they bocker, if they like, we’ve got to think about it, then you know that next thing, the objection, the anti-objection is like, hey, what do you do? We do pilot. We’ll set it up for this much time. You now have that playbook down. So cool. That sounds good. How about the IMAP stuff?
Mike: As I said, the IMAP stuff is fixed and deployed and it’s not enabled for the current customer base. There’s a couple of accounts that it is enabled for, the other ones that it’s not. But anyone who adds a new mailbox, I believe as of now, actually like a week or two ago. Anyone who adds it at that point uses all of the new stuff as opposed to the old stuff. I’ve mostly ripped that stuff out and it’s just a matter of cleanup activity, to be honest. It’s converting all of the existing customers over onto that new mechanism.
Then I can rip out all that extra code because I basically have duplicated code because it’s like, oh, you’re using the storage version 4. You’re a “’legacy customer.” You’re using this stuff and go through this pathway. If you’re version 5, use this one. Then once I get everybody moved over, I can rip out all that old version code.
Rob: That’s the best feeling. Ripping out like 5000 or 10,000 lines of code. Oh, my gosh. It is like spring cleaning your house or something.
Rob: Actually, not a spring cleaning house. Having someone else spring clean your house. That’s more what it’s like. Then talk to me about this. From now, looking forward, what are you most looking forward to? And I’m going to put one on the list, it’s to land this $1200 a month prospect. Do you have anything else?
Mike: I would say land the other prospect. They’re doing a small pilot with about 10–15 people, something like that. Then if they scale it up, it could be anywhere between like 50 and 100 people that they add. We’ll see how it goes. I want to find out more about what those people are using it for. It was interesting because when I was talking to them, they’re currently using Mailchimp, which…
Rob: It’s such a different tool.
Mike: It is and honestly, if I were to explain all the details of what they’re doing and how they’re doing it, you’d look at it and say you’re kind of crazy to be using Mailchimp in that way. You wouldn’t use Drip for that either. Like it’s just not built for what it is that they’re trying to do, but they’re using it for that because somebody found it and they decided to use it. So, learning more about their situation, seeing if there are other companies that are potentially like them in that similar situation would be great. But I really want to get through the process of selling Bluetick to those people. If I could land them as a customer, too, that would be fantastic.
Rob: Got to be honest, man. It’s so fun to hear in full sales form, just building the stuff, getting them in the pipeline, getting them into pilots, having these big deals come through. It’s just such a stark contrast to where you and the business were 8, 10, 12 months ago.
It’s cool. and I know that the percentages of prospects that you’re able to land are not 100%, so I would expect that you’d land one out of these two. I’d be super overjoyed for you if you land both of them. When we catch up again in a month or two, I’m also looking to hear about how this all plays out.
Mike: Yeah, I would consider it a win if I landed one of these two.
Rob: Very cool, man. We’re going to wrap for the day. If folks want to keep up with you, have you been on Twitter at all?
Rob: Ok so we don’t do @SingleFounder. So bluetick.io folks want to see what’s going on and check out the app if they haven’t seen it since the last episode. I’m just in the habit of when I’m talking to people at the end of an episode, I say their website and their Twitter handle. Anyway, man, thanks for coming on. I think hopefully the listeners are enjoying the ongoing story and we’ll catch up with you again in a bit.
Mike: All right, sounds good. Take it easy.
Rob: Talk with you again. As always, thanks to Mike for coming on the show every once in a while and updating us on his story. If you’re listening, but you’re not subscribed to the show, you should head into your podcatcher and search for startups. We’re usually in the top three or four and we do have full transcripts of each episode that we put on startupsfortherestofus.com. As always, thank you for listening. I’ll see you next time.
In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob checks in with Mike Taber’s progress with Bluetick. They talk about his big new customer, traction on the podcast tour, Mike’s outreach to his LinkedIn connections, 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 is episode 481 where I catch up with Mike Taber. He gives us an update on his recent progress with Bluetick.
It’s been about six weeks since we last spoke. Frankly, the last update was a little disappointing. Mike was not moving forward with the marketing things that I had encouraged him to do in October, November. He was kind of stuck and his motivation was not at an all time high. He’s definitely having a down month.
I appreciated the conversation this week. I think you’ll enjoy it. Things are definitely starting to tick up from Mike as I talk about in our conversation. The roller coaster metaphor (as completely cliche as it is) really matches up with our conversations. It’s 1–2 months, it tends to be about six weeks. You’ll just hear some episodes he’s crushing it and moving forward, in other episodes he’s not and his motivation’s low.
This week, he’s no different, but I hope you’ll enjoy this conversation. This is one that left me feeling a little better about things. My hope is that our conversations after this carries through. I think that’s something that Mike really needs and has really struggled with over the years—his momentum. He’ll have these good months—one, two, three months. But then, he hits this roadblock and can’t get past it. It really trips him up and stops momentum.
When you’re building a startup, as a founder, momentum is just so important. It’s important for your team. It’s important for your morale. It’s important just to stay sane while you’re trying to push this boulder up the hill once you get that momentum. It’s a lot easier to keep it going.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about. Mike Taber was essentially a former weekly co-host of Startups for the Rest of Us for about the first 450 episodes. He took a step back to focus on his startup, Bluetick, which is warm and cold email engagement. I enjoy these conversations because I think they’re valuable for you as a listener, to hear someone going through struggles, to hear them have to persevere as a founder, not have as much success as they’re trying to get. It is becoming more and more of me helping him think through things.
I think and hope I could give him some clarity so that he knows what he’s doing over the next four to six weeks. I try to cheer him on but also give him some tough love and accountability of, “You should have done that.” It’s not directly every episode an accountability session, but it definitely is a longitudinal look at a founder. I think we started these eight or nine months ago now, so it’s interesting. I’ve listened back to two or three episodes at a time to try to make sure I ask the right questions on the next one. It’s going to make a fascinating case study (I think) if we stitched this out over an extended period of time.
Mike has not committed to doing that over an extended period of time. I think it depends on a lot of factors, but it’s definitely becoming an interesting story (I think) that each of us can dip into every once in a while. He’s quite being open and honest. I’ll vouch for him that offline before and after, he and I had just a few minutes of conversation. It really isn’t other stuff going on that he’s not talking about both good and bad. There’s always some stuff in the works that’s a little early that we don’t touch on.
Really, this is what’s happening with him. I don’t have this big prepped conversation where we picked out the good or bad or whatever. He’s being an open book and I really appreciate that about Mike. I think it helps him think things through and keep moving forward. I also think that it helps all of us to follow someone’s story, to hear the struggles, and to hear how he’s pushing himself to make it through those. With that, let’s hear an update from Mike Taber on what he’s been up to on Bluetick.
Mikey T, how’s it going, man?
Mike: It’s going well. How are you?
Rob: Doing all right. Just wrapped up the State of Independent SaaS report and did my first livestream ever yesterday. I will just say it was really nerve-wracking. It was a 30 minute essentially with producers. Sander was there, of course, doing stuff, then there was a video guy that had the lower third. It felt like a cable access, new show or something. It was very intense. There were cameras, lights, and all that stuff. Fun, exhilarating, but completely adrenaline-filled and exhausting, just sitting and talking for 30 minutes. It was fun.
How about you? What have you been up to for the last six weeks since we talked?
Mike: Lots of stuff going on. I’m sure we’ll cover the vast majority over the next 30–40 minutes or so.
Rob: I’m excited to get into it. After the last episode, I did receive some feedback. There’s some comments on the website startupsfortherestofus.com/episodes/episode-475-a-bluetick-update-from-mike-taber. You can read those in there. There were mixed comments. Some people were really down on the fact that you hadn’t started the cold email outreach, the podcast tour, email outreach, or I guess it just started but there were no results. Other people were like, “Hang in there, Mike. Don’t let these things drag on forever. We’re rooting for you.”
My hope today is to dig into some of that stuff. I did listen back to some of our older conversations over the past. It’s been six or eight months now since we’ve been doing this kind of format. We retouch base every four to six weeks. The Google Audit stuff started a long time ago. That sealed .NET component has hung around in a very long time.
I think that’s the thing I want to look at today. I mentioned this a little bit last episode. I want to figure out how we can have things hang around for shorter amounts of time. We talked about them for months on hand. It feels like you’re not making progress on those fronts even though you might be on to some.
Before we were recording, my memory was, your big wins over the past six months have really been getting the Google Audit done and wrapped. Am I correct that that’s completely done? You haven’t had to spend any time on that?
Mike: Yes it is.
Rob: Cool, that’s good. Then, the other thing is something that we talked about last conversation where you said a new larger customer has signed up. I think it’s your biggest customer, actually. You were building some features, trying to keep them onboard. How has that gone since then over the past six weeks?
Mike: That customer is using the product. So far, it seems to be working well. I’d like to obviously see more of their users a little bit more actively engaged, but it’s kind of an ongoing process. So far, things are working out as far as I can tell. In terms of generally held, Bluetick is going well. Revenue is up in November, December, and it looks like it’ll be up in January as well. That’s a good sign, I guess. We’ll see how things go. I don’t know. It’s hard to put it in words as to not where things are at, but expectations do not always align with reality.
Rob: Sure. Even if you look back over the past three months, you’re saying revenues ticked up each month, which has not been the case a couple years prior to that. It’s been stagnant. It had been stagnant or slow the client from time to time. Can you give us any idea of scale? Probably without mentioning exact dollar amounts. When you say revenues up, is it up a few percentage points? Is it up pretty dramatically over that time period?
Mike: Over the past couple of months, I have to say it’s up maybe 30% or 40%, something like that. Maybe 50%.
Rob: Okay. How are you feeling about that?
Mike: I’m feeling good but it’s still short of where I would like. Revenue’s always going to be short of where you would like it to be. I feel really good about where things are headed. I spent a lot of time over a holiday break thinking about different things. You’ve mentioned how there were a couple of large things that were hanging over my head or Bluetick’s head in terms of where the product is at. It’s just not getting certain things done like Google Audit, for example. I made it a concerted effort to fully finish some of the things that I started now.
If I worked on the Google Audit, for example, my goal was to finish it, put a line in the sand, and say, “Look, even though there’s other things going on that are important, it needed to be paid attention to, I can’t just do 80% of this or 60% of it, then let it drop, and then move on to something else.” I need to take it all the way to the finish line as opposed to letting other things that maybe just as important to distract me. I’ve been making more of an effort to take things all the way to the finish line.
Rob: Yeah. I think that’s good to know about yourself. I have seen that in you for sure, the tendency to bounce from one thing to the next, to have that stuff that you do talk about for six months on podcast interview, and they feel like they hang around. There’s certainly a mental weight on your psyche if not in completely most things.
Mike: Yeah. That’s what I recognized, just the mental weight of those things. If there’s a couple of them, they start to stack up even though I’m bouncing back and forth between some of those things. I may be making progress on them, it doesn’t mean that they’re gone and out of the way. They still weigh on my mind. I think about them and there are times where I really shouldn’t be. It’s very distracting.
I got to a point where I made a list of distractions and said, “Look, I’m going to make an active decision to not pursue these things.” These are known distractions I basically written down. It’s like those shiny object syndrome for entrepreneurial ADD like, “Look. Recognize that these things are there, but I’ve made the decision to not go on this direction, and just walk away.”
Rob: Yeah. A really hard part about entrepreneurship is knowing what to work on next and try to prioritize. When you don’t have a boss, a lot of us came up through grammar school, high school, and college. Then you get through a job. Everyone’s telling you what to do. “Do this project.” “Do these worksheets.” “Write this code.” “Build this thing.”
Then, you’re a founder. It’s like, “I have 100 things I could work on. What do I do next?” It’s very, very hard to get used to. I think what you’re doing—locking it down and saying, “Whatever I decide to work on, I’m going to be deliberate about it. I’m going to see that through until it’s done.”—is a very strong way to do it.
A second topic are the distractions that then try to pull you away from those things. I’m curious to hear, you said you made a list of them. Is it stuff that we would expect like Twitter, Facebook, podcasts, audio books? Or was it other stuff?
Mike: It’s a combination of things. It’s stuff like that. It’s also things within the product where it’s like, “Look, this feels important but it actually doesn’t matter.” For example, there are certain new features that are on the list of things to do where I don’t feel that the features would be nice to have, but they’re not going to be things that drive revenue in any way, shape, or form. They would make the product better, but it’s not going to do anything for me, so don’t spend time on those things because that time could be better spent doing marketing, sales, demos and things like that.
Rob: Yeah. You’ve gone even a layer deeper. It’s not the superficial distractions of the world. You’re literally thinking, “Within my business, I have distractions that are so tantalizing,” like the siren song of, “We’re builders. We’re developers.” The siren song of building that next feature is always calling. We can always justify that our product isn’t as far along as it needs to be. That’s cool then.
You have two marketing efforts we talked about last time that you hadn’t started in mid-December. I’ll say I was disappointed or busting your chops. I really wished you had started these because I want you to get moving faster. The first one is this kind of warm/cold email where you’re sending it out, you have LinkedIn connections, Bluetick cancellations, other sales leads and all that stuff. I believed I have a quote in the dock. “It will definitely get kicked off by then,” because I said, “Do you think they will get kicked off by our next call?” You want to update us on that and what the status is?
Mike: Yes. I have started on that. Like I said, I was fortunate. I don’t know who I told this to and haven’t. I don’t remember if I messed this on the podcast last time, but I was fortunate enough to export my LinkedIn contacts before LinkedIn basically eliminated the ability to take the email addresses with them. I have all these email addresses. What I did is I went through, prioritize them, and said, “Who do I want to reach out to first? Who do I think is going to be either a contact who might be interested in purchasing Bluetick, or who would be interested in a position to either refer me to somebody else, or just give me direct feedback on a product and tell me whether or not it would be applicable in their business?”
Part of this was the discovery effort. Obviously, people that I’m connected to on LinkedIn are going to be more likely to respond to my emails. Even if I’m just saying, “Hey, can you take a look at this? Let me know whether it would be useful in your business or not? If so, I’d love to give you demo and try to get you onboarded as a customer. If not, I still want to have that conversation because I want to know why. Why would this product not be a good fit for your business?”
And use those essentially as votes. An affirmation of things I already believe or potentially new information about where Bluetick does fit in different businesses and where it doesn’t. Even if I hear something that I intuitively know or have already thought of before, I don’t care. It’s still a vote in that direction that is external. I can sit in my office all day long and think about these things. But getting those external votes to say X, Y, or Z, that’s important because it means that it’s more objective than me sitting there than looking at it and thinking about it.
I have kicked those off. My response rate is upwards of 50%. So far, I have been having tons of meetings going through every single one of them just writing down notes. I’ve got at least a page of notes if not two for every single person I’ve talked to and have a demo with. I’ve had a couple of calls that have gone like in an hour and a half, two hours before. I’m getting a lot of responses from them. Honestly, it’s kind of hard to keep up with them to be frank about it. I still have to keep going through those. I actually backed off and turned it off just so I could catch up a little bit but I’ve turned it back on and started sending those emails back out.
Rob: Yeah. The high response rate was because they’re warm, right?
Rob: They have some connection to you. You said that it was like a personal email list, LinkedIn connections, and sales leads that never converted. That’s cool. That’s a nice resource to have. Are any of these converting to sales or trials? Or are they conversations? Are they all rejections that you’re then essentially doing customer development with?
Mike: Surprisingly—maybe not surprisingly—some of them have actually turned into customers. That’s probably part of the uptick and revenue for this month. I think the tactic I’ve taken with some of these were like the person is in a sales role. I say, “Look, I’m going to show you the product. I’m not going to tell you what it’s used for. I’m just going to show you what the features and functionality are. I want you to tell me what you would use it for.” In that way, I’m not leading the witness.
I’ve found that the people who are in the sales positions, I don’t want to say that it resonates with them as a sales tactic, but it really helps me because then they’re not being lead by me in terms of the things that I’m telling them they could be used for. They’re coming to me within their own words with what they would use it for. Yeah, some of those have definitely turned into sales.
I have one person who said, “Yeah. I would use it for this. I would use it for this. I’d use it for this. These couple of other things.” We talked about getting on and have them starting on a trial. Even offered me to introduce the product and do a demo for a couple of sales managers at their company where they’ve got I think 60 or 70 sales reps, something like that.
The thought was, “Hey. I can put you in front of these people because we’ve known each other. I trust that this is a decent product and does what you say it does.” I held back on that a little bit just because adding that many all at once is a little disconcerting, I’ll say, but I also want to be able to put him in a position where he’s using the product himself personally for his sales outreach efforts. Then, when they have an internal meeting, it’s not just, “Oh hey, my friend developed this and I think that you guys should use it,” but he can say, “I’m using it for these situations and these are the results. It’s working for that.”
Rob: Yeah, got it. It sounds like this has been going well. Is this a win? Is this the high of the last month, you think?
Mike: Oh, totally. I have one customer who’s onboard right now. Their billing just went through a couple of days ago. They’re in an organization where there’s either 10 sales reps and the manager of that person is looking at Bluetick directly and saying, “I want to see what the results are from this. I’m interested because the rest of the team might be able to use it, too.”
My previous thought have been, if I can get more into these situations where the multiuser counts are providing value, then obviously the revenue will follow from that. It looks like that is probably the right direction to go. I’m still having a lot of these conversations. I just want to see any of these direct outreach efforts. Any little bit helps, to be honest.
Rob: I would agree. I’m stoked to hear that you’re getting response rates up to 50% because that’s really nice. It sounds like you’re learning a ton, which is really nice, and you’re getting some prospects and potential customers, which I think is good. This is forward progress. It is more forward progress than you’ve had in the past several months. Bravo to that and glad that it’s working out. For me, it’s motivating to hear.
Does this motivate you? I know you’ve said there’s been a lot of conversations, but does this gear you up like, “Oh man, this is working,” like, “This is exciting”?
Mike: It does, yeah. I implemented a pause feature several months ago where customers, instead of cancelling, they can pause their accounts for a nominal fee on a monthly basis. I don’t know if I mentioned this about this part of the Google Audit. They’re really cagey about if you cancel a customer’s account and you keep their data around because Google says that it’s their data, not yours and the customers.
What I did was I said, “Well, in order to bypass that, I’ll implement this feature where you can pause your account,” at which point you’re technically still a customer of mine. I don’t need to delete your data. Four to five people who would cancel over the recent time period, switched over, and said, “Yeah. I’d like to pause my account.”
This week I have one of them came back. I had a call with them later this afternoon. Then another customer from a couple of years ago have come back as well. Yeah, that’s growth. You’re right. To answer your question directly, it is motivating to see this kind of stuff come through. Part of it is a mindset shift for some of the conclusions I came through over the holiday break. Some of it is just seeing quantifiable results from the things that I”m doing.
Rob: Yeah. You’re doing things in public again. You’re not just dealing with Google Audit and building some features. You’re out there and you’re taking risks by sending warm/cold email. You’re having conversations with customers, which can be a lot of work. It can be scary, you can get negative feedback, but you’re doing it and it’s working to at least some degree. I don’t know, I’m pretty excited about that.
Does coming on this show and recording this every month or two make you feel accountable to something? Do you ever think, “Man, I need to make some progress so that Rob does not bust my chops”?
Mike: You know that’s a really interesting question. I feel like before when I was on every week, not as much. If that makes sense. I feel like coming on less frequently, I feel like I should hold myself more accountable because I come on less frequently. If that makes sense.
Rob: Yeah. It’s easy when we’re here every seven days, it’s like how much can I get done, and talk about during that time? You’re always thinking, “Well, I got to talk about something,” but you can let yourself off the hook. So, good. That makes sense.
That was an aside, but I was thinking about that and listening to the last episode. I had said, “Hey, I’m going to ask you about this next time.” It truly was an accountability and has been. I’ve been trying to do that, so it’s good to hear it. So, cool. We’ll call that a win. I’ll obviously going to ask it again next time. It sounds like it’s working. Keep doing it, man. I’m totally rooting for you on that.
Then there’s the emails for podcast tour or to just go on podcast and those had started sending already. I believe you said you might’ve had one response or whatever. How’s all that going?
Mike: I scale that back a little bit because of the LinkedIn prospect that I was doing. I am starting to ramp that back up again. I’ve got a call next week with somebody. We’ll see what the schedule shakes out with. There’s a couple of others that I’m trying to figure out where on the schedule we can get together just because we’ve exchange calendars, go back and forth and stuff. That seems to be moving forward as well, but my list for that is much shorter as well. I don’t have 900 of them.
Rob: Yeah. If I were to choose between going on podcast and talking to customer prospects, guess which one I would do? It’s what you’re doing if one of those has to be scaled back. A podcast tour is a nice thing to do. I do feel like you could probably get it going at some point. As I said earlier, that’s not going to drive a bunch of customers. What’ll drive a bunch of customers is cold outreach, warm outreach, marketing funnels, and all the things we know about. I don’t have much of an issue with that.
I’m curious. I’m meant to ask when you were saying that some of the folks you’re talking to are interested. They’re either coming back on or they’re signing up. Why Bluetick? In their words. We’ve talked a lot about differentiation. I kept saying you either need a unique marketing channel. You need to rank number one in Google or you need to rank number one in some type of channel where you are capturing the customers.
Or you need to have this pretty unique selling proposition or a unique feature or some unique positioning when someone looks at your other nine or 109 competitors filling the space you’re in, that they say, “Wow, Bluetick is best at this and this is my need.” How do you differentiate? I’m curious what has come out of these conversations, if anything, that makes you think, “This is exactly why they’re signing up for Bluetick and not the other tools.”
Mike: I haven’t teased out some of the specifics of that. I’ve got some ideas. When people switch from other tools to Bluetick, most of the time it’s because they run into a problem that those tools aren’t very good at. Whether they can only have contact in one sequence at a time, or they’re missing emails because it relies on the Gmail API and it’s not checking the spam folder, or the notifications and stuff don’t get triggered.
I have direct access to the mailbox, so every email that comes in, I can process it versus years in Gmail API. You’re very dependent upon their scheduling on all of those things. Whereas Bluetick, it checks the mailbox every 10 minutes. And longer term, I have other plans to make that even faster, and reduce the process in time on my site.
That’s one of those things where I actively decided it’s good enough for now. It doesn’t need to be that good. Every 10 minutes is fine. There’s other ones out there, they take upwards an hour, or 6, or 12 hours. They get by, so what difference does it make? I’m already faster than that. It doesn’t make a difference.
I think one of the other things is that the workflow itself inside Bluetick, it’s weird because some people say it makes complete sense. Some people say, “I don’t understand this at all. I’d rather go use these other tools that work on the same way.”
Rob: Okay. I wonder long-term—I don’t think we’ve dived into this now—you’re saying you check more often. Is that right? Your data is more up-to-date or fresh? That’s a feature, not a benefit. I’m thinking, what’s the next thing on top of that? Is it like your data is always synced? Unlike other tools, you’re near real time acts. There’s a way to position it where Bluetick is the real neartime version that’s always accurate and everything you just listed. I don’t even remember. You were saying spam, trash, and folders. How does all that get combined into one or two bullets that are true benefits?
Mike: The benefit of it is if Bluetick sees the email, like a reply, it will pull the person out of the sequence. If there’s a delay, let’s say that there’s a four hour delay for some other tool, a reply can come in within that four hours. If the tool doesn’t see it, it can send out a follow-up. What happens is you receive an email that says, “Hey, you sent somebody an email replying to something.” Then they come back with an email and it says, “Hey. I haven’t heard back from you.” I’m just like, “I literally just sent you an email an hour or two ago. Why are you saying that you didn’t see it and that you haven’t heard back from me?” That’s the situation that you go in every 10 minutes […]
Rob: Yeah, that makes sense. It’s something we can look at and talk through in future episodes as you get more data. Something I wanted to touch on is the last episode, I asked about your motivation. I said, “How’s your motivation over the past six weeks?” You said, “It’s okay.” You said, “Sleep was fine but not great.” Then you started talking about front-end code. That’s what you launched into something like, “I get discouraged when I do that. Should I hire someone part time? I threw that out.” Has that come up again?
I get the feeling that if you get demotivated by thinking about front-end code, it takes a bunch of time. That’s something you naturally shy away from like a hot stove, even if it’s only your lizard brain and you’re not actively thinking or realizing that you’re shying away from that. Has that been an issue or are you so much in sales and marketing mode that it doesn’t matter because you’re really not building features right now?
Mike: I think it matters more when I run into problems with the front-end code. I’m struggling to get some of the CSS right or some of the pages to show up in a way that I want. I’ve kind of coached myself to be less anxious or particular about some of that stuff. It’s like, “This doesn’t look perfect but you know what? It works.” The interesting thing I also realized was that Bluetick works really well for the people who use it in the way that it’s supposed to be, which means that you’re not logging in into it very much, which is a really bizarre way to position your SaaS app.
Most of the time I think you want people to log into your app and use it as much as possible because you’re getting the most value out of it. Bluetick is actually the opposite where the less you login, the more value it could provide you because you got things automated and setup to run into the background. If something doesn’t look quite right or if there’s a dropdown that’s slightly on the wrong spot, it actually probably doesn’t matter nearly as much as I use to feel like it does.
As long as the data that you need shows up in the UI, that’s one of those that I kind of backed off and said that this doesn’t really matter as much. I agree there’s probably some of that that is influenced by the fact that I’m doing much more of the sales and marketing. Just showing the products to people and saying, “This is what it can do,” and less front-end development.
Rob: Right, cool. Other than that, how was your overall motivation? I think sleep ties into that. How was your sleep and your motivation? You sound up. You sound up to me. Last time, you didn’t. You sounded down. This is the roller coaster of entrepreneurship. That’s the beauty of doing this every month and two for months. Presumably, if you do these for years, you just see the ups and downs, and the ups and downs. Has that been reflected over the past six weeks? Or is it just the last week or few days that you felt that?
Mike: I felt really good for the past couple of weeks. Part of it could be just the result of getting past some of that front-end code. I had to redesign the UI. I put all the navigation at the top of the page. That was probably part of where my frustrations last time where coming from. I had to move everything and at the same time, not break all the code that was currently in place for it. It wasn’t quite as simple as I would’ve liked to move the navigation. Now that it’s done, I even enjoy going into the app more myself just because the navigation has been moved to the top. It’s easier to get around and less clicks to do different things. I definitely feel like that factors into it. Obviously, increasing MRR also helps. There’s that.
Rob: That’s a huge motivator and when things are going up in another right, you can put up with a lot of other stuff. That’s the mental battle.
Next, I’m curious about the sealed untestable .NET component. I’m curious on a couple of fronts because when I listen to backdoor conversations, we’ve gotten back and forth. I’ve been like, you should either do this and get it done. Don’t let it hang around. Either decide not to do it or decide to do it and do it soon. It sounds like it keeps you from building features that you need.
Then when I hear this update today where it’s like, “No, you’re selling. You’ve grown MRR substantially.” It makes me think, why are we even talking about this .NET component? Leave it and just keep going. Push it down the line. What’s your current thinking on it?
Mike: I feel the same way. I’ve gone back and forth on it a bunch of times. It’s like, “Do I really need to do that? Do I need to do it now?” The answer is, probably not. Do I want to because it’s technical debt that has been hanging over my head over for a while? It is distracting. I rather have it out of the way but at the same time it is a chunk of work to get done. It’s not stopping the product from doing what it does. I don’t know. I don’t have a great answer for you.
I think if I buckled down, just did it, knocked it out, and got it out of the way, I wouldn’t have to ever worry about it again. Or at least until other stuff happens. I do feel like I would probably have to address it in a semi near future if I’m starting to add in substantially larger accounts just because the back-end I don’t know.
I don’t know how far I can scale it up without adding more servers in which would mean that I need to reengineer how some of that stuff works. At that point, it would be a hornet’s nest to get into that code and start working with it, to try and separate it among multiple servers. I don’t know. I don’t have a great answer for you. I just don’t.
Rob: I don’t either, in this case. Given how limited you are, my bet is to leave it where it is, and sell. Revenue solves everything. In this case, profit really solves everything. In your case, just growing MRR, if you can keep doing that and focus 100% of your time on conversations, 100% of your time on selling, and grow another 50% over the next two months, technically that sucks. I hate it. It’s something you can circle back to.
I think the thing that I’m going to bust your chops about is when you get the point and you’re like, “I need to build these features in order to get these bigger customers on. I can’t because the sealed .NET component is keeping me from doing it. But I still don’t want to do it.” There’s going to come a time where you have to do this, I think. The technical debt is going to sink you, at least based on how you described it.
