What's up, everyone? This is Courtland from IndieHackers.com and you're listening to the IndieHackers podcast.
On this show I talk to the founders of profitable Internet businesses and I try to get a sense of what it's to be in their shoes. How did they get to where they are today? How did they make decisions, both at their companies and in their personal lives and what makes their businesses tick?
Today I'm talking to Mike Taber. Mike is one of the co-creators of MicroConf. Probably the biggest and I think definitely the best conference for self-funded founders. Mike is also the co-host of the podcast Startups For the Rest of Us, which is a great show.
You should all check it out. And finally Mike is the founder of a company called Bluetick, which is what we're going to spend most of our time talking about today.
Mike, I'm glad to finally have you on here and thanks for joining.
Thanks for having me.
So the company you're working on, Bluetick is what you'd call email follow-up software. The basic idea is that if you find yourself wasting time sending email after email to the same people. You sign up for Bluetick instead and it's super smart.
It'll send out follow-up emails on your behalf automatically and it knows exactly when to stop sending them and you can set it to send different emails every time, in a sequence.
Is that a good description of what the company does?
Yeah, that's a generally good description. Good high level overview.
Great, I think it's a cool idea. It's something that I probably should have been using for IndