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.
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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.
If you have a question for the show, whether it’s for me or a guest, leave us a voicemail at 1-888-801-9690 or email email@example.com. You can attach an MP3, send a dropbox link, or just send a text. Our theme music is an excerpt from We’re Outta Control by MoOt, used under Creative Commons. If you’re not already subscribed to us, you should search for ‘startups’ in any podcatcher of your choice and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript to each episode. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
Listener, if you have a question for us, call our voicemail number at (888) 801-9690 or email us at email@example.com. Our theme music is an excerpt of We’re Outta Control by MoOt, it’s used under Creative Commons. Subscribe to us on iTunes by searching for startups and visit stratupsfortherestofus.com for a sexy new website and the full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time.
In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike answer a number of listener questions on topics including which signals matter, staying on task without external motivation, and how they manage their time.
Items mentioned in this episode:
Rob: Hey, Mike. Do you know what the Exeˈcutor is in Star Wars?
Mike: Yes. It’s one of the Star Destroyers but I don’t remember which one. I figure whether it’s the Super Star Destroyer or is it just one of the other ones?
Rob: I believe it’s Darth Vader’s Star Destroyer.
Mike: Yeah? Okay.
Rob: Exeˈcutor. What’s funny is I used to call it the Eˈxecutor when I was I kid because it’s spelled like that but I learned it’s called the Exeˈcutor. Here’s my question for the day. How many bounty hunters are on the Exeˈcutor when the rebels are hiding in the asteroid field?
Mike: Bounty hunters? Geeze.
Rob: This is The Empire Strikes Back.
Mike: Yup. They’re all standing around and he says like, “No disintegrations.”
Rob: Exactly and Robot Chicken has done a great parody of this. If anyone has not seen that, go type it. ‘Robot Chicken Star Wars Bounty Hunters.’ How many?
Mike: Oh gosh. How many exactly? There’s between four and six. If I had to guess, I’d go on the higher end. There’s probably six or seven, actually. I’ll go with seven.
Rob: Final answer?
Rob: It is six. Very close, sir. I was at five, but Boba Fett, Dengar, Zuckuss, 4-LOM, Bossk, and IG-88.
In this episode of Startups for the Rest of Us, Mike and I discuss determining which signals matter, staying on task without extrinsic motivation, and more listener questions. This is Startups for the Rest of Us Episode 443.
Welcome to Startups for the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers, and entrepreneurs be awesome at building, launching, and growing software products, whether you’ve build your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Rob.
Mike: And I’m Mike.
Rob: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. Where this week, sir?
What sucked even more is I created this 30-minute video and then I went to basically dump it unto YouTube, because of course you can’t submit it in any other way except by putting the video on YouTube, and I found out that there was no sound so I had to do it all over again. I had to re-record it. I was like, “This sucks,” and I tested the sound before like the first time, too. I tested it, it worked, then I did the video, and no sound. I was like, “Come on.”
Rob: That is no good. So, you basically just […] a bunch of times on something that really did not move you business forward.
Mike: Exactly. Of course, this whole thing does not really move my business forward, but I don’t know. I still have concerns about the whole thing because they say that depending on what you’re doing, you may need to go through a third party security review and I’m like, “Oh and that will cost anywhere from $15,000–$75,000,” and I’m like, “Uh, yeah. I don’t know about that.”
Rob: Interesting. They must have an exception, I’m guessing, for small companies? I mean, that seems like an odd thing to saddle you with.
Mike: Yeah, I don’t know.
Rob: It’s like it’s PCI has self-certification. There are often things like that where it’s a pain in the neck to do but there is some out. I guess it gets serious backlash. If there’s not, that’s not good because you’ve had this in place for a while and then they’ve changed policy?
Rob: Huh? Google changing something and hurting someone’s business? That’s news. Shocker.
Mike: The sad part about that is that I specifically built Bluetick using IMAPS so I wouldn’t rely on their API, so that if they decided to change things on me then I basically wouldn’t be affected. Guess how that is working out for me right now?
Rob: Yeah, sorry to hear that. It’s tough to rely on any third-party. I talked about when I had HitTail, how we were reliant on Google keywords, and then they did not provide it. Then we got into the Webmaster Tools and then they broke that. They break that every six months. It was really frustrating.
