Items mentioned in this episode:
- SaaS Guidebook
- Benedikt’s Twitter
- FE International
- Podcast Motor
Mike: In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, we’re going to be talking about MicroConf Europe. This is Startups For The Rest Of Us Episode 367.
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.
Benedikt: And I’m Benedikt.
Mike: We’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s going on this week Benedikt?
Benedikt: I’m good. We had a nice time at MicroConf Europe in Lisbon. Weather was definitely nicer than it is back home in Germany so I really enjoyed myself.
Benedikt: What about you?
Mike: I almost missed my flight home. Actually, I almost missed my flight to MicroConf just because I was running late and I ended up parking in the wrong parking garage, I thought I was going to the international terminal. For whatever reason, the flight to Lisbon didn’t fly out of the international terminal. I don’t know why but it’s just a weird thing that they did with it.
And because of the terminal that I was at, I think it was Terminal C in Boston, there’s no direct way to get to that terminal. You basically just have to walk completely across the parking garage and through the middle of it, and then there’s a place where really it’s only designed for cars to go so I had to walk through that. It was kind of a nightmare getting there. And of course, as I said—
Benedikt: It sounds like it.
Mike: Then I almost missed my flight home. They cancelled my ticket like five minutes before I got to the desk for whatever reason. They had to rebook it and I had to run through the entire airport. Long story short, I’m glad that I actually got home.
Benedikt: You got your fresh air of exercising this week?
Mike: I did. I could probably log that as a short run. They tell you how long it takes to get from one area of the airport to the other. It’s like 12-18 minutes or something like that. I ran the entire way.
Benedikt: That definitely counts as exercise.
Mike: Welcome to the show. You’re on this week in place of Rob because our schedules got all messed up and typically, Rob is on to do this with me for the recap but his travel schedule just got messed up. Maybe we’re just too optimistic for this. We thought we’d be able to get a recording and it turned out we can’t. I wanted to have you on because you were at MicroConf. You’ve been to MicroConf several times in the past. I think it’d be good to get your perspective about this MicroConf in relation to some of the previous ones and just kind of walk through some of the different takeaways of the speakers.
Benedikt: Sure. Let’s get to it.
Mike: To give people a background actually about you a little bit first, you’re the co-founder of FemtoConf and you also have a SaaS Guidebook that you’re working on which teaches people how to build a SaaS which you can find at saasguidebook.com. I think a lot of that is based on your experience building Stage CMS. Is that correct?
Benedikt: True. That’s totally true, and also working with freelancing clients. That’s basically a topic that comes up more than once.
Mike: What else do you have going on these days?
Benedikt: The main thing right now is basically FemtoConf, the conference I’m running together with Christoph Engelhardt, who’s famous for doing MicroConf Europe recaps. Unfortunately, he wasn’t at the conference this year because he got a [00:03:15]. Shout out to him.
Mike: Congratulations, Christoph.
Benedikt: We’re basically doing a smaller version of MicroConf, hence the name, in March. We’re currently in the midst of organizing that. Tickets are on sale.
Mike: There’s only a handful of tickets left, right?
Benedikt: Yeah. That’s basically five or six tickets plus sponsorship tickets. If you don’t get a regular ticket, maybe consider getting a sponsorship ticket. We really appreciate that. That’s my main focus at the moment.
Mike: Awesome. When is that?
Benedikt: First weekend of March. I think it’s March 2-4. It’s in Darmstadt, Germany, very close to Frankfurt airport. There’s actually a bus going there, 30-minute bus ride and you’re right in front of the hotel.
Mike: Cool. I’ll be speaking there. Patrick Campbell from Price Intelligently will be there as well. Then you’ll also have Claire Suellentrop. Who’s the last speaker?
Benedikt: Aleth Gueguen was an attendee last year. She offered to talk about the new privacy law coming up in Europe. I’m both interested and kind of scared about that one. But I’m expecting it to be a great conference.
Mike: Awesome. Let’s talk right in and give people a recap and talk about some of the different takeaways from the different speakers. The first one was Craig Hewitt. He kicked us off. Craig is from Podcast Motor. He talked about the four biggest risks to launching a SaaS application and how to overcome each one.
What I really liked about his talk was at the end, he gave this SaaS risk checklist which basically listed off a bunch of different risk areas where a SaaS or even honestly, like a product in general, might run into. Things like the product market fit, product quality, the team itself, risks associated with making sales, market size, capitalization, and then competition and the business model itself.
I really liked the way he created that story arc where he presented it like these are the risks associated with building a SaaS and then he extrapolated that and gave people a broader sense, like these are all the risks that you are going to run into when running your product or building up your business and they may impact you in different ways based on the decisions that you make.
Benedikt: That was a really interesting talk. I always like Craig’s style of giving talks where he basically has stories and then pulls out lessons learned from that. That’s always quite good.
Mike: He’s in the middle of building out their own SaaS product called Castos which is for podcasters. He’s in the middle of identifying some of these risks and trying to overcome them. It just made a lot of sense for him to talk directly to the audience about that just because as I said, one, he’s in the middle of it, and two, it’s always nice to start off the conference with a story that’s relatable, one that resonates with most people and it gives them kind of a basic understanding of what’s going on in other people’s businesses and be able to relate that back to them.
Honestly, the whole atmosphere of the conference is typically defined by that first talk. I think Craig did a really, really great job with setting the tone for the rest of the conference.
Benedikt: Definitely. I totally agree. Next up was Paul Kenny and he talked about sales tactics for small businesses. His main thing was basically telling everyone to record their sales calls and then afterwards listening to them because when you listen to your own call, you identify parts of your conversation with a potential customer where your future’s hazy or it sounds wrong, then you could basically take down notes and improve on that.
That was his main point. But he also gave a great basic structure on how to do sales calls. That was a five-step process starting with the preparation even before the call, so taking down notes of who you are going to talk to, what businesses they are in, what potential problems they might have, stuff like that.
When you actually call them, he tells you that you should present your credentials, tell your customer or your potential customer who you are, what company you’re calling from, so they get a basic idea. Next, show them that you actually came prepared and why they should talk to you. Also, send them a benefit of what’s in there for them when they actually continue the call with you.
When they agree to continue the conversation, make sure you profile them. Do a lot of open-ended questions, learn a lot about them, what their actual problems are, what different solutions they might be looking at.
One thing I really like was get an idea about their personality, how they would approach buying something and then adjust your strategy of selling to them so that if they’re really careful and have a lot of objections, make sure you basically tackle all of them and give them a feeling of security. You adapt to their style of buying.
After that, when you actually build your case of why your product is the thing they should be buying, use whatever you learned in that first few minutes of talking to them and asking questions to personalize what you’re telling them about your product to their specific use cases and problems so they actually see it. Basically, you have the solution in their mind of what will it be like using your product.
Of course the last thing he really wanted to make a point about is inspiring action. You shouldn’t end your call saying, “Did you like that? Okay, cool. Talk to you some time.” But actually, ask for a sale, ask for a demo or some sort of next action, whatever may apply in the specific sales call you’re doing.
Mike: I think one of the things I noticed was there was kind of a general undertone in his talk that really, what you’re trying to do as a salesperson, we really don’t have very many sales people talk at MicroConf but I think Paul does a really good job at teaching and education people about how to do sales, especially entrepreneurs. The underlying theme there was really to treat the people on the other end of the call like they’re a real person. Just interact with them, show that you actually care about who they are. He pointed out that if you are faking it, it’s very obvious to the other side.
You may not think so, but it is very clear when somebody is just faking interest in the stuff that you’re discussing whether it’s about your kids or a sports game or something along those lines. You have to treat them like a human being. People respond in kind to that sort of thing.
Benedikt: I think you managed that as a side note to basically not think about the call as a sales call but as a call to help the people or the potential customer with the problems they’re having. I think that helps setting your mindset or bringing your mindset into the right direction.
Mike: I think one of the reasons why Paul resonates so well with the audience was just because he’s not, I’ll say, the prototypical salesperson that you would expect. He’s actually a sales coach. He coaches people on how to be better at sales. He spends a lot of time listening to calls and identifying structure of conversations and providing guidance and education to people about how they can do sales better.
I really like the point that he made which is you don’t have to be that extreme extrovert in order to be good at sales. Everybody across the entire spectrum can be good at sales, it’s just a matter of intentional self-improvement. Part of that is going back to your sales calls and listening to them and making sure that you’re looking for places where you can improve. If you’re not doing that, then you’re probably not getting any better at it over time.
Next up, we have Dave Collins. Dave has spoken at a couple of MicroConfs in the past. I think he’s been to eight or nine and he spoke at probably six or seven of them. He talked about how Google is smart in certain ways but extremely dumb in others. It really comes down to the search engine itself and the fact that the vast majority of what they are searching on is based on text. As you start drilling down into longer tail keywords, the text that you need to provide to Google in order to give them better context of what it is that you’re talking about, you need to get better and better at it and kind of walk through some of the different steps that you can take inside the Google search console and how to do some keyword search and how to use different tools to check some of those keywords.
It was a fascinating look at the technical core of what makes Google operate and how it makes some of the decisions that it makes when it’s crawling your website and giving you different rankings. The one thing that I really took away from his talk though was that when you’re building content for your website, you should be making it for people and not for the spiders.
Most people know about SEO in terms of looking at the keyword analysis and keyword stuffing kind of comes to mind which is when you have a keyword that you’re trying to get a page to rank for and you put that keyword into the page a lot in order to get Google to notice that keyword. Humans recognize that and the Google spiders are a little bit dumb when it comes to that but because the human factors there, if somebody comes into your website and they see too much of that, they’re going to say, “Oh, this isn’t for me,” and then they’ll leave and then they’ll go to the next result, and then Google notices that. It’s just fascinating to look at the underlying implementation of how Google does their search engine.
Benedikt: Another thing I really like about his talk was that SEO doesn’t necessarily need fancy tools. What I really liked was this example he had where you basically put in whatever keyword you’re optimizing for and then scroll down on the search results and look at what Google says as suggestions like people also search for this and this. Use that as a resource to find keywords you can optimize for. That was really helpful.
Mike: Our next speaker was Jane Austin. Jane’s the head of design and UX at MOO, moo.com. If you’ve ever ordered business cards, you’ve probably seen them at some of the different entrepreneurial meetups or conferences that you’ve gone to. She runs that design group over at moo.com. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about what her talk was?
Benedikt: Her talk was basically about design thinking in large organizations. I feel like I wasn’t really able to apply all of what she told to my business because I’m just me and maybe a freelancer.
I really like two things about her talk. One was the way they structure their teams. They call it quad-style teams or something like that, basically forming them with product guy who’s doing the productization, shaping the product, and an experienced designer responsible for validating the needs and the value propositions and also doing the actual design work. Then someone from technology who’s actually implementing this stuff and creating a sustainable and scalable product.
Then they had an HR Delivery coach that basically takes care of the team and facilitates the delivery and keeps them happy. That was one thing I really liked, especially when I did consulting, that’s usually a good formula to build a great team that actually is able to deliver in a fast pace.
The other thing I really liked was what she called the 2 ½ Diamond approach. Apparently, the Double Diamond approach is a thing from design thinking. I didn’t really know. But it’s basically a three-step process. First, you are doing ethnographic research. It sounds a little bit similar to what Amy Hoy’s doing with Sales Safari where you basically don’t want to ask questions to your potential customer but just observe them in their natural environment and then figure all the problems they might have.
Then it’s following up to that. You basically start collecting problems that might be worth solving like building up a huge list of things you could possibly do. After you collected those, you basically curate them and define them and narrow down until you settle on one solution you actually want to build. That’s what she calls the Build the Right Thing phase.
After that, after you settled on one thing you want to build, test the Build the Right Thing phase, where you basically start exploring different ways to actually implement whatever you’re doing like doing prototypes and stuff. Once you have a huge list of ways to go, again narrow down on the one thing you want to do and how you want to do it and then as soon as you’re able to ship something small and then build up from there in small increments.
That was the two things I really liked, especially the 2 ½ Diamond approach. I think that’s really also applicable if you’re not like MOO. I think her example was from The Telegraph where she worked on mobile applications, stuff like that. I think that really applies to a small company and some bootstrappers as well.
Mike: I totally agree. If you’re not familiar with the Double Diamond approach, there’s essentially four phases of it but it can really be boiled down into two main stages. The first diamond is really stage one which is making sure that you’re doing the right thing. You discover and define what it is that you’re trying to do.
Stage two is making sure you’re doing things the right way. You’re developing and delivering whatever the solution is. And then the extra half that she had tacked onto it was shipping things in small increments to make sure that you’re closing up that feedback loop so you’re not spending three months, six months on something only to find out that you really weren’t doing the right thing. You may have thought you were, but you’re not.
Getting that external feedback coming into the process sooner rather than later, it makes things move faster and it guides you in the right direction quicker because then you don’t have as many deviations that you need to correct.
Benedikt: Next stop was your talk.
Mike: Yes. My talk was pretty close to what my starter edition talk was in MicroConf Vegas in the spring but I did change things up a little bit just because I knew that the audience was going to be a little bit different. But really, it boiled down to making sure that you are analyzing the data that you’re getting and asking the right questions to make sure that you’re not going in the wrong direction. Questioning the data sources; the thing that I had mentioned several times during the course of my talk was how do you know that you know what you know?
That just is a fancy way of saying how can you be sure that the information that you have is accurate and that you’re going to be basing your future decisions off of that? If it’s wrong, you could be making the wrong decision because you didn’t fully analyze that information to make sure that it’s correct to begin with. If you have faulty assumptions, you’re going to make decisions because of those faulty assumptions.
I also talked quite a bit about the growth of Bluetick and walked through exactly how I went through the validation process, different questions to ask, questions not to ask or to ask in a different way because of different pitfalls that I had run into. I picked probably the biggest one that I have found over the years that is the most helpful to ask is when somebody asks you for a feature and is questioning you whether that’s in a sales scenario or as part of the validation process.
The one thing that I ask them is, “Is that important to you?” Because a lot of times, they will say no and you have just saved yourself several weeks or months of effort building something that they just wanted to know about whether or not it was something you are thinking about or going to support.
Benedikt: That was a good one. I totally wrote that down because I’ve been there and I’ve done that. I really know that this is a helpful thing to do.
Mike: Next up was Peldi. Peldi opened up day two of the conference. He talked about how they scaled engineering at Balsamiq. He had a lot of different tools that he talked about during his talk, things like HackerOne which offers a bug bounty program so you can essentially create a sandbox where you specify how much you’re going to pay for people to identify bugs in your software. And then after a certain predefined time period, then they can come out and publish their findings on that particular bug if you haven’t fixed it by then.
But really, it’s a way to give you the ability to access sort of a hacker network that will look at your product and try to poke holes in it. And then when they find them, they’ll let you know as opposed to just putting your product out there and letting that happen on its own.
I did his suggestion about using this and making it private so that it was invites only because as you said, when you get to a certain scale, as people come in and if they see that you’re listed there publicly, they’re just going to start trying to hack your actual application. Make it private, wait until they come and say something to you and say, “Hey, by the way, did you know about this? This particular bug or vulnerability?” Then, you can invite them to it and cut down on the amount of people trying to hack your application all at once.
Benedikt: I really like that one. Also interesting was the fact they’re mostly using static websites, tools, marketing website and stuff, that was really nice to hear. Another tool that I got out of the talk was Convox which seems like you just put a configuration file into your code repository and it takes care of automating infrastructure setup. That seemed really useful. I really have to check that out sometime soon.
Mike: There’s a bunch of tools that are like that. I’m not familiar with Convox but there’s things like Puppet and Chef that really allow you to automate the underlying stuff behind your infrastructure. As long as everything is going through your source control, you can essentially redeploy your entire environment just using a set of scripts more or less, say the Shaft scripts or Chef scripts that deploy your servers and the applications inside those servers and configure everything where it’s supposed to go but I have not heard of Convox before.
Benedikt: I’m definitely going to check that out. Also, one thing I think you mentioned was don’t rely on unproven companies especially if it’s plumbing for your business. I think the example they had was Stormpath. They were using it for the new Balsamiq cloud setup as the authentication provider and user management. Apparently, they shut down shortly before they wanted to launch. We got lucky on the one but that really hones in the lesson of don’t rely on unproven companies because they might go out of business and be gone with all your user data or whatever it is in your case.
Next up was Mojca Mars. She talked about Facebook Advertising basically using social media as a sales funnel. She had a really good process, and a very actionable process about how to approach that. Basically, she recommends setting up a three-step funnel where you first do Facebook ads, targeting a cold audience that’s ideally based on a lookalike audience you generate by adding the Facebook pixel to your website and it would analyze the traffic going there and the users visiting your website and then extrapolate from there into a much broader audience of people that don’t already know you.
The first step is to advertise to those people and basically just provide some value linked into a blogpost you wrote about an interesting topic that might be related to them, whatever it is, just provide value. Don’t go for the hard sale right at once but show them that you care and that you are an expert in your space or whatever.
After that, they basically get tagged by Facebook using the Facebook Pixel. Then, you can retarget them and use a lead magnet like a checklist, a book, a course, whatever, to get them basically into the next step. Only as a third advertising campaign, actually ask for a sale. She really explained that funnel quite a bit.
Mike: I really liked her talk. I got a lot out of it in terms of the actual sales funnel that would work on Facebook because I’ve tried Facebook ads in the past. I’ll say I’ve had some limited success but it’s not something I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out. One of the things that jumped out at me that makes a lot of sense in retrospect but I’ve not really thought too much about it was the fact that trying to push people too far too quickly through your sales funnel is not going to work.
She said that that’s actually one of the more common reasons why Facebook ads fail, it’s that you’re trying to push them through and you expect that it’s going to convert to a sale or directly into a lead right away and that’s not the case. It’s usually that you’re just trying to get them to your website. You’re just trying to get them to interact with the ad in any way, shape or form and then the retargeting efforts after that is really what helps to bring them into the sales funnel.
There’s going to be some level of drop off there between step one and step two but the retargeting is really what does it for you, it kind of filters out the people who are idly interested versus the ones who are actually interested. Those retargeting ads are what will bring them back and move them onto where you’re putting them into your lead funnel and asking them for email addresses, then push them to a point to ask for a sale.
Benedikt: Two other things that stuck with me was she said that video apparently works very well. Apparently it’s good enough to just take your phone and do a quick video. You don’t have to do like a fancy production or something. Just record yourself talking about some valuable topic and use that as the first ad in your funnel.
The other thing was apparently right now, long form posts work a lot better than short ones. When you add some description to the post, make it a long one.
Mike: It wasn’t just to make it a long one, it was give them an explicit reason as to why they should listen to you and the situations that you have run into. When you’re explaining the inside of the advertisement, you say, “Have you ever done this, and it didn’t work?” Or, “Have you tried this and it failed utterly?” As part of the rest of the content, you’re offering a story about the solution that you came across.
That’s why they buy into it. It’s because they see that and they’re able to put themselves in that position to say, “Yeah, that’s me.” That’s when they’ll click on it as opposed to as you said, the really short ones that are much more like an advertisement that you would find on a blogpost or something like that.
Benedikt: It kind of goes back to what Paul Kenny said in his talk like the structure of a sales call, it might actually work as a structure of the Facebook post as well. I kind of have to think about it but it sounds similar.
Mike: The next speaker was Andrus Purde. Andru was the director of marketing at Pipedrive. He helped them scale it up to something like 50,000 customers or something like that. It was some extremely high number. He was with them for a very long time. His talk was called From Hand to Hand Combat to a Bond Villain: The Evolution of a SaaS Marketer.
He talked about the different stages of how they evolved the sales and marketing team for Pipedrive and progressed from the point where stage one was really just hand to hand combat. It was kind of the analogy that they used for their marketing efforts and how they did things.
Stage one was just learning how to do things and then stage two was scaling those things up where they learn how to do Facebook ads or SEO, or content marketing and things like that. They took their toolsets and they scaled them up. By the time they got to stage three, they recognized, “Hey, we need teams behind these different efforts because we’re doubling down and they’re working well but we need more people and more resources behind them.”
Stage four was deploying those tools out in mass to large numbers of people and then being able to scale up those marketing efforts. It was really fascinating to look at how you grow a marketing team from virtually nothing to a full blown marketing team where you have different people in positions and responsibility for different parts of the sales pipeline or the marketing pipeline and how those things feed into one another based on the type of marketing that you’re doing and the different channels.
Benedikt: One thing he had in his slides was the Two Hedgehog Growth Model. I think it’s especially useful early on. He basically told us that you just do two things, get referrals and [00:27:19]. I really like that analogy.
Mike: If you’re not familiar with the Two Hedgehog Model, I’ve seen articles about this over on growthhackers.com. It’s just a way to basically say there are only a few different things that you should be focusing on in order to grow your startup. If you’re trying to do too many things, then it’s going to make things difficult.
If you focus on only two things and do them very well, for example if you’re making sure that your customers are giving you referrals and that people are able to find you for relevant keywords, then you essentially have your priority sorted in terms of being able to establish repeatable sales growth within the business.
But if you start trying to focus on three things or four things, or five things, you become too disjointed and you’re really not going to be able to focus enough on any of them in order to be able to make a difference. A lot of people spin their wheels when they get into those situations just because they’re not doubling down enough on something to make it work.
Benedikt: The last talk on Tuesday was Ed Freyfogle talking about building and serving a global SaaS customer base. He basically told us how they are doing it in their company. I think it’s called OpenCage or something like that. They mostly do geo calling services. What I really liked was that he basically laid out, “Hey, we do this, this, and this.”
I’ve got a lot of things out of it. Especially one thing I liked was how they present themselves on their About page where they basically hide the fact that they are just two people by not saying we’re a small team but just presenting the management team. It was a nice approach to do that.
Also, one technique he presented was to do interviews with people from local communities in different countries. In their case, they’re heavily relying on OpenStreetMap community and just started interviewing people from different countries about their activities and their OpenStreetMap community. That helped them get backlinks and be talked about and stuff like that.
Mike: I think the biggest thing that I took away from Ed’s talk was their focus on the little things, making the user experience better. For example, in certain data sets, they localize the data to where it’s being requested and who’s requesting it as opposed to just having, “Here’s the data,” and you have to interpret it in any way that you feel is appropriate. But the reality is that if you help the customer and present it to them in a way that’s helpful directly to their needs in their situation, then you’re better off.
That’s really just a matter of not just doing the right thing for the customer but going a little bit above and beyond what the customer would probably expect and what they’ll probably get from other vendors. Because their company is called opencagedata.com, it provides geolocation services based on longitude and latitude and tells you what the city and state is.
The specific example that he’d given was in certain countries, the format of the address is going to be different. It might be that you have the address and you have the numeric address and the street name. In other cases, it’s the other way around or in some countries, you may have a couple of different things all on one line. They do what’s necessary to provide all of that information, do all of that work for the customers so that the customer doesn’t have to figure it out for themselves because otherwise, they would.
Then things get weird where if you’re saying city and state, the example he showed was on Twitter, it said Berlin, Berlin. The reason for that is because Berlin is both a city but it’s also a state. It looks weird when you would see something on Twitter that says it was posted in Berlin, Berlin. It’s not natural. But if you look at it, it obviously looks wrong but the computer has no idea. They do the things that need to be done to make it look presentable.
Like I said, it’s the little things, the icing on the cake, that make it just simple and easy to use. Honestly, a bigger example most people would be really familiar with is Stripe. Stripe does those types of things to make your life easier. You don’t notice them until you’ve tried other things and they’re terrible and then you use something like Stripe and you’re like, “Wow. This is actually not a bad experience. It’s quite nice.” And the bar is not that high.
Benedikt: That’s true. I also like the example he had with offering libraries for your API, they’re an API business basically. Offering an API, you can integrate with them. He told us that offering libraries and programming languages is really like a traction channel for them. I don’t remember the name of the program he mentioned. But it apparently is some very niche language that is not widely popular but by just having a library out there makes it a go to choice for geo coding for that particular language. That was really a good trick.
Mike: Benedikt, you’ve been to a couple of MicroConfs in the past, what was your impression of this year as compared to previous years of MicroConf Europe?
Benedikt: I think the conference in general was pretty similar. Of course the location changed which was nice because I always enjoy visiting these cities and walking around the day before, doing some sight-seeing. In part of the hotel, I think I like the one in Barcelona a little bit better but in the end, I’d go to my room and lay in bed and sleep so it doesn’t really matter.
As always, the hallway track was probably the best thing about the conference. It’s always great to meet new people and also catch up with friends from previous years. That’s what I really like about MicroConf, just the community.
Mike: Awesome. I think it’s a recurring theme. We have new attendees this year, it just seemed like person after person kept telling me like, “Hey, this is a fantastic community. I love talking to these people.” It’s great to hear their stories and what they’re working on. Most of the people I have talked to are like, “I can’t wait to come back, it would be awesome to see where other people are at.” And then also be able to share where they had moved their business based on conversations with them and things that they learned in MicroConf that year.
Cool. Before we wrap things up, I do want to say a special thanks to all of our speakers. I really appreciate them taking the time out of their busy schedules to come talk and also to all of our sponsors. We’ll link them up in the shownotes. I think it’s really important to mention every single one of them and say that the conference would not be what it is without both our speakers and our sponsors, not to mention, all the attendees because the attendees are really what make the hallway track.
Rob, myself, and Zander cannot do that, make the entire hallway track without everybody else there. With that, I also want to say thanks to Zander. Zander is the one who’s in charge of all the logistics. I know he doesn’t want to detract from the experience that people are having with a thank you to him. But I think that everybody really appreciates all the hard work that he puts into it and it shows. It’s really a testament, what he does.
Benedikt: Absolutely. Zander’s amazing. Just at the registration where he basically pulls up your nametag even before you reach him, it’s amazing. I don’t know how he can remember all the many names. I’m super impressed by Zander’s work.
Mike: Excellent. Well, thanks for joining me, Benedikt. Like I said, I’ll link up to a couple of different things that you’re working on. If anyone’s interested, go to femtoconf.com. Definitely check that out if you are able to get a ticket at this point. 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 Outta Control by MoOt used under Creative Commons. Subscribe to us in iTunes by searching for Startups and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening, we’ll see you next time.
In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike reflect back on MicroConf Vegas 2017 and give you their key takeaways from both the starter and growth edition talks.
Items mentioned in this episode:
- MicroConf Recap
- Smart Marketer
- Giant Robots Podcast
- Startup Event Solutions
Rob: In this episode of Startups For the Rest of Us, Mike and I talk about our key takeaways from MicroConf Vegas 2017. This is Startups For the Rest of Us Episode 336.
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: I am still dehydrated and hoarse from last week. At the moment, I’m not sure if it’s just from being in Vegas for seven days or if it’s combination of that plus the pollen and stuff that I came back to in New England.
Rob: Yeah. Yeah, it’s crazy, the dehydration ability of Vegas. Right when I landed, I pull out the ChapStick. I was wearing ChapStick the whole time this time so my lips never got super raw. Yeah, I was drinking a ton of water. I didn’t stay up too late any night this time either. That was good. I think that helps.
Mike: Yeah. I tried to avoid that as well but I think there were couple of times where I was in bed sometime after midnight. I don’t think it was several hours late, it’s like one or two except for the very last night. Going to bed early certainly helps.
Rob: Yup. It also helps that we start the conference now at 10:00AM instead of 9:00AM. It’s just that extra hour gives you time to have a good breakfast and wake up slow. I didn’t feel tired at really any day at the conference, which is interesting considering that we basically had four days of back to back conference.
If you’re new to the show or you haven’t heard, we split MicroConf. Normally, we do two days and this time we did two back to back two day conferences. We did growth edition which started with a welcome reception on Sunday evening, and then we did two full days of talks, and then hanging out on Monday and Tuesday. We did starter edition which is for people who aren’t yet making a full time living from their business. That’s the differentiator between starter and growth. If you’re already making a full time then you should come to growth. Starter ran on Wednesday and Thursday. I was in Vegas close to a week by the time we took off.
Mike: You and I haven’t really talked about this. How did you feel about running the two of them back to back?
Rob: I have to admit, the fact that we’ve sold both of them out, heading into it made me think it was probably the right decision, because it really was a gamble. We decided to do this six months ago, realizing that we preselling the conference out too quickly. We didn’t want to grow it. There’s always the struggle of do we just keep raising prices till we just make the conference super big, make it a 400 person conference, 500 person conference. We’re trying to figure out how to do that. We eventually decided to split it up this way.
I was hoping that it would work well but I was, with any new thing, I’m always a little concerned about what could go wrong. Given the fact that we sold both of them out, my expectations were high that we made the right choice.
Once we arrived there, I pretty much heard almost exclusively positive feedback about the split, both from the growth folks and the starter audience. How about you, how did you feel?
Mike: Xander had asked us, it was Tuesday night, how we felt so far and whether or not we were going to be able to do it again. My mindset coming into Tuesday night was just, “Hey, we’re coming up on the halfway point.” It’s not like it was running two conferences back to back. It really felt like one giant conference just spanned four days. I think that from that perspective, it was more about mindset shifts.
I was also cautious about having this idea in my head that, oh yeah, I’ve talked to people here and they’ve said that they thought it was a really great idea because I feel like the people that don’t think it’s a good idea, or are not happy with it, or were uncomfortable with it, are probably not going to tell you basically to your face. Some people will but I feel that’s the stuff that’s going to come out in the reviews afterwards. You’re not going to find out right away. I don’t know, I was a little cautious about it just because I was hearing from people, “Hey, I really like the fact, this split.” Like I said, they’re not going to tell you necessarily, “Hey I really hate this.”
Rob: Yeah. I could totally see that. In the feedback though, in the survey we gave afterwards, people seem to have generally, a positive outlook on it as well. I think it really helped that we’re able to target the talks so well. We’re going to talk through some handful of a growth talks and a handful of the starter talks. Obviously we can’t talk through everything we did. Over the course of 4 days, we had 18 talks, 10 attendee talks, which are the shorter 12 minute talks given by attendees, two Q&A sessions, and two workshops. There’s a lot to pack in there. We obviously can’t cover everything in the span of a single show.
You’ll see as we talk through the topics that the growth ones are definitely more oriented at existing products, trying to scale up, or trying to stay sane while you’re doing it. And then the starter stuff is a lot more focused on these very first steps. That was the goal from the beginning, it was to be able to target the content specifically at the audience so you didn’t have someone coming feeling half the talks weren’t aimed at them.
Mike: Yeah. I think we did a really good job at that, in terms of splitting the content between those two. Going back and looking at the reviews, I think you’re right. As I said, Tuesday, I was cautious about just accepting things at face value but even in the reviews as you said, there’s a lot of good feedback there about how they liked how targeted everything was directly at where they were. Of course, we did see this from some of the reviews. People like, “How I wish there is a little bit more commingling of the two.” There’s always going to be a suggestions of, “Hey let’s do a two track conference or something like that.”
That’s really hard to pull off, especially if you’re trying to manage everything all in the same venue. There’s a lot of logistical stuff there but I think generally what did went over really, really well.
Rob: Yeah. The two track thing has only been success to the few times over the years but it’s tended to be something that we have intentionally, very deliberately avoided. I don’t know, we should probably crack that open again and just talk through and spit ball what it might actually look like to do that, to have a single conference for the starter track and the growth track.
Mike: Right. I figured in the past, all of our thoughts about that particular thing had been geared with the idea of having the entire conference aimed at one audience. And then of course, that’s where you do get in the logistical issues of let’s say, just for raw numbers. You’ve got 100 people coming and let’s say 70 go to one, and then 30 go to the other. If you’re really targeting two different audiences, then the two track conference idea kind of makes more sense. It’s easier to manage those logistics instead. I think you’re right, I think we just revisit it and think about it and see if it would work or see if it’s something we want to try.
Rob: The interesting thing is the cross growth and starter if you include the attendees, the speakers, the sponsors, and then we sold better half tickets where people can bring their significant other to evening events. Across all that, I think there were something like 420-ish attendees across both.
Actually day to day attending, growth was about 230, 235, and starter was around 165 or 170. Definitely healthy numbers but a good size in terms of manageability. I felt I was able to talk to a lot of people and it didn’t feel a sea of people to me.
Mike: Yeah. It’s hard once you get up to those numbers to be able to talk to every single person there but I do feel like I got to talk to it a decent chunk of people. That size is nice because everyone is still approachable. It’s not like I’ve talked to people while we were there and they said that they’ve been to a couple of other conferences where there’s 3000, 4000 people. It’s really hard to I guess maintain and establish relationships with people there but at the size, it’s a lot easier.
Rob: Yeah. Let’s dive in. As I said, we won’t be able to discuss all the talks but we do just want to take some highlights based on feedback that we received in the surveys we sent out at the end.
Russ Henneberry from a Digital Marketer made his first MicroConf appearance. He appeared based on a recommendation from Ruben Gomez, who said this guy is super sharp. He knows what he’s doing. He has a really unique insights on content marketing.
We had him speak on the first day. I instantly started hearing people being blown away. His talk was The Perfect Content Marketing Strategy. He talks a lot about misconceptions that content marketing is blogging. He looked at the seven characteristics of perfect content marketing.
This is a guy who’s been doing this since before it was called content marketing. He knows what he’s doing. Right in the hallway when we left, I heard some people saying, “Boy, that blew my mind. I’m going to change up my content marketing strategy because of it.”
Mike: What I really like was the way he identified specific pieces of the content marketing strategy and called them assets. I heard that from several other people as well, referring to the pieces that you plug in as an asset. We could give us an idea that you can reuse those assets in other places but by what referring to it as an asset and treating it as such, it gives you a more focus clear idea of exactly what you’re going to be doing with that particular asset or that piece of content and gives you the ability to build it in such a way that it’s not templatize but it’s got a specific purpose and that’s what it’s for. It was an interesting way to look at that that I haven’t really seen or heard before.
Rob: By the way there are summaries of all the MicroConf talks. If you go to microconfrecap.com. Thanks to Shai for taking notes and they’re very detailed outlines of what speakers were talking about.
Next talk I think we should discuss the same to have an impact was James Kennedy’s talk. It was how to stop giving demos and build a sales factory instead. I was super into it even though I’m not giving demos. I have noticed, I ought to give demos but he just had this whole process of how he grew Rubberstamp.io and how they’ve been growing it using essentially sales demos.
What was funny is I walked out at that talk and Anna on my Drip team, she came up and she said that talk made me want to do demos again. You know it’s having an impact when it makes you miss doing demos.
Mike: Yeah, that’s funny. I really liked how he’d laid out the entire process, the follow ups, what they do, how do they get people to the demos, how do they follow up with them to make sure that, “Hey, you have this demo coming up.” The foreshadowing aspect, the letting people know, “Hey, this is going to be the next step. This is what we’re going to do next.” So that it’s not a surprise to people so people aren’t wondering, “Okay, when is this person going to call me again? Are they going to send me an email or am I going to get a reminder?” It’s all about foreshadowing what those next steps are. I really liked that aspect of it.
Rob: I rounded out the day with a modified version of the talk that I had done in Europe about selling Drip and it was called 11 Years to Overnight Success: From Beach Towels to A Life Changing Exit. I tweaked the talk quite a bit for the growth audience. I just thought through some more aspects of it. Also, I have so much more distance from the sale now. A lot of it was about the Drip acquisition, the thought process, and the mindset behind that.
I definitely enjoyed talking about it. Since it was essentially the second time I’ve given the talk, I find that my second, third, fourth times of giving talks are always better. You just have more of an idea of what resonates with people and it’s better practice and that kind of stuff. I felt like it came off pretty well.
Mike: Yeah. I think in your talk, one of the things that you pointed out, this is not a surprise to anyone but the fact that it takes a long time to get to that point, there are all these different missteps or places you go where it’s either just the learning opportunity or you feel you’re making a lot of progress, if you take it as a whole then you get to see that entire journey. It’s interesting to see that. I saw in Europe as well. I do think that you gave a better talk here in Vegas than you did in Europe. It probably is a direct result of hearing yourself give that talk on a stage, and then talking to people, finding out what resonates, then plug in those things back into it. It’s nice to get that feedback and be able to incorporate it later on.
Rob: On the second day of growth, this would have been Tuesday, we had Ezra Firestone from Smart Marketer. He talked about the exact formula they’ve used to generate $5 million in revenue from software in the past 3 years. It’s pretty obvious that Ezra does a lot of speaking because he commanded the stage and really kept people captivated.
Mike: Yeah. As you said, he obviously speaks a lot. It’s nice to be able to see somebody get up there and be able to just do things off the cuff. It’s clearly not rehearsed. Clearly, he has the ability to get up there and speak to things from the audience. Almost like a comedian when you see them perform and they’re able to either deal with the hackler or comments from the crowd and incorporate that into what it is that they’re talking about. Ezra definitely had that ability. It’s clearly a direct result of being up there in front of a lot of people and talking to a lot of people. Some of that could just be the personality in terms of being what appears to be a strong extrovert. I think that being able to incorporate those things really helps to send the right message when somebody is up there on stage like that.
I do like the fact that he went into some detail. For example, the multi-touch marketing and creating multiple touch points in your sales funnel so that people are hearing different messages along the way through that sales funnel. They might hear one message and then they hear a different one. In some cases, they’re getting reiterated to them so they are essentially strengthening the original messages.
Rob: That afternoon, Sherry Walling talked about understanding your past, current, and future self. Really kicked off with how founders view their startups as they do their children. That there is a study done that was doing brain scans of founders as they showed pictures of children they didn’t know versus their own children and it showed parts of their brain activating. It was people seeing companies that were there versus other people’s companies in that sense. It was showing that the brain activity when you see your children is very similar to when you see your own company.
She talks about the pluses and the minuses of this. She looks at how your past contributes to who you are, what to do in the present, and then looking ahead, asking yourself, “What will my future self want me to do about this decision right now?” I was pretty fascinated by it.
