In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike discuss breaking through SaaS plateaus with Ruben Gamez.
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Rob [00:00:00]: In this episode of Startups For the Rest of Us, Mike and I discuss breaking through SaaS plateaus with special guest Ruben Gamez. This is Startups For the Rest of Us, episode 231. Welcome to Startups For the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers and entrepreneurs to be awesome at launching software products. Whether you’ve built your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Rob.
Mike [00:00:28]: And I’m Mike.
Rob [00:00:28]: And we’re here to share our experience that will help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. So [?] this week Mike?
Mike [00:00:28]: Well we’ve got an e-mail from Trevor Smithland. He wrote in to let us know about a product he has called Enhance Cast and essentially it’s a podcast listening app that allows you to instantly access the content that is coming out of the podcast. So essentially they do some transcriptions and they basically bookmark a bunch of different things and if you’re busy doing something, essentially it allows you to bookmark the content to be able to come back to it later. They do some fancy [pasings?] to make sure that the content is marked up with meta tags, but I looked at it and it was pretty cool. It was almost like a visual representation of the podcast. You can find that at enhancecast.com.
Rob [00:01:06]: Very nice. Lets dive in the interview today. This week we have a special guest on the show. It’s Ruben Gamez with Bidsketch. Thanks a lot for coming on the show Ruben.
Ruben [00:01:15]: Thanks for inviting me.
Rob [00:01:16]: So my guess is that most people listening to this podcast already know who you are. Ruben is the founder of Bidsketch which is proposal software, it’s a SaaS app and started of being focused on designers but now really Bidsketch is more of a horizontal app and it has a pretty [?] market. Ruben when did you launch Bidsketch?
Ruben [00:01:35]: I launched Bidsketch about five and a half years ago.
Rob [00:01:37]: In terms of Saas timelines you’ve been around quite a long time.
Ruben [00:01:41]: Yeah, I’ve been doing this for a while in the interviews that I had I used to say that I was in software. I guess I have to change that up a little bit.
Rob [00:01:48]: Yeah because it changes over time and now you can say SaaS and a lot of people know what that means. Where as five years ago we used to say web based software and that’s still how I kind of talk about my stuff at cocktail parties and I typically get the “what does that mean?” So the reason we wanted to have you on the show today Ruben is you and I talk quite a bit. We’re more in touch about things. We’re actually in a mastermind group as well and one thing I’ve noticed about how you operate is that you are really good at breaking through plateaus. There are inevitable plateaus when you are running a business and specifically with SaaS I am starting to see this pattern of folks hitting a plateau right after launch. So typically in revenue is in we’ll say is about a thousand bucks to two thousand bucks to low four figure amount and people launch and then that launch dies down and they don’t know what to do next. So there is kind of a plateau as they figure that out. And then the next plateau depending on pricing, [insurance?], and all that stuff seems to hit around lets say ten to twelve thousand bucks a month and it often requires an adjustment. Unless you’ve got everything just right from the start and you knew your market and your pricing’s on, you’ll probably going to hit a slowdown about there and then there tends to be this next one, let’s say it’s in the twenty five, forty thousand dollar range that we see folks hitting. There are different causes for each of these but you’ve powered trough these plateaus and I’ve seen you do it using a series of tactics, you’ve a good mind set about it and frankly you seem to have a high level of process. I know you haven’t blogged about it and I haven’t heard you talk about it on a podcast so I kind of wanted to dive in to that today and figure out how it is you think so that others can learn from you.
Ruben [00:03:27]: Sure. One thing I’d like to mention is that what I’ve noticed from certain apps is that that first plateau is a lot higher if the price point is higher for the app or product.
Rob [00:03:39]: That makes a lot of sense. I mean I saw myself with HitTail which was a ten, twenty dollar product on the low end versus Drip which was a 49.99 product on the low end. Although they were slightly different and that I had a launch list for Drip so I could get out to several thousand people quickly. That first plateau, instead of being a one or two thousand dollars it actually was about seven thousand dollars. So which was a much better place to be at. If you were trying to quit your job you’re almost there if you’re already at seven, but I agree. People who are going after ten dollar price points, even getting to a thousand dollars a month is quite a bit of work. So I guess to start when your opinion or from what you’ve seen, because you’ve also talked to a lot of entrepreneurs, founders are asking you for advice and that kind of stuff. Why do you think there is that one to two thousand dollar plateau right after launch?
