In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Mike and Rob talk about why some products fail and others succeed. Based on a listener question they lists reasons for both sides while also revealing some old failed product ideas of their own.
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Mike [00:00]: In this episode of ‘Startups for the Rest of Us,’ Rob and I are going to be talking about why some products fail and others succeed. This is ‘Startups for the Rest of Us’ episode 334.
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.
Rob [00:26]: And I’m Rob.
Mike [00:27]: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s going on this week, Rob?
Rob [00:30]: Kind of the same old stuff. Just hiring a few more folks. We had two new developers start last week, and I think we have two or three open job recs right now. Doing a little bit of MicroConf prep with yourself and Zander. Kind of finalizing the schedule and some sessions. And, you know, fighting the good fight.
Mike [00:49]: It’s amazing how much the little things for MicroConf eat into your time. I mean, there’s all these little things that you think will take five minutes or something like that and they end up eating through twenty or thirty.
Rob [00:58]: Right. Yeah. There’s been a little bit of evening work and some thought and schedule crafting that’s gone on. But, overall, can’t complain given that we’re basically putting on two conferences back to back. I don’t feel like it’s anywhere near even the same amount of work that we used to put in five years ago on the conference.
Mike [01:16]: Right. It seems like it’s not twice as much work to hold the two conferences back to back either. At least not yet. I mean, we haven’t been onsite for it so that could certainly change things.
Rob [01:23]: Yeah, that’s true. And what’s nice about that is, like we’ve talked about in the past, we opened enough tickets that we just about sold out of both conferences but not quite. And I think that’s exactly where we want to be. I think we’ve sold four or five tickets in the past week across the two conferences, and that’s the ideal pace I feel like. Is that last minute folks who want to come who hear about it late I would really like for them to still be able to buy tickets and we’ve never had that really at any MicroConf in the past. So, it’s been kind of nice to see that.
How about you? What’s going on?
Mike [01:55]: Well, kind of related to MicroConf. I’ve been working on my working on my MicroConf talk a little bit. And outside of that, I’ve obviously been putting time into Bluetick and right now I’m working out some UI and workflow issues related to allowing people to self-onboard just because there’s certain parts of the setup process in onboarding that are a little bit more complicated. So, we’re reworking the UI a little bit to make it easier for them to do that and just kind of give them a wizard to walk them through it and anticipate where they’re going to run into issues. Because we’ve seen enough demos in onboarding sessions where this is obviously a problem and getting it the point where people can do that without our help and assistance is definitely going to be worthwhile.
And then kind of related to that is I’m working on recording some video walkthroughs of different parts of the application to show people how to use it so that I don’t have to walk people through those demos myself. Just based on stuff that I’ve learned that people have asked about and said, “What does this do?” Or, “How does that work?” And looking at places to key those videos in so that it’s obvious that if you need help here’s a little button just click on that and it will walk you through this particular piece.
Rob [02:55]: Yeah, that’s a really good way to go. I think that’s kind of become the blocking and tackling template. For this I know it worked really well for us in the early days of Drip. And it still does. I think the videos I recorded two years ago are still live. Or someone may have re-recorded them because we changed our top nav and we were like they get out of date.
And that’s the one bummer with videos is you have to re-record the whole thing as soon as you change one part of the app. You can’t just edit text or replace a screenshot. But recording a sixty- or ninety-second video that’s really tight can go a really long way for brand new people just getting oriented with a specific feature. And in Drip we actually embedded it right at the point they needed to consume it. They were also in the KB but there were only three or four constructs in the beginning. It was broadcasting campaigns and I don’t remember what else. But right as you got into a broadcast it’s like, “What’s a broadcast?” And then there was a sixty-second video of me talking about it. How to use it, how to set one up. Boom. Done. And we got some good feedback about that early on.
Mike [03:48]: That’s basically the approach that I’m using. It’s like right at the places where they need that information, that’s where the videos are and you’ll just be able to click on a little button that has the video embedded into it and it’ll just pop up over the page or something along those lines. We’re still kind of working that out. But, as you said, the one concern that I have is that there’s still parts of the app where the UI is changing and I know that those pieces are going to get out of date and it’s like, “Do I really need to worry too much about that?” Right now, I’m just going to say heck with it and record them and if they get out of day, they get out of date. And if we need to go back and re-record some of them then we will. Or I will.
Rob [04:23]: Yeah, that’s the way to go. One piece of advice there is I would consider only having the videos easily accessible during the blank slate phase. That’s where there’s zero data on that page and that’s when someone’s just trying to get started. They can watch the video or they can dive right in. Once they have one or two of these things set up, the odds of them needing to watch that video drop dramatically. At that point, you could potentially have a little link out to a KB or something.
I don’t know that you need to go so far as to – for the rest of the time that someone uses the app, you always have some link available for them to drop it in. Because you only need that the first one or two times tops that you’re going to set this up.
Mike [05:04]: That’s an interesting approach. I can certainly embed it on certain pages directly where if the page loads and there’s no data behind it, then show that video. And then otherwise up in the top corner or something like that, have a little help icon that they could click on.
That’s something I have to think about whether or not having that extra button there that’s kind of hidden or out of the way where people can just click on that and say, “Get help for this page,” for example. I wonder how much value that adds.
We found that the blank slate approach has worked really well. We got a lot of positive feedback about it. And then it kind of goes away once you’re past the blank slate which tends to be when you don’t need it anymore. So, that’s one way to do it that we’ve found to be quite good.
Mike [05:52]: Cool. I’ll definitely take a look at that.
Rob [05:54]: So, what are we talking about today?
Mike [05:55]: Well, today’s episode is based on a listener question from Matesh. And there was a conversation that kind of went back and forth so I’ll sort of paraphrase things here. But essentially he was asking about why some early ideas failed, specifically related to us. But I thought that it might useful to listeners for us to address that in a broader sense and talk about why different products fail and why different products succeed. And different ways that you can mitigate that and identify whether or not you’re on the right track or the wrong track.
Rob [06:23]: Sounds good. Let’s dive in.
Mike [06:25]: When you’re looking at the success and failure of different products, I think that there’s two very broad categories that things fall into. And the first one is whether you launched it or not. Clearly, if you never launched something then it’s not going to succeed. And that’s kind of a whole bucket of failures. There’s plenty of hard drives out there that are probably just littered with projects that people have started and then never finished. I think it’s pretty clear that there’s tons of reasons why those things failed. Most of it’s just people didn’t spend the time on it and follow through with it. But I think that we just kind of ignore those and move on to ones where people have launched it but, for whatever reason, it didn’t succeed.
Rob [07:00]: Okay. But before we do that, I have to tell you about at least one of my projects – it was probably circa 2005, 2006 – and I never launched it. But I still think this idea is as bad as it was the day I conceived it.
I always wanted to be able to follow artists and bands and directors and writers. Like I love Aaron Sorkin’s writing. And I wanted to go to one place to paste them all in or select them from a list and then, whenever they release something new, I would hear about it. You would think this would be fairly easy but I found myself keeping this big text document of all these band names and then these writer names and authors. And then I would periodically go through it and past them into Amazon and look and then I’d past them in here and there. And then I was just like I don’t think there’s really a good service for it. I think Bandsintown may do that now but I’m not sure it tells you about CD’s.
But anyways, I went through and I built the dot net and I hooked it up to the Amazon API and I did all this stuff. And then I realize this is an awful idea. This is something that some big venture funded company would do and try to create a big buzz around and raise a bunch of funding and then they’d go out of business and someone would come and pick up the scraps. Although I wish this existed and in a really palatable format.
Mike [08:10]: I think what you’re looking for is indieshuffle.com.
Rob [08:13]: Yeah? Does it do it for all the things I mentioned?
Mike [08:16]: I don’t know. You’d have to probably look at it and figure out whether or not. There’s probably little things that you were looking for that either are there or are not.
Rob [08:24]: Got it. So, this is cool for music?
Mike [08:27]: Yep.
Rob [08:27]: But it doesn’t have any of the other stuff. I follow authors who write fiction and nonfiction. And I follow, like I said, writers and directors so I would need film. Mine was going to be all that because you could, of course, use Amazon to look for those as new products came out. A new book or a new DVD at the time because there wasn’t streaming.
I’d imagine there’s either a service out there doing this now or there’s three different services. One for each genre.
Mike [08:52]: Yeah. Indieshuffle, I believe, is primarily aimed at music only. But there’s probably ones out there that are similar for those other spaces.
Rob [09:00]: Totally.
Mike [09:01]: Interestingly enough, I have an idea that I started back in 2005. I wrote out all the designs for it and it literally became a multibillion dollar business. It was named Lighthouse but the idea was essentially file sharing made easy so that you could just drag stuff into a folder and it would automatically share it on other machines. Sound familiar?
Rob [09:19]: Dropbox.
Mike [09:20]: Yep.
Rob [09:21]: Yeah. Now to be fair there were like 30 Dropbox competitors even when Dropbox came out. So, you could very well have been the 31st. Because obviously, the idea was one thing but Dropbox getting out ahead, raising the $10 million and execution is what took it ahead.
Mike [09:36]: Oh, totally.
Rob [09:36]: But it is fun to know. I almost acquired a business that did exactly – this was a Dropbox competitor – and the guy wanted a crazy multiple. But it was basically that. It had all the apps and all the stuff. It was kind of like a virtual thumb drive is what we were thinking of at the time.
Good thing you never launched that one because without raising a bunch of funding I’m not sure that you could have ever gotten that off the ground to the extent that they did. Because it’s the freemium model that allowed them to really get the traction, right?
Mike [10:00]: Right. It was 2005 when I wrote the design document for it and it was like an almost forty-page design document for it. But I never followed through and actually wrote it. I still wanted to tweak things out and figure out whether it was going to work or not. And at the time I was transitioning over into doing consulting because I’d left my full-time employment at the time. So, I was doing a lot of consulting and traveling and I just didn’t have the time to work on it.
Then fast forward like two or three years to 2008 is kind of when I went back to it. I started working on it and I think I probably wrote like a code for a week or two, and then I stumbled across Dropbox. And I’m like, nope, that’s it.
Rob [10:37]: Let’s say you had tried to build it in 2005. Do you remember how expensive servers were and storage and all that crap? It would have taken you literally millions of dollars to build it to any type of scale that would have paid. It was not a bootstrappable business even if you were ahead of Dropbox. Just purely for the cost of everything.
Mike [10:58]: The market that I was specifically looking to serve was magazines where they need to collect digital materials and files from graphic artists and they need to get those to their office. The problem was that most of those people had to use FTP servers and a graphic artist just does not know how to use FTP. They had problems with it. So, I was trying to make it easy for them to share their files. And there’s a general use case scenario that Dropbox came out and addressed at the consumer market. It’s interesting how that whole thing ended up playing out.
Rob [11:31]: Totally. What do you mean they don’t know how to use FTP? I think your wife takes offense at that.
Mike [11:35]: No. The thing is, she was actually the one who enlightened me to the problem because she was working with all these people who needed to send files to her. And they couldn’t figure it out. She was working at the magazine and they were trying to send her files and they just couldn’t get them or they didn’t’ get them in time. There was a lot of issues with FTP. You send the file and there’s no notifications behind it either. So, obviously, Dropbox has the notifications and stuff built into it.
There were all these ancillary things that went into that in transferring the files and making sure that people knew about them and there were deadlines and stuff like that. But, I don’t know. It’s interesting to look back on that stuff.
Rob [12:11]: For the listener wondering what we’re talking about, Mike’s wife used to be a graphic designer for a magazine. It was obviously a problem within her purview there.
Cool. So, let’s dive in. I totally sidetracked this whole episode so we could talk about these old, crappy ideas. Well actually, your idea was a good idea. Just one that would have taken a different approach.
Mike [12:30]: It kind of leads back to some of the reasons why something doesn’t get off the ground. It does relate to the episode, both of those things do. But I guess to kind of step back and go back on track, there’s a difference between launching and not launching. Once you’re past that, things also break down into a couple of different categories. And the first one is, did you get any paying customers or not? Because there’s a big difference between a product that gets zero customers and gets at least one. And there’s a lot of reasons why something might get no customers. Obviously, the most prevalent one is probably you didn’t do any marketing or you weren’t able to talk to people.
There’s also the quality problem issue. Your product has to be good enough for people to want to pay for it. Has to have the features that they need. Had to be solving a problem for them. And if it’s not doing any of those things then you’re not going to get any customers.
Rob [13:15]: Yep. Isn’t this startup founding 101 these days? Product building. The first step is figuring out what the problem is to be solved. So, there should be some conversations. And this only became popular really around 2007, 2008. Before that we just went off and everybody just built stuff and hoped people would use it. And then Steve Blank really bringing his customer development approach to the forefront. And that was the first time I heard about asking your customers in advance. And it was like, “Whoa, you can do that? What does that even look like?” And then there were several books written for our work group because one of them where Tim Ferriss did the ad words in advance of offering the product for sale. But there were six or seven books that had talked about that before that came out. And that was when it was like this really makes a lot of sense to try to do as much validation as possible up front to ensure that you are in fact solving a problem.
Mike [14:08]: That’s the first bucket of potential failures. The next one is: if you’ve achieved paying customers but the product is still losing money. Essentially you’ve got negative margins. And there’s a bunch of different reasons for products that fall into this category. They could range from your infrastructure or your hosting costs being too high. Your cost of acquisition is too high compared to your lifetime value. That means that your cost to acquire a customer is more than they are worth. It may cost you $50 to acquire a customer but if they’re only going to give you $25 over the course of the lifetime of that customer, it’s really not worth being in that business. You can’t sell at a loss and make it up on volume.
There are other situations where if it’s a product high service, for example, you might be selling something for $100 and then you’re farming out the work, but it costs $150 in labor to deliver whatever that is to the customer. And, again, you’re in the situation where’s you’re trying to deliver something, and you’re just simply not charging enough. And even in those situations, you can’t necessarily just raise prices and expect the problem to be solved. There’s certain types of problems or situations where the customer is simply not going to be willing to pay more money for something. They have this in their head that they can afford “X” and if you go to “X+5” or “+10” they look at that and say it’s not worth it to pay to have that problem solved at that price point.
Rob [15:27]: This is where I would guess if you had actually launched that Dropbox competitor, this is what you would have found if you tried to bootstrap it. You would have had to charge enough that you wouldn’t have been able to get – well, if you’d gone after magazines that’d be fine. That’s a whole other issue. But let’s just say you had gone after the consumer market like Dropbox did, you would have probably wanted to charge $5 a month or whatever. $40 or $50 a year and you wouldn’t have had the organic growth and the big exponential growth curve that Dropbox did have because they were doing that freemium model up front.
So, one thing to think about here is if you do raise a big bucket of money and you decide that you want to grow this thing super-fast and get the volume, it’s a lot more of a riskier bet because you’re not getting your money up front. But that’s how these companies get to the $100 million and eventually the billion dollar valuations.
With that said, I’m doubting – if you’re listening to this – that that’s where you want to go. So, you really do need to pay attention to unit economics. I heard someone at one point say that they wanted to start a competitor to Kissmetrics and Mixpanel. And I told them, “Do you realize they spend” – I forget what the amount was. It was like a quarter of a million dollars. It was more than a quarter of a million bucks a year and this was in the early days. This was before they scaled up. It was a quarter million a year just kind of table stakes just for all the hardware. Or even the EC2 credits. Or whatever it was they were doing because it’s just such a resource intensive business. So, diving into these analytics platforms or something with a lot of queues where you’re sending email – as I know all too well from having worked on Drip all these years – there can be real infrastructure costs. There’s a difference between a crud app like Basecamp or invoicing software or something and switching over to something that really gets a lot of requests per second, 1,000, 2,000, 3,000 request per second. There’s a true marginal cost per customer that you add.
It’s not something you’re going to be able to predict exactly. But it is something to keep in mind and do a sanity check of like, “Is there anything here that’s really going to scale up exponentially in terms of server load or in terms of support costs as I grow this app?”
Mike [17:25]: And sometimes those aren’t very easy or straight forward to calculate. I remember some offhand comment about it was either Kissmetrics or Mixpanel where one of the early versions of the app, they had 25 servers running in order to support nine customers. Which is more than one server per customer. And if you look at the price points that they’re charging you really can’t afford to have two to three servers per customer at the price points that they currently had. It’s just simply not possible. So, if you’re trying to develop a competitor to it, your hosting costs alone are going to kill you. There’s no way that you’re going to be able to make that work.
That said, they did get funding, and they’re able to scale it based on the fact that they’re able to drive those prices down. It’s a starting point. But, again, not everybody’s going to be able to be in a position where they can get that money and invest it to be able to drive those costs down as far as they need to go in order to make the business work long term.
Rob [18:16]: So, you’ve talked about the first step was never launching. The second one was zero customers versus one or more customers. This third one is getting paying customers but realize that it’s losing money. I think we have two others that we want to cover in terms of the ways that products can fail. What’s the next one?
Mike [18:32]: The next one is you have what I would call a mediocre success. It has paying customers but it’s got a marginal profit. And by marginal, I mean it’s almost not worth your time to do. The product is at least break even and it is making money but maybe it’s only making a couple thousand dollars a month. Maybe it’s $2,000 or $3,000 but, again, even if it’s making $3,000, if you’re spending thirty hours on it, is that worth your time? I think that’s an individual question you have to answer but if it’s paying you $10 an hour for your time then it’s probably not. If it’s paying you $50 or $100 or $200 an hour for your time then I would consider that probably more than a mediocre success. But there’s also overhead associated with running more than one product at a time and having each of them be a mid-range success that is simply not meeting your needs full-time. And the context which in it’s going to be harmful.
But, going back to the products that are a mediocre success, there’s problem solution fit. If it’s not a problem that people really need solved or it’s a nonexistent problem, chances are good that you can get some people to pay for it. But you’re not going to get large scale numbers of people. You’re going to get those people who it’s a really painful problem for and they’re willing to pay for it. But that could just be because they don’t know what some of the alternatives are out there or they haven’t done their research. And you can very quickly fall into a situation where people are using your product for something it simply wasn’t designed to do.
Rob [19:54]: Another thing that could be wrong when you have some paying customers but essentially a marginal profit and you’re not growing is you don’t have product market fit. So, you’ve built a product but you’re offering it to the wrong market or audience or there is not market or audience for this. And a related piece of that is market positioning where it might be related to your pricing or how you’ve portrayed it against competition but you really need to dig into why is your product better and for whom. And it might not be differentiated enough against the competitors and new products really need that.
People need to be able when they hit your website to think, “What bucket does this fit it? Is this invoicing software or proposal software or email marketing software?” And if you have just a description that is what the product does, everybody’s trying to figure out what bucket you fit into. As we’ve talked about in the past, creating a new bucket or creating a new product category is very expensive. HubSpot kind of did that and I think they might have said it took them $5 million before they were able to – he said they had to raise millions and millions of dollars before they were able to really define that product category. And I think that it’s a common mistake people make and one that I made with Drip in the early days was not wanting to position this against other competitors. Or just put it into a specific space like this is email marketing software but here’s why it’s better. Or this is marketing automation but here’s why it’s better.
I kind of wanted to be this new unique thing and all the headlines were just so vague and nondescript that people were having a tough time understanding. So as soon as we went with the, “This is marketing automation but it doesn’t suck,” That was the headline for so long. That really put us in a good position because people then realized, “Okay. So, you’re not going to own this entire market but you are going to own this portion of people who hate the other providers that are there.” So, that was a big product positioning fit for us. And I’ve seen other products be able to do that as well.
Mike [21:44]: The other thing that what you just talked about does is that it allows people to mentally identify who your competitors are because if they can’t do that then it’s going to be difficult for them to compare and contrast what you offer versus what some of the other ones offer. And sometimes you want to be able to specifically define who your competitors are and you can use market positioning to do that. But you can also take a particular market and either go upscale with it or down scale with it.
With Drip, for example, it was essentially pitched as Mail Chimp but more advanced. It was not quite advanced to the level of Infusionsoft or Marketo or things like that. It was more for a small business scenario then for a large enterprise or for somebody who’s just working out of their home office. And, obviously, that has changed over time but that was the position that you started in and that served Drip, obviously, very well.
Some other reasons you might be having some mediocre success is that you have poor design, which if your UI is not very good, it can affect some of your adoption rates. If somebody hits your website and they look at the screenshots of the product and it doesn’t look very good, then they are probably less inclined to purchase it. Even if you’ve gotten a base of customers who used it and the reason they used it is because they were experiencing the pain so much that they just had to have a solution. And they didn’t really care what it looked like. But, as you start to expand your customer base, people are going to care. They’re going to start taking those things into account. If you have misspellings in your UI, for example, that’s going to reflect on them. They’re going to say, “If you can’t get even just these basic things right on the surface, if it’s a complicated product in any way, shape or form, what sorts of problems are going to be underneath the covers?” So, you have to keep those types of considerations in mind.