I think that’s in the bank of my mind of don’t worry about it until you need to. Once you do, buckle down and do it. In two or three weeks, it’s done. You know what I mean? Stop everything. That’s how performance used to go.
Like with Drip, you just don’t do much work on it because you’re cranking on features, you’re selling it, you’re marketing it, you’re doing this stuff, and you’re grow, grow, grow. Then you hit the point where it’s like, “Oh, no. The database is about to fall over.” Unfortunately, it was a fire drill and it was all hands on deck. We pulled people off features, we go and upgrade the database. We do a lot of stuff. It bought us about 4–6 months more. That’s not sustainable. You don’t want to grow a business long-term over that. About the time you’re at $1 million or 20 employees, it’s too much. It’s too jarring and you needed a better process.
But when you’re as early, as scrappy, and as agile as you are, and you’re just trying to get to default alive or you have enough money to basically buy out your own time, I think you just have to. That’s how you have to operate.
Mike: Yeah. I would love to have that off out of the back of my head. For now, I’m kicking it down the road even more.
Rob: Yup. I think when you get there, it would be amazing if you could hire someone to do it. If you could bring in high-end senior engineer, you just bite the bullet, and eat some money. You show him what it is, you say it needed to go from there to there, you write up the spec to tell him exactly how you’re going to do it, and again, it’ll cost you. It’s not a $10 an hour developer.
Mike: Yeah. I hate to interrupt you at that one. I don’t know if I could outsource that. The reason is because there’s a lot of domain knowledge that I acquired based on just having written different prototypes and doing different things that I think would be difficult for somebody else to have or acquire. I’m not saying they couldn’t come up with a plan that I could interject and say, “Hey, if you do it this way, these things are going to break.” I don’t know.
Rob: Yeah, I hear you. Said every developer ever, Mike. This is really hard to do. I know you have domain knowledge. I know it’s not easy. I just think it’s possible and something you should consider.
This is the same thing that I think we both thought about MicroConf, that we brought Zander on. I thought that about marketing before I met people who are way better in marketing than I was. I was like, “I’m the only one that knows how to market this product. All the copies are my own.” Then I’d meet someone and I’m like, “Well, they’re better at this.”
It’s not cut and dry. I don’t really think we should go down this road right now, but it’s something I just know that it’s going to derail you for probably a month if I were to guess. Maybe longer. If you’re going full speed with marketing and sales, and you really are landing customers and growing, it would be a shame for you to have just put the brakes on that and switch over.
Mike: The fortunate thing is I think the way things are, I think you’re right. I think there’s definitely ways for me to make that work. One of which is if I hand it over to somebody, the interesting thing in Bluetick is I have a flag in the database that says, “What version of the backend storage extension are you using? If it’s version one, use this code. If it’s version two, use this code.” I could switch on an individual mailbox level. I could just use my mailboxes like a test, switch it over, and then upgrade it.
If things are working great, I could roll it out slowly to other customers as opposed to doing everything all at once. That’s what the real kicker. It’s a critical core […]. I can do it individually. It took a while to get to that point.
Rob: I think that’s the way you do it. That’s the speed bump way of doing it versus the […] way. Cool. That’s good.
Someone wrote in and made a comment. They asked if you ever took the Enneagram? I sent you, just for the record, I went, and paid $12. I said, “Merry Christmas,” and sent you an email with the link. I’m curious if you took it.
Mike: Yeah. I saw that email and I’m like, “You bastard.” I have no way out of it.
Rob: Because you gave me crap the last time. I was like, “Look. I’ll pay for it Mike. Just take and bust chops, right?” and you’re like, “Oh. No, you won’t.” I was like, “Can I pay for this in advance?” This is the best.
Mike: Yeah, I saw that. I did spent the time. I went through and took it. It was interesting. It was definitely better than the previous time I took it where everything came out even. This time, it gave me a spread of the different types. One that came to the top with a score of 22 was Type 6, the loyalist. Then the next one, both of them was the score of 20, it was Type 9, the peacemaker and Type 1, the reformer.
I read through it. I actually thought it was interesting enough that I printed it out, and I’m going back through it and highlight different things. I felt like after reading through the results and the description of the things, I felt like it was pretty dead on.
Rob: That’s cool. What is a key motivation? You’re like a 6 with 9 or 6 with, what was the third one you said?
Mike: 6 with 9 and 1.
Rob: Yeah. I’m looking through this description. If you’re on a computer, you can just Google Enneagram Type 6 with Type 9 and it will give you a combined thing, like loyalist and peacemaker. Some 6s and 9s find it difficult to say what is actually on their minds. There is a great tendency in this relationship to clam up, to be silently stubborn, defensive, and to make the other person guess what’s going on.
The thing I like about the Enneagram is there’s some positive but they definitely talk about blindspots a lot. Potential trip spots or issues. It can callout things that I think it’s that know yourself and try to figure out how to be better for it. If you think it’s pretty accurate, are there things that you’re going to do or have started doing that you think can help overcome some of these?
Mike: That’s what I was looking at. That’s why I printed it out and I was going back through it. The printout of the results for me was about 20 pages. It’s because there’s the top level one, then there’s two that are tied for second.
Rob: Yeah. That makes it complicated.
Mike: It does make it a little bit more complicated. Then things dropped off after these top three. I have to go through it a little bit more. I plan on highlighting different things that stick out to me, that they resonate really well with me. I just haven’t done that yet.
Rob: Yeah, that’s cool. Do that because I’m curious. The whole point of this was when I took it, some people on a leadership team that I’m on took it, it really dead point out that some of them, they were a couple threes. That’s the achiever, the success-oriented, pragmatic type, driven, images-conscious, their motivation is to achieve. They’re probably never going to stop wanting to achieve. Whether it’s nature or nurture or it’s something their parents said or did to them when they were kids or whether it’s just genetics, that’s what they want.
It was interesting to work with them because I kind of don’t care about that. I don’t need to make a dent in the universe. My thing was creating, building, and doing interesting things. I can’t remember. I was trying to look through, find what my number is. I don’t have the report. My memory’s mind was like a creator. It was a creative type. You’re motivated by creating things, putting them into the world, and having people using them.
Of course, there’s a bunch of negatives to that, too. You can bee too introverted. I don’t know. There’s stuff. All that to say, that was once again a confirmation, it helped me know myself a little more like, “Yeah, that’s right. I do need to be creating things.” I am most excited when I am creating new things rather than taking a company from $5–$50 million. In my opinion, not creating very much. That tends to be the place I really get bored with it, so it’s good for me to know that.
Running things for the long term, building processes, and have them on a scale, I’m going to do the same thing for 5 or 10 years. I can exist in an org like that but I need to be a person that’s creating things. That was the whole point of, “Hey, have you thought about taking it? So you can learn a little bit more about what motivates you.” Really, the motivation you talked about was flexibility. You’re like, “I want the flexibility that entrepreneurship offers.” I’m concerned that that’s just not enough motivation to keep you going when times get really tough and when sleep gets hard.
Mike: Yeah. I think what I like the most about the Enneagram was that it talked about different levels of the personality types. Within the levels, it’s essentially how healthy you are as a person within that level. They say, “If you’re unhealthy, you could turn into this other personality type at this level.” Or, “If you’re healthy, you can turn into this other personality type at a certain level.” I thought that that was the most interesting piece to me.
Like I said, when I was reading through some of these things, it was shocking to me how dead on it was. I’ll read a very little excerpt here from the personality Type 6 where it says, “Sixes do their best to be solid and responsible, but they are often troubled by an undercurrent of doubt and anxiety. In fact, sixes often seem a bit jittery and uneasy in general. They live in a state of worry then find something to worry about.” I’m like, “Yeah, I kind of do that sometimes.”
Like I said, some things just jumped out of me. It’s like that totally describes me. Then there were other ones like, “Yeah. That’s not really me.”
Rob: Yeah, cool. I’m glad you did that. I hope you’ll look through it. Maybe come back through their findings in terms of things that you think might motivate you.
That kind of wraps us up for today. I think the one question that I would like to find out is your high and your low over the past six weeks. Your high sound like the fact that it’s growth. The cold outreach is working. What’s been the lowest point for you, where you felt most discouraged, the biggest loss or whatever?
Mike: I think that implementing the client site. Some of the client-side features that I was working on before which I finished probably shortly after our call was just the trouble I was having with reorganizing the navigation to help better support some of the multi-user functions that I’m adding. That was just a real nightmare. It sucks.
Rob: Discouraging and that was what you touched on last month as you were doing it.
Mike: Yeah, there was that. I think there was one feature that I wanted to get to this other feature to implement. It ended up taking longer to finish the client-side navigation changes. I implemented this feature that allows customers to skip sending emails on public holidays. Christmas, for example. There’s a toggle in there that just says, “Don’t send these emails during the holidays,” and that happens to be one of them. It’s shocking how simple that code was to write on the back-end, but it just took way longer than I wanted it to to get into the product. It didn’t get in until after Christmas, which I really wanted to get in there beforehand, but it is what it is.
Rob: Cool, man. Thanks again for coming back. We’ll circle up with you here in the next month or two.
Mike: Sounds good.
Rob: All right, take it easy.
Mike: All right, bye.
Rob: Thanks again to Mike for coming on the show. I always appreciate our conversations. If you have a question from Mike or for me or for prior guests or just in general, for the show, about startups, Star Wars, Dungeons and Dragons, leave us a voicemail at (888) 801-9690, or email us at email@example.com.
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In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob checks in with Mike Taber on his continued progress with Bluetick. The final conclusion to the Google audit is revealed, and they check in with the .Net component problem, the podcast tour, and more.
Items mentioned in this episode:
Rob: In this week’s episode of Startups for the Rest of Us, I catch up with Mike Taber. He’ll give us an update on what he’s been up to with Bluetick for the past five weeks. Welcome to this week’s episode. I’m your host, Rob Walling.
This week on the show, we cover topics and tactics related to building and growing startups in order to better your life and improve the world in a small way. This is a show made by and for ambitious startup founders who want to build ambitious startups but want to stay sane at the same time. And our willingness, our sacrifice, our life, or our health in order to grow our company.
We want to make interesting things. We want to be constantly learning, growing, and evolving. We want to be in control of our time. I think that’s a big motivation while a lot of us start these companies so that we can work on stuff that is super interesting to us. We’re able to create and push things out into the world, do things in public, create opportunities for ourselves, and own our own destiny.
We have many show formats, interviews, hotseats, and listener questions. But every five weeks or so, Mike Taber, comes on the show. He and I co-hosted the show for the first 448 episodes. Now, he is spending a lot of time focusing on his startup, Bluetick at bluetick.io. He updates us on his journey. He’s taking a social media hiatus, podcast hiatus, and he’s really focusing on trying to grow the startup.
If you haven’t listened to episode 470 and maybe even 465, you can get a little more background on what’s been going on. This has been an ongoing conversation and you hear me refer back to things that Mike has been dealing with, fighting trough, and struggling with for quite some time. It was a good conversation this week. I think Mike’s making some progress on some friends, not as much progress on the marketing side. You’ll hear me bust this chops about that a little bit in this episode. Overall, I think you’ll enjoy it.
Our big future of MicroConf announcement went live last Friday. I imagined you heard episode 474.5 that I put into the feed that had the audio content of that announcement. It was super fun to put together. It was one of those things that’s super stressful. It is when you’re launching something. It’s one of these things that I couldn’t talk about on the MicroConf team. We’ve been talking about and thinking things through about expansion plans for years, literally, but pretty intently for 5–6 months trying to plan everything out. Even just having a video, recording a video like that, having it produced, and having a moment where everyone watch at the same time was definitely exhilarating and it was an experiment for us.
We wanted to part toes into the water, but it came out really great. As always, thank you for all your support. We really are just looking to get more people to connect with one another. I hope to connect with you, but I can’t meet everyone. The idea behind this whole community has always been connecting more of us to one another, which is exactly why we plan this expansion, and exactly why we’re diving in headfirst in 2020 and beyond.
It’s getting close to the holidays. I hope you’re taking some time to think about what the new year brings and to spend some time with your family. I’m going to continue to push the episodes out every Tuesday. For now, let’s dive into the conversation with Mike.
Mike, thanks so much for coming back on the show.
Mike: Hey, how’s it going?
Rob: It’s going pretty well. I always enjoy our conversations. I love circling back up with you and hearing what’s going on with Bluetick.
Mike: Yeah, cool as well. Where do you want to start today?
Rob: You told me offline that you had a pretty big win this month. You want to tell folks about that?
Mike: Yeah. I was working through a trial with a customer. They were looking at everything because they wanted to use Bluetick for their team. They signed up for the $500 a month plan. It’s a pretty big win. It’s one of the largest plans that I have at the moment. I see that somebody signed up for that, went through some onboarding things with them, got all of their user accounts setup, and got their mailboxes added. I know that they were working on some integrations to do direct work with the public API for Bluetick. So far, everything seems to be going well. I answered a few support emails but no major issues to speak of, so that’s nice.
Rob: Congrats. That’s super cool to hear. I know that has an impact on your overall MRR. It’s cool to hear. We really haven’t had a big win like that in a long time since we started talking about this, so I applaud that and I hope to hear more about it next time we circle up.
Mike: Definitely. One of the things that it made me realize was that in terms of the team accounts, obviously, getting a $500 a month customer versus a $50 customer, that’s a huge win. Not just a win. It’s also a large revenue boost.
In the past, I’ve been looking at smaller companies where they’ve got anywhere between one and three mailboxes or something like that. But the level of effort for those larger customers is not really that much bigger. For this particular customer, they sell software which I hadn’t have a whole lot of success trying to sell Bluetick to customers who were running a SaaS businesses. Even if they have a lifetime value of several thousand dollars. Even though those numbers tend to fit well with services company where they’re selling something that’s $5000, $10,000, or $15,000.
I think that the reason for that was more because I was looking at the types of customers who are selling. They’re lifetime value was spread out over a much greater period of time versus the ones like this one, where somebody buys our software and it’s a couple of thousand dollars right upfront. It just made me realize that there’s probably a lot of other customers that fit that type of profile where their price point for their software is, even just the starting point is probably relatively high, and it will be worth talking to these people and say, “Hey, would you like to put an automation process in place such that you’re reaching everybody who starts a trial?” I think it’s just a matter of segmenting the types of software companies and what their price point is.
Rob: If you’re listening to this and you fit that bill, reach out to us firstname.lastname@example.org or you can hit up Mike. I was going to say DM you on Twitter, but you’re not on Twitter anymore. I don’t want to call out your personal email address on the show, but we’ll absolutely get this over to Mike if you send it there.
Mike: It’s pretty easy to find.
Rob: Yeah, you’re email. You can contact Mike, singlefounder.com. I’m guessing you have a contact link.
Mike: I think it’s on the website.
Rob: I guess they can just go to bluetick.io. That’s what I’m going to ask. Cool, this is a great win. How can you get more of these? I don’t want to dig into all the details of the customer, obviously, but what industry, why did they sign up, and how do you find more of them? Sometimes these things are anomalies, obviously. If you think it is, could be a repeatable customer or type that works for you? I think that would be a big win.
Mike: Yeah. I’m definitely going to look into that a little bit more once December is over. I’ve got a bunch of other things going on that I’m working on that are just taking time and effort to do. I just don’t really have the bandwidth to expand the energy and focus to go after those other things. It’s definitely something that I want to proceed and go after starting in January.
Rob: Cool. That was our big win. Tell me that this is not our big loss or our big agony of defeat moment, Mike. The Google audit, is it done. Is it done?
Mike: Yes, it is.
Mike: Yeah, I know. No kidding. I’ve got the letter of assessment. I don’t remember whether I had that the last time we talked or not. I think I was still waiting for it, but I got it back. As soon as I got it, I turned around and send it to Google. It was about a month later, I sent it to them, and they replied to the email that I sent with the letter of assessment saying they’re still waiting for my letter of assessment. I was probably less than polite in my response because it was literally right below where they had written, “Where’s your letter of assessment?” but the next day, they emailed me and said, “Hey. Everything is good. You’re all set.”
Rob: That’s really good news. What sound effect should we trigger it? Is it people clapping? Is it glasses clinking?
Mike: I don’t know. Maybe a car crash?
Rob: Yeah. It’s been such a trainwreck. I’m happy for you. This is a second win. We’re off to a good start. It can only go downhill from here as well.
Mike: Do you want me to wrap up right now and be done with it?
Rob: Yeah, that’s right. No. I’m glad to hear it. It’s been about five weeks since we talked. Did it take much of your time during that five weeks? Was it just a small blip?
Mike: No. It was just a small blip. I didn’t have anything to do. Once I’ve got all the paperwork back, I sent it to Google, and basically just was waiting for them to come back and say, “Hey. This is all set.” I think that I have heard that if you email them again, it basically puts you back to the bottom of the queue, so you’re better off not saying anything which is just the most bizarre way to handle it, but it is what it is.
They probably work backwards from whatever’s been sitting in their queue the longest. I get that but it still sucks to have to wait and not be able to ask, “Hey. There’s this deadline coming up. Are you going to do anything with this paperwork I sent you?”
Rob: Cool. Let’s move on from that. That means you have five weeks of undistracted work. Life never gets in the way like getting sick, or thanksgiving, or kids. Being home from snow days, I’m sure, happens or whatever. I haven’t had that yet this winter but I know it’s coming.
Talk to me then. There’s been a recurring theme around this untestable sealed .NET component. I brought it up multiple times about, “Hey, are you going to get rid of it?” and you said, “Yes.” Last time we went back and forth of, “Should I be doing sales and marketing or should I be getting this done?” we actually had a comment from a listener, Ralph Corderoy, on episode 470 which was the last time we talked.
He said, “Regarding ditching the .NET package that makes testing hard, it hasn’t been made clear why the application code needs to change. A re-implementation could take the subset of the API that the application uses and provide just that; none of the application code would know or care, and then whatever’s needed to ‘peek through’ for testing would be added. This seems much simpler than altering the application code, to use a new API that would need designing in parallel, thus take less time and be easier to justify.”
Mike: Yeah. It’s not an actual. It’s not an API. It’s an actual library that’s compiled into Bluetick that’s the problem.
Rob: Got it.
Mike: I’m not sure I completely follow what he means by some of that.
Rob: I think if you have coded it to an interface or something that you have created. He’s saying that it’s an internal API. But it is interesting. The bottom line is you said, the way it’s done, it’s a tremendous amount of work because you have to read a bunch of stuff in the database. Do you really need to redo this stuff in the database, by the way? Would it be possible to not do that?
Once you switch the component, it has to be. When I say possible, sometimes you have a naming convention that you used the vendor’s name in the components name in it. If you switch it over and it’s a new component, it’s confusing why do we have that legacy name. The code would still work, right? That’s the thing I’m thinking.
Mike: Yeah. There’s a decision that I made early on to save some time, which was to take the component that they have and dump it to a JSON file, read it back, then put it back into the object. That’s part of the problem. It’s not even just an interface. It’s the entire component. It’s being sort basically as a binary blob. It’s not nearly as easy as it could be to rip that out.
I have written a bit of an interface around it to abstract it a little bit more, to make it easier to use a different component. I’m still going to have to convert all of those things in order to completely rip it out. I need to go through every single one of those blobs and convert it into whatever the new storage format happens to be. It’s not just a simple rip and replace.
Rob: Totally. I have two questions on that one. It’s Ralph’s final question on his comment from that episode. He said, “What’s the minimum that can be done to provide regression test to allow development to continue […]?” Is there a scope of less than what you described or is it all or nothing?
Mike: It’s probably all or nothing because of the naming convention rely on that component. Since I don’t have access to the source code for it, I can’t just copy things out. I can probably decompiled it and use them as it is, but it’ll still be really, really hard. It’s just not easy. A lot of that stuff is integrated into my unit test, so I have to rebuild a bunch of that unit test as well.
Rob: Right. I’m not sure that I want to rehash this decision, but the more we talk about it, the more I’m thinking, “Do you really need to remove this?” You said that it was that you couldn’t test it because it was sealed and you can’t write unit tests around it or something. I’m just thinking, is that big of a deal? Maybe you just live with it. Last time we talked, you said it would be a week. At a best case, it would be a week of data, of rewriting, and the blobs of data manipulation.
Mike: No. It’ll be a week of just a data migration. Once work is done, just to migrate the data is going to be a week.
Rob: Right. It’s like two weeks or three weeks of full time work to get this done. When I hear that, I think, “Ouch. How important is this?”
Mike: There’s other things I want to do including have a separate database for each customer for their mailboxes to be able to do more, to allow people to mind their mailbox for other information that they can’t get any other way. There’s literally no way to do certain types of queries in a mailbox. Even if you go into Gmail and start typing certain things, there’s literally zero way to get certain queries to work.
I would like to be able to surface some of those things for Bluetick but some of those features are so far off that it’s not worth it for me to go all the way down that road right now. I’m kicking at it a little bit to get certain pieces of it out, but I don’t want to go down the rabbit hole of implementing software the next three or four months in order to get everything working in the way I want it to work and an effort to implement features that are probably a year off anyway.
I’m trying to rip out this particular component so I don’t have to deal with it in the future. Then I can test things that I need to. Right now, I have a hard time testing email headers in certain ways, and going back to previous emails. It’s just harder for me to do that right now because I don’t have some of the infrastructure in place right now. I can’t put the infrastructure in place until I rip this thing out.
Rob: Got it. It’s a tough one. It’s tough to have a code that you have to redo that doesn’t provide value.
Mike: Without walking you through the specifics of it, it’s really hard to describe.
Rob: Yeah. You have decided to rip it out. The last time I was pushing you to, “If I were you, you could ignore this.” Obviously, you need to do sales and marketing because you need more customers to make all of it worthwhile, frankly. Having that legacy hanging over you head, the tech debt, it’s going to slow development. It makes you not want to build certain features that you may want to build, and I was now more on the side of, I would eat it during this holiday season. I would eat it. Personally, I would eat the time. But I’m 55/45 on that or 60/40. I’m not 95/5. I think an argument can be made both ways. Where do you land right now? Have you started working on that? Or are you going to replace it soon? Or are you just going to punt it?
Mike: I started working on it a while ago, but it’s just kicking out here and there, trying to abstract things a little bit more to get further along without breaking anything that’s already in place. There is a second interface in there to replace it but I’ve got to write some of the code that’s going to pull all the objects.
Right now, what I’m doing is I’m in a holding pattern probably for another week or so. Right now, I’m also still working on some of the additional multi-user functionality for that larger customer that I had, which I prioritize above pretty much everything else, to be perfectly honest, for obvious reasons.
Rob: Yeah. If it’s revenue, that should rise to the top. That’s the thing with .NET. My concern, Mike, is I think you have a history of letting things hang around for too long. Letting them linger, not just diving in doing the work, and getting it done so that it can be behind you. I felt like the Google audit was one thing. I know you could’ve done that fast. We’ve been talking about Google audit for how long? Seven months? Eight months? This .NET component, too. It’s like six, seven, or eight months.
To me, if it’s that, if we have been talking about it, if it’s been that important that we have, then it’s time to resolve that thing. To get it off. To get it off the to-do list. It feels like a shadow or a cloud that’s hanging over your head. I just don’t want to still be talking about that. I don’t want you to still be talking about that in this spring or next summer.
Mike: I totally agree. This piece of it has to be resolved. For the Google Audit, I was holding off because I didn’t feel like I had enough information to be able to make a good decision either way. I know that you’re always working in a realm of uncertainty where you don’t necessarily have all the information. Waiting to get more information isn’t always going to give you the information you need to make a better decision.
I also recognize that Google was throwing this out there to everybody and saying, “Hey, you have to do this.” Everybody was kicking and complaining about it. Nobody really knew what to do or what it involved.
I had a few conversations with other people. Before I went through the process and before I made the decision to go forward with it, I got at least some clarity. But none of that clarity I got was from Google, which sucks. There’s not a whole lot that I can do about it. And even since then, I had conversations with other entrepreneurs who’ve gotten in touch with me, and say, “Hey. I know you went through this. Can you help us out? What it is that you had to do?” I’ve been able to help them, which is nice to be able to do. At the same time, I feel like Google could’ve been a lot more forthcoming with a lot of the information. They just weren’t.
Rob: Oh, we know, Mike. We’ve been through it with you. You know what? I’m happy. I think a win for all of us is that I’m not going to ask about Google audit next time. That’s checked. It’s done. I want to get there with the .NET component. I know we can’t just wave a magic wand and make it go away. It’s something that I want to see we move past when you can. Obviously, I would prioritize the customer features, too. Anything’s that driving revenue would be number one.
Mike: Totally agree.
Rob: Someone circled back, they wrote in an asked if you ever took the Enneagram.
Mike: No, I didn’t. I took the wrong one.
Rob: You took a wrong one, yeah. It was a personally test that tells you what motivates you. I was saying for me, it was creating things. I have worked with folks who are about achievement and they were more of the Jeff Bezos role, where they didn’t really need to build or make things. They just wanted power. I’m not just, but they wanted power and achievement and that’s what made them happy.
Obviously, it’s not a cure-all or whatever, but it’s an interesting thing to learn about. The test is in our show notes, the link for the last episode, but I think a couple of people called in and said, “Yeah. I really like to know what motivates Mike and all that.”
Mike: So, you’re telling me I got to go in the show notes and look for that?
Rob: You got it. I can send you the link. I’ll send you the link and I’ll reimburse you for the $10 or whatever it takes, guys.
Mike: No, you won’t.
Rob: I’m teasing, I know. Send me you’re Venmo, Mike. There were some marketing stuff you were talking about. There was a podcast tour. You had someone sending emails to try to get you on some podcast. As I said, I didn’t think it would be a long term impact but certainly getting out there, it’s easy for you to jump in a podcast, and wondering if you’ve had any traction with that approach.
Mike: Yeah, I have. I’ve been in a couple of podcasts over the last month or so. Still working on other ones. I was on Sales Tools, and also on Jane Portman’s UI Breakfast. That one’s not going to be out until next month, I believed. I’ve been on those two so far. There’s a bunch of others that I started reaching out to, and we’ll see how that works out.
Rob: Okay. Two sounds okay. How many emails have been sent? That doesn’t sound like a ton of traction.
Mike: No, maybe five or ten tops.
Rob: How did that happened? You hired a contractor to do it, right? Two months ago.
Mike: Yeah. Most of the stuff’s set up. I’m just holding off on hitting the button. Actually, my mastermind group tomorrow, we’re meeting up. One of the things that we have is, “Hey. That button’s going to be click tomorrow to just blasting these things out.”
Rob: Stop holding off on hitting the button. Why are you holding off on hitting the button? We talked about it last time. I was like, “Cool. You’re getting ready?” You were like, “Yeah. I’m going to do it.” Five weeks later, why hold off on that?
Mike: I don’t know. Honestly, I almost feel like it was one of the reasons I built Bluetick to begin with. People don’t want to hit that button. It’s just need to be hit, to be perfectly honest. Honestly, my mastermind group member, he’s just like, “Yeah. We’ll just share control, just go in and click the button for you.”
Rob: Yeah. Consider your chops busted here on the show that you did not hit that button in the past five weeks. I really thought that that was an easy thing. It mostly set up. That’s something that you’ve got to be doing with these other stuff. It’s easy for you to do. I just feel like it’s one more step, it’s one more action to get you going.
The other thing, please tell me you hit the button on this one, Mike. Cold email. You said you had 900 addresses from some LinkedIn connections. You have prior Bluetick cancellations. You have some sales leads that never converted. You just had a whole list. It wasn’t even cold, it was warm, and you’re going to bucket them in and start getting back in touch with them.
Last we chatted, that was going to start. You hadn’t done it because MicroConf Europe. I said, “Cool. You’re going to get that going.” You generally agreed that, “Yup. This is the next thing to try to get more prospects.” Tell us where you are with it.
Mike: Yeah. That’s a total fail.
Rob: Oh no. You’re killing me.
Mike: I know, For whatever reason, I feel like I don’t want to start stuff in December when it comes to that stuff. I don’t know why.
Rob: It’s December 12. I think we last spoke, November 5th, maybe. Give or take. The three weeks before Thanksgiving, I think, are still good. I think starting stuff now it’s December—
Rob: Yeah, I do. November was always typically a decent work month. It was never the best, but we always had decent growth. Whereas in December, things tended to level off with my apps. Now that we’re mid-December, there’s no reason to start doing it now. I don’t think you want to book a call the week of December 15th. This is what we originally talked about. I was like, “I don’t want you to start this Mid-January,” which is now where you’re going to wind up.
Rob: It’s a bummer. It sounds like you don’t feel good about it.
Mike: No, I don’t. I don’t really have anything to offer up for either than it just didn’t get done. I should have. I can point out all sorts of things as to why I did or didn’t, but at the end of the day, it just didn’t get done. That’s where things are at.
Rob: Do you think it’ll get done before we talk next time? We’ll talk mid-January.
Mike: It’ll definitely get kicked off. Yeah, it’ll definitely get kicked off by then.
Rob: “It’ll definitely get kicked off by then.” I love that. I am so quoting that back to you. I’m actually going to go ahead and make a note of it, that sentence, here are the notes.
Rob: Last episode, you had launched the Zapier integration, I believe. You want to update us on that? Is that yielding anything? Didn’t you need a certain amount of beta users in other for it to be public or something like that?
Mike: Yeah. Right now it’s in early access, but I need to get to 50 users in order to do any cold marketing campaign with Zapier. Until I get to 50 customers, I’m probably not going to get to 50 users for it, it would just be difficult to do that. There’s probably ways I can hack it to some extent but I got to get to the 50 customers first.
Rob: I wouldn’t do that. I would just try to do it organically. Okay, so we’ll table that one. That one will be tabled for a while, actually. Something we ran at that time that we talked about last time was personal stuff like motivation, sleep, exercise. How was your motivation then over the past five weeks?
Mike: It’s been generally good, but I’ll be honest. I wish I didn’t have to struggle so much when it came to front-end code for Bluetick. Part of it is just lack of familiarity with some of the CSS that’s in there because I’m using libraries and templates that I got from WrapBootstrap. Some of it is just harder for me to do simple things than I would like.
I’ve started throwing things directly into the CSS, the style that I’m supposed to use in classes and stuff like that. I’m like, “You know what? I just don’t care. This just needs to get done. It just needs to work.”
Rob: That’s a bummer. Do you have any budget to hire a front-end dev so you don’t have to be mired in it?
Mike: I was actually thinking exactly that. Earlier today I spent two hours fighting and trying to get an image to display in the right place. What I’m thinking of doing is when I run into certain things like this, just go to my bug tracker and add them in there, so that it says, “Hey, this needs to show up in this particular place. I can’t get it to work,” then hire somebody to go through and get a lot of those things done for me so I don’t have to do it. I don’t have to spend my time and effort trying to figure out how to get it done.
Rob: Yeah. Any sticking point. We know you’re bootstrapping. We know that there’s not a ton. You don’t have so much revenue that you can hire anyone full-time or anything like that. If this is a point of friction, think about the questions I just asked, “What’s your motivation like?” You’re like, “It’s been good except for front-end code.”
Front-end code is not just a technical challenge. It sounds like it’s something you are not enjoying. It sounds like it’s something affecting motivation. It could really solve a lot if you were able to pull it off and bring someone in part time. Even if it is 20-40 hours a month. It could feasibly reduce the burden on your mental state as well as allow you to move faster.
Mike: Definitely. I have no doubt that somebody can get it done probably five or ten times faster than I am. Just to say, “This is exactly how to do it.” That would be perfect.
Rob: You’re thinking about that. It sounds like a good idea. Is it something you’re going to do? We can bat ideas around, but if it’s not a good idea then don’t. If it is a good idea, should that become a priority? For me, it sounds like it might be. Then, you have to take the step. You have to go on Upwork or work your network, you have to find that person, vet him and all that stuff.
Mike: I think that’s the challenge I have. How much time is that going to take versus trying to do it myself. I don’t know. I feel like I’ll be better served having somebody else to do it knowing that it’s going to take some upfront time and effort. It’s just going to push off some of the time frame of the implementation for certain things. I get images completely in the wrong place. I really don’t want to push a live, but at the same time, maybe it’s not the end of the world.
Rob: Sure. Again, if I were in your shoes, which is how I like to think about and couch when I do offer advice, the concept in my head of what you’re working on, how hard things are, and which you do and don’t like, I would look to hire someone. I know you’re focused now on getting features done so that the customer you just landed sticks around. That would be my number one priority. I would not let hiring derail that.
You’re not going to be doing any marketing over the next three weeks, four weeks, because hold email is not going to work with the holidays. There’s all these stuff. You have this time to crank through some things. To me, the big customer support is number one. Hiring, probably number two. And that unsealed .NET component in my head would be number three.
The hiring, an interesting thing you can do, whether you go to Upwork or Authentic Jobs or WeWork remotely, I have to think of which of those allow part time. Writing up a job description for front-end dev doesn’t take that long. Maybe it takes you an hour to do it. You can use an old job description or whatever, old posting you’ve used. Post that.
If you post on a higher-end job board, you tend to get higher quality but a lot fewer candidates. It shouldn’t take you a ton of time to vet. Again, that would be my second or third priority. Probably second priority that I was doing after supporting that big customer. I will say that and leave it at that.
I’m not trying to badger you to hire someone or anything like that. Or forcing you to make a decision. But, I don’t want your motivation. I know what it’s like to have crap on your to-do list that you don’t want to do and don’t like to do. I still have that. We have it on our whole entrepreneur career. It’s trying to minimize that. It’s trying to get less and less of that as you move forward.
I literally do look at my Trello board once a week and say, “What of these things I am procrastinating on because I don’t want to do them? Can I just archive these things?” We have a VA executive assistant. “Can I hand it to anybody on the team such that I enjoy my life more?” I think that’s important.
Mike: Yeah. For me, mentally managing the trade-off in runway versus how much am I going to be paying for this, is difficult as well. I only got so much runway to work with. At the same time, I’ve got to grow the business and anything that I spent is going to take away from that. It’s like, “All right. How do I manage this?” If the complete business was cash flow positive then it wouldn’t matter so much, but including my time is definitely not. That’s where I struggle a little bit, like how much should I budget with this stuff? And how much money should I be spending on certain things?
Rob: Sure. That’s without seeing your finances. Obviously, we can even begin to conjecture that. So, let’s leave that one at that. I’m curious to hear where you wind up with it on the next episode.
How about sleep? Overall, your sleep had gotten much better over the last several episodes. Going back nine months, it was terrible, and it has gotten better. How has it been over the last month or so?
Mike: It’s been touch and go. I’ve been sick for at least the past week or so. My kids were sick the week before that. Then, it was Thanksgiving and lots of other stuff in between. It comes and goes. Sometimes it’s great and sometimes it’s just not so much. I would definitely say it’s generally better than it was six months or nine months ago, but I think I could always be better.
Rob: Yeah. As we know, sleep impacts everything. That impacts your ability to focus. It impacts your motivation during the day. It impacts a lot of stuff. That’s something I know you’re keeping an eye on it, but it’s super, super, important.
Mike: Yeah. My doctors have me up to five medications again, I think.
Rob: Are you? Oh no. That’s not good.
Mike: Yeah. The past couple of weeks have not been helpful. I get off with a bunch of stuff. I go back and the doctor’s like, “You need to be on this and this.” I was like, “All right. Fine.” I’ll come off with the two of them in about a week. We’ll see how things will go.
Rob: Yeah. I’m just going to let that one go. I’m not going to dive into that. Exercise? How about that? You’re exercising twice a day at some point.
Mike: No, no, no. Not that much. It was three or four times a week.
Rob: Okay. I think one day we recorded, you said, “I’ve exercised twice today.” I think that was the statement. You didn’t say you were doing it twice a day.
Mike: There might have been that.
Rob: How has it been though?
Mike: The past two weeks have been off. I think that’s mainly because of Thanksgiving lumped in there but I’ve got to get back to the gym probably this coming week because I’ve been sick for the past week or so. I think I got there once or twice last week. I think it’s just once at the very beginning of the week. Then, I haven’t gone at all this week. I gotta get back there again next week.
I have the motivation to do it. It’s just lately, I haven’t had the energy because I felt terrible. Even right now, my sinuses are all congested. I’m a little loosey from the meds that I’m on. They affect your blood pressure, so the doctor warned me. She’s just like, “Yeah. Be careful walking up and down the stairs.” My god, this will be fun.
Rob: And you realized the reason I asked you about this stuff. I asked you about motivation because: (a) you’re interested and I want to hear what’s going on, but (b) I think it’s a good touch point for you to think about every week or four weeks or five weeks when we discuss to really think, “How is my motivation?”
Exercise’s probably more of an accountability thing that you think yourself the “next time Rob and I chat on the podcast.” I hope you feel a little bit of friendly pressure to keep doing it. I think it’s super helpful for all of us to have some type of exercise in our routine.
Mike: Generally, I’m still keeping track of everything that I eat. That’s been going really well. I’m down at least 10 or 12 pounds or so over the past three months. That’s been going well. I’m at least losing weight like I have planned on doing. Maybe not nearly as much because I haven’t gotten to the gym nearly as much.
Rob: Right. Lastly, we’ll wrap us up with differentiation. “I need to talk to some of my customers more.” We had talked about, should you change your positioning? You brought up like, get things you need from other people like a W9, for example. You’re going to have more conversations with customers to figure out if you need to add features to be unique, and then write the code to implement that.
Last time you were still noodling on stuff. Before that, you’re still noodling on stuff like, “I’m not sure yet how to make this unique. I’m not sure what my angle is.” I had said for not doing that, you need to have a unique traffic channel, would be the best marketer just to get people on top of the funnel or you need to have that unique selling proposition that differentiates you, the positioning that means, “Oh, at least a subset of people really need what I have and pretty much no one else has that.” I’m curious where you are with that.
Mike: This leads into something you and I have briefly talked about before the episode. We’re probably leave this off a bit. I was talking to somebody about possibly doing an integration that will provide a fair amount of that file collection capability. We only have one conversation so far, but their product is completely API-based. It would probably not be too difficult to get it to work with Bluetick. I still have to go and talk to a couple of customers to specifically know have that particular pain point of being able to collect files from people on an ongoing basis.
I just had that conversation with him earlier this week. Now that I’ve had that conversation—it’s actually been yesterday that when we talk—I have to go through, go back to those customers, and say, “We’re just thinking through this. Is this something that would be of interest to you? Will it make your life easier inside of Bluetick? If so, do you also know anybody else who has a similar type of problem, where right now they’ve got things hacked together in Bluetick, but with an integration like this, it might be possible to make it a much smoother experience? If so, I want to know if there are other people who would benefit from it and what those people like like? How to get in touch with them?” Once I know that stuff, then I can decide whether or not to actually build it and do that integration.
Rob: Interesting. It sounds like a one-off thing. It’s not like you’re actively reaching out to customers and having conversations. Or is this an outreach thing from you? Or was it an outreach from them?
Mike: For the integration?
Rob: Yeah. For this. I think you said that there’s a customer who probably needs that or a potential customer.
Mike: Yes. They’re making it work right now. They’re just basically asking people in an email. My idea was to basically bake the functionality directly into Bluetick, so when they send the email, they can say, “Go to this page and upload the five things that we need from you.” This other tool can do those things. If I can integrate with that other tool, then I can provide that to my customers like a white label thing, but it would get me further without having to write all that code.
I would have to write integration code, but I wouldn’t necessarily have to write this whole other tool to collect all the files and everything else that goes with it. I’m still noodling on that but I want to talk to the customers, and say, “Does Bluetick serve your needs right now? Or will something like this be better?” Does that make sense?
Rob: It does. This is it. When you have these small numbers in their early days, it’s trying to take one instance, extrapolate, and ask, “Are there any people like this?”
Mike: Extrapolate it from a single data point is not helpful.
Rob: Yeah, but it’s what you have to do right now.
Mike: I’ve got one kid. Thirty would be great.
Rob: Yeah, exactly. That’s all I have today. I think we covered pretty much everything. We have some wins. We have some not so wins. Overall, how do you feel about the past five weeks? Does it feel okay? Feel good? Great?
Mike: Okay. There’s been some high points with the Google audit getting done and adding a large customer, those were fantastic. Low points with things like having a deal with a front-end CSS code and a few other things that just haven’t been done, some of the marketing stuff I wanted to get done.
There was one customer. I wouldn’t want to call him customer because he signed up. It was the day before Thanksgiving or something like that. He signed up for an onboarding call. I was like, “Yes!” Then I looked at the time of it. It was 4:30 on a Wednesday afternoon. It’s literally the day before thanksgiving. I was like, “All right, fine.” Then they ghosted me, didn’t showed up, didn’t respond to any of my emails. I reached out to him several other times. Then, the billing went through. 12 minutes later, they asked for a refund. I’m so upset.
Rob: Yeah. That’s a bummer. That’s the hard thing about being solo. You run into stuff like that and you don’t have anybody else to handle it. I’m sorry to hear that.
Mike: That’s an obvious low point. That’s like a kick right into the teeth. I really tried to help out and tried to do something. Of course, the cancellation email was like, “I DIDN’T WANT THE SUBSCRIPTION.” It was all in caps. I was like, “Come on. All right, fine. Just refund. Bye.” That’s it, walk away. Get something else done.
Rob: You’ve got to move on, wipe your hands off, and be done. That will certainly happen.
Mike: I have to make a conscious effort of dust my hands off and just walk away. I’ll be like, “All right, whatever. I can’t make everybody happy.”
Rob: You can’t get hung up on it. You can let it ruin your day but you shouldn’t. These are the ones where you really have to shake it off. It happens every so often. Sometimes more often than not, everything on your customer base. You’ve got to move past it. Sounds like you’ve got a good head about it.
Anyway, let’s wrap up. We will catch up with you again after the New Year and hope things go well over the holidays.
Mike: All right. Talk to you soon.
Rob: Take it easy.
We’ll talk to Mike again in four or five episodes. Hope you enjoyed the conversation. I will talk to you next Tuesday.
If you have a question, we have a Q&A episode coming up with Brian Castle. If you have a question specifically for him, he knows productized services. He’s launched a couple of SaaS apps. He was essentially a non developer that taught himself how to code in order to have more control over his ability to launch SaaS apps, or any other questions. I’m just going to pull out ones that I think he knows about. You can email them too at email@example.com or you can always leave us a voicemail at 888-801-9690. We have a theme song and it’s actually an excerpt from a song called We’re Outta Control by MoOt. We use it under Creative Commons.
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In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob checks in with Mike Taber on his progress with Bluetick. They talk about the finale of the Google audit, a new integration. and trying to find differentiation in the market.
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Rob: In this week’s episode of Startups for the Rest of Us, I catch up with Mike Taber and get an update on his progress with Bluetick. This is Startups for the Rest of Us Episode 470.
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 start up or you’re thinking about your first. I’m Rob and today with Mike Taber, we’re going to share our experiences to help you avoid the mistakes we’ve made.
Welcome to the show. I’m your host, Rob Walling. Each week on the show, I cover topics related to building, growing startups in order to build yourself a better life and improve the world in some small way. We strive to be ambitious, but we’re not willing to sacrifice our life or health to grow our companies. We have many different show formats. We have some tactics and teaching. We have interviews, listener questions. Sometimes, we do founder hot seats and breaking news episodes. All kinds of things that just mix it up and the feedback I’ve gotten since the mix up 20, 25 episodes ago is that the people really like that and they almost like the unpredictability of it. I’ve been overwhelmingly told to keep going and keep doing what we’re doing.
Each month or so, about every four to six weeks, I catch up with Mike Taber. He’s still a regular guest on the show, but he only comes on every month or two to update us on what he’s been doing with his product, Bluetick, that he’s been struggling to get to the point of supporting him full-time. If you haven’t already heard episodes 448 and 458, I’d encourage you to go listen to those episodes because they do give you a background on really what we’re talking about, how I’m trying to help push Mike forward, and challenge some of his assumptions. Also, to get updates, just to hear what’s going on because I like to know what’s up with Mike and I’ve heard overwhelmingly that people want to as well. They want to know what’s going on with him.
Today’s episode is a fun one. I do push back on a few things that Mike has said and call him on why he hasn’t made more progress. Overall, it’s a positive episode and it’s fun to hear Mike rant about the Google audit and I think our editor even has to bleep him once or twice, which is unusual for Mike.
Before we dive in, I want to let you know that tiny TinySeed applications for batch two are now open. You can go to tinyseed.com, click the apply button. If you’re a bootstrap, SaaS app, or subscription software and you’re looking for mentorship and community in a small batch of motivated founders as well as $120,000 investment or more frankly, if you have a couple of founders, you should head over to TinySeed and see what we’re up to. We’re super bootstrapper-friendly and the idea is to raise the tide and to raise all the boats in this segment that is really an underserved group.
The venture capitalist has an agenda and it’s to go bigger or go home, it’s to be a unicorn or bust, and that’s not what we’re doing. Our thesis is that we can get a lot of folks who are wanting to build this $1–$20 million ARR, these life-changing SaaS apps, ambitious but not 90-hour weeks. We’re about halfway through our first batch of ten. This application process runs for the next couple of weeks and we’ll be doing another batch early next year. We’re getting that together. Good things have been happening there. tinyseed.com, if you’re interested. With that, let’s talk to Mike.
Mike, thanks for coming back on the show.
Mike: Hey, how is it going?
Rob: It’s pretty good, man. I was just counting the days. I think it’s been about five weeks, about right around 34–35 days since we last spoke. I know during that time you were out of town for five days with MicroConf Europe, but I’ve been getting feedback both at MicroConf Europe and then at a little founder retreat I went to earlier this week that folks do like following the story of what you’ve been up to, so I’m curious.
As usual, I have my list of stuff from last time that some stuff was up in the air and the threads that we’re following, so I look forward to hearing about it. I think the thread of the hour and the one that you’re basically spending 15 hours a week last time we spoke is this Google audit. You were a month into it and you thought it would be six more weeks’ worth of stuff. We’re essentially five weeks into that period so I’m fascinated to hear what that’s looked like over the past five weeks, where it’s at, are you wrapping up, that kind of stuff.
Mike: I guess for context of dates and timeline here, three weeks ago was MicroConf Europe. There was a Wednesday that I was basically either on a plane or over in Dubrovnik for MicroConf Europe. That spans a couple of weeks where, I don’t know about you, but a day or two before you travel, you really don’t get a whole lot done and then the day or two after is kind of the same thing so that basically makes it almost two full weeks right there.
My audit started last Monday and it was supposed to go from Monday to Monday, I believe. That process is finished. I’ve got a draft of the report and I’m going to go over it with them next week. I’ve got the letter of attestation or whatever it is, more like a letter of assessment. That’s already in my hands and I’ve sent that off to Google. Now, it’s a waiting game to see if Google just looks at it and says, “Yup, this is good. You’re all set for the next 12 months.” That’s the good news. The bad news is I’m super pissed about the whole thing.
Rob: Well, you have been the whole time. Are you more pissed now than you were the last two episodes? Has something more happened?
Mike: I’m way more pissed about it because basically they came back and said, “Yeah, everything looks fine. It’s pretty much it.” There was one thing they complained about and they’re like, “Yeah, you’re cryptography keys, the keys that you’re using to encrypt information, shouldn’t be on the same machine as all source code,” or not even a source code, but the actual application because before, I was compiling it directly into the application knowing that nobody else has access to that machine. You can’t get to it unless you break the machine open and hack into it, and then you’ve got access to the source code and everything else.
At that point, encrypting things really doesn’t do a whole heck of a lot and yeah, the data is on a different machine, but I’m well aware of all the security implications there. In the grand scheme of things, that’s a very, very small thing. They’re like, “Yeah, that’s an absolute no, no. You can’t do that.” I was like, “All right. Fine.” I spend a couple of days using Azure’s Key Vault, I think it’s called. Basically, now I’m storing the keys someplace else, but the client’s secret and stuff are still on that machine, so it’s like, “Okay, now I have to go to this other machine, pull back that information, and then encrypt it.” I have to do that every single time that I have to encrypt or decrypt information. I’m like, “This is just stupid.” It’s just like, “All right, whatever. I’ll do it,” because I have to. I have no other choice.
Rob: Yeah, that’s the thing. You can get hung up on it and be pissed about it, but then you got to move past it especially if Google approves this certificate of attestation, I think is what you said. I mean assuming that that goes through, you have 12 months and it’s time to get on your horse and get things moving.
I’m curious. Over the past five weeks, how much of your time was that was it? You expected it to maybe ramp up to like 20 hours a week, like half your time, and I’m curious if that amounted to that or what it looked like.
Mike: It wasn’t that much. I had to give them a whole ton of documentation. It wasn’t quite a dozen different documents of policies and procedures and stuff like that, but some of it was just I’ll say personally frustrating because they’re like, “Document what your secure coding procedures look like and how you educate other people who come onboard.” I’m like, “Well, there really isn’t anybody else that I have to educate about it because it’s just me.”
I distinctly remember looking at one of the questions and it was something along the lines of, “Please describe how you do pair programming for code reviews.” I wanted to laugh at it and I had to hold myself back from saying, “I wait 12 hours, sober up, and then look at the codes sober to figure out what it was that I was doing.” It’s just so frustrating to have to go through that stuff and answer completely stupid questions and provide documentation for things that I’m not going to look at and nobody else will.
Rob: I wish you would have put that drunk answer on there and just to see what they said.
Mike: Well, it ended up in the report, too. Not that, but some of the other things that I wrote, they asked me a couple of clarifying questions and literally word-for-word, the stuff that I put in there, it was word-for-word what I said was in the executive report.
Rob: Yeah, that makes sense. I was joking, by the way, about the drunk comment. I’m glad you didn’t do that because that wouldn’t have gotten well. This feels like a win to me. I’m going to flip it on its head because I can tell you’re pissed and you have been for three months or more because the whole thing threatened your business itself.
When you got initial quotes or estimates, they were really high. Then you got lower quotes, then you negotiated, and then you got something that was reasonable enough for you to pay. Now, it sounds like your done and while it has killed some time, it didn’t kill as much time as you were projecting over the next six weeks. Right now, are you done? Do you have to make any more code changes to satisfy their recommendations?
Mike: As far as I know, no. I have the letter. I have to hand it off to Google. I believe, at that point, Google just takes it and says, “Okay. Yes, you’re approved.” And they toggle some switches on their side and they stop bugging me about all this stuff. My belief is that I’m done, but what pisses me off is how little they found and how big a deal Google made it out to be. They’re like, “We’re going to kill your business if you don’t do these things or you don’t go through this process and pay this large sum of money to this third party company to do a security audit.”
There’s no recourse there whatsoever. So, I go through the process and then when I get through it, I come back and I look at their end result of it and they’re like, “Oh yeah, you have to change this one minor thing here that’ll take you like a day or two.” Then, all the other documentation that I put together, which is a total waste of time because nobody else is ever going to look at any of it, it’s totally useless. It was a huge time sink for absolutely nothing. It didn’t benefit my customers. It doesn’t make the product any better. It doesn’t get more people using it. It literally does nothing other than allow me to stay in business. That’s the piece that’s so frustrating. That’s the part that really pisses me off and makes me angry at Google, for putting me through this when at the end of the day, you look at the report and they’re like, “Oh yeah, these one or two things.” It was almost completely unnecessary.
Rob: If you’re at home playing the Startups For the Rest of Us drinking game, you can know take your shot for Mike saying it was unnecessary and he’s angry at Google. Mike, I know. I totally get it. I think I want to say it again. I consider this a win because you’ve passed this. Six months ago, maybe more, you started talking about this and it was a big, big deal and you’re done. You made it through and it didn’t wreck the business. To me, it’s like the Bill Wolf quote, “Control what you can control and let the score take care of itself.” That’s where you are. You can be pissed. I get pissed all the time at stuff. You know me pretty well. I get mad pretty easily, but I try to let stuff go quickly and move on. You know what I mean?
I mean this could’ve been a complete and utter roadblock that decimated your business whether because you failed the audit, whether it’s because you couldn’t afford the audit, whether it’s because you refused to do the audit on principle. Any one of those would’ve wrecked the business and you turned it into a speed bump. You said, “What are my options here? I can pay for this thing. I can negotiate this thing. With my teeth clenched, I can just force my way through,” and that’s what you did. I think I know it’s a pain in the ass. I totally get it and I’m really surprised that we have not had to use the beep noise over any of your words so far this episode, but cheers to you, man. I am happy. I look ahead at Bluetick and now, it’s all about execution. It’s differentiation. It’s writing some code. It’s marketing. It’s getting more people in. That’s how I feel about it. I have the outside perspective. You’ve been mired in this for months. Does that resonate with you? Do you feel that way or do you feel like I’m being too optimistic silver lining?
Mike: You’re absolutely right. Everything that you just said is 100% correct, but Google still pisses me off right now. I’m not the type of person who gets upset easily. I’m not the person who you can just poke with a stick and suddenly, I just rear my claws and just go after you. I just don’t do that, but this has been dragging on for so long and I really feel like I’ve been put through the ringer for this for no good reason. I just can’t point anything justifiable. The problem is I know I have to go through it again next year.
Next year, it will be better because I’ve got all the documentation in place and yeah, the product will change, certain things are going to have to be updated here and there and that’s fine, but the fact that they went through this whole thing and they made it such a big deal, and they get to the end of it and there’s this report that shows, “Oh, we found three things.” One of which is not even on my servers. I’m like, “Okay, this is total […]. Complete and utter […]. You’re complaining about an SSL certificate that I put on a server that’s not even my server. Come on. That’d ridiculous.” I even told them that. I’m like, “I have no control over this.”
Rob: Yeah. I hear you about having to do it again in 12 months. My hope is that the fact that you already have an existing relationship with an auditor and that you have the same docs or depending on where you are in 12 months, maybe you’ll have hired a developer or a senior developer that could do parts of this for you so you don’t have to mire through it.
I realized that’s a tall order. You’d have to make a lot of progress between now and then, but I think in the back of my mind, in your shoes, you’ve seen how frustrating this is and how much it emotionally derails you. With me, with Drip, it was blacklists, there were support requests, it was cues being slow. There were these things that I had to find people to do because they slowly tore away at me and they made me hate my job.
As entrepreneurs, we can’t hate our job because we control them. If we’re not enjoying it, it’s to a certain extent, our fault. Now, in this case, it’s not. It’s not your fault that Google made you do that but you did then have the chance to say, “Well, I’m just going to shut the business down,” or, “I’m going to pivot away from Google,” or whatever, but you gritted it and made it through, which is in my opinion, what you should have done. But looking ahead 12 months, I’d be thinking how can I not let this be six weeks, eight weeks of me being mad next time? What types of things can I put in place to help with that?
Mike: The fact of the matter is, I think that in a year when this comes up again, it will be a lot less stressful because I will have had full visibility of all the things that are going on, and all the things that they’re looking out, and I will have already had one report to look at that says, “These are all the things that we looked at and be able to at least keep them in mind moving forward.” Up until I got a final report, even during the week of the audit, it was just super stressful because I wasn’t getting anything back from them and I was expecting a daily report or something along those lines that says, “Hey, we looked at this and this is a problem. You need to fix it. Here’s a high priority. Here’s a critical thing that you have to do.” Because that all those critical and high items had to be taken care of before they could issue this letter of assessment and I was getting nothing.
I asked them. I was like, “What’s going on here? I’m expecting something here and I haven’t heard anything.” They’re like, “Oh, we haven’t found anything so far.” But of course, there’s a lag time between the time that I sent them an email and then they get back to me. I think some of their penetration testing staff are in completely different time zones like halfway around the world, so it just makes that back-and-forth a lot harder to do because, (1) they don’t report directly to me, and (2) they’re in a completely different time zones. It just makes it a lot harder and a lot more stressful, but I don’t think that it’ll be nearly as bad next time.
Rob: Yeah, I would agree. Looking ahead, let’s talk about some other things that you had in the works, some of which were on hold or I think one of which was on hold due to a code freeze and then there were some other stuff that step through. Just to keep going on the thread.
You have an untestable sealed .NET component. Startups For the Rest of Us drinking game just gets so good when we go over this topic again. I want to go back and I think it had to have been six or eight months ago when you first mentioned of this thing. You said, “I’m going to replace this thing,” and you put it on hold due to the Google audit. Have you replaced it yet? Is this top priority? Where do we stand with this?
Mike: I just got the letter of assessment this morning. I was expecting it on Monday because they said that they were working on it, and then Tuesday came and nothing, Wednesday came and still nothing, and finally, I got it this morning. It was like one o’clock in the morning. Until then, it’s basically been on code freeze. So no, I haven’t touched that yet. Is it on deck? Yes, at some point. When exactly? I don’t really know.
I have to go through and look at where that really falls in the priority list because I feel like it’s a lower priority than a lot of the sales and marketing stuff that I have to do. I hate to say that this is or isn’t holding me back because I’m not really sure. I want to get it out of there. I don’t know how hard it is to be able to pull it out because it is pretty integrated into the core of my code and I’m going to have to change the storage mechanism.