That was a big reason that when I wanted to start my next startup, I didn’t want to be reliant, and then you just wound up being reliant. You’re relying on somebody at some point. You’re relying on Amazon or Google for hosting and it’s hard to switch. Yes, there are options but it’s a tremendous amount of effort to switch.
Even just sending emails, as you and I know, getting in spam, inboxes, and on blacklists like that, you become reliant on them, and then you have to go build all this infrastructure to keep you from spamming people. This is another example. You do something, it makes sense, it makes it easier for your customers, and in this case it kind of get you into a bunch of extra work to just maintain this thing.
Mike: It is a double-edged sword, though, and it creates this hurdle that if anyone wants to come in after the fact and try to build that, it just makes it more difficult for them. Just by virtue of building your app and making it better over time, that does the same thing, certainly so. I don’t know. Still trying to work through it. I sent it off to them. I send the video to them and in less than an hour later, they got back to me and said, “Okay, now this other thing needs to be fixed.” I’m like, “All right.” I fixed that and burned another three or four hours fixing that because they’re like, “You can’t have non-production systems using the same client ID.” I’m like, “Dear God, it’s the same thing.” So, I’m like, “All right.” I don’t know. I have to switch everything over, modify my build server and everything else.
Rob: Anything else beside from technical and integration challenges going on with old Bluetick?
Mike: I’ve got my webinar that I’m doing which, by the time this episode comes out, it will have been yesterday. I’m doing that for hr.com and we’ll see how that goes. I got to get them the final PDFs to the slides so that they can post it in the website and then get the presentation on Monday. It ought to be good.
Rob: Sounds good. On my end, just opposite pushing forward with TinySeed and things are going well there. I’m having a great time and I’m very excited about the batch that’s coming together quickly. We have almost all of the startups you selected, made offers, sent paperwork and that kind of stuff.
There’s a bunch of stuff I think I’ve said on the podcast in the past, like legal is the bottleneck and had been now for a month of two. We’ve been selecting and making offers but without the final paperwork, which is […] third party who isn’t moving nearly as fast, isn’t moving with the same urgency that we are, put it that way, has been a little bit frustrating.
I’m looking forward to getting past this point because not only did we have to incorporate and set-up multiple, where now all I see is a limited partnership in all this stuff, which takes time. Then we have to have all these docs drawn up and we won’t next time. Batch number two will not have the same level of foundation-building and will have a lot more way. We’ll know more of what we’re getting into and have better systems to do it. But realistically, the systems are not what are holding us back at this point. It really is this reliance on a third party who is moving at a glacial pace compared to us. So, I look forward to being out from under that here pretty soon
Mike: It’s interesting that you say that because it reminds me of, don’t know the inside story on this but my guess is that, that’s probably the exact reason why Stripe came out with Atlas was to help founders get past all of that stuff, so that they just didn’t have to worry about the pace of getting all the legal stuff taken cared of. It just reminds me of that.
Rob: Totally. It’s friction and it’s something, specifically with Atlas, that every company that’s not a sole proprietorship has to do. They just want there to be more of those companies. They want to have that rising tide so they can remove that friction. I remember the first time with […] I was like, “Wow, they’re really going outside their core competency,” but now I get what their long-term vision is, is that they just want more businesses that are able to get online. Of course, that’s what Stripe Atlas allows you to do super easy.
I said it before. I wish there was Stripe Atlas for accelerators and for funds. There are some pre-made things for it. They’re ridiculously expensive to the point of being a non-starter. So, we get to do it from scratch. Good thing I’m used to doing that, huh? No one thinks from scratch.
In other news, we have a few more podcast reviews. I’ll just read one of them. From wking-io, he said, “I could listen all day. I do not own my own SaaS but I work for a small info product startup and this information is so valuable. I’m able to see this information in practice and know that I will have a head start whenever the moment strikes for my own app from all the info Rob and Mike shares.”
Thank you for that review. We love a five star rating or if you’d prefer spending more time writing review, either one is fine, in […], Apple podcast, wherever greater podcast are sold, we appreciate it. Mike, when is the last time that you got something useful from Twitter?