Poor design decisions can lead to essentially a high churn rate which high churn is simply a symptom of something else. It could be support, it could be onboarding, it could be poor design, it could be quality, it could be downtime issues. There’s lots of different things associated with that. But at its core, high churn rates are associated with some other problem. And it could just not be even a technical problem. It could be that you are marketing to the wrong people and those are not the type of people that are going to stick around. It could be a symptom of a market targeting problem.
Rob [23:54]: Right. Back to poor design. You can point to apps that are successful that have poor design, and I will tell you, yeah, they were early. They were the only choice at the time. Or they really did a lot of heavy outbound sales, and the people who they talked to didn’t know any better. So, a lot of the email marketing or marking automation or big sales like sales force CRM stuff, yeah, the UI’s aren’t great. But you’re not them. You didn’t start ten years ago. You’re starting today. And today UI is a huge deal unless you’re in a very tight niche where you’re kind of the only player. So, this is something that you definitely need to pay attention to.
And in regards to churn, you’re right. It is a symptom of something. It’s often a symptom of crummy support or no product market fit or there’s a bunch of reasons that can happen. But all of this stuff is going to keep your grown flat. And that’s exactly a good way to have paying customers but essentially marginal profit assuming you are working on this a lot.
If you think about the micro-businesses I used to run – like DotNetInvoice or beach towels or apprentice line jobs – those had paying customers but they were highly profitable in the sense that the money that came in, I spent almost no time maintaining things. It was really all work done up front, and the money that came in was mostly profit. Maybe it was only a couple grand a month like you said but I wasn’t spending thirty hours a month on it. So, if you cobble a few of those together, you can actually kind of nice little lifestyle making $10,000 a month with a handful of these small apps not investing the time.
But that’s not really what we’re talking about here. We are talking about you having the intent of growing a SaaS app and working on it most of your free time and getting it to ten, twenty or thirty thousand because we’re guessing that, probably if you’re listening to this, that’s the goal that you have.
Mike [25:31]: The last one we’re going to talk about in this particular category is the high cost of acquisition but also a corresponding high lifetime value. Let’s say that your cost of acquisition is $1,500 and your lifetime value is $2,000 but you’re getting $100 a month from each person. Well, it’s going to take you fifteen months to get back the money that you’ve paid to acquire that customer which means that you have to spend a lot of money up front to get a return that is going to put you $500 in the black but it’s not going to start until another fifteen months after you acquire them. And that’s a very difficult position to be in. That’s why some companies go out and they raise funding to be able to start putting money into that funnel to help them figure out how to move that up, how to lower their costs of acquisition. And they’ve proven that it’s a profitable business model. They really just need to make the numbers work.
And if you’re in a position like this, it’s very difficult to do that because it’s going to stunt your growth. It’s going to make it a long slow slog in order to make that into a profitable product which defines this as a mediocre success.
Rob [26:32]: There are a lot of hurdles that you have to get through if you look at this list that we’ve just talked through. Just getting something launched is a pretty big deal. I know that we used to always talk about on the podcast how that’s not the finish line like most people think. That’s maybe the 40% marker and these days, the further things get and the more competitive they get, I think that may be even earlier. It’s so much easier to get to launch today than it was five years ago just given the tools that we have and all the resources and things like Heroku the platforms as a service. I used to have to spend a lot more time doing that stuff even the marketing tools as well. And then just getting zero versus one customer is a big hurdle. And then getting to the point where you’re marginally profitable. I think we’ve seen a lot of folks get there these days. It’s a hard place to be in because it feels like by that time you’ve worked so hard on the app and you’ve spent so much time building and launching and promoting and then you get to the point where it’s making $1,000 a month top line and it’s $500 a month in hosting costs and you’re still spending twenty hours a week developing on it. It can be tough. It can be a long slow ramp of death, if you will.
I think there are a bunch of other potential reasons that an app can fail but once you make it past this point where you have customers and marginal growth, if you can make it past that, those are the apps that we hear about. Those are the apps that we talk about. Those are the folks that do the attendee talks or the main stage talks at MicroConf. Or that you hear interviewed on podcasts. That’s kind of that final hurdle. I shouldn’t say final because, obviously, there’s so much more beyond that. But it is a point where you just feel like you’ve done something that so few people have done. It’s a big bridge to cross to get past that product market fit or get to that point where growth really does start coming easy. And it’s almost magical when that happens and you see that growth curve go up. And you think to yourself, “Oh my goodness. How did we get here?” Suddenly you go from scrambling from customer to customer to the point where 7K MRR growth per month. You look at that and you say, “Yeah, that was an okay month.” Or you can be disappointed with that. It sounds insane when you say that out loud but you do get to the point where that is the norm or less.
I just want to encourage you. If you’re listening to this, it does sound like a long road, but there is hope. There is a point where you get there and it just feels like everything’s hitting on all cylinders. You’re always going to have stress; you’re always going to have the next feature you need to get out or the competitor that’s ripping you off. But there does hit a point where you’re going to feel proud of yourself. You’re going to feel like you’re kicking ass and that’s where you want to get to. That’s the goal.
Mike [29:01]: That sounds like a pretty perfect place to stop for today’s episode.
Rob [29:04]: Thanks again to Matesh for writing in. And if you have a question and you’d be interested in hearing us discuss it on the show and maybe even turn it into an entire episode, call our voicemail number at 888-801-9690. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our theme music is an excerpt from ‘We’re Outta Control’ by MoOt. It’s used under creative comments. Subscribe to us in iTunes by searching for “startups” and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript of each episode.
Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time.
Episode 296 | Launching 100 Projects in One Year
In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Mike interviews Justin Jackson about launching 100 projects in a year. Justin talks about the goals and idea behind his MegaMaker project. He talks about some of the products he has come up with and how he went about marketing those products.
Items mentioned in this episode:
Mike [00:00] In this episode of ‘Startups For the Rest of Us’ I’m going to be talking to Justin Jackson about launching a hundred projects in a year. This is ‘Startups For the Rest of Us,’ episode 296.
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.
Justin [00:25]: And I’m Justin.
Mike [00:27]: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid making the same mistakes we’ve made. How you doing this week Justin?
Justin [00:32]: Well, like I was saying the kids just got out of school, which just feels hectic. It’s amazing how much we rely on the kids being occupied all day. And so now it’s like they’re out. Now what am I going to do?
Mike [00:43]: That’s actually a really good way to put it, and I’ve never quite phrased it verbally before, but it’s nice that the kids have school to preoccupy them for six or seven hours on most days of the week.
Justin [00:54]: Now there is a theory. I don’t know if this is real; but there’s a theory that schooling, public schooling, really came about because of the Industrial Revolution. Because you couldn’t have parents working all day and then have kids just running around. So I don’t know if this is true or not, but that’s what I’ve heard is that a lot of public education came out of just needing to occupy the kids while mom and dad are in the factory for 12 hours a day.
Mike [01:17]: I would actually guess that it’s probably a direct result, not necessarily of the Industrial Revolution, but of child labor laws that prohibit the kids from working.
Justin [01:25]: See now we’re getting down.
Mike [01:28]: So that’s probably it. But anyway, great to have you on the show. For anyone who is not familiar with Justin, Justin lives in Vernon, BC, which is in British Colombia. Which, to me, I call it Canadia on occasion just because I live so close to the border. I used to live in Buffalo, NY, and I mean literally you could hit a golf ball and hit Canada.
Justin [01:44]: Well there you go. Do you have some Tim Hortons there?
Mike [01:46]: Yes we did have Tim Hortons. So went there on occasion.
Justin [01:49]: So you’re basically like 30 percent Canadian.
Mike [01:52]: I guess. I don’t know if I’d admit to that publicly on a podcast with thousands of listeners. But I did want to have you on the show because – just talk a little bit briefly about your history. And you’ve been the former Product Manager at Sprintly, and in 2015 you kind of struck out on your own to make your own stuff. You’ve been kind of around the block, I’ll say. You’ve got three different podcasts that you’ve run, Product People, Build and Launch, and now you’ve got Mega Maker that you’re working on. And then you’ve also got a bunch of ebooks that you’ve written, there’s Amplification, The Hacker News Handbook, The Product Hunt Handbook, Marketing for Developers; I’m sure that there are several other ebooks, and other podcasts that I’m probably missing in that list. So why don’t you, I guess fill people a little bit more in on some of the highlights for anything that I might have missed.
Justin [2:34]: I got started in the software business in 2008, working for a email service provider in Edmonton. And I kind of started my ground level just answering customer emails and doing customer support, but kept poking my nose in everything. I was interested in design and development and marketing. And eventually I worked my way up to being Product Manager in that company. And it’s actually a good definition of a Product Manager. They’re people that kind of sit in the middle of all those other categories. And then after that I went to work for a startup called Sprintly in Portland. And did that for about 14 months or something like that. And then Sprintly got sold and I had this decision to make. I could go out and find another big consulting client, go out and get a job, or I could stop working and make my own stuff. And I’d been kind of building little side projects on the side up until last November, and decided okay, I’m going to do this. And so I went to my wife and I said, “Hey honey, what do you think about this idea of me not going and working anymore, but just working on a bunch of little things and maybe trying to make a 100 projects in a year, and then documenting it on this podcast called Mega Maker?” And she said, ‘No.” And I was –
Mike [3:58]: So executive preapproval was denied.
Justin [4:00]: Yeah. No approval there. And I was like, “Please.” I was just begging her. And so the deal we struck was I said if I can make a living, if I can keep paying our bills, keep food on the table, et cetera, let me do some exploration here. And the whole idea wasn’t to like maybe go out and start a big startup. The whole idea was I had been working ever since I was 22 up until 35, working full-time for other people. And I just want instead of kind of jumping feet first into starting a company or trying to build something really big, I just wanted to explore a bunch of different things. So my wife has called this kind of like my early mid-life crisis, and it’s actually probably a pretty good description. I just wanted to try out a bunch of stuff and in some ways, to learn new product skills, learn new marketing skills. And also, just to kind of maybe figure myself out a little bit. After working full-time for all those years, let’s try something else out. Let’s learn a little bit about myself.
Mike [5:02]: That’s awesome. So how did you go from the answer of “no” to “maybe let’s see how things go for a little while”? Because it seems like there’s a gap there that you might have glossed over some stuff. Did you trade one of your kidneys or something like that?
Justin [5:14]: Well, obviously it was a conversation and I just said, “Honey, I think I can make this work.” And one of the reasons I felt confident is I’d just released Marketing for Developers and it had done quite well. I think by that point—just doing some math off the top of my head—I mean it’d probably done about $30,000 in sales or something like that. And so I felt like I’ve got this one product that seems to be selling pretty well, and I think that will give us some leeway to go and try some other things out. And my goal, revenue-wise was if I can bring in $10,000 a month just from doing whatever, I think we’ll be okay. And each month it was like an experiment in how am I going to make money this month? And there was a few months where it was scary. Like in May. May was the month where I decided I wanted to work on some software products. And so my buddy Marty and I, we had built a bulk SMS application called Network Effects. And then we said for the show, we wanted to launch two products at once and kind of examine the response to each of them. It’s kind of like split-testing product launch. And so we launched this other software product called Remote Workers, which was an online community and what I call a reverse job board for remote workers. So we were working on both of these, but because I was heads-down working on those I hadn’t been trying to make any money. So I kind of lifted my head and was like, “Whoa. I haven’t made any money this month, what am I going to do?” And I think I just toughed that one out because I knew that I was going to do a big sale in June. I did a deal with the app Sumo. And so I was like, “I think we’ll be okay.” So we just kind of toughed it out through May and then made it to June. To answer your question, every day my wife says, “So when are you going to go get a job?” And I’m like, “I’m not getting a job. This is way too much fun. I’m going to keep going as long as I can.”
Mike [7:08]: I guess what I wanted to drill into a little bit was whenever somebody is starting to kind of go down that entrepreneurial path, as soon as the question or decisions start to come up around, how are you going to make money and are you going to get a quote-unquote “real job,” then most people see that as a stable form of income and the merits of that statement are debatable at best. But most people look at that and say, “We have to have a serious conversation about it.” That’s what I want to drill into this, like what was that conversation like? Because I think that a lot of people listening to this are on that path and you have to have your spouse on board in order to be an entrepreneur. There’s really just no other way to do it. Or you’re divorced. It seems like those are the two paths that people would end up on.
Justin [7:51]: I mean I think one thing that made it easier is that we had kids quite young. We were married when we were 21 and we had our daughter Sadie when we turned 22. And before that, before 22 I had all through college, all through high school, I had run my own little business. I had a video production and Web design business in high school and college. And when we had our daughter we made a decision that I would not do my own business and that I would work full-time until all the kids were in school. And so this year our youngest, we have four kids and our youngest was in grade one, full-time. And so because that transition had happened I said, “Hey, you remember that conversation we had? Well, now all the kids are in school and now I have this opportunity. Sprintly’s just been sold. And I could go do something else. Why don’t I try to do that thing we talked about 15 years ago, and let me try to do my own business again?” And so that was part of the conversation. And the other conversation is I said, “If this doesn’t work out I’ll just go and look for a job or look for another client.” But I said, “I think I could probably go out and find something else if I really needed to.”
Mike [9:03]: And I think that that’s something that can be comforting to the spouse is if you are in a position where you are in demand; they want you to come work for them. And if you ever needed to you could fall back on that and you could go out and get a job in relatively short order. And I think that that’s applicable to probably a lot of the people who are listening to this podcast. And especially if you’re in the tech world, just because there is so much demand for tech talent that if you are talented, if you are publicly visible to a lot of people, then it makes it easier for you to find full-time employment to fall back on if you really needed it.
Justin [9:35]: I mean I think everything’s a risk. I think employment kind of lulls you into sleep in some ways. And not recognizing how risky it is. Employment is just as risky as anything else; that you could get laid off at any time. And at least when you’re running a business you’d know your own financials. You’d kind of know what’s coming down the pipe. But employment, you could just show up one day and be like, “Sorry, you’re gone.” And client work is even kind of worse in some ways. In some ways you kind of what’s coming down the pipe. But other ways, just like, “Man, this could disappear at any moment.” So I think there’s pros and cons to all of them.
Mike [10:10]: Well, sorry for that little side track there, but I thought it was important to drill into that initial conversation because I think a lot of people are going to have to have that conversation early on when they’re starting to build a product. But I wanted to have you on the call today so that we could talk about your Mega Maker project. And I guess, could you summarize very quickly exactly what the Mega Maker project is so that the listeners have an idea?
Justin [10:31]: I had this idea that why don’t I try to build 100 things. And some of these would be small little products, some of these will just be creative things for me to explore on my own. And I’ll document it on this podcast called Mega Maker. So it’s kind of like a lab. It’s like my marketing and products lab. I’m working on all sorts of little things. So as an example, we’ve got this little SMS app, what would it be like to run this as a full-time business and to really feel that? That’s a big part of this whole experiment is to experience things without committing too much. I’m going to try this out, try it on for size, see how it feels. That’s interesting. And then kind of looking at everything. So, for example, one thing I’ve learned over the past just six months is that most of my revenue still comes from things like Marketing for Developers. People really go to me for product marketing advice, product marketing teaching. And the lion’s share of the money I’ve made so far has been there.
Mike [11:37]: So it’s kind of like this gives you the ability to launch a mini product and get a feel for how much traction it gets without committing three month, six months, nine months to a single thing, which may or may not pan out or you may have to do a lot more validation on. I mean if you keep these small enough you can throw something out there, see how it goes, and it’s not just that you can see how it goes but you can see how well it does in relation to the other things that you’re building, which gives you a much clearer picture of how well it could do.
Justin [12:07]: Yes. But the other thing that I’ve been really thinking about, and it’s almost more important to me right now, is we talk a lot about product market fit. I’ve been thinking a lot about market/founder fit and product/founder fit. For example, serving some markets, you don’t really know what it’s going to be like until you actually start doing it. There’s some things I’ve launched where I’m like, okay. As an example, one idea I had was about 70-80 percent of my audience is software developers. What if I tried to bring some other types of creative people into the audience? What if I reached out to artists and musician and artisans? Let’s just see what that’s like. What I discovered is I really liked those people but it’s not really a market I want to serve. So there’s not a fit there. There’s no founder/market fit there. Likewise, there’s product/founder fit. And I think this is a question a lot of people don’t ask themselves, especially before they launch like a SaaS a business; is do you really want to run that kind of product? It’s a lot different running SaaS than it is downloadable software, than it is info products. They’re all very different. They all feel very different. And this has been an opportunity for me to try some of that stuff on. Like what would it be like to run this product every single day? What would it be like to serve this market every single day? And actually the third one that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, this idea of company/founder fit. And what I mean by that is kind of like company structure. Rob Walling just had this quote I read about how to get above seven figures in SaaS revenue. You really need to have a team. And I’ve been thinking a lot about that, too. Up until now I’ve been just working by myself or partnering up with people. What would it be like to have to hire a team, to pay salaries, to be a leader, to be a confidant for employees, to bear the weight of providing for all these different families?
Mike [14:06]: Because you have to be—like if you hire somebody full-time, you’re essentially responsible not just for their job and their benefits and stuff like that, but in some cases if they’re married and they have kids, you’re responsible for their welfare as well. So it makes it, in my mind it’s much more challenging to run those types of scenarios. And I’ve done it before and I’ve had to let people go where I knew that they had a wife and kids and they didn’t have another job lined up. And it sucks. It’s very difficult to be in that position. And I think it’s something that you have to slowly work your way into. It’s not something that you can just jump into and be able to just day one know exactly what you’re doing and feel confident about it. I mean, working your way up towards it is probably a better solution. I know that there’s obviously the VC funded startups and stuff don’t have that luxury, they just kind of jump in head first. But as a bootstrap company I would hate to be in that position where you have to hire ten people and then half of them don’t work out, or a quarter of them don’t work out.
Justin [15:00]: And these are the things. I think a lot of product people are so desperate to build something that gets product/market fit, and that’s hard. Finding something that—a product that fits with a good market, a market that’s able to pay you, a market that had demand for that thing that you’ve built. I mean, that alone is really hard. But there’s these other vectors, which is like, does this even fit me as a person? A lot of us are kind of running away from something. We’re like we don’t want to work for the man anymore. We don’t want to work for clients anymore. And so we run towards product. But often we run towards product and we end up serving a customer base that we don’t really like, or building a product that we’re not really passionate about, or creating a company that we now have to run. We then become that boss that we really didn’t like.
Mike [15:49]: I have wrote about that a little bit in my book because I met somebody who had a seven figure business and he hated it. He didn’t want any part of it but he was so involved in it that there was no way for him to really get out of it. It was a services business, but at the same time he was so involved on the relationship side of things that it would have been almost impossible for him to sell it. So he kind of had no option. It was kind of like being locked into a job that you just didn’t like.
Justin [16:14]: Exactly. And so this is all the exploration I wanted to do with Mega Maker. So at the beginning, season one, it feels very much like watching a guy have a mid-life crisis. Instead of going out and buying a Lamborghini, I’m making things. And the story that everyone talks about from that season is, I said what would it be like to go to a restaurant and design a menu item for that restaurant and then actually make it and then market it? Go through the whole product development process, not for software, but with something like food. Because I had never done something like that before. And so I convinced this restaurant to let me do a Friday lunch special. It’s a barbeque restaurant. They didn’t have a burrito on the menu and I love burritos. So I said let’s try to make a Mega Maker burrito. There was kind of two goals with it: one was to just experience what is involved in making a food item at a restaurant, and two, how can I apply some of the things I’ve learned doing marketing and sales for software products to marketing this lunch special? And that story, I can’t even remember the other episodes, but that story is still the one that people come up to me at a conference or whatever and say that whole thing was insane. That was just me exploring stuff. Just figuring stuff out. You know when you’re running a tech event, like a conference or something, you need to get people in the seats. That’s the most important thing. And so I was like I’m going to make a list of everyone who is going to come on Friday and order one of these burritos. So I had a spreadsheet where I was calling people, emailing people saying, “are you coming, how many burritos are you going to order?” So I had this running total because I wanted to make sure that we were above 60.
Mike [18:00]: So you were essentially brute forcing your sales. Like a lot of bootstrap software entrepreneurs, they’ll brute force their way to like 20-30-50 customers in the early days. And you almost have to. That’s because you don’t know what traffic channels are going to work for you. So you contact everybody you possibly know in order to get the [crosstalk]
Justin [18:16]: Totally. And the whole time I was also telling the story as it was happening. I was doing clips on Snapchat. I was doing little YouTube videos. Just sharing the whole experience. And then the Friday came and it was like insane. We ended up selling 80 during the lunch hour. The restaurant was just packed out the door, you can’t get a seat. I was in the back actually making burritos. And so I got to experience everything. And it made me realize, one, I never want to do that again. But two, in terms of like product marketing there’s this great clip from that episode where this guy calls me over. I’m recording it and he says, “Do you realize why people came here today?” And I’m like, “I don’t know. They like burritos.” He’s like, “No, man. People are here because of the story. They wanted to come and be a part of the story.” And that kind of marketing is completely applicable to the product world. I think a lot of times people get interested or engaged because of the story and they’re kind of following along and they’re like that’s how they become a customer; is they were just following along with the story. So there were some parallels that were interesting.
Mike [19:28]: Now you’ve mentioned marketing. Obviously that was a one-time event. You got a bunch of people there and, yes, they’re involved in the story. But how do you go about marketing for some of these other projects that you’re launching, because, obviously, if you’re doing 100 of them in a year, that averages out to roughly two per week. So one every two and a half to three days, it doesn’t really give you a heck of a lot of time to do marketing for these. Do you do any follow-on marketing? Do you do advance marketing for some of these different projects that you’re launching? I know that not everyone is aimed at creating revenue or generating revenue for you, but at the same time there’s got to be some base of people that you want to launch it out to, or that you want to get it in front of, because there’s really not much point of creating something if nobody’s going to every look at it or use it.
Justin [20:11]: I was having a conversation with Lars Lofgren. We were just talking about marketing. He and I have known each other for a long time. And so we were just talking about marketing. And he said one of the best things a marketer can do is realize that they’re not going to be good at everything. You’ve really got to play to your strengths. And just hearing him say that, someone I really respect, it almost gave me permission to say, “that’s great, I can really focus on these things that I’m really good at.” And still sharpen the ax as much as I can with things that I’m not super great at. But really double down on the things I’m good at.
Mike [20:45]: And I think that’s important to know what your own limitations are. Not just on the product side of things, because obviously if you don’t know how to use a particular piece of technology you can probably figure it out. But sometimes it’s worth just paying somebody else to do it. But that also translates over onto the marketing side because sometimes it’s better to just pay someone else to do something that you really just don’t like. Which could be successful but you don’t want to do it because you’re just not good at it and you’re not as comfortable with it.
Justin [21:09]: And that’s why in the book, Marketing for Developers, I give so many different channels and so many different techniques because I just want people to be able to choose. When I was doing the customer research for that, a lot of folks would say, “Well, Justin, I’m just not good at writing blog posts.” And so for people to be able to choose and kind of explore different things and then find the one that they’re really good at. That’s where you should invest all your time and money; is in the thing that you’re really good at. And then either hire out those other elements or just don’t focus on them.
Mike [21:41]: So I guess going back to the heart of the question though, how much marketing are you actually doing for each of these individual projects?
Justin [21:47]: It really depends. I mean some of these are just things I need to get out of my system. So Network Effects, we launched on BetaList. We wanted to get a ten person paid beta in both. So ten person paid beta in Network Effects, and ten person paid beta in remote workers. We launched on BetaList for that, got enough people in and now we’re just like basically getting their feedback. What are you using it for? What do you really like about it? Are you willing to keep paying? It’s $9 for Network Effects and then the plans are similar to MailChimp or whatever.
Mike [22:20]: Is that like an onboarding fee for that?
Justin [22:21]: Yeah, it’s basically because with SMS you have to pay for the number. Unless you get a custom number it’s not very useful. And so we wanted to get people in, getting a custom number. And so mostly it’s just to help pay for some of our costs. But it also is just a great way to figure out who’s really serious about this. And, like I said, over ten people paid for that beta. And then the people that stuck around, I think there’s like, of that group, there’s about three that have stuck around. We’re like really working with them to figure out what do you guys need? What are you using this for? Some of them are using it like every day or every week. And we’re like we’ve got to focus on these folks. Who are you, what are you doing this, how are you using this?
Mike [23:03]: So like customer development –
Justin [23:03]: Customer development.
Mike [23:04]: One-on-one [crosstalk]
Justin [23:05]: Exactly. Exactly. And when we’re ready to really kind of turn things on, in my mind, it’s like you do a BetaList launch and then you get enough people to come and try it out. Really figure out who you’re focusing on, and then launch to the waiting list. Again, kind of figure out, why are people signing up? That’s the big question. Why are people signing up? And once you can figure that out, then after that I do a Product Hunt launch, and then it’s looking into other strategies like ads, SCO, et cetera.
Mike [23:35]: So you keep saying ‘we’ a lot. And maybe that just applies to this particular scenario. But are you working on a lot of these by yourself, or do you have partners for some of them, teammates, people that are working with you, either part-time or full-time on a regular basis, or is it just more one-off projects?
Justin [23:49]: It’s me for almost all of them except the bigger projects I’ve partnered up. And so my buddy Marty Dill, who’s an awesome developer here in Vernon. So when the idea for Mega Maker came around I said, “Hey Marty, you want to team up and build a few things?” I’ll find it for you, but I have this agreement that I sign with people I want to team up with. And basically it says we’re going to work on this project for six months, and if we decide to turn it into a business we both get like 50 percent ownership, and then we move forward from there. If this doesn’t turn into a business within six months, then we just let everything fold and we move on. I mean, it’s been audited by a lawyer and everything else. It’s just a way of saying, okay, this is the purpose of right now, we’re just testing out an idea. We’re building the initial thing together, and then when it comes to turning this into a company, we’ll both get equal shares.
Mike [24:43]: It kind of forces the conversation up front, I guess, too.
Justin [24:46]: Yeah. I started signing these because I was doing even small little partnerships, like I built a WordPress plugin with Carl Alexander, and we’re good friends but I had seen enough partnerships go real bad that I thought, “let’s start signing something upfront from day one.” And it gives it such a great framework because it’s like, if this doesn’t work out in six months, we just move on. If this does work out and we want to turn this into a business, then we create the corporation, we both get 50 percent of the shares, and then we treat it seriously. We treat it like a company. And there’s a few other kind of conditions in there as well. But I found it a really great way to get started on projects knowing that we’re both kind of protected and we can both kind of trust each other for that period. And then it kind of gives us a way of moving forward if we decide to take it from there.
Mike [25:35]: So one of the other things that comes to mind is while you’re going through and launching a lot of these different projects, one thing that—I’ve experienced this myself, but I’ve seen it happen to other people, is that when you start on something, that’s kind of the high point. When you’re embarking on a new endeavor and everything’s new and everything’s exciting, but then three months, six months down the road you start to get tired, you lose focus, you lose your motivation, I’ll say, to continue. I would imagine that for a lot of these projects that doesn’t happen on an individual project basis because the timeline for them is so short. But throughout the process of this, you’re doing a 100 of them in a year. Has that come into play for the project as a whole, or you really have low points for individual projects?
Justin [26:18]: Totally. Here’s the stage I’m at right now. So if we look at the timeline, it starts off and I’m just exploring everything. Every idea that pops into my head I put it on this list. You can see the list at Megamaker.co/list. It’s just a Google Doc. And anything that pops into my head I’m like, “I’m going to do that.” And I put it on the list. And it’s exciting that I’m exploring all of these things, I’m trying all of these things, I’m starting; and starting’s way easier than continuing, right?
