In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Mike and Noah Kagan of AppSumo, talk about the evolution of Bluetick. Mike discusses how the idea came about, development, and issues faced along the way. Noah provides some post launch marketing advice and tactics.
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Mike: In this episode of Startups For the Rest of Us, I’m going to be talking to Noah Kagan about Bluetick marketing tactics. This is Startups For the Rest of Us, episode 353. Welcome to Startups For the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers, and entrepreneurs be awesome at building, launching, and growing software products, whether you’ve built your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Mike, you got to say, “And I’m Noah.”
Noah: What’s up, man? I’m Noah.
Mike: We’re here to share experiences to help people who made the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s going on this week, Noah?
Noah: This week, I’m doing marketing. That’s kind of what I’ve been thinking about with our sumo.com business, just who’s the customer, where are they, what kind of plan can we put in place to help reach out to them.
Noah: Yeah. Our whole company’s purpose is we help the small dudes or the little guys become sumos. We have two businesses, one’s AppSumo which is a GroupOn for geeks, and sumo.com which is the tools for people to be able to promote themselves, mostly around growing their mailing list and growing their customer base.
Mike: Awesome. Today, we were going to dive into Bluetick. I just launched it a couple of days ago, I think this episode will go out actually a week or two later. I wanted to talk to you a little bit about it just because you’ve got a knack for all things marketing, to be perfectly honest. You’ve done a lot of different work with some very high profile companies like Mint and Facebook, especially in the early days of those companies.
I wanted to talk to you a little bit about if you were running Bluetick based on where it is today, what would you do and how would you approach things moving forward? Take that not only for my own selfish purposes to use that moving forward, but also to illustrate to the listener what sorts of things are possible and what sorts of things they should be looking at when they’re trying to get their product out the door right after they launch.
Noah: Totally. I don’t know how much you shared with your audience on the podcast, maybe you want to give a little bit of a background for possibly new listeners or to anyone who haven’t heard about Bluetick yet?
Mike: Sure. Bluetick is a warm and cold email follow up tool. The basic idea is that if there are certain points in your sales funnel that you know where you typically have to reach out to somebody more than once to get them to do something, whether that’s to reply or to fill out a form, or to submit information, something along those lines, then you put them into this email sequence. It will email them. If they don’t perform that action, it will email them again. It will keep emailing them again until it either runs out of emails to send or the person does that. You can have them pulled out of the email sequence, put into a different one.
It integrates with Zapier. People use it for integrating into a variety of tools like Asana and various CRMs to help them move people through so that they don’t have to do it manually. Otherwise, you have to copy from spreadsheets and things like that. It’s a pain in the neck to track of how many emails you’ve sent to each person and how far down in the email sequence they are.
Noah: How did it come to where it is today? Were you on the toilet and you’re like, “Hey, I really am tired of doing follow-ups. I need to go build software because I’m a smart developer.” How long did it take? I’m curious more of where the problem and the creation came from.
Mike: You were actually one of the first speakers at MicroConf back in 2011.
Noah: I thought you were going to say I was one of the first speakers to never be invited back, which that is true. I’m still waiting for my invite.
Mike: The hot sauce incident, I think that’s what did it. There was hot sauce 12 ft up in the wall.
Noah: [00:03:49] incident, it will not be talked about.
Mike: There was a no hot sauce rule after that. Disregarding that, when Rob and I were running MicroConf, he typically handles a lot of the speaker side of things and I handle the sponsor side of things. What I found was that when I was emailing sponsors to see if they were interested in sponsoring MicroConf, what would happen is I would send somebody an email and they wouldn’t respond. I would have to send them another one and possibly two or three more.
At some point along the way, they would reply. Usually, these were sometimes warm contacts, sometimes they were cold contacts. In most cases, because my email fell much lower on their priority list, they didn’t necessarily see it as necessary to respond right away. Of course, there’s good intentions there. “Oh, yeah, I’ll get to this. I don’t have time right now because everything else gets in the way.”
I would find myself emailing them two, three times, four times, over the course of a week or two, or three weeks, something like that. I found myself saying the exact same things to them over and over. I had the idea that there could be a piece of software out there that would do this for me.
I know exactly what the second, third, and fourth emails are going to be. The first ones are usually customized, Bluetick allows you to do exactly that. But those followup emails are all heavily driven from a template. They’re pretty much automatic. It’s really just to kind of get a response from somebody and help move the conversation forward.
Noah: So you had the idea, you’ve had these problems with these guys. I’m just curious, these are the things I’m thinking about. How did you go from that to saying, “Alright, I’m gonna build a software around that.”
Mike: I started doing a little bit of validation around it. My thought was oh, I could sell this to other conference planners and event planners. What I did was I looked into it, tried to figure out what a pricing model would look like, and realize that unless you ran a lot of conferences on a very regular basis, then you probably wouldn’t use the software.
Just because the pricing model didn’t really work out in terms of finances for me. If I charged a couple hundred dollars, it’s a little bit of a tougher sell than if I were to charge $50 a month for it. But if I’m only charging $50 a month, how many times are they actually going to pay me? It maybe two or three because they’re doing sponsorships for a couple of months leading up to the conference, and then they don’t need it for the rest of the year.