Mike: Yeah. I thought that when she dove into that part of the talk, that was kind of fascinating to me just because when you’re building a product, you’re working so hard on it and you’re pouring all of your energy into it. It’s not something I think that most people think about in terms of what would my future self think of me doing this or what would my future self want to be the result of this. She really dug into that and tried to portray it as a situation where you do have to think about those things and you do have to let things grow on, in some cases on their own, without too much input from you, whether it’s hiring people to take over certain pieces of it or just being cognisant in other fact that what you’re doing today is not always going to be correct but you have to make the best decisions that you have with the details you have right now.
Rob: Lars Lofgren wrapped this up. He finished off the growth speaker docket. His talk title was 2 Inbound Engines that Drive 30,000 Leads Per Month, actually more than that. I think he said they’re collecting more than 40,000 emails a month, which is just fascinating. He runs marketing for Ramit Sethi.
He really talked about the two engines are one, ramping volume and two, split testing your choke points. He talked a lot about going really deep on one thing and how they’ve spent a year just going after, they started going after SEO with the ultimate guide and then that wasn’t working so they switched it up. He said he’d rather have 49 amazing blog post and one PDF than 50 amazing PDFs because he need the blog post to drive the organic traffic, so that people will download PDF and become a lead.
He has talked a lot about how he doesn’t do any campaigns. He only puts in systems that he doesn’t want to go from marketing campaign to marketing campaign. I thought was a really interesting look attitude. It’s a very long term way to think about it but it’s also the way to think at scale in terms of really scaling up sustainable traffic.
Mike: I thought it was really interesting that even given the size of the team that Lars runs, that they really are only focused on one channel at the moment. I guess I would have thought that they would have done more or I would have thought they were been going after two or three. In the context of this talk and looking at it retrospect, it does make a lot more sense as to why they’re going so deep on one particular channel. It’s because it’s working well for them. You really want to double down on those and optimize everything you possibly can until you get to a point where it’s no longer working or you’re longer getting the gains that you could be getting.
I think you and I have talked about similar things in the past where people have said, “Oh, I want to take my app and go multilanguage with it or localize it for different places.” The reality is most people are not at a point where they’ve saturated the market. This is the same idea. It’s really going so far deep until you get to the point where the diminishing returns are so little. That’s when you would start focusing on something else. It’s amazing with 40,000 email addresses acquired every month, they’re still not there.
Rob: Tuesday night, we had the closing reception for growth and we had that opening reception for starter. That was a time for people to mingle and have S’mores, and an open bar.
Mike: You’re not kidding about the S’mores either.
Rob: I know. There were fire pits in the back and people are making S’mores. That was a lot of fun, though. I see everybody mix in together. It was a big group and that allowed the starter folks to meet some of the growth folks, and then the growth folks to do their last hurrahs before they kicked off for home.
Like I said, starter was around 165, 170 people. We did something interesting. For those who don’t know, we worked with a conference coordinator who handles a lot of the logistics. His name is Xander. He suggested that you and I not try to emcee two conferences back to back. I think his original phrase was consider getting some fresh blood on the stage. Just someone new with a fresh voice who maybe could our starter audience could really relate to.
We invited Jordan Gal to do it this year. I think our plan is that every year, we’ll either do it with ourselves or we may bring in a different guest emcee. I thought that went really well. My thought, it was nice to not have to be present and constantly thinking about what was going to happen after the next talk and what we’re going to say. I think it took definitely took a load off of me.
I’ll toss it to you in a second here if you felt the same way. I thought the feedback was generally positive. I didn’t really hear anybody who was surprised or shocked that you and I weren’t up on stage all the time. Even then, you and I, were introing some things and you were handling sponsorships so it wasn’t like we weren’t present.
Mike: Yeah. It definitely felt some of the load was taken off for the starter edition just because with the growth edition, there were so many things going on. You and I were back and forth on stage pretty much the entire time. I felt I couldn’t concentrate as much on the talks during the growth edition as I could in the starter edition. It was really nice to be able to I’ll say step back a little bit but still be pretty heavily involved in all the stuff that was going on.
I think that I agree. I’ve heard from some of the different attendees that they thought that it was interesting that we did that. I didn’t really see any negative feedback on that particular piece of it. I think there was maybe a little bit of disappointment that people, they don’t get to see you as much up there because you spoke a growth but not at starter. I think there was maybe a little bit of an expectation of that. But generally, it was pretty positive feedback.
Rob: Yeah, that’s interesting. You know about half way through starter, I started thinking to myself, “I think I should speak. I think I should have spoken this year.” I think neither you nor I knew how challenging that it would be to run these back to back conferences and so didn’t want to commit ourselves to speaking at both, which is why we divided and conquered. I spoke at growth and you spoke at starter.
Given how things went and how I felt it was fairly smooth and I wasn’t exhausted. I don’t know if I could have written two talks from scratch but certainly I might have some material that I could have pulled together for starter.
Mike: Yeah. I think for this year, I think it was definitely the right decision to have you speak at growth and have me speak at starter just because there were so many unknowns. That’s really the issue. With MicroConf, you really only get the one chance of that specific event, whether it’s MicroConf in Vegas or MicroConf in Europe. You can’t just do it over again. It’s not something that you do every week. You don’t want to go too far in a direction that is going to be difficult to manage moving forward or for the rest of that week.
I think for this year, it was definitely the right choice. Whether we change that in the future is up for debate or discussion but I don’t think that we made the wrong choice there.
Rob: Jordan Gal also kicked us off and did the first talk of starter. He talked about all the mistakes that they made along the way with his startup Carthook. You know how they’ve continued to grow during that and the learnings that came from it. When we originally talked, we talked about him doing the same talk he had done in Europe but he basically just wrote a completely new talk for the Vegas audience.
Mike: What I really liked about Jordan’s talk was the fact that he showed all those different failures along the way, at least the ones that he felt were failures but if you looked at how things were going for the business, things were still generally going up into the right. It’s interesting to note that your own personal viewpoint of how things are going, are always going to be worse than how things are actually going. Not always I guess. There are some exceptions where things are just tanking and you have no idea. I think at the back of our mind we know that things are going in that direction.
From external, you look at the business saying, “Oh things are going fantastic, things are going great.” But the founders we’re like, “Oh man, we screwed this up or we screwed that up.” It’s a very different viewpoint when you’re talking to somebody about, “Hey, we’ve made this mistake, we made that mistake.” Externally, people have a different view of what’s going on inside the business than you do as the founder.
Rob: Another notable talk from that first day was Ben Orenstein. He works for thoughtbot and he’s a co-host of the Giant Robots Podcast. He was another one who had obviously had quite a bit of speaking experience. Just really nailed the audience engagement part. I thought he did a very, very good talk. He had actually surveyed the starter audience in advance and he had rewritten his talk multiple times to try to really nail exactly what they needed.
When he surveyed the audience, he found out that about half of folks, it’s starter edition so it makes sense they seem split about, but about half of folks had basically $0 in revenue and then half had in the hundreds and on up. He actually just had two parts to his talk. It was like, “If you have $0 in revenue, do this.” It was super prescriptive and it was really good. I think it hit home with people. It gives a good message to have. If you are over that, then he had these 10 tactical wins that they had implemented over at Thoughtbot because they have a couple different SaaS apps that he runs over there. I thought it was pretty fascinating.
Mike: I think part of what resonated with his talk was that he zeroed in on those tactical pieces where it’s essentially a switch or a lever that you can use to get more out of your business and move things forward faster. Some of them are not necessarily obvious. Some of them that are obvious like for example, created an email course. Then there are other ones where integrating and partnering with other people that’s not quite as obvious but in retrospect, it makes a lot more sense that you can leverage those partnerships to grow your business because you’re essentially leveraging other people’s audiences. If you’re starting out and you don’t have a lot of discussions with other founders, that might not come to you as an obvious tactical piece of advice.
Rob: Rounding at that first day at starter, it was Sujan Patel, who many of may know as a growth marketer. He worked for When I Work and has a number of SaaS apps that he runs now.
He talked about from idea to launch your first 1,000 customers was zero marketing budget. He broke it up into three separate sections. The first was about prelaunch marketing, the second was about nailing your launch, and the third was about scalable marketing approaches.
I really like that differentiation. I think folks who are just starting out often get confused of, “How do I fill my email list?” And that’s your pre launch marketing stuff. “How do I market once I’m out and I’m trying to grow?” They are highly related but they are different. I like that he differentiated that. And then he just kept throwing out ideas that they had tried, things that had worked, things that hadn’t. Again, I took away a lot and I think the audience probably did as well.
Mike: That’s something that I saw from the survey results is that people really liked the speakers who dug into things that didn’t work because it was easy for them to look around and find examples of, “Oh, somebody did this and it worked for them. Somebody did this other thing and it worked for them.” The thing that stuck out in people’s minds was the fact that some of the speakers talked about, “Hey, I tried this and it didn’t work.” Or “I was going to go down this path and we backed off because of X, Y, and Z.”
It was interesting that that piece of it, not even just failure but the pieces that resonate with people were the ones where the speakers started to go down a particular road and pulled back because those are not the things you typically hear about on blogs. You read about the success stories but not necessarily the failures or the missteps. People really found that those aspects of the talks were really helpful to them.
Rob: On the following day, one of the notable talks was Mr. Patrick Mckenzie Patio11. He dug into basically a paint by numbers approach to productized consulting, which is a pretty good option for folks just starting out, wanting to get their first dollar. He broke down an approach of how to build that up. I think he said within 12 months you could be a $12,000 MRR in terms of a productized consulting business and then he laid out the steps to do that.
Mike: I think it was probably surprising to people that when he laid out that approach that he was talking in broad strokes numbers about, “Hey, you could charge $800 to a large business for just taking out the trash for example.” That’s not a huge amount of money to them because companies with more than 20 employees pay way more than that sometimes.
I’ve seen business plans or businesses for sale where that’s exactly right. I’ve seen literally that line item before. It can be fairly high. You don’t really think about it but there is all those business problems that larger companies have. By larger, I mean 20 employees and up that is a genuine business opportunity. You just don’t typically think about it unless you see what those line items are. That’s difficult for most of us who are developers or just not involved with any sort of budget discussions for a larger business.
Rob: Another talk that I heard positive feedback about and I thought he did a good job commanding the stage was Justin Jackson talking about the freedom ladder, financial independence through products. He talked about a lot of different ways that he had tried over the years to make a full time living. In essence, he said January 1 of 2016 is when he finally was able to make it from his own products and he didn’t have to consult anymore.
He talked about many different ideas but one that was interesting and seem to resonate with a few people that no one else has talked about was just doing workshops, like in person workshops. He says yes, it’s super scary and yes, he has given a workshop where it was just him and two other people but he said, “That’s how you’re going to learn. If you can’t get a couple people to get into a room in your local town, how are you going to get folks on the internet to pay you any money?” I thought that was cool way to think about it.
Mike: I think that’s one of the fears that people have about running those workshops, is that you only get one or two people there. I talked to somebody who had given a talk at a conference where they said they were expecting a couple of hundred people in the room and it was multitrack conference and they ended up with eight or something ridiculously small like that. One or two of them got up in the middle of the talk and left but at the same time those are the places where you learn, those are the places where you figure out what’s going to work and what’s not.
What we all want is to be able to go in and run a workshop like this. We get 30 or 40 people. The problem is at that point, you are essentially performing in and front of a group of 30 or 40 people and you’ve never really performed in front of group of 5 for example.
What you’re doing is you’re making larger mistakes in a larger environment. It’s intuitive that you want the smaller ones first. Those are the ones that help you get the experience so that when you go those larger environments, you give a larger talk or a larger workshop that is not as scary. You’ve got the butterflies out, you’ve been able to answer the exact same questions in that larger workshop that you have in smaller ones. You can refine your answers from there as well.
Rob: You mostly rounded out the day and rounded out starter. You actually interviewed John Collison, did a moderated Q&A with him. For those who don’t know, he’s a co-founder of Stripe. Xander was saying he’s the youngest billionaire, either in America or in the world. Because I think he’s what, 25? Stripe is now worth $9 billion and he owns a big chunk of it. That was cool. How did it feel to be up on stage with him?
Mike: That was interesting. I wasn’t necessarily nervous from that regard because I don’t think that Xander had mentioned that to me. It was interesting looking at the schedule and how things were going to be going for the rest of the day. I realize that I was probably going to be up on stage for a good chunk of that last day.
I think that the Q&A session went well. We took some questions from the audience and let them. There was a list of questions that we had, that we want to get out there and then ask. A lot of the audience asked questions. I thought that was a good split.
Of course, obviously, I’ll say a little bit risky because you never know what somebody is going to ask. I thought that John was very honest and upfront. He just said, “Look, if I can answer the question and help you out, I will. If there’s something I can’t talk about it, I’ll just tell you I can’t talk about it.” I thought that that was very humble of him. I really liked talking to John both before, during, and after the conference just because of how he carries himself. He’s obviously a very skilled and intelligent person. I think he makes for a good founder that is a good fit with our audience as well.
Rob: The last talk of starter was your talk. It was idea validation and customer development. It’s pretty self-explanatory what you went through. How did it feel? What feedback did you get and how did you feel on stage?
Mike: After the talk, I got some good feedback from people. It was odd because the workshop that I did was also on that. That was I’d say pretty well attended. Even during the workshop that I did, there were a lot of questions that I got. I took some of those questions and I went back to my talk and rearrange things a little bit. May or may not have been the best idea to make some of those changes in the middle of it or just before I was going up there but I also think that some of those things are really important to cover in terms of, “Hey, if you do this, this is what can happen.” Going out there and showing a specific idea, that was something else that people are pointed out to me like, “Hey, I thought that that idea had legs and it’s really interesting you showed that hey, you got these data points and were able to prove like hey, this idea is not going to work or it’s not going to work for you at least.”
Rob: Overall, I think MicroConf this year, the MicroConfs in Vegas were quite successful. I had a great time and we’ve already gotten a lot of positive feedback about it. Keep plugging along and we’re looking at doing one in Europe here in late fall.
I did want to give a shoutout to our sponsors, to the speakers that flew in, very busy people coming in to give back to the community, as well as Xander. Xander helps us run the conference. If you have an event that you need help with, even meet ups, product launches, and conferences, Xander really works a lot in the startups space and the techs space. He’s at startupeventsolutions.com.
Mike: I think that about wraps us up for this. If you have a question for us, you can call it in our voicemail number at 1-888-801-9690 or you can email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our theme music is Next for Periodic 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.
In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike discuss 8 key takeaways from MicroConf Europe 2016. A couple weeks after the conference they highlight some of their favorite points from the speaker’s talks. Also detailed notes from the entire conference are available at microconfeuroperecap.com
Items mentioned in this episode:
- Self-Funded Product Survey
- MicroConf Europe
Rob [00:01]: In this episode of Startups for the Rest of Us, Mike and I discuss eight key take-aways from Micro Conf Europe 2016. This is Start-Ups for the Rest of Us, episode 302. [music] Welcome to Start-Ups 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 [00:28]: And I’m Mike.
Rob [00:29]: And we’re going to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s the word this week, sir?
Mike [00:33]: Well, kind of in a little bit of a slump lately. I’ve been trying to plod through some of the development issues for [Bluetick?] and try and get the product to a point where customers are actually getting value out of it that they need, and there’s just technical problems. Some of them are just really hard to get through and are taking forever, just way longer than I would have anticipated initially, and it’s just a long slow slog. So it’s a little disappointing. But, I mean, I’ve had conversations with the people that have been using it and everything is on the right track, it’s going the right direction, it’s just a lot slower than I would like it to be.
Rob [01:04]: Is this because of technical debt? Or is it early scaling issues?
Mike [01:08]: It’s a little bit of both. Some of it is scaling issues, because certain things are a just a little bit slow on the back end because of the number of messages that I’m storing and what I’m doing with them. And then some design decisions, for example, one of which is I’m not going to bother storing some of this information because we don’t need it. It turned out that we did, and it’s a lot more complicated to shoe-horn it in later than it would have been to grab it all upfront. Those are the kinds of things that we’re running into, and just scaling up that amount of data is a lot harder than it seemed to be initially.
Rob [01:39]: Yup. And do you have – do you think you have a couple of weeks? Because you don’t want to get new customers on when you’re doing this, right? You’re kind of holding off?
Mike [01:46]: Right, yeah.
Rob [01:47]: How long do you think that’s going to be?
Mike [01:48]: Well, the things that I’m working on now I’m kind of in the final phases of testing it, so I’m hoping that I’ll be able to do some of that migration, and getting some of that data into the system, within the next week or so. Beyond that, it’s a matter of going back to people and saying, “Okay, this is where it is.” Because there’s all this work that needs to be done upfront to gather everything, and then there’s additional work that needs to be done to display everything. So I’m hoping that in the next week or two I’ll have something that is, I’ll say, much further along, and can display information that they need. But it’s kind of hard to say, to be honest.
Rob [02:19]: Yeah, it’s a long slog, man. I’m sorry to hear that it’s going slower than you want it to, especially when it’s technical issues, those are the things that kill me. It’s like we have one advantage as software people, and it’s that we know how to build products. But when you run into these things, it always feels like, “Man, this is just killing me!”, because you want to get the sales going, and you know you should be focused on marketing and onboarding and getting new people in, and sometimes these things, you just have to take care of them. You know? You can’t have the technical debt sneaking it, especially if the app isn’t working properly, or you can tell it’s not going to scale past 50 people or something.
Mike [02:50]: Yeah, and part of the issue is that I’m also running into bizarre edge cases that, if you think about it and say – I’ll give you a prime example, what characters are valid characters in an email address? You probably think to yourself, “Well, alphanumeric, and then dots and then the at-sign, of course.” But then beyond that, there’s all these additional characters that you would not even consider could possibly be part of an email address and they can be. For example, like slashes, plus signs, equal signs. There’s all this other crap that can go in there, and according to the RFC’s, those are all completely valid characters, and it just sucks to end up running into those things when you just didn’t anticipate them.
Rob [03:29]: Yup. Early on we had to do a little research too, and I think – the nice part of using Ruby is that I think there’s a gem that does the validation and it’s a very complex – I’m not sure if it’s a [Reg-x?] or a complex series of statements. But that’s the kind of thing, in that particular case, be on the lookout for rather than – we’ve tried not to write our own because we’re not experts at it. We probably would be now, but we weren’t three and a half years ago when we were building DRIP.
Mike [03:52]: Yeah. This isn’t for specifically validating that it’s a valid email address, I’m already using modules for that. It’s more a matter of – to give you a prime example, if a slash appears on an email address I can’t use it in Microsoft shared platform as a partition key, so I basically have to apply some sort of transform to it, and then use that as the look-up key, as opposed to actually using the email address, which is what I originally planned on doing. Of course, when you run into that after processing several hundred thousand messages, then it becomes a problem.
Rob [04:21]: For sure. So on my end it’s been kind of nice. A couple more of the DRIP team members have joined me here in Minneapolis. So for a couple weeks there I was kind of – you know, you’re just kind of flying solo, didn’t know anybody, like the first day at a big company, and you don’t know anybody. But it was really cool, Derek and Anna have since joined me and I feel like things are continuing to fall into place. We’re hiring now three new people for the engineering team, and it continues to be fun. It continues to be a good journey where I am learning, and my team is learning, and things are going well. We’re going fast, like our trial count, I probably can’t even say how much it went up, but hundreds and hundreds of percents, many x’s up from where it was the week before closing. It’s been a fun ride, and it’s been interesting to watch the app scale, and to watch which things start to creak and kind of teeter, and then we have to jump in and say, “Alright, we need to increase these boxes. We need to increase RAM on this box. Or “We need to rewrite this one piece.” And so we’ve been doing that. But fingers crossed, knock on wood, we haven’t seen any major scaling issues to date, so that’s been really nice.
Mike [05:26]: Awesome. So what are we talking about today?
Rob [05:27]: Well today we’re talking about eight key take-aways from Micro Conf Europe 2016. We ran Micro Conf Europe just a couple weeks ago in Barcelona. We had about 110 attendees, so it was a little smaller this year than last year. Before we dive into these, I want to refer focus to MicroConfEuropeRecap.com if you’re interested in detailed notes on each of the talks. We had nine talks, and then we had some other attendee talks, and a panel and some other stuff. Kristoff [Egalhart?], once again volunteered to take notes for us, and they’re at MicroConfEuropeRecap.com and they’re detailed and very good. So what you and I did is sat down and said, “What were kind of the key take-aways?” These are not all of the take-aways, for sure. There were people taking pages and pages of notes. These are just some things that kind of struck out to you and I as we talked through the two days of speakers. So our first take-away is to be prepared to rewrite your MVP, and this one is from Jordan Gaule who did a talk called “Two Years in the Sass Trenches”, where he walked through his experience starting Cart Hook, where he walked through his experience of the last two years of launching and growing Cart Hook, and finding a co-founder, and partnership catastrophes with external companies, and perseverance and what it’s taken to get there. A big lesson that he said was, “If you build an MVP be prepared to rewrite it.”
Mike [06:48]: I thought that was a very telling, and probably an eye-opening piece of advice, just because when you’re building something you try and build it with the future in mind so that things aren’t going to fall over and break as soon as you add one, or ten, or twenty customers on to it. You can’t always predict what’s going to happen at that point. I think Gabriel [Weinberg?] of [Duck Duck Go?] had mentioned this in the past as well – if you 10X what you’re doing the problems that you’re going to run into are just exponentially more than what you had previously anticipated in whatever previous rewrite you had done, or reengineering, and you’re always going to run into those scaling issues at some point along the way that you have to rewrite a bunch of stuff. Which kind of sucks, but it’s, in a way, a good problem to have if you’re getting to that point.
Rob [07:30]: Yeah. Whenever I hear people say “MVP,” I wonder in my head, “Do you mean a crappy version that has a lot of technical debt?” Because if that’s what they mean, that scares me a little bit. When I think of the MVP of DRIP that we launched, it was the code – the underlying code was good, and the architecture was solid, and it had test coverage. It was a solidly engineered software product, but it didn’t have a ton of features. That’s what I think of minimally viable in that instance. And obviously, an MVP doesn’t even necessarily need to be software, even if you’re going to start a software company. We’ve talked about that – how you can do human automation, and there’s all kinds of ways to work around having to not build software, basically. But if, in fact, you are building a software product for something, I don’t think I could move forward with it as something that has a bunch of technical debt, because it’s going to come back to bite you at some point. Because if you do you’re MVP, you get 10, 20, 30 customers, what do you do now? Do you take six months to rewrite it? You’re just standing still? That’s no fun. Think twice about what you’re doing, and how you’re doing this. Our second take-away is to brute force sales in the early days. This also comes from Jordan, who, in essence, had a virtual assistant that was going out and looking for possible clients of Cart Hook, and then doing cold email sequences, and just talking on the phone. I mean, it’s really just brute force. It’s just perseverance. It’s coming in every day, doing the slog, doing the grind, and I think he said that got him to – it was around 5K in MRR. That’s like super admirable, just clawing your way. He didn’t really have an audience, he didn’t really have a list he could go to, and he just showed up every day and did the stuff a lot of other people aren’t willing to do.
Mike [09:01]: Yeah, and a lot of those types of things are going out and writing cold emails, or scraping lists together from different websites that you think would be a good target. That’s actually one of the strategies that I’ve seen recommended to people to get your first hundred customers, is go out and create a list of who you think your best, or flagship, customers would be for your top 25 or top 50 customers, and people you would want to do business with. Then iterate through them, and talk to those people, and see if you can get them on- boarded as customers. If you can, then it will help you build the roadmap for the future in terms of how to get in front of more of those types of people. But just showing up and doing the work is, I’ll say, highly underrated.
Rob [09:42]: Our third take-away is, if you’re not getting initial traction during customer development you may just have things completely wrong. The advice to talk to more customers may not be correct. This is a take-away we pulled out of your talk, which is called “Drawing the Line Between Success and Failure” where you did the survey, or the mini-research study, where you asked boot-strappers specifically about products that they had either failed to launch, or launched, and then had either failed or succeeded at the after-launch. You looked at the data and you analyzed it and you showed your findings.
Mike [10:11]: I think one of the hard things about the data that I had was there’s not enough data to begin with, especially in the boot-strapping and self-funded space. But some of the things that I really wanted to zero in on were edge cases where you could see clearly defined lines between the maximum amount of time that successful companies spent doing customer development, and then the average time, for example – or the minimum time – that companies that were not successful did. You could see very clearly that the maximum amount of time was I think about 10 or 12 hours of customer development for the successful ones, and then there were some people who did upwards of 50 or 100 or even 200 hours of customer development. The reality is that, in looking through that data, and kind of picking through all of the things that I found, what I came to realize was that there’s people who can get themselves into a situation where they’re not sure what they should do. They think that they don’t have a clear picture or clear understanding, but they want an idea to work so they’ll keep talking to people in an effort to try and make it work. That is essentially deluding yourself into thinking that strategy is going to work, because just talking to more people will get you more people to say “Yes”, but it also kind of shows you how difficult it’s going to be, in the long run, to get more people on board. If you can’t convince people who are in your network, who are very likely the people who you’re talking to first, if you can’t convince them that your idea is something that is going to provide business value, what chance do you have from an anonymous webpage where people who have no idea who you are are coming to it and are trying to evaluate it?
Rob [11:42]: Right. I think in the long term you want to increase the number of survey respondents. I think you had about 55 or 60 at the time you presented it there, but it would be nice if some more people would submit their stuff so you can increase the accuracy of this statistics you’re running. Perhaps we could link that up in the show notes, and if you’re interested in providing your data, it can be anonymous or not, it’s up to you, then Mike can maybe revise that in a future talk, or blog post. Our fourth take-away was to find out what people want. Go get it, give it to them, and do it in that order. This was from James Kennedy’s talk “Zero to 20K MRR in 20 ‘Easy’ Steps; The Story of Rubber Stamp.IO.” The title was a little bit facetious because the Easy was in quotes. It was 20 really hard steps. It took a long time to get 20K MRR, which made for a great story. One of the pivotal moments of it was when he read – do you remember what the guy’s name was?
Mike [12:32]: I don’t remember the specific book.
Rob [12:34]: But he read a book, and the instructions were to find out what people want, go get it, and give it to them. He was trying to do that but he was failing. In the end he realized that you have to do it in that specific order.
Mike [12:46]: It might have been the book called “Instant Cash Flow” by Bradley Sugars.
Rob [12:49]: Yes, that’s the book. And actually it’s in Kristoff’s notes, as I think you were secretly looking out while I was fumbling around for the name. One of the other things I liked about James’ talk is he had a lot of really actionable stuff. I mean, he’s attended several Micro Confs, so he knows the level of talk you want to bring, and he talked about some really cool marketing approaches that other people haven’t tried. There was SoftwareAdvice.com, there was [Captera?]. There was – I’m trying to think of what else there was – he had several things that really were kind of off the beaten path that he has used and optimized in order to grow his business.
Mike [13:23]: The other thing I like about his talk is that really laid out, in a manner that was very systematic, about what his approach was to identifying those different channels. I had specifically asked him about that at Micro Conf: What was it that make him decide to go after [Captera?] and those other things? He said he went out and had read the book called “Traction” by Gabrielle [Weinberg?] and Justin [Merez?], and in it it lays out the bullseye approach. We’ve had Gabrielle on the show before talking specifically about that book, and about that approach. They just went through it, and they were very systematic about it: “What’s working? What isn’t? What do we think has the best chances?” And that’s how they identified that those different channels were going to work for them. Because if you look at the channels that they are using, that are being successful for them, they aren’t things you’d think of off the top of your head. I was really interested to hear about how he stumbled across those, and he’s like, “We just systematically went through that and used the information that we had to identify which one was going to work.” and when they didn’t have enough data they went out and got the data.
Rob [14:22]: I also like that he referenced Jason [Cohen’s?] talk from Micro Conf – I think it was 2012 maybe, 2012 or 2013 – and he’s been attending Micro Confs and basically he didn’t have a business, and started a small one, and learned from Micro Conf and grew it, and later shut that one down and started another one. Really, he’s just learned so much from the community, and from the talks, that it was cool to see him reference that and call it out, and now he’s a main stage MicroConf speaker, talking about his road of getting to 20K MRR. That’s the fun stuff. If you’re listening to this and you have not watched Jason [Coen’s?] talk, I think it’s called “Building the Idea Boot-strap Business,” or something like that, it’s linked to from the Micro Conf website, or you can find it on Vimeo. In my opinion, it is the best boot-strapped talk ever in the history of boot-strapped talks. He just rocks it out of the park. I remember as he was giving it, I was thinking, “My head is exploding. This is completely rocking my world.” And then every year since then I try to re-watch it just to remind myself, and to relearn, and to pick up new things. It’s just really written and executed – I don’t know if anyone’s going to ever outdo that talk because it was just so phenomenal. Our fifth take-away is to constantly ask yourself: Why are you doing this? Reevaluate your core values as they might not be etched in stone, and they might change. This comes from my talk, which I titled “Eleven Years to Overnight Success from Beach Towels to Successful Exit.” The idea here is I really talked through the decision process of deciding to sell DRIP, and how that all went down. There’s a lot of thought processes to it, but one of the key threads that kept coming up for me as I looked back and I thought, “What did happen here throughout this career?” I went all the way back – I mean, I started launching products in 2000, but I didn’t really have my first dollar revenue until 2005, so I kind of included, that’s really the last eleven years. I looked back and I thought, “What are the things that were my core values? Why was I doing this at all? Why didn’t I stay a salaried employee?” And so I talked through that I wanted freedom, that I wanted to have purpose, and that I wanted strong relationships. Freedom, purpose, and relationships were three three things that I had originally heard, it’s psychological concept from years back. I heard it on a podcast years ago, and I’ve really just taken it to heart. It’s been something I’ve come back to. Throughout this journey, as I’ve wandered off that path, as I’ve given up some of my freedom, given up some of my purpose, hurt my relationships because I work too much or over-committed, I’ve always had to come back to that center line of making a change. That really was the story. In the end, by the way, I added a fourth one which had never been on my radar, which is stability. Having a lot of products, or having a product that can easily be taken away from you when you’re paying your mortgage from it and your entire income come from that, I’ve had a few scares over the years where Hit Tail almost got creamed by Google, and other things like that. I realized that having that stability was an important thing which, of course, factored into that decision.
Mike [17:04]: I think that what really stood out for me from your talk was the fact that you kept going back to those core values, but at the end of the day you also realized that those core values can change over time. The values that you have when you’re 25, for example, and not married and no kids, those will change over time as you hit 35 and 45 and get older, your priorities change. The things that you want and need in life are going to be different than what they were earlier in life. I think that it was interesting to see that verbalized, because it wasn’t something I had necessarily really given a lot of consideration to before.
Rob [17:38]: Our sixth take-away requires a little explanation. Okay, if you’ve seen the movie Glengarry Glen Ross, Alec Baldwin is like a sales manager, and he uses this expression or this phrase, “ABC – Always Be Closing.” So our sixth take-away is ABFU – Always Be Following Up. This, of course, comes from [Stelli Efdi?]. He did his talk called “Building and Optimizing Your First Sales Process.” If you’ve heard [Stelli?] talk, he’s a very engaging speaker. He gets really riled up on stage in a positive way that just keeps you captivated. He went first on the second day. He’s the perfect post-lunch, or “first in the day” slot because everybody’s trying to wake up and he gets them going. There were a lot of messages, but one of his messages was “always be following up”, and we have abbreviated that. Maybe [Stelli?] can take that and use it, I like it. ABFU.
Mike [18:27]: One of the things I liked about [Stelli’s?] talk was that he gave a bunch of sales metrics that people should be using to help establish whether or not they’re doing the right activities, or they’ve got the right quality metrics for their sales that they’re looking at. For example, if you’re trying to reach out to people and put them into your sales funnel, you should ideally be reaching at least a 15% reach rate, and ideally you would get to 30, but for every 100 calls you make you would reach at least 15 people, ideally you get to 30. So you need to adjust things that you’re doing around that in order to make sure you’re meeting the right metrics. It’s not just enough to call 100 people. You need to also be reaching them as well. Then he also talked about some of the different conversion metrics, and hiring people, making sure you’re hiring the right types of people, making sure that the sales are also founder-driven. You need to do sales yourself in the very beginning stages of the company to make sure that you’re selling to the right people and identifying the right prospects that you should be talking to. It’s very difficult to bring in a sales rep from outside the company and then just plop them down in a chair and say, “Okay start selling.”, because you haven’t figured out a process. You haven’t figured out who is it you should be talking to. That sort of thing really can’t be outsourced. It’s very difficult to just plop somebody in and expect them to be the entrepreneur, because I think a lot of developers, our natural inclination is to kind of step back from that and say, “I need to hire a sales rep to so this sales thing for me.” when the reality is that the developer is going to the best person for that job because they understand all the different pieces that are in it. They may be very uncomfortable, but they understand all the things that go into it. I’ve actually been in conversations where people will tell me flat out, “Hey, I actually trust a lot of what you’re telling me because you’re coming at it from an engineering standpoint. You’re not coming at me as a sales rep.” So when you’re talking at the technical levels about the specific challenges that you’re solving, don’t sell yourself short. You can easily overcome your own uncomfortability about that, and come across to somebody as much more trustworthy just by virtue of the fact that you’re a little bit more technical, and a little less sales-y.
Rob [20:29]: Our seventh take-away is to be deliberate about your direction once you’ve had early success with a product. This came from Jenna [Bestow?] who talked about the power of product focus. She basically talked about how early success makes things complicated, because once you have 10 or 20K in MRR you really have a lot of options. You can go in a lot of directions. If you try and follow all of those threads, it can be a pretty dangerous time for your business, because you can kind of wander off the reservation and not be focused on the product. She showed from first-hand experience how it had them kind of just wandering around and it hurt growth in the end.
Mike [21:05]: I think one of the most interesting things about her talk was that she had graphs that showed what some of the different cohorts looked like, and you could see, over time, as they focused in on the user-acquisition process, and trying to get people from trial to paid, you could very clearly see in the graphs exactly where changes were happening, and how they were moving people to make those decisions earlier in the process. Whereas previous to that they weren’t focused on that. They weren’t concentrating on it, because they were trying all these different things. They didn’t necessarily have set goals and specific things that they were trying to accomplish. They just had money coming in the door, and they were trying a bunch of different things, but they didn’t really have a plan. But once they stepped back and said, “Okay, let’s make a plan. Let’s do these things and be very deliberate about them.” you could see very clearly how well it impacted the business.
Rob [21:55]: Our eighth and final take-away from Micro Conf Europe 2016 is to focus on retention instead of acquisition. This came from Drew [Sinaki?] and his talk “Double Your Business.” It had a long subtitle, but it was just about doubling your business. What he walked through was there are only three ways to increase revenue. It’s to increase your average revenue per user, to decrease churn, or to increase the number of customers that you have. He said if you do all three of them they’re multiplicative. So if you do one of them you get a 30% rise. If you do all three of them, they multiply times each other. It becomes exponentially – it’s like a 2.2 times growth, getting a .3 increase from each of them, I think that’s what the numbers are. You know what I liked is he pointed out how most people focus on the third one. They focus on “We need to see more customers, more customers, more customers.” But if you’re not increasing average revenue per user, and decreasing churn along the way, you’re leaving a ton of money on the table. Then he walked through specific ways that he has done that, both he talked about doing it on an e-commerce site, talked about doing it on Sass apps, because he does some marketing consulting for Teamwork.com, and overall it was a good talk.
Mike [22:57]: What I liked about his talk was that he showed how those three things were applicable to different types of businesses. One of the examples that kind of sticks out in my mind was when someone is going through an e-commerce business, they offered an up-sell. It wasn’t very much, but at the same time there was a certain percentage of people who purchased that up-sell. I forget what it was. It was like an extra t-shirt for $10 or $15, but they got a significant and measurable increase in the number of sales, which impacts the bottom line, and all it took was them to add in that extra page, and that extra offer for the person who was making the purchase. It was just fascinating to see how all those little things ended up adding so much to the bottom line for the business.
Rob [23:39]: And so I think to start wrapping us up, if you attended it was great to see you. Thanks for coming. If you’re interested in attending either of our Micro Confs, in Las Vegas or in Europe, come to MicroConf.com and enter your email address. We also want to thank our sponsors. Frankly, Micro Conf really runs on the energy from the attendees and the help from our sponsors. This year we had five sponsors at MicroConfEuropeTeamwork.com. [Qualaroo?, Balsamic, Lead Fuse, and, of course, DRIP. We’ve been getting some questions via email about our Micro Conf in Vegas this next year. We mentioned it briefly in episode 300 to kind of give you a teaser, we didn’t give you too much detail. In essence, we are having the Micro Conf in Las Vegas on Monday and Tuesday for the past five, six years. We’re having that again this year on April 10th and 11th, of course with an evening event the Sunday before that, the 9th. Then we’re having a separate conference called Micro Conf Starter Edition, and this is for folks who are in more of an early stage. Maybe if you are looking for an idea, you have an idea, you’re not yet launched. Even if you’re launched and just trying to find product market fit, Micro Conf Starter Edition is going to totally geared at idea-validation, early traction, getting the first 10 or the first 100 customers. Because some of the feedback we’ve gotten over the years is that some of the Micro Conf attendees and speakers have progressed to a point where we’ve started thinking about maybe larger problems, and we have new challenges. So you think about me, when we started Micro Conf in 2011, I hadn’t even acquired Hit Tail. I still had a bunch of little businesses doing a few grand a month, and then bought Hit Tail, grew that, started DRIP, 10 employees, that whole thing, I’m just at a different place. There are a lot of folks who are in my shoes, who have gone from zero to businesses that are doing 50K, 100K a month, and when you’re running a bigger business, you just have different interests. So hearing from [Des Trainer?] from Intercom, or hearing from Patrick [Holisem?], the founder of Stripe, it makes more sense at that point. But if you’re in an early stage then you actually want to hear different content. It’s more helpful to hear about idea validation, and maybe to hear about folks who are in the early stages, or to have someone come on and just talk about business ideas rather than you’ve already launched and here’s what you’re doing and what to do with your millions of dollars in revenue and that kind of stuff. That’s the idea here, is it’s two separate conferences aimed at the different stages of what boot-strap startup founders are facing.