Mike: I connected last week when somebody had lunch with them and we connected over Twitter directly. So, we coordinated that […] as you could say.
Rob: That was a very long pause. The editor edited that out but to the listener, Mike was silent for about seven on eight seconds. Number two, did you have each other’s email or did you literally meet and connect? If Twitter had not existed, would you guys have been able to coordinate that?
Mike: We probably would have. It was somebody who joined the MicroConf Academy years ago and he’s been eyeing MicroConf. It’s Josh from […]. We did lunch maybe Tuesday. Monday or Tuesday. It was Monday this week. He was in town from Maryland and just wanted to say hi, so we got together and chatted for a while about our businesses and how things were going.
It was a good time but other than that, it’s been a while since I’ve ever gotten any real value from Twitter. You’re right. Evidently, there’s a huge pause because quite frankly, I don’t log into Twitter very often anymore because it’s a lot of noise. I guess that’s what Twitter is for is for noise.
Rob: Noise and arguments. I’m not a hater but I’m been trying to figure out how do I get myself off of it because I find it a bit more of a distraction than anything. With that said, I haven’t gotten anything valuable from Twitter in a for a very long time except for yesterday and today. I knew we were recording this episode. We didn’t have enough questions to fill out a full episode and with one tweet, got frankly enough for probably two episodes or more. So, I want to give a shout out to Twitter for bringing the thunder once every six months for me or whatever.
Anyway, enough of the Twitterating. Our first question was posed on Twitter. It wasn’t even directly to us. It was probably a few weeks ago when I emailed it to my Trello board and got it over here. Justin Jackson posted on Twitter and he said, “One challenge I’d had as a founder, tracking and trying to triangulate thousands of qualitative data points. Somehow, you have to decide which signals matter. But even then, plotting all those data points on a map and deciding on a direction is tough.” Then Alli Blum replied then and said, “Same. I think about this pretty much all day, everyday.”
I think we should discuss because I have thoughts on this. Basically, how do you do this? That’s the question here is how do you as a founder do that? Probably the best question is, you have a bunch of qualitative data, how do you decide on a direction when there are conflicting signals?
Mike: I don’t like this answer. I’ll tell you that before I give it.
Rob: It depends? No, just kidding.
Mike: No. Even worse than that. It’s like a lot of gut feel. You go with what feels important at the time because it’s hard to take some of that data and say, “This is justifiably more important than that,” really based on whatever rules you try to put in place. It’s hard to put rules down on paper that are immutable. There’s always things that are changing and there’s always stuff that’s going to factor in to those decisions.
For example, the video that I had to do for Google. It wasn’t really all that important and I pushed it off for a long time because it just wasn’t important. Then, there was a deadline where it’s like, “Okay, you got a week before we just outright reject your application.” It’s like, “Okay, I have to do this now.” It’s because the priority has bumped up, because there’s a hard line in the sand, and it has to get done by that time or there’s consequences.
I feel like a lot of my decision-making around priorities tends to be driven by negative consequences of not doing something, as opposed to there’s going to be positive outcome for X, Y, or Z. There’s so many things that are going on at any given time and you have to try and juggle them all at once. It’s hard to do that.
Rob: I actually think that’s a good answer. I think gut feel is the first thing that came to my mind. I think rules of thumb are something that, if you could possibly apply rules of thumb or expertise from other people who’ve gone down before it, then start there. If not, it’s a ton of gut feel.
Justin has identified the edges of where we can have a startup blueprint and where you’re drawing your own map, with a map ends in essence. I actually have a tattoo on my shoulder that is a map and there’s a hand drawing at the edges. It’s a metaphor for exactly this, of going off the beaten path. Originally, it was like, “Well, I’m not going to work 9–5, a salary job. I’m going to go be a contractor,” and people are like, “Woah. that’s risky,” and then, “I’m not going to do salaried work anymore. I’m going to build products.” “Wow. that’s really risky. You’re hard. Can you even do that?” Then while you’re building those products, there’s no map anymore or very little map.
Frankly 10–15 years ago there was almost no map. Things like this podcast, even lean startup, customer development, SaaStr, and MicroConf have enabled us to develop a mental model. There are books that come out on the topic as […]. It helps all of us have kind of a lose map or a lose blueprint, but there’s always an edge to that. This is the point where you have a bunch of data points to decide another action. There’s no map and this is where what separates the, I would say, a poor founder from a mediocre one, a mediocre from a good, a good from a great, is how well they’re able to make these decisions.
I would also say that this is, at least for me, gotten easier over time. I feel like I’ve gotten better at it because here’s what it is. It’s making decisions without sufficient data. You don’t have all the necessary data to actually make the decisions, so you have to fill the rest in in your head. I believe there’s almost never a right answer to these things. There’s always multiple right, multiple tough, wrong answers.
I also believe that most decisions are reversible; almost all decisions. There are very few that are not. To some, you may think are not reversible. They may come with a monetary cost. They may come with a relationship cost. They may come with agony, pain, time, whatever, but almost every decision is reversible. The ones that are truly not are the ones that I now agonize over and everything else. I tend to make a pretty quick gut feel decision, realizing that if we need to change course later, you can.
Mike: I’ve looked at all these different data points and see them as signals that point at a certain direction. But some of them are more important than others, and based on the situation or timeline or things that you’re dealing with, some of them are going to come out on top. If you have rules on paper, it’s very hard to create a set of rules that say exactly what to do or how to track those things and to determine what matters.
As you said, I think that that’s a really good point about the fact that there are these guidelines and rules of thumb that you can follow. But at the same time, they’re just signals. That’s all it means. There isn’t a right or wrong answer, unless you’re looking at it in retrospect. In retrospect, there is always a right answer, or a best answer, or an optimal answer. But because you probably are working with only about 30%–40% of the complete picture at any given time, I call it guessing a little bit. It’s more like educated model recognition of what’s going on.
That’s why MicroConf is just so important and these conferences and communities where other people have seen those types of things. They can recognize it essentially on your behalf, if you have not been there before and you are not able to directly recognize it. That’s why mentors help. that’s why accelerator programs work. Like Paul Graham, I would imagine who walk into just about any startup and give pretty solid feedback about why it will or won’t work, and probably be very reasonably accurate on it, just by virtue of having talked to 1500 to 2000 or 3000 startup founders, and helping them through all those different situations.
Rob: There’s a book called Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath. It’s about how to make decisions. I believe Ruben Gomez from […] turn me onto that. I listened to it a couple of years ago and something they say in that book is, just because the outcome turns out bad doesn’t mean it was the wrong decision. Those two things are not linked. You make the best decision you can, with the data you have, and with the information, the gut feeling or whatever else, the intuition, whatever you want to call it, and then you do the best you can. You reverse it if you need to or you correct-course as you move forward.
Mike: I think that’s actually a problem for a lot of people, myself included. A large extent is trying to figure out, “Can I just make a decision and move on?” or even just recognizing that you’re a reasonably smart person, you’re going to make the best decision with the information you have at the time, and it may turn out to have been a sub-optimal answer or solution to whatever it is that you’re trying to do.
Waiting is not necessarily going to help you very much. You’re basically just wasting time at that point when you could have been trying to move something forward in one direction or the other. Maybe it was the wrong direction but, as you said, those types of things tend to be reversible. It could take some pain but if you wait around for enough information, you have wasted so much time and then you still have to do it. So, moving is better than not moving.
Rob: Yeah. Opportunity cost of postponing, or agonizing, or waiting, procrastinating, whatever word you want to look for of a decision. It’s hard and that’s why most people don’t do this, don’t start companies because it’s too uncharted, it scary, it takes a while to get used to, and it’s uncomfortable. I think that that’s when you know that you probably want to doing things right, but you know that when you’re in a zone of personal growth, is when you’re doing things that are making you feel not comfortable. That’s when you’re going to get better. So, cool. Glad that Justin threw that out on Twitter.