I tried doing the validation for a while and then I said this just isn’t going to go anywhere. And then fast forward a few years, I kind of came back to it and said well, there’s actually a lot of other situations that this applies to. Following up a consulting services company where they’ve got a proposal out to somebody, or they’re just trying to get the conversation started, or they’re just trying to find the right person to talk to. Those are all situations where this type of tool applies. But initially, I was looking at the wrong type of buyer for it. The right solution, wrong target person.
Noah: Who were you hitting up originally?
Mike: When I was first trying to figure out who to go after, I was looking at event planners and conference coordinators because I knew what that looked like. Right now, what I’m looking more at is services companies, anyone who has a price point that’s probably above $2,000 but less than $10,000. It’s well worth your time and effort to follow up with those people, but a lot of people don’t just because they either feel bad or they don’t want to go through that emotional hassle of sending that second, third, or fourth email.
I’ve got lots of data that shows me if you send that first email, yes you may get a 30%, 40% response rate, but if you send four or five, your response rate can increase dramatically to 70% or 80%.
Noah: That is really interesting. I found the same thing. I’ve used a similar tool. What was shocking for me is 50% of my replies to people came on the second email. It was like oh wow. It’s one of these things where most people I’m sure, Mike, you get a bunch of emails and a lot of people get a bunch of emails. You delete them. If it’s really important, people will follow up. If it’s something that’s important, the data actually really shows that.
Did you go and just build this right away or did you sell a bunch of them and get customers before you made it? How did that go?
Mike: What I did was I created this little explainer video. It was about a minute and a half long. I sent it to a handful of people in my network who I thought would have this particular problem and ask them, “Hey, is this a problem that you have? If so, are you willing to talk to me about it? I think I have a solution that would solve it.”
I got probably about a dozen conversations out of that fairly quickly, out of about 20 to 30 people that I send it to. I had those conversations. That was the initial discussion. I would ask them, “Is this something that you would pay for?” Most of them said yes. Once I got to the point where I had 12 people who said yes I would pay for this, then I sat down and I created balsamic mockups of what the application was going to look like, how it was going to work.
And then I went back to those people a month later and said, “This is what it will be, what do you think?” Then walked them through everything, gave them a “demo” of the product using those mockups. And then I asked them for a credit card, for a pre-payment. People gave me anywhere between a one month to three months pre-payment, I let them choose how much they were going to pay which helps me figure out what the price point was going to be. If that would make sense for me—if it was going to be $5 a month, I didn’t want to deal with it. But if it was $50 or $100, that’s reasonable.
After going through that, I ended up with about 15 or so people that gave me pre-payments, anywhere between one and three months, and anywhere between $40 and $100. I ended up with close to $2,000 worth of pre-payments.
Noah: Dude, go you. That is awesome. I think most people do it backwards. Build, build, build, hopefully someone comes. You’re like let’s see if people buy. I think one thing that’s a good thing for your audience to think about and it’s a good reminder for myself is that you had people already that you could reach out to. Either you had a mailing list or you had some audience or you had some type of network. I think most people do that way too late.
One of my favorite silly examples is people want to eat vegetables so they go like they have a garden. They dig a hole, plant a seed, and then they try to eat the seed the next day. I’m like obviously you have to water it, wait, and nurture it. I think you did a really interesting job where you’ve been doing this over a year so it made it easier for you to go validate this type of business idea. For people out there, go start a mailing list, go start a website, go start joining Facebook groups, go to conferences like MicroConf or whatever that is. It’s just a really good thing.
One thing I’m curious is who are the people that pre-pay? I think that’s amazing. What were they really excited about?
Mike: Most of them were services companies who wanted to get somebody into their sales pipeline or wanted to get somebody to a meeting so that they can have a call and talk to them. The issue that they had was that they would send somebody an email and say, “Hey, can we hop on a call?” The person wouldn’t respond, or they’d send them the link to their Calendly, youcanbook.me, or whatever that they were using. They’d suggest a couple of times and the person wouldn’t do it. Then, they would have to go back and follow up with them.
I built Bluetick in such a way that you can send them that link and it will send and inject data into the query string for that. So that when they click on it, they schedule a time, it closes the loop so that you don’t have to go back and pull the person out of the email sequence, it’s all done automatically for you. It tracks that on the backend so you can check what is your conversion rates and things like that on those emails that you sent, which one was the most effective, and it really just helps automate that whole process so that you don’t have to do anything beyond that first email. You just set it and by the time that person gets to that end of the sequence, the email has done its job.
Noah: You sold $2,000 worth to people, most of them wanted it for sales. What did you do next?
Mike: After that, I sat down and hired a couple of developers to help me build it. Spent about four months or so doing that. Then, probably two or three months after that trying to work through very early issues with customers, trying to figure out is this going to work for you, how does it work in your business, and just trying to get them to use it.
I ended up taking my entire development team that I hired, fired them all because everything behind it was really just not very good. I spent about six months re-architecting a bunch of things. At that point, probably around November this past year, that’s when I added my first customer who started paying on a monthly basis. Since then, I’ve been adding customers over the course of the past six, seven months or so. Right now, it’s sitting at around 20 to 25 active customers, and around $1,100 to $1,200 MRR.
Noah: Hold on, dude. That was crazy. What happened? You’re working with these guys or girls, and then you fired them after?
Mike: Basically. It was a team of three people, and they didn’t know each other. It’s just three independent contractors. I tried to position to them like hey, one of you needs to take the lead and step up and do this particular role and manage stuff. None of them really wanted to do it because it was all off of Upwork, they’ve never worked together before. In terms of management, I was trying to hand that off to them so that I could focus on customer stuff. It fell apart.
I blame myself for it because I didn’t necessarily give them as much guidance in terms of the design and engineering upfront as I probably needed to. My expectations were probably too high for them.
Noah: How would you do that differently? It’s funny, in the past six months as I’ve been doing more personal stuff, I was building some recruiting software. I used actually the Pakistani in the outsourced team that helped me build AppSumo seven years ago. Man, it was a freaking struggle. “Alright, cool, we’ll do those features.” Then they come back with the features and I’m like this is not even close to what I exactly told you guys to do and I showed you what to do.
I’m curious, how would you better communicate, hire a better team, how would you do that next time you build something?
Mike: I think that the design itself really needs to have more details or more screencasts or walk throughs with me explaining things. One of the things that I did was I would give them a document that says, “Hey, this is what it’s supposed to do.” It’s really dry and boring to look at those things. Even if you have things on the screen, it doesn’t necessarily lend itself to everybody on the team doing things in the same way.
If you have three different people who are tasked with building three different areas of the application, you still need somebody to coordinate between them to help understand, “This is the style we’re going to use, this is how we’re going to do paging and sorting,” things like that. There’s a lot of backend stuff that was just an absolute mess. It was implemented completely differently from one page to the next.
From the end user standpoint, the app barely works. It was because of all those issues. There wasn’t enough focus, I’d say, on letting them know about areas where they really need to be concerned about, which were things like you can’t just assume that you’re going to get ten records here, you might get hundreds or thousands of records, or even hundreds of thousands.
The replaces in the app where it just wasn’t scalable in any way, shape, or form and it would fall apart once you started using it. That’s what a lot of the reengineering effort was focused on.
Noah: That’s actually interesting. How much did that cost you to begin with, and then how long did it take once you took it back over to just finish it?
Mike: I’d have to go back and look but I don’t think it was more than probably $15,000 or so to have them work on it, between the three and six months that they worked on it. Most of them were working on it part-time. I don’t think it was more than $15,000.
Noah: Then how much was the new version?
Mike: The reengineered version, I did all that work myself. It took like six months to do it.
Noah: If you could go back, it sounds like ten months plus some of the validation. A year, give or take. What do you think would’ve been an alternative to get it out sooner? If you had to start this all over tomorrow, what would you do?
Mike: I’d probably stub out certain parts of the code base myself so that it’s clear how to do certain things or clear how to manage certain types of problems. There’s typical things you would do in an app like security controls, team accounts, and things like that. You really need to have those types of designs engineered upfront. If you don’t, then you’d have to figure out what to do with them later.
But there’s also that trade-off that you have to think about. Are you going to over engineer upfront to make sure that you get it right, or are you just going to slap something together and put it out there and see if it works and if it resonates with people and then re-do it afterwards so that you don’t figure out later on if you’re making a mistake? I think it depends a lot on how much money you have to spend on it and how much time, versus how quickly do you want to get to market and make the mistakes.
Are you okay with prototyping certain parts of your app, for example? Are you okay with prototyping the whole thing and throwing it away once you’ve validated that the idea’s going to fly? It depends on where in that spectrum you fall.
Noah: Where do you think most people make mistakes around that?
Mike: I’d say that people spend probably too much time building the app as opposed to putting it in front of people.
I had something that was barely functional in front of people in about four months. I realized early on where the problems were, why they weren’t using it, and what sorts of issues they were running into that made them not want to use it. That was helpful in that I got there quick, but at the same time those types of problems took a long time to solve partially because I wasn’t familiar with some of the technologies. Using a stack that I was probably more familiar with would’ve been a little bit better, but I can’t really do anything about it at this point.
Noah: One thing that I’m considering, and then we can get into the marketing plan about how to scale this out, cause I actually use a competitor tool, we could talk about that as well. If you couldn’t have built any software, you’re an engineer so you’re obviously very smart. Engineers are smarter than everyone else. If you couldn’t build a software, how would you have done the software and how would you have just done the service without the software?
I think what people miss a lot of the time, they’re like oh, software as a service, it’s just a SaaS recurring revenue. They don’t know that SaaS means you’re doing a software that’s replacing a service. I think that’s really critical that people just jump to the software. I’m like do the service a few times. In most businesses, you can actually implement ghetto versions of it to see if it’s something valuable for people before you go out and build software.
Mike: Yeah, I think for this, to figure out whether or not that was an idea that would fly, like in terms of the validation piece of it, to see if the process itself works. If you didn’t know that the process worked, then you could probably just create your own email account or ask somebody, “Hey, can you create a mailbox on your domain? I will send the emails for you.” When people get replies, then I will shoot it over to you unless you take over the conversation. You could do that, that would probably be the easiest way.
Noah: Dude, that’s a great idea.
Mike: If you don’t know how to code, if you don’t know how to do anything like that, you basically have to say how can I insert myself in here to do what a computer would do?
Noah: Dude, I love it. I’m just going to repeat it cause it’s so good. You’re like, “Hey, just give me access to your inbox or give me a separate account. I’ll even write the emails,” and you do it for them and then they’re like oh shit, this is working. Then, you could actually go build software.
Mike: Yup. I think that would work if you didn’t know anything about it or if you weren’t technical. I think in my case, I had done some of that early validation because I was doing this exact same process for MicroConf sponsors and I basically just took that process and implemented it as a piece of software. I think it depends on the type of problem you’re going to solve, whether or not that specific solution will work. But I don’t see any reason why if you’re going to build software that solves problem X, you can’t just do it manually until you can program a computer to do it.
Noah: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. You finally got it built six months later because you took over, you did it yourself. I’m curious for the people who aren’t technical, a lot of MicroConfs and your listeners are, but for the non-technical, how would they find someone to build it? Let’s say they validated it. Where would you go?
Mike: I started out with Upwork. I think that they combined with freelancer.com or something like that, I forget what the other one was. There’s also weworkremotely.com. The issue you find though is that the better developers, you have to pay more money. If you’re operating as a bootstrapped business or running it on the side, then you have this constant challenge or balance that you’re trying to strike between paying somebody to develop something versus either doing stuff yourself or paying somebody who is a lower cost so that you’re not burning through your runway as quickly. Cool?
Noah: Any of those different types of services, does Fiverr have any development?
Mike: Ah, I don’t know. I’ve never looked on there. Maybe they do, but my guess is that it’s probably very certain problems.
Noah: That’s fair. You finally build it and you give it to these people. What do they say? They’ve been waiting for it.
Mike: Depends on where you are in the timeline. After the four to five month mark, I count from January or 2016, because that’s when I broke ground on code. And then in April or May is around when MicroConf was, and right after that I came back and I started putting it in front of people. It really just wasn’t ready.
I had a hard time getting people to use it, I created accounts for them and they just really wouldn’t use it. I spent several months trying to figure out why it was that people weren’t using it, what was it not doing for them. There were just a ton of issues here and there, basically throughout the entire app. A lot of it just needs to be re-architected. It took me six months to get it to the point where I was getting people to start using it and realized now this is at a point where I could actually sell it to people.
I actually took somebody from outside of that core group of people and said, “If you want access to this software, you’re going to get charged on day one.” I was still trying to on-board those people, but I had given carte blanche access to use the software or not until they were getting value out of it, that’s when I would start charging them. There wasn’t any real impetus for them to start using it because it was obviously putting something on their task list, because then they have to start using it.
But then if they start getting value out of it, then I’m going to start charging them. I didn’t really draw the line in the sand for them until probably four or five months ago.
Noah: Interesting. Now you finally got it out, you finally got most of the bugs fixed, let’s jump to the marketing thing. Let’s get to the meaty stuff where a lot of people say, “Hey, how do I get more people to find my product and buy my product and grow my business?” I think the missing part sometimes is do you have something people actually want? Do you ever wonder about that, or think about if this is something people actually wanted?
Mike: For this product, no. I think that’s actually an interesting question, the way you phrase it because I don’t think that most people, when they’re building something, even question whether or not people want it. I don’t think that they do. I don’t think I’ve ever questioned anything that I’ve ever built and said do people actually want this? You don’t know that or even really consider it until after you put it out there, and then people don’t buy it. You’re like, “Oh, do people really want this?” You’re not going to build something that you don’t think people want.
Noah: Yeah, we think that. I don’t think anyone tries to be like, “I can’t wait to build stuff that no one’s ever going to use.” You know what I mean? I generally don’t think that’s the case.
Mike: Exactly. That could just be self-delusion too. It’s not to say that that’s not a possibility, it just means that no, I never really seriously thought that, and I still don’t. But it doesn’t mean it’s not a fair question, objectively, do people care?
Noah: What was your plan to get it out there? This is where we can start going through the marketing plan stuff that we went over in your document.
Mike: There’s different stages that I would say the app needs to get to. There’s the early adopters or beta users, whatever you want to call them. That group of people needed to get on-boarded and start being successful with it. Then there’s this level where I feel like it needed to start getting a critical mass of 20 or 30 people before I can go public with it and start pushing it out to larger numbers of people. That’s where it is today.
Most of the people who are on there now have either been using it for several months or were part of the very early access group, or just heard about it through word of mouth. I’ve actually gotten a lot of referrals from people who have been using the software and then recommended it to somebody else and said, “Oh, you’re having problems with X? I was too. I switched over to Bluetick and those particular problems went away. I found a lot of success in asking specific people for referrals and getting into other people’s networks and leveraging those networks to add more people into Bluetick.
Noah: Referrals, and then did you pick a goal, did you pick a customer? How did you organize that at a high level?
Mike: With the referrals, a lot of them were people that I didn’t know. It wasn’t as if I necessarily had a particular goal in mind, it was just who do you know that has this particular type of problem, and then is Bluetick a good fit for solving that problem for them? Most of it boil down to doing a demo for them, talking to them about their problems, if there were ways to reengineer the software a little bit to fit that particular use case.
I found a couple of use cases that people have hit on, one is podcasters who want to get sponsors for their podcast. It’s funny that that has come up because several years ago, when I was first doing the early validation, I was looking at event coordinators and conferences. They just didn’t happen often enough, but podcasters record every week or every other week. There’s a much higher frequency, and they could actually use the software to do exactly what it was originally going to be for for event coordinators.
Noah: A few other things. It seems like one challenge you’re figuring out is who is the ideal target customer?
Mike: Yup, that’s absolutely true.
Noah: For me, I use Outreach, there’s Mixmax, there’s Boomerang, there’s FollowUp.cc, there’s a good amount of different people doing this. Even with sumo.com and AppSumo, there’s always competitors. I’ve never seen a business where there is not competitors, even people like Tesla. There’s a bunch of other car companies, and guess what, there’s public transportation, there’s biking and Uber. Sometimes, their biggest competitors don’t even realize.
I guess the thing for you and people out there is just not to get discouraged. That’s also advice for myself. There’s always some competitor.
I think that what I’m curious for you is who do you think your customer will end up being? Is it for SMBs that are small sales teams, is it the podcast marketing tool? I do think with the outreach and some of these guys, I think we’re paying $500 a month per person or something pretty crazy and you can’t just sign up for it, you have to have a demo and all this other stuff.
Mike: I have talked to people who have been using Outreach or switched away from Outreach. One of their biggest complaint was the fact that it costs so much per license. I talked to somebody a few weeks ago and they said that there were quoted $150 or $160 a month per person. Bluetick is only $50 a month per person and it does largely the same type of things. I’ve heard from people who have used various competitors that they had problems with them.
What I did early on when I was doing the validation was I focused in on those problems and said how can I avoid Bluetick having any of those problems? I worked really hard on the engineering side of things to make sure that those things don’t happen. For example, being able to add somebody into more than one email sequence at a time and recognize when they’re in one versus the other and pull them out of the correct one for example.
Another one is being able to make sure that the emails are not being missed. If a reply comes in, how do you guarantee that the software does not miss a reply? I do that by synchronizing the entire mailbox, which I don’t know of anyone else who does that. It’s basically brute forcing to make absolutely sure that does not happen. And there’s a few other little things here and there, but those are kind of the main pieces that I focused on because the people I talk to were generally unhappy with other options.
In many ways, I won’t say the target market is this but I feel like a good chunk of my early customers are probably going to come from people who are fed up with other products and are looking for a solution because of specific things that they run into.
Noah: We can go about how I like to think about marketing plans and some of the things I’d recommend for you to do.
How do you know which customer you’re going to finally be like let me hone in on this customer and this pricing?
Mike: That’s a good question. I don’t know what that looks like right now, that’s something I’m still trying to work out. I’ve shied away from honing in specifically on one particular use case or one particular type of customer so far because I don’t feel like I have enough customers who fit a given profile yet to be able to say I’m going to go in this direction.
My concern is really that the tool gets pegged for getting sponsors for podcasters, for example. I don’t want the tool to be pigeon-holed into something like that too early. I don’t know what the best customer looks like. Maybe that’s not even a valid concern, maybe I shouldn’t be worried about that.
Noah: I think you should, and I think that’s where you’re going to win. Winning means just making the business a lot easier. What I’ve been thinking about a lot in the past few weeks is called PPD. Who’s my person, what’s the price for them, and what’s my differentiator? Your PPD, I guess PDP or whatever way you want to organize it, for yourself is this is something that when I was doing marketing at Mint was probably one of the reasons that we did well. It obviously was not just me, there’s a bunch of people that made Mint.
What we did is we targeted people who read personal finance books. It was free. Your price is zero which is good, and then differentiator was it was free, and the people was very exact. It was like if you’re reading a personal finance blog, I want you. If you’re not reading personal finance blogs, I don’t care. The more that you can do that, and even commit to it for three months.
I think what I’ve noticed with marketing is that people don’t want to be very narrow because they’re going to lose out on customers. An example of that was yesterday I was talking to my friend who helps me with design work. He said, “Hey, the most lucrative customers are my web app and mobile app designs, but I get all these other businesses and I want money but I’m not making a bunch, so what do I do? It’s hard to say no to that.” I said great, more you’re saying no, the more it means you’re focused and you have the right customer. But find someone else that you can pass them off to and say hey, this is a great person for all these things you want, I’m this. In reality, he can get better at that skill and he could start charging more.
If you had two today, Mike, I’m curious, if you could only serve one person and you said for the next month, let’s just keep it really short, I’m only going to focus on this person. Who do you think that would be?
Mike: I would probably say the owner of a services company that has less than ten people in it. By ten people, I would say ten people total but probably two or three that are charged with doing the outreach efforts and marketing and sales for that business to help them build the business and build the relationships they need with their customers.
Noah: Let’s go with that, now we’ve got something. We’re doing service people who need more customers. Web design agencies, what’s an example of that?
Mike: Software development, web design. You could go so far as print design. Anyone where there’s a service based component where you typically have to talk to the customer in some way, shape, or form before you can really start working on them. Because of that, you end up with the type of business where you have multiple people involved in the creative process because you’ve got a sales rep or marketing person on the front end and they’re really doing business development, and then they hand off the business or the work to be done to somebody else, and then that person does it but they’re the ones getting compensated or the money is being generated for that consultant company based on their work. It’s not really that sales person upfront.