Mike [25:49]: I think if you think about Micro Conf in a larger sense that makes sense, because over time the attendees themselves are going to evolve with their businesses. Not everybody is going to want to grow their business to multiple employees, – you know, tens or hundreds or whatever. But there are going to be people who still have those challenges, and maybe they’ve never heard of Micro Conf before, or they’ve never had a chance to go because they’ve never felt like they were in a position to really take advantage of it. So this is kind of our attempt to make sure we are still catering to the needs of the audience and making sure we’re able to deliver what they want and need out of the conference. But at the same time we’re trying to address the fact that over time people are going to have those different phases of their business, and it maybe makes more sense to have these two different conferences that people can go to based on the stage, or the evolution, of their existing business.
Rob [26:37] : Right, and I think we’ve gotten the question, “Why wouldn’t I just attend both of them?” And I think my answer is, “If you want to, that’s fine.” I actually think that depending on your stage you’re going to get a lot more out of one of these conferences than the other. But if you wanted to attend both I don’t see why you shouldn’t. This is also an opportunity for us to allow more people to attend a Micro Conf. Once we launch to the public we sell out in five minutes, and we have wanted to grow the conference to 450 people or whatever. But if we do these two conferences back-to-back, we get people, based on their stage, from the most amount of value that really helps them where they’re at. It also allows us – if we do 200, 225 per conference – then we can’t have 450 people getting help and valued learning out of Micro Conf without having just this massive conference of people wandering around and feeling like – let’s say you have 450 people of all stages, then when you walk around you’re going to talk to a bunch of people who are still validating ideas, and that feels – if you’re already doing seven figures – it feels kind of weird. What do we have to talk about? Whereas if we segment this, and we have the standard Micro Conf and then Micro Conf Starter Edition, you’re just going to run into more people who are doing exactly what you are. That’s always been the point and purpose of Micro Conf. If this sounds interesting, either Micro Conf or Micro Conf Starter Edition, come to MicroConf.com and enter your email address and you’ll be the first to hear about it when we sell tickets.
Mike [27:53]: Well I think that about wraps us up for the day. If you have a question for us, you can call it in to our voicemail number at 1-888-801-9690, or you 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 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.
In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike talk about their takeaways from Microconf Europe 2015.
Items mentioned in this episode:
- Microconf Europe Recap
- Product People
- How DNS Works
Rob [00:00]: In this episode of Startups for the Rest of Us, Mike and I talk about our key take aways from MicroConf Europe 2015. This is Startups for the Rest of Us Episode 253.
Welcome to Startups for the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers, and entrepreneurs be awesome at launching software products whether you’ve built your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Rob.
Mike [00:27]: And I’m Mike.
Rob [00:28]: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. So [where this week?], Mike?
Mike [00:33]: Well, with the exception of the loss of my phone in Barcelona, I think it’s been a pretty good week.
Rob [00:38]: Is that right? Yeah, so MicroConf Europe- this is our third European MicroConf, it’s our eighth MicroConf in total, and the last two years we did it in Prague. This year we did it in Barcelona, and you left your phone in a cab.
Mike [00:51]: Yes. It was one of those situations where there was a series of unfortunate events like leading up to it, and as I got out of the- had any of those things not occurred. So for example, if my SIM card had not like needed a password reset because the phone itself died and I needed to put in the PIN code again, but then I lost the card that has the PIN code on it so I couldn’t activate it. So I was walking around with a phone that couldn’t actually connect to anything, and I could have remotely said, “Hey, go do this.” But my phone is floating around in Barcelona some place and as I got out of the cab, I had my phone in my hand and I pushed off, and I must have opened up my hand and I closed the door, and then I realized. I was like, “Wait, where is my phone?” and as the cab is going away I was trying to run after it. I could not catch it.
Rob [01:30]: [?] Well, and the funny thing is is our conference coordinator, Xander, did the same thing two days earlier and left it in a cab, and he wound up getting it back, right? Somebody picked it up and took it to a cafe and he wound up getting it. So it’s a bit of a bummer, man. Hold on to your cell phones in the cities.
Mike [01:43]: Yep. I was so close. Like I said, it was a bunch of things that happened, and they just all happened just right, and that’s how I lost it. I know exactly where it is actually. It’s in that cab.
Rob [01:53]: So we got a lot of comments this year that kind of indicating that folks who had been to at least one of the prior Europe conferences. Some people had been to two prior- saying that they felt like this was the best European conference we had held. And I don’t want to get too far into inside baseball, but what do you think about that? Why do you think that’s the case?
Mike [02:14]: I think there’s a lot of reasons for it. I don’t think there’s one thing you can point to and say, “Oh, that’s the reason.” I think it was a lot of little things that added up. The first thing is obviously this is the third time we’ve held it over there. So we get a little bit more experienced over time at hosting a conference in Europe because we hosted in Vegas but we kind of have feet on the ground here so it’s a bit more difficult to do it over there. But at the same time, we kind of upgraded. I feel like the location of having it in Barcelona, it was a better option than Prague partially because it’s at the end of August and it’s warmer. The climate there is just better, it’s more conducive to having things outdoors. There was a lot of stuff kind of readily available in terms of being able to go out and go to dinner and things like that. And then the returning attendees, as you build up a conference and more people are returning, I think that that lends a certain atmosphere to the conference itself. And I think even if you held it in the same place, it would get better naturally over time because of the attendees. But as more of those people come back, it lends itself to a better atmosphere.
Rob [03:15]: So we want to talk through some key take aways that we brought away from the conference. We also heard from a lot of the attendees some of the key take aways they had, and I think we’ll kind of integrate them here. If you’re listening to this and you’re interested in reading through a full recap and the detailed notes from each of the talks, you can head to microconfeuroperecap.com, and that is our designated note taker for the Europe Conference, Christoph Englehart, and he has published a detailed note section on each speaker. So if you wanted to dig into any one of the talks that we mention, that’ll be the place you’ll want to go.
So to kick us off on day one we had Justin Jackson from Build & Launch podcast, Product People podcast, and he talked about marketing for developers because he’s writing a book on the topic right now. And he had, I think it was ten different recommendations for getting your first hundred customers.
Mike [04:07]: Yeah. There was a lot of actual stuff in there, and I think some of these were just completely non-intuitive, and he had these really neat examples. One of which he was using Google Images, not to manipulate, but basically gain attention for images on his website. The proof of concept that he used was if you go to Google and you search for “nerd mullet” in the images, it’ll pop right up, there’s a picture of him from high school, and it’s just really fascinating these little tidbits that you can use that I don’t think most big companies are going to do those types of things, but small companies have the capability and, I guess, the desire and need to do those things in order to stand out from those bigger companies that have a lot more resources. So it was really cool to see all the different tactics and things like that that Justin had put out there for people to take away that they can implement, and none of them were terribly difficult to do. It was just, “Oh, that’s really insightful; let me write that down.” I heard a lot of people saying, “I’m going to go do this” or “I’m going to go do that” based on some of the things they heard from his talk.
Rob [05:08]: Yeah, there were a couple of things that I liked about his talk. Number one is it was ten discreet tactics and you could kind of pick and choose which one you felt might work for you. The second thing I liked is he used the example of a MicroConf attendee. He actually used their website or their business in each of the points to say, “This is how he could specifically apply it.” And so it wasn’t just throwing out tactics, but it was actually trying to weave it into a story. If anything I would have liked to have seen more examples because there was the one website. But if he had picked maybe two or three, and he would have had time to do it, right, to give examples for each of the tactics for two or three websites it would have been, I think, even more valuable.
Mike [05:45]: Yeah, and I talked to him. He actually has each of those examples going into his book so I think they just didn’t make an appearance more than anything else. I’m almost positive that he has them.
Rob [05:53]: Got it. Yeah, I would agree. So our second speaker on day one was Brian Casel, and he was talking about productized services and the reason we wanted to have Brian out is because he has a productized course, it’s a video course, and ebook and a Facebook group and stuff, and he’s from the Bootstrap web podcast, and now he writes Audience Ops. The reason I wanted people to hear about productizing is I think folks often want to make the leap directly to software, and I think if that’s really what you want to do, that’s okay. But I think that knowing that there’s this alternative step that you could take to basically productizing a consulting service is really valuable. And Brian has experience with that because both his previous startup and his current one he’s working on are both productized services, and then he had a bunch of examples from people he knows including yourself, including Justin McGill, who’s running LeadFuze, and there were several others. And so it was cool that- I liked that he outlined the concept and then he just started throwing out examples of exactly how you guys have done it. In your case, it was like building the software first and then turning around and adding the consulting services later to make it more valuable. And in Justin McGill’s case with LeadFuze, it was doing the productized service, it’s outbound e-mail, doing that first, and then going back and launching the SaaS later, which he did just a few weeks ago. And there were other examples like that, so I really liked the structure of his talk, and I liked the concept was well communicated to the group.
Mike [07:13]: Yeah, I heard a lot of good feedback from different people who were thinking about launching something or building something, and his talk kind of shifted their focus to, “Huh. Maybe I don’t need to write any of this” “Maybe I can essentially just offer to do it as a service for people and then build tools to do the automation afterwards as I learn how to do those things myself and I understand exactly what it is that the customer wants and needs.” So it’s definitely a fascinating concept about how to build something complicated that customers have a need for and are willing to pay for and instead of building first and doing all the customer development, you just work with them directly and essentially do it as consulting and move on into building something after you’ve kind of worked out exactly what it is that they need.
Rob [07:56]: Yeah, and I don’t think productizing a consulting service is for everyone, but I don’t think everyone has heard about it. I want to continue spreading the word so that people can make their own decision based on whether they really are dead set on getting the software first or if they really just want to quit their job or quit the hamster wheel of consulting, I think productized services are a faster way to do that for sure.
Mike [08:19]: Yeah and that’s specifically because you can charge so much more for the services because people understand, “Oh, there is a person behind it who is doing that” and they expect to pay more for that kind of thing. So it gets you to a revenue faster.
Rob [08:31]: Right, instead of a SaaS that’s $20, $30, $40 dollars a month, productized services tend to be $500, $1,000 or $1500 a month. They are kind of the price ranges I often see. So you don’t need to have any customers to be able to quit your job at that level.
Our next talk was Sherry Walling, who talked about limits and liabilities and how to get to know yourself and how the limits and liabilities that you carry with you, like in your personality and psychology, can apply to both great things you can do and the things that are going to trip you up with your startup. And she talked about how your past and your origin story can really shape where you’re headed and can really help you understand how you react to stress and when you’re going to function well and when you’re going to probably fail under pressure. And she used specific examples from these founder origin stories we did over on the Zen Founder podcast over the summer. She pulled out specific examples of their stories and how you can tell your own story and apply that to where you are and how to get where you’re going.
Mike [09:32]: Yeah, I liked that she pulled all those different examples out and most of the examples she never said any of the names of them upfront. She just basically said “Oh, this person from here or that other person from there, and these are the experiences that they had early on in life and how they affected them.” And she went through some studies that basically said, “Oh, if you had these different things that happened earlier in life, this is how they affect you later in life.” And it was just fascinating that it had such a profound effect on you. And it was nice that she went through those stories and then afterwards, she revealed who those people were. They’re all names that you would probably recognize if you’ve listened to this podcast before. But it was just fascinating that she was able to take those, and because she presented them in sort of an anonymous way, you could just relate to them. You’re like, “Oh my God, that person went through this” after you heard who it was. So it was nice to see those things because it made it, I feel like more relatable. I think when you hear stories about a high profile person, you almost mentally project what you know about them now into that story. But if you hear that story first, and if you don’t know it that well, if you heard that first and then are told who it is, I think it makes a difference in how you perceive this story and the journey.
Rob [10:43]: Our next speaker on day one was Alex Yumashev from JitBit software, and he talked about bootstrapping to a $1 million a year software company. And Alex runs JitBit. I think JitBit helpdesk is really kind of their prime product at this point, their flagship. And I thought he had a good talk. I heard a lot of positive feedback about it. He offered a lot of his tactics and a lot of his own thoughts on things. Some of the things he said was controversial in terms of talking about some SEO and grey hat and other stuff. But he certainly has experience growing this business and has been doing it many years and has had many products so I think that his expertise was appreciated at the conference.
Mike [11:23]: The part that I found really interesting was the “Did this work or not?” and he put things up there like retargeting and SEO and stuff like that, and it was fascinating that the audience got some of them right and some of them wrong. Because, I think that some of them you would just naturally assume, “Oh, that works.” But, it doesn’t always work and I think that was his point. It wasn’t that this particular technique never works, it’s that it didn’t work for me. And I think that we just tend to naturally assume, “Oh, this worked for somebody else so it’ll work for me” and that’s just not always true.
