In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob interviews Josh Pigford, the founder of baremetrics about competition, transparency, and funding.
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Rob [00:00]: In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, I talked with Josh Pigford, founder of Baremetrics about the good and bad of competition, transparency, and funding. This is Startups For The Rest Of Us episode 244.
Rob [00:21]: 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 and Mike is on vacation and we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. So Mike is out-of-town in Hershey, Pennsylvania with his family and so this week I decided to bring Josh Pigford, founder of Baremetrics on the show because he has a lot of unique experience. He has bootstrapped a SAS business for the past couple of years and it had a great growth trajectory and amidst that, he’s had a ton of competition crop-up. He’s also raised a small round of funding to help with his growth and he’s been very transparent with all of their numbers actually published a dashboard with all of the growth numbers and the lifetime value in turn and pretty much opened a kimono on it and that’s at demo.baremetrics.com. So I talked to Josh about all three of those topics because of anyone I know he’s really in the midst of the throws of competition, funding, and transparency, so I hope you enjoy his takes on these topics. Let’s dive right into the interview. So today I have the pleasure of speaking with Josh Pigford. You probably know as the founder of Baremetrics. You haven’t heard about Baremetrics that they are one in click analytics for stripe. So for using the subscription API with stripe particularly if you have a SAS app, Baremetrics gives you a really cool dashboard of all your numbers and your turn and lifetime value and all that kind of stuff typically the stuff that you spend a week or two with the developer trying to build out so it’s not something that most SAS providers want to spend their time doing, and Josh has the pretty unique story that he’s had strong growth since he launched. He got out ahead of the market and then raised a little bit of funding and that’s why I wanted to have him on the show today to talk about it. So, thanks Josh for taking the time to join us.
Josh Pigford [02:13]: Thanks for having me, Rob.
Rob [02:14]: Absolutely. All right. So I want to cover a couple of topics today in particular. The first one I want to start with is transparency. Transparency is something that you’ve been a big advocate of in the sense that from really early on in Baremetrics history, you wanted to kind of have a live demo of Baremetrics, of the dashboard, and so you’ve just opened the kimono and essentially, you show all the numbers for Baremetrics that’s at demo.Baremetrics.com for those who want to go check it out, and it’s your live numbers obviously you’ve obfuscated those customer names in there that are changed for the protection of the innocent but you have real lifetime value and your real monthly occurring revenue and all that stuff. Tell me a little bit about the motivation for it and if you think that’s been a plus or a minus for Baremetrics’s growth.
Josh Pigford [02:58]: Sure, sure. So we back in, I guess been a year and a half now, so February 2014, I had this idea like I need a demo for the software and I mean I guess I didn’t have to have one but it just seems like it was the easiest way to convey the value and honestly, it was all kind of the result of my own laziness so I thought I needed a demo and I could spend a ton of time pumping out like fake data and trying to generate enough fake data to look like I have a legit dashboard but I mean there’s a lot to Baremetrics so like there’s a dozen plus metrics in each of those, have their own individual metrics pages with even more in depth data on all of those. It would’ve taken so much time to put all together and I thought or I could just add a line of code and make my own stuff public. So, I went with the lazy route and at that time, we weren’t making a ton of money, we’re kind of doing like I don’t know, a few thousand bucks a month and so just decided, “I will put it out there.” And there’s I guess a little bit of altruism to it in the sense that I’ve been building software for the web for a decade and I always appreciated other people kind of given me a look into what their startup looks like successful or not, and there’s a little bit of that aspect of it but I mean it initially was a bit of laziness that turned into something bigger.
Rob [04:16]: Sure. And now that you are obviously substantially more than a few thousand dollars a month and since your revenue is public, I don’t have it [?] but it looks like I think your MRR right now is 32,000 or 33,000. Now that this takes a little bit bigger and you have competition and that kind of stuff, do you – and maybe regret is too strong of a word but do you still think it wasn’t a right choice and are you happy every day when you wake up and see your numbers in public?
Josh Pigford [04:38]: So it’s a mixture. It was at the right move, absolutely, I mean so many things came out of it so, kind of the biggest plus was that Buffer, another startup decided to make their stuff public through Baremetrics as well. And then they’re substantially larger. I think their MRR is like $400,000 a month or maybe like 500,000. So it’s a lot of money and a lot of people follow them. And so that would not have happen had I not made mine public because like kind of that wasn’t even an option to make all these revenue public, or at least not in this like easy one-click setup. So, I don’t regret it. It was definitely the right move but man, did it bring up a number of copycats that poured in after that was substantial. So, yeah, but there’s been a couple of I would say legitimate competitors but the [?] 90+% of them, a lot of them just literally, directly ripped off like the design and everything. So, it’s one of those things like it’s sort of a bit of a gold rush in a sense that the way I certainly can’t compare of like their metrics to the app store but I mean in the same way that you hear somebody makes a lot of money on the app store, “Oh, I can do iPhone apps too.” And they copy lots of people and it’s sort of the same as you see but they’re not much more scaled but that’s kind of happened here. And so that’s just really annoying more than anything like that’s the part that’s so frustrating and then the other aspects of it like because we have to be kind of private, we don’t want to surface individual customer’s data. I feel like we have to give a somewhat scaled back demo. And so, the fear is that that kind of almost implies. The Baremetrics doesn’t do as much as it can, but it does we just can’t show it all from the privacies side of it, so.
Rob [06:23]: That’s interesting. Yeah, I hadn’t thought of that. So, as you’re clicking and digging into detail, you can’t necessarily show every screen of –
Josh Pigford [06:29]: Exactly. Like I can show a couple of screenshots here and there but I mean I can’t let you, we get into the okay well especially when we start talking about like customer profiles and stuff. We have to, at that point have to generate a lot of fake data because we can’t show any kind of customer identifiable information there. So, we’re looking at different ways to handle that but it’s like there’s pros and cons but the pros is far with the cons.
Rob [06:52]: Yeah. Right. And so it sounds like you do feel like it brought some competition once folks saw your growth curve, but the pros were that it gave you this plastering on.
Josh Pigford [07:00]: Sure. Like if you look at our graph, like MRR for instance, the big inflection point is when Buffer made their stuff public because it just instantly brought a ton of exposure. And so it changes the angle of the graph permanently. And so, yeah, from that perspective, it was unquestionably the right move.
Rob [07:19]: Right. And for folks who want to check that out, it’s at buffer.Baremetrics.com. Another thought in transparency, I want to hear, I get your thought on it. I think there’s been a movement towards it and I think the first time I heard someone devolves at the revenue a few years ago, I can’t even think of who was like [?] has done it for a while, you have become famous for doing it. It blew me away right it’s this totally unique groundbreaking thing. More and more companies are doing it now, do you feel like it might be losing some of its impact and losing the maybe the bump that if someone came out today, let’s just say I came out today and exposed all of drips back in stuff, do you feel like it would still be worth doing or that the pros maybe kind of getting water down and a lot of people are doing it?
Josh Pigford [08:04]: I don’t know that I would suggest, I mean that’s kind of mixed back here because we sort of kind of partnered with Buffer and so it just opened startup thing where so baremetrics.com/open. You can see, I don’t know, it’s going to be seven or eight different startups that have all made their Baremetrics dashboards public. And like there’s this aspect of like wanting to support people being transparent because I think it can be interesting. The problem is, transparency just solely for transparency stake I would say has lost its kind of gimmicky at this point. I think when you can use it to tell some kind of story, right, like for us, the story it tells is like the Baremetrics story, right? Like it is a demo of our software. It makes complete sense from that perspective and the fact that the numbers, or our actual numbers kind of has this like, “Oh, that’s neat” kind of aspect of it that’s I think kind of been going a long way to maybe adding some sort of face to the company, but like [Josh Mo’s?] random billing software or like I don’t know, maybe he sells some subscription T-shirts or something like or his numbers are all that interesting, probably not to all startups but maybe to other T-shirt companies. And so, like if he’s taking the role of trying to help other T-shirt companies like show you how to start them and kind of the ups and downs, okay, like I think that can be interesting. Or like on a regular basis taking a look at your numbers and saying, “Okay. We had a big spike in user turn, let’s talk through that publicly about like why that happened and how we can fix it because I think that’s helpful to other startups.” But I think a lot of people just like start posing their numbers like because that’s just what people do, and I think there’s a little bit of vanity to it as well like I was guilty of it at first in the sense of like I would post on Twitter like our MRRs are X and some of that was just I’m excited because “Wait, hey, the company is growing.” But I mean to some extent sure, I’m like I feel like I was bragging to some extent too and so, I tried to be a little bit more humble about it at this point but –
Rob [10:07]: Sure. Yeah. I’ve definitely caught some people or in my mind like I feel like certain people are transparent to truly help others and then some folks, I do get the bragging vibe from them of like, “Look at me, look how cool I am.” That thing, and it gets an easy trap to fall into for sure.
Josh Pigford [10:25]: Yeah. And especially early on, like and if you feel like you get a little it attraction and especially we’re like it’s easy to look at yourself from the lens of basically the people that are in your little circle of influence and if maybe you’re doing better than the 10 guys that you hang out with then it’s like it can quickly it can kind of become a bragging thing but like if you’re doing it just to kind of be like a shell off, I think it kind of turns people off.
Rob [10:49]: Right, right. Yeah, there’s an interesting thing I was thinking about. It’s like there’s ongoing transparency which is kind of what you’ve done and what Buffer has done and then I think there’s like point in time transparency which you just touched on where you might write a single blog post about how churn went up, this is what it was, this is what we got it to, and here is what we did, and that’s super helpful, right? But you’re not necessarily just saying, “Here’s my churn every day. You can come and look at it. I think that point in time aspect is something that I’ve personally lean towards like I will, you better MicroConfs, I will often devote everything. I do it once a year if that and it’s not necessarily a commitment that I’ve made but I have an open source, or not open source but I have made everything open but I think there’s some value in transparency. I guess it’s just, yeah, I just wanted to hear your take on it.
Josh Pigford [11:32]: Well, I mean earlier on, the first and that is six to eight months after I made our stuff public, I would do a monthly blog post like, “Hey, here’s the July update of our numbers.” And what kind of touched on what worked and what didn’t but I mean to some extent it was like it was a point in time thing and not necessarily all that useful, and so we stopped doing those but like to me there’s a lot more value so content marketing works really well for us and specifically made once a week writing, end up of a blog post as I’m able to push up that week but like trying to just genuinely be helpful to other people and for us our target markets and other startups so rather entrepreneurs and so that’s sort of an easy thing for us, but I think like transparency when like when it matters to other people is what’s more interesting, right? Like I remember a couple of MicroConfs ago, we talked about making your numbers public like the one where you have shown, not this past but like a couple of months ago but the one before that would drip yeah, and how that just like showing the growth of that was so interesting to me and kind of opened my eyes a little bit about like, “Oh, okay.” So like that’s probably what something more successful looks like, well actually that might have been three years go.
Rob [12:55]: It might have been HitTail.
Josh Pigford [12:56]: HitTail, that was what it was.
Rob [12:57]: Yeah. So, this is when you were back before Baremetrics, right? This was when you –
Josh Pigford [12:59]: Yeah, yeah. So this was PopSurvey and contemporary and like stuff was in my head, I kind of go in okay but also at the same time and sight it was awful, and now that I’ve like you to have a different level of success there. And so, but when I saw like how HitTail, how you’re able to grow that and it’s like that’s when I sort of thinking like okay, like, “I could potentially make some software that could make a lot more money than it’s making right now and I just needed to find a different thing to do that with but that’s where it was super helpful, right?” So for you to release those numbers, because it was a motivator for me.
Rob [13:31]: Right. Yeah, that’s a good point. I want to switch it up a little bit and talk about funding because you’ve been a bootstrapper for a decade or more. You launched PopSurvey, you had Temper, I’m sure there’s many others that I haven’t heard of that you bootstrap. When you launched Baremetrics, it was getting great, growth numbers and at a certain point you were offered funding. The numbers were public, I’m pretty sure. It’s a half million dollars and you took the funding. And I know that there are some folks out there that say, “You should always take funding. You should never take funding.” And I’m not in either of those camps and I know that you weren’t either, so I’d like to hear what your motivation was and what your decision process was like when you were considering, do I keep Baremetrics all my own or do I take some money and essentially move faster but now have some investors that I’m working with?
Josh Pigford [14:21]: Yeah. So for me, there had been this point where Baremetrics was doing from like a growth perspective, talking in percentages, I think was doing between like 20% and 50% every month growth with MRR and so at that point, and our numbers are public so those are the kind of growth rates were investors start like, “Oh, that’s kind of interesting. How can I have the piece of the pie?” So I started getting all these phone calls or emails or whatever and I humored a few people but for the most part it was just kind of the typical like I’m just not comfortable with giving that much of the company and we just aren’t really jiving or you sound like a jerk, like all these kinds of things where it just wouldn’t sit right with me and I was fine with where we were at like I think when most of the funding email started, it was me for the most part and then like I had just hired another engineer. And so like, we’re doing fine and I didn’t have any really big aspirations at the time but I was still kind of riding the wave of like, “Oh, this works.” And so, yeah, then this $500,000 thing came up and just the terms ultimately like I mean honestly, if you start thinking of the health of the business and maybe what my goals are for the business, I would’ve been an idiot to not take it and I think that’s where my mind shifted change was like I was proud of the bootstrap aspect of it but when you start looking at things from a different perspective of like well the things that we could do with this money and what are the sacrifices relative to that. If the sacrifices aren’t anything I’m opposed to then well yeah, why not? So the evaluation, there’s 500,000 for at a $10 million evaluation which equates to 5% and –
Rob [16:06]: So they don’t have control?
Josh Pigford [16:07]: No, and so technically, so it’s a safe like they don’t even have the shares. They get the shares in the event that we sell or that we raise an all-around –
Rob [16:14]: Raising it around. Right. So it’s essentially a convertible note, right, it’s a loan –
Josh Pigford [16:19]: But it’s not even that, I don’t have to pay it back unless like if I shut the business down, if there’s no time, there’s no date attached to anything, like nobody’s hand can possibly force me in any perspective. So, like it would’ve been dumb for me to not take it.
Rob [16:35]: Yeah. Those are some very generous terms.
Josh Pigford [16:37]: Right.
Rob [16:38]: And when you’re making that decision, there’s this money in the table and obviously the terms are favorable and that’s the interesting part is I have stopped saying, “I won’t take funding.” And I’ve started asking myself these questions like when I go and refuse or whatever like, “Under what circumstance would I?” And it’s a different way to ask it but obviously, there were very appealing terms. You took the money. Did you know when you took this half million dollars, how you were going to spend it?
Josh Pigford [17:03]: Yeah, absolutely. I was itching to hire some people like after I started thinking through, when that was suggested as, “Hey, we can put in this amount of money.” Like I instantly started sitting down and brainstorming of all the ways that I could spend it and ways that what does Baremetrics need to grow and to see the goals through that I had that can keep Baremetrics growing and people ultimately what was going to make that happen. So, that was an easy one, for sure.
Rob [17:34]: And how long? Has it been about a year now?
Josh Pigford [17:36]: So, it’s been 10, let’s see, we closed on the deal in I think September.
Rob [17:42]: Okay. So like 9 months, 9-10 months, yeah.
Josh Pigford [17:44]: Yeah. Somewhere around there.
Rob [17:45]: So now you have some perspective and some distance from it, was it the right choice? Was it a good choice for you?
Josh Pigford [17:51]: Yes, absolutely the right choice. I think in [?] sight, I think I would’ve done a few things differently. There was a little bit of a, “Holy crap. There’s half a million dollars today in my bank account now. Woohoo. Let’s spend some money, right?” And I mean part of it is the investor wants you to spend their money. They’re giving it to you not so it just sits there in a bank account but at the same time like I probably spent too fast and at the time I was still maintaining the like 20%-30% average growth rate per month and then like shortly thereafter, it started the growth rate, it started like not tanking but it wasn’t 20% or 30% or more.
Rob [18:28]: Leveling out.
Josh Pigford [18:29]: Right. It’s just like that was inevitable but it happened over the course of 30 to 60 days like it happened pretty quick and I think from that perspective, I’ve kind of ended up overshooting early on how much I was spending. So we’re like at a point now like we should be fine without like needing to raise any more money but it’s just like having to be a little more cautious with our spending money at this point.
Rob [18:51]: Right. Yeah. When you’re growing like that, it’s easy to get ahead of yourself and say, “Well, in six months, we’re going to be at 50,000 or 60,000 recurring revenue and therefore we need to staff up to all of these people and it’s easier to spend money quick when you’re growing up fast, I know the feeling. Now, you leveled off after you raised the money, did you catch any flock from your investors? Did they expect that or were they kind of concerned when that happened?
Josh Pigford [19:11]: Yeah. So, they’ve just been helpful. We have a roadmap wise with the stuff that’s on the roadmap is partially influenced by customers. It’s partially influenced by like investor input about ways that we could potentially expand from a market perspective. And so, if anything, they certainly weren’t like, “Oh man, this is best bad news.” Like sort of, “Hey, yeah. There are some things that you work on to probably fix these things and so that’s us kind of getting [?] now.”
Rob [19:40]: Right. Now, typically, if you’re going to raise an angel round, the majority of folks are going to give you this money, expect the series A then a series B and they want $100,000,000 evaluation, right, or they want $100,000,000 market. Was that the expectation that was communicated to you or did you guys talk about kind of the fun strapping around where you said, I’m going to raise this single round, I want to use it to get the profitability and build a nice profitable business, was any of that discussed?
Josh Pigford [20:05]: So some of those discussed, like if we think of the purpose of my funding round, my money technically came from General Catalyst which is a big VC. They’re not typically like angel round investors. But as part of this stripe specific fund the faith created and they’re like one of the main investors in stripe. So, and for them it’s like it’s a mixture of sure, they want their money back with some returns on it but it’s also this sort of load confidence in the stripe ecosystem for them so like marketing play is not necessarily the right phrase but it’s like for them, it was just as much about saying like, “Let’s beef up. Stripe, they’ve got however much hundreds of millions of dollars put into the stripe. So, if they can make stripe more successful, then this is like then that kind of pays off indirectly for them.
Rob [20:56]: It’s almost like a strategic, it’s a strategic investment for them, right? And to build the ecosystem.
Josh Pigford [21:01]: Exactly. And so that’s kind of again, like that was one of the way that I was sort of unique from that perspective. And so that’s sort of when I also have a little bit stress from the, “Oh, man. I’ve got to get their money back” from a I’m a good human being perspective like I don’t want to lose their money but at the same time they’re not like screaming at me about anything [crosstalk] –
Rob [21:22]: Yeah. That’s nice. So, to kind of wrap up the funding portion, we talked about the advantages and kind of the no brainer aspect of raising this round for you, you’re nine or ten months out, have there been any major kind of negatives or regrets or like bad things that have brought about?
Josh Pigford [21:38]: Not really. I think in hindsight I would be a lot more careful, and this is just naiveté on my part without the evaluation side of things because of you think of it in terms of how much of the company are getting up like okay, at the end of the day kind of giving up 5%, fine, whatever. Like I would give up more, right? So I have thought like, hey, what about I could actually technically add onto the same round even nine months later and that would be great, more money, right? But the probably is I kind of got like a Silicon Valley evaluation which in a lot of times are a little inflated. And so, it makes it a lot harder for me to raise additional funds if I wanted to because a small time investor is like, that’s not worth it for them at that evaluation because they’ve got such a tiny piece of the pie. So, I think in hindsight I probably even though like they suggested the evaluation, I can hindsight I probably would’ve should’ve downplate that a little bit so they get easier to raise more.
Rob [22:41]: Yeah, right. Instead of potentially having to have a downround later or –
Josh Pigford [22:45]: Exactly, right. Because nobody will stop so –
Rob [22:47]: Right. Do you watch Silicon Valley on HBO?
Josh Pigford [22:49]: Yeah, it’s great.
Rob [22:50]: I love that show. So remember when he negotiates with the VC because he wants a [?] evaluation?
Josh Pigford [22:55]: Right, like that’s that.
Rob [22:56]: Yeah, yeah. I totally get it.
Josh Pigford [22:58]: And it was sort of one more point here to the whole evaluation thing like I raise money from a big VC fund whereas there is a whole slew of by single person angel investors, a lot of them completely disconnected from the tech scene who would love to give people money for pretty decent evaluations and like not have a lot of demands about things, like I think that’s sort of where the dogmatic bootstrapper mindset comes from is all the really awful junk that they read on tech grunge and that’s not the norm like. That’s not what most of the investment world looks like just because the rest of it is just boring, it makes for bad news. So, I think like if people are interested in like say they just want $100,000 like a really long way for them. You can probably find one angel investor or a few angel investors who would come in together at a decent evaluation to give you that money and that would just be genuinely helpful or maybe they’re completely hands off and they just kind of want to get their hands dirty in the tech space. So, I think if people are interested in that they should like ignore the hype that they read elsewhere and just kind of start poking around places like AngelList to find like individual angel investors who were just kind of want to help people out because they exist for sure.
Rob [24:22]: Right. Yeah. I like the term colon from customer that I usually call it fund strapping and that’s where you raise a small seed round of I like to think of it as between 100,000 and 500,000, I’m kind of being arbitrary about that but I think that’s probably the range you’d want to do it and you raise it from between one and five angels and it’s like you said, they don’t take control, they’re going to board sit. They can’t kick you out and then you use it essentially to get to profitability and it’s more of the way that traditional businesses are funded say a restaurant or a carwash or dry cleaner, you’re just probably going to have a lot of higher profit margin than those, so it’s an interesting part.
Josh Pigford [24:55]: And I don’t want see, that’s the thing like there is I guess a small possibility that it would make sense for us to try to raise a series A or something like that, but what I am stanchly opposed to is having to be the founder, a founder who just raises money all the time because there are so many that do have to do that where the CEO is essentially the guy who like, okay. He raised around well, six months later he’s going to start again because it takes six months to close another realm. He has to keep doing that over and over and I hate that junk. So, I have no intention of doing that. Profitability for me is the goal.
Rob [25:32]: Right. Yeah, I think of it, I use the phrase building slide decks instead of building a business, right? And I prefer to build the business, so [crosstalk]. Cool. Okay. So, our last topic of the day is competition. I like to think that any time you have a good idea and you execute on it and you achieve some success, you are going to by nature bring competition into your space and you have done that well, you had a good idea with one-click analytics for stripe. You obviously have success and more public about it and so many competitors have sprung up around Baremetrics. Do you think that competition is good? By I say good I mean beneficial to you or because you kind of hear both mindsets of well, competition validates the market but you are already in the market, you had already validated that was working so do you feel like, boy, having more competition is helpful and it’s generating more attention around the space or do you feel like the more crowded it gets, the harder it is to be heard above the noise?
Josh Pigford [26:30]: So, to me I think of it from the point of view of the customer, right. So, competition is ultimately good for customer which I think ultimately is good for us because we’ll hear indirectly a customer say like, “Hey, I was checking out their competition and they had X feature which means, translates to they solve X problem that I have.” So, can you solve that problem for me? Well, maybe not right now but if I hear it from enough people, then yeah, we’ll try to solve that problem for you. And I think that it’s good from that perspective or it stops being good is when there are two dozen people or companies who are all kind of the same. And so, we’re trying really hard, I think this sort of space, this sort of like analytics that you don’t have to think about or work to set up kind of set up a space. We’re at a point where we’re kind of start to kind of fork where there’s a lot of people playing the baseline metrics game where click here, connect to stripe account and you get MRR lifetime value cheering all these stuff. But on that level, it’s not like it’s useful but there has to be something else pass that I think for it to be really valuable but that also it’s really difficult to build but that’s where I feel like we’re starting to kind of fork off on our own is trying to move away from my numbers game and move into the genuinely useful for making business decisions game like helping people understand why things are, what they are, and how to fix them and that kind of thing. And so I think the prevalence of so many competitors right now has helped pushed us in that direction which I think is ultimately a positive thing, but I mean like holy crap is that annoying.
Rob [28:09]: You’ve seen people pop out with your whatever and I don’t know anybody who’s done this but I would have to imagine because I’ve seen it with my stuff, people are popping up probably using your same tagline, probably using names that are similar to use, probably using designs that are similar to yours.
Josh Pigford [28:22]: Oh, sure. That’s amazing, I mean almost there’s one that I’ve seen making the rounds a lot more maybe their content stuff like the stuff that they randomly post on their blog I’ve seen a lot and I’ll go to their software or whatever. It is a direct rip off of Baremetrics and it’s just like how do you sleep at night? And people are using our logo but like changing from a different shade of blue or something, I mean just stupid stuff that’s like at the end of the day, copycats, their motivation is purely to try to make a quick buck and in a year they won’t exist. But for the year that they are around like, I mean you’re like the annoying kid at school that keeps tapping me on the shoulder like, go away. That’s kind of how I feel about them.
Rob [29:04]: Yeah, no, that make sense. You were in the space where the onboarding is really easy, right? It’s one click to get in, it seems like that would be a double edged sword. It’s easy to get people onboard but then it’s easy for people to switch. Yeah.
Josh Pigford [29:16]: Switching cost are way too low right now and so yes, that is probably our number one problem from like a charm perspective is that switching cost are so low which is in the short-term good for a customer because it gives them a lot of options. At the same time, it makes for a customer who doesn’t want to get invested in their software which maybe for them, that sounds like a good thing. But, I think when you’re like so wishy-washy about trying to solve at the end of the day solve your own business problems, being wishy-washy and not saying like, “Here’s what we’re going to use. Here’s what we’re going to stick with, and this is what we’re going to base our business around.” When you stop acting like that, you end up with stuff that’s just not useful at all. And so, yeah, so we’ve got a bunch of stuff that’s coming out soon that the switching cost will be much higher and that sounds a little like just rude, but at the same time, I think it ultimately will make for software that people in the long-term get a lot more value out of.
Rob [30:11]: Right. Well, I mean it’s hard if you have 20 people in the space, or 15 people in the space with no maybe one clear leader and everybody else is kind of milling around creating noise. The customer is actually not getting the best software because everybody is competing whereas if they’re only two or three in the space and they’re really [dooking?] it out, then you’re going to get some awesome new features, right? You’re going to be innovating against each other and that kind of stuff. So, I think it’s interesting that it’s essentially, it’s like the one-click stripe analytics as you said has almost become a baseline for a lot of these products and you know how to rise above it which in the short-term is probably painful and it’s annoying to see all the competition but in the long-term it’s going to make for better products and just going to make you move pretty fast which I think is better for customer.
Josh Pigford [30:55]: Yeah, 100% agree with that.
Rob [30:57]: Cool. All right. So you’ve actually have a customer, I don’t know how – or I’m sorry, not a customer but a competitor crop-up who’s offering one-click stripe analytics for free, so they’re just kind of doing a free-mium model, when you first heard that news, I can imagine the look on your face, was that brutal was it were you kind of like, “Yup. I knew this day would come.”
Josh Pigford [31:17]: I was totally wasn’t surprised. I think start kind of poking around to see okay first, how are you even doing that? Because that gets expensive to store massive amounts of data and processes, like it’s expensive. So it’s like how are you guys pulling that off, and then you start realizing, okay. This is actually like a lead generator for their other business that which is a completely legitimate business, the other one is and lots of people love them but it’s like when you’re like releasing tool just as a lead generator, then no way does that software sort of stand the test of time because it’s ultimately like a loss leader for you and that’s just so hard to maintain especially on a small team. So they don’t worry me and our customers feedback on that has been basically the same that like, “Hey, we’re using this other one because it’s free but like no way would we ever stop using you guys. Their stuff is just not good.” So, it doesn’t bother me and in reality, so in the next month or so, hopefully, we’ll actually have a free version. I think this plays into our long-term plan, like in the short-term we actually may take a little bit of a hit but in the short-term, yeah, we’ll start playing a little bit of the free game, the free-mium game and see how it plays out. We haven’t, because we’ve never had a free plan, I mean a year and a half in and we’ve never tested it. So, it seems a little short-sided of me to not at least humor that as a possibility.
Rob [32:43]: Right. As a test, and so that, I mean it was kind of my next question is like so how do you compete with free because obviously this is going to happen to anyone who has a good idea and has some success, we’re eventually going to get a free competitor and it sounds like so far, number one is you know the game. You’ve been doing this now for 18 months, 2 years. And so, you know what it takes to really run this service in terms of cost and team size and then continue to innovate. And number two, is potentially fight fire with fire, maybe release a free version and to continue to build in an innovator, you have to stay ahead of the game. You have to keep building features that they don’t have.
Josh Pigford [33:19]: Exactly. It’s just one of those things where you kind of have to just, I know what our goals are and I can’t make any assumptions about what my competitors’ goals are. I like the types of problems that one competitor is solving for their customer base however small it may be is not necessarily the same as what I’m doing. And so, it would be super short-sided of me to say like, “Oh, well they just launched some feature. I need to do the same thing.” No, not necessarily, like their customers may want that but our customers may not. Or, the way that we solve that problem is totally different. So, I think it’s just being hyper focused on what it is that you do and you do well is kind of the way to not worry about competition.
Rob [34:05]: Well said. All right, sir. So, folks want to keep up with you online aside from checking out baremetrics.com, what you get is one-click SAS analytics for stripe. How would folks keep up with you whether it’s blog url or Twitter handle?
Josh Pigford [34:20]: So Twitter is @Shpigford and I that’s really about it. I don’t blog much anymore.
Rob [34:26]: All right. I would recommend your podcast which is called Founder’s Journey.
Josh Pigford [34:30]: Yup.
Rob [34:30]: Is that right? I’ve been listening to it for the past couple of months and it’s essentially you reading some blog post that you’re posting on the Baremetrics blog and adlibbing, you’re adding more stuff which has been kind of cool.
Josh Pigford [34:42]:
Rob [34:43]: Very good. Well, thanks again for coming on the show today, man.
Josh Pigford [34:46]: Thanks for having me, Rob.
Rob [34:47]: That wraps us up for today. Thanks again to Josh for coming on the show. If you have a question for us, call our voicemail number at 1-888-801-9690 or 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.
In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike answer questions about accelerators, the difference between working on and in your business, and the benefits of transparency.
Items mentioned in this episode:
Mike [00:00.5]: In this episode of Startups For The Rest of Us, Rob and I are going to be answering questions about accelerators, the difference between working on and in your business, and the benefits of transparency. This is Startups For The Rest of Us, episode 242.
Mike [00:19]: 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 Mike.
Rob [00.27]: And I’m Rob.
Mike [00:28]: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. How are you doing this week, Rob?
Rob [00.32]: I’m doing pretty good. We have some really nice five star iTunes reviews that have come about, we have [Fresch Norlin?] from Sweden, and he says that “this is my absolutely favorite podcast for entrepreneurs, great tips and advice on how to build and launch SaaS products.” And another one from Gurdiga from Moldova, I think this is our first rating from Moldova, he says, “get ready to take notes, the episodes are well structured and information heavy.” Thank you guys very much for your five star rating. We’d love it if you would pop into iTunes or Stitcher or Downcast or wherever you are, give us a five star review, you don’t have have to comment but it does help us stay motivated to produce the podcast and helps us rank at the top of the search engine so that we can get more new listeners.
Mike [01:15]: Awesome, so I don’t usually go on any security rants about things that are discovered in the wild or happen but this one I think is important just because I know a lot of people who use this service. Recently, LastPass discovered an attack their network and if you’re using LastPass at all, your email address and your password reset data was likely lost. I would go ahead and enable factor authentications, change your password, change your password reset question, things like that. They didn’t lose any data directly pertaining to the passwords themselves but just judging from how they protect that stuff it’s pretty well protected to begin with so that stuff wasn’t lost but I would definitely go in and make some changes about that just in case.
Rob [01:53]: The only other update from me is things are going well with Drip. I feel like marketing has continued to ramp up. We have a lot of content going live right now, we have case studies, we have all types of stuff. The person I had hired for customer success and growth is really hitting her stride. She’s about a month and a half into the position and it is crazy how much has been taken off my plate. It’s given me a lot more time to look at higher level stuff and work on the business instead of so much in the business. I was doing so much time intensive marketing work and I’ve been able to step back from that. It’s allowed me to dig into a lot of metrics, it’s allowed me to look through funnels, it’s allowed me to start thinking about some higher level things that I realized I wasn’t looking at because I was too busy head down doing tasks. So it feels good to free myself up from that and get some clarity on where we’re headed next.
Mike [02:47]: Cool. The only other update I have is I completely bailed on Monday at work this week. I ended up getting up late and it was probably 10:30-11:00 and I was like, “you know what, I’m going to take a free day. I’m not going to do anything today.” I went out to lunch with my wife and after lunch we decided to go to a movie and that took me through the rest of the day until the kids got home. I literally did nothing and it was everything I thought it could be.
Rob [03:10]: Yeah, that’s nice. It’s so nice to have that flexibility and to feel okay about it and not stress about it. I took the new crew out for ice cream at this brand new homemade ice cream place that kick-started here locally. It was only a forty-five minute or hour outing but it was in the middle of the afternoon and it was super hot here and it felt good to just be there and not be thinking about work. We were talking about Dungeons and Dragons and other random stuff and to have that flexibility in your work schedule whether it’s taking an hour in the afternoon or like you said taking an entire day, I think that’s one of the biggest perks of the entire entrepreneurship. If you start your own company and you don’t have that flexibility, in my opinion you’ve made a wrong turn somewhere.
Mike [03:55]: Yeah, what I found nice that was on Tuesday when I decided to get back into the swing of things, I didn’t feel like I was behind and I was able to just sit down and work and I got all the stuff done that I would have gotten done on Monday anyway. So it wasn’t as though I got behind or anything. It was a good feeling to go through that and realize that the world isn’t going to fall down around me if I take a day off here and there. It made me think about if I want to work four day weeks over the summer of something like that.
Rob [04:25]: Yeah. So we’re answering some listener questions today.
Mike [04:28]: Yeah, and the first one we have is from Sam Mullen and he says, “Hey, I’d love to hear you and Rob talk about accelerators. I know my opinion but I’m not typical.” So what are your thoughts on accelerators?
Rob [04:37]: Well, it’s a pretty broad question because there must be hundreds of accelerators now. If you haven’t heard the term “accelerator” in essence the first one was Y Combinator and it started around 2005 by Paul Graham, and the idea was that before that if you wanted to raise funding you either had to go to Venture Capitalist or Angel Investors and there weren’t a lot of Angel Investors around at that time. There were these things call Incubators, there were just a handful of them but it was similar to a Venture Capitalist that owned an office building and would provide in house services and provide funding and house your company, but it didn’t spread. I think there was too much money and logistics involved in getting those started.
Paul Graham took a middle ground to that and he started something that was later dubbed an accelerator. That is where they would bring in a cohort of small, young startups. I think they started with college aged kids purely and it’s since expanded out of that but the first one was a cohort of seven or eight companies and it later expanded beyond that. Now I think they’re at 60-80 companies at a time through a YC batch. They basically provide the same amount of funding to all of them, somewhere around $120,000, and they take X percent from all of them. It’s about 7% I think. Those numbers depend on how many founders there are and some other stuff but that’s how it works.
Since then a bunch of places like Techstars, 500 Startups and hundreds of others have sprung up around the world. They’re typically in major metro areas, a lot of them are niche down, so there might be one that is an accelerator purely for medical software or purely for content software or content startups. That’s the landscape as I see it and overall it really depends on your goals. The first question is do you want to go the funding route at all? And I think if your answer to that is “no” or you don’t want to grow to be a hundred million dollar company, then you probably don’t want to think about an accelerator unless you can find an accelerator for boot strappers, which I’ve never heard of. Although Mike, you and I have certainly batted that idea around about trying to organize something like that.
If you decide, “yes, I do want a hundred million dollar company. I want to go for an evaluation of raised funding” in my opinion it’s like business schools. If you’re going to do it you’re going to want a big name. There is a huge value of the network and cache of going to Harvard or Princeton or Yale or going through or going through a YC or Techstars or 500 Startups. I think if you wind up at a random accelerator somewhere, I don’t know that I can vouch for the credibility that you’re going to get, the evaluations, I think it gets complicated at that point. You really need to do your research and know who is involved, know why they’re putting up the funding, because accelerators from what I see take quite a bit of share of your company for the amount of money they put in so they can be not as good as going out and trying to raise Angel Funding directly. How about you? What do you think, Mike?
Mike [07:36]: I think I share a lot of the same thoughts as you. At the end of the day it really boils down to whether or not that’s a route you want to go. Do you want to try and create a high growth startup that has a much smaller chance of success and you really have to drive things forward as quickly as possible rather than feeling things out and being a little bit more careful with your money because when they give you the money the expectation is that you’re going to spend it and spend your way through mistakes and you’re going to spend a lot more money on various mistakes in an effort to learn quickly. That’s really the trade off that you’re making is time versus money. They give you the money so you can save the time and learn those mistakes faster but it’s going to cost you a heck of a lot more to make those mistakes.
Let’s say you’re testing out Facebook ads, your not going to be spending one hundred or two hundred dollars, you’re going to be spending thousands of dollars on a daily basis in order to figure out whether or not that’s a viable strategy and you’re going to really take it to the wall. So those are my thoughts on it but at the same time I feel the same way as you about the name behind the accelerator. For example I heard on Justin Jackson’s Build and Launch podcast a couple of weeks ago, he had a quote on there from somebody that basically said YC is the ultimate validation of your idea because just getting accepted into a Y Combinator gives you a lot more attention than it would if you were at a tech hub or accelerator in Milwaukee or something like that people are going to pay a lot more attention to you. What that means is higher evaluations, more attention, more opportunities to network with people, more introductions to people who have more money and basically a higher chance at successfully landing whatever your next round of funding is. But at the end of the day if that’s not the direction you want to go then an accelerator is probably not for you.
Rob [09:24]: Yeah, I think the one other thing that I would add is that in general I like the cohort approach meaning you’re involved with a number of other companies going through the same thing at the same time. I think the camaraderie and momentum it builds is positive especially if it’s your first time going through this because just raising funding and going out and being on your own is hard and it’s hard to know exactly what to do and it’s hard to stay motivated and I think that’s where a cohort or batch approach like the accelerators tend to take would be a good thing.
Mike [09:57]: So Sam, thanks for the question. Our next one comes from Anders Peterson and he says, “Hi, Rob and Mike, I talked to a fellow Microconfer the other day and he said he started every day working for ninety minutes on his business instead of in his business and it got me to thinking how much time I spend working in and on my business. It’s easy enough to see if others are working on or in their businesses but how do I get that clarity for myself? I’m always wondering if I’m working on or in the business. Can you help clarify this for me?”
Rob [10:21]: I have a couple of thoughts on this. I think the way I would define this has changed over time. I think early on in my business, even doing some minimal things like hiring a VA and getting support off my desk, I would have considered that working on the business because I’m not actually answer the support requests myself any longer. As things have gone on and my team is a little larger now, we’re a total of five full-time, I think there are two ways that I can work on my business and I think Anders, you’re probably in a similar situation with this.
The first one is, is there a recurring task that I never have to do again because of what I just did? To me that is working on my business. If I spent that ninety minutes that that fellow MicroConfer was talking about either described a process, documented a process to hand off to someone or wrote some code to automated or I somehow eliminated that from my plate and someone else was accomplishing that, to me that’s working on the business rather than actually doing that step manually again. Hiring a bookkeeper, to me was working on my business because it eliminated a number of hours each month that I was spending doing things.
The other thought that comes to mind is that I like to do quite a bit of high level planning and thinking ahead and trying to map out what’s next. What do the next sixty days look like? What do the next ninety days look like both in terms of features, where we’re headed and in terms of marketing approaches. Are we going to roll out webinars soon? Are we going to run a contest? That type of stuff takes some brain power that isn’t necessarily tactical. It’s not like going to plug in this ad copy and run a headline and put an image in here but it’s making high level decisions in the direction and vision of the business. So when I’m thinking about that I typically have my black notebook and I don’t even have the computer open and I’m mapping things out, sketching and thinking about them. A lot of them I may not implement. I may hand them off to someone to implement but if I can document them well in this notebook, in my opinion that’s working more on the business because it’s higher level thinking. I think that’s debatable.
I think some folks might say, “well, if you’re still having to plan that stuff out or make those decisions you’re still working in your business.” But I really enjoy that part, the high level visioning and then going one step down and mapping out a whole flow of the entire webinar marketing approach or whatever and then handing it off. So those are the two types of tasks that come to mind for me when I think of working on rather than in my business.
Mike [12:56]: Yeah, for me something like that becomes a very meta question especially what you just said about some people who classify building out those plans as working in the business rather than on it. But at some point somebody is going to have to map out what those plans are going to look like and how everything fits together. And it seems to me like when you are doing things like that you are doing the architecture for how your business is going to execute things. To me that’s working on your business, rather than in it. The deciding factor for me is really are you creating a process for doing something or are you executing the process that is doing something for the business? And to me that’s the differentiator between are you working on versus in the business?
Rob [13:39]: I like that. I like that definition.
Mike [13:41]: The other thing I think is that there are certain cases where you’re going to be required to work in the business because there is probably not anybody else who can do it. For example, doing a podcast tour to talk about what your software does or your approach to a particular problem, that is in many cases working in your business because the process of going through and doing those interviews, you could theoretically outsource it but you’re the founder so you’re the one who is expected to be talking about that stuff. It’s not to say that it would be impossible to find someone else to do it but in the boot strap world of the startups that we deal with it’s more expected that you’re going to be doing that. You can see how that’s working in your business but at the same time you almost have to do certain things like that. So there are going to be times where you have to work in the business not just on it. You can lay down all the plans in the world that you want but if nobody is executing them it doesn’t matter. Your business isn’t going to move forward. Our next question is from Ina Coveney and here is the audio for that question.
Ina Coveney [14:37]: Hello guys, I just discovered your podcast and I love it. My name is Ina Coveney that is I-N-A C-O-V-EN-E-Y. My website is Ina, I-N-A, nutshell web dot com and I’m an entrepreneur and I have a couple of ideas and my question is do I roll out those ideas into a holding company or should I be personally signing as a partner on these other ventures that I’m signing up for? So again, I’m partnering up with a couple people for a couple different businesses. Should I be asking as a holding company? Should my company be with a partner or should I personally be? What are the pros and cons? Thank you, guys. I love the show. Keep it up. Bye.
Mike [15:24]: I think the usual disclaimer should apply here. We’re not lawyers. You should definitely check with a lawyer on a lot of this stuff but I think if I were in this situation I would probably not personally sign up in any other business partnerships especially if you already have an LLC that is designed to act as a legal buffer between you and somebody else. There are situations that I’m aware of for LLC’s. For example, I live in Massachusetts and in talking to my attorney about it he basically said that a one person LLC has less protections afforded to it than a two person LLC and it’s actually different if it is completely within your family as well. So for example, if I had a LLC and my wife owned 50% of it, legally speaking it’s treated as one person because it’s the two of us combined into a family unit or something along those lines. That’s the way he explained it to me. This can vary between states as well so again this goes back to why you really need to check with an attorney but I think the underlying question is should you use a business to sign onto different partnerships with different people and I think the answer to that would probably be yes. That’s the purpose of those things is to essentially act as your agent in many respects, to assume some of the legal liability and financial responsibilities and that’s what a business is for. Use the business for what it’s intended for.
Rob [16:46]: Yeah, I think I would echo your sentiments. If you have a LLC, one of the reasons is to shield you from liability so that I would use to start other businesses. The pros of doing that is that you don’t have to expose yourself to personal liability if you sign up for those businesses in your own name or set up five different LLC’s. One for each partnership. That becomes a nightmare during tax time, it’s very expensive to maintain, legal fees are high, unless those things are cranking out money it’s not worth doing. The negatives of doing it this way, having an umbrella holding company that houses four or five partnerships, is that if those partnerships are not corps or LLC’s which I think is what we’re talking about, then one of them if it was sued could potentially leak into the others. They’re not protected, there are no walls between them. There is only a wall between your personal stuff and all of your businesses and partnerships. For most smaller operators where you have a lot of small sub one hundred thousand dollar businesses collected, my guess is that there is not enough liability to worry about it but of course this is something you have to ask yourself. It’s a risk tolerance thing and certainly a conversation you might want to have with your lawyer.
Mike [17:56]: Our next question is from Michael Steep and he says, “Hi Mike and Rob, Mike from Australia here. Let me start off by saying thanks for the podcast. I really enjoy listening to it. I was listening to episode 224 and I liked the nontechnical discussion. While your podcast is targeted at boot strapping developers, I think you might be surprised by how many non-technical people listen to your podcast. I’m one of them and I’ve been listening for years. This is in two parts; the fist question I have is do you know of any resources for non-technical self-funded founders?
Rob [18:21]: Yeah, this is a good question. I think the best resource I’ve heard about is Programming for Marketers at programmingformarketers.com, this is from Justin Mares who co-wrote the “Traction” book with Gabriel Weinberg and I’d love to see a programming for non-technical founders but no one has put it together yet. But I think this is a start to give you an idea of what it’s like to code, how to tap into some API’s and just give you enough of an idea to start thinking about hiring someone who would obviously have to build your product or even partnering up with someone.
I like Mike’s comment about how many non-technical people listen to the podcast. We actually changed the introduction a few years ago. We used to say this is for developers who are trying to launch products and it now says developers, designers and entrepreneurs because we did shift the focus to not only cater to developers and technical folks but non-technical as well so we’re definitely well aware that there are a lot of non-technical audiences listening to the show.
Part two of Mike’s question involves how a non-technical self-funded founder could work with a developer on a lower risk basis. He basically says that he’s a business owner and he’s heard that working with developers on a purely equity basis is not going to work and I think we’ve seen that happen a lot where developers get approached all the time by people who have this great business idea if the developer wants to just spend a few hundred hours of their spare time to build it then the person will go out and try to market it. We know that that’s basically a lose situation for the developer.
So Mike says, “I have an idea for a piece of software for my industry and I’m in a position where I have wire frames but taking the next step in hiring a developer is difficult. I have quotes that range from four thousand to twenty four thousand dollars. So my concern is I have no way of moving forward because I’m just not confident in my ability to hire or manage a developer. I think the solution is to engage a CTO. I think there is some space in your community for people to work as a CTO with people like me. The CTO would work as an adviser instead of a coder to make sure the non-technical person has an idea of what’s needed. This could work on a peer consulting basis or some form of discounted consulting or equity basis. This way the CTO does not end up wasting months of development time before they find out it’s going nowhere. So I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.” This is a good question. We’ve heard this before, not asked in the term of a CTO but folks have asked, can I find a cheaper developer and then hire a high end developer to manage them or vet them or view their code and that kind of stuff. The CTO idea is an interesting one so I’m interested to hear your thoughts first.
Mike [20:54]: I think that there are similar problems with this in terms of hiring a developer versus hiring an advanced developer. How do you know that the person is going to be a good CTO and how do you know that they’re going to be able to manage people? I think you can do some of that based on experience, based on things they’ve done before or success with previous projects, but past history does not necessarily indicate that you’re going to be successful moving forward, especially when it’s going to be a new hire for both you and the CTO because it may not work out between the two of them and it may not work if just the developer being hired is difficult to work with.
There are a lot of variables in there and it seems to me like all you’re doing is moving the problem from one place to another. So I’m not sure how I really feel about this idea. In theory it sounds like it could work and on paper there’s nothing that’s really a red flag other than the fact that how do you get to the point of trust with the CTO such that you’re conveying to them exactly what it is that you need and they understand it and are able to convey that down to the next person. Because you’re introducing this other level of abstraction that theoretically and hopefully as a CTO they’re going to understand all the subtle nuances and be able to translate that to somebody else and understand that, “oh, you’re not technical. You’re saying this word that you don’t necessarily understand the specifics of exactly what that means but I can translate that to a developer who is probably not going to be able to interface very well with you and then talk through it with them. I have mixed feelings on it is really what the bottom line is.
Rob [22:27]: I like the idea of couching it as a CTO. I know that Jason Roberts from the Techzing podcast has done some of this work specifically where he comes in at a high consulting rate and does an hour a week or two hours a month or something like that and helps someone keep their guidance as they’re working with contract developers. I think it can work, I think you’re correct, it’ll be a challenge to find someone who will do this. When I was coding and consulting I probably would not wanted to take on small even high dollar per hour projects like this but there are folks out there that I think you’ll be able to find. I think if you looked on airpair.com, that is a YC company and they have a lot of experts on there. I think if you looked at consultants in your niche in terms of the programming language, if you’re going to build a web app, try to find someone who has written a book or is a prolific blogger and consultant and they have a name and their rate is going to be pretty high but my guess is they’re going to be a decent bet to get started because A. they know how to communicate if they’re a decent writer and two, they’re probably an expert in that language so they are going to have high standards for it. They’re not going to be cheap, like I’ve said, but if this is the way you want to go I certainly wouldn’t be skimping on that CTO role and I think this could be an interesting middle ground. I think it’s not a silver bullet and instantly work, I think there are still going to be a lot of challenges but I do like the idea of trying to do that rather than going at it alone if you’re non-technical and riding in blind and hiring some outsource firm where you don’t know what the quality of the code is going to look like.
Mike [24:03]: Thanks for your question, Michael. Our next one comes from Karen Flavel, and Karen says, “Hey guys, thanks for the show. I really appreciate the actionable advice. I’m considering the benefits of opening up and making public the data about site traffic, bug tracking and user issues and even revenue and wondering if you’ve seen this done well. Most importantly I’m wondering how this might be done internally to build staff commitment and trust.
Rob [24:22]: I’m torn on this one. I think it’s up to you if you open up all of that stuff internally. I’d imagine site traffic, bug tracking and user issues are probably already exposed internally because that doesn’t seem like anything that should be hidden from your team internally, revenue that’s up to you. I think if you communicate revenue and expenses people can see how they’re impacting the bottom line. I don’t see any major issues with that. Other folks may have different experiences but I’ve always had a dashboard of the revenues coming in for SaaS apps and the entire team can view revenue for the entire month, go up and down and see how far ahead of the previous month we are and all that. They see all the trial counts and conversion rates and I think that’s helpful so it’s not just some black box that you’re working on and not seeing how you’re impacting it.
Now, making all of that available to the public, I’ve never loved that approach. I know that there is this big movement toward transparency and we see companies like Baremetrics and Buffer putting all of their numbers online, I don’t believe that the world is headed in that direction. I think that there are people who like to do it. I think some people like to do it genuinely to help other people to give them a context, I think others like to do it to brag and show off how much they’re making and you can tell by how people mention it or how they humble brag it when they do it. At a certain point I think there’s a little bit of a transparency backlash. We’ve seen some conversations about that in blog posts like, “enough with the transparency” enough of saying look how much I’m making, public. So those are my overall thoughts. I think if you’re considering making your bug tracking and user issues, site traffic and revenue–that’s a lot of stuff to expose so if you have competition that’s a really nice way for them to get a good idea of what you’re up to. If you don’t have a lot of competition or that’s not really an issue because you’re a mobile able or some other non-competitive field like that, maybe it’s less of a concern. How about you, what do you think, Mike?
Mike [26:12]: I think that opening up the numbers internally is probably a good idea because it gives the people inside your business a little bit of context about what’s going on. How is the business doing? Where are the places where they can help? Are there struggles in terms of the number of bugs and issues that people are running into? Knowing what the company is making is helpful for keeping expenses down especially if you know that the business is struggling in any way shape or form. People are very loathe to spend company money or even waste time doing things that are not directly helping the business move things forward and in the right direction. I used to work at Wegman’s food markets and at the time they had 25,000 employees or something like that and they were pretty public about what their revenue numbers looked like and what they were spending money on and there was a very concentrated effort across the company to help keep costs down. They would not spend money on things that were wasteful and people just generally didn’t waste time and it showed in terms of the customer experiences as well. All the way through to the people who were in the stores. Those people made a concerted effort to make sure that their customers got a good experience and that they were not wasting things.
So I think there are definite benefits and advantages there, outside of the company the only people that you’re helping are your competitors and the people who are aspiring to be entrepreneurs and want to learn form the things that you’re doing in such a way that it’s going to help them do something similar or in a similar market. They may be competitors, they may not but at the end of the day I don’t see what that really buys you especially if you’re going the funded route. If you’re going the funded route they are not going to be happy about you sharing those numbers. But if you’re boot strapped, I don’t know of any clear advantages of sharing all of that information publicly.
Rob [28:00]: I think there is a case to be made. The first few people who did show their metrics like when Baremetrics and Buffer did it, it got them some press, it got them a short term bump of “hey, look what we’re doing” and I’m sure it drove some trials. I’m not convinced that that is the right approach for most businesses, especially if you’re in a highly competitive market where there is blood in the water and people are coming after you. That’s going to wrap us up for today. If you have a question for us and you’d like to hear us answer it on the air you can call our voicemail number at 888-801-9690 or you can email us at email@example.com. Our theme music is an exert from “We’re Outta Control” by MoOt, it’s used under creative commons. Subscribe to is 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.