I think I’m just going to have to make a judgment call at some point about do I just suck it up and leave it there even though I know that it’s the wrong decision? There are certain part of I think everybody’s application where it’s got words on it and you’re like, “This really needs to be rewritten or it needs to be refactored.” And you don’t do it because you know that you’re just kicking a hornet’s nest and it’s going to be terrible.
Rob: How long do you think it’s going to take you to get the new component in? I know you have to redo data and you have to remap stuff and namespaces. I get it. How long though? That’s the thing.
Mike: Just for me to migrate the data would probably take a week. That’s just the computers churning.
Rob: Yeah, so it’s a sizable thing, but you have decided that this is the right choice, right?
Mike: Yeah. That’s the thing. Assuming nothing goes wrong, it would take a week.
Rob: Sure. All right. It happened this morning and you’re not done with it yet, Mike? What have you been doing? No, I’m just kidding. Do you plan to start it? What is it? Thursday today so do you plan to start that tomorrow or Monday? Is that the next priority or you’re just saying I’m going to do this in a few months?
It’s tough. This one’s not so clear up to me. To me, in my head, it’s a bite the bullet type of thing where it’s overhead and I know it creates legacy, or cruft, or just hard code to work around. To me, I would bite the bullet and I would cover up two weeks and I would hammer this through. But I can also see an argument on the other side of this provides no value to your customers. On the flip side, it’s like, “I should be marketing, selling, and getting more people in before that.” I could see an argument either way. Again, I would probably make the product such that I feel more comfortable marketing and selling it, because I hate having crappy code. What’s your plan there?
Mike: The best thing that I can come up with is to plan to do it in about a month because that would put it in mid- to late-December, which I know there’s not going to be many people using Bluetick at the time and I’m probably not going to be fielding very many support requests. I’m probably not going to be launching very many new marketing or sales campaigns at the time. It’s a slow time where it would be a good time to sit down and bite the bullet and do that as opposed to now where people are still ramping up for the holiday season, doing email follow-ups, and trying to get deals and stuff. By the end of the year, it seems like my time is probably better spent doing that now and then plan for that slow period of biting the bullet.
Rob: Cool. That sounds good. We will connect with you again on that next time you come back. For our next topic, let’s talk about marketing. You obviously had the majority of your work weeks to be doing other things. You didn’t want to write code and the Google audit was taking some time. We talked about a marketing hire you were making. It was a contractor to do podcaster research and we had talked that through a little bit last time. Where does that stand?
Mike: Most of the stuff is already done and been sorted and prioritized. I got the information I need for all those things, so we’re basically waiting until the end of this audit to start queuing those up. Between today and tomorrow, the plan is to start queuing those up, start sending those emails out, and see if I can get onto a handful of other podcasts. I’ve already done one podcast interview. I actually did that last week. I’ve got another one that I was told by the podcast host that she’d love to have me on so it’s just a matter of reaching out to them and getting that set up as well. There’s no more roadblocks in the way of doing that so that’s get started ASAP at the moment.
Rob: It’s been five weeks. Why did it take that long? Why hasn’t that started two weeks ago?
Mike: Well, two weeks ago, I was in Europe. That’s why. Of the last five weeks, a good solid week-and-a-half to two weeks was spent in the middle of the audit and then there was another solid week or two that was basically over in Europe. I basically had maybe two weeks or so before MicroConf Europe get started on that. That was mostly the data aggregation and the actual work that was done behind the scenes.
Rob: Got it. Are you sending those emails through Bluetick?
Rob: That’s cool.
Mike: Well, that’s the plan. I haven’t actually sent them out yet.
Rob: How did you get on the podcast then?
Mike: Oh, there’s a personal invitation. Somebody raised that to me.
Rob: Got it. Cool. That would be an ASAP thing then. You could get that going tomorrow literally or Monday. You just got to write some copy and get her in.
Mike: That’s the plan for that.
Rob: Good. Looking forward to that. We already talked about that. I won’t go into it. Again, it drives a little bit of traffic. It’s more of a slow burn. It’s a one-time thing type of thing, but I think that it’s easy enough to do as long as it doesn’t take a bunch of time. I would probably be doing the same thing right now.
The other thing you were looking at was code emailing. It was really warm emailing. You said 900 email addresses from your LinkedIn connections. You had prior Bluetick cancellations, sales leads that never converted, that were in pipe drive, other stuff. You were going to bucket them and start warm emailing cold batches in the next week or two last time we talked. Talk to me the status on that.
Mike: I’ve got those all bucketed out and that’s another situation where I was holding off on actually doing it and pulling the trigger after this audit was done. That again is something else that got the green light at this point that I can start today or tomorrow.
Rob: That’s interesting. Why were you holding off on that? Because you knew you were going to pass the audit. That wasn’t a big question. I knew you were.
Mike: It was never a question of whether I would it pass it or not, it was a question of timing. There are two pieces of the audit itself. There was the technical piece where they say, “Hey, we’re going to beat on you servers for six days.” And then aside from that, there is all this policy documentation that I had to create. Anything that they saw that raised a red flag, I had to either change the policy itself, it’s not just text that I have to change, but it’s also I have to change how I do things.
For example, one of the things that they said was, “Oh, you have to enable multi factor authentication on everything including source control.” So I have to basically generate SSH keys and lock down all of my source controls, which means that I also have to generate API keys, then go into my build environment, and I have to change all that stuff, too. It’s not just a simple thing like changing some texts on a piece of paper that I hand to them. I actually have to go do those things as well. All of that stuff needed to be changed.
There was a bunch of other things that came up during the policy side of things where they said, “Hey, you need to change how you’re going about these things just in order to comply with the requirements.” Between that, I knew that I only had a week or two before I had to leave for Europe, and then immediately after that, I had to dive right into the technical side of the policy stuff.
What I didn’t want to do is start going out and start and try to schedule meetings, calls, and stuff with people. They were not going to be for a month-and-a-half because I didn’t necessarily know that earlier this week things were going to be done. For all I knew, they could come back and say, “Well, you’ve got these 25 vulnerabilities, and 17 of them are high or critical. You need to make code changes to do those.” I didn’t know that I was going to be done this week. For all I knew, it could’ve been another three to four weeks.
Rob: Yeah, but I think we talked last time and I had said cold email doesn’t just start converting overnight typically. Typically, you start it at trickle, you test some things, you tweak, you tweak, you tweak. It takes weeks to really start ramping it up. I had suggested, “Hey, you have this month or whatever,” I guess it was six weeks during the audit that was projected to be six weeks, “I would propose that you just start emailing 5 a day or 10 a week.” Just a very small trickle to start seeing something such that the volume of things wouldn’t have been like, “Oh my gosh, I have 50 calls.”
It wouldn’t have been so much, but just to start ironing those out because I bet if you start this on Monday, it’ll be a couple of weeks until it really starts getting going and now, you’re at a standing stop five weeks later. You know what I mean? Five weeks after our last call, you are at standing stop trying to get it going rather than having a little bit of momentum. That’s what I was more getting at. Why did you wait during the audit to get it going?
Mike: I think I agreed at the time and then realized that I just was not going to have time. Even if that started to turn into something, I wasn’t sure what the future would hold in terms of my timeline leading up to the week after MicroConf or two weeks afterwards. Like I said, for all I knew, it could’ve been another three or four of hard, heavy lifting in terms of code or code changes. I just didn’t know. That big blind spot is really what held me back there.
Rob: Okay. Next time, you should be good. You should be rolling on these things. Right now, cold email and the podcast tour, do you have any other marketing stuff that you’re going to be rolling out or are you going to be focusing on those two? I’m just talking over the next month. Let’s say we talk again in four or five weeks.
Mike: I do have one other thing that has finished up, which we haven’t really talked about. I just finished up an integration that I got approval for I think on Monday of this week. Now, if you go over to zapier.com and you search for bluetick.io, you’ll find it underneath the early access section. bluetick.io now officially has a Zapier integration that is no longer just buy and bite only.
Rob: Nice. Congrats man. That’s cool. Now, what’s funny is I have a note because I was going to cover that. The note says, “Mike is working on an integration that should be live at the end of this week.” I read that five weeks ago. Why did it take that extra month?
Mike: Because I had to email them and then there was a little bit of back and forth. They basically had to run it through their own testing and stuff like that. There was a bunch of things that needed to be changed both on my side and inside the Zap itself in order to get it live. It took a little bit longer to get finished than I thought it would or I hoped it would. And then I emailed them and said, “Hey, can you guys take another look at this.” When I got back from MicroConf, I emailed them again because I haven’t heard back. Maybe the email got lost or buried under all the other stuff that I’ve got going on, but I ended up having to ask them again to take a look at it. It only took them two or three days after that to take a look at it to say, “Yup, this thing looks good. Go for it.”
Rob: Cool. So people can go and search for that right now. Do you get any promotion out of that? Are they going to list you anywhere?
Mike: No. They don’t do any code promotion until you get to a certain number of users, which I think I was told it was like 50 users before that happens so I have to look and see if there’s any way for me to actually see how many active users I have. But I don’t know what it currently stands at so I don’t know how far I have to go between now and doing any sort of code promotion with them.
Rob: Got it. In order to get to 50 users, obviously, you need to get more customers yourself and then have something in a sequence somewhere that is asking people to hook it up, right?
Mike: But I will say having the audit and the Zapier integration behind me, I would call both of those huge wins for me.
Rob: Yeah, that’s good. Would you say over the past, since our last call, those are probably the two high points?
Mike: I would say so, yeah.
Rob: And then the low point was the audit? Just in the midst, that’s what it sounds like.
Mike: Well, the midst of it and then the end results been everything’s fine. It’s like if I wanted to pay somebody five plus figures to go not find something, I’m sure my kids would volunteer. Again, it’s just irksome. I mean you don’t know until after you’ve done it because you do have to poke at everything and I get that part of it, but it’s still frustrating especially being early on.
Rob: Wait, are you saying you were frustrated with Google and the audit? Oh Mike, every time, I’m going to keep bringing it up.
Mike: My anger is interesting.
Rob: Oh, next call, I’m going to bring it up again just to see, just to troll you. Cool. A couple of other things before we wrap. One thing I had asked you about was differentiation. I’ve mentioned, Bluetick is very similar and undifferentiated from most of your competitors and you had said, “I need to talk to some of my customers more and ask them why did they decide to use Bluetick.” Think about it as a job to be done thing. You had talked to a few customers. You got a couple of ideas. One was to have customers in multiple sequences at the same time. In other words, to be able to re-add customers to the same sequence.
It’s a two part question. One is have you gotten more confirmation that those two feature ideas or differentiators are enough? Are you going to build those? And I guess the third part is, maybe we’ll start with this, have you had more conversations with customers since we last spoke? Talk about those other things.
Mike: I’ve had a few here and there, yeah. I still don’t necessarily know if what I have in mind is the deciding factor of like, “Hey, this is going to make Bluetick leaps and bounds better than the other things that are out there.” I believe that it is, but I don’t necessarily know that for a fact. I don’t have any real basis for that. It’s a gut feeling more than anything else.
Rob: How can you turn it from a gut feeling into something? I would say a gut feeling is like, “Yeah, I’m like 30%, 40%, 50%.” How can you get this to 70% or 80%? Whether it’s with one of these things or whether it is something entirely different that you start hearing from other customers.
Mike: I think the first step one, obviously talk to some more of my customers, but two is to start running the idea past. I almost want to say go back to basics when I was first flushing out the idea of Bluetick with a bunch of different people and ask them questions about, “Would you be […] this?” or a product that solves this particular problem. I think it’s a matter of going to some of my list and finding out, “Is this the type of problem that you would be interested in solving inside of your own business?” I feel like it’s more of a reframing of what Bluetick does versus selling what Bluetick is, if that makes sense.
Rob: It does. Now, is it reframing what it does just like, “Hey, it does this one extra feature or two extra features,” or is it in a whole position? Like it’s a more broad branding/positioning shift?
Mike: A little of both, I think. In order to do it, I would have to write some more code. Obviously, I don’t want to go in that direction unless I hear more from people about, “Hey, yeah, this would actually be very compelling for us to use that.” But the other thing is when you hear about an email follow-up tool, your inclination is cold email. There has to be some sort of a brand positioning of, “Hey, this isn’t just for cold email. This is how it is positioned differently in order to make it work for people who aren’t just doing cold email.”
Right now, Bluetick serves a very, very specific piece of functionality for people in their business and if they don’t have that particular problem, then they won’t use it, but that also makes it hard to identify the types of customers because two businesses who are largely identical, one of them may be doing that activity and the other one may not be. It’s hard for me to say, “Oh, go after SaaS companies that fits this profile or in this particular business,” because unless they’re doing that particular thing, it doesn’t solve their problem.
Rob: Got it. So between now and the next time we chat, is this high on your priority list, to speak with this additional customers to try to suss this out?
Mike: It is. I wouldn’t call it my number one priority, but I really need to find what that one differentiating feature or factor is that would make it easy for people to understand what I originally had in mind with Bluetick as a vision as opposed to what it currently is and does today and what people see it as.
Rob: Yeah. I wouldn’t disagree with that. It’s kind of what I’ve been saying the whole time back to episode 448 when we first really dug into all of this. My point was Bluetick is not differentiated and you’re not moving fast enough. That was the thing, whatever that was five months ago. Now, you’re through the Google audit and you’re through a lot of this speed bumps and does feel like, (a) step one, figure out how to differentiate it, and then (b) differentiate it and move fast enough such that folks you’re trying differentiate away from aren’t keeping up with you or aren’t going in the same direction or whatever. That’s what I’d be doing, too, in your shoes, would be a lot of conversations.
I think that cold emails probably can play into that. Again, they’re not cold emails, but it’s your LinkedIn connects and the Bluetick cancellations and such. In addition, I’d probably talk to every customer you have right and just try to figure out why they’re using it, how else you can make it to be sticky. You have those two ideas of those features I mentioned earlier. Those seem like nice to have as interesting tweaks but I’m not convinced. My gut is that they aren’t enough. They aren’t enough to be really, really differentiated and make people switch. Just like what can you have that will make people switch from other tools or choose your tool when they’re comparing yours to the three or four other tools that are top of mind for me.
Mike: I mean I have an idea of exactly what it is that I would want to talk to people about because it’s something that we can talk about it here if you want. The basic idea using Bluetick as a mechanism for identifying things that you need from other people and this is something that you can do with Bluetick right now, but let’s say that I need a W-9 from you or something like that, the question is, how do I get that from you and how do I make sure that I follow-up with you until I get it?
That was one of the things that Bluetick was born out of, was when basically before Xander started helping out with this stuff, I was doing all of the data gathering for all the sponsors for MicroConf. I would say, “Hey, I need logo. I need title text. I need an image. I need all these different things,” and asking them for it and then going back and forth like, “Hey, I’ve got these two things but not this other one or this third one over here or fourth one over here,” and using Bluetick instead as a mechanism for gathering that stuff.
That’s basically a way to build a process into Bluetick such that solve a very tightly-defined problem to gather digital materials from other people and they may fit a specific format, or they may be documents, or Excel spreadsheets or something, and then Bluetick can manage that back and forth process to say, “Hey, I’ve got these three things but not this other thing over here.” Does that make sense? There are like 30 different use cases for it but just very simplistically, that’s the idea.
Rob: Yeah, that makes sense. That’s a clear path or a clear job to be done. The job to be done, you’re saying, is not cold email, it’s not increasing sales, it really is to get something in a workflow from other folks and to do that with email. My first thought when I hear that is right now, the tool I use for that is Gmail and Boomerang. If I email someone for an image, and a this, and an invoice, I Boomerang it in a week if there’s no reply or two weeks if there’s no reply and then I just respond to it again. I know that’s different. Probably in Bluetick, you could put a whole sequence together and if they don’t reply, it automatically does it. I don’t have to type the next one.
I think that Boomerang does a really good job on a small scale and if I only had five sponsors to deal with, that’s what I would do. Bluetick is going to be limited only to those that needed that scale. Cold outbound email or sales emails, you’re a 1000 a month or 2000 a month. There’s no way you would do that via a Boomerang, so everyone in that boat needs or should be using a tool like Bluetick or one of your competitors’.
Whereas, the niche you’re talking about, I think, not only is that a lot smaller and it’s further away from the dollars that the people are trying to generate for their business, because more of a back office thing, but it has to be people doing that at scale. Again, if you’re onboarding five clients a month, you’re probably just going to do via email. If you’re onboarding 100 clients a month, 100 sponsors a month, now it makes a lot more sense to use a tool like you’re talking about.
Mike: A lot of what you’re saying makes sense but I had a conversation with somebody who does onboarding at a small scale and they already know let’s say 30 or 50 different things that they need from the customer. Rather than saying, “Here’s the list of all the stuff that I need,” they only ask for two or three. The reason they only ask for 2 or 3 is because if they ask for 50, it’s going to be overwhelming to the customers. Instead, they only ask them for a couple of things and then they modify that list over time.
So the idea would be you’ll have this, I’ll say a workflow, where you’re asking for something from somebody and you need Bluetick to follow-up or you need a follow-up mechanism in place to basically manage the process of gathering that stuff and you don’t want to overwhelm them with everything all at once. That’s just one instance.
But also, I’ll tell you from experience of managing the sponsors. Once you get up to more than about five conversations in parallel like that where you have different things that you need from people, it gets really hard to manage. It’s not 1000, it’s not even 25, it’s like 5 or 6, and it’s just a nightmare to manage, even 5 or 6.
Rob: It’s interesting. I think, in the interest of time because we’re wrapping up, I want to make a note of this and circle back once you’ve had more conversations, I don’t think it’s a terrible idea. It’s an interesting position. I think there’s a hole we could dive way into how I would think about this because if you’re going to build a generic tool to do that and there are three different use cases, you have a problem. If you can pick one, what’s the biggest one of those used cases, the biggest pain point? Back to conversations we’ve had in the past, is it conference organizers trying to get sponsors and speakers to give them stuff? Is it, whatever, we could pick any vertical and is that where you start? Or is it lawyers trying to get stuff?
Mike: Is it CPAs trying to get tax information from their customers?
Rob: Exactly. Right. All that stuff.
Mike: I’ve had those conversations, too, and it’s a nightmare. I hate to go down the road of going after real estate brokers where you’re trying to get a loan and you need all these different things to apply for. I don’t want to deal in that particular business, but that’s another particular use case where there’s a lot of back and forth and a lot of information that’s needed.
Rob: That’s the thing, is all those verticals we just named or several of them are a pain in the ass to sell into. They are inundated with cold outreach. They don’t adopt new technology quickly. I tweeted this out a few months ago where I said you’re either dealing with competitor pain or customer pain these days if you’re building a SaaS. It’s a general comment but 10 years ago, you could go into a greenfield market with somewhat sophisticated customers, and you could build a SaaS app, and they would come and adopt it, and that was it. It was cool. But things changed over time and today, there’s not much greenfield left and a lot of the greenfield is like, “Well, there’s not a really good this and that for lawyers, or this and that for CPAs, or this and that for dentists.” And so, there’s not some specific thing for them. It’s like, “Cool. I’m going to build for that because I don’t want competitor pain. I don’t want a bunch of completion that chomping at my heels all the time.”
On the flip side, you’re now going to have customer pain. What I mean by that are high maintenance customers, they could be long sales cycles, they could be high price sensitivity, they are high support because they’re not technical, that’s kind of stuff. I’m not trying to make an unequivocal 100% of the time this is the thing, but these are the patterns that I’m seeing. When I look at the TinySeed batch, or when I look at people who apply to become in TinySeed, or when I look at my experience, you got to pick one of those. Trying to get away from both of those is very, very hard, I would say dang near impossible these days unless you get pretty lucky and be early to a certain market for early adopters where the market is just emerging.
I can name a few. Baremetrics is one. Early on, he didn’t have either. Now, he has competitor pain because he has a bunch of competitors, but he got in so early with the Stripe Metrics. I think another one is Tuple, Ben Orenstein’s. They filled a big gap that was left by a startup that have been acquired and shut down and right now, they don’t have competitor pain and they don’t really have customer pain either because it’s a lot of developers.
In the long run, Tuple will have competitor pain because people are watching that and there are going to be competitors that are developed there. They have a bit of a technical mode but in the long term they should just expect to experience that eventually, but since they have a head start, that’s good.
That was my long diatribe about that’s where as you decide if you want to do one vertical or five verticals to start with or wherever you want to position this. I certainly think making it a generic horizontal tool where the headline says get anything from anyone in an automated way, I think that’s a really tough way to go because in a lot of examples, people are trying to fit it into like, “What it is actually then? Is this like Mailchimp?” “No.” “Is it a cold email outreach tool?” “No. It’s not that.” So they’re trying to fit it into a bucket. That’s what people do when we go to these sites. If it’s something that’s just completely new, it’s always you’re just explaining the same thing over and over.
This is interesting. I’m making a note here because I think this is the key to unlocking something with a small group of people. This is how you find early signs of product market fit with a small group, and they love it, and they rave about it, and they say, “No other tool does it this way.” And they have different feature request for you than they would if you’re a cold email tool. If you can make it work and it’s a big if, that the direction you head. That’s how you find that you start growing.
Mike: Yeah. It’s just interesting how many conversations I’ve had have led me in that particular direction. There are a lot of things that remind me of, back when I first started working on Bluetick. It was some of the problems I ran into in trying to onboard sponsors for MicroConf or to sales for AutoShark. A lot of them are overlapping in a very similar way. Some of those features, they just never really got built.
Rob: So wrapping us up today, each time we’ve tended to talk about motivation, sleep, exercise, and stuff—I don’t want to run so far over what we dive into all of that today—I’m curious, over the last five weeks, what has your motivation been like?
Mike: I would say it’s fluctuated. It’s gone up and down. There are definitely days where I don’t have a whole lot of motivation and I feel like the world is pressing down around me. It’s not that I don’t have any options, it’s just that it’s hard to figure out what to do. And then there are days where I don’t even think twice about it and I just sit down and start working and banging things out, but it fluctuates from day-to-day. I can’t say that there’s a great pattern to it or not a great pattern but like an identifiable cause for anything that’s going on. It’s not really sleep-related. It’s not really exercise-related because I’m sleeping fairly well and exercising pretty well. So I don’t know. It’s hard to say.
Rob: I was going to wrap up the interview anyways, but the recording software crashed right at that moment and then Mike and I were basically just text chatting. But I feel like we’ve got a pretty good feeling of where Mike’s at and I’ll probably dig more into motivation, sleep, and exercise in the next episodes. It’s kind of got short shrift here. But I, for one, am feeling good for Mike about his Google audit effect that it’s done and I feel like he can get past it and move on. I’m super interested to hear what progress he can make on trying to get on this podcast as well as really the cold email as the one that I’m banking on as well as the differentiation. Those are the things that I’m going to be continuing to press him on.
These are the points of accountability that I think helped us all to move forward, is to have someone bring up what we said last time and say, “Where are you with that? If you’re not as far as you should be, why not? Okay. Let’s talk about that again in a few weeks.” Is starts to get in your head that this is a real thing that you need to move on and make progress on. Otherwise, the business doesn’t move forward.
I always enjoy talking to Mike. I feel like these are enjoyable conversations for me when I listen back to them. I feel like there are a lot of value for folks to follow his story, to hear what he’s going through as well as to take away how to keep pushing a business forward and have accountability. In a way, it’s a one way mastermind. It’s a little bit how I think about it. It’s kind of he’s reporting on things and I’m helping move it forward. I appreciate that Mike takes the time to keep us posted and we’ll keep doing this as long as it’s interesting.
If you have a question for the show, because we do a lot of Q&A episodes, email us firstname.lastname@example.org and you can even attach a voicemail or link to a Dropbox, Google Drive, MP3, or whatever, or you can leave us a voicemail at (888) 801-9690. Per usual, voicemails go to the top of the stack and we will have another Q&A episode coming up here pretty soon.
Our theme music is an excerpt from We’re Outta Control by MoOt. It’s used under Creative Commons. In any podcaster, search for “startups.” We’re typically in the top five. You can visit startupsfortherestofus.com to get a full transcript of each episode. Thank you for listening and we’ll see you next time.
In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob checks in with Mike Taber on his progress with Bluetick. They talk about Mike’s motivation, specifically over the long term , the continuing Google security audit, differentiating from competitors 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. Each week on the show, we cover topics that help software entrepreneurs, developers, designers, people who want to launch a product into the software space and ultimately gain the freedom from their full-time job and even be ambitious beyond that. It’s not just about lifestyle, having a sustainable lifestyle and maintaining relationships. That’s all important, but a lot of the founders that listen to the show and that come to MicroConf are folks that are ambitious, but not willing to sacrifice their life or their health to grow their company.
We have many different show formats. Sometimes we do interviews, we answer a lot of listener questions, we have founder hot seats, but over the past 465 episodes, we have followed a lot of stories. We followed stories of folks in the MicroConf community. We have followed the stories of myself and Mike Taber. If you’re a new listener. Mike has been on the show since the beginning, but now he comes on about once a month and updates us on his progress as he’s doubling down and focusing on his software product called Bluetick. In this episode of Startups for the Rest of Us, we get a Bluetick update from Mike Taber. This is Startups for the Rest of Us episode 465.
Welcome to Startups for the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers, and entrepreneurs be awesome at building, launching, and growing startups. Whether you’ve built your fifth startup or you’re thinking about your first. I’m Rob, and today with Mike, we are going to share our experiences to help you avoid the mistakes we’ve made. Thanks again for coming back. We’re going to be talking with Mike here in just a minute. Before we dive in, I had a couple things I wanted to mention. First is, if you haven’t already left a review on Spotify, Stitcher, Apple podcast, Google podcast, I would really appreciate you logging and clicking that five stars.
We had a recent review from Josh Krist and he says, “The real experience of bootstrapping. This show absolutely rocks. If your bootstrapping a company, thinking about starting a company in the future or just curious to understand what it really feels and looks like to start a company without outside funding, this is a must listen. Thank you Rob and Mike.” Thank you so much for that review Josh and we’d love to hear a review from you as a listener, if you feel you’ve gotten value out of the show or you don’t even need to do a full review, you can click the five stars and that helps new people discover us.
We have, I believe it’s 354 five star reviews that actually contain text and we have another 200 or 300 that are just people rating us, but I can’t seem to find the numbers anywhere. It’s hard to get worldwide numbers and there was an app I was using that that stop working, so I think we’re in the 600–700 range of reviews and I would love to just add a few more this week. I haven’t mentioned them in a while and if you can be obliged to click that five star, we’d really appreciate it.
Next item on the agenda is MicroConf Minneapolis is April 19th to 23rd and tickets will be going on sale very soon in the next, I’ll say, week, maybe two, tops. If you are interested in potentially becoming a growth or starter, Minneapolis late April, head microconf.com and get on the email list. The other thing I wanted to mention is the state of independent SaaS report, which I record a little mini episode, a half episode that I put in the feed last week, that survey is alive right now. It’s only live for another couple of days after this recording.
If you’re able to head over to stateofindiesaas.com. I didn’t do independent because it’s so long and I got tired of typing it, stateofindiesaas.com, that takes you right to the survey and that will help yourself and your fellow independent SaaS companies because we’re going to try to get a bunch of metrics together and put out this MicroConf state of independent SaaS report. Listen to shore episode I recorded. If you want the full details on that, but that’s only open for another couple days now we’re going to start the data crunching and start working on that report.
With that, let’s dive into today’s conversation with Mike. Mike, welcome back to the show.
Mike: Thanks, how you doing?
Rob: I’m pretty good. It’s good to hear your voice, man. It’s been a while.
Rob: It’s been a month.
Mike: Has it been? Okay, yeah, I think so.
Rob: I think so. The episodes about four weeks apart and we record, I don’t know, a couple days before, so yeah. I think it’s been somewhere in the three or four week range.
Mike: I lose track of time when I’m not talking to people. Obviously, I haven’t talked to you, really, other than email, but there are certain things that used to be on my schedule that are no longer my schedule and I used to use those as benchmarks as time passes. I don’t really have as much of that anymore, so I lose track of even just what day of the week it is sometimes.
Rob: Yeah, I totally get it. I think not being on social media, I’m guessing you’re not reading a bunch of news all the time. You’re trying to keep distraction-free, so you don’t get it. That’s part of being an entrepreneur, too. If you didn’t have kids, you would really forget what day of the week it is.
Mike: Yeah, totally. Just because they have to go to school five days a week, so other than that, I would just completely lose track of time, I think.