Rob [11:52]: And rounding out day one, I spoke about the inside story of self-funded SaaS growth. It was basically the story about the last 18 months of Drip and growing that and it was very similar to my Vegas talk. I did make some adjustments to it, some things that I learned while doing it in Vegas. But overall, I felt like it applied to folks over there, it got a good reception. I had a lot of good questions about it, and overall, just felt good about how I’d given it.
Mike [12:18]: Yeah, I think there were a lot of people who were kind of surprised that there was this period of really low months kind of early on in Drip where things were kind of level and you weren’t really sure what to do, and then it was very obvious that at some point along the way, you got the product market fit and you were able to essentially overcome that problem. And I just don’t think that people realize how important that product market fit is. And I think the specific things you talked about were that your number of trials were going down but your revenue was going up because your conversion rates were going up. And as you focus on getting that right, the only reason the trials are going down is because you’re spending less time on the marketing side of things, so you’re getting less leads in but those leads are converting more, you’re getting more money. And at that point, you know that that’s when you’ve hit product market fit.
Rob [13:05]: And kicking us off on day two was Peldi Guilizzoni from Balsamiq, and he talked about a reluctant CEO growing up, and it was basically the growing pains of building a company that he really wanted to be a solo founder, and he reluctantly hired a couple employees, and then he said, “Well, no more than five ever,” and then when he hit ten he said, “No more than ten ever” and he’s actually at twenty employees now. And he had just fascinating tales of a potential acquisition that didn’t go through and just the stress and having to rethink he management structure because he didn’t want to have one, and then he found out he needed one [?] process, and he found out he needed some. And he was super vulnerable and really engaged the audience at a certain point in his talk. It was actually, both his and during Sherry’s talk. I looked around about halfway through and everyone was just wide-eyed, pencils down, no laptops clicking, and just super invested in the tale that was being told.
Mike [14:03]: Yeah, that was an amazing talk. It was just all the stuff that he talked about was stuff that you never see publicly, I don’t think, because most people are either acquired or not and afterwards, they’re just generally not able to talk about it. But he did go and get permission from them to talk about his experience and what went right and what went wrong and how it affected him. And I thought the thing that was really interesting was how badly his health suffered during that process because he was so stressed out and it was so difficult for him. It’s one of those things that most people don’t talk about, it’s like how your mental state can affect your physical well-being, and it definitely affected his physical wellbeing.
Rob [14:40]: The next speaker was Dave Collins, and he talked about the most sincere form of flattery, which of course is imitation. And he spoke about how you don’t have to try to reinvent the wheel on your website. If you want to improve conversions, if you want to improve your website, look to others who are already doing it well, and he had a bunch of examples of how to do that well and how not to do it well. And in talking to attendees afterwards, I actually got mixed reviews on it. I think some people didn’t fully understand what he was saying or didn’t agree with it or something, but then there were also people who took a bunch of notes and are going to apply it to their website. So in a sense, he kind of had a polarizing talk where I think some people really latched on to it and then others maybe had mixed feelings about what he was saying or didn’t follow it, one of the two.
Mike [15:21]: Yeah. I think that when you’re in different states of your business- because there’s kind of a life cycle to your business. There’s when you’re really early on and then you become a middle stage and late stage, and depending on where you’re at different things are going to be relevant. And I just feel like some things were more relevant to certain parts of the audience than others but I liked it. It was definitely interesting some of the things he put out there.
Rob [15:41]: And then we did a bit of an experiment with John Ndege, who has come to I think all three of MicroConf Europes, and he is a self-funded non-technical single founder of a SaaS company, and he has grown it to six figures, and he’s working with a non-technical audience, so it’s all medium and high [touch?] sales. And in essence, he did about a 20-minute talk, but it was him preparing slides and then he led through the slides and then I actually asked him questions during the talk to clarify some points. So it was kind of an on-stage interview mixed with a presentation. And so far, I’ve seen mixed reviews about it. I think some folks really liked the interview approach because it answered a bunch of questions upfront that you might have. I think some folks said since they were technical founders, it didn’t really apply to them which comes back to your point you made earlier. But to be honest, the non-technical founders who I talked to, there were maybe four or five who I talked to after his talk, loved it and said, “His was their favorite” because it related so much to their situation. And I think that’s an interesting thing to remember about these talks is as an individual you can rate the talks, but it’s always based on where you are and your personal biases and your personal thoughts and feelings. Going with John’s talk, it was a bit of a risk to go with a new format and to dive into what a non-technical founder has to do, but I think it was totally worth the experiment, and I think it’s likely something we’ll do in the future.
Mike [17:05]: Yeah, I’ve been going through it to see specifically from the feedback what people thought of it, but I thought it was an interesting format to have onstage, and I liked the fact that it was kind of like a 20-minute talk or so, so it wasn’t a full 40 minute and it wasn’t an attendee talk, which was only 12, it was kind of that sweet spot in the middle. But there was a lot of actual stuff in there. But again, as you said, specifically for a non-technical founder and as you said, there were a lot of those people in the crowd. So it was nice to hear from those people “Hey, I got a lot out of it and it tells me how I can approach things.” But we do get a lot of people asking us on this podcast, “How can I do this as a non-technical founder?” And one of the things that he said that I hadn’t necessarily realized before was that when he’s on-boarding his customers, he talks to every single one of them. And I don’t know what his price points are, but I think they’re like $100-$200 a piece, but because he talks to every single one of them, he gets all of that customer development and feedback he needs to help guide the development of the product itself. And I think that’s the important piece for those non-technical founders. Like, they need to know exactly what their customers want.
Rob [18:09]: And then we had Rachel Andrew from Perch who is a returning MicroConf speaker, and she talked about no exit plan. She talked about how she and her husband have launched their business and they stopped consulting, and everything’s going well except for they don’t feel like they can take a vacation, and they feel like they’re tied to this business, and they feel like they haven’t had enough money to hire someone who can help them with it. So the talk was really her thinking through how to do this, and she wanted to kind of talk to folks out there who are just thinking about getting to the point of quitting their job to maybe think past that and to not just focus on the short-term goal but to be thinking, “Once I get there, what am I going to do after the next step in order to not be tied to this thing” and basically not build yourself a job because that’s not what you want, right? You want to build a business that you can certainly make money from but that you can also be free of when you want to be.
Mike [19:02]: Yeah, that was something else that’s probably not talked a lot about. She was talking at one point about how she was answering support emails on Christmas, and it’s kind of a typical day that a lot of people take off and she’s sitting there answering support e-mails. And there, she talks about how she was working essentially 365 days a year, but on the other hand, she loves what she does. And I think that’s why most of us do what we do is because we really enjoy not just this mode of business but the things that we’re working on. That’s why we do what we do. It’s because we want a job that we love, not just because we want a job. If you want a job that you don’t love, that’s why most of us have those regular 9 to 5s. But if you want something that you really want to work on and you’re passionate about it, it’s okay to make less money if you love what you do.
Rob [19:49]: And rounding out our 10 mainstage speakers at the end of day two, it was Patrick McKenzie. He was talking about leveling up in essence stair-stepping his way up from bingo card creator to appointment reminder through consulting and then to what he’s doing today which is Starfighter, his current startup. And he actually tweaked the presentation. It was very similar to his one that he did in Vegas four months ago, but he tweaked it based on some feedback there, and he pulled out the part about selling an app, and he added some more things that I think were more relevant to the European audience where there’s slight more bend to being at the beginner end of the scale and kind of having just launched or being close to launch rather than being further along.
Mike [20:30]: Yeah. Some of the people I talked to had some interesting things to say about Patrick’s talk in terms of where he was with appointment reminder and how interesting it was to see that I’m actually further along than appointment reminder is or where I thought it was. Or it’s interesting to see how he had a very rough spot in the middle there because you see super successful people and just assume pretty much everything they do they knock out of the park, and that’s not always the case. Different businesses are harder than others. Some things are a lot easier, some things are a lot harder, and it’s difficult to know without seeing all the data and obviously a lot of that information is not necessarily public information to see. But yeah, I really liked how he tweaked a lot of it to make it applicable to those people who are earlier on.
Rob [21:14]: Yeah, and I think in Vegas and in this talk really was the first time he talked about appointment reminder revenue in public because I had not heard him say or maybe he had published a blog post at some point.
Mike [21:23]: Yeah, I think he talked about it in Vegas.
Rob [21:26]: Okay. That was his first time. Yeah. And it was, it was eye-opening for everyone just to see where it was at certain points as he’s cranking along and just how long that slow SaaS ramp up path is.
So we also did something for the first time in Europe this year. We did attendee talks. And we’ve done these in Vegas for a few years, but I think the last three, were basically folks who already have tickets can submit talk ideas and then they get voted up by the other attendees. They get a certain amount of votes, and whatever rises to the top, we do that many talks. And so we did six attendee talks. It was our first one in Europe. And while we don’t have time to go through all of them, I did want to call out, I thought Anders Pedersen’s talk was pretty cool. He basically talked about how he had tripled his revenue, and that was the clickbait headline, he said, that he used but in essence, he had tripled his revenue by raising his prices. And it was based on some other feedback that Dave Collins had given him in a teardown a couple years before in Prague. So it was nice for him to loop it back and basically talk about some of the health struggles he had had and some of the emotional struggles and how MicroConf Europe, the first year in Prague, was the first time he had ever kind of found his people and realized there were other people out there doing what he was doing. And it gave him this great sense of belonging and so he really paid homage to that and was thankful and said, “The reason my revenue tripled in essence was from being around all you people and I’m still learning but I want to now give back to you guys.” So I was inspired by his attendee talk.
Mike [22:49]: Yeah. The other interesting part about his attendee talk was how quickly that turned around. Wasn’t it that he implemented all the changes or most of them within 48 hours and one week later after he’d implemented those things, that’s when he realized oh my god, I just tripled my revenue by doing these small tweaks that I learned at MicroConf? So yeah, it was just fascinating to see that change of revenue based on solely marketing. Because he didn’t change the product really, it was all about the marketing stuff that he did.
Rob [23:16]: Yeah, because it was something like getting rid of a free plan or a free version of it so it was only charging for it and then actually going after the sale and it was tripling his price. I think it was those three things. When I say “Go after the sale” I think it was sending a single follow-up automated e-mail or two after someone downloads it. So it was just some basic stuff, but he said that instantly kind of flipped a bit and has been making that triple revenue ever since. So that’s good.
Mike [23:42]: Yeah. And we had a bunch of sponsors from MicroConf Europe as well. Anders was one of the sponsors who happened to be given that attendee talk through his Time Block application which is something new he’s working on. But there was also Teamwork.com, they had four people come over there, and they’re getting to be a really big company, 30 to 35 employees- that’s I guess really big in our circles.
Rob [24:01]: Yeah. I don’t know how you qualify this, but I’ve heard that they’re the largest bootstrapped startup in Ireland. That’s pretty cool and whether they are [?]
Mike [24:10]: Yep. I think in all of Europe.
Rob [24:12]: All of Europe? Wow. Yeah, it’s really impressive.
Mike [24:15]: [Peldi?] was also a sponsor with Balsamiq, and we had Craig Hewitt from Podcast Motor. The other sponsor is DNSimple, and they called out a URL from the stage for a comic strip that they put together basically on how DNS works and the URL was howdns.works. So if you go there, you can download their comic strip. It was really interesting having every single sponsor was essentially a bootstrap company, and it’s something we haven’t had in the past. But it was really amazing to see, not just people from the community, but just bootstrappers in general saying, “Hey, this is something we really believe in and that we want to be part of.”
Rob [24:49]: Yep. That’s what I liked, and big thanks to all the speakers who came out. They have busy schedules and they still came out and spoke, and of course, to the sponsors because we really couldn’t pull this off without them.
Overall, I feel really good about this year, man. I agree with folks, I think this was probably the best one we’ve done in Europe, and I guess we’ll see in the feedback once that comes back whether it holds true. And now we’re already working on MicroConf Vegas, it should be next April-ish in Las Vegas.
Mike [25:20]: Yeah. I think that Xander said that our contract is signed, so.
Rob [25:23]: Oh really? Oh that’s good.
Mike [25:24]: I believe it is. A couple days before MicroConf Europe started I think he said that he got the signed contract back so I think we’re good there.
Rob [25:32]: Very good. And so if you’re interested in rubbing elbows with 150 to 200 other bootstrapped software founders, who are either just getting started to having launched or have employees anywhere in that range, that’s what MicroConf is about, and we hold it, obviously, in Vegas in April and then we hold it in Europe some time in the fall. Head to microconf.com and enter your email address and we’ll notify you when tickets are available. Tickets really don’t make it to the open market anymore. They sell out before the e-mail list is exhausted. So if you think you might want to come, get on the list. Otherwise, we’ll see you back here next week.
Mike [25:32]: And If you have a question for us, you can call it in to our voice mail number at 1-888-801-9690, or e-mail it us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our theme music is an excerpt from “We’re out of control” by MoOt used under Creative Commons. Subscribe to us in iTunes by searching for startup and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time.