Our next question is about how to stay on task with no extrinsic motivation, no external motivation. It’s from Mike Manfrin. He’s @manfrin on Twitter. He says, “How the hell do you stay on task when you have no extrinsic motivation? I’ve been letting myself spiral out second- and third-guessing design decisions and getting absolutely paralyzed with choice and scope, that I end up doing no work towards my startup.” Ken Wallace chimed in, “Think about having a mastermind because those folks can guide you,” and I actually think that’s a good thing we should throw out. I mean, that’s often with the bigger decisions. That’s where I rely on is someone in a mastermind. What other thoughts do you have here for Mr. Manfrin?
Mike: It’s interesting that this question comes out because I just talked about it. It’s very easy to run into that situation where you are not sure what to do, so you wait and you second-guess yourself. You don’t do the work because you’re second- and third-guessing your design decisions, thinking that if you look at the problem more or you try to gather more data is going to help you in some way shape or form, and it usually doesn’t. I think that’s a very different problem than not having motivation, whether it’s intrinsic or extrinsic. That’s a different problem than being in a situation where you second-guess yourself and you’re not sure what to do, so you try and gather more information. I think those are two completely different problems.
Rob: I agree. He says, “How do you stay on task when you have no external motivation?” I definitely had time especially when I start to burn out, or when I’m feeling depressed, or when I don’t get enough sleep, there are seasonal times when it’s dark outside and cold and stuff, where I am unmotivated to do things, and I really struggle just to stay on task. Those are the times where I strategically break out caffeine, I turn on bright lights, I turn on loud music. I use all the sensory options that I have to try to get myself into a zone. I try to get into a routine where when I hear this playlist start or when I hear this single song and listening looping start, that I force myself to get in and do things. Now, the nice part is it’s probably been a year or more since I felt that way, but I’ve gone through months and months of stretches of that. That’s how I do it.
He’s also then asking, he’s spiraling out second-guessing design decisions, getting paralyzed with choice and scope. This does tie into that first question or first proclamation that Justin made of how do you make these decisions and not get paralyzed with choice. That’s where we said this is hard, it’s gut feel, you can undo things later. I think a lot of us as developers don’t want to make the wrong choice because we feel like we’ll have to rewrite all this code. Refactoring’s a pain in the butt and if we make this decision decision in the database, then we’ll never live it down, never be able to correct it.
While it will be painful to correct, these things are reversible. That’s where I tell myself actively if I find myself being hung up and for the first thing is to identify that you’re doing this, and being like, “I’m not being productive right now because of this, because of this decision, or this item in my Trello board, or this email. Why am I not doing that? Am I stressed about it? I just don’t want to face it, am I scared that I’m going to make the wrong decision?”
There’s a bunch of things that I will try to identify and then I’ll say, “Okay, if I’m stressed about it, then why? And then why? And then why? Keep asking the whys to get to the true source of it, to figure out if I’m actually stressed, or if it’s a design decision then I will either think to myself like, “Well, I’m going to call up XYZ person, who I know has a great design and usability sense, and I’m going to ask for 15 minute of their time and say, ‘Can you help me with this?’ so that I have some sense of calm about the decision.” Or maybe I just make a gut feel, I go forward, and hope it’s the right decision.
These are tactics that I would use trying to get other people involved. I do think Ken Wallace’s suggestion of having a mastermind so that you can bring these things to people on a regular basis, is a good one. Can of course run MastermindJam, which matches people up in the startup space into a mastermind.
Mike: But I think that those are also with two different pieces. One was recognizing it and then two actually addressing the problem. I think the recognition of it is something that tends to take much longer than it probably should for most people. I found that myself. I mentally know that I’m not making progress on something, but I don’t necessarily allocate time to analyze my productivity at noon, for example. I don’t have 15 minutes of this to decide and say, “Am I making progress today? Am I doing what I expected to do? Am I procrastinating doing stuff or just not doing things because I don’t want to or I’m afraid to make mistakes?”
I think the identification pieces, the part that creeps up on us, and it last fast longer than it should if we aren’t on the lookout for it at all times. What I do, for example, I do a lot of journaling. I have an app that sends me an email and says like, “Hey, write into this little thing here and you can explain what your day is supposed to be like,” for example. I do that on a fairly regular basis. I’d say probably at least three or four, if not five days a week. Then I will notice the following day if I’m not making progress on something because I’ll be a little annoyed, usually my sleep will be suffering, and I’ll say, “Oh, I didn’t get a good night sleep last night because I was thinking about this,” and it makes me think about that stuff.
