In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike check in with their 2018 goals, and answer listener questions on topics including raising funding and marketing at events.
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Rob: In this episode of Startups For the Rest of Us, Mike and I revisit our 2018 goals, talk about raising funding, marketing, and events, and we answer more and listen to questions. This is Startups For the Rest of Us, episode 396.
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 Rob.
Mike: I’m Mike.
Rob: We’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s the word this week, sir?
Mike: Well, I recorded a video this morning for Bluetick with somebody who’s starting a partner program and we basically walked through a process for doing LinkedIn prospecting and then feeding the prospects into Bluetick to do the email follow ups and get people onto a scheduled call, which is kind of the whole premise or at least the starting point for where Bluetick really started anyway. It’s good to see that it’s making, I’ll say, not really making a name for itself, but it’s going to be getting out there into much more people’s hands.
Rob: Do you consider Bluetick more of a cold email tool or a warm email tool?
Mike: A warm email. It does work for cold email, but cold email is basically a subset of warm email, so really like with cold email you’re just trying to make that initial contact and there’s lots of companies out there that do.
But, typically, once you’ve gotten them to reply, then they are completely hands-off, whereas, with Bluetick I’m trying to do a lot of things to structure it such that it will help you manage the conversation moving from the point where you’ve initially made contact, all the way up to the point where they become a customer, and then even after they’ve become a customer, still managing some of that sales communication, the upsells and things like that or even if somebody stops becoming a customer, you can add them into an email sequence that’s like an offboarding email sequence, for example, and feed that information back into the system, so that’s the general direction, I’ll say.
Rob: For sure. Cool. From my end, I have a couple of more podcast recommendations that came to us via Twitter and our comment thread for episode 395. Then, I have a couple of books I want to talk about that I have attempted to or have been listening to.
The two podcasts that came through, one is from Josh Duty and he is a longtime listener and MicroConf attendee, and he talked about EconTalk, which is a podcast I’ve never heard of.
He said it’s a must listen podcast for your list. I’ve listened to every episode and it’s probably the single most valuable intellectual resource I found. It’s great for understanding economics, but he’s branched out to interviews and lots of other areas over the past years. I can’t recommend it enough, so interesting podcasts. I’ll certainly add it to my list and listen to a few episodes and see if it strikes my fancy.
The other podcast is called Exponent and it’s recommended by Joe Hopkins. He says, “Hey, Rob and Mike, thanks for sharing your podcast list. You might like Exponent by Ben Thompson, the creator of the Stratechery blog,” I like the blog a lot. “It explores the business models and strategies of major tech players like Google, Apple, Uber, Facebook. Somewhat contrary, but provides a different point of view, more well-thought-out point of view than a lot of media.”
Those are two to potentially add to your podcatcher and then a couple of books that I’ve been listening to. One that I really like is called Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in Silicon Valley and it’s the story of Theranos. Have you heard of Theranos, Mike?
Mike: Yes, I have.
Rob: So you know the story of how it imploded, so the author John Carreyrou is basically walking through the whole history and he interviewed a bunch of people and particularly got emails and he’s doing direct quotes. It kind of feels a little bit like a Nick Bilton, like a hatching Twitter or a book like that where week by week it tells the story.
The founder of Theranos, Elizabeth Holmes was like 19, maybe. She dropped out started when she was 19, but it was definitely in her early 20s and she had this youthful hubris, and so young, and so naïve, and she basically was like faking demos early on with this.
It was basically a patch that was supposed to take blood samples and look at stuff in the blood and the product never worked is an essence what, it sounds like, this book is saying. They would fake demos even to investors and they would fake demos to potential clients like Pfizer and these big drug companies.
It’s just mind-blowing, it’s like you just can’t do that, but it was like she had this reality distortion field they were saying she was trying to be Steve Jobs and she switched to kind of a wardrobe of wearing black turtlenecks, and she would bully her people, and they would just turn over constantly, turned over the entire senior leadership team over the course of a year. They turned over most of the employees and then they would just hire new ones.
It’s just this insane tale of like mismanagement hubris and thinking that the end justify the means and they would sue anyone. Like the employees would leave and then they would like sue them if they spoke out at all. It was like they were trying to keep everybody silent to the fact that this thing didn’t work.
Anyways, I’m probably 25% of the way in. It’s a really good story. It’s a little bit aggravating, because she thinks she’s Steve Jobs and that always pisses me off. It’s so irritating when people take that tact of like, “Well, he did it and so I can do it, too.” But it’s like, “Yeah, but it worked for him and you’re not going to be able to reproduce that.”
Anyways, it’s something that if you can stomach it, it’s kind of painful to listen to but if you can stomach it, it’s a really well told story.
Mike: Awesome. Yeah, I’ve seen them in the news quite a bit and, obviously, like all of the stuff that’s coming out after the fact, so I definitely kind of seen the inside scoop on some of that. I totally agree with you about people who are going out and thinking, “Oh, I’m going to be the next Steve Jobs and the end justify the means.”
That can be true to an extent, but you have to be successful at it, because if you’re not then the whole thing is going to implode, like there’s no way around that, like you’re really skating on thin ice, and you can’t violate the law when you’re doing that either, you just can’t.
Rob: That was a big problem and that’s the thing. It’s like when you look at someone like Steve Jobs who people say really was very hard to work with and he was a bully, and he just had all these really odd traits, but he figured out a way to make it work. One of the ways is that he was a deca millionaire by the time he was 21, and that kind of helped like they have that success with the Apple 1 and the Apple 2.
If you don’t have that, and you try to have this attitude, and you basically burn all of these bridges, and you burn out all of your people, and you burn your relationships like it just crumbles, and the odds of you then even achieving that first success just plummet in my opinion, so it’s a tough one.
The other book that I started reading or listening to and then just bailed on it, if anyone is considering reading this book, I really didn’t enjoy, it’s called Valley of the Gods: A Silicon Valley Story and it follows like three or four aspiring founders in a sense, but it really doesn’t.
I get the feeling the book really didn’t know what it was about. It was just kind of wandering and it talked about the Thiel Fellowship and then it talked about these founders doing stuff, and eventually I was just like, “I just don’t care about the people and I don’t care about the stories that are going on,” which is a bit disappointing because I loved these tales of startups but, again, if you’re going to come out listening to it, I would probably or reading it, I would probably recommend maybe skipping that one.
Something else I wanted to do today Mike is revisit our 2018 goals. It is approaching midway through the year and I think we talked about them back in maybe February or March. We have listener questions that we’re going to dive into, but I think it’s always helpful to kind of get status updates a couple times a year as we progress to figure out where are we with our goals, have our goals changed, and just trying to check where we’re at.
Mike: I guess I’ll kick things off, one of my carryover goals was logging at least 100 days worth of exercise this coming year and I’ll say the first couple of months I was a little lax just because I had a lot of things going on, but I am happy to say I think the last month I logged 13 days at the gym, so slowly getting up there. I think I’m a little bit behind right now. I’m thinking around 130 or so something like that.
It’s June now, by the end of June, I should be at 50, so if I did 20 days which is probably unlikely this month, just because I know I’m going to be gone for a week for family vacation. Then, I would get to about halfway, so I’m slightly behind, but I think that I’m definitely optimistic that I’ll be able to catch up and hit that goal this year.
Rob: Very cool. My first goal was to write a virtual reality program that allows me to roll around in a mattress of bitcoins. Wait, that was the goal that you set for me, remember that?
Mike: Yes, I do. How’s that coming, by the way?
Rob: I’ve not started doing that yet.
Mike: You’ve got seven more months.
Rob: I do. It’s not even going to be VR, it’s just going to be an R program, a reality program, where I actually roll on a mattress of bitcoins, a bunch of thumb drives. No, my first serious goal was to be in fewer meetings, under 10.
Mike: I think you cheated on this.
Rob: Under 10 hours a week.
Mike: You cheated.
Rob: I didn’t.
Mike: You cheated.
Rob: I did not know in December of 2017 what was going to happen in 2018, but I have nailed this one, Mike, just nailed it.
Mike: I’m sorry, man. You cheated.
Rob: No, man, I love it. I love it. So for those who aren’t understanding what we’re laughing about is by leaving Drip at the end of April, basically, I’m in almost no meetings now. This is probably the only recurring meeting I have on my calendar now as you and I recording, so I definitely achieved that. I’m looking forward to maintaining that through the rest of the year.
Mike: My other carryover goal was to make Bluetick profitable, including my time. So far I’m cautiously optimistic on this one, revenue has been going up, cleared kind of another hurdle this past month, so moving things forward.
I don’t know, I’ve got a couple of annual plans that I’ve sold as well, so those are definitely helpful in terms of the revenue. Like I said, I’ll keep people posted on it. I don’t know how much of the numbers I’m actually comfortable sharing at this point, but we’ll see. It’s something I kind of have to think about.
Rob: Do you feel like you’re on track for this by December or is it, it depends?
Mike: I don’t know if it’s an it depends. I mean, obviously, it depends, but I think the issue is like there are certain pieces of it that I’d really like to have in place for teams. I’ve had a couple of conversations lately with companies that have teams and I know that they want to add multiple people in, and it sort of supports that right now, but it’s not a great experience.
I’m just curious or I question how interested they’ll be once they see how it actually works versus what their expectations may be, and it could be just like by the time I get them to the point where they’re signed on, and on-boarded, then I’ve got that stuff in place, and it doesn’t matter, but I don’t necessarily want to churn them out before then either, do you know what I mean?
Rob: Yup, I totally do. So if this happens, keeping this goal, do you feel like it’ll be in the last couple months of the year?
Mike: Yeah. I mean, I definitely think that it’s going to be a later rather than sooner thing. The other thing is like summer right now, so I don’t expect a whole lot of it, a lot of Bluetick to be sold over the next couple of months. But once the end of August hits, I would expect things to kind of start ramping up again.
It’s also like, because it’s summer though, and I know that companies feel like the summer kind of trends downward, email follow up––interest in it might go up, because they know that they’re going to have to follow up with people more, so it may save them time. I’m not sure. It’s hard to say.
Rob: It was interesting. What I was seeing seasonally with really most of my apps, that include SaaS, and non-SaaS that I’ve owned is certainly December tends to be a train wreck, with one time purchase software, it would plummet. I remember doing an invoice plummeting like 80%.
Not every December, but there were months when it would do 1/5 of the revenue that it had done in November. But SaaS apps tend to be pretty flat in December unless you specifically get around that and do promotions and such. Then, right around tax time, it was either April or May, it would tend to not be great months.
I never noticed dips in the summer and what’s interesting is growing up in California, we really don’t have strong seasons. I mean, there’s rainy season and then there’s a lot of sun and there’s drought season, which typically in the last seven years. But, really like my work didn’t slow down in the summer like it does now that I live here, like living in Minneapolis, like I want to work a lot less, and you’ve talked about this, too.
It’s like if you live in a place where it’s snowy and the winter sucks, I feel like I get more work done in the winter, because I’m indoors and then less work done in the sunny times of the year. Whereas, again, in California, that just wasn’t the thing. We just kind of work year-round, because it was kind of the same.
I guess it depends on where your customers are coming from. I would not anticipate that the summer is going to be flat for your growth. I just don’t think. I think people are still doing business and they’re still thinking about it now. Certainly, if you have a lot of Europeans as your market and you’re looking to do something in August, I bet that month is terrible because I know a lot of folks go on month long vacations then, and there are other factors playing to it, but all of that said, I would not count on any growth in December for you.
Then, I think from now until, basically, Thanksgiving, which is the last week of November, I think you’ve got a pedal to the metal this time.
Mike: Cool, that’s comforting, I guess, but we’ll see how the actual numbers shake out. Predictions are worth what you paid for them, I guess.
Rob: Exactly. My next goal was to do at least three days of exercise per week. I have far exceeded that. I’m probably averaging five days a week, and when I was still working the day job I was hitting three then. Sometimes a day of exercise is like it’s 10 or 15 minutes.
It’s just what I can get and it might be a quick bike ride around the lake, which is like 3 miles, so it’s not the longest ride of all time or I’ll do like a 10 minute CrossFit thing, but just something to get the heart rate up, and that’s been going. So I feel like I probably need to, I don’t know if I want to increase this for next year, but definitely I’m meeting and exceeding that goal, and it feels good to do that.
This is the first year, probably, ever or I mean since college that I have consistently exercised.
Mike: Next one on my list was to read one business book at least every two weeks and I think at this point I actually might kill this one. I’ve only read a couple, but with my backing off of podcasts earlier in the year, I’ve been backing off of like just consumption of stuff in general, I don’t know if this is even realistic even if I were to try at this point, like I just don’t see it happening, so I think I want to kill this one.
Rob: I think it’s a good one. I would agree with you. I feel like it’s a distraction from your real goal, which is to stay physically healthy with exercise and to get your business to the place of profitability. Cool.
My last goal for 2018 was to ship something. I wrote a little paragraph in December when we originally talked about this and it said this, I’m not sure what it’s going to be yet, but I’ve been laying low for about 18 months, 2017 was supposed to be a rest year, and it was a hard year. So the first part of 2018 is going to continue to be rest, but I need to start shipping, either consistent blog posts, a book, a new podcast, of course, software or something.
I will say that Sherry and I shipped the entrepreneurs guide to keeping your shit together, which Sherry did the vast majority of the work on that, but I assisted with the launch, and the promotion, and writing the copy and writing emails and stuff like that to market it. In addition, we have a course that is coming out.
It’s actually a good time to talk about it actually. I haven’t talked about it yet on the podcast, but if you go to ZenFounder.com, one of the products under the how we help menu is founder family date night video course, and it’s a six-part video course. It’s 20 minutes to kind of get you in the mindset of something and then there’s a handout that you take and you’re supposed to go on a date with your significant other, it’s all about keeping you connected.
Founders don’t have a lot of time and don’t have a lot of head space in general to connect with the person that probably is the most important to them, their life partner, their significant other, and that’s what this course is designed to do is just shortcut that and give you pre-built stuff to go and have a conversation about different topics. If you’re interested in learning about that, you can always go and sign up for the ZenFounder mailing list, and we’ll be selling that probably in the next few weeks, I believe.
I was involved to filming, there was a half day or full day of filming, and then I’ve been involved honing the landing page and the copy stuff. It definitely feels like I am keeping busy. It feels good, so I don’t know. I guess the verdict is out. I feel like those count towards this goal of shipping something in quotes to kind of ramp up, and I’m guessing in 2019 I’ll need to be a little more specific and perhaps a little more ambitious with this one.
Mike: The other goals on my list, the first one was hire somebody to take over Bluetick development, and the second one was to speak at six plus conferences or events this coming year. I’ve spoken at two so far. I’ve not reached out to people to expand my profile or whatever to get on the docket for different speaking engagements, so I’m not sure how that one is going to turn out, so we’ll kind of see how that plays out.
But the other one for hiring somebody to take over Bluetick development, I’m wondering if I should actually change this from Bluetick development to implementing certain marketing strategies, because I think at this point I don’t think that I could hire somebody at the level that I need to take over Bluetick development.
I just don’t think that I could afford it. I do think that I could outsource certain parts of like marketing, sort of like different marketing campaigns, for example like, “Hey, I need this to be done and these are the things that…” like scope out what needs to get done, and then hire somebody to do them.
When I had, for example, all of the copy rewritten for the website, that was something that was a lot easier to outsource, because it was skilled labor, but it needed to get done, and it was an expertise that was, I’ll say somewhat unfamiliar to me, and it was easier to just hand it off to somebody else versus with the Bluetick development, there’s a lot of stuff there and it’d be, I think, really hard it and really expensive to hire somebody. I don’t know that given where I’m at and my goals for making it profitable by the end of the year, I don’t think that I could get there, not without funding, for example.
Rob: What was the mindset behind that goal?
Mike: It was to allow me to do the marketing. That was it. It was because I needed time to do the marketing and the development stuff needed to get to a certain point and it is, I would say, that it’s not necessarily too far off. There’s a few, I’d say, two or three major things that need to get done in terms of development and then I could probably push much more harder on the marketing side of things.
I don’t know, it’s a balancing act, I’ll say, do you know what I mean? Because like I said there’s just tons of code there and it’s all in different technologies and it’s just hard to find somebody who’s familiar with most of them.
Rob: Yeah, it always is. I mean, it’s always a balancing act, like you’re saying. That’s like the struggle of starting up from a standing stop and trying to get something to the point that is profitable. These are definitely the hardest and most uncertain time, so you may adjust that goal then is to hire someone to help take over other stuff.
Rob: Cool. Well, now that we’ve done that, we’ll probably visit these again in three or four months. Let’s dive into a few listener questions. Our first voicemail is actually a listener success story.
Kevin: Mike and Rob, Kevin Wagstaff here from Spectora. I wanted to call in and give you guys a long overdue thank you. We have taken our company Spectora as a bootstrap startup from zero to 40 MRR in 16 months. We launched January 2017 after many months of listening to every single one of your podcasts and we have come out the gate screaming, so we’ve had ton of success I wanted to share with you guys. I hope to be on your success stories at some point and may be even be on the show. We’ve learned so much from you, thanks.
Mike: Congratulations to Kevin. That’s awesome news that you’ve gotten that far with Spectora in such a short amount of time. It sounds like you’ve really gotten a lot of value out of the podcast and really appreciate you just ringing back and letting us know that you’ve been able to take your business to the next level because of it.
Rob: Yeah, that’s awesome to hear. Just one note there, he said zero to 40 MRR, obviously, that meant 40,000, so that’s a perfect bootstrap startup to do that in 16 months, it’s pretty sweet. They’re in, it looks like, home inspections software space, which I’m imagining could be both challenging, but also a challenging vertical, would also one that if you got in there and you become kind of the name, it would be really, really hard to topple you from that.
The next question is actually a comment from Matthias Bedard from SWAAAP.com. It looks like SWAAAP has three A’s, SWAAAP.com.
He says, “Hey, Rob. I’ve thought I’d reach out and congratulate you on the Drip acquisition and your current unemployed status. I was listening to your parents on the Rogue Startups podcast, that was on a couple weeks ago, and I found your take on micro fundraising interesting, since that’s more or less what we have done. It’s cool because we’ve been able to maintain control on most of the company, but we have had to put in a lot of our own money, spent a lot of time applying for government grants, and take on a lot of side projects to keep the lights on. In the end I’m glad we took the route we took. We’ve definitely learned a lot doing so. I treasure the learning experience, but I think if we had an investor or someone on board with more knowledge of the SaaS base, and monetization strategies, we could have moved faster and take more advantage of some of the tech we’ve built, like our event matchmaking platform. I’m also an avid listener of Startups For the Rest of Us. I just want to say I really appreciate that you guys take the time to throw a bit of your knowledge out every week, cheers.”
It sounds like they didn’t take funding, but they wish they had that he feels like it would have kept them from having to do the side projects, the government grants, and, basically, they said they had to put a lot of their own money into it. It’s an interesting take on it.
Mike: Well, that’s always the trade-off, like if you take money, then you don’t have to do those things, but you also are going to have to give up some or probably more control of the company, so it’s just a matter of like how much you’re willing to give up, and sacrifice in exchange for that equity.
Rob: Our next question is a voicemail from a longtime listener and a question asker, his name is Owen, and we’ll roll that right here.
Owen: Hey, Rob and Mike, this is Owen from Bitesize Irish Gaelic. I’m a long-time listener, so I have to start by saying thanks so much for all of the information, and knowledge, and opinions that you have shared over the years.
I remember Rob talking about thinking about doing something different after HitTail, I think, and then it turned out to be Drip, and then it turned out to be selling Drip after growing it, and ending your time there, Rob. It was really cool to follow that whole journey, so thanks for sharing it along the way.
My question is, I have what you would say is against wisdom, it’s a B2C SaaS app for learning the Irish language. We tag people outside of Ireland, so they’re the people who emotionally want to make a connection to their Irish heritage by learning to speak some of that language. There are local groups that get together. They have immersion weekends, yearly events in different places.
My question is how would you think about trying to tap into those audiences to get our app in front of those people? Like, probably, I’m thinking sponsoring an event and getting our logo displayed just wouldn’t do anything. The one idea I did have was asking the organizers to send a direct email to attendees and offer some kind of discount for our app that they could click through. Anyway, if you have any thoughts, ideas, I’d appreciate it, and thanks a lot for your time, anyway, see you.
Mike: I have a bunch of thoughts on this, so there’s two answers to this. First one is a general thing that says that if you’re going to try and market at an event or sponsor an event that you’re not attending, it’s probably not going to work. I say that in reference more to larger events, so if you’re talking 100 to 200 people or larger than that, it’s probably not going to get you nearly as much as if you were to attend it.
But it sounds like Owen is after from the sounds of it like an immersion weekend where it’s probably not a huge number of people. You’re probably talking less than 50 and I think in those cases what you could do is you could approach the organizer and say, “Hey, I’ve got this workshop in a box that you could give to everybody there.”
Take an hour to go through and give them all of the materials for it, and then see if they’ll go through that workshop as part of like whatever your sponsorship is for the immersion weekend. From there, once the people are done with that workshop, then, you give them a handout of like, “Hey, here’s a coupon code that you can go and sign up for this if you’re interested in hearing more about it.”
That way they get to experience it and somebody is personally delivering it and that person is not you, but I think that you have to do a really good job about that, Bitesize Irish Gaelic in a box thing that you send to them. I wouldn’t shy away from sending them something physical, where they’ve got handouts and things like that, and just ask them, “Hey, how many people do you have?”
That can be part of what you’re doing as sponsorship, because when they walk away from the event with something in their hand, they’re much more likely to be interested and they have that thing that they can always reference as opposed to something when it gets sent in an email, which may easily get lost or overlooked, but it avoids the spam filters as well.
That’s probably my advice for something like that. Generally speaking though, sponsoring an event from afar isn’t something that generally works, but I was a member of Friends of Redgate program for a while.
One of the things that they did was they would send their Friends of Redgate around in exchange for giving them free software they would have them do demos essentially on their behalf. It worked out well in both directions, but it got them the marketing experience or the marketing exposure that they needed to smaller groups by having somebody just do the demo, and that person-to-person interaction is really the key.
Rob: That’s what I was thinking. If you could find a way that the organizer or someone there could do a demo and if you sponsor the food that they eat or whatever, even whatever amount of money you decide, it’s worth to test out. You have them do a demo and I guess the trouble there is if you think they’re not going to do a good job of it, then maybe you have to record your 60-minute Screencast commercial in essence that they play it at the beginning, and then they do get something. I like getting mentioned in the email, so that it’ll remind them, as Mike said, it could go in spam filters or could get misplace, but I think it’s the multiple touch points.
You want to get mentioned at the start. You then want to have that software somehow demoed, so people can get their heads around it, because typically most non-techies struggle to understand how software is going to help them and so seeing how easy it is or seeing what it actually does I think would be the game changer, and I think if you can’t get a demo, and like you said if you just get your logo somewhere or you just get a screenshot, I don’t think it’s worth even a small amount of money to do it, but getting the software working in front of them, I think, is a much bigger deal.
Mike: Well, that’s why I said the workshop in a box thing, because if it’s like an immersion weekend, you’re not guaranteed to have an internet connection either. So by having it there, it gets around that, and then if you give them a video file that they can play it locally through an iPad or a laptop or something like that, then that gets around to any internet connectivity problems that you might have.
I also wouldn’t go with like an hour-long demo. I might do five minutes to open like a video and you talking about it, and then have the organizers essentially manage the rest of it for whatever it is like half hour or 45 minutes or something like that. But it really has to be the right event for that kind of thing. I think it’d be hard to do it if it was immersion weekend for some other language or something like that, I think it would be tough.
Rob: I like your idea. I think that workshop in a box is a really savvy approach. Our last question for the day is about the IP of feature requests, IP standing for intellectual property. It’s from Scott and he says, “Can you guys talk about accepting feature requests from users of SaaS apps? Are there any IP concerns or something we should add in our terms of service to cover feature requests and ideas submitted by users?” What do you think, Mike?
Mike: That is a really good question and I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t know. I don’t know, I would think like having an idea for something that should be added to a product is not something you could ever ask them to put in there and then have any expectation that they’re going to do it, and that you would own it, because it was your idea.
It seems to me like that’s a foregone conclusion, but maybe there’s something in most Terms of Service that say specifically that ideas submitted are not subject to that, and you’ll get no compensation for them. I don’t know, it’s not something I’ve really given a lot of thought to.
Rob: I’m also not a lawyer, but I’ve never seen anything like that. I’ve never noticed anything like that in terms of service and I haven’t read a lot of them, but I read enough terms of service, when I’ve had lawyers draw them up for me that I’ve never noticed that offhand. You could certainly just go to a big company, look at GitHub or Dropboxes or Leadpages or Drip’s terms of service, because they have big legal teams who draft these things up.
If there’s no precedent for anyone ever suing and somehow taking ownership of an idea they sent you or posted on some board, then there probably isn’t anything in this terms of service, and you’re probably fine.
Also if you wanted to throw one sentence in, just like any feature requests or ideas submitted become the property of us, you could do that. I want to say I’ve never heard of anyone being sued over something like this or even it being an issue where people requesting things feel like they own the idea or something. I don’t know, I’ve just never thought about it in all honesty.
Mike: I think that about wraps us up for the day. If you 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 email@example.com.
Our theme music is an excerpt from “We’re Out of Control by MoOt” used under Creative Commons. Subscribe to us on iTunes by searching for startups, and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time.
In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike take some listener questions about hiring VA’s, struggling with engineering, and bootstrapping versus raising funding.
Items mentioned in this episode:
- Dear FCC
- Fearless Salary Negotiation
- Virtual Staff Finder
- Scaling SaaS
- Meet Edgar
Rob: In this episode of Startups For the Rest of Us, Mike and I discussed hiring VAs, struggling with engineering, bootstrapping versus raising funding, and more listener questions. This is Startups For the Rest of Us episode 340.
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 Rob.
Mike: And I’m Mike.
Rob: We’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s the word this week, sir?
Mike: I have a website for you. It is called gofccyourself.com.
Rob: Really, I’m clicking on it right now. That sounds dubious. Is this safe for work, as they say?
Mike: It is safe for work. This is actually created by the Last Week Tonight show with John Oliver. The idea behind them putting together this website was that there’s some pending discussions inside the FCC about whether to deregulate certain parts of the internet specifically as it relates to internet service providers. It allows them to essentially self police themselves in a way that they decide whether or not what they’re doing is morally correct and net neutral, which is obviously not a good thing for net neutrality in general.
The FCC has made it very difficult to get to the page where you can actually leave comments in support or against this particular piece of decision making in the process. John Oliver and his team put together this website. It’s essentially just a redirect that takes you directly to the place where you can fill out the form and leave a comment.
If you’re interested in contributing your voice to that net neutrality legislation, then go over to gofccyourself.com. I’ve already done it. It does take a few minutes. I thought it would take two minutes so I’m hesitant to say that because it took me like 10 but I think that it’s well worth putting your voice into for them to hear it.
Rob: It looks like there’s another URL, dearfcc.org.
Mike: It’s the same type of thing except that, I believe, it sends a physical letter as opposed to just commenting directly on the FCC’s website.
Rob: Got it, very cool. Hey, we had a comment on last week’s episode. I thought it was a pretty thoughtful comment. I appreciate it. It was from a guy named [00:02:17]. He said, “Hey, first time commentary. Congrats Mike on reaching your MRR milestone. What makes it more impressive is you did it in spite of all the armchair criticism. All the more power to you.” I didn’t even read that part. That’s funny. He said, “I did want to say that hearing Rob talk about hiring an in house nanny and how everyone should get hired help was a little bit perhaps insensitive. Not sure if that’s right word but Mike’s response pretty much sums it up. Similar to a guy who could afford to fly first class and tells everyone they can’t imagine flying economy again and that everyone should fly first class.”
I appreciated his comment. A couple of things, first of all, I felt like the first class analogy was a little, maybe didn’t translate to what I was saying because flying first class is like 5 times, 10 times more than normal flights and the only value is comfort and perhaps snobbery whereas I was genuinely saying outsourcing stuff. It’s not about having a live in nanny. It’s about not mowing your lawn. That’s really what I was talking about.
I had switched topics by this point to if you’re a founder and you’re still mowing your lawn, and you’re pressed for time, and you don’t have time to spend with your kids or work in your company, and you’re still mowing your lawn, or shoveling you snow, or cleaning your own house, that’s not a money decision at that point if you’ve got any type of success.
I used to pay $55 every 2 or 3 weeks for a house cleaner. Most of us can swing that. None of this is stuff that I started doing after I sold my company. I started hiring small amounts of outsourcing over 10 years ago when I was literally making just a normal salary gig but I was trying to do stuff on the side. I wanted to clarify that and also say I apologize if I came off insensitive. Did you feel like I did?
Mike: I don’t think so. I actually thought it was kinda funny when you said I’m not advocating outsourcing your parenting of your kids and I was like, “Why not?” Isn’t that the point?
Rob: Mike’s like, “I am advocating outsourcing raising your kids.”
Mike: I was like, “When did we decide to go against that idea?”
Mike: I could definitely see what you decide could be misconstrued. I don’t think that that was your intent. As you said, the conversation had shifted from one topic to another in the middle of it.
Rob: Right. I don’t think everyone by any stretch should have some type of live in nanny. Sherry and I have been talking about that for five or six years. We haven’t been able to do it. We just didn’t have the house that it worked for back in Fresno. It really doesn’t have anything to do with suddenly having more money. I’m not advocating everyone should get a live in nanny. It’s game changing for us but that’s a personal choice.
The part that I am saying entrepreneurs and founders should do if you’re strapped for time, and all of us are, is that you should be outsourcing more of your day to day groundwork. That’s a decision you’re going to have to make early on. It’s like hiring a VA, I’m going to pound that drum forever, but if you’re still answering your own email support and you’re more than about 3 or 4 months into your product, you’re making a bad choice.
You can try to tell me it’s not a bad choice but I’m going to tell you over and over based on my experience and the experience of everyone who I’ve told this to, who haven’t hired someone says, “Oh my God, why didn’t I do this years ago,” that you should be doing it. It’s a different thing but hopefully that clears it up and is a little more helpful who think I’m some type of pretentious d-bag.
Rob: I’ve always tried to be on this side of that argument.
Mike: I do think that there are certain cases to be made where you don’t outsource that stuff. For example, like mowing the lawn. I find that sort of therapeutic because I listen to my headphones and podcast and stuff like that while I do it. That’s a regularly scheduled thing that comes up versus something like snowblowing the driveway and taking care of that where you’re much less in control of the weather and those things pop up and it needs to be taken care of. That is easier to make that decision on than something like mowing the lawn where it’s predictable, I’ll say.
Rob: Yeah. If you’re saying it’s relaxing for you, that actually is a good argument for it. I would say alright then, that’s not a bad choice. I actually cook quite a bit because cooking is not a chore to me. It’s actually something that I enjoy. I do outsource part of it. A lot of the prep, I use Hello Fresh or Blue Apron so I’m not going out shopping. It’s more expensive for sure but it saves me time.
Cooking itself, the act is similar to what you’re saying. I typically have a glass of wine and I have podcast playing and so it is actually relaxing. That’s a good point too to bring up. It’s only if this is something that’s detracting from your life.
Mike: I think that’s the point. If there are certain things that you can outsource because they are detracting from your life or they’re inconvenient, that was really I think the point that you were trying to make with the nanny. There are times where it’s inconvenient to drop what you’re doing to do something like picking up the kids at a specific time. You don’t have to be the one that does that. Again, that’s very different than being the person that are parenting your kids. Those are just two very, very different things. I think the distinction got muddled in a conversation, that’s all.
I just want to bring up a comment that we got. This one came from Josh Doody. Josh gave an attendee talk at MicroConf. One of the things that he talked about in his attendee talk was about SEO. This relates back to episode 338. He just said, “Hi, I just listened to episode 338. Summary of the Moz case study on ranking number one for competitive head terms. Really good stuff. I heard a couple of things that I’m going to try to keep improving the SEO on fearlesssalarynegotiation.com. I added the episode link in the case study that linked my MicroConf summary page. I think my talk in some of the links on that page could help people get started with SEO. My talk was a one on one level talk where I would say the Moz case study is 201 plus.”
He gives a website URL. It’s joshdoody.com/microconf. We’ll link that up in the show notes. Anyone who wants to go take a look at that, it’s a really good overview of what his talk was and it is some practical strategies if you’re not quite to the level of where that Moz episode that we did and all the different things that they did for SEO. If you’re not quite there yet, head over to this link. Again, it will be on the show notes. It gives a lot of the basic tactics and stuff that you can use to help your website rank in the search engines.
Last before we get started. I did not know this but apparently, for the past two or three years, there has been a Viking combat training facility here in my hometown.
Rob: Do they teach you to fight with the axes?
Mike: I think that they put stuff over the ends of them. I saw them training one day out in a parking lot. They have these giant bo staffs, they almost look like giant erasers or q tips or something like that. They are like padded on ends and they look like they’re ready to beat the snot out of each other in the parking lot.
Rob: That’s awesome. Your town is not that big so it’s kind of odd that you wouldn’t have known that.
Mike: I know. That was the part that struck me as odd. It’s literally called the Viking combat training center.
Rob: That’s fun. Last time we were in Italy, my son and I did gladiator training in Rome. It was like a one or two hour little adventure where we had foam swords and you wore the helmet. The stuff is bulky and heavy. It was super fun to learn kind of the different approaches to combat though.
Mike: What’s on the agenda for today?
Rob: Today, we are answering listener questions, trying to play catch up. I think we have one voice mail and a few written questions. Our first question is from Richard Gorbet. He says, “Hey Rob and Mike, love the podcast. Only one I have to auto download when a new one appears. A couple of years ago, there was a lot of chat about virtual assistants. Is it worth a new topic in one episode as I suspect the dynamics may have changed. I’m thinking from a help desk perspective but many, many uses for a VA. It’s come to my thoughts as my latest ideas about MVP in the next few weeks. Thanks.”
What do you think about this? I don’t know that it’s so much different than the previous thoughts we’ve had. Maybe the specifics of hiring have changed slightly but I think we talked about 15 ways to use a virtual assistant. I think all of that is still the same. That stuff hasn’t changed. What do you think?
Mike: I would agree. I think the specifics of how to go out and find somebody and vet somebody to do those things has definitely changed over the years but I don’t think that the types of stuff that you would have them do is going to change all that much. It’s probably going to be more of an evergreen topic to be honest. It’s just there’s always ways to save yourself time.
The one thing that I think that might change over time is that as the level of skills of people that are available at a certain hourly rate, that dynamic shifts over time. You might be able to find people who are more qualified to do things that are probably further along than what you would think that a typical VA would be capable of. Again, that’s going to be shifting the global economy in terms of who is available at what hourly rate and stuff like that. It’s not really a dramatic shift in what you would have them do. It’s just a matter of what people are skilled at, at a particular hourly rate.
Rob: I actually think the hiring process, at least the one I outlined most recently was through oDesk. That’s still where I would go today. I would use that or I would use Chris Ducker’s service, virtualstafffinder.com. It’s Virtual Staff Finder, that’s the URL. If I recall it was like $300 or $400 to pay them and they basically vet a bunch of candidates and then they give you the top three. They guarantee them, that if they don’t work out in the first whatever days, they’ll replace them and stuff.
If you have the funds, I would do that if you’re in a hurry. If you have less funds and more time, then the oDesk approach that we’ve outlined, I guess it’s Upwork now, the Upwork approach that we’ve outlined in the past is what I would go back to at this point. Thanks for the question.
Our next one is an anonymous question that he actually sent to me directly. He say, “Hi Rob, I’m in the process of creating a B2B SaaS app for universities but I’m struggling with the engineering of the application. What resources such as books, tutorials would you recommend for developing a SaaS app on the web? I’m a huge fan of the podcast and of your book. Thanks for all your help.” What do you think, Mike?
Mike: It’s funny, as I’ve been developing Bluetick, I‘ve come across various topics where this type of thing would be very highly relevant. I’ve looked around and depending on what you’re doing, it can be very difficult to find this type of stuff. It kind of actually spoke the idea of writing the technical side of developing a SaaS application, a book that basically covers that topic. The problem obviously, I just don’t have the time to do that kind of thing.
There’s also just a wide variety of topics that as a SaaS founder, you may run into them and you may not. It depends on the type of SaaS that you’re building and how data intensive it is, how much search you have to do, if you have to do data indexing. A lot of times, you can get away with just very basic stuff and then when it breaks, then you fix it.
I think it’s very easy to go down the path of trying to engineer something to work for the largest case that you could possibly envision your app doing and then get into it and realize that you’re not going to hit that for six months, or a year, or three years. You’ve over engineered the early stage stuff. There are certainly things in Bluetick where we’ve had to rewrite them two, three, there’s sections of the code where I’ve rewritten it four or five times just because the backend stuff has scaled to that point.
Had I sat down and just designed it on day one to try and reach that scale, it would have taken me so much longer to get something out there. I think you really have to just weigh what it is that you’re trying to accomplish and what those short term goals are which your primary ones should be get something working in front of people versus how do I make this thing survive in the long term.
Unfortunately, that’s something that’s sort of diametrically opposed to each other. You don’t want to have to rewrite code more than once or twice if you don’t have to but at the same time, in order to take those shortcuts, you almost need to build those sections of code as prototypes just to get to where you need to be and get that revenue in the door.
In terms of looking around and trying to find specific resources, I’ll be honest, I looked around and I could not find very many. There’s all the generic stuff on how do I build an application or how do I use this particular type of technology, and those are great and helpful but they don’t give you a much broader picture of how do I handle authentication or how do I handle permissions inside of a system.
There are different areas you can go into like claim space authorization and all these different things. At the end of the day, you got to pick what is right for your application and what is going to get you as far along as possible with the least amount of effort.
Rob: The hard part of this is if you get into like how should I do authentication, it’s going to depend from language to language. You should use the built in .NET stuff for .NET but in Rails, you should use the built in Rails stuff. You almost have to go one level higher and talk about concept.
I agree with you. I don’t know of a single good book or tutorial course about really the high level engineering side that’s not language specific. I went to Google and typed in how to build a SaaS application. There’s actually some decent stuff. There’s a good conversation on Quora. There’s a good article on Glenn Stovall’s blog. He’s a MicroConf attendee. He talks about all the technology he would use and it’s like 19 apps in a row. He made the list. Thanks Glenn. I haven’t even noticed that. That’s kind of funny.
That’s where I would start. Again, I don’t know of any tomes, any books, any dead tree of things that are out there. It’s much more going to be about blogs, article here and there. I do know that there are people out there like Derrick, my co founder, has a blog called Scaling SaaS. It’s at scalingsaas.com. He talks about challenges that he’s run into and how he’s fixed them but it’s not a step by step tutorial or a really deep dive into engineering a SaaS app. Perhaps, there is a gap in the market here that someone would be interested in filling.
Or if you have heard of some good resources for stuff like this, feel free to write in questions at Startups for the Rest of Us and we’ll be happy to mention them in a future episode.
Laura: Hi, this is Laura Roeder from Meet Edgar. Hey guys. I was wondering about Rob’s perspective on bootstrapping versus fundraising now that you are operating inside of Leadpages, a funded company. I’m a bootstrapper, I know you guys have been big proponents of bootstrapping over the years. What have you learned being inside of Leadpages about bootstrapped versus funded companies and has it changed your point of view at all about what you might like to do in the future? Thanks.
Rob: This is a really interesting question. The hard part is think about how I run a bootstrap company versus maybe how you run one versus Reuben Gomes versus Josh Pigford. I don’t know if you can say there’s one way to run a bootstrap company and so I can only compare the way I run them with the way that the Leadpages team runs them.
If you think about a funded company in Minneapolis run by Clay Collins and his two co founders, started as a distributed company and then raised funding and grew to 170, 180 employees at this point, it’s probably a different trajectory. They’ve always been profitable. Different trajectory than a funded company in the bay area that maybe B2C, has never been profitable and is hiring a boiler room of bros to make the phone calls.
There are a lot of different ways and thoughts around raising funding and different ways to run a company. I guess I want to couch that in advance by saying it’s only one person’s experience. It’s with basically two companies, comparing them to one another.
The base thing I’ve learned moving to a funded company is that it’s so freeing and amazing to not have to worry about resources, to not have to be concerned with adding a $200 a month server or upgrading the database over to a $2,000 a month box. You know it’s going to fix your problems but you just don’t know if you have the money to do it.
That is gone. I’m not saying money is infinite but compared to the bucket we were in a year ago, before the acquisition, money is essentially as close to that as you can get. Anytime we bring up a problem and we’ll say, “Here’s how to fix it but it’s going to cost this.” The cost is actually the afterthought in the conversation. That’s very freeing and it allows us to operate quickly. We can hire. We can pay market rates. It’s like having the resources, it’s crazy.
Especially because we’re not doing the crazy I’m going to raise $20 million and do the B2C shuffle where we just hire way out ahead of sanity. You hire 20 people before you hit product market fit. We’re not doing that. We’re literally hiring to scale. This is the perfect time at which I would have raised funding if we were going to. It’s a point at which you have product market fit, you’re growing quickly and you’re just pouring money into either scale the marketing or scale the engineering. That’s been cool.
The other thing I’ve learned is that specialization is amazing. The fact that they don’t have people who do support and customer success and marketing, we used to have a Drip when there were five of us. There was one person doing support. To be honest, there’s like eight people doing support for Drip. Marketing is divided into like some people just write blog posts. That’s all they do all day. And then there’s this person and all they do is all the social paid acquisition. There’s this other person and all they do is the search paid acquisition because they have the staff to do that.
Specialization is extremely powerful because you can get so good at stuff. This is when we see these case studies like we talked about last week. It was two weeks ago, about the SEO stuff, the reason those people are so good at that and can write that incredible case study is because that’s all they did. That’s all they did for 90 days straight, was work on that one problem and you can accomplish a lot doing that.
I think another difference and I don’t think it’s not a fun diverse thing but like Drip was an engineering driven culture because I’m an engineer and so is Derrick. Leadpages and marketing is different culture so it’s a different way to look at it, a different way to run a company but that’s not because they’re funded. It’s because they’ve always been that way. Clay, Tracy, and Simon bootstrapped Leadpages to, I don’t even remember what the number was, but it was several million dollars in annual revenue. They kind of are a bootstrapped company that then raised funding.
I think those are some cursory thoughts. I could probably do about a 20 minute rant, not even a rant, just a conversation of me talking about the differences but I think those are probably the most pronounced.
Mike: I think the only thing I’d add to that is that there’s this I’ll say sort of a pervading fallacy that when you start talking to not self proclaimed experts but the people who are leading the masses when it comes to startups, you look at them and your immediate thought is, “Oh, they know what they’re talking about and that’s the way to build a business.”
The reality is that that is true to an extent, however, there are lots of ways to be successful and there’s more than one path to do it. There’s no one true path. There’s no one silver bullet. There’s no one way to do things. There’s lots of ways to do it and be successful. Just because it worked for somebody else, it doesn’t mean it’s always going to work for you and that when you’re looking at those types of examples, that’s one path. There are lots of others that may or may not work for you. It’s about finding what will work for you.
Rob: It’s interesting. There’s always these big things about don’t raise funding because you’ll lose control, or you’re going to make bad decisions because you have too much money, or you’ll feel all this pressure from investors. I’m not the founder or the CEO of Leadpages but I don’t feel like I’ve lost control like we’re being pushed to make bad decisions because we have “too much money,” or that there’s all this pressure from investors. Perhaps the board or the CEO, Clay feels different than that.
It’s not this black and white dichotomy that so many people make it out to be. You and I have never done that. We’ve never been anti funding. We’ve always been anti the dumb B2C startups that have no product trying to raise all this money and go viral. It’s the stupid Silicon Valley stuff.
For 10 years, I’ve been saying there’s a right time and a right place to raise funding. I think it’s post product market fit. You bootstrap to that and then you add the fire to grow the company. Typically, it’s going to be more B2B although if you had a B2C that had hit, I think there’s a good time to raise it as well.
It’s really interesting. There’s a lot more to talk about. Maybe we’ll record an episode in the future and revisit that whole topic.
Mike: Yeah. I think you and I are more anti pipe dream where you have something that you’re putting out there but you’re not charging for it and you don’t have any way of making money. The reason you need funding is in order to increase your reach and get it in front of more people. And then, at some point down the road, you’ll figure out how to make money from it. If you can’t do that very early, then it makes it difficult to build a business out of it.
Rob: Right. We’re anti billing slide decks and asking for permission instead of actually building a company. You should be able to build your company to the point where people want to invest without any funding. It’s very, very rare exceptions. Maybe hardware, although even these days I would say do a kickstarter. Maybe there’s something with incredible computing power, something that you can’t have access to and I would say build something simpler first.
For the most part, most of what we all do, you can bootstrap that to the point where it becomes very interesting to investors.
Mike: I think that about wraps us up for today. If you have a question for us, you can call it into our voicemail number 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 and we’ll see you next time.