The price points for them tend to be higher. It may be a couple thousand dollars, maybe $3,000, $4,000, $5,000 a week, but it’s worth it for them to follow up with their customers. That’s really the key point that I found, the price point that they’re selling at has to be high enough for them to justify doing those outreach efforts. We talked about this earlier, the second, third, fourth emails, those are the ones that you also see a fairly high response rate.
If you can get to the point where you have a business if a lead is worth $4,000, $5,000, you only send them one or two emails, it’s probably not enough. You need to get to a point where you get an answer, you don’t want to send an email into a blackhole and just assume that they’re not interested. You have to follow up until you get an answer one way or the other, even if it’s no, you don’t care, you just want to know if that lead is dead.
Noah: You have that, and then what’s next? What’s next for you with that? I think sometimes when people ask for advice, this is why I tend to never give advice, is because we all have our own plans. You already have some kind of plan that you already want to do. I think when people are giving advice, just try to understand what people’s plans already are and see if you can assist that, that’s why I asked that before I tell you to go do all this stuff.
Mike: Yeah, I think the biggest question in my mind is how do I get in front of those people? It doesn’t even necessarily need to be at scale either. It’s how do I get in front of those people so that I can capture enough of their attention and enough of their interest to get the conversation going when they don’t know who I am, when they don’t know what Bluetick is or what it can do for them. Maybe they’re familiar with cold or warm emailing software and CRMs and sales funnels and things like that, but they aren’t necessarily looking specifically for these types of tools.
Noah: I am curious. How come you’re not targeting… MicroConf has how many people on their mailing list and you have so many on your mailing list. How many people are on that mailing list?
Mike: I’d say between them probably 8,000, 10,000, something like that.
Noah: Just out of curiosity, how come you didn’t focus on serving those people? Or tailoring this more to them?
Mike: I won’t say that I haven’t. Bluetick is my business, and then there’s also the Micropreneur Academy which under that umbrella you have the podcast and MicroConf and Founder Cafe. We don’t really mix email lists. I would say I wouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable going out and trying to do a sales blast or anything like that to them, just because that’s not what they were there for, it’s not what they signed up for.
It’s different if I talk to somebody at MicroConf where they come up to me and ask me questions about Bluetick because they’ve heard about it and they’re interested in it. I have no problems doing that, especially when they’re coming to me. “Oh yes, I know this person, I feel like I can trust them. They’re going to do the right thing for me.” That’s not an issue, it’s that going outbound to that audience, to those particular mailing lists is too head-putted.
Noah: That’s just one feedback, and then we can go through marketing plans. We’ll do a marketing plan in 15 minutes or less, it’s like dominoes. I think most people with marketing, and this is something that I think why sometimes my marketing is done well is that I do go to the people I already know first. I try to serve them first.
What I mean by that is I don’t know, and maybe you do and I’m totally off-base. I don’t know how many people you have that are already running software development firms, and maybe it’s a lot. The easier thing you already have for sure is you have a bunch of people who already like you, who probably have businesses or know someone who has a business that I would try to tap my close network first before I even try to think of my secondary or fourth networks I have no clue of.
Mike: No, that’s a good point. I just have to think of creative ways to do that.
Noah: I don’t even think you have to be creative, dude. Not to be mean about it, but those people already like you. I don’t know if they hate me or like me but for sure they like you. You don’t even have to sell them. Be like, “Hey guys, there’s something I’m launching, you guys are launching things, I’d love to get anybody’s feedback on it or if you guys want to use it, feel free.” You can hook them up if you want, that’s totally on your discretion.
It’s just like when I started AppSumo, I started a business for startups because I love startup software. I like promoting stuff. I had a network of that. I went out to my network on LinkedIn, I went out to all my friends and said, “Hey, can you tweet this?” It just made it really easy cause I tried to help and serve the people I already had access to versus ones I had no clue of.
Mike: That’s a good point.
Noah: Just something to consider. It’s been really interesting talking about this, here’s just a few thoughts about it.
What’s your goal for the year with Bluetick?
Mike: My goal with it, by the end of the year, I kind of classify the end of November as the end of the year because December I don’t think a whole lot is going to get sold. By the end of November, I’d like to hit $10,000 in MRR.
Noah: Okay, that is key. I just want to highlight it for people out there. If you don’t have a goal with a timeline, I just don’t think you can be successful. Someone said this quote, it’s like a boat without a router. You’re just going randomly. Maybe you’ll end up in America, maybe you’ll end up in South America, who knows?
I love that you have a goal. And then to that goal with that timeline, what’s your plan now to hit the $10,000?
Mike: I have a bunch of notes and stuff that I still feel like I need to organize a little bit better, kind of like you said just going without a router. I have a lot of tactics and specific things that I could do kind of written out, probably have a couple of hundred things. I haven’t really organized them to what your PPD, the person price differentiator. I haven’t narrowed down to say these are the people that I’m actually going to go for and these are the tactics that I’m gonna slot in to actually do that.
I have some ideas that have kind of worked in the past few months. One of them is doing influencer outreach and going on podcasts and things like that. I’ve also taught about doing joint webinars, I’ve talked to a few different people who have fairly large audiences themselves and said that they’d be willing to talk about Bluetick and have me on the podcast to talk about cold and warm email strategies, things like that.