Rob: Right. I remember, it was before our kids were in school and I was just working on my stuff solo, maybe with contractors and a holiday would come up, whatever, Labor Day, Memorial Day and I just be like, “Oh, are people taking that off today?” just out of the blue, I was not paying attention to any of that stuff. There was no vacation schedule.
Mike: Yeah. Sometimes, the kids will have a vacation for something, I’m like, “Why did they have Monday off? What’s going on here?” and then like, “Oh, it’s a federal holiday,” or something like that, “Oh okay, whatever.” I just don’t even notice most of the time. I think that’s a direct result of working for yourself and not having to go into an office, because otherwise, if you work for somebody else, then your schedule is theirs and they tell you when you do you don’t have to come in, so you’re looking forward to those days versus when you’re on the other side of the fence when you’re trying to get things done, days off doesn’t, I’ll say, really mean a whole lot to you. You’re distracted sometimes, a little bit more disruptive than it would be otherwise.
Rob: Yes, especially if you’re in a flow, like a day-to-day or week-to-week flow. I think that’s a big thing, to touch on it like flexibility is what you’re talking about. It’s like the flexibility to take a day off when you need to, the flexibility to work on a holiday, and have it really move the needle circles back to what I believe is a big motivator for you in being an entrepreneur.
Mike: Yeah. I feel having kids, though, does tend to screw that up a little bit because if they have a day off then their expectation is that you do as well so I think that that throws a wrench in it to some extent.
Rob: Yeah, I would agree with that. We have some stuff to resume from our last conversation, whenever it was, three or four weeks ago. I have some notes here I work from to remind us where we’re headed, but I am super curious how your sleep has been because over the course of the last several years, that has tended to be a big source of ups and downs, that when you’re sleeping well, it’s easier to have a positive outlook, easier to find motivation and when you’re not, that can that can negatively impact it.
Mike: I would say up until about a week ago, my sleep was pretty good, but then I screwed up my shoulder, I almost always sleep on my left side and I screwed up my left shoulder at the gym, so it’s sore. It’s not overly painful, not enough that I would feel the need to go to the doctor and have them take a look at it because there’s going to say, “Don’t lift as much weight,” or whatever, because I’ve done that before and I messed up that shoulder and it’s just a recurring thing that comes up once in awhile, but because I sleep on that side, it has a tendency to wake me up. My sleep’s gotten better over the past day or two, but for probably three or four days, it was pretty messed up.
Rob: Did that impact you during the day? Did it impact your productivity?
Mike: Yeah, totally. I would wake up in the middle and then I couldn’t get back to sleep and then of course the cascade of thoughts throughout the course of the night, it’s like, “Alright, here we go again,” but it’s gotten better the past day or two.
Rob: Good. Glad to hear that. I guess that that leads to motivation, which is something I’ll probably be asking you about every time we talk. I’ll put it this way, over the past several years, you’ve seen times of extremely high motivation and extremely low and a lot in between. What has the last month felt like, look like for you?
Mike: I wouldn’t say it’s been really high, but I wouldn’t say it’s been super low, either. It’s one of those middle of the road, things are just plotting forward and I wish things were going faster, but at the same time it’s just takes longer to get certain things done that I would like. For example, I’ve got the Google security audit that’s coming up, where it’s just sucking up a ton of my time for something that I know is just not going to make a meaningful impact in my business, other than the fact that it’s going to allow me to continue to be in business. I would say it’s detrimental to have to be doing those things, which sucks, but you have to take the good with the bad and you have to do those things too.
Rob: Right, I feel the Google security audit as this slog, that’s exactly how I would describe it. It’s like the stuff you don’t want to be doing but that you’re really, in your case, you have to, to stay in business. How much of your time is that taking?
Mike: There’s two different sides of it. There’s documentation and then there’s the technical audit itself. For the technical side of it, that’s not scheduled until, I think, the 28th. It’s basically the week after MicroConf Europe, because they asked me, “Hey, when would this fit in your schedule.” They wanted to know if I had any vacations or breaks or anything like that where I wouldn’t be in contact with them. I said, “Look, this really has to start after this date,” and they said, “Okay, we’ll schedule it for that.” In the meantime, there’s all this documentation that we’ve got to get gathered. It’s all processes and procedures and things like that which are, I’ll say, a waste of time, because really, all these things are stuff that I would be doing anyway. It’s just that they want to document it.
It’s like, “Okay. Well, what do you do if this happens? What do you do if that happens? How is this handled and how was that handled?” They just want to review everything to make sure that, I don’t know, I guess you’re doing a good job, so to speak. In my mind, it’s all a bunch of paperwork for the sake of having paperwork. It feels like dealing with the government to be honest.
Rob: Yeah, it feels to me like PCI or GDPR or it’s just reams of docs that sit in a filing cabinet, figuratively or literally, and I agree with you there, that it totally sounds like that.
Mike: Yeah, in terms of describing that it’s a slog, yeah, absolutely. It sucks because there’s a lot of documentation and they said flat out that this is going to be the bulk of the effort and the most time-consuming part. Because it’s a different team, it doesn’t count towards this technical side of things. Hopefully, I can get most of that, all of it taken care of before they start the technical stuff and then when they do that, then they’ll do penetration testing, black box testing, and all these different things to try and make sure that the application itself is secure.
If anything comes up, then I have to address those issues. Assuming that everything’s okay at the end of the technical audit, then they’ll give me the stamp of approval and I can immediately send it to Google, but I think that some of that’s contingent upon them receiving the final check and everything else as well, but it’s a slog, it sucks.
Mike: Yeah, it sounds like it. What’s the timeline on that? Is this a two week thing you’ll have this cert or is a month? When will this be over?
Mike: My hope is mid-November.
Rob: Wow. Okay, so that’s another six weeks when we’re recording.
Mike: Yeah. It’s wild.
Rob: That’s brutal. I should say as much as we’re bagging on this, I’m guessing that much like PCI and GDPR, I feel there’s a reason these things exist, but I think 90% of it is unnecessary at our scale and it’s probably 10%. If they do penetration testing and they find something, it will be like, “Cool, you fixed something.” I’m guessing there’s going to be a couple things that improve your security, a couple out of it. Maybe it’s 5% or 10%, but most of it I think is, as you’ve said, huge waste of time.
Mike: Yeah, it is. I’m not the type of person to go out and totally bash on other companies for the way that they’re doing things but Google in this particular situation, I really feel them taking back their “don’t be evil thing” several years ago, which probably is a decade at this point, but all the things that they’re doing, I just feel the company itself is really abusing their position to force people to do things in a certain way, in cases like for my app and things that are below a certain scale, really don’t make a difference. It doesn’t make a meaningful impact and it doesn’t help the world in any way, shape, or form but they’re forcing do it for no other reason because they can.
Rob: It’s CYA. They’re trying to cover their ass for if suddenly, there’s a breach, they’re going to be in the headlines, not you. If there’s a breach, they’re going to get called in front of Congress, not you.
Mike: I guess, but at the same time, the scale of the breach. For example, if I have 20 customers and Google has 10 billion—let’s call it 50 million for them and call it 50 for me. The scale between the breach between those two things is very, very different and forcing me to go through the exact same processes and procedures as Google or somebody of a comparable size just does not make sense. It’s just the way it is. Like I said, I don’t like to bash other people for the way that they’re doing things, but I feel this is just extortion 101 to be perfectly honest. There’s no other real way to put it .
Rob: How much of your time? Has it been 20 hours a week you’re spending on this?
Mike: It’s probably not quite that much, but things are ramping up as time goes on, because I have to fab this basically finished and all the back and forth done, probably before MicroConf, which I leave for that in a couple weeks. The next couple weeks, that’s probably going to be 30 to 40 hours a week of my time.
Rob: Yeah, that’s tough. Looking back over the previous month, you have had some time. If it was 15 hours a week then you got another, I don’t know, 20 hours a week or whatever to do stuff. This kind of stuff, this slog, doing things that I don’t want to do, tends to de-motivate me. I almost have a tough time then transitioning because it sucks the joy out of the day. It sucks the good glucose or the joy or whatever it is and when I turned it like, “Well, now I got to write code or I got to the market, I have a tough time separating those.” Are you similar to that?
Rob: Okay. This is negatively impacted your motivation then.
Mike: Yeah. It’s not just motivation but overall productivity. I’ve been trying to figure out ways to segment out my days, so that I’m not working on those types of things that are de-motivational, first thing, because what I’ve found is that, if I work on some of those things to start the day and then I take a break for whatever reason, the rest of my day is shot. Even if I’m trying to work on other things that would be motivational. I just don’t get anything done because my mind is wandering back to the stuff that I was working on before.
Rob: Interesting, because if I were to do it, I would think that since it’s the thing that I want to do the least, I would try to get into work, drink coffee, listen to loud music and hammer through it in an hour or two, such that I can breathe and reward myself with a break and then I can spend the rest of the day working on other stuff. That’s how I would mentally approach it, but you’re saying that’s not. It’s bleeding over, it sounds like.
Mike: Yeah, it definitely is. I don’t say this doesn’t factor into it at all but I’ve been talking to my wife about my exercise routines and stuff like that, modifying my diet and all these other things. It’s just like, “I hate exercising. I hate going to the gym. I hate dieting. I hate working on this stuff for the Google security audit.” I’m going through some third party integrations and stuff and going through all the fine print all the other things for that stuff. I can’t stand doing that as well. I’m stuck in this position where I’m forced to do all of these things that I absolutely hate doing. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but there’s not really fun parts of the day, either.
Rob: Yeah, that makes it tough. I’m sorry to hear that, honestly. I know exactly what that feels like, where everything on your to do list is […] and you don’t want to do any of it. I know what that feels like. “No, I’m not in that mode today,” but I have done that and had to deal with it throughout my career. Those are the times where it’s like, “This has to end soon or I’m going to burn out.” That’s what eventually what will happen. Hopefully, you’re done in a month, six weeks. It’s going to be a slog for a month or six weeks, but when that part goes away, it sounds like that could dramatically improve your day to day working conditions.
Mike: Yeah. That’s what I’m hoping as well. I say six weeks, mid-November. That’s what I’m hoping it’ll be done, but it could theoretically be as late as the end of November, because after the technical piece of the audit is done, if I don’t have everything fixed by the time they’ve done that, then I have to go fix a bunch of stuff. They can come back with a report on day one and say, “Hey, these 25 things are wrong or whatever and need to be addressed,” and then I could presumably fix them all that night and then the next day say, “Hey, you can retest the stuff now,” and during the course of the actual technical piece, they’ll continue to redo those things, but then once the end hits, I basically have 30 days to go back to them and say, “Okay, all of these other issues are fixed, you can retest it.” Then assuming that all of them fixed, great. If not or if it exceeds that 30 days, I can request that they retest it, but it is really expensive to have them retest it after that.
Rob: Got it. So, time is of the essence here for sure. We’ll move on from motivation in a minute, but I had this concern. It was at the last month or the month before where I said, “I’m concerned about your motivation over the long-term. Will you be able to stay motivated if flexibility is our only motivation?” You’d said, “Hey, am I running away from something, which is a crappy Dilbert job or running towards something and will that maintain over long-term?”
The times when that’s tested is when you’re in the middle of the slog. It’s when you’re not making progress because you said, “I’m motivated by progress,” and that motivates you, but it doesn’t sound like you’re making a ton of progress, right now. When you look out over the next month, do you feel is it time to just gather all the muster and just push it forward or are you concerned about what the next month or two months frankly might look like?
Mike: I wouldn’t say I’m necessarily concerned about the next couple of months. What I’m more concerned about, six months or eight months down the road. The reason for that is because there’s all the stuff that needs to be done right now, an example, one of the things that I spent a decent chunk of time in advance to this security audit was that there were multiple projects that I have that get deployed to different URLs and they are largely copies of one another and I had to merge them together. I wanted to merge them so that there wasn’t so much code for them to go through, so that it made sure that everything was consistent between every single API endpoint that I have out there.
Otherwise, I wouldn’t necessarily know. I think that they are, but you just wouldn’t have any real way of knowing for sure. I merge those together and made it so that it basically got one core API project and then three others import it and then use it as opposed to before I basically had two different separate copies of it. By spending time on that, I made sure that that was, I’ll say kind of fun, but at the same time, those things need to be taken care of.
There’s a lot of things that I’m not necessarily holding back from but I know that I probably can’t really get into until after this security audit is over. That includes making major changes to the product because I don’t want to be in the middle of making a major change and being unable to deploy it and have a discrepancy between the code that they’re looking at versus the code that’s deployed and not being able to push it out because it’s in a half completed state. There’s some stuff I’d just have to hold back on until the security audit is over. Those things are just on hold and I don’t really have much choice there.
Rob: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. On a perhaps related note, is one of those things, that untestable sealed .NET component that you’ve been wrestling with for months and for six months more, and you want to work on replacing it but you don’t want to. Is that the idea or you can’t?
Mike: Yeah. I can’t because it would involve a pretty major change. Here’s the part of the issue. The backend data storage system that I have in place to store the emails uses that component as part of a naming convention for everything. In order to rip it out, I’d basically have to rewrite it, then have everything imported again from people’s mailboxes, then stored in a different file format with a different naming convention. Just to process that is probably going to take a week and that’s not even testing that.
I have to wait until the security audit is over, which again leads me back to the idea that this whole thing is stupid because I’m basically just trying to get to the finish line here so you guys can do this stuff. Then I can make a bunch of changes to make the app work better. What’s the whole point?
Rob: Something that strikes me is that early on, you were most concerned about the cost of the audit. It turns out the monetary price is not what’s taken the most hole on you and on the product, on Bluetick. It sounds like the motivation and the time it’s requiring.
Mike: Yeah. Absolutely it is, which sucks but at the same time, it’s nice that it doesn’t cost me as much in terms of actual revenue but at the same time, I’m still going to need to make that up next year.
Rob: There are other things. Something you had mentioned at the end of the last time that we spoke is that you’re going to hire someone to help with marketing. Did that happen and how has that been?
Mike: It did. I hired somebody to help out with a couple of very specific projects. The first one that we’re just going to be kicking off on the next week or so is a podcast tour. Basically put together a list of podcasts, go take a look at, and pars out. Obviously, being a host of this podcast, you and I get pitched all the time for different things. Sometimes they come across well and sometimes they don’t. It’s obvious the ones that don’t. What I’m trying to do is say, “Okay, well. How can I position myself for a pitch in a way that is going to actually resonate with the people who are on the receiving end of it?”
I’ve basically gone through the process of having the marketing person help out with filtering a lot of those out and deciding what the best pitch or the best way to present it would be for each of those podcasts, take a look at the history of each of those. If they don’t have guests at all, then probably not a great fit. If they do, then how many guests do they have? Is it a regular thing? Do they have guests on specific topics? Basically, we’re doing a decent amount of indepth research there. Then start emailing them, see if I can do sort of a podcast tour to get onto those different shows and drive some traffic to Bluetick.
Rob: Something that I’ve raised a number of times is that Bluetick, the differentiation, right? I’m bringing that up because if you’re not differentiated yet, do you feel driving more traffic is worthwhile? Are you trying to drive the traffic so that you can get more people using the app to do customer development to differentiate more? Is that the idea or are you really trying to scale the funnel in order to actually get more customers using the product as it is today?
Mike: We’re going to discuss those chicken and egg problem here.
Rob: I know. I guess it ends at some point which you have product market fit but the pre-product market fit, never ending circle.
Mike: Right. The product itself, I feel has enough value for the people who would use the current features. I would agree with you that I don’t think that is differentiated enough from some of the other competitors out there but I also think that that’s okay. If people are out there who have thought of doing email follow-ups in various situations or they don’t even necessarily realize that, “Hey, I could use email follow-ups in that situation. I just had never really thought about it.” I feel if I can get in front of those people to reach them, then that is going to be enough to at least push the revenue in the right direction.
Does it need to solve everything? I don’t think so. Is it suboptimal by having a product where I’m going and doing a podcast tour like this where I don’t have product market fit, I don’t have a lot of differentiation? Yes, it’s absolutely suboptimal. Does that matter? The answer is no. I don’t necessarily care about that. If I were to wait until it was the optimal time to go do it, the thing would be worth millions of dollars and why would I care about doing a podcast tour at that point because I’ve probably outgrown that channel to some extent. So, I have to.
Rob: One of the problems you mentioned last time we spoke was you don’t have enough traffic. I was going to ask about progress, have you made progress towards that end. It sounds like you haven’t made direct progress in terms of driving more traffic but that things are in the works to hopefully drive some from these podcasts.
Rob: If I were in your shoes, I like that you have a podcast tour because: (a) you’re good on the mic, (b) it’s not very much of your time especially if you have this other person doing it and you can just show up, do it, and see what the results are. I’m skeptical that it’s going to drive enough to move your needle but given the amount of time that it’s going to take which is not that much, I think it’s worth trying.
I also think, in your shoes I would consider some short-term stuff. By short-term I mean something that gets customers in very quickly which is cold email. You have a warm/cold email tool. You’ve seen shady cold email and you’ve seen ethical cold email. We’ve talked about this in the past. You could do it in a way that isn’t garbage and that I think you could feel good about. You have your own tools. You don’t need to pay for another one. It’s really just finding the data or the list but that’s something that can start working. If you can get it, it can create leads now, right, to get a lot more conversations started. Have you considered that?
Mike: Yes I have and I’ve already started working in that direction as well. Obviously, you aren’t aware of this because we didn’t talk about it in advance to the show but what I did was I went through and I started bucketing a lot of my prospects list. I was fortunate enough that I went into LinkedIn before LinkedIn decided that they were going to yank all the email addresses out of the export so I have over 1000 people that I’m connected to on LinkedIn where I have their email addresses. It’s closer than 900 or so because I went through and sorted them out because there’s some that appear in that list that I don’t have all the contact information for them or they’re duplicated on another list that I have.
By separating those out, I’ve basically got multiple buckets of people. There’s people who are on that LinkedIn list. There are also people who have signed up for an account in Bluetick but either never finished the process or they signed up and then they cancelled at some point. Then I also have people who I had listed in my Pipedrive account at one point where I was walking them through the process and then they either dropped off for one reason or another. Part of why I built Bluetick was because I didn’t feel Pipedrive helped me as well as it could have. I’ve got those people that are tracked there.
I’ve also got a separate list for people on my personal mailing list. I’ve got people on the Bluetick mailing list as well. All of those, I can reach out to individually through Bluetick. I’ve spent quite a bit of time bucketing those people into different lists and it’s a matter of going through those and sending out those cold emails as you call it. I don’t feel it’s quite as cold but just because we’ve had some contact in some way, shape, or form.
Rob: Yeah. You’re right. It’s not totally cold. It’s lukewarm to warm depending on who you put in there. That’s interesting. What’s your timeline for getting that started because I think that could move a needle here?
Mike: I don’t know and this is something I struggle with a little bit because I’ve got this upcoming Google security audit then I’ve got some of those changes I want to make in order to rip out all that .NET component. Let’s say that I add 50–100 customers, something like that or even just 50–100 trials, each one of those are going to have mailbox data associated with it and then assuming that they’re still active when I start doing conversions. It’s going to take longer for the data migration to happen.
Does that matter as much? Probably not, but it introduces places where things could fail. Having to look at a lot of the stuff that comes out of mailboxes, the more data that’s in there, the more likely you are to run to an edge case where there’s an expectation that there’s a datapoint there and there isn’t. The code crashes and you have to fix it, then redeploy it and potentially have to basically restart the process, which sucks. I’m between this rock and a hard place where I have to do it. I don’t really want to, but I may just have to bite the bullet and kick it off at some point and hope for the best.
Rob: Yeah. On this one, in particular, I think you got to do it. When I think of, “Is it an excuse or is it a valid reason?” I think you and I could come up with probably five reasons why you shouldn’t start sending these lukewarm emails. I think that your business is more important than that. Getting Bluetick to where it’s supporting you full-time because that’s your goal, I think that’s more important because if you wait until all these other stuff you’ve mentioned—there’s always going to be stuff you want to get done before you do whatever—I think you’re months out.
You could feasibly be two months out for the audit, you don’t really want to do this sealed .NET component before that’s done, which I get. As long as the audit keeps sucking up your time, I get it. It seems like that .NET component is really holding things up. I just would hate for it to be mid-December and have you start doing the cold email. You’re 2½ months from now and nobody’s buying at that point. Then you’re into January and it’s that’s a lot to push off.
Mike: Yeah and I’m feeling the best case scenario, if things go well with the security audit, as soon as that’s done, that’s when I should start sending out those emails. I’m okay with doing it through November but when December hits, it’s time to basically back off on that and say, “Okay, let’s pause this and let’s restart it in January,” because nothing’s really going to move in December. I just don’t think that it is unless I were to say, “Hey, you sign up this month and you get an extra two weeks to your trial, four weeks,” or something like that. “You get a six week trial instead of two weeks.” That I can see potentially doing, but aside from that, I agree. I’m not going to let the replacement of that .NET component be something that holds up pushing on that side of things, for the lukewarm outreach I guess.
Rob: Right but I would say, even this cold outreach, why wouldn’t you just start it this week? What’s holding you back from doing that?
Mike: Mostly I just have to sit down and write the email templates to send them. Then the big thing that I think holds me back from doing that is that when new customers come on, they typically need a lot of handholding in the early stages and that’s a huge time sync. As I said, I leave for MicroConf in two weeks, so if I have that coupled with all the documentation paperwork I’m trying to get together for the Google security audit which I know is going to take a huge chunk of time over the next couple of weeks, I feel what’s going to end up happening is I’m just not going to be as responsive to these customers and they’re like, “Well, why did I even give you a chance?” Because they’re lukewarm relationships, I don’t necessarily want to burn personal bridges.
Rob: Could you start with a small number though? Could you get these emails drafted, start cold emailing a ridiculously small amount like 10 a day? Normally, if you’re doing cold email campaigns, you’re sending thousands a month to be honest, but if you start sending 5 a day or 10 a day, so that you had 1–3 prospects in the pipeline? I know the MicroConf stuff is a problem and you’ll have to communicate that. It’s not a problem. It’s a speedbump, right? You’ll have to notify the people that you’re working with and be like, “I’m doing this conference, I’ll be out a few days.”
That’s a bummer but I just want to see you move forward with it, I think is how I feel about it with something. Again, we can think or reasons why you shouldn’t do this until after MicroConf, until after the audit, until after the .NET component, or until after Christmas. Pretty soon you’re in January and you’re 3½ months from now. I don’t think that’s good for your motivation or for the business growth, to be honest.
Mike: Yeah, I agree. I think you’re right. Starting with a smaller group would probably do it and that would at least get the ball started. Then I would have the whole system in place, so to speak, for ramping it up throughout November. That’s probably a better way to go than just holding off completely.
Rob: That’s how I feel about it because this stuff takes time.
Mike: I think that the other thing that comes to mind as a workaround for people who start to sign on a couple of days before MicroConf starts, I can email them, say, “Hey, look. I’m going to be out for the next week. I know you’re probably going to need help during this time but let me do this, let me extend your trial by another week or two weeks,” whatever, “to help get by that or overcome that just because I know I’m going to be less available during this time.”
Rob: That is such a roadblock to speedbump email that you just brought up. I love it. Seriously. You just figured out a way of like, “Here’s an objection. Here’s something that I can do that would probably work perfect.” It really has a low-risk of failure. That’s it man. When you’re building these types of funnels or these systems or whatever, this stuff takes a lot longer, not just hours in a day but a lot more duration in terms of weeks or months to get going.
If you’re starting from a cold stop in a month, then you’re not making any of that progress. If you start very slowly now, you’re going to see the bugs, the kinks, how you’re going to improve and you can tinker with it and lower risk and then you can basically ramp it up when you feel a little more comfortable about it. Awesome.
Mike: Other ways of it is to differentiate. In that weekly mastermind that I talk to you about, they’re still going with that, we still talk every week usually for at least 1 hour, sometimes 1½–2 hours. One of the things that we’ve specifically talked about is exactly how I can differentiate Bluetick.
Several things have come up which I won’t go into in detail here just because they bleed in for direction and they tend to be an extended conversation, but for the most part, if there are several things that I’ve looked at and say, “This would be a fantastic way to go but it’s almost a completely different product at that point,” it sounds nice in theory but I have to say no to it at that point because I’m not building another product at this point.
Rob: Yeah. It’s not even a pivot. It’s just a start from scratch.
Mike: It would probably be easier to start from scratch at that point. Yes. I don’t know.
Rob: On the plus side, you might not need the Google audit.
Mike: Right because I’ve already committed to that. I don’t know.
Mike: Then you’re like, “Is this a…”
Rob: Sunk cost?
Mike: Sunk cost, I don’t know.
Rob: No, no, no. At this point, you recommitted. We went through this two or three months ago, right? It was like, “Should you keep working on Bluetick? Should you keep being an entrepreneur?” You went on a retreat and you decided, “No, I’m going to do this.” That’s not just so you can’t pivot Bluetick to something but if you literally have to start from a new code base, if it’s that far off from where you are, it’s not the time. Maybe you’ll wind up doing that in a year or two, hopefully not but I don’t think that’s the time because you have all these other stuff moving forward now.
Mike: I think that if we’re incrementally going a direction like that and it’s through customer discovery, then great but this isn’t really that, I don’t think. At least a couple of different directions I thought of, I don’t really feel that’s it.
Rob: Yeah, that makes sense. I’ve come back to this question a lot. Do you know how to differentiate? You had mentioned the integrations could potentially be a differentiator and you mentioned a few minutes ago that you are working on some integrations? Is that part moving forward?
Mike: Yeah. That part is moving forward. I’ve got an integration I’ve been working on the past couple of weeks, on and off. I’m hoping to have it done and submitted by the end of this week but we’ll see how that goes. Actually, I have to. I committed in my mastermind group to absolutely having that done and submitted by the end of this week. I’ve got another day-and-a-half to finish it, but it’s close.
Rob: I missed it. Did you say who’s the integration’s with?
Mike: I did not.
Rob: Okay. Cool. This is the fun stuff is when you’re doing things that are covert and that you don’t want to say in public because you’re worried about a competitor or whatever. Obviously, you’ll announce it in public when it’s done. So you have been making progress then. You’ve been writing code and getting that in place.
Rob: Cool. Good to hear it. When I asked about differentiation last time you said, “I need to talk to some of my customers more, ask them why did they decide to use Bluetick.” What was that decision process to find out if you already have some type of differentiation that we just don’t know about or what that is? It’s like a job to be something, the switch interview. “Why did you decide to do this?” Did you have a chance to do any of that?
Mike: Yes. I talked to a couple of different people and I still have to get through, go in, and take a look at some of the other customers I have. What I’m trying to do is go through and actually talk to all of them. Unfortunately, some of them are run by agencies, the people running the account are not necessarily the people paying for it. They’re running 3–5 accounts or something like that. I’d be talking to the same person for five different “customers.”
I still have to sort out some of those because I don’t necessarily know exactly who all those people are. But from the conversations that I have had, one of the things that keep coming up, for example in Bluetick, you can have somebody in multiple sequences at the same time. I’m working on making it so that you can add somebody back into the same sequence multiple times. Something else people have been asking for a little bit is being able to add the same person to the same sequence multiple times.
I’m still trying to sort out exactly the use cases for those. I’ve got a couple of calls scheduled in the future to discuss those in a little bit more detail. But for my understanding, those types of things that are not things that any of my competitors can do because they are explicitly geared toward cold outreach. Once you have reached contact with somebody, once they have responded to an email, they’re so hands off that you literally cannot send them another email. I feel that’s a differentiator for some of my competitors but probably not all of them.
Rob: That’d be interesting. We actually got that request with Drip. We weren’t cold email obviously, it’s warm marketing list but originally, you could go through a sequence which we call a campaign, you can go through campaign once and you couldn’t restart it. We did it for a bunch of reasons. It doesn’t often makes sense to do that and there are some really, they weren’t spammers per se but there were people that were just doing really shady internet marketing stuff and they have a 52-week sequence. If you were still there at the end, they wanted to start over. We’re like, “Oh my gosh. I don’t want you to do that.”
Then there were some legit reasons for this like, “Hey, I throw an event twice a year and I have an email sequence that goes out to all the attendees around the event time and it’s the same sequence. In essence, I’m just going to update the dates in the emails, so I want to start them over with a bulk operation and just be able to boom drop people there. If they can’t go through it again, that doesn’t make sense.” There are totally valid use cases for these kinds of stuff.
Mike: That’s what I’ve found as well. Simple things that you wouldn’t necessarily think of dumping emails which coincidentally, my credit card expires at the end of next month and in the past two days I’ve gotten over a dozen emails saying, “Hey, your credit card expires at the end of the month.” I’m like, “Oh God, now I got to go update it,” like it does in different places but that is one of those cases where adding somebody into an email sequence in Bluetick would be a prime use case for that would be very simple to do that.
The problem is that you can’t really restart them so you could do it once. Then you have to delete them from the sequence then add them back. There is a workaround in place right now but people want the ability to basically restart them in the sequence and then also have the same person in the same sequence multiple times. Again, I’m still trying to dig in to exactly the reasons behind that. I’ve heard from 2–3 different people that they wanted to do that.
Rob: Got it but you want to talk to more customers, you were saying, just to get more ideas.
Mike: Yeah, well I want to talk to them more about the individual use cases for that because if I understand why it is they want to do that, it may dictate how those changes are made inside the code itself because I could just slap something in there that says, “Oh, just restart this person.” But then it has an impact on the data and statistics as well, for example. Bluetick goes, when it does a response to an email, it does a threaded response and it includes the text of the previous email that was sent. If I restart it, it basically has to be email one, for example and it can’t include the previous email that was sent in that thread because it shouldn’t.
Rob: Let’s talk offline about this because we came up with a solution that it’s just too deep in the weeds to go into here, but I remember how we designed it and we’ll see if it works for you.
Rob: But that’s exciting actually. I’m pleased to hear that there are these things that other tools can’t do. The interesting thing is that you can build these as features, but how do those bubble up to positioning? Not just as a feature, but how does that change your headline? What are you now? Are you the most robust one or all these use cases around specific things that then you become the niche player, you pick a couple of verticals that really need repeating, and then you just go after those? There’s a thread here that I think you should keep pulling.
Mike: Yeah. One of the things that has come up in conversations with one of my customers was like most people, they use Gmail as their email client but it’s immaterial which one you actually use. One of the thoughts that I have is about how do they use Bluetick without logging into it?
Let’s say that’s a one off situation. Typically, somebody will send an email from their mailbox and then that’s it. They’re hoping that somebody will come back whereas Bluetick, the expectation is the email sequence is launched from inside of Bluetick. That use case falls apart if they reply from their mailbox. There is a way to create a task, assign to Bluetick, and then you’ve got the email template. It’ll pop up a task and you can go in. You can change that first email and then the rest of it is templated.
Let’s say that there was a way to do that from inside your email client whether it’s Outlook, Office365, or Gmail. Let’s say that there was a folder there called _Bluetick so that it appears right at the top of the list. You send an email and you drag it over into that and then Bluetick picks that up and says, “Hey, I see that there’s this email here. I’m going to essentially add this to a particular email sequence and follow up with it using this first email that that person had as their original one.” Then it’s going to reply to that email several times until they get a response.
The question is, how does that mechanically really work? I don’t know the answer to that yet, but it seems like it’s a really good use case. I think that it would differentiate from the other things that are out there.
Rob: Yeah, I hope this pans out in a way that you can find more people who also have that need because that’s a question mark of course. Is this so niche that there aren’t going to be hundreds or thousands of people that need it? I think that’s TBD and I think that’s more conversations then figuring out how to present that to people when you’re positioning and in your marketing.
Rob: Sounds good, man. I guess I would summarize the past month, it sounds like it’s been okay but not great. The Google audit is really throwing a wrench it things and really impacted your productivity.
Mike: But it could be worse.
Rob: It could be worse and it has been worse. I’m pretty happy to hear where these threads are going. Let’s circle up again in about a month. I’m imagining you will either be still in the slog, I’m guessing you’ll be hopefully wrapping up the slog of the Google audit. Now, you’ll still have another two to potentially four weeks after that, actually.
Mike: It’s just going to be 45-minute recording of a solid continuous profanity beep. That’s all it’s going to be.
Rob: That’s a good idea. “Well, hey Mike. Welcome back to the show,” and then it just kicks off. Then I do an outro. “Thanks again. Thanks, Mike, for coming.” I hope things go well over the next month and we will catch up with you soo.
Mike: Sounds good. Talk to you soon.
Rob: All right, bye.
I was enjoying my conversations with Mike and of course, wish him well over the next month of slogging through the Google audit. We know that Mike has some challenges ahead of him with Bluetick, not just this audit but in continuing to prove out the market and differentiating Bluetick. A lot of work to be done, but it is nice to hear that he has continued to be productive since our last conversation. We’ll catch up with Mike again in about a month.
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In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob checks in with Mike Taber’s progress on Bluetick. They revisit some topics that were brought up from their last episode together including motivation, personal retreat, accountability, the Google audit and more.
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. Each week on the show, we cover topics related to building and growing startups in a way that’s designed for the rest of us, for the folks who can’t move to the big city, can’t move to the Silicon Valley, don’t want to sacrifice their life or their family to grow a company. We value relentless execution and we have a long-term mindset so we think in terms of years, not months, maybe even decades. As such, we don’t burn ourselves out by working crazy hours, sacrificing our health, sacrificing our relationships. This week, I circle back and catch up with Mike Taber, again, on his progress and learn about how he’s doubling down on Bluetick. This is Startups for the Rest of Us episode 461.
Welcome to Startups for the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers, and entrepreneurs be awesome at building, launching, and growing startups, whether you’ve built your fifth startup or you’re thinking about your first. I’m Rob, and today with Mike Taber. We’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the mistakes we’ve made.
Welcome to the show, thanks for joining me. Today’s a bit of a longer episode because I find when Mike and I catch up, he just has a lot going on. The feedback I’ve heard is not to cut it short. Typically, our Startups for the Rest of Us episodes have been 25 to 35 minutes over the years, some of the interviews run a little long and the conversations with Mike, often, they’re just pretty fun. Frankly, I feel the conversation is valuable. We touch on a lot of interesting things today that I know a lot of people are struggling with based on the emails, tweets, and reaches out that he and I have been receiving. I did allow this one to go a little long and I’ll see what I can do in the future to keep them a little shorter.
I plan to do this about every month to touch-base with Mike, to keep up on his progress. It gives him enough time to execute on things, for things to change, and I really love following the thread of any founder and that’s what the show has been for 460 episodes. We’ve always had the teaching aspect, we’ve had interviews, we’ve had hot seats, but I think the most compelling thing that keeps people coming back over these years is our stories. It’s following the journeys that we’ve traveled as entrepreneurs and it’s interesting.
While I’m going to continue doing Q&A episodes, hot seats, some interviews sprinkled here and there, I do want to touch base with Mike every three or four episodes depending on what’s going on to hear what he’s up to and try to dig-in to both the good and the bad that he’s experiencing. With that in mind, I’m working on a super secret podcast project that I’m not quite ready to talk about yet but I’ve been working on for several months now and just stay tuned to Startups for the Rest of Us because I’ll be talking about it on the show once that’s ready to go live.
In addition, I want to circle back on a topic that we brought up, probably 10 or 15 episodes ago. It was a desktop Gmail client and switching to that. I had switched to Mailplane and then switched back to Gmail. But due to some recent changes with how G Suite—forwarding, groups, interacts, and those aren’t changes actually, Google’s been doing it for years—I hadn’t realized that I wasn’t getting things that were forwarded. They were sent to Google groups which is how they do email list.
I won’t go into details. It’s all frankly boring, but it’s irritating. I’ve always just funneled everything into a single Gmail account and then did send as in order to appear as if I had a bunch of email inboxes, but that no longer works. It’s broken based on how Google has implemented some stuff in G Suite. I needed a way to have a unified inbox where I can be in a single inbox and I can funnel everything in there even though it’s multiple inboxes that I’m checking. I went through several providers that do that and I’ve landed on the Airmail which is a desktop client and I believe it was $20, maybe $30 through the Mac App Store. I did try out Kiwi per Adrian Rosebrock’s recommendation but it did not have a unified inbox on, it was just a hard requirement for me given this current situation.
Just to close that loop, I’ve been using it for a couple of weeks and it’s good. I’m probably going to keep using it. I do like that it has dark mode and it has a lot of keyboard shortcuts. It’s actually got me a little spoiled already with command delete going through the inbox. It’s almost like a touch interface where I can just swipe, swipe, swipe, and get rid of emails. So far so good on Airmail.
Lastly, I wanted to announce, you heard it here first, that applications for the next TinySeed batch are going to open up on November 1st. It’s just a couple of months out, we’ll be following up with more information. If you’re on the TinySeed email list, you’ll hear about that. Go to tinyseed.com and look for the place to subscribe to our email list. We’ll be updating folks once we have more info on how that is going to go down. If you’re interested in potentially becoming part of batch two of TinySeed, be sure your email is on that list.
I enjoyed the conversation that I had today with Mike and we cover all kinds of stuff. He went on a personal retreat and really sorted some things out, it sounds like, and it feels like his trajectory has really adjusted from the conversation we had back in episode 448. If you haven’t listened to episode 448 and 458, there’s a lead up that’s the start of the story that we’re really following today. I recommend you go back and check it out. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Mike Taber.
Mike: thanks for coming back on the show.
Mike: Thanks for having me back.
Rob: It’s been a few weeks since we caught up and I know, you and I, we’re just talking offline trying to put that line […] episode. It sounds like a lot’s been going on, a lot of progress, a lot of interesting things.
Rob: I think the first question is, I’m curious, are you still on your social media, Twitter, podcast hiatus?
Mike: I am. I still haven’t logged in to either Twitter or Facebook. I’m sure that I will in the near future if only to get Facebook Ads up and running and probably experiment a little bit with Twitter ads some more, because I’ve done that in the past and it can work out well, it’s just you have to actually dedicate the time to it and you have to log in. I haven’t bit the bullet and gone back in them.
Rob: Yeah, that’s the thing. I know that people build their entire funnel around being on social media and being a personality and typically, if you’re selling info products that works well and if you’re selling SaaS, it doesn’t as much. I’m sure there’s a counter example, but really, if you get to SaaS app to mid six or seven figures, you’re not going to do that on Twitter in essence. It can be a part of it, but it is such a trip to try to wade the value, the ROI of time and distraction, and frankly, sometimes, the stress that it can cause on you.
Mike: Yeah. I have all of the notifications turned off, whether it’s push notifications or email notifications. Literally, everything is turned off for both of them. I turned off my iPad the other day and I realized that apparently, I didn’t turn it off there so it’s telling me, “Oh, you’ve got a couple of hundred notifications here,” and I’m just like, “Nope, not looking at it.”
Rob: Uninstall, that’s cool. Good. I’m curious to see how that feels if and when you decide to re-enter that world. I know some folks that just go off permanently. I think like Marc Andreessen’s just done. He was known for having the big tweetstorms. There’s a rumor that he invented it or something, I don’t know if he did or didn’t, but he would write entire essays on it and then he just started doing likes only and that’s how people were tracking him, and now he said, “Nope, I’m just completely off,” it’s a trip to see that.
Mike: On my Facebook feed for people who I’m friends with, I have the Taber Household Conversations which is usually various conversations. They happen around the house with the kids and wife and they’re fairly entertaining. I’ve been told by a number of people that’s their most favorite thing to see on Facebook and they love watching that but I’ve been keeping track of them separately in a notepad document on my phone so that if I ever go back, I have probably 40 or 50 of them that I could post, I just haven’t logged in.
Rob: That’s cool. Talk to me about your personal retreat. When we last left you, there were some open questions that I had posed in episode 458, things like thinking about what challenges you wanted to tackle, whether you’re going to keep going with Bluetick. There’s a lot of stuff and we’ll cover that today. Part of that, I threw out an off-hand suggestion of, “Hey, maybe you should do a personal retreat to think through some of these things,” and it sounds like you wound up doing that.
Mike: Yeah, I did. It was more of a last-minute thing just because my wife had had time on her calendar when she wasn’t going to be teaching over the weekend, so she’s like, “Hey, you should go ahead and take one,” so I did. It was last minute like I said and it was really good because I sat down and started looking through my notes and stuff. I brought my notebooks that I had written in from previous retreats that I had gone on dating back to 2014.
Before I did anything else, I really just started looking through what I had previously written down as things to think about, goals, observations, and things like that. I realized that dating back all the way to 2014, one of the biggest things that came out every single one of them was I’m not sleeping well. I need to be able to figure out what’s going on and it was a continuing theme every single time. I have been taking retreat since before I was diagnosed with sleep apnea. It was eye-opening to go back and read those things and say, “Huh, that thing is basically taken care of at this point,” but it was eye-opening to see that, that was just a huge recurring theme over and over again and I couldn’t get over to figure out what was going on.
Rob: Yeah, that is such a trip, man. I think it is one of the benefits of doing the founder retreats, as we like to call them, is that if you do them year after year and you keep the notes and refer back, you can see patterns. A lot of us get so caught up in the day-to-day or looking ahead to the future—I speak for myself—I don’t frequently look back and try to see patterns, why am I feeling this way? What’s causing that? It sounds like knowing how much that’s impacted your motivation and your ability to execute over the past five or more years is a really good thing to know.
Mike: Yeah. I think what was eye-opening to me was just the fact that I recognize even then how detrimental it was to me, but because I couldn’t figure out a way to deal with it or figure out what was going on, it just kept continuing to be a problem. What I realized was that most of the time, it just snowballs. I’m not getting enough sleep, so I’m not as productive and I’m not thinking straight that I ended up on various medications for different things that are treating the symptoms, but nothing is really addressing the underlying problems, which just doesn’t go away. So then, somehow it just masks the problem. It just makes it so hard to move things forward.
It did make me realize that I’ve been beating myself up over the past 6–8 months or so just because I felt things weren’t moving forward and I was projecting past Mike to present-day Mike because I couldn’t get past those sleep issues. It’s like, “Wait a second, these things are actually mostly resolved at this point, so I shouldn’t be beating myself up over the problems that I used to have and project them on myself and continue to have motivation problems or anything like that. Each day is a new start, so just use it as that. Since I went on that retreat, actually things have really, really turned around for me.
Rob: That’s really good to hear, man. It really is. I think that’s another big benefit of founder retreats is the clarity it can bring you about big decisions or even it sounds like it was like a cleanse in a new start in a way. I’m curious how Sherry wrote The Zen Founder Guide, the Founder Retreats. Did you use something like that to help you or do you have your own system now that you’ve been doing it for so many years?
Mike: Usually, I have enough time in advance of going to be able to write things down and go through some old notes and stuff I have including stuff that Sherry had put together, but this time I didn’t. What I did was when I got there on Friday night, I started going through my old notes and I was going to put some stuff together. Then on Saturday and Sunday, I was basically going to go through it. I feel like I started going through my previous notes first and then realized that probably wasn’t necessary and it was vicious because things just popped out of me, it’s glaringly obvious in retrospect but not while I’m sitting at my desk every day.
Rob: Yeah, I think that makes sense. It sounds like you had a lot of long-term things to think about and didn’t necessarily need the search for topics to consider. You had an ample number of topics to consider just going into the retreat.
Mike: Right. I didn’t really find that it was an issue. The personal retreat was a pretty […] story, it prefers few hours to be perfectly honest. It didn’t take long for me to start to see what things have been holding me back and why and what my path forward was going to look like. Most of the time I spent was probably personal reflection on different things but not necessarily trying to answer those questions. It was just more thinking about the things that had already come up and that I’d already given thought and consideration to, that I thought I was going to need to spend a lot more time on during the personal retreat. It turned out that I just really didn’t need to. I spent most of the time just doing personal reflection more than anything else.
Rob: I have a few questions for you but I am curious to hear if there are other things that you made decisions on or thought through that I don’t ask you. These are questions that we had posed or I had posed the last couple of times we spoke and said if you want to retreat, you should probably consider this. One of them is, do you want to continue working on Bluetick?
Mike: Yeah, and the answer to that was yes, absolutely.
Rob: Was that a hard decision to make? Did you think through a lot of factors or was it like, “No, this is my gut feel and now I’m going to move on”?
Mike: I did think about it. It wasn’t just a gut feel. This is the answer that I want to have because I’m thinking that other people have expectations on me for that. What I really looked at was where is Bluetick today versus where it needs to be, and if I were to just toss the whole thing and go on to something else, would it take as long as it Bluetick has taken or would there be other risks? The reality is I know that there’d be a lot more risk if I went with something else and it would probably take me just as long because I still have to do all the customer development stuff.
The reality is, it’s a solid product that’s got a lot of things going for it. I just haven’t really put the time and effort needed in focus into the marketing side of things, and I haven’t talked to several customers. They like the product, it’s just that I need to get more of those customers.
I think that if I were to move on and try to do something else, could I sell the products ‘as is’ to somebody? Absolutely, I’ve had those conversations with people and I’m sure that I could sell Bluetick ‘as is’ to somebody if I wanted to, but do I want to start over? The answer is no.
The one thing that came to mind was is this a sunk cost thing that I’m thinking about? Is that why I’m leaning in the structure? I don’t think it is because I thought about that as well. It was actually something that […] probably thought about that more than I thought of do I want to continue on this.
Rob: I could see that because that would be the risk and that was going to be what I brought up was do you feel like you have sunk cost that was going on here and are chasing after something just because you’ve spent so many years building it.
Mike: Yeah, and that’s why I spent so much time thinking about that particular question and I don’t think that’s it. I think that there’s probably a little bit of contribution there for that particular thought but it’s certainly not the only thing. I definitely think there’s a lot more that could be done with Bluetick and there’s a lot more value there than I’ve uncovered, I just haven’t gotten in there yet.
Rob: There was another thing I had noted down and it was around, you raised this challenge, this struggle of motivation and the question I think you posted is like, “I’m not super motivated by money right now. It’s hard for me to be motivated to work on this tool and get up every day and do it. What should motivate me?” That was the question. I threw out, “Oh, you should go take the Enneagram.” That kind of was a joke but it was also helpful for me personally when I took it to have a little bit more insight into who I am and what drives you, and that’s part of what it does. It’s nice that it’s free and it takes 15 minutes to take.
I’m curious if you: (a) took the Enneagram, (b) whether that helped or not, and (c) did you also think about this question of what challenge do you want to tackle and what is going to keep you motivated this week, next week, and next month?
Mike: There’s a bunch of things packed into there. Keep me on track if I forget any of those things. I did take it, I didn’t realize that there was a free version of it. I paid $10 from the website and I took it. In my opinion, it was kind of BS, to be perfectly honest.
Rob: That’s totally fair. I’m not trying to force the Enneagram on anyone and I feel like it is. I liked it but I’m curious to hear why you didn’t like it or why you think it’s BS.
Mike: I think it could be helpful for certain people. The problem is that when I went through it, there are three different steps. The first one is to read these nine paragraphs and then you select how much do you think the whole thing describes you or not. The second step is to go through the ones that described you the most and select the ones that you affiliate the most with. I think there were three of them that you had to pick there.
In the first step, I think there were nine different paragraphs and eight of them were ranked exactly the same. In the second step, I basically completely self-classified myself. I’m like, “That’s not real helpful. I could have just read online paragraphs and then said which one do I want.” It was like throwing a dart at the dartboard, you have an equal chance of it in any of them.
Rob: The Enneagram should have been 40 or 51-sentence questions, is that what you saw? There were no paragraphs when I took it. One sentence, it would describe like, “When I’m in a situation like this, this is what I do,” but it’s just one sentence and I don’t even remember if you’ve ranked it on a one to five or if it’s just this is me or this isn’t, maybe that’s what it is. I think that’s all it was but yours is different, I wonder if you took a different test.
Mike: I think mine was different. Maybe it was the wrong one. I don’t know, let me go back and take a look at that.
Rob: Yeah. Let me see if I can find that link to the one I took because that would make more sense, I think.
Mike: Anyway, out of the three steps, there was only one of them, those nine was eliminated after the first step. Then on the second one, I had to pick out of the eight which one…
Rob: That’s not helpful at all. Dude, okay, I need to go and look. I bet I still have the link. Forget the Enneagram, it’s a tangent and we’ll try to revisit it at some point, but the other two things where have you thought about the challenge you want to tackle, really it’s what’s going to keep you motivated.
Mike: I think that it’s looking outside of what the thing is that I’m working on because I have a tendency to get so engrossed in what I’m working on that I will not look at other things in terms of what my social life, or health, or anything like that. I realized that when I get down the rabbit hole on certain projects, AuditShark being one of them, Bluetick being another, there’s a point at which I probably cross a threshold where I continue to become all consumed by that. I wouldn’t say that’s necessarily a bad thing in certain situations, but I think that I let it get the best of me and go too far.
What I really need to do is step back and say, “This is a means to an end, not the end for me. This shouldn’t be my all-consuming life purpose because essentially, it’s work. It is something I’m working on and I do enjoy it, but I can’t let it be the only thing that defines me.” I think that, that’s something else that I’ve struggled with to some extent where I look at the product itself and if the product is struggling, then I personally struggle because I see it as a reflection of myself, and that really shouldn’t be the case. It’s more of being able to step back and separate myself and my own self-value, or self-worth, or whatever form the product itself and how well it’s doing versus how well I am doing.
Rob: Yeah, I think that’s super important, it’s very hard to do. I personally drifted in and out of that over the years of having my entire, like you said, it’s like self-worth, self-confidence, happiness tied to my MRR at times. That can be tough. You said that’s outside of that. I think that’s a great realization. Easier said than done, but a great realization. What is it outside of the app that is going to motivate you?
Mike: Honestly, socializing with the people that I know that are in the area. I mentioned this several times in the past where I have a weekly meet up with a couple of guys that I played D&D with. It’s a great way for me to get out of the house, away from my desk, and away from my computer, away from technology. I find that it’s a very helpful and therapeutic for me to be looking forward to that as opposed to looking forward to getting up at five o’clock in the morning and going to work because I really want to work on something and then distracts my sleep because I’m so excited about it the night before. Being able to back off a little bit from that stuff and look at it and say, “Look, this is just a means to an end and it’s means to make a living, not an expression of me.”
Rob: Yeah. I think that’s good. I think the thing I’m missing though, because I also play D&D and I read stuff now, for the first time in a long time within the past year or two, I’ve started to read fiction again. A lot of it is graphic novels, but I’m doing hobby stuff again. I’m giving myself permission to do that, but that’s how I distract myself so that I don’t think about work all the time. Me personally, that’s my personality.
I’m missing how going and hanging out with friends, or playing games, or having a hobby is going to motivate you to stick with Bluetick everyday when it gets hard? Or does it? Or am I misunderstanding that? Because that’s what I’m trying to get at is you’ve talked about getting up and like, “I’m not motivated to do this. I don’t know why I’m doing this,” or you do know why, but it’s like, “I’m just not that motivated to sit here and work six or eight-hour days and crank away on this stuff.”
Mike: I think it’s a very subtle thing and that, as I said, Bluetick is essentially, if I view it as a means to an end, and that end being I get to go socialize with my friends and do these other things, I can’t neglect that and I can’t just let things go because if I do, then I won’t be able to do those other things. It becomes a way for me to create a balancing act that, can I let things slide sometimes? Sure. I absolutely can. Can I let them slide forever? Absolutely not because then, it puts me in a bad financial position, that I’m then stressed out and anxious, and I can’t focus on what needs to get done. But if I make myself balance those things a little bit more so that I’m not so single-handedly focused just on Bluetick or single-handedly focused on socializing with friends, if I force that balance, then it helps me to concentrate. Does that make sense?
Rob: I think so. Is it taking a break gives your mind a break and that when you come back, you’re re-energized rather than basically burning your mind out?
Rob: That’s what it is?
Rob: Fascinating. I get that. I definitely understand the link there, but I wonder if this answers the question that I posed earlier of everyday you’re going to have to get up and there are going to be things you don’t want to do dealing with the Google audit and whatever, firing a contract or hiring a contract, or maybe it’s writing code, maybe it’s marketing, maybe it’s whatever. You’re going to have to do some things you don’t want to do, some things you are excited about, but how are you going to push yourself to not sit there, stare at your screen, and churn away the time? Or whether it’s being unproductive because you are churning or whether it’s being unproductive because you are unmotivated to work on it?
Mike: I feel like that’s just more a matter of putting certain systems in place. One of the things I recognized is that systems are what really helped me stay focused, stay on track. and get things done, but at the same time, my personality is such that I hate being a cog in a wheel. In some ways, it’s demotivational to me to have a system but it’s motivational when it works. Like I said, it’s that balancing act.
One of the issues I had with me taking in the Enneagram is that by definition, I think that I’m very well-balanced in very many ways. I forget what it was called, it was a test that was given that business software like 8 or 10 years ago or something like that and afterwards, I showed it to the person who has given it, I think it was Paul Kenny, he looked at it and he’s like, “Wow, that’s extremely balanced in every direction.”
He said he hadn’t really ever seen that before which is, I don’t know whether that just speaks to how weird I am or not, but it was interesting to see. I have a lot of empathy and ability to see things in multiple ways and multiple directions and I think that’s a strength, but at the same time, it could be a downfall because I can easily find myself in a situation where I’m paralyzed because I’m like, “If I do it this way, then this will happen. If I do it this other way, then this other thing will happen.” It’s difficult to deal with that but at the same time, I also have to recognize, “Hey, you just need to move things forward. You need to make a decision and move on because you can’t stay here looking at this forever.” By timeboxing and things like that, that helps me to move things forward when I need to, but at the same time, it forces that structure which, again, I hate the structure but I do like the results of it.
Rob: Yeah, there you go. The hating structure and liking results means that you hopefully can plow through it. It sounds like the motivation will be the results that you see and I think the other side of that sword or the sharp edge of that is that if you are not seeing results, will you become demotivated? Again, last time I talked about some people are motivated by money. It’s like, “I want to make enough money so that I can support my family or that I never have to work again.” That, whether you’re seeing results or not, you’re still motivated by that.
If some people are motivated by this achievement, it’s the Jeff Bezos, “I want to start a billion-dollar company,” and that you’re just motivated to achieve. Whether you’re seeing results or not, you do still have that goal that you’re hungry for. Last time, we talked about how you’re not hungry for anything right now. I think probably my main concern is that if you’re not hungry for it, if you are not seeing results, are you going to get demotivated?
Mike: You bring up something that sparked my memory of something that came up during my personal retreat is like, “Am I running towards something or away from something?”
Rob: Yeah, because that is away from having to work full time. The last time you talked about that you had the Dilbert comic and you said, “I don’t want to go back because bosses are […].” It’s a pain in the ass to work for other people. There’s a commute, and this and that. We talked through some things about you should get a job with no commute, you should get a job where the boss is not dumb. I can remove all of those.
Mike: I’m screwed working for myself.
Rob: Yeah, but we can remove that. Are you just running away from working for other people? That’s what you’re referring to? Are you actually running towards, “I wanted to keep this,” or just running away from, “I don’t want a full-time job”?
Mike: Yeah. The sad part is I think it’s a mix of both and that’s part of what makes it a hard question for me to answer. I don’t have a specific answer for that. That’s one thing that I did come out of my retreat. One […] about is like, “What is it that I really want to achieve?” and I still don’t have a specific answer for that, but I do know that I want to have a successful SaaS application that is going to support me and my family, at least do reasonably well. If that means that I can take some time off in the middle of the week if I want to, then great.
Kids started school last week on Thursday and on Thursday, we were actually out looking for a new car for her because her Toyota Corolla from 2004 is about to die. It was nice to be able to just take the time and go do that and get it taken care of that day because I have that flexibility in my schedule. If I were working for somebody else, I wouldn’t have that. If I didn’t have an app that was doing at least reasonably well, I wouldn’t be able to do that.
Things do come up. There are bugs and stuff that will come up on occasion that I have to get those fixed and I have those come up as well last week. It’s nice to be able to rearrange my schedule, have the flexibility to move things around and work on it. That’s really what I want out of my future is to be able to have that flexibility.
Rob: Sounds like that’s the thing. That is the one thing that you have referred back to the most is flexibility, is like owning your own time. I wonder if that’s your number one motivator.
Mike: It’s funny because I think that it is, but at the same time, I also know that, as I said, those systems that I have to put in place sometimes to get things done and move things forward, those are restrictive. This weird dichotomy between them that sometimes I have to go in one direction and sometimes I have to go in the other.
Rob: Cool, that’s actually helpful for me and I want to revisit that at some point in the future, but I just want to hear how that how well that’s panning out. We can circle back in a future conversation such that I want to see what the motivation is and if you’re not seeing results, if it’s still working and if just the drive for flexibility is enough. I also updated the Enneagram link, it’s tests.enneagraminstitute.com is the official one, it’s $12 to take the test. I will Venmo you $12, Mike, Go take the test because you didn’t pay for the other one, did you?