Mike [26:44]: Or finishing.
Justin [26:44]: Or finishing. And so that was the beginning. And some of these are bigger things that I really wanted to explore. Like for example, going after a new market was interesting to me. That’s something I really wanted to explore. So even especially like physical makers. For a long time the term maker just applied to people that made handmade furniture and art and sculpture. Lately, digital makers, people that make apps and software have taken that term as well. But for a long time it was just physical makers. And I thought I wonder if they could be my audience, too? And what I’ve realized is, do I really want to go out and interview people that are making their own coffee tables or running their own Etsy shops? At the beginning I thought that would be exciting to me. But now I’m realizing that, no, that’s not going to be exciting to me. And so the point I’m at right now is I’m like, okay, at the beginning Mega Maker was about everything, and my life was about just exploring everything. Now, we’re six months in, it’s time to start focusing. It’s time to start closing down some projects, stopping some things and simplifying. And so I’m still planning on making 100 things through this year, but the show, Mega Maker, is going to be a lot more about products and marketing, software, digital products, similar things to what I’ve done before. Because I’m realizing I went out and I explored a bunch of stuff, but I’m coming now, back to one, the things that I feel like I’m good at, two, the things that are making money. And I guess those are the big things. Am I good at it and is it making money? Do I really like the people I’m serving? Truthfully, I was trying to bring these other customers into my world, but truthfully most of the people that listen to Mega Maker are my same audience. Mostly software developers, designers, product people, entrepreneurs. And so I’m going to start doubling down on those, stopping some of these projects that didn’t feel like a good fit.
Mike [28:40]: So did you find it difficult to complete some of those projects, or was it more of an after the fact that you decided this isn’t something that I really should go after because of the results of it? Was it more because of how you felt early on in going after it? Because I think with the list that you’ve got going, you can look through that and kind of pick and choose what it is that you work on. So chances are good you’ll probably be excited about it at the time. But it sounds to me, like throughout the process of this, you’re also kind of dialing things back and you’re trying to figure out what it is that you want to work on moving forward as well.
Justin [29:14]: Yeah, I mean, it was a bunch of things. One thing I realized is at the beginning I was just like a kid in a candy shop. And I had freedom for the first time in my life. I wasn’t working full-time. I’d always had side projects but now I could give all my time to these things. And I just started way too many things at once. So I’ve gone back to just like working on one thing at a time. Right now I’m working on a new book called Jolt. And it’s 20 surprising marketing tactics, things that most people don’t talk about. It’s going to be really good. It’s going to be exactly for that group of people that I’ve already connected with. So right now I’m trying to not focus on other things and just work on Jolt. Like every day, try to get some writing in. Every day try to finish another chapter. And I’m hoping to launch it July 15. And when that’s done I’ll focus on the next thing. So one thing at a time. And there were some things I just didn’t want to finish. And I think that’s okay. Especially if you start a software project and you’re like, “Man, this is not a good fit for me.” Carl and I just had this conversation because we’ve been maintaining this plug-in and it’s still selling pretty good, but I noticed like he was always the one to answer customer support emails first and I just was never getting to them. And part of it was I just wasn’t excited about it anymore. It just wasn’t a good fit for me. And I just said, “You know what, Carl, you just take this 100 percent. I’m okay with removing this from my plate.”
Mike [30:42]: There’s a certain amount of—I guess it goes into the feelings of procrastination for something, around the fact that you just simply don’t want to do it and you’re not interested in it. Because you haven’t prioritized it. So it doesn’t mean as much to you or you are dreading doing it. I think you said it much earlier in the episode, something about how a lot of times entrepreneurs are running away from something and that brought you to the idea that make sure that what you’re running towards is also something that you want. It’s not something else that you’re going to what to run away from.
Justin [31:11]: Exactly. And because of that we have to be willing to quit some projects. We have to be willing to either let them die or give them away, or sell them, or something. And I think that’s the piece that most of us struggle with.
Mike [31:27]: Yeah. Walking away from that stuff is hard though.
Justin [31:30]: Walking away from it. For example, this next phase of Mega Maker, I have an online community for Mega Maker and I know that this next phase is going to tick some people off. Some people are going to be like, “What? This isn’t about the thing you said it was going to be about in the beginning.” And I’m like, “Well, I have to change this. I have to keep narrowing this down to something that’s going to work.” And so having to upset people is really hard. Like say, I’m sorry, but I’m going to be changing the product, or I could be changing the focus or we’re going to move this way.
Mike [32:02]: Well, I think that’s also one of the traps that people fall into when they are launching a product. Because if you never actually launch it then you never have to worry about disappointing people.
Justin [32:11]: Exactly. The other thing I’ve learned is you get really good at launching and getting over those fears the more you launch. And so part of my message from the beginning, both with Build and Launch, and now this is kind of like version 2.0 of what I was doing with Build and Launch, the message from the beginning is, start small and start now. If you’ve never launched anything, don’t go out and try to launch the next HubSpot. Launch something super, super tiny, and then get that done. Get it done in a week and then launch a two week project, and then launch a three week project. And the more you do that the better you get at getting over that sense of dread, that sense of fear. And you just learn so much each time. And so the dread that I used to have from launching things, I still get nervous, like before this Jolt launches I’m going to be feeling the exact same thing everyone else is; like is anyone going to buy this, did I do the right things, am I targeting this the right way? But I don’t feel the same kind of anxiety as I used to. It’s a lot easier the more that you do it.
Mike [33:13]: That’s very much, I guess, it aligns very well with what Rob Walling came up with, which was the stair step approach. Which you can kind of apply to this, where his was more about the types of products that you’re building. But this is also about becoming more comfortable over time with doing the same thing, launching things over and over.
Justin [33:30]: I think the one thing that I really want to impress on people is that there’s no one path to success. And I think a lot of folks are trying to follow other people’s paths to success. And one of the things that I wanted to explore was this idea of you know what, I’m going to go and just try a bunch of different things and figure out what’s the right fit for me? And I think anybody can do that. You don’t have to make 100 things. But be willing to kind of try things out, look at your strengths and evaluate whether it’s really a good fit for where you want to be. Especially make sure that you’re not running into the same thing that you’re running away from.
Mike [34:14]: And I think that that’s probably a really fantastic note to leave off on. So Justin, tell the listeners where they can find you and if they want to follow on the Mega Maker story or if they just want to sign up for your email list or follow you on Twitter, et cetera, where can they find you?
Justin [34:27]: I’m right at Justinjackson.ca. On Twitter and Snapchat, I’m the letter M, the letter I, Justin. That’s M-I Justin. And Mega Maker is megamaker.co.
Mike [34:41]: And we’ll link all of those up in the show notes for everybody. Well, Justin, I just wanted to say thank you very much for coming on. I hope that this was educational for the listeners. And I really do appreciate you driving home that point at the end there about finding what is right for you versus what everybody else is doing. I think that’s a very, very powerful piece.
Justin [34:56]: Beauty, Mike. Yeah, it’s been a pleasure, man.
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