Those are the things that I would probably lean more towards right now just because I’m more comfortable with them. I think that there’s also plenty of other things that I either haven’t done before or I’m not comfortable with, or just don’t even know about or haven’t thought about that I could do to increase traffic and add sales and customers.
Noah: Do you mind if I give some suggestions of what I do?
Mike: Absolutely, that’s what you’re here for.
Noah: Do whatever you want, but here’s how I would organize your marketing a little bit tighter. Number one, I think you should just pick a specific customer and then make your website very tailored to them. When I go to bluetick.io, it’s not very clear who it’s for. It’s like, “Hey, everyone should send cold and warm email followup software.” There’s feature driven, demographic driven, and then psychographic driven types of headlines. It’s not speaking to anyone.
For me, if I come to Bluetick, it should be we help service companies make two times more money. Oh, how the hell do you do that? And then that hooks me into what you do.
This is getting there. We send follow up emails so you don’t have to, but what does a followup email actually mean? If you’re talking to your specific audience, let’s say you target podcasters just to get guests, it’s like we help two times you book your guests, or don’t waste so much time booking guests. “Oh yeah, I’m a podcaster, I waste a bunch of time. That’s really painful.”
I think your marketing, the way that I would do it, is think about who your customers are. This is what I do. Either use live chat or just talk to them and ask them how they describe your business. Use a recorder, record it interviewing for the podcast, interview a customer, and take their language. I don’t know how they talk to their friends, but the way they talk to their friends is the way you need to talk to them, or their colleagues. That would be number one.
Number two, with your overall marketing plan, the way I like to do it is I love your goal, $10,000. You need to break that down monthly. What does that mean for August, for September, October, November, December? From each month, you should have how much MRR do I need to be to get my $10,000 by the end of the year? Then within each month, I break out if I need to go from $1,000 to $3,000, I need $2,000 MRR. What are ways I can get that? What I like to do is list out ten different ways, then I make estimations about how much MRR I can get from each activity.
For example with sumo.com, we were trying to double the amount of customers we have in the next six months. I have a list of six different things, it’s content marketing, affiliate marketing, paid marketing, free tools, SEO kind of stuff. I estimate based on some historicals and just guesses, how much I think each one is going to happen. I sort it, and then I pick just three. I don’t think we can do that many things great. I execute on just those three for the month. At the end of the month, I’d say, what did it actually produce versus what I expected?
The beauty of that then is I can cut the one that doesn’t work, keep one or maybe two that do work, and then add in another experiment, the 80-20 rule. What that does is it forces some discipline on accountability. “Wow, this is what it should do if I actually executed correctly,” and help you hit your goal. Does that make sense?
Mike: That makes perfect sense. That’s dead-on accurate. That’s fantastic, to be honest.
Noah: It’s a basic spreadsheet, I don’t use crazy software, it’s totally free, Google Spreadsheets, or illegally download Excel or maybe open source it. Even for you, you could even do one on one. A lot of times I do that in the beginning, just referral.
With sumo.com, when we started it, I just literally went out to people that I knew. If you don’t know a bunch of people, go join MicroConf, go get involved in things if you don’t know people before you need them and before you want to work with them. If you do have people, how can you go one by one and do that? We literally went through every single person on my LinkedIn account.
You know I’ve been doing internet stuff for 15 years, it took me a long time. But at the end of it, it was like oh wow, we have a good amount of people using this now and paying us. It’s one of your tactics, I wouldn’t want to discount even direct selling one by one and say I think I could probably generate $500 from that and then you do it at the end of the month. You’d be like, “I did $300, it was pretty damn good versus other things. I’ll do more of that next month and then less of something else.”
Mike: That point, I could export all my contacts on LinkedIn and just look through them, see who I think would be a good fit, or should just be filtered out entirely and then throw them into Bluetick and just do that personal outreach. I can do that. There’s nothing preventing me, I don’t think.
Noah: I think that’s even more genius. Use your own product, use your own dog food. I think that’s epic, man.
Mike: I actually use that during the course of demos. Previously, up until this week, I had just a little field on the website where you could ask for an invitation code and then they go to the next page, fill out a survey. Anyone who filled out a survey, I’d look at what they said and then plug them into Bluetick and then use Bluetick to get them to a demo. During the demo, I would show them, “Hey, this is how Bluetick got you to this demo.” It works really, really well. We got an 80% response for it.
Noah: Dude, that’s genius, I love that. This is a new method that I’ve been using with my marketing and I’m starting to apply it in other parts of the business, and it’s called Proactive Dashboards. The idea there, Mike, and for people listening is that you create a dashboard for yourself and your team of things you can do on a weekly basis that is fully controllable by you.
What do I mean by that? Mike, can you control if someone responds to your email or not?
Mike: Not directly, no.
Noah: You can’t force somebody to respond to your email. You can be like, “No, do it, I’ll kill you.” I’m going to be like meh, whatever.
Mike: There’s 300 of them.
Noah: Yeah, and then we’ll just filter emails or whatever. Point being is you can’t control them but can you control how many emails you send?
Mike: Yeah, absolutely.
Noah: Completely. I create Proactive Dashboards for my podcast, The Noah Kagan Present one that we were talking about earlier, and then for sumo.com we have a proactive dashboard. For each of these teams, it’s things that we can control that help us hit our goal.
Let’s say your goal is this MRR goal, you have a person doing sales for you or for yourself. It’s like can I send ten emails a week? That’s controllable by you. Each week, we do a green or red, whether we hit our goal. Then, you can have other things. How much ad spend? Did you spend $50 in ads? One of the guys in our team, it’s like hey, did you run two marketing experiments this week? I don’t really care which things they actually do, I just care that they do it or not do it. I want them to take initiative and all that other good stuff.
The point of the proactive dashboard is that it’s kind of this living controllable dashboard that will help you hit your goals. You can adjust it as needed, meaning you’ll probably be doing stuff like we were doing a bunch of Pinterest for a while. It was just doing nothing. After a month, it was said kill Pinterest, what’s working better? Quora. Okay, let’s increase our Quora. We did and we saw Quora go up. This week, we’re experimenting with LinkedIn. I’m seeing a lot more LinkedIn traffic and engagements so we’re experimenting with one post on LinkedIn a week.
Basically, I encourage everyone to think about what are controllable things I can be accountable for or make my team accountable for on a weekly basis that will help me hit my goals?
Mike: That’s awesome. I guess in terms of psychology, what does that do for you? Obviously, you do have control over these things. Is that why this works? Is it a psychological hack that doesn’t put you in a position where you just freeze because you’re not sure what to do?
Noah: Dude, I’ve gone to a bunch of therapy. I know everything.
I think why I like this and why the teams like it is a few different reasons. One, you want to play games you can win. If you’re doing things and your end vanity metrics aren’t working, it’s very demoralizing. But this is something where I can control it completely. I learned this from my friend [davidgrasshopper.com 00:44:07].
One, it’s controllable so you feel like you can actually win. Two, a lot of us like to see that we have streaks. The green and red every week and you start seeing you have green, you’re like okay cool, I’m doing well, I’m getting my stickers.
Three, I do think the fact that you make—I don’t know if this is as much with the psychology of it but the fact that you adjust it. For example, these marketing tests. If we were doing marketing tests and it would never help our goal, we would just cancel it. I think it just makes you a little bit more short term, like alright, am I doing the activities that I can control that are helping me move to where I want to be? So far, it’s been really great. I’m starting to implement it and I’m looking forward to it.
With the Sumo team, the webinar guy, it’s like hey you have to make one YouTube video a week. He’ll start doing it and then it’s like holy crap, that’s actually really driving traffic and customers, now you got two. And then maybe it’s like you have to do a collaboration every other week. Did you do that or not? That’s less control but did you email five people to collaborate with? That’s controllable. I think more ultimately, I have power to choose in this. I think with certain other times, you feel you’re at their mercy of hoping things work out. I don’t really believe in hope, I believe in making sure things work.
Mike: I think I have a blog post or a conference talk some place called hope is not a strategy. I completely ripped that off from Scott Adams.
Noah: I think with marketing, that’s why I always tell people to spreadsheet it. I call it quant-based marketing and I’ve written a bunch about it on OkDork. The ideas, if you need to hit $10,000, map out all the ways you think you would get to $10,000, execute on it, see which ones are right and which ones are wrong, and then keep iterating on it versus I want to be $10,000, I’ll just do a bunch of random shit and hopefully it gets there.
I don’t think if you’re trying to travel somewhere you would just say alright let’s just get on a plane and hope it lands where I want to go.
Mike: Yeah, I can’t imagine that works out for most people.
Noah: It doesn’t. A lot of the time, you’re going to try things, some of it is gonna work, some of it is not going to work. The point is that for sure in business, things aren’t going to work, that’s a guarantee. Knowing that things aren’t going to work, it’s great, but you have to say now that I know that, what things are working so that I can do more of them?
Mike: I think your point earlier about playing games that you know that you can win, I think that’s probably the killer insight that really needs to be a high level takeaway from all this.
Noah: I think that’s great, man. It sounds like overall for your marketing, one, you already got customers and revenue which is further ahead than most other people which is amazing. I would just put a little bit more organization around the PPD. Who’s the person, what’s the price, what’s your differentiator. There are options out there, so who’s your exact person?
And then in your marketing plan, I think it’s just hey, here’s my plan laid out for the year, here’s my things for this month, let me go execute on them. Let me have my weekly dashboard. And then, start iterating from that. You’ll be like holy crap, I hit $10,000 sooner than I thought.
Mike: Awesome, that’s fantastic advice. I know that you’ve got a gig going here soon. Where could people find you if they want to follow up with you?
Noah: If you’re interested in my personal stuff, Noah Kagan Presents podcast or okdork.com, I talk about business stuff that I’m learning from our business which is sumo.com, which is tools to grow your email list. We also have the AppSumo.com which is GroupOn for geeks. Any of that you can find me, I’m pretty darn accessible. If you can’t find me online, I don’t know, something is wrong.
Mike: You’re not looking hard enough I would say.
Noah: I didn’t get enough attention in high school so I’m desperate for it now. I hope to get invited back to MicroConf one day if I can earn that right. There will be no Sriracha, or I might just bring one bottle.
Mike: You take it easy. Thanks for coming on the show, I really appreciate it. If you as a listener have a question for us, you can call it 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 in iTunes by searching for Startups and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening, we’ll see you next time.