So, it’s kind of a forcing function. That’s something that people can think about. I won’t say journal your way out of it. I don’t look at it as full-fledged journaling. I might write a couple of sentences or maybe a paragraph or two. It’s usually the stuff that bothers me and that just brings it to my attention. Maybe if I start writing a lot, I know that I need to pay attention to it, maybe take a step back, but otherwise I could easily go a couple of weeks or a month or two without really noticing, and then all of a sudden it’s like, “Oh I’ve burned two months and I’ve got nothing done.”
Rob: That’s a good point. The faster you get basically knowing yourself at noticing that you’re having negative thought patterns, or negative behaviors, or behaviors that are causing you to procrastinate, or go in circles or whatever, the faster you’re able to do that and identify it, the faster you’re then able to actively attack it, get through it, and make progress. I think this is something that all of us struggle with in one form or another and I think this is something that you get better at over time if you focus on it.
This is so much of what my wife, Sherry, does on the ZenFounder podcast and in her writings and such, is looking at how these thought patterns come about, how to identify them, how to get through them. I’ve been saying for quite a while that I think 60%–70% of entrepreneurship is mental. I think more than half of entrepreneurship is purely just dealing with your own psychology, your own things, that self-sabotaging behavior, procrastination, whatever it is that you struggle with, if you can learn to overcome that, you will have such an easier time and make so much more progress so much faster.
I’m saying this from personal experience, that getting into you own psychology, whether that’s with a spouse, or a mastermind, or trained professional who is either a therapist or business coach or whatever, I think it’s invaluable. Thanks for the question. I hope that was helpful.
Our next question is from @GregDigneo on Twitter. He says, “My question revolves how you and Mike manage your time. Rob you’ve built and exited a company. You guys are both parents, you run a conference, you have the podcast, you write books. My loose question is, what is your day/week look like?” He’s asking in a couple of different ways. It’s like, how do you manage your time and what is a typical day/week look like? I think he’s probably looking for the days or the weeks where we’re more productive, not the ones where I stare at my computer for three hours, don’t get anything done, and then just wander off to go for a walk because I realize I’m not actually focused.
Mike: I tend to look at it on a weekly basis. My week’s, for the most part, are pretty similar. I work from home and the weeks that I tend to get screwed up is when the kids are home from school. Let’s see here. If I’m starting on Monday, Monday is usually my heavy work day, so I have it blocked off from my calendar. Even if somebody wants to schedule time with me using Calendly, they simply can’t. I have a hidden calendar that I can send them a link if I really needed to talk to somebody on a Monday, but typically I don’t hand that out to people and it’s usually on a case-by-case basis.
Tuesdays is not blocked off but I tend to get a fair amount of work done on Tuesdays as well Monday. I usually will work late, so seven or eight o’clock at night just because I tend not to have anything else going on. Tuesdays is a little bit lighter. In the evenings on Tuesday night, I have a D&D game that I play every week and then Seeker Wednesdays, I probably do less work. On Thursday, I do less work. Fridays, I try to get things done and set up for the following week. Saturdays, do a bunch of stuff around the house and take the kids to whatever they have, music lessons, or soccer, or what have you. Saturday night I have another online D&D game that I play and then Sunday is usually do whatever, usually cleaning up around the house and stuff like that. My week is pretty straightforward for the most part. How about you? Do you do it on a daily basis or a weekly basis?
Rob: I tend to think about things on a daily basis. Most of my days are different from one another. Sherry and I collaboratively home school one of our kids. He’s older, he’s almost 13, so it’s not like we’re sitting there teaching him stuff. He’s online taking courses, making progress on his own, and then we just have to monitor and poke in.
Some of my days I’m on and I know I can schedule fewer calls that day because I don’t want to be interrupted, and then other days I’m just completely focused on work. I look at it at a day-by-day basis. What I’ve noticed about myself is that I used to code. When I was writing code, I could sit and write it for 12 hours straight. I used to do that. That was actually my optimal way of functioning is to sit down, get momentum, break very briefly to eat or use the bathroom, and then get back. I would do 12-, 14-hour code days and get two or three days worth of progress done in that amount of time.
