This is Courtland Allen from IndieHackers.com. And today I'll be speaking with Laura Roeder, who in 2013, created a social media tool called MeetEdgar. In the three years since launching her business, Laura's grown into 7,000 customers and over four million dollars in annual recurring revenue. So she's a very experienced founder, and obviously a very successful one, too. In this interview, she gives you tips for building a social media presence from scratch. Or how to use ads, and write compelling marketing copy to land your first customers. And even how to hire employees and give them ownership and autonomy. I think you guys are really gonna get a lot out of this interview, and so without further adieu, I present to you, Laura Roeder. Laura Roeder, how's it going?
Excellent, how are you?
Doing great. So don't get too mad at me, but here's my first question. I run Indie Hackers, as you know, and it's a long form content site. And I've got a Twitter account, where I share all of my content, and yet, until recently I hadn't heard of Edgar, and I hadn't used it. So could you, I'm kind of putting you on the spot here, could you pitch me on Edgar, and why I should use it? And why other people who have content websites should use Edgar?
Yes, well luckily you're like the best use case for Edgar ever, so this will be really easy for me. So people like you who have created content, and actually podcasts in particular. What's interesting about podcasts is, podcasts, that's hard to say plural, is they're almost always evergreen. And actually, most content that most small business are creating is also evergreen. So evergreen just means it's still valuable three months, six months, a year from now. And most small businesses are not doing this journalistic style, here's the breaking news that's no longer relevant in 10 minutes. They're usually writing advice, philosophy, how-to, that kind of stuff. So what most people do, what maybe you have been doing until recently, is they spend hours and hours creating long-form content, creating podcasts, they send it out, sometimes once. This is what kills me, when people send it out literally just once, the day that it's live, which is very common, like the one tweet. Or maybe they send it out a few times that first week that it's live, and then it goes to the content graveyard, it goes to the long tail, in your Google Analytics, and you never see it again, your audience never sees it again, but the whole idea of online marketing, the reason why we're doing all this stuff to try to get attention, is to draw in new people every single day, right? Your business could not survive without new people every day. So it's super important to put that entire library of content in a back catalog that you've created in front of new people. Also what a lot of people don't realize, is only about 5% of your followers across networks, see any update that you send. So when you send one tweet about your new blog post, 95% of the people who have already chosen to follow you, do not see that tweet. So it's really, really, really smart, and increases your traffic and your exposure a lot, to send out that tweet more than once. So that's what Edgar does. Edgar stores a library of your evergreen content, and keeps cycling through it, keeps sending it out. So with other tools you have to keep refilling your queue. With Edgar, Edgar fills your queue for you, with your evergreen content.
Oh man, that's so bad, 'cause my Twitter strategy right now, is literally the thing that you said not to do. Just tweet things out when they're live, and then they just go to the graveyard forever.
Right, right. It's kind of crazy that that's such a common thing, because we work so hard to create this content, it's just really silly not to leverage it, and why would you be on Twitter, if you weren't hoping for new followers all the time? Right, but then why would those new followers only wanna see what you happen to publish this week?
Exactly. So let's zoom out a little bit and talk about things, maybe from the perspective of the listeners. 'Cause there's a lot of entrepreneurs that are listening in, who haven't quite gotten started. Maybe they have an idea, maybe they don't even have an idea yet, why should they use social media? Is it valuable for them at that stage?
I think it is. I mean, I would just give the caveat, there's so many different strategies for marketing and connecting, and how to do anything, but what's really amazing about social, is that you can build this network and community, and in many cases, thought leader presence for yourself, in just a really easy way. So if I were in the stages where I was kind of thinking about ideas, kind of kicking things around, one I would be connecting with the people I need to connect with. So that might mean people in your local startup ecosystem, that might mean potential co-founders, that might mean potential customers, it might mean learning about your industry. You always need to connect with other humans. To make anything successful, right? That's how we get 100% of our opportunities is through other people. So that networking part is really, really important. And the internet, and social media in particular, is just a really easy way to keep up with people, and meet people, and make that happen.
Can you give the audience some tips about how they make that happen? Because, I know for example, I'm a developer. And it's really easy as a developer to put your head down, and just start coding. And completely neglect any sort of talking to other people, and making things happen in that way. It's kind of like a high bar to jump over to be comfortable doing that, and to figure out how you go about doing it in the best way, without annoying people, or without seeming like you don't have anything to give, when you have yet to create something. So what tips would you give to somebody who's maybe hesitant to get started, and doesn't know how to grow their followers on Twitter?
So Twitter in particular, even though I think some people think, ugh Twitter, it had it's day, it's on the way out. And it may be on the way out, but it's certainly not out yet. And what's amazing about Twitter in particular is you can send anyone a message, as in a mention, an at reply, and they will actually see it, which is not the case on a lot of social network, or is not the case with emailing people. What's cool about Twitter is that, unless you literally have 80 million followers, most people read all of their mentions. So if you say someone's name, they are going to see that message, and it's just really easy, low-stress way to connect with people, because they don't have to reply. So we've been doing it to promote our content. We'll tweet it out to influencers, or people who curate newsletters, or blog roundups, or whatever. Sending them a tweet to the link is so much easier for them, then sending it in an email, where they feel like they have to do something with the email, they have to respond, and figure out how to be nice to us, and reject us, or tell us they like it or whatever. They just don't have to reply. So I've met a lot of people through Twitter in particular, because it's just so low commitment, and low stress, so if you're trying to connect with people through Twitter, the first thing I would do, is just follow all these community groups. So I'm here in Austin. In Austin, there are tons of Twitter accounts that are like, Austin Loves Ruby on Rails, Women Who Code, Women of Color Who Code, People Who Don't Like to Code, People Who Live in Austin. So there's everything, and you can follow those Twitter accounts, you can connect with the people that run them, you can find out about events that are going on. And when I say connect with the people that run them, I mean literally just respond to the tweets you see, which can be like, you can write the word cool, you can write the word thanks, you can write thanks for sharing that, I'm gonna check that out, interesting. It's just making small talk on the internet. You don't have to do anything that profound. But after you start talking to people awhile, they recognize your name, they remember who you are, and then you can move it to that next level of maybe meeting in person, like I said, at an event, or maybe when you email them, and you're like, hey let's get on Skype, let's spend a half an hour chatting. They feel like they already know who you are, because they've seen your profile, and they've talked to you on Twitter. You're not a complete stranger.
Yeah, it reminds me of Ryan Hoover from Product Hunt, who I think in the early days, spent a whole bunch of time, just individually tweeting anybody who signed up for his newsletter, or his website, and just thanking them, and saying hey, thanks for joining. And just having so many conversations, just by adding random people on Twitter.
Yeah, there actually is data. I'll have to find the blog post that we published, where we referenced this. There is data that just thanking people on Twitter is incredibly effective for having them share your stuff more. So if you're trying to get people to retweet more of your tweets, simply writing thank you after they tweet your stuff, does work.
So what's your story, and how did you get into all of this social media stuff?
Yeah, so my story is, I started out as a freelance designer, and web developer, in 2006. That evolved into social media consulting, because I was making websites for people, and social media started to become a thing that they would ask me about. And that evolved into doing social media training for small businesses, and then I launched Edgar in 2014, which is my first software business, also of course, in the social media space.
And how did you come up with the idea for Edgar?
So Edgar actually came directly from training. I was teaching people how to do manually, what Edgar does for you. So I had come up with a system. Because I had discovered this problem in social, like I was referencing, why are we creating five original pieces of content to put on Twitter a day, when people don't see them? Why would be not recycle the same stuff? So I had kind of figured that out, so I had this whole system of make a spreadsheet, put all the different updates in different categories, cycle through those categories. But you had to copy and paste it all, and do it all manually. And I was teaching other businesses to do this. So Edgar is, at the time, there was no tool that did it. So Edgar is just the tool that executes the system that I was teaching.
Yeah that's something that I've seen a lot, which is that people getting into entrepreneurship can start by learning something that's maybe hard that other people don't know, and that's useful to them, and just teaching it to them, and building an audience, and then very often, some sort of very useful product will grow out of that, or it'll have some other insight, and they'll start another product based on their teaching. How did you initially build the audience to teach them what you knew about social media marketing?
Well so I've been building the audience for a long time. I started out doing training in 2009, and initially I did, honestly is content marketing 101, and I did a lot of the social media stuff that I'm talking about today, and still do connecting with people on Twitter, meeting with people, hosting webinars, especially in the beginning, I was really big on guest blogging, and pitching myself for opportunities. This is something that I think I've been good at, that a lot of people just miss entirely. So in 2009, it was the first year of my training business, and at the time, South by Southwest (SXSW) was a huge deal in the startup world. I mean, it still is a huge deal, it just used to be cooler than it is now. And in 2009, so all my friends who go to South by, all my friends from San Francisco, and in 2009, I had my own panel, I hosted my own panel at South by Southwest. And so many of my friends were like, you just started this business, how did you get your own panel? That's so cool. And I would ask them, did you submit a panel? Did you submit an idea for a talk or a panel to South by? And they're like, no. Well that's how I got a panel. I submitted an idea. You can't get a panel unless you do. And whenever I wanna go to a conference, I pitch myself as a speaker. 'Cause if I'm gonna go there, I wanna talk. So a lot of the conferences that I've spoken at, I have approached them. I spoke at Business of Software last year, that one has always been on my hit list as a conference I admire. So I emailed a friend who had spoken there, and I asked him to introduce me, and recommend me as a speaker. And that's how I got there. And I thinK a lot of people have this fantasy that you have to wait for someone to pick you, or one day your inbox is just gonna get flooded with all these requests. And that can happen over time, but it'll happen a lot faster if you choose yourself, and if you pitch yourself for opportunities.
Yeah that's huge. And Business of Software is one of my favorite conferences. At least two or three of my favorite talks of all time were given at Business of Software. I think a lot of people, well I can only speak for myself, but I remember reading Nathan Barry's early emails that he sent out, and just thinking, wow, that just looks exhausting. To be constantly producing so much content, and putting yourself out there in front of people. Do you have any tips for staying motivated, and for getting maybe, over that initial hump, where it's intimidating to put yourself out there, but once you get going, maybe it's a little bit easier?
Yeah, it's intimidating, and it's just painful in the beginning, because you are starting with a really small audience. So when we launched Edgar in 2014, I really experienced this firsthand, because we created a blog, we created all of our social accounts from scratch. So we had a Twitter account that had zero followers. And then five, and then 10, and then 100, and then 1,000. And I really got to experience that pain first hand, that my customers were experiencing, that I hadn't in a few years, which was, when you are tweeting, and you have 12 people following your account, or when you're publishing your podcast, and you have 50 subscribers, it sucks, you feel dumb. You feel like, why am I talking, and no one is listening? And I think the best advice I have is that consistency wins, and consistency is shockingly hard to do. I've been in this space about 10 years now, and I've seen so many people just give up. Just not be able to be consistent over the years, in publishing or blogging, or whatever they're doing. And I think just committing to, I'm gonna blog once a week, but I'm gonna do it all year. Or even I'm gonna blog once a month, but I'm gonna do it all year. I think it's less about the frequency, and more about the showing up. Just showing up, over and over again. And trying your best. It sounds so silly, but we all hear it, right? We know it intellectually it's not easy. You have to try. You have to try really hard. You have to try to create really good content, you have to really try to push it out there. And we read these things, and we know these things, but I think often when we look at our own behavior, have we really done that? Have we published and shared in all the places that we even know that we should? Not to mention all the places that we don't know. Looking at your own behavior, have you really tried your best to get it out there?
Yeah, I think consistency is one of those challenges that's just gonna be daunting. And I know that Indie Hackers, since the type of content that I put out is streamlined, it's kind of a consistency hack, where I know I'm gonna get interviews, I know I can ask pretty much the same questions, and that I'll probably never run out of people to interview, so I'll always have content, at least three or four times a week to put out. Or, Pieter Levels from Nomad List, for example, is constantly hacking on his website, and adding new features. And so his hackware consistency is every day I'll just take a screen shot of the feature that I'm working on, and post that to Twitter, and start a conversation. Do you have any sort of, consistency hacks for yourself, or that you might recommend for people getting started?
Yeah, so I think you're mentioning basically batching and having frameworks. And I think having both of those things are so important. Batching is really the whole idea behind Edgar. That you think of your social content in categories. So in Edgar, all of your updates are in a category, like links to my blog, links to other people's blogs, inspirational quotes. So inspirational quotes are one of those things that a lot of people like to share on social. If you're trying to find a new one every day, it's incredibly time consuming, but if you sit down and put a hundred of them in a library, you can knock that out in an hour or two, 'cause you just go to an inspirational quotes library, and find the ones you like, and you copy and paste. So whenever you can batch work, so yeah, you have topics, and you're like, so I batch recording these interviews, so I have, this is something I like to do to promote my business. So I have a podcast week, once a month, and we schedule as many as possible during that week. And so it just makes the scheduling easier, right, if you can't do it this month, you push it off to the next month, or the month after, or whatever. And we aim to do four a day, five days a week, during that week. So we don't always get that many, but I'm on a lot of podcasts by the end of the year, right? It adds up to a lot. And doing that many, would just be outrageously time-consuming, if we didn't have processes in place for pitching them, for scheduling them, for having parameters of the type of podcast that I'm on, and the ones that I'm not on. And another thing we've done like that, is just our newsletter. So, through my various businesses, I have sent a newsletter every Wednesday, since January 1st, 2009. Like I have literally not missed a single Wednesday. And what that newsletter is, more or less, it's evolved over the years, but it's links to the blog, it's links to the blog content. And having that kind of system in place, I think it sounds so simple, that a lot of people think it's not gonna make that much difference, but actually to this day, to our MeetEdgar blog, we still get most of our traffic from clicks from the email newsletter. Which is so fascinating to me, 'cause I think a lot of people have this misconception, you know what, if they're on my email list, they already know about me, they already read my blog, but obviously that's not true. Obviously we would miss out on literally thousands of visitors if we weren't sending out this email every week, just being like, hey, we published something on our blog, maybe you wanna click on it.
Wow, you pack so much information into your answers, and I'm trying to take notes, so I can apply it to Indie Hackers at the same time that I'm trying to think of the next question to ask you. But batching sounds really smart, and it makes a whole lot of sense. And I'd love to talk more about you newsletter, because I think it's a channel that a lot of people underestimate maybe, based on their own usage of email. They're like, ah I don't like subscribing to newsletters, and therefore I don't wanna send out a newsletter. When I found it to be an extremely easy way to reach out to people who are interested in whatever you are putting out, and get them to come back to my sites. Can you talk a little bit about how you started your newsletter, how many subscribers you have, and how do you get people to subscribe?
Yeah, I agree, email is so underrated. I think a lot of people, maybe they feel like it's passe, or yeah, they feel like, oh well I have so many subscriptions, and I'm just gonna be bombarding people. Your inbox is still, no matter how crowded, and how busy our inboxes are, it's still something you check. I'm gonna say at least once a day, which is ridiculous, because no human on this earth, actually checks their email only once a day. It's very common to literally be checking it every few minutes, or sort of infinity times a day, it's always open, right? People are still very, very engaged with email, despite all the noise. So it's very important to show up in people's inboxes, because it's just still the channel where you can get the most visibility. Right? If someone wants to stay in touch with your business, they can follow you on social, like I said, they're only gonna see 5% of your updates, it's just the nature of the networks, nature of the algorithms. Even emails that we don't open, we often at least see them, right? We see that name in our inbox, even if they get archived, never opened, whatever. Sometimes of course, we do, especially if we have a tab open right, you do all the promotions, just kind of archive them all, whatever. But if you're emailing regularly, people are going to see at least a few. And we're really big on email marketing as both an awareness strategy, and a sales strategy. So the way we view it, is that's where our sales happen, are from our email list. So if you go to meetedgar.com, we collect email as the main function on our home page, which is really unusual for a SaaS company. And people will be like, it's a barrier, it's friction, what if people are interested, but they don't wanna give you their email? But we're selling B2B software, who could be that interested, but not wanna give, they're not that interested. You know? Who's gonna buy B2B software, but not be willing to receive emails from you? It just doesn't really make any sense. So the way I view it is, I wanna collect the email address of anyone who's mildly interested, and then once we have their email, we can use that channel to educate them about the product, educate them about social media marketing, increase that know, like, and trust factor, all that stuff. So we email a newsletter every Wednesday, in addition to, if you sign up for an invitation on your homepage, obviously you get a sequence, receiving the invitation and educating you about Edgar, and we have, I think at this point, about 115,000 on our email list.
Whoa, that's tremendous. So has this email list followed you between businesses? Or did you start a completely new one for Edgar?
Mostly new. So with my last business, we were up to about 75,000 on the email list. But most of that is new for Edgar, because we had people, basically we just advertised Edgar to the old list, so obviously that gave us a huge boost, as opposed to starting from scratch, but we didn't just move people over to the Edgar list.
What would be your, if you had to give one tip to somebody who's just getting started, and maybe wants to start an email newsletter, what would that tip be?
Consistency. Sorry to be boring, but that's the truth. And also, just to start it. So a lot of people have the excuse, like people want this great opt-in, right? They're like, well I need to write a free e-book to download, or I have to have some compelling reason to opt-in. Actually, I saw Noah Kagan yesterday, and he was showing me something he just put on his OkDork blog, that he was experimenting with. And the opt-in was literally, it just said put in your email to continue reading. To continue reading the blog. That's all. That's all it promised. And I think even if you have something on your blog, that just says super boring, like get my email newsletter, or get emails from me, hear from me via email, I mean, all these things are a really great place to start, and a lot of people just never get started, because they're like, waiting to develop this amazing piece of content for people to opt-in for, or they don't know what to say, or whatever. Just put something. Literarily just copy and paste whatever. The MailChimp default languages. It could literally say put your email, mail chimp email newsletter title here. And you can put that on your sidebar, and you would collect some email addresses. Which would be better off than you were before. So just doing it, is so important. And then just deciding, like I said, sending out links to your stuff, is a really great format, for an email newsletter. It really is. Just reminding people what you've published. So just commit to be like, I'm gonna collect email on my site, and then I'm gonna send something out. Pick a day of the week, we choose Wednesday, you can copy us, it really doesn't matter which day it is. Pick a day of the week, and send something out. And like we were talking about, batching and frameworks are gonna make this really easy. So, if you're not stressing about what to say on Wednesday, if you just say I'm just gonna start my newsletter by putting the headline for my blog post, and the first few sentences, and I'm just gonna send that in an email, so whatever my last post was, I'm gonna load that up Wednesday morning. If I don't have a new post, I'm just gonna use the one I sent last week. And stuff like this is so important, because we're way too close to to our businesses, and we read everything that we write, right? You've heard all of your interviews, because you've conducted them. You read everything on your blog. And we tend to forget how many times we have to get in front of people, before they consume what we do. So if all you did was send out an email every Wednesday, and it had the same link for four weeks in a row, and that's all it had, you would be shocked by how many people still opened and still clicked that email on the fourth week. Because a lot of people don't open, and a lot of people don't click. You always still have people to reach.
Yeah, I like that strategies that you have to kind of make things easier, right? You kind of lower the burden of work on yourself. Because I know when I first started sending newsletters, I send mine on Thursday morning, and every Wednesday night and Thursday morning, I was stressed. I was like, what am I gonna put in my email? I need to tell a unique, and interesting story about what I'm doing that I didn't tell last week, or that I haven't told before, and I don't know. And now I just send out links to Indie Hackers interviews. Like a small paragraph at the beginning and the end, that takes me almost no time to think about, and the newsletter's doing just as well.
Right. Right, yeah. We kept cutting stuff out of ours, and it did just as well. The other funny thing that we found with ours, so like I said, we put links to our blog, and the biggest thing that impacts our traffic to any given blog post, is if we put the link first or second in our newsletter, because people click the first link dramatically more than they click the second link, and it just shows you how simple you can keep it, and sort of how simple people are when they're reading your newsletter, aka how little time they have, it's like first link, click, now I'm done with this.
Exactly, I've seen the exact same thing. 'Cause I'll send out four interviews, and it's just every single time like dominoes. First one gets the bulk of the clicks. The second one gets slightly fewer clicks. So I wanna talk about the launch of Edgar. Because that was a chance for you to put a lot of the things that you talk about into practice. How did you launch Edgar? What kind of strategies did you use to get it out to people?
Yeah, so, and we haven't actually shared numbers yet. So for context we launched in July, 2014. Recording this in March 2017. And right now we're at about four million ARR, about 7,000 customers to give people a sense of numbers. One thing that we did at launch, which I think not enough companies do, is we focused heavily on paid ads, right from the beginning. I should also say we are bootstrapped, but self-funded is a little more accurate, because we basically took profits from the training business, and used them to launch the software business. So we are bootstrapped, but we had I would say about 200,000 that we started with from the business, over the first year, to fund Edgar until it was totally supporting itself. So just numbers context there. So yeah, when we launched, because I'm a huge fan, as I've said, content marketing, organic marketing, social marketing, all this stuff. But the problem with this stuff is, it takes time. Especially SEO, right? You're not gonna show up for all your keywords from day one. You have, it takes time to get links, it takes time to create that library of content. So what you can do right from day one, is pay Google, and pay Facebook, and they will put you in front of who you want to be in front of. You don't have to do anything clever, it doesn't take any time. Give Facebook a dollar, and they follow your instructions for the most part. So that's something we did. Right from launch, we were actually spending 40,000 a month on Facebook ads, and you have a unique advantage in software, and a lot of industries at launch, because just the news of a new tool, is very compelling to people in most industries. It depends on what your tool is. But what you can do for, I would say most software products, is just run ads to people that are using or watching your competitors. So we just ran ads to people that like the pages of our main competitors. And the ads were literally just like, there's a new social media tool out there. Maybe you wanna check it out. Because that's really interesting. If you're a person that uses social media tools, you're actually super interested in the new ones, and how they might be different than the one you're already using. So that was pretty effective for us in the beginning, just getting the word out, and getting our name out there, and it's just a really easy strategy that I think people are scared of spending the money, but I would rather spend more on ads in the beginning, because later, I can have the bulk of my customers coming from search, and coming from organic, than spend ads later. You know? Because later, you can actually have the search traffic, which to me, is the best kind of traffic.
Right, so there's a lot there, and I think two things that I see a lot of early founders struggling with, the people who perhaps wanna get into this and haven't started yet, is number one, for people who haven't started yet, they have a lot of trouble coming up with an idea, because they worry that they're not original enough, and they worry that they don't have a problem of their own that they can solve, whereas listening to you talk about the launch of Edgar, you already had a lot of competitions, and clearly there are a lot of other social media tools, and that didn't discourage you. So I'd love to talk about that. And another thing, just so I won't forget, is marketing copy. So I talked to a lot of people who have launched a website, or they got their landing page up, or maybe they even started running ads on Google or Facebook, but they're not sure how to actually write the copy to be compelling to people. How do you know that when you say there's a new social media tool out there, that people are gonna like that? I would love to talk about how you come up with marketing copy, and how you think about writing things that appeal to your audience, and get them to sign up.
Yeah, so to start with the competitor thing, I think this is one of the biggest fallacies in entrepreneurship, is that you have to have something super different. Honestly, you don't have to have something different at all. If anyone listening looks around their surroundings right now, so I'm looking around, I see a mouse, I see my sunglasses, I see my water bottle, I see my notebook, just these are products that have literally thousands of competitors. Often competitors that are pretty much identical. And yet, people make notebooks, and people make sunglasses, and people make water bottles everyday. And people buy all those things, too. In other industries, we don't have this idea that you have to be the only water bottle. We don't have this idea that, someone's already invented the water bottle, there can't be another one, but in software, we very often have this idea, of well, there's already a social media software. There's already a blogging platform, whatever it is. And it's great to have a unique advantage, and I would definitely recommend it, but if you think about it, even if you made software that was just like basically the same as something that's out there already. Even if it was identical, which that would kind of shitty of you, to release something that was literally identical, and maybe you would get into some trouble for it. But you would get customers. You would get customers, just because not everyone chooses the same thing. More likely, of course, there's gonna be something a little bit different, even if it's just in how your interface looks, maybe your pricing is a little different, probably your marketing is a little bit different, positioning, or just your site literally looks different from the competitor. You're going to get customers, just because people make different choices, and people choose different things, right? And this is something really cool about the internet, is it's, we're not competing for shelf space, right? We have this incredible advantage. Especially when you pay Facebook, or you pay Google, you can get in front of your audience. I don't have to court Target for a year, and then pay them for a fee for my water bottle to be among the other water bottles, right? When I'm selling software, I can just publish it on the internet, and link to it, or pay for ads, and people will find my software, that are typing it in, and looking for it. That is this amazing power that we have, and it's because we have that power, it's actually kind of insane to me that people are so scared of entering these industries where there's already just one other player. There's still so much software, that there's not major competitors. So there's just like one that's pretty good, and maybe one other one that's not very good, and that's kind of it.
Why do you think that is? That people in tech businesses and software are uniquely afraid of being number two, and think that everything has to be winner take all?
I think there's a few things. I think one, we are bootstrapped. And the VC world of startups, a lot of it can be a winner take all model, because that's kind of the business model, you know? Because the idea is that there is not the exit that investors are looking for, unless it is not one of many companies, but the company. You look at Uber and Lyft, like Uber is not happy being like, yeah we'll have 50%, or even like 80% of market share, Uber literally wants 100% of market share, and they've built their business in such a way, and had financial models where that's kind of like that outcome that everyone needs, that's invested in Uber. And I mean, this is something I love about bootstrapped companies. My company has no investors. I own 100% of the company, so if we have 10% of market share, or if we are like a five or 10 million dollar business, that's a great outcome for me, you know? I'm the only person that I need to please, because I'm the only investor. So I think it's something that gets a little lost in the way businesses have traditionally been funded. And also software is still relatively new, in the grand scheme of things. And SaaS is very new, and we just haven't had time to figure out these, I don't know, for all these things to shake out of what our industry looks like, and how it works.
The reason that I'm interested in this, is just because I think if we understand why people think a certain way, then maybe we explain it, something will click in people's heads, and they will understand how to think about this a little bit more effectively. I talked to Bryce, a partner at this VC firm called Indie.vc. And compared to other VC's they're very focused on making money. And the name of our episode in the podcast was, How the VC Narrative Co-opts the Entrepreneurs Vision. And it was all about how, in Silicon Valley, at least, getting broadcast these stories of winner take all markets, and like you said, Lyft and Uber, and who's gonna be the winner, and everyone else loses. And Facebook, there can only be one social network, because of network effects. And I always tell people, you have to be very careful who you take advice from. Because you go online and you just see this generic startup advice, but if that advice is coming from VCs, and if it's coming form people whose goal is that you need to become a billion dollar company, and everything else is not worth it, when really, you're just trying to bootstrap a company, and build something that can provide a steady income for you and your employees and your family, then you're gonna get a lot of bad advice. So it's really important to be able to filter out what advice you're reading, and understand the differences between the goals. Because they're very, very different.
Well yeah, and it's so weird when you start to realize how much of our advice is modeled after Amazon, and Uber, and Facebook, which are these incredibly unusual companies. I mean one, having a company that is losing millions of dollars a month, doesn't have a clear path to profitability, that's not something that has existed before the past, I don't know, 10 or 20 years. It's a new thing. No one knows if it's gonna work out. I'm gonna say probably not, like what do I know? And so we're modeling our small companies, that have really very little to do with these huge, unusual, very experimental and very new models, yet we're trying to take advice from Amazon, on what I should do, for my 30 person company, that's trying to make money every month. It just doesn't make any sense.
Yeah, it's totally absurd. It's just funny because it's hard to catch yourself doing it. Because I've been there, too. I've been like, here's what Facebook did to get users, and here's what I should do. And it's like, no that's totally different, and if you don't understand how, you're gonna make bad decisions. On that note, you mentioned, we're modeling our small companies off of these giant behemoths, who have a totally different goal, but even with Indie Hackers, I've talked to a lot of bootstrapped companies that might be in your position, where they're a few years in, doing super well, and people will look at what you're doing, and copy all of your strategies, and not realize that maybe things were different in the very beginning of Edgar, than they were at the end. So have things changed in how you've grown your company, and acquired users, and run things? Or have they been pretty consistent the entire time?
Yes and no. It's a hard question, because it's like, things change constantly, and yet, a lot of the fundamentals remain the same. So, I mean one thing, so this is my first software business, so it's all news to me. I am learning a lot every day. And something that's been so fascinating to me, is I really didn't have any concept of how much time the infrastructure instability stuff takes up, the larger you get. And also the edge-case stuff, I understood it in theory, okay, if you have more users, you have more edge-cases. Then when you get to this point where you actually have 7,000 customers, you just really see firsthand these edge-cases can take up 100% of your time, if you so choose. Which it's actually a huge advantage when you're starting out, and again, looking at why would you start a company in a space where there's a lot of competitors? When you're starting out, you don't have to deal with these problems, and you can put all your dev time on creating great features and making the product great, while your competitors are trying to fix their scaling, and fix their infrastructure, and try to figure out how to make 1,000 people happy that all have their own, weird scenario. So you actually have a huge advantage there. And also, as the team size has grown, you have to do all the real company stuff. You have to do all the benefits and the taxes, and the HR, and that stuff just keeps adding up, the bigger you grow. But as far as user acquisition goes, I don't feel like our strategy has changed that dramatically. I mean, as you grow, you get to depend more on word on mouth. But I think it's sort of, you have to be careful that you're not thinking of yourself as a three year old company. You mentioned that you had never heard of us, right? There's most people on this planet, and I would even most people in our target market, I think most people in our target market, some have heard of us, but probably most still have not. And so you have to remember that to those new people, you are totally new. They don't know about your past three years, they don't have any stories about you, they don't have any existing connotations. And it's a constant challenge not to look at things from the inside, but look at things from the outside. And I think to circle back to your question before about marketing copy, I think that's the biggest place to increase your skill, as a copy writer or as a marketer, is to keep working on that skill of seeing your business from the customer's perspective, and not your perspective. And really focusing on what the customer cares about, which is often just so different than what you're looking at every day, and how you describe your business from the inside.
Yeah, good memory by the way, going back to the marketing copy question, which I totally forgot about. But yeah, I've seen a lot of people. I think the intuitive thing when you first get into selling and marketing your business, at least what I see a lot of, is people just listing features. Here's what I built, and here's another feature, and here's another feature. And customers come, and they of course don't care about just a long list of features, and also I think what you said was pretty funny about the edge-cases. So a long time ago, I started this company called Syphir. And it wasn't super popular, but we were processing emails. And when everybody gets a few hundred emails a day, it's very easy to get up to the point where you're processing tens of millions of emails. And then you start getting one in a million things happening, because you're dealing with millions of emails. So I can only imagine with Edgar, you have all sorts of customers with crazy requests. How do you handle that? Do you try to accommodate these edge-cases? Or do you just try to focus on your target customer, and the people who fall in line with what you're doing?
So I mean, one thing for context, we are, we don't do any custom stuff for clients. So we don't have a sales team, we only have marketing. So we're 100% small business focused. So we don't have clients who we're building things for. When big companies use us, we don't have demos or sales calls, or anything. If they happen to sign up, it's just self-serve like anyone else. So we're never building anything custom for one client. So for edge-cases, yeah, we do try to look at numbers. Are enough people suffering from this? And then we try to put as much on customer service, and as little on product, until it gets to that critical mass.
So can I rephrase my question a little bit? So, one thing that I've seen that's changed a lot between, tends to change a lot between companies in the early days, and later on, is the amount of time they spend talking to customers. And I think at Edgar, you had a pretty good idea of what people needed early on. But how much has having individual conversations with customers, influenced your product? Has it been a big role at Edgar? Has it been something where you pretty much known what you're doing all along?
We are definitely more of the philosophy that we build based on our expertise, as opposed to being super reactive to what customers are asking for. So Instagram is a huge example of this. So, Instagram, you can't actually schedule something that goes live on Instagram. The closest you can do, is set up a reminder, and then you have to go on your phone, and you have to press the button on your phone that pulls the reminder on Instagram and loads it up, and then you have to press the button on your phone and say yeah, I want it to go live right now. So, Instagram does not work with our whole core value and core promise of Edgar, which is you don't have to do anything. You have your social, Edgar sends it out for you. You have your social going out all the time. You don't have to go in every day and mess with it. So Instagram is a huge platform. It's obviously something that lots of our customers are on. But if we built Instagram, we would now be asking our customers to be going on their phones multiple times a day, and hit a button when they want it to go live, which is just not what Edgar's promising at all. So at this point, we have made the strategic decision not to be on Instagram, even though a lot of customers ask for it, and we definitely lose people, because a lot of people just, they have it on their checklist. They're like, here's the social networks I'm on, I need a tool that does these social networks. So Edgar isn't on my list, because Edgar doesn't do Instagram. But I think, looking from the long-term view, once customers, and a lot of them just don't realize, other tools just say Instagram, and they think they can full on schedule it. And then they realize that they can't. So looking at the long-term view, I just think that it's always better to really create the most valuable experience for your customers. Sometimes even in opposition to what they think they want in the beginning. And of course you have to be very careful with that balance. Because you can't get all high and mighty, and be like oh, don't worry about what you want, customer. I'm just gonna give you what I think you want. So it's a balance to strike.
So I wanna talk a little bit about you, personally. Because you're obviously someone who's accomplished a lot. You've been running various businesses for years, and I think it's pretty clear from the high number of actionable tips that you can give people, that you've learned a lot from experience. What kind of principles guide you, and motivate you as a founder and entrepreneur?
One of our company core values is value for value. And value for value, is the idea that everything is an even exchange of value. So when our customer sends us an email, we should give back the value of the time that they spent, taking the time out of their day, to write us the email. When they pay us money every month, we need to obviously give at least that much value in exchange for the money that they have given us. When someone has taken the time to read our blog, we want to respect and reward that time, by giving them value for the time that they took. So I think just applying that framework to everything in business, internally and externally, everything that our employees are experiencing, everything that our customer's experiencing, is in that even exchange of value.
And what about your own personal work schedule and work habits? Is there anything that you do to, let's say, avoid burning out, which is a problem that I hear a lot of people dealing with, or avoid getting frustrating when things get tough? Getting frustrated?
Yeah so, I've built my company, especially this one, in a kind of unusual way. So a big goal for me has always been not only that I can take a lot of time off, but I can take time off last minute. That I don't have to plan ahead, because I don't like to plan travel ahead. So not only can I travel for a few months out of the year, but a week before, I can be like, hey guys, I'm gonna be gone next month, and it won't mess anything up at the company. Which actually is the state that I have achieved right now. So my role in the company is big picture vision and direction kind of stuff, and I'm checking in, especially with our leadership team regularly, and kind of advising and coaching where I can. But there aren't deliverables that depend on me. There aren't decisions that I have to make, that if I don't make them, are doing to halt progress at the company. So that's how over the years, I've just tried to work, and work, and work, to take myself out, more and more, and look at where I'm bottle necking things. So any decision that I'm making, I should not be making. I should be sitting down like once a year, and saying what are we doing over the next year? So we're big on quarterly planning. So our teams set three big rocks per quarter. So I work with the department head. But they're doing it. They're just saying, hey Laura, here's the three things I wanna do. And I'm like, cool, sounds good. That's largely how that goes. I offer ideas if I have them. So this was really important to me, because I was pregnant when I launched Edgar. So I knew that I was gonna have a baby when the company was like six months old, and he's my first, so I had no idea what it was gonna be like to be a mom, and have a kid, so I'm like, I wanna take three months off, entirely, I don't know how this is gonna be, I don't wanna put too much pressure on myself. So I took three months off work, for real, totally off, when the company was only, yeah, the company would be six months old. Six or seven months old at that point. And we've grown quickly. We reached a million in ARR, less than a year after launch. So the company was growing quickly while I was away. So I didn't wanna build a company that would just stop every time I wanted to hang out with my kid. I wanted to build a company that could continue to grow without me. So I've been really deliberate in doing that.
What are some tips you have for people to get better at outsourcing their work, or automating things, or delegating tasks? Because I personally, have zero management experience. I've never hired anyone to do anything. And I'm not particularly confident that if I were to be put in that position today, that I would do a good job at it. So what are some maybe mistakes that you made, or mistakes you see other people making, that they could turn it into actually good tips, and good advice?
Well so, if you want other people to do things, you have to actually give them ownership and autonomy. Which is the most challenging thing for a lot of people. A lot of people want to, when I hear delegate, to me that means I'm gonna have someone else do the work, I'm gonna describe exactly how to do it, and then I'm gonna approve it when it's done. And that's gonna save you a little bit of time, but it's not really gonna save you that much time, because you're still super involved. As opposed to, at this point, the person who's in charge of our customer service department, is making all the decisions related to our customer service policies. So I'm not just like, here's my customer service plan, you execute it, and then you come ask me every five seconds, if I like what you're doing. You're in charge of this, and you're doing it. So if you really wanna take yourself out of things, the flip side of that coin, is other humans do not make all the same decisions that you do, and do not do things in the exact same way that you do. So you have to be okay that they are going to do things differently than you would do. And you just kind of have to ask yourself, what am I really in this for? Would I rather have the outcome of a successful company that can grow and thrive without me, or do I choose instead, to make sure that I see every email that customer service sends, and that I make sure they're all written the exact same way that I would phrase everything? So, I think this is when your company grows. The stuff like core values, it sounds so dumb and vague in the beginning. Why would we spend time doing that? But as you grow the team, you kind of realize, oh these are real guideposts, that help people make decisions that are in line with the way you want decisions made at your company.
It's hard not to be, especially if you're a perfectionist. You know, it's hard to just trust this other person's gonna get things done. And I realize that's something that you've probably learned a lot through experience. Or is it something that you learned by reading books, and having mentors, and learning from other people's mistakes?
I mean, it's definitely everything. So something that comes to mind that I learned from a mentor, Cameron Herold, wrote a great book called, Double Double. He runs training for COOs largely, so a great person to Google. And he's been a mentor of mine. And when I was very first starting out hiring people, I felt very insecure about what I was offering. We've always been a remote team, so it's like we don't even have an office. And it's your own company, it doesn't feel like a real job, and a real company. You're like, why would these people take me seriously? We have three people on our team. We don't even have an office. Why would they ever? I kind of felt like, why would anyone talented wanna work with me? With how little I have to offer? And I remember Cameron telling me, there are so many amazing people working in just terrible jobs, at terrible places, in toxic environments, and if they have the opportunity to work with someone, first of all, who's just not a jerk, that's huge. That is so, that's a massive improvement. And when he said that, it just really clicked with me, and I realized, I've only ever had one job. And it was super toxic, and terrible. Unfortunately, what's become the norm in the workplace, is people being rude to you, people yelling at you, people expecting you to work 80 hours a week, super high stress, super high pressure, tons of miscommunication, tons of bureaucracy, tons of red tape. All these things that people hate about jobs, they're not making it up. This is true at 99% of jobs. So if you are offering something that is missing, like a few of those elements, you are offering a really massive advantage. And that was a huge mental shift for me. I'm not this little remote, three person company. Just remote, I was viewing it as a downside. People want remote jobs so badly, that work from home is literally a scam. If you search work from home, it's mostly a scam, because it is such a big dream for people that they want so bad. They really want remote jobs. And I viewing it as like, ah it's not a real job. No, it's actually a huge upside. And a small company is a huge upside, too. We've had people on our team that have taken pay cuts, to work for our company, because they're like, I am sick of huge companies. I wanna work in a small environment where I can actually have an impact. So you have to really, it's kind of like the customer stuff, right? Look at your product from the customer perspective, and not your perspective. Your business is the same way. You have to get out of being so close to it, and see the great things that you are really offering to your team.
Yeah, I think I'm in the same boat as you, 'cause I've only ever had one full-time job, and that only lasted about three months before I was like I gotta get out of here. But I think that's pretty common among entrepreneurs. And sometimes if you don't have experience in that area, it blinds you to what you have to offer, when you wanna hire people, and what they're looking for, and what they're perspectives are, because you just haven't been in these horrible situations.
And yeah, I would say there's a huge upside to having that little work experience. So yeah, my highest title was Junior Graphic Designer. I had never done an interview. I had never interviewed someone else. I had never managed someone. But because I didn't know the way you're supposed to do these things, over the years I used just a lot of my own common sense. Like, what would I want in an annual review? What do I need to know from someone when I'm interviewing them? And obviously I've learned a ton from reading, and others advice, and stuff like that along the way, but I think it can be a huge blessing to be naive, and not know these broken systems, and just assume that you have to use them.
A lot of people are afraid that, being an entrepreneur is a huge risk. Do you have any tips for minimizing the risk of being an entrepreneur? Or maybe talking about things that you can gain by being an entrepreneur that maybe aren't available to you, if you stay working at a job?