Mike: I did. It was enneagramworldwide.com.
Rob: Oh, interesting. When I typed in like take Enneagram online, there’s a bunch of places doing it, and you paid for it and that’s what it gave you? I think go to enneagraminstitute.com, I believe those are the folks that developed it. That’s at least my rudimentary understanding right now.
Mike: Oh, well.
Rob: Anyway, it’s $12. Give it a shot. It should be a bunch of either-or questions. It will make a statement like, “I would prefer to be viewed as successful or happy,” or “I prefer to be successful or happy,” and then you can say, “Yes, this is me,” “No, this is me,” and some of them have partials, I don’t know. That’s what you should see. You should not have to read paragraphs to do this.
Cool. There’s a couple of other points we’re talking about last time that I want to revisit. One is the Google audit thing, the chaos that has been the ongoing Google going to block you if you don’t get this audit and go through their security process, update us on that status.
Mike: I’ve talked to two companies that do that. I had two discussions with each of them, worked with both of them. I’ve selected one that I will be going to. Basically, I was able to work with them on the price a little bit, so it falls at the lower end of the range of $15,000–$75,000 it was originally given. Fortunately, it’s not closer to $75,000 but it is still 5 figures. It’s a difficult pill to swallow but at the same time, it’s also, I would say, a motivational factor for me. One thing I have recognized about myself is that I’m a completionist to some extent. If I were to pay for that, it would be hard for me to not follow through afterwards because that’s a huge chunk of money that needs to be paid every year.
But the other side of it is that it also gives me a defensible moat around Bluetick as well. I probably don’t have a whole lot to worry about from competitors coming in underneath me, which is a weird situation to be in. I still have those bigger fish that are above me but I probably don’t need to worry nearly as much about anybody coming in on our niche and stealing customers or what have you. Not that I really think that would happen for a while. Even if it did, it wouldn’t make that much of a difference, but it does create a barrier to entry for anybody else who’s trying to do similar things.
Rob: I would totally agree with that. Anyone who’s thinking about just dabbling in and they’re starting a little side project to do it or wanting to start just a small lifestyle business and doesn’t really want to go after, it’s going to be deterred. I would be deterred from doing that, it would discourage me from one drop, however much it is, $20,000–$30,000 to get in and just to get started. That’s a trip.
Was it a hard decision then to decide whether to do it or not? Because, again, if they quoted you $75,000, it would have been a reason to shut the company down. We know it’s a lesson in that boat. As you’ve gotten towards it, was it a hard decision or was it like, “No, this is once I’ve decided to do it, I’m also going to suck it up and do this”?
Mike: I think when the initial pricing came in, it was like, “Gee, I don’t know if that’s actually going to fly. I’m not sure if I really want to go through and do that because it would have been really hard to swing it.” Then after going back and renegotiate with them, it was much more doable. Yeah, it’s probably going to be something that needs to be […] each year, but at the same time, it’s a SaaS application. There’s only going to be so many changes that are between them. They didn’t specifically say that was a differential they would do from one year to the next, but that certainly does factor into it if you’d go with the same company for one year to the next.
Google could easily change their policies moving forward. I’ve had this discussion with other people in my mastermind group, where I think that they are just laying down the law, drawing a line in the sand and saying, “Okay, this is what it is, and screw anyone that has to deal with this in the next 18–24 months. We’ll figure it out before then. There’s going to be small players that gets screwed in that meantime, but oh, well, we need to protect our company and our users’ data. In two years out, things will be fine.” I think that’s the decision they’ve made and things will change in a couple of years but probably not dramatically.
Rob: Yeah, and I like the way you couched it as a motivating factor. There were two times that I really recall having my back to the wall and talk about sunk cost, you are talking quite a chunk of money. I bought DotNetInvoice for $11,000 and I bought HitTail for $30,000. Those were 4–5 years apart, but those were very difficult pills for me to swallow. It was a lot of money. It was all the money that I had saved up from doing all this consulting on the side.
I had an incredibly productive two or three months stretches right after that because my back was to the wall. I worked for longer hours. That was one of the seasons where I work long hours and a big part of it was I can’t have written that check-in vain. I have to make this work. I keep saying my back was to the wall, but that’s how I feel about it. I wonder if you can use this at least in the short term as motivation of, “I have to be a good steward of that money and make this worth it.”
Mike: Yeah. I’m definitely that type of person as well. Some people crack under pressure and I do extremely well under pressure, which is a double-edged sword because sometimes, I’m a procrastinator to some extent. In some ways, that helps me because I procrastinate and then I get to this part where it’s do or die and I’m willing to put in the time and effort to make sure that things happen and that things work.
I probably haven’t experienced that in a while but there are certainly things that I can point back to in my history where I […] my masters degree, for example. I was coming up to the wire in terms of being able to finish my masters thesis and they’re like, “Okay, you need to have this done by the end of August.” So, I buckled down and I wrote the entire thing in a month-and-a-half, or two months, or something like that and I went back to them and basically got it all done, but it needed to get done and it needed to get done fast. There was really no other option, otherwise, I was blowing $20,000–$25,000 down the train and I would walk away without anything to show for. Still, having taken those classes, I don’t have the degree, not that it means a whole lot if I’m self-employed but it was one of those personal accomplishments or achievements that I wanted to have.
Rob: Yeah. It comes back to that extrinsic motivation. It’s really an optimist scenario for you. Cool. A couple more things before we wrap up, I wanted to ask about that untestable seal.net component. You had made the decision to replace it with a different component, but you were saying while you get slotted in among things and I was like, “Look, you made the decision. Just go ahead and do it because it’s keeping your back. It’s technical debt, right now, it’s a liability that keeps you from making changes to things.” Where does that sit?
Mike: I still have not touched that. Most of my time has been spent going back and forth with the vendors on the security audit because just even scheduling a meeting with them takes a week. It’s a week before it happens but it’s several days of back and forth and trying to get an answer because they’re just busy and they have to slot in conversations when they get a chance. It’s a pain in the neck.
I’ve been stalling on other things to see how that works out because obviously, it did hold it back to some extent because of the final numbers for the quotes came back in $75,000, I was just going to walk away, but since it didn’t, it made things a lot easier to get working on other stuff. At this point, I do recognize that needs to get done. It’s a matter of looking at schedule and seeing, “Where can I slot that in between marketing activities?” because I feel like that’s probably more important, but I go back and forth on that.
Rob: When do you feel you’re going to pull out that component?
Mike: I think if I get a more detailed information from the security company about what I can and can’t store, that’s probably going to dictate that to some extent because I don’t want to get in the position where I spend all this time and effort replacing that component so that I can download all the data in the way that I want to only to find out that they come back and say, “You really shouldn’t be storing that,” or those other things that go into. It’s just I’m holding off and maybe that’s a bad decision.
Rob: I don’t think it is. That’s what I would do as well. It sounds like there’s a bunch of unanswered questions and you are right with the security audit. They can come back and say anything. I would personally also wait on that but I wouldn’t wait on other development on marketing because you can do that stuff before then.
Your mastermind group is meeting weekly and you have a pseudo business coach. Both those things still going on and do you feel like they’re working for you?
Mike: I do. I actually have an email in my inbox right now from the coach that I have to reply to today and then the meetings have been going on every week and we talk about all kinds of different things from conversion rates to where marketing should be focused or conversations to customers, but I find that the weekly accountability has been pretty helpful because it forces me to make progress on everything and part of it is schedule-related because I have to make sure that I slot time for those things but it’s also what am I looking at next and then making sure that’s getting done because I’m basically committing to each of those things.
Rob: That makes a lot of sense. Glad to hear that’s still working out. I do want to touch base periodically and hear more about that. I’m curious. We had a conversation, it was episode 448 where we really dug into this stuff for the first time. You raised a concern that you didn’t really want do the spammy-cold email and I threw out an idea of a warm and ethical code email or you can just focus on warm email, is that still your thinking that you want to focus on something that you feel better about personally and have you made any strides to make that part of reality?
Mike: I have thought about it quite a bit more and I had a conversation with a customer that I onboarded a couple of weeks ago where he’s like, “I definitely want to use Bluetick, and this is what we are doing right now and it looked automated and we’re using it for cold email.” After going through and talking to them about how he was doing it, I realized like, “Hey, you’re actually doing warm email, not cold email,” because they’re sending physical mailers and things like that. It reminded me of one of the original thoughts that I’d had behind Bluetick was using it as something of a multi-channel marketing campaign because if you send somebody something in the physical mail and then send them emails or you send them tweets and things like that, this is a functionality that really hasn’t made it into Bluetick yet, but the conversation did remind me to like, “Hey, that was the original idea here.”
It turns cold contacts into warm contacts because they’ve at least seen your name before and they’ve heard of you because you’ve reached them through other channels. Some of them can be automated. I think Postable probably has an API where you can send direct mailers to people “handwritten notes.” They’re not actually handwritten, but they look like they are. Things like that are ones that would probably do well in that type of multichannel campaign. There is not a lot of people who are doing that right now, most of the people that I’ve seen who were doing that, they do it by hand and it sucks.
Rob: Yeah, no doubt. Cool. It sounds like you’ve made a decision because I have talked about life-changing your website copy, changing your onboarding, and even considered potentially doing a setup, doing a setup fee and then verifying upfront that they are doing stuff that’s in line with what you want Bluetick to do. It sounds like you haven’t moved forward on that but are those still things that you want to put in place?
Mike: Those are still on my radar. I think the larger challenge or problem that I have is just that I don’t have enough traffic. That’s the biggest thing. I don’t think that adding in a setup fee or something like that, that’s not really going to move the needle for me, at least not right now, but if I were to triple traffic, for example, that type of thing is I’m won’t say easily attainable, it’s probably something that would move the needle for me a lot more than adding in a setup fee.
Rob: Right. I think as we wrap up, there are still this open question of how to differentiate Bluetick, how are you going to make it different from the other tools that I could go out and essentially do the same thing with? Have you given that more thought?
Mike: I’ve given it some thought. I wouldn’t say that I have any concrete conclusions on that. One of the things I have seen is that people who are most successful with Bluetick are the ones that integrated it into their marketing and sales pipelines. I think that integrating Bluetick into other products directly would allow it to have a tighter integration into other people’s marketing and sales funnels. Integrating into other tools directly is probably the most straightforward way to do that. Most of these tools that are like Bluetick have an API of some kind where you can upload stuff but it’s really those integrations that are going to basically keep people around and keep churn low. If I can keep churn really low, then I don’t have to worry about growing the product as quickly to counter that churn.
Rob: That’s true. I agree with all that actually.
Mike: But it doesn’t directly answer the question.
Rob: Yeah, which was differentiation. Do those integrations differentiate you or do your competitors have some or all of those?
Mike: I think most of them have a Zapier integration of some kind. I haven’t looked in-depth enough at them. I do have somebody that I hired to help me out with marketing. They’ll probably start later this week or next week, but that’s something I’ll probably look at a little bit more to do more in-depth competitive analysis and say, “What markets do these people serve, and why?” and, “Is there a place where Bluetick can fit into those and really shine as opposed to where it currently is?”
You’re absolutely right. It doesn’t really have any major differentiating feature other than I can offer direct support and you’re going to talk to the developer if you’ve got a problem. There’s some value to that but I don’t think that it’s enough to overcome the challenges that it has by not being able to be differentiated easily.
Rob: Yeah, I would agree with that. I think I’ve used the phrase picking up crumbs a few times where if you really are similar to most of the other tools in the space, you will get some customers, you are just picking up crumbs as you get lucky, you’re not going to have that key differentiator that people are like, “Oh, my gosh, Bluetick is the only want to do this or Bluetick does this the best.” What are you really known for? It’s positioning.
In your shoes, I would try to get an idea of the entire landscape for all the competitors, the big ones, the small ones, the funded, the unfunded, whether you have a mental model of it, a mind map, or notes on a whiteboard, whatever it is, try to sketch out how are they positioned and how can you try to find feature differentiation.
Mike: Yeah. I definitely have some thoughts on those. The issue that I think I struggle with there is that most of the things that I think would be great to be able to include are packaged into Bluetick that would beat those differentiators, are things that are going to require technical heavy lifting in order to implement. It’s hard to justify spending the time and effort there without solid data to back it up and that data is hard to come by without doing it and then seeing if it works, so to speak.
Rob: I would agree with that.
Mike: It’s exploration, I guess. I definitely think I have to talk to some of my customers a little bit more, though.
Rob: Yeah, that’s what it sounds like. More research to be continued. I’d love to talk about your marketing hire because that sounds cool, but I have another call I have to jump on. I got it, I have to end it here to the groans of both me and the listeners. But there’s one other thing I actually want to ask about. What was your low point over the past month? It sounds like everything is going up into the right in general. Things have been good, you’re in good spirits, you have good answers, you’re thinking about this stuff, but what was the hardest moment or the lowest point in the past since we spoke last, which I think was about three or four weeks ago?
Mike: I would say just making the decision to make certain changes. I think that it’s the inertia of not moving just yet. When you have an idea of, “Oh, this is how I want to solve this problem or these are the things that I need to do,” where do you even start? In terms of inertia, in the past couple of weeks, I’ve been getting up at five o’clock in the morning on average and going to the gym. That’s usually the first thing I’ve done. I’ve exercised three times today. If that gives you any indication, I was at the gym before five o’clock, then I went for a one-mile walk, and after that later on, I went for a two-mile walk.
I’m making some pretty dramatic changes and I feel like they’re going well, they’re giving me energy, and I’m able to get those things done which I’ve never really put a lot of emphasis on my own personal health from the past, but those first four or five days of doing that was just brutally hard. It was really, really hard to just get started. Now that I’ve been doing it for a little while, it’s not a habit yet, by no means are no stretch of the imagination, but I think it’s on its way there. I’d really like to keep seeing that continue.
Rob: Awesome, man. Thanks again for taking the time to come and update us and I’ll talk to you again in a few weeks.
Mike: All right, sounds great.
Rob: Thanks again to Mike for coming back on the show. It’s fun to have him pop in almost like a guest now and again. I wanted to remind you if you’ve been considering potentially becoming a part of TinySeed’s second batch which will start in early 2021, head over to tinyseed.com and enter your email address or if you just want to keep up with what we’re doing, it’s a nice way to do it. We don’t email very often and we will be emailing about news like this when the batch opens, November 1st of this year.
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In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Mike returns to the podcast to give updates on the fate of Bluetick as well as progress updates on his motivation and health.
Items mentioned in this episode:
Rob: In this Taberrific episode of Startups for the Rest of Us, Mike returns to the show. This is Startups for the Rest of Us episode 458.
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.
Mike: And I’m Mike.
Rob: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the mistakes we’ve made on our journeys. Mike, it’s been a long time.
Mike: Hi. Yeah, it has. What? 10 episodes?
Rob: Ten episodes. I don’t think either of us realized that it would be that long. Just so listeners know, you and I had literally not spoken verbally. We’ve texted since that episode, but we have not spoken since episode 448.
Mike: That’s true.
Rob: We’re not talking that much. We tend to text and email a lot.
Mike: I hear that from people when I talk to them at MicroConf. They have the expectation or the inclination to believe that you and I talk either everyday or at least a couple of times a week. That’s totally not true. We’ll email back and forth. We will sometimes go for a couple of weeks without talking at all.
Rob: Yeah, if we don’t record the podcast. Ten episodes. What have you been doing with the enormous amount of free time you had not had? Showing up every week to record this and all that.
Mike: I’ve come to the realization that I was probably recovering from a pretty massive dose of burnout. I feel like I’m at the tail end of getting over that. How do I put this? There were times where I would just take an entire day off just because I felt like I needed it. Then, there are other times where I would just sit at my desk. I really wouldn’t feel like I was getting any work done. I would say that was the early stage when I started to take the time off.
I got to the point where I realize just sitting at my desk wasn’t actually doing anything. If I wasn’t actually being productive in any ways to perform, I’ll just get up and go do something else. What’s the point of sitting there if it’s not doing me any good? Because then, I’m just going to feel bad about it later and that’s not good for me either. It was rough to get through, but it was probably necessary, too.
Rob: It’s nice to have the luxury to be able to take that time and did not have to show up everyday for a season. It’s like over the course of years, you need to show up everyday in general, but when you’re burned out, you have to take time off. There’s really no other way to get around that. You have to get away from it. It’s hard to show up even once a week and be like, “All right. I’ve got to sit there and talk on the mic about stuff that I don’t really feel great about.” I’ve gone through months of time when I felt that way. When I listen back to the show, I can hear that in either one of us at a given time when they’re burned out.
It’s great you have that time to step away. You just got to give yourself permission to do that. That’s the thing. I often feel guilty when I do it, but you come back the next day or the next week assuming it’s not a long term depression or a chemical imbalance, which is totally very valid and real thing. But assuming it’s not that and you are just burned out because of the work or whatever it is, it’s super valuable. Each of us should give ourselves permission to do that.
Mike: Yeah. That was a good realization for me is just giving myself permission to walk away then come back later either when I felt like it or maybe the next day if I didn’t feel like it. Sometimes, there were definitely a couple of periods where I would take two or three days just because I didn’t feel like doing anything and I wasn’t being productive. You can’t beat yourself up all the time because that’s really what was happening to me. I don’t know how long it was going on, either.
When you’re sitting there trying to get work done, it’s like you’re concentrating more on beating yourself up about why you’re not getting things done, not focused, and not moving at all forward. Then, you are about taking a larger view of things saying, “How long does this been going on?” I try to forgive myself, I guess, for those periods of not being able to get stuff done. Like I said, things just has gotten a lot better over the past month or so.
Rob: We’ll dive into that. That’s the whole point of this episode. I have a couple of questions for you before we get into what you’ve been thinking about, how things have been with your health, your progress, and what’s going on. Have you been listening to the podcast?
Mike: I’ve not. I’ve gone into hermit mode.
Rob: Yes. You haven’t been on Twitter at all, right?
Mike: Aside from logging in very briefly on Twitter and Facebook just for authentication purposes for a couple of different things, I haven’t gone on either one of them. Nothing. No social media. I don’t even really watch the news or anything like that. There’s stuff going on. I’m just like, “I have no idea what’s happening in the world.” It’s just hermit mode.
Rob: Mike, do you miss it desperately and feel like there’s a huge Twitter-shaped hole in your heart?
Mike: No, not really.
Rob: Not at all?
Mike: I do miss some of the playful interactions and stuff like that. At the same time, I know they’re also distracting for me. I miss reconnecting with people just to shoot them a message here and there, and just make a comment on different things that are going on. At the same time, a lot of those doesn’t necessarily add any real value for me. I guess there’s a social contact, but I’ve tried to find personal social contacts outside of the internet.
Rob: That makes a lot of sense. I find it fascinating you have been listening to the podcast at all. The listeners who’ve been listening, they know the format. I’ve changed the format. I’ve been doing a lot of interviews, really trying to dig in and not just do the same old. We never wanted an interview show. There were enough interview shows. I’ve been trying to dig into people’s stories and the struggles. Done several Q&A episodes. I did a Q&A episode where Tracy Osborn came on and co-hosted with me. Jordan Gal came on for one.
That’s been actually the cool part for me. It was almost an excuse/motivation/force to me to figure out how I run the show on my own. It forced me to innovate. It’s the mother of invention to sit here, stare at the mic, and be like, I don’t just want to do what a lot of solo hosts do which is interviews. I don’t just want to monologue on the mic. Heaven knows I can sit and talk for 30 minutes. How do I try to up the game?
I’ve been spending a lot more time on the podcast than I used to. Over the course of the last several years, we show up and we talked about on the mic, but I’ve been trying to be really deliberate about trying to craft stories, just experimenting with new ideas, and new formats. It’s been cool. You can go back and listen to them now, I think your hermit mode is great, and it’s probably what you needed at this point. Someday, go back and listen, and let me know what you think.
The response I have asked in some of the episodes for folks to write in, or write me personally, or tweet, or somehow give their thoughts on the new format are overwhelmingly positive. I probably got 20-25 responses saying, “Yup, this is great.” “Keep being creative.” “Keep changing it up.” Some folks have mentioned that they missed the Q&A episodes probably the most. We used to do it every other episode, this Q&A.
That’s easy enough. I did one that went live today when we’re recording this. It was just me doing Q&A. I listen through it and it’s good. I think that works. I also like bringing experienced folks like Jordan Gal or Tracy to co-host with me on the Q&A. I think I’m finding my groove here in a way to keep it going.
Mike: Yeah. It’s interesting that you bring up the forced innovation. There’s a couple of things that come to mind in terms of just the podcast in general. I call it a general success and general longevity. The fact that we show up all the time, I guess until 10 episodes, we show up every week. Then, the past 10 has just been you showing up every week. The fact that it’s there and people can rely on it is not just a testament to the show, but it’s one of the reasons why it has been successful.
The other thing that you look at is you can continue to do the same thing over and over again, but eventually, maybe it gets boring. Maybe you decided that there’s other things that you want to do or there’s other ways to innovate on this show or whatever it is you’re working on. Those things don’t get done sometimes unless you force it because you’re either afraid to make changes or you decide, “I’m comfortable now. I don’t want to go through the…” I don’t want to call it pain but the uncomfortable mess of trying to change something that is already working. That applies in not just the podcast but in a lot of other places, too.
Rob: I would agree. I actually have a snippet from one email that we received from […]. He had a couple of comments, but one thing he said, it was indicative of what a lot of folks said. He said, “You asked for feedback about the new format. I’m really enjoying the in-depth nitty-gritty interviews with entrepreneurs who are in the trenches and openly talk about their successes, failures, and what they’re currently working on. It’s so valuable to hear what people think through the challenges, problems, and decisions. You’re a great interviewer because it doesn’t feel like you’re an interviewer, if that makes sense.”
I really appreciate that piece because I’m trying to deliberately do that. I’m not trying to be an investigative journalist. I’m trying to be a founder who’s just having a conversation with another founder much likely we would have whatever, at a bar, or at a conference in hallway track or something.
Back to his email, he says, “I also appreciate how you introduce the guest’s background yourself so you can go right into the good stuff with your guest.” That’s been very deliberate. The first 2-3 minutes, I hammer through their history so that we don’t have to sit there for 20 minutes talking through, “So, when did you become an entrepreneur?” Nobody really cares about that, in general. We really want to know what’s this pivotal piece of your story and let’s dig into that; that element of it.
His emails continues. He says, “I’ve learned so much from the topic-focused/listener-questions episodes as well.” That’s some more of the older format. “There’s so many concepts I’ve incorporated into my own thinking that have made me vastly more productive and effective.” It’s cool he rattles up a bunch. He said off the top of my head, relentless execution, road blocks versus speed bumps, almost all decisions are reversible, good glucose, moving a business forward, I could go on. He says, “I like the new format. I like the new voices, I like the stories, but the previous format is also great and it has taught me a lot.”
I appreciate that email. That was in general, indicative of the feedback that I saw. There was one person who wrote in and said, “I like the old format better.” That’s not super helpful without more description, but yeah, in general, it’s been a fun adventure.
Mike: That was cool.
Rob: How about the website? Have you been to the website? I’m about to announce it today, but about a week-and-a-half ago, brand new, Startups for the Rest of Us website went live.
Mike: I did see that.
Rob: It’s a new WordPress design. I’m sorry that I had to deprecate our 9½ year old WooTheme that we customized. Oh Mike, the humanity.
Mike: That was so hard to work with.
Rob: It’s not because it’s a WooTheme, it’s because it’s 9 years old. It was so crafty. Everything was breaking. We have plugins that were deprecated six years ago. Thanks again to Rich Staats at the Secret Stache who jumped in. The podcast feed would have died three months ago. We weren’t able to get new episodes in. He jumped in a day’s notice and hacked something in a plugin to get that going. That was cool. It keeps us going.
I don’t know if you know, but we’re now on Seriously Simple Podcast hosting which is Craig Hewitt’s WordPress plugin. We were in ProdPress and it hadn’t been touched in six years. Craig did us a favor, jumped in, and spent several hours migrating us over. We were just bailing the water out of the boat, in essence, to keep the podcast going. That’s cool. Now, we have a new theme. My hope is that we’re in a much better situation now.
Mike: Yup. In 2027, we can update it again.
Rob: It’s the thing I was thinking. It was like, “Oh my. We need to do this a little more often.”
Mike: It might be a good idea, but I think we both just got busy doing other things. It’s still work and it’s functional, it’s a little along the priority list.
Rob: Yup, that’s right.
Mike: That happens.
Rob: I was motivated by the fact that the momentum carried through were I was like, “Okay, here I am doing this show on my own, setting up interviews.” I kept going to the site and being just like, “I’m so bothered by this website.” The copy’s out of date. The greatest hits ends at 220, it’s like half of our podcast feed had been analyzed for greatest hit, and just the design and everything. It’s never fun to redesign a site, but it’s fun to have redesigned it. Now that it’s done, I’m glad that it’s all taken care of.
Mike: Now that it’s over and it looks nice, then it’s much better off.
Rob: Yeah. Episode 448 really struck a nerve. We received north of three dozen comments on that episode, tweets, emails to myself, emails to email@example.com. It is the episode that received the most feedback, perhaps, of any episode in our 450 episode run.
Mike: Yeah. You can probably at least add 50%-75% to that. I’ve got a ton of things that came directly to me through email as well. I don’t know if anybody has tweeted at me. If they did, I apologize because I have not logged into Twitter since 2½ months ago. On top of that, I’ve got a ton of personal direct emails to me, as well.
Rob: That’s cool. Thank you to everyone who reached out, honestly. I’ve responded to a lot of them, but I read every single one of them. I know you did as well, the stuff that came to you, Mike. In general, it was just super encouraging. There was a voicemail last episode that I felt like it had a couple of questions. He had a piece that I felt summed it up nicely. He said, “I wanted to take Mike for his immense courage in being so open and vulnerable in sharing his Bluetick blues with the podcast community. As a fellow, still struggling in Boston area, B2B SaaS founder, I empathize with him in the challenge he’s facing and I deeply appreciate his willingness to share them in public. I wish him the best in deciding what’s next.”
I felt that was, in general, like, “Thanks for coming in the mic and doing this, both of you.” “Thanks for diving into this difficult topic in front of 20,000 listeners,” and, “This is helpful.” That’s what I keep hearing is, “This is helpful for me to hear as a founder to know that I’ve gone through this, I am going through this.” It really humanizes it and a lot resonated with a lot of people that we were able to dig into that for 40 minutes, 10 episodes ago.
Mike: Yeah. When that episode went live, I got inundated with a ton of emails upfront. Then, they just kept trickling in. They tapered off after three or four weeks. It was hard for me because I wanted to respond to every single one of them, but I just really wasn’t in a place where I could. I apologize to anyone who I didn’t respond to. I started replying to them and I got to a point where I just couldn’t. It was like I was seeing the same things over and over again to people which is continuing to beat me down, I guess. Apologies to anyone, but I do want to say, definitely, I want to thank anyone who did email me. I did appreciate it.
Rob: Mike, when we last left our hero, we were talking about […] of things. I have seven or eight bullet points here to cover and revisit. You don’t need an answer to all of them. Some of the answers maybe. I don’t know. I haven’t figured that out yet. To take 2½ months off and expect that everything is thought through, everything is fixed, I don’t think is realistic. I am curious and I’m sure the listeners are, too. Did you give this particular bullet a thought? What’s your conclusion? Where do you stand now? Where do you see it heading over the next months and years?
To start high level, a question I brought up a couple of times in that episode was, “Do you still want to be an entrepreneur?” and you said, “The answer is absolutely yes.” That’s cool. The other question towards the end, “Should you be an entrepreneur? Do you feel like this is what you should be doing? Or do you feel like you should—not want to, but should—take a step back? Do some consulting? Build up the bankroll? Take a salary job?” because healthcare is so expensive. I know salary jobs make both of us sad. They make me depressed, but they are so stable, they’re so much less stressful, and there’s less need for that intrinsic motivation. Did you have a chance to think through that stuff?
Mike: I did think about it. Coincidentally, it was maybe four or five days ago, I got an email from a recruiter who was asking me. He’s like, “Hey, I saw your job experiences and stuff on LinkedIn. There’s a position over here at Amazon that you’d be really good for.” I looked at it and I thought for eight or ten seconds, “Oh my God, No. I just can’t do that.” Not just the fact that it would be all the way up for in Summerville. It’s taken me an hour to get there, so no. Absolutely not. That’s part of why I went out on my own anyway.
The thought of going back to a full time employment, there is an attraction from just the healthcare standpoint, but at the same time the lack of flexibility. The past couple of months, we’ve been able to make things work because I’m working at home. My wife’s got her business. She’s in and out. We just tag team on all the stuff with the kids during the summer. It’ll be so much harder if I had a fulltime job. Yeah, I could probably make it work if I were working remotely, but it’s still just the hassle of working for somebody else.
I saw this Dilbert comic. My wife and I actually talked about this, me going back and working for somebody else. I remember coming across this Dilbert comic very recently that really summed it up. The boss comes in and he says to Dilbert, “Hey, good news. We just won this nationwide contracts to roll out a wireless network.” Dilbert says, “Newsflash: We don’t know how to roll out a wireless network nationwide.” The boss says, “How hard could it be to not roll out wires?” That completely sums up exactly why.
Don’t get me wrong. Not every company is like that. But there are some things that I see that companies done where you’re just like, “This is the dumbest thing ever.” Yet, it’s hard to say something in those situations. Then you come off as an adversarial employee, you’re not working with the team, it’s just like, “Come on. This is a dumb idea. I can’t believe you don’t see it.”
Rob: Did you just quote a Dilbert comic as a reason not to get a full-time job?
Mike: I think so.
Rob: I hear what you’re saying. Honestly, if you were to get a job, it should be for a startup. It should be for 10, 20, 30, person company. Probably, with funding so they have good benefits and it should be remote.
I get it. I’m not saying you should do this, but I think that not wanting to go back to the cubicle form or the hour commute, I get that. Neither of us should do that. But I don’t think you need to in this day and age.
Mike: Yeah, I totally agree. I could probably find something that’s remote. I thought a lot about it. Even if I had all the money in the world, I would still build stuff. The problem with that is that money isn’t necessarily a main driver for me. That’s the problem that I’ve run into. I have enough money in the bank and I have enough income coming in where I don’t have to work my ass off in order to have the things in life that make me happy. The problem is I’m not really making a ton of forward progress on a lot of things.
It really comes down to an existential question of, “What is it that actually drives me if it’s not money?” It used to be money because I was the only one in my household who was working and now I’m not. My wife is able to help out with the income side of things. It’s great because now I don’t have to push myself nearly as hard. But as a direct result of that, the question is, if I don’t have to work nearly as hard, why am I doing this? What’s the point?
It’s something I definitely struggled with, to be perfectly honest. I don’t have a great answer for it yet. I’m still working on that, but the reality is, that is what stopped me or prevented me for going full speed on a lot of stuff because I haven’t needed the money, so what’s the point?
Rob: That makes sense, although you’re not independently wealthy. You do have to work. If you stopped working altogether, it’s not like you can take five years off. When I was in your shoes, that was my motivation. It was to get to a point where I could take years off or the rest of my life to achieve financial freedom. It’s an overused term and it’s almost devoid of meaning at this point, but I wanted the ability to never have to work again. That was a big motivation for me. Does that not motivate you?
Mike: I feel like the runway’s long enough. It’s not like a hardcore motivator for me, if that makes sense. I’m not under the gun. I don’t have two months or whatever to make ends meet or I’m done and I have to go find a full time job because that’s not the position I’m in. I’m fine for probably several years. That’s not a big deal. The problem is that there are going to be points along the way.
Let’s say Bluetick completely went away, for example, I lose that income. Yeah, I would probably be in a little bit of trouble, but I would still have plenty of runway left to figure out what I was doing at that point. The question is how do I address that? What do I really want? What am I really looking for?
I don’t necessarily have specific answers for that. I’m still working on those. I agree that the financial freedom aspect of it is a good and worthy goal. The question is, what is it that I’m really looking for above and beyond that? If I have that, what am I going to do? What’s going to drive me and motivate me? Even if I achieved that, then what’s next? What’s going to prevent me from just saying, “Okay, now what?”
Rob: That’s so interesting. I hear you, but I would get to that point then say, now what? I have gotten to that point a number of times. For me, quitting a salary job was this huge goal of mine. I quit it and went full time contracting, remote, consulting, in, let’s say, 2002 or 2003. I remembered being like, “Oh my gosh! This is it. I’ve dreamed of this for 20 years since I was in high school. I wanted to have this remote job.” And I did. Six months later, I said, “Now what?”
You know what “now what?” for me was? It was, “Huh, I’m bored of working dollars for hours. I want a product. I want a product to support me.” Then, in 2008, I’ve got a full time income from products. I remember loving it for about a year. Then, I said, “Now what? I’m bored. I needed to do something bigger.” That was podcast, conference book, Micropreneur Academy. Then, it was HitTail. It was like, “I need to level up.” Then, after that it was Drip. After Drip, it was, “Now what?” Now, I spend more time in the podcast than I do in TinySeed.
Your and my motivations do not have to be the same thing. That’s not what I’m saying. I do think that the best entrepreneurs I know have a driving motivating factor. It is either to create—to build stuff that people use—or to achieve. There are a bunch of folks who just want to build a big company. They want to build the Amazon, or Google, or the Uber. That’s not my motivation. My motivation has always been to create interesting things that other people can use. I’m sure there are other motivations.
The thing that I’ve seen, if you ever heard of the Enneagram, it’s a personality test. It’s like the Myers-Briggs or whatever. It’ll tell you, “This is what motivates you and this is what doesn’t.” I’d be fascinated for you to take that. Whether you talk about it on the show or you just take it for yourself to get some insight into your likes, dislikes, your pros and cons, strengths and weaknesses, and your motivations.
I think that until you know that, it’s going to be a challenge for you to really be motivated to launch products because this […] is hard. That’s what we’ve experienced. It is hard to do this. Without a real drive of, “Man, I need financial freedom,” or, “I need to create stuff that a bunch of people can use,” or, “I just need to escape this inner voice in my head that probably my dad or my mom put in me.”
These are the motivations that I’ve seen drive entrepreneurs to do really interesting things. I don’t even mean great things, you don’t have to build a multimillion dollar business. That’s not what Startups for the Rest of Us is about. It can just be about shipping cool things into the world that people use and showing up everyday to do it.
Mike: Yeah. Part of my question that I’m kicking around in my head is, what is it that I want? All of the things you talked about are like, different people have different goals. Some may want to build the next Amazon and for you personally, that doesn’t resonate. It’s not what you want. But when you’re talking about your journey from going to self employment to building a product then to HitTail, Drip, and TinySeed, that whole journey is a series of challenges that you’re undertaking.
In my mind, what I’m really struggling with is what is the challenge that I actually want to tackle? What is it that I personally want to do. That’s not something that comes over night. Especially, if you have the time to figure out what it is you want to do rather to be in having some forcing function that makes you decide within a week. Within a week, that’s a time constraint. You have to deal with the constraints right there and then versus I’m in a position where I can take some time to figure out what it is I actually want, reflect on exactly why that is, and why it’s going to make me happy. If it’s not going to make me happy, I don’t want to do it.
Rob: You’re right. Until you’ve been there, it’s hard to understand how saying, “I can move and live anywhere,” actually makes it a lot harder. It’s tough to say, “I can build or do anything. I have a few years of runway,” makes the choice a lot harder because there is no forcing function for you to make a decision. There’s not a ton of things pressing on you to do it. I hear what you’re saying.
It sounds like, “Here’s what I’d like to do with this because this is really an interesting topic.” I noted, “What is the challenge that Mike wants to tackle? Why is he doing this?” I want to revisit this. I think that you should give a thought, do a retreat, do whatever it is that you’re going to do to figure that out. Take the Enneagram. I’ll just put the link. It’s not a silver bullet. Take it. Take some personality test and do some thinking and stuff. Think about what it is you want to do. This is a time to be deliberate about these things.
The mistakes that I’ve seen some founders make, it’s a founder I have in mind in particular, he sold a company and sold it for several hundred thousand dollars and didn’t have enough to retire, but he could take time off. He didn’t take time off. He made a quick decision that said, “I got to get right back on.” He launched this next thing within a few weeks. It was a mistake because it was almost like a rebound, like a rebound startup or like a rebound idea.
You’re not in a position to where you’re shutting Bluetick down and looking for another thing. You are in a place where you have the luxury of taking a month or two, set a timeline so you don’t take a year or two, but figure it out. That’d be my advice. What do you think? Do you think I’m full of BS?
Mike: Well yeah, but no. That’s a great way to phrase that question. I like that. An excellent point about the fact that when you got a blank slate, you can live anywhere, and you can do anything, what is it that you’re going to do? When you’re facing the problem, there’s all those constraints. It helps guide you in the right direction. But when you have no constraints or very, very few that makes it a lot harder. That’s the position I’m in. I have much fewer constraints on me now than I probably did five or six years ago.
Rob: The paradox of choice.
Mike: Yeah. I’m just trying to make sure that I make the right choice for myself, go in a direction that is going to make me happy, and that’s actually what I want to do. I remember a time when I was a kid. I was like, “I want to do this. I want to do this. I want to do this.”
Fast forward 30 years and you don’t have time in your life to do all of those things. The question I’m trying to answer for myself is, in 10 years, or 15, or 20 years, when I look back on my life, what is it that I want to have achieved? What would make me happy? Or what do I believe would make me happy? That’s what I’m trying to figure out right now.
Rob: And you’ve taken a couple of months off of the podcast. I know you took some time off of work to think about it and this is not something that could come overnight. Let’s revisit that in future episodes. I feel like you should come back in three or four episodes and cover all this stuff again—anything that is an open question.
Whether you have an answer then or not, I’d love to hear updates on your progress and I think the listeners would as well. It’s been an ongoing story for nine years and continuing that thread is going to be good for all of us to hear the decision you make.
If we come back in seven days and I ask you the same question, you don’t have progress because it’s like, “I can’t figure these things out in a week.” But if we give it time to breathe, I feel like we can potentially follow the story in a way that’s helpful and doesn’t put pressure on you to force you to have answers to things that you probably don’t have.
Mike: That’s a double edged sword because there are times where having a forcing function like that makes you make decisions. It is not to say that it makes the decisions for better or worse. It’s just that it forces you into making a decision.
It could go either way. I’m not saying it should. I’m just saying that it could go either way where it’s like if it’s seven days versus three or four weeks or whatever. Sometimes, having to make the decisions earlier is better. Sometimes it’s not. I don’t know if that’s a good answer either way. That’s why the classic answer from my consultant is, “Well, it depends.”
Rob: Yup. When we last left you, there were some speed bumps that we were talking about, like roadblocks. Then there were some health stuff, there were sleep stuff, there were coaching and failures, a bunch of stuff I have bullets about that I want to run through.
The first thing is there was Google drama. Google needing an inspection certification that could cost tens of thousands of dollars. Potentially, no one was getting back to you. That was two months ago. That was a weekly thing that was going on. Is Bluetick going to get shut down because of Google? What’s going to happen? Update us on that. What does it look like today?
Mike: I’m past 95%, it’s probably 80% because of the 80/20 rule. Then, I’ve got another 80% to go. Everything is done with Google except for the security review. Actually, I reached out to the companies that are doing the security reviews before and I dropped it. I didn’t get back to them because I was just not in a place where it was worth my mental energy to continue pursuing it.
I’ve gone back to them recently. One of them had a survey that I needed to fill out and give them a bunch of technical stuff. I gave that to them and scheduled a follow-up call with them. The other one I’m trying to get us a meeting schedule with them. I’m basically trying to get the price quotes hammering out and seeing how much is this going to cost me. In some way, that probably impacts what I’m going to do with Bluetick moving forward, but maybe not.
Maybe I just made a decision that’s like, this is going to be the path forward for me. Regardless of how much that cost, I’m just going to do it. Whereas before it was much more on the mindset of, “How much is this going to cost?” “What’s my growth trajectory?” “Is it even worth me going in that direction?” Part of the factor of that was how much is it going to cost to have that review done. Right now I’m just in the process of figuring out what the cost is.
It’s hard to say that I’m not less focused on the growth trajectory because I still think that that’s very important, but is it something I want to do? Probably the bigger question that I need to answer is do I want to continue working on Bluetick and moving it forward? I definitely think that some of the recent conversations I’ve had with existing customers has really added to my motivation to do that. I got away from talking to my customers nearly as much as I probably should’ve been. That has dramatically helped that motivation.
Rob: Fascinating. To summarize then, Google stuff is moving forward. You don’t have exact data yet, but you’re waiting to hear back. Bluetick shutdown is not imminent based on Google doing anything. You’re in the process of answering this question of, “Is this something I want to continue working on?” probably based on customer interactions.
Rob: Related to that, there was a technical issue that you brought up which was this sealed .NET component you’re using, untestatable because it’s hard to get into all of this stuff. Have you done anything with that? Have you made progress? Or are you just saying, “Forget it. I’m just going to deal with it the way it is”?
Mike: Do we have a 20 minute profanity filter or a beep that we can put in here?
Rob: We do.
Mike: I went back and forth with the support people on that. I’ve made the decision that I’m going to need to rip that out and replace it. I’ve already got something I could replace it with. I’ve already started going through the process of replacing it. Their support basically came back and said, “Yeah. This isn’t a priority for us. We’re not going to make any changes with that.” “Too bad,” is really what the bottom line was. That’s a nice way of phrasing what they said, but yeah, I’m really, terribly, unhappy with the response I got from them.
Rob: But it’s no longer a roadblock because you’re going to fix it and you can move on. It was something you brought up multiple shows in a row as well. It seemed to be really hanging you up. This was one of the options we threw out, remember? I was like, “You can shut down the whole company. You can write the component yourself.” You brought up, you could switch components or I said, “You could just deal with it and not have great test or whatever.” This is one of the options. At least it’s one of them and you’re moving forward with it.
Mike: Yup, and I’ve already started that process. The problem with ripping it out completely and switching over is that it’s a process is going to take probably several days for my servers to turn on. It’s a little terrifying to have to pull the trigger and actually make that complete switch. There’s the architectural changes that needed to be made as well. I’m trying to push it off or make it so that I can do one mailbox at a time or something like that. I haven’t dedicated a huge amount of time to that beyond the initial prototype and stuff.
Rob: Don’t let it hang around. If I have one piece of advice, it’s get past this. It’s easy to put this off and be like, “Oh, I don’t really want to. It is a headache,” or, “It’s hard to pull the bandaid off.” If you’re going to do it, do it, and get past it.
Mike: The question in my mind that I’m struggling a little with is, does this add anything for the customers?
Rob: No, of course not.
Mike: You’re right. It doesn’t, but at the same time, there are places where it’s a detriment to me to be working in that code because I have to be super careful about things breaking because of that code. My time is better spent on doing marketing stuff anyway. Should I be focusing my time on that even though this thing is hanging out around up there?
What I struggle with is the fact that it’s mental overhead. I know it’s there, I know that it’s a problem, I know it needs to be dealt with, but if it weren’t there, I wouldn’t think about it at all. I have a hard time just pushing it out of my mind because I know that it’s there, but at the same time, I need to be working on other things. I don’t have a great answer for that.
Rob: It sounds to me, you know that there are four or five options. We ran through those. Shut the business down, replace it, rewrite it, whatever. It sounds to me like you made a choice to replace it. If you’ve made that choice, just do it and get past it. What is it? A week’s worth of work? Two weeks’ worth of work? You have the luxury. If you haven’t made the decision, then that’s fine. If you made the decision but then are half doing the work on a decision because you feel like you need to do other stuff, then it sounds like you really haven’t made the decision.
Mike: No. I have made the decision. It’s just a question of trying to slot it in when I’ve got other things that are also relatively high priority to get done. I’ve got a challenge around prioritization as well because I’ve got so many things that need to get done. We can come back to that. There’s other stuff of it.
Rob: Exactly. We don’t want to run two hours. I have an open questions for future episode where we revisit all these. This is one of them.
Another thing was during the last episode, listeners know you’ve had issues with low testosterone and your doctor taking you off this patch. You felt like you’re unmotivated, that you are having trouble sleeping which is related, but not the same thing. You were not doing great in that last episode, to be honest. I could tell and we talked a little bit after we closed that episode. What has happened since then?
Mike: To be blunt about it, I was a total mess when we recorded that last episode. The very next day I went back on my medication which is just a dramatic difference between them. I basically told my doctor I was never going to do that again which he wasn’t happy about. I’m like, “I’m sorry you’re going to have to deal with this.” Things have been a lot better in that regard.
I’m actually off two other medications. That was really tough. That took probably six or eight weeks to get through and get over. There’s withdrawal effects and things like that. I had to deal with them. It was just low energy, low motivation, hard time sleeping. Things have gotten dramatically better in the past three or four weeks, I’d say. But it was hard getting through that period, to get off those medications.
It has done a lot of good for me. I’m no longer suffering from a lot of those side effects. That’s part of the reason why I was on some of those medications because I wasn’t sleeping very well. It created this vicious cycle. To be more specific, I was on Adderall because I couldn’t focus during the day. Then, I was on sleep meds at night to try and get me to sleep. It’s just like they’re basically fighting against each other. The reality is I couldn’t sleep at night because of the sleep apnea. I ended up on these other meds that have addictive qualities and things that go really sideways in your body when you’re trying to come off of them.
Those things are a lot better. I’ve noticed in the past few weeks that things have gotten dramatically better in terms of my energy, my ability to focus, and my ability to be productive. Productivity is, I don’t want to say it’s a choice, but you have to focus on being productive. If you don’t focus on that, then you’re just going to sit there and not get anything done. At least I found that way for me. I don’t want to overgeneralize that.
Rob: Yeah. That sounds like a rough couple of months. I’m glad to hear that you’re feeling better.
Mike: I’m only at one medication now. Well, actually two. It’s like for testosterone and I’m on blood pressure meds. My doctor’s done all kinds of test. I actually have a doctor’s appointment this afternoon. As far as I know, I also don’t have cancer. I guess that got back down going for me.
Rob: Yay, that’s good news. Great! That sounds like a tough couple of months. Taking time off was probably the right choice to deal with that because that’s not something you necessarily wanted to be working through. I’m glad to hear it and I really hope that that continues. You don’t know what you’ll feel like in three months, or six months, or nine months. Things come and go.
You sound more awake and alive than you have been for a long time. I don’t know if it’s just because you’re fresh, because you’re like, “Oh boy!” I don’t know if you ever lifted weights all the time, but if you lift seven days a week, your body gets tired. If you take two or three days off, you come back, you can just lift crazy amounts of weight. You just feel amazing because your body has had time to recover. I feel like there’s been a bit of that. You just sound better.
Mike: For sure. I’ve been doing a lot of little things. I’ve been tracking when I sleep well, when I don’t. What was I doing the day before. I’ve been tracking what I eat a lot. I’m trying to lose weight, but that’s only going marginally well. Coming off of the Adderall was really hard because I added 10 or 15 pounds really quick. I’m back down to only about five pounds over what I was, but still, I wanted to lose weight on that point anyway. There’s that.
Then, I found that there’s certain types of music that I can listen to. If I listen to it first thing in the morning versus I sit down and I start working without listening to music, then, I’m way less productive and I’m way less energetic. I’ve also realized that I need to have a routine as much as I hate it. I can’t stand going through the same routine all the time. It’s boring to me. My brain just doesn’t deal with it well. At the same time, I need that structure.
Those are the kinds of things that I’ve found to be very helpful over the past month or two. It’s been a learning process because I’ve been on my own. I’ve been able to do whatever I want and still make it through, still be productive, but things have changed. I don’t know if it’s just because of burnout or because I’ve gotten older and things like that. Drawing lines between work and playtime, the exercise has obviously made a little bit of a difference. I’ve gotten back to that.
Then other little stuff like getting rid of small annoyances. We were talking before the podcast started. You’re like, “Wow, your keyboard’s really loud.” I was like, “Yeah, I bought a new one.” It’s a total of really little thing, but it’s got a volume control built into it with little roll bar. I can put the volume up or down on my music while I’m sitting there as opposed to banging on a button or having to go use the mouse and change the song that are on. It’s all the little stuff, but I made a conscious effort to identify those little things that were annoyances that are now smoothed out. They’re no longer impact my day and they no longer cause me to either get out of a rhythm or get angry about stuff that’s going sideways.
Rob: Yeah, that’s good to do. that’s good to recognize. To summarize all that, it’s like you took a step back. You took a step back and you look at your life, your worklife, your day to day progress, and you got over some off medications which is always hard to do. You took a step back and you said, “Hey, what can I improve in my life?” At least one listener is thinking to himself, “Mike, welcome to 2015 with the volume control on you.” But I’m definitely not thinking that.
How was your sleep? We have a couple more bullets to cover. We’re just going to have run long today. How was your sleep? That has been such a big issue, frankly, for years.
Mike: It’s a lot better. I definitely noticed that there’s days of the week where that I don’t get as much sleep as I would like, but then, there’s other ones where I would just wake up feeling completely refreshed and ready to get to work. That’s what I was just talking about where I’m trying to be more deliberate about tracking what happened the day before, how the day went before, and what specific things may have caused that. I don’t have a lot of information on that yet, but I’m definitely keeping a close eye on that, being very deliberate about looking at that, and examining it because that’s going to be important for me.
Rob: I’m making a note here to check back on this as well just because it’s something that’s important and it’s important to be honest about it. Everytime doesn’t have to be, “Oh, everything’s great. My health and my sleep are great.” You got to be able to talk about when it’s impacting you, like in episode 448, talk about when it’s negatively impacting your progress. Something you mentioned on that episode and prior was like, “I think I need to be in a mastermind.” “I need more accountability.” “I’m thinking about hiring a coach.” There was stuff bubbling around that. What’s the update on that status?
Mike: I have a new mastermind group. We’ve been meeting at least once or twice a week, more on a Monday or a Friday, just because of the scheduling and stuff like that. That’s been going really, really well. I’m really glad that I picked that up and thanks to the listener. I won’t call out the specific name of who it is, but know that the person who introduced this probably listens to the podcast, so I just want to say thanks for that.
In terms of a coach, I’ll say a pseudo business coach, more or less who’s holding me accountable on a weekly basis saying, “What did you do these past weeks? What do you plan on doing this week?” Then, we’ve had a couple of calls here and there not just for accountability. We have a call just yesterday or within the past three days about going through my marketing plan, picking it apart, and saying, “Are these things really important? Are they not? How are these things ranked and weighted against each other? And what should you be focusing on next?” Those are the things that are going to end up on the shortlist of stuff that I implement moving forward. He’s just going to hold me accountable to it and get me a sanity check.
Rob: So far so good?
Mike: So far so good. Yeah.
Rob: I have a bullet here to ask about you. Your motivation, your effectiveness. Have you developed a system because we covered that as well. You already talked about that. It sounds like for the past three or four weeks, things have been feeling a lot better?
Mike: Yeah. I would say things started to turn a corner about three or four weeks ago. The past week-and-a-half to two weeks, things have really started amped up a little bit. It’s a combination of no longer really suffering from the withdrawal symptoms of the medication and then also getting to the tail end of burnout, which maybe I’m still working through that. I’m not really sure. It’s really important for me to figure out not just what it is that motivates me, but what it is that I want to achieve.
Rob: As we start to wrap up, something that we talked a lot about that I brought up multiple times in the prior episode is about making progress on Bluetick or making progress to your day to day work, figuring out how to differentiate Bluetick, how to make it different from the other offerings such that it’s a product that you can sell, and you’re not just picking up crumbs. Do you have clarity about how to do that? That’s the first part of the question, and have you started making progress towards that end?
Mike: I wouldn’t say that I have absolute clarity on it, but I would say that I have some ideas about what the direction of it it should be. It’s more or less, I believe, doubling down on the warm email follow ups because I’ve been talking to a couple of customers here and there about what it is that they used Bluetick for, why they use it, and asking questions to help me figure out what the direction for it is, what it should be, what are they unhappy about, what are they using it to begin with, and consolidate that information.
One of the customers that I talked to, interestingly enough, he said that he started out using it for cold email. Then, when he switched over and started using it for warm email for other things, he’s like, “Oh, I’ve got this tool. I might as well use it.” Then a lightbulb went on for him. I was just like, “Oh, that’s interesting. Why?” Then, he started talking about the fact that it’s really built well for those types of scenarios. He was talking about why he was using it and how if there were some minor changes to it, it would be more helpful to him and just easier to use.
It gave me some ideas about how to go in that direction a little bit more. The problem I see is that when I ask him if he were talking about it to somebody that he knew or another entrepreneur or something like that, how would he pitch it to them? He’s like, “I really don’t know.” That’s something I struggle with is how to present it to people that in a context outside of use cases, maybe I just have to go on to that direction, and talk about it in terms of specific use cases.
Rob: How would you summarize that?
Mike: How would I summarize what? How it’s used?
Rob: No. Just the whole thing. If I were to say, do you know how it should be differentiated? I think I do. It’s the warm email context. Then, making progress towards that, not yet? Still in the thinking phase? When I say progress, have you shipped code or marketing material or different copy? Updated the website? Anything to that, and yet.
Mike: Yeah, I haven’t done any of that stuff yet. I’ve just been consolidating the information, kind of thinking about it. I’m not sure what the best ways for me to present that to other people are. I’m not sure if that’s the absolute direction I should go. Should I niche it down a little bit so that it is much more like a pipe drive plugin or should I integrate with a bunch of different products that are similar to that?
I have some open questions about that stuff and I don’t have the answers yet, but they are things I’m trying to actually figure out. Like how should this be pitched to people? Who are the exact people that I should be solving this specific problem for? When I first started on Bluetick, it was much more open-ended. It still is open-ended and it can do a lot of things, but if I were to niche down and only solve a very small sub-segment of the bigger problems that it can solve, I feel like it could probably get a lot more traction, and the question is, what exactly are those?
One example might be to reschedule meetings that have been cancelled. Those people are probably high profile prospects or high value prospects. If somebody cancel the meeting they scheduled, that’s probably a good situation where Bluetick could help you get those people back to a meeting. But is that the place where I want to niche down into? I don’t know the answer to that yet.
Rob: How are you going to answer those questions? You said you had several open questions. Do you have a plan to figure out how to answer them?
Mike: I’m going to be going through in talking to the rest of the customers that I have and seeing if that is something that they generally use it for. If so, then, I can at least generally answer that. At least try it out as a direction. I don’t know. Let’s say I decided to do that today. It may take another month or two to figure out, is this a reasonable direction? Am I going to get any attraction with it? I don’t know that.
Even if I made the decision, I’m still going to have to test it out. I’m still going to have to try it, see if I can get enough customers, and get some sort of traction. If I’m not getting that, then I have to probably go back to the drawing board and try and figure it out.
There’s going to be a decision point activity and then wait to see what the results of the tests are. If I don’t go through all three of those things, I can decide what the direction that is all I want. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be successful and there’s no way to verify it.
Rob: Makes sense. To be continued in a future episode of Startups for the Rest of Us. Stay tuned to hear the stunning conclusion of Mike’s journey with Bluetick in a few episodes. Mike, I have the next three episodes mapped out or recorded already. What we’ll do is…
Mike: I’m totally screwing up your […] system.
Rob: Yeah, you are. No, this one slides perfectly in place. I have all that dialed in, but what I’d like to do in the interest of both keeping the story going is also giving you time to get stuff together and make progress on these things is record with you again in a few weeks. I don’t know if it’ll be 461 or 462, somewhere in that range, and to hear what else is going on, hear updates on your thinking.
There’s a lot of open questions. I have six or seven bullets here that I have taken about differentiation, accountability, health and sleep, to what challenge do you want to tackle, and what it is you really want to do. I’m glad that you’ve made the progress that you have. It sounds like you’re out of the fog. It seems to me like what you have been doing for the past two months is working. Keep doing that.
I feel good just talking to you about it. It makes me feel good to hear you, the old Mike. It’s the Mike that I remember. You and I have gone in and out of these things. There’s an old Rob and a new Rob where I was super depressed for six months doing stuff. It’s not just about you. It’s cool to hear that. Do you feel that in yourself as well?
Mike: I do. It’s hard for me to look back on it. It’s one of those painful things to look back on. It’s like, “Oh man, I wish I hadn’t felt that way,” but it is what it is. I’d rather take the time and do the right things for myself, what I want, what I’m trying to do, and make the right healthy choices, I’ll say, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that going through those periods is easy either. I definitely agree that I feel alot better today than I did two months ago, or three months ago, or even six or eight months ago. The word you used earlier, coming out of a fog, that was woefully accurate. It’s the way I’d put it.
Rob: Well, thanks for coming back on and digging into these stuff. If folks want to keep up with you—no, I’m just kidding. You know I always do at the end of the interview. “If folks want to keep up with you, Mike, where would they go?”
Mike: I would say Twitter, but I don’t use Twitter.
Rob: Very good. I feel that wraps us up for today.
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