I don’t know if it has since I’ve gotten older or if it’s that I don’t code anymore because the coding was a very logical left brain. There’s some creative in it, but compared to what I’m doing now where I’m actually actively producing content, having to think things through, and these higher-level decisions, they’re a lot more taxing on my good glucose, so to speak. There’s only so much good brain functioning that you can have.
Writers who write books, Stephen King, these highly productive writers, they don’t write for 10 hours a day. They tend to get up, write in the morning between three and four hours tops, and then they spend the rest of the day doing other things because there’s only so much good focus you have.
Now, what I’ve found is that I’m highly productive in short bursts of, say, one to two hours. I try to have a forcing function that forces me to stop, because if I don’t, I will tend to just work two, three, four hours straight, and I feel my productivity just descend over the subsequent last one or two hours that I’m working. I have different forcing functions. Oftentimes, it is a child getting home from school or I take two of the kids to Jiu-jitsu. It’s only about an hour that we’re sitting there and I get so much done in that hour. And it’s the worst working conditions. It is terrible. I’m hunched, I have no plug, I have no chair. I’m literally hunched against the wall like I’m in junior high gym or something. I’m sitting almost like Indian style with my back to the wall, terrible posture, I have a laptop there, and I get more email done in that 45–60 minutes than I do two hours sitting at my house. I have no external monitors, I have nothing. It’s loud but there’s something about that space and the fact that I know my time is so compressed that I just hammer through to-dos and I hammer through emails.
That’s just one example but I have a bunch of times like that during the week that I’m finding there’s kids’ music lessons, there’s other things where I find that if I force myself to only have this much time, that I get the work done faster. That’s kind of a personal hack that I’ve been doing lately.
I think another thing is these are low-level how to get things done quicker on a higher level. I say ‘no’ to everything except for what’s on my goal list for the year. If you look at running a conference, you and I just do that. That’s on the to-do list. I feel like I’m pretty efficient about it, I feel like I focus on it when I need to, and then I make it a priority. The podcast is something that we’ve essentially automated almost all of it. You and I show up for two hours every other week and that’s two episodes. We walk away and the next two episodes go live. We don’t do anything else. We’ve automated, we paid for years. Since 10 episodes in, we paid for an editor who post the episode, who writes the show notes, who does all that stuff.
Writing the books. When I’m going to write a book I will make that a priority and I will work on it everyday. If I was writing or revising my book right now, I would probably do at least an hour of that once a day and then I would continue to do my other stuff. I wouldn’t say ‘yes’ to a bunch of things. I say no to some interviews. I say no to a lot of opportunities to jump on a call with someone to explore this or that. I say no to speaking at some conferences. Not all, but if I don’t think it’s a valid use of my time, I save the two travel days and the time to write the talk and all that. I push that towards things that I feel like are my highest priorities, that are in my goals, and things that hopefully will bring the most value to me, but also most valuable to this community that we’ve built and more value to more people.
That’s something else that I had to tone down is I don’t do as nearly as many as one-on-one things because I find that I can be more valuable by writing a book, or recording a podcast, or writing a conference talk that is going to be distributed to thousands or tens of thousands of people. I also don’t like things that are ephemeral, things that don’t stick around. To me, a blog post is better than a tweet because a tweet’s gone. A book is better than a blog post because a book sticks around for a long term. This is a lesson I that I’ve learned over the years is to focus on those things that help more people, that stick around longer, that have deeper meaning, and that bring more value to both yourself and people that will be consuming it.
That was a longer answer than I thought. It was more than I had thought to say on that topic but I think that was a good question. I think at a higher level it’s about priorities and saying no to everything else, number one, and then number two it’s about staying motivated over the long term, showing up every day, and getting […] done. Relentless execution is this phrase that I’ve used. It’s a personal moniker that I have adopted. Relentless execution.
That doesn’t mean you go crazy and work 20-hour days. I haven’t work more than 40 hours a week during the decade. There may have been these short stints like when I was revamping HitTail. I worked 60-hour weeks for about six weeks and then I pair back. To me, a 35- to 40-hour a week schedule is ideal, sometimes 30 depending on the season of the year, but I find that I get more done when I actually have shorter weeks and I’m forced to make quick decisions and get stuff done.
Mike: I do as well. You know at the back of your mind that you have as much time to work on something as you want, when you can just take as much time as you need, then it will take forever. I think it’s, what is it? Taylor’s Law that the amount of work will expand to fill the available time. I find the same thing. I will hold off on making decisions because I know that I have time to ruminate on it, or I will take longer to do something just because I have the time available. That’s actually what makes my Mondays a little bit tough is that, because I get myself a lot more time on that day, sometimes I’m not necessarily as productive. Then I find that sometimes on Tuesdays I will be more productive even though I have less time available to me to do work.
Rob: I can totally see that. To come back to Greg’s question, he says, “What is your day or week look like?” I feel like everyday for me tends to be different. I do like hitting things hard Monday morning by getting up and I ask myself the question, what has to get done today or what has to get done this week? What will move the business forward the most?
When it was Drip it was like, “Well, it’s getting everyone on the whole team on the same page and getting this decision made about what feature to build or this big deal we’re trying to close.” Now with TinySeed, it’s choosing the batch and it’s getting that forward. Those go right to the top of the list even if I get in my email box and it has 50 things, the things that are on the topic of what I have to get done that day, I skim through it. I take care of all that stuff first and everything else is on the side.
I would say that my days probably don’t look like you think they do. I start work a bit later than you probably think and I end it earlier that you think. I didn’t used to do that. Again, I think that’s where we’re coming back to is forcing yourself to get stuff done on a shorter time frame. It comes back to the cult of the Silicon Valley startup hours where they’re like, “I’m working 80-hour weeks or 90-hour weeks,” or whatever.
Your productivity plummets. There been a bunch of studies that have shown that it plummets after 40, 50, 60 hours a week. They’ve done it in construction, with construction workers when they go to 610s and 710s. When you were estimating those jobs, you have this major markdown factor. There’s books published by the electrical contractors who say, “These are guidelines and it will drop 30% over 50 hours and it drops 40% over 60 hours. It’s not just for those last 20 hours. It starts to fatigue and then your entire 70 hours that you’re working become 60% as effective.
It’s this crazy thing and that’s where the Silicon Valley startups who say or the founders who say, “Oh, I’m just working all these hours.” I’m always thinking, “What are you doing? What are you actually accomplishing during that time?” I find that I’ve been able to get quite a bit done in my career and my life. I don’t do that, really never have, even when I was coding. When I talk about coding, there’s 12- or 14-hour days. It was my early 20s, we had no kids, and what I would do as a contractor-consultant I would code that long day and I take the next day off.
It wasn’t that I was working long weeks. It was that I prefer to batch my work into a single stint, so to speak. I felt like it was more productive once I’ve got everything loaded up into my head—the mental model—I hated stopping and losing all of that, and had to regain that the next time that I sat down.
Mike: I would agree with that. I do wonder about some of the studies and stuff where they say, “Oh if you’re working more hours, then it’s not as good. You’re not nearly as productive.” I do find that there are times when you just get into a rhythm and you’re in the zone. If you break out of it, take breaks and shorter days or something like that, it’s kind of hard to load your brain up with all the stuff and all the little details that need to be there in order for you to get certain types of work done. I’m not necessarily saying that it’s broadly applicable, but there are times especially when it’s coding, taking a break is extremely disruptive. It’s so much easier to just down there and bang that stuff for four or six hours or eight hours, and if you’re still being productive then there’s not a great reason to stop except for those forcing functions.
Rob: Thanks for the question, Greg. I hope that one was helpful. If you want to connect with Mike or I on Twitter, I am @robwalling and he is @SingleFounder. I feel like that probably wraps this up for the week, Mike.
Mike: I think it does. If you have a question for us, you can call into our voicemail number at 1-888-801-9690 or you can email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our theme music is an excerpt from We’re Outta Control by MoOt, used under Creative Commons. Subscribe to us on iTunes by searching for ‘startups’ and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript to each episode. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time.