Well I mean, I think I don't have to sell anyone listening, on why it's great to be an entrepreneur. It is great, if it's for you. I absolutely love it. And I think it's like less about minimizing risk, and more about giving up that idea that you can control things. I think the more that you can accept that you don't know the future, the happier you will be. As an entrepreneur, and probably in life as well. So... I think no one is short on ideas. Especially if you're thinking of starting your own business. You are not sure which idea to do. You have tons of ideas. You don't know which one will be the best one. And I think the more you can embrace that you are hoping that you're gonna wake up psychic. That's what you're really doing when you're like, I've been thinking about this five years, I have lots of different ideas, I don't know which one is the best one. How would you ever know which one is the best one? Okay, you're gonna keep reading books, and you're gonna keep getting insights, but you're never gonna know. You're never gonna wake up one morning, and be like, I have seen what's gonna happen in the next five years, it is this one, this is the successful one. And it's the same with all those little day to day decisions in your business as well. You don't know if this is the right person to hire. You don't know if this is the right marketing strategy. All you can do is take your best guess, and then see what happens. So I think taking that leap to becoming a full-time, or even part-time entrepreneur, is so much easier when you're not thinking, this has to work out. Because it might not work out. Of course, it might not work out. And that's okay. So people get so paralyzed thinking my family's depending on this, this has to work out, and I think it's actually great to really think about the worst case scenario. Which sounds really negative, but the real worst case scenario, I think is often a lot better
Fearful, right, right. We have these ideas like, I'm the breadwinner for my family. So if this business doesn't work out, my family's gonna starve. Well is your family actually gonna starve to death?
Right. Most of us listening to this podcast are in the very privileged situation, we have a lot of safety nets to fall back on, right? We have a lot of friends and family, and worst comes to worst, go work at Target. You can get a job. You can get money to feed your family. You are not going, your family is not going to starve longterm. You might not always be doing your favorite things everyday, but that's not gonna happen. So I think really mapping out, okay, I've decided I'm going to spend the next year pursuing this business, I'm gonna put this much money into it, so worst case scenario, all that money is gonna be sunk, I'm never gonna see anything back from it, I'm not gonna have any success at the end of the year. Then what? Well then I'll go get another job. Like I have now. If I can't find a job that's as good, okay, I'll take a lesser job, and I'll keep looking for a better job while I'm in that one. It's just, it's not (a) disaster scenario.
Personally I know I kick myself a lot, when I see myself repeating the same mistakes. For example, for the longest time, I would just build stuff without talking to people. And then when I did Indie Hackers, I was like, I chose this idea in part because it would force me to talk to people. So I knew I wouldn't make that mistake anymore. Are there any mistakes that you've made as an entrepreneur that were particularly hard for you to stop making? Any lessons that were tough for you to learn?
Well first I just say, the way I think of this idea, I heard this great quote, that was like, "Do you have 10 years experience, or do you have one year's experience, 10 times?" 'Cause I think that's where most of us are. We have the year experience that we keep repeating over, and over again. So like you, I'm very conscious of trying not to do this. And the thing I always remind myself of is you have to make different decisions, to get different outcomes. One of my favorite phrases is, "You reap what you sow." So if you're not sowing something different this month than you were last month, you're not gonna get a different outcome next month. So it's like, it's even hard to hone in on what do I do wrong, because I think I do... It's like, not that I think I do most things wrong, but I think it's a matter of 90% of things I do kind of do the same, and then I'm just pushing myself on that 10%, to keep doing them differently. So the marketing of our company I think is one thing that comes up. We've relied on these same marketing, like I said, you asked me, have you been doing the same thing? I'm like, yeah, pretty much. We've been doing basically the same marketing strategy since we launched. And they've grown in a small way over time, where it's like a few thousand more people are seeing that every month. But if I really want to accelerate the business from a four million dollar business to a 20 million dollar business, in a short amount of time, we can't just keep those same strategies like a 5% increase. So I have to ask myself, what have we not tried at all? Are there other avenues? So for us, partnerships are one that we haven't tried at all, from a marketing perspective. And there's lots of reasons why we haven't done that, but I can't just say well we're never doing that forever, 'cause we need to try new things to grow. So it's like I think you have to kind of question everything that you do, and just look for areas, like well let me try doing that different, let me try doing this different, and see different outcomes that you get. I feel like that answer is super vague.
Well yeah, I think the way that you described it rings really true though. For me personally, what I do is, to know I'm making progress, or what lets me know that I'm making progress, is when I'm looking back on my past self, and something I was doing a year ago, or six months ago, and I think oh that was so stupid. I can't believe I was doing that, that way. So one more question, and then I'll let you go. If Edgar were to cease to exist today, and your audience, and your social media profiles were erased from the internet, how would you go through the process of starting another business? Basically, if you were in the shoes of one of our listeners who is starting from scratch, what would the first thing that you do, be?
I actually would start blogging, and start the whole kind of thought leader marketing process over again. And I'm not saying that's the best thing for every single person. I think everyone has to embrace their own strengths. For me, I like speaking, I like sharing my ideas, and once you've established a presence as someone who knows what they're talking about, it's very easy to get other opportunities to come to you. So I'm not a programmer. So any software business that I do, I need a technical co-founder. Well it's gonna be a lot easier to find that technical co-founder, if I have a body of work online, and they can read it, and they can think that I sound smart, and I maybe know what I'm talking about. As opposed to just being like, no really, I promise you'll love working with me. And even if you're not, if you're a stereotypical programmer, who is horrified of this idea of being on a podcast for example, you can still blog. And you might be blogging about really technical topics, and that's cool. There's a lot of people that are really interested in reading about those topics. But I think starting by sharing your ideas with the world, only good can come of that.
That is awesome advice. And just to follow up on what you're saying. If you're listening and you're a programmer, and you're a little bit introverted, I'm a huge introvert. The last thing I thought, six months ago, was I would ever have a podcast. So just try it, you might surprise yourself. And if it doesn't go well, you will live to see another day. Thank you so much, Laura. Can you tell us where people can find out more about you, and Edgar, online?
Yeah, so you can find Edgar at MeetEdgar.com, @MeetEdgar on social, I blog at my name, LauraRoeder.com, R-O-E-D-E-R. And you can find me on Twitter @LKR.
Awesome, Laura. It was great to have you.
If you enjoyed listening to this conversation, you should join me, and a whole bunch of other Indie Hackers and entrepreneurs, on the IndieHackers.com forum, where we talk about things like how to come up with a good idea, and how to find your first paying customers. Also, if you're working on a business or a product of your own, it's a great place to come and get feedback from the community on what you're working on. Again, that's www.indiehackers.com/forum. Thanks, and I'll see you guys next time.