Ruben [00:04:29]: Sometimes I talk to people that have hit that plateau or say they’ve hit a plateau but actually haven’t hit a plateau. It’s more about that they haven’t got enough product market fit to get any growth initially. So there is a difference between hitting a plateau and just getting started.
Rob [00:04:46]: Yeah, go into that further. What do you mean by that, the difference?
Ruben [00:04:48]: So if you just launched and you have maybe no customers or you have maybe five customers or six customers because I’ve talked to a group of people that fit this profile. They either have no customers or they have 10 or fewer customers. Generally that means they never had growth for them to get to a plateau. So they haven’t plateau, I don’t consider that a plateau. They’re just getting started. They need to get enough product market fit to actually get some interest and get people paying for the product. At that point it’s very questionable whether there is anybody that really values the solution to the problem enough to want to pay for that product.
Rob [00:05:29]: So the question is still “have they built something that anyone wants to use?”
Ruben [00:05:34]: Right.
Rob [00:05:35]: They haven’t even answered that yet.
Ruben [00:05:35]: Right.
Mike [00:05:36]: So at that point that’s very different place than you do have a thousand in recurring revenue or two thousand in recurring revenue so there is some interest there. Right? And obviously getting to product market fit is really hard. It takes a lot of work and there is a lot that you can do to get there. For the people that are in that one to two thousand dollars and they start to hit a plateau generally you see a couple of reasons why they’re hitting that. One of the more common reasons is that they just don’t have enough volume, they don’t have enough trials, they don’t have enough qualified traffic to be able to get to where they want to get. They are trying to get to six thousand or ten thousand and ten thousand is pretty common for a lot of people, but they are working on optimizing their conversions because they think that they need more customers. “Well I’m not getting enough of these trials to convert to customers” or “I’m having to many people cancel”, but in reality they just don’t have enough trials to focus on that just yet. It’s really important to not ignore that but if you’re just getting a thousand visitors a month or two thousand visitors a month your price point isn’t extremly high and you’re converting a hand full of those customers. [And to trial some of those to customers?] then you’re not going to optimize your way in to a ten thousand dollar a month business.
Rob [00:06:57]: Well that’s more of a balancing act because your balancing between getting traffic versus making sure that you’re not leaking everybody out the bottom of your funnel. So how do you go about making sure that you’re balancing that correctly?
Ruben [00:07:10]: Well this is why I mention that there is a difference between the businesses that just have something like ten customers and the ones that have enough to be in the thousands and recurring revenue because they do have some interest. So one of the problems that I see often is that people don’t know where their conversion rates should be or their retention should be. Now every business is different but there are ranges right, there are rules of thumb. So I’ll see somebody working on trying to improve their retention. Let’s say that they’re trying to do somewhere around 5% or 8% or something like that, but they’re working with such low numbers that you can’t really count on those numbers too much. Now I’d look at retention and say “wow, you really need to work on retention!” even in low numbers if a quarter of your customers aren’t sticking around then that’s definitely a red flag for me. But really when it’s just you, you kind of need to switch and focus more on one thing than the other. Especially if you’re doing part time so once you learned what the ranges are and you see there aren’t any obviously red flags to where just nobody is converting into a paying customer and almost everybody leaves after a couple of months then really the next thing is to get enough volume to sort of take you to the next level, but then you also want to go back if your retention is a little high and focus on that and make that better.
Rob [00:08:34]: Yeah I view it as a pendulum. I always swing to one side and then I notice that you kind of optimize something to the point of these numbers are starting to look good. [?] has gone down and now it’s time to insert more traffic into that funnel. I’ve even seen a pendulum swing over, lets say maybe four years ago, I remember Mike and I talk on another podcast about how everyone is focusing on traffic and people weren’t optimizing enough and they weren’t split testing enough and they weren’t doing that stuff. I see it the other way now. I think to many people are trying to optimize to early, but that’s basically what you’re saying here is that you can’t optimize your way in to a ten thousand dollar a month business. Yo need to drive five, ten thousand uniques a month in order to get to that point probably, and it depends on price point and all this other stuff but one or two thousand uniques a month isn’t going to do it.
Ruben [00:09:24]: Right, exactly. That’s one of the more common things. Another one is pricing. So you’ll probably not going to get pricing right when you launch. You’re probably not going to have pricing right a year or two after you got your product out and people don’t spend enough time testing and adjusting their pricing early on. In the early days in the first few weeks and months that’s when you need to test your pricing most. It can be a little bit harder if you’re working with very small numbers, but we’re talking about businesses that do have some customers and have had a little bit of growth. So you should be just testing prices and improving that.
Rob [00:10:02]: Yeah, that makes sense. I’ve done the same, I’ve changed HitTails pricing twice after I required it and with Drip I’ve changed the entire pricing model. It was based on one thing when we’ve launched and it’s now based on a number of subscribers. It’s a more standard marketing automation approach. Then I think I’ve actually changed not the price points themselves but the volume that you can do for each price point. I think I’ve changed it at least twice, maybe three times and all that is based on user feedback and looking at reports and that kind of stuff. I won’t say it’s right or wrong but I know it can be better optimized but it’s something I don’t have time to invest in to much right now.
Mike [00:10:36]: Right, and it’s better than it was when you first started.
Rob [00:10:39]: It is, I’ve moved in the right direction. I think when you first start to it’s hard because lets say you wan’t a 99 dollar a month app. You really need a lot of functionality for someone to pay 99 bucks in any type of volume and so you either have to spend a lot more time building that app or you have to have some type of brand name because over time the more customers you get, the more people are talking about it, you do become that brand and people will say, “Oh, well everyone recommended this to me so I am willing to pay 99 buck.” But when no one has heard about you it is hard to ask as much as your app might be worth up front.
Ruben [00:11:12]: That’s true. In the early days I modeled my pricing after after fresh books pricing because a lot of people just look at ether competitors or alternatives that may be similar and basically copy them in pricing and that’s pretty much what I did. Fresh books wasn’t a competitor, but they were the most similar of the apps that were out there because after someone creates a proposal, once they get a deal then they create an invoice. I went with that pricing mode but it was wrong for my business. I didn’t learn that latter until I started testing pricing and sort of learnt what worked for my business and start talking to people. Once I did that really ignited some big growth for it.
Rob [00:11:50]: I kind of mentioned at the start that we have three plateaus we’re going to talk about. There is that first one that is post launch and sounds like the pattern you’re seeing is most people try to optimize their way up to there, bur really they should be going after more traffic in general. The second plateau if I recall when you hit, that is when you adjusted your pricing, is that right?
Ruben [00:12:08]: Right.
Rob [00:12:09]: Talk to us a little bit about that process. You hit this plateau lets say between ten and fifteen grand a month and you’re wondering why it’s not going up. How did you figure out what the cause was? Did you have to run a lot of different tests and try things or was it pretty obvious? And then how did you go around fixing that?
Ruben [00:12:24]: I launched with that same pricing, so I’ve gone a long time without testing pricing at all. So I had this feeling in the back of my mind that I should make a pricing change, that I should do something there. Also I’ve added a lot of features since then so it was a very different product from when I launched the other thing is I wasn’t charging very much for a B to B app. So if you have a B to B app and you’re charging ten dollars a month or twenty dollars a month for your low end plan, that isn’t necessarily wrong but you can very likely charge a lot more for your lower tier plan. So there are all this things that are coming together and there was some feedback. Feedback is tough with pricing, because a lot of the feedback that you get with pricing is that is too expensive which isn’t right. You have to mostly ignore that unless almost everybody tells you that, you are going to get a certain amount of people just telling you that every single month so one of the things that I did was add a cancellation comments in a free form text field. When somebody went to go cancel, it was required to fill out and add their comment in there and every once in a while I’d see people complain about the price, so I think my lower end tier plan was nine dollars a month and people would say this is too expensive etc., etc. I kind of wondered about that, “should I charge it a little less”, I never did it. I think I charged five dollars a month, but one of the interesting things as I moved up my pricing and ran all different types of tests is that every time that I change pricing, say right now my lower tier is 29 dollars a month, I always get the same number of people saying that it’s too expensive, but if I reduced it by five dollars or ten dollars, they’d pay for it. That never really happens because my product was ten dollars cheaper, it was twenty dollars cheaper, so I always find that really interesting.
Mike [00:14:18]: But I think that it’s difficult for somebody who is starting out to make those mental leaps because you’re looking at this looking back in retrospective and say, “well I was there and you didn’t buy it then and now it’s more expensive and you’re complaining that five or ten dollars would have made a difference”. But for the person who is stuck at this plateau they don’t have that history, they’re not that much further in to the future and trying to look backwards.
Ruben [00:14:39]: Right. I think the important thing for them is to know that it’s normal to get people saying that it’s too expensive. If they’re not getting that then they’re definitely under charging. I think the time to wonder whether it is over priced might be just when a lot of people are saying that, that is one of the top reasons why people are cancelling.
Rob [00:15:02]: I would agree with that based on experience as well. So that was at the back of your mind and that’s why you’ve attacked it early on. How did you go about figuring out what your pricing tier should be and do you actually restructure your pricing or did you just kind of increased the tiers themselves, just increased the dollar amounts per tier?
Ruben [00:15:19]: There had been one or two tests that I ran in the past, early on when I first launched with pricing. Basically I just increased the pricing on the tears I had and I got to a point where I just wasn’t making as much money. So then I lowered the pricing back to where I was making the most money. Later on when I revisited the pricing and I wanted to run these new tests, I changed my approach I didn’t just increased the pricing on the tiers. So that was okay to get me up to a point, but the big results came from just completely just restructuring my pricing. Started of doing a lot of customer interviews and looking at my usage data. So it was a combination of qualitative and quantitative data that I used to figure out what were the key features that people were using and what type of customers were signing up. So I changed my pricing from two plans to three and those three plans directly reflected the type of customers that I get. So one of them is a freelancer plan, the other one is a studio plan, and the last one is an agency plan. All of those changes helped me earn more per customer per month.
Rob [00:16:31]: After you made that pricing adjustment you keep saying you tested it. Now did you run a split test where you had half the people see the old pricing, half the people see the new and then did you just follow it through trial signup or did you followed it all the way through to see how many converted which each price point?
Ruben [00:16:47]: Yes so I actually had multiple tests with pricing, so I tested pricing maybe four, five months, something like that. I started of with some of the more simpler tests. I wanted to isolate for example plan names from pricing increases. I wanted to know that going with three plans was actually making a difference. So I wanted to know that renaming the plans from these generic plan names: basic, premium, whatever I was using to something to what a customer could look at and say this is the plan for me. I wanted to know that that made a difference. I also did that with plan features. Then once I actually got to the revenue number, I’ve let those run a little bit longer, in each case didn’t just look at whether or not more people were clicking on the signup button. I’ve also looked at, “do more people sign up” and then, “okay, now I have a trial”. Then I continued to look at, “do those trials convert”. So at the end do I end up with more money? Same thing with retention, it takes a lot longer to look at a retention because customers some times will be around for a year or two. You can’t always follow on retention until it’s just been several months. I actually had to row back a pricing change that had been in place for three months because I looked at that retention and it wasn’t better. Everything else looked good, it looked like I was making more money, but about three months later when I looked at retention for those [cohorts?] I saw that this is actually worse than what I had before so I [went right back?].
Rob [00:18:20]: It’s crazy. So you really have to look at your data and not just look at how many people clicked that initial sign up button, it can change all the way down the line.
Ruben [00:18:29]: Right, once I decided okay, this is working better I switched it over. So I did split test that and I switched it over but when I rolled back my pricing I wasn’t still split testing that. Everyone was going over the new pricing. The important thing about that is I think that you just have to continue watching it and sort of compare it to what it was before your price increase.
Rob [00:18:53]: Right and are you using KISSmetrics to kind of track that all that way through? Is that longitudinal data?
Ruben [00:18:57]: Yes I use KISSmetrics and then I just look directly in my data base. So I use both.
Mike [00:19:02]: It sounds to me like one of the interesting points that you kind of– I was almost completely glossed over, but you at least mentioned it that testing these pricing points I mean it sound like they’re early on when you hit that post launch plateau, pricing is one of those issues that you really need to look at to make sure that you are charging the appropriate amounts and then at the next plateau you hit, by changing your pricing you are able to essentially accelerate your growth of the product. But in each of those cases it takes a while to get through those pricing tests. I think you have mentioned three or four months of testing in order to just test the price and then in addition to that you said that in order to test retention and basically make sure that you’re not loosing people faster that takes even longer.
Ruben [00:19:42]: Right, but you can capitalize on these pricing changes sooner. So some of these pricing changes are– if they’re working early on meaning if you’re getting more trials out of it, there is a pretty good chance that those trials will convert at a similar rate. So what I have seen with price testing is that that’s what happens, most of the time they will convert at the same rate. The churn will be about the same, there might be some differences but it’s not major, so you can actually switch things over, but if you do that then you do want to watch that to make sure that you are right about the trial to payed conversion rate and that you are right about the churn rate as well.
Rob [00:20:18]: So you kind of make a quick decision and then you back check that and 90 days later you can truly verify that everything turned out the way you thought it would based on your math.
Ruben [00:20:26]: Right.
Rob [00:20:29]: So it’s interesting you know we talk about these plateaus and I imagine that there might be someone in the audience who doesn’t know what that looks like so I was thinking as you were talking that you might have a SaaS app where you’re doing four grand a month and the next month you’re doing fifty five hundred and that feels fantastic. Then the next month you’re doing six grand and then seventy five hundred and you’re just going up. You’re at ten grand, eleven grand, twelve grand, and then all of a sudden it’s twelve two and the month after that is twelve thousand four hundred, and twelve thousand five hundred and literally your revenue just stalls out. I’ve been through it, you’ve been through it, we’ve seen this and it can kind of rattle you because a) it’s unexpected, it’s like, “everything was going so good and all of a sudden it’s not working” and it can also discourage you. So we’ll touch on the mindset in a second because I think that’s important but when you’ve seen these plateaus coming the first time it kind of shocks you, the second time you kind of figure it out and the third time it’s like almost expected, you’re almost anticipating it. How long have most of these plateaus– do you think there is a range, like how long is it taking you to break through each of them? In months.
Ruben [00:21:29]: In months?
Rob [00:21:29]: Yeah.
Ruben [00:21:30]: Generally four to six months. It depends.
Rob [00:21:35]: It depends on how deep it is and how much stuff you have to do to test and all that.
Mike [00:21:39]: I think the sooner you can break out of it the better, I mean the best thing is to avoid them. Do it all together right.
Rob [00:21:44]: Just see them coming and be constantly– see that’s something you’ve done really well. Recently as you have run a lot of split tests now you’re at the point obviously where your traffic tens of thousands uniques a month and you can run split tests and optimize your way to an increase in retention or whatever.
Ruben [00:21:58]: right but even in the early days when you have a lot less volume you can forecast when you’re going to plateau. I think barometrics came out with some forecast tool that — for free recently — that helps you do that. But it’s a really simple calculation you can just do it in a spreadsheet or open up a calculator and looking at a percentage of the customers that are cancelling at what point am I basically going to plateau. [As the number of trials not in customers?] are not going to be enough to upset that.
Rob [00:22:26]: Yes, then you can look and say, “is churn to high” and if so I need to start working on that now, six months in advance of that plateau. Or is it that my number of trials is still at a hundred and fifty every month, but if my churn is low but I only have a hundred and fifty trials, how do I get to three hundred trials in the next six months? Right? Six hundred is sustainable. Or is it a price point? If my average revenue per customer is only fifteen dollars a month, twenty dollars a month, how do I double that in the next six months? Right? Is that the kind of process you go through?
Ruben [00:22:56]: Exactly so one of the more interesting things was that even in the earlier days like I said a lot of times it’s just volumes. Sometimes it is retention. Well, it’s always retention, retention is always part of it, but sometimes it’s churn that they need to focus on. So one thing that I was thinking about was at what point in the early days, lets say somebody has a thousand dollars a month in recurring revenue or so. At what point is their churn to high to actually say, “okay, this is the thing that I need to focus on”.
Rob [00:23:29]: Earlier you said it was a quarter, 25%.
Ruben [00:23:32]: Yeah, even lower than that like if I was starting over again and I had product and my churn rate, even in the early days and even if I know that numbers aren’t all that great when you don’t have that many customers, you don’t have that many trials coming in, there is a difference between having a 15% churn rate and 5%. I have had 5% churn in those early days. If I had a product that had a 10%, 15%, I’d probably pay attention to that.
Rob [00:24:01]: So I think my number would be anywhere over 15%, it would be any twenties too high. The problem with this is that we’re talking about an average and typically your first sixty day churn is going to be a lot higher then everything else and when you average everything in it gets kind of muddy.
Mike [00:24:18]: The other thing that makes that difficult is that it could be a function of what your product is. So for example when Rob and I were testing things with the [?] we noticed that there was a distinct drop of at the forth month. And by that time someone has paid a couple hundred dollars they have to really think about it, it’s like, “am I really going to continue on this path or is this just something I was kind of interested in but not really and I’m not going to follow through with it”. And people were making the decision around the forth month to basically just kind of drop out. So sometimes it’s time dependent as well.
Ruben [00:24:46]: I agree. It very much depends on the type of product. With some products it might be kind of natural like how you mentioned of membership sites and [?]
to where you see a big drop of after a certain point of time. And for that industry or for that type of product, churn reads might be higher, so that’s a good point. Even Jason Cohen mentioned somewhere that he was worried of his churn at 2% for WP engine and then he found out that, “hey, that’s actually doing pretty good, that’s the normal for hosting”.
Rob [00:25:16]: That’s crazy low. Most SaaS operators would kill for that. So that’s the thing I mean I think to talk about an aggregate number is not totally accurate, it would be so much better to have that cohort, that churn grid to be able to look at it, but with Drip I didn’t have the churn grid, until maybe four or five months ago because the data just wasn’t there in order to get an aggregate number. So when I was looking at it when we first launched it was 23% a month or something. It’s because I had a ton of new trials in the funnel and as those moved on and my trial volume kind of dropped of after the launch, that dropped way down, it dropped in to the I think it was at 12% or 13% for a while and then I get a bunch a new trial and it kind of bounce right up because for sixty days your so ruff on churn.
Ruben [00:25:59]: Yeah well that’s the other thing that I like. Drip is a really good example because you can’t solely rely on just you analytics, not to look at collective data. Watching you work on Drip and getting to product market fit so a lot of people just say, “well getting to product market is binary”, but it’s not, it’s a [gradient?]. So you can have a lot of product market fit or just enough to get to a point. What I found interesting watching you work on Drip was that early on you didn’t have really good numbers because the amount of customers you had, but you relied a lot on customer conversations and gut kind of, right? You knew what you were building and what you wanted to see and because you did have that experience on other products and apps it’s sort of a little bit easier to go with gut sometimes.
Rob [00:26:51]: That’s right and I think that if you don’t have that then the customer conversations are huge and then I think finding someone either a mastermind or a mentor or adviser, someone who does have that feeling and who has experience to [?].
Ruben [00:27:04]: Exactly.
Rob [00:27:05]: Cool so we kind of cover the first two plateaus that one to two thousand dollar range, the ten to fifteen. Then there is this twenty five to thirty thousand dollar plateau. Lend you thoughts I mean how did you push past it, do you have thoughts on the general cause of that that you see in other apps? Or do you think it varies widely?
Ruben [00:27:22]: So there are obviously a lot more people who back at one thousand or two thousand dollars a month or ten thousand right then get to twenty or thirty thousand or even forty thousand. So I know fewer people that gotten up to that point and then only some of them plateau there and it seems to kind of be different from the ones that I know so I can’t really say that I noticed really specific patterns but it’s usually a retention. Right? Losing way to many customers still or you just need to get a lot more customers to get in to the next stage. For me it was more about setting up, once I automated my marketing because it’s a combination of some manual processes and automation, but setting up systems and processes to scale up marketing.
Rob [00:28:06]: Kind of moving it up to the next step or the next level.
Ruben [00:28:10]: Right, it’s more about doubling down on what’s working.
Rob [00:28:13]: So you have seen a lot of plateaus, you have gotten through a lot of them. When you see that you are going to be plateauing in how ever many months it is, what’s your process at that point? Like how do you start thinking about it mentally in order to– are you preempted or when you get there to start systematically knocking out the things that are keeping you at that plateau?
Ruben [00:28:35]: Generally if you look at it at the highest level what I do is try to identify where is my problem. Ether I am not getting enough customers or I’m loosing to many customers. It’s always a combination of both, but one of them is going to be a bigger problem then the other. But that’s too broad it’s too hard to tackle. So even if I say, “ok well I’m just not getting enough customers” then what? There is so many different things that you can do with that, so what I do is I break it down to the smallest possible things that I can. So I’m not getting enough customers so “ok, why not?”, am I not getting enough traffic? Am I not getting enough qualified traffic? Am I not getting enough trials? Are those trials not converting into customers at the right rate? What is it that is going wrong? So as part of this process is setting a goal that I want to reach and I typically start with this. I’ll pick my number and I want to get to– it’s usually revenue based to this much recurring revenue, what do I need to get to that number, so then I start to break down how many trials I need at this price point to get there. What does my churn need to be? Maybe start to play around with some numbers. What if I get more trials or increase my average revenue per customer or move down my churn? Typically once I’m looking from that perspective and then I take a look at my problem areas I just start by picking of the lowest hanging fruit. So there are going to be some things that are just a lot easier to do then others. So maybe increasing my traffic will get me more customers but so will dramatically reducing my churn, but maybe my churn is at a low enough place to where it’s just going to be way to hard and way to much work to do that, so the easier thing is to really get more traffic.
Rob [00:30:30]: Got it. And getting those rules of thumb. What kind are the ranges? What should my churn be? What should my trial to paid be? What should my visitor to trial be? But that’s part of the method that you’re using to analyze this and the way that we have come across those values is a) by personal experience of the apps that you run, right it’s your experience, it’s also by talking to other founders weather it’s in a mastermind or talking to people, doing skype calls, talking to people at a conference, maybe MicroConf. I think folks in Founder Caffe or Micropreneur Academy could easily if they brought their numbers, I would happily analyze someones numbers on the forums. There are probably some blog posts somewhere that kind of talk about it but I think there’s so much more value being able to talk one on one or one to a group with other founders because the specifics of the situation always dictate where your numbers should be.
Mike [00:31:20]: Right, right.
Rob [00:31:22]: Any range that you and I could throw out here it’s still going to be a wide range because it depends on your pricing and your market and your this and your that.
Mike [00:31:29]: I think knowing the range is bare minimum that you need to know and there are too many people that don’t know that. So if I didn’t know that it would be almost impossible for me to be able to break out of one of these plateaus. And it would be a guessing game and it would have to be luck, complete luck.
Rob [00:31:48]: I’m going to throw out some ranges and I wan’t to see if you agree to them. Kind of a small B to B SaaS app lets say between Bidsketch which starts at around twenty nine bucks and on up to something that maybe starts to ninety nine bucks a month. That’s the lower end range that we would be dealing in with boot-strappers. I would say from visitor to trial when asking for credit card up front you should be between about 0.8% and 2%.
Ruben [00:32:12]: Yes.
Rob [00:32:13]: Alright, maybe 0.75 I mean one would be great but I think that if you would charge around ninety nine bucks a month I think getting 1% is ambitious and you could do really well. So that’s where I have that loathing. Not asking for credit card – what’s the range there? Is it five to fifteen? Is that too broad?
Ruben [00:32:29]: I went almost a year without asking for a credit card upfront. So I would say that five is too low but you know, I guess it depends on how much traffic you’re getting in and all that stuff. I would go with that. If you’re getting less then 5%, just know that five is low.
Rob [00:32:46]: Right so better have like a ninety nine dollar product if you are doing five. If you have a ten dollar product and you are doing five you’re in real trouble. You should be closer to fifteen. Okay, and trial to paid if you’re asking for credit card upfront I want to be between 40% and 60% conversion trial to paid. I know that some people go higher than that but –
Ruben [00:33:05]: Some go a little lower but if you’re in the thirty’s –
Rob [00:33:09]: Yeah, there’s room for improvement. And if you’re not asking for credit card, I’ve never had an app that I done that with but the range is what like ten to twenty? Five to fifteen? That’s the one I forget.
Ruben [00:33:22]: Yeah so I’d say five is too low. Maybe on the low end eight to twenty. Several people have done this. I’ve done this myself and it’s interesting, I’ve actually moved up that number like 8% to 17% and not have a significant or meaningful increase in paid customers. Simply because of how aggressive or passive I am in converting those visitors into trials.
Rob [00:33:49]: That’s right because if you are overly aggressive then they churn out really quick. Is that right?
Ruben [00:33:53]: Well less of then convert into paying customers, because I’m being super aggressive into converting them into a trial.
Rob [00:34:00]: Into a trial. Got it. Okay, and then churn rates, typically I see the first sixty days combined somewhere between lets say if you’re at 20% I think you’re doing pretty well and I’ve seen churn rates at about 40% in the first sixty days. To me that’s the danger zone if you’re above thirty nine.
Ruben [00:34:22]: It’s crazy that when you look at a business like [Mas?] and they’re like 40% from their first ninety days or something like that. They have a really nice business [?].
Rob [00:34:35]: Yeah I think that’s price point because they started at ninety nine, they had a lot of traffic, but I think forty is where the top end of where I’d want to be though.
Ruben [00:34:42]: Yeah if I had 45%, 50% I’d –
Rob [00:34:46]: [crosstalk] And then lastly post sixty day churn or ninety day churn. I mean this one really depends like you said Jason Colen with hosting with WP engine 2%. And that’s 2% per month after the first sixty that’s phenomenal. I think most SaaS businesses would kill for that. The ranges that I see I feel like 5% to 8% is where I see most bootstrap businesses in our price range landing. Like if you’re at 9% or 10% I’m starting to feel less comfortable with that. That means after your initial sixty day of churn you are now loosing one in every ten customers if you’re at 10% and that’s a lot, I mean it’s tough to replace that.
Ruben [00:35:23]: It is a lot. Typically at most any scale, if you’re loosing that many customers then you’d want to take care of that.
Mike [00:35:34]: So going back to the discussion about plateaus a little bit, once your business comes to this screeching halt, how do you go about making sure your mindset is in the right place because I think it can be incredible demoralizing hitting one of these plateaus and your entire business basically grinds to a halt for basically months at a time and you’re not able to kind of push to and figure out really what’s going on. Because your business it may not be getting worse, but it’s certainly not getting better and you are always looking to make sure that things are going up and to the right. So how do you make sure that your mind is in the right place and that you are thinking about the right things to help push through that plateau.
Ruben [00:36:10]: I think it helps to know that it’s normal, most businesses unless they have 0 churn or negative they’re going to plateau at some point. Expect it if you have a SaaS product, try to predict it, it’s pretty easy to do, so those things help. They help but it still sucks. When you hit it they’re not going to make it so that you feel like, “okay, this is okay, I can do this” and you’ll move forward without being fazed at all. For me it’s frustrating, I think one of the more common things I felt in the past, frustrated with the progress and especially if you try a lot of things, or in my earlier days when I had less experience I had less confidence that I could break through. S o the questions would come up and still to this date they come up, “can I go past this?” these are the negative talk that comes up every once in a while. And I think that one of the things that has been super helpful for me is that just being able to talk honestly about it. First it’s just being honest to myself about it and then having a mastermind group and having friend that I can talk to about it. It’s really easy for people to just ask, “hey how’s it going with the product, how’s everything?” and for the automatic response to be, “yeah, it’s going great” and then just talk about things that are going well. It’s a lot harder to be honest and just say that you’ve hit a plateau and that you’re struggling with the trials or churns or something like that. But I think it’s important to do, it’s helpful, it’s really tuff to just not talk about it and sort of try and deal with it entirely yourself in your head.
Rob [00:37:46]: Awesome. Ruben thanks so much for coming on the show, you’ve dropped a lot of knowledge here today. If folks what to keep in touch with you online, keep tabs on what your up to, what’s the best way to do that?
Ruben [00:37:56]: Twitter probably so earthling works on Twitter.
Rob [00:37:59]: Very good and thanks again hope to have you on the show again soon.
Ruben [00:38:02]: Thanks for inviting me.
Mike [00:38:03]: If you have a question for us you can call it into our voice mail number at 1-888-801-9690 or you can email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our theme music is an excerpt from We’re Out of Control by Moot, used under creative commons. Subscribe to us on iTunes by searching for startups and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time.
Episode 226 | Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Churn (But Were Afraid to Ask)
In this episode of Startups For the Rest of Us, Mike and Rob define churn, talk about the different varieties, explain the different ranges you can expect, how to calculate churn, and present ideas on how to reduce it.
Items mentioned in this episode:
Rob [00:00:00]: In this episode of “Startups for the Rest of Us,” Mike and I discuss everything you always wanted to know about churn, but were afraid to ask. This is “Startups for the Rest of Us,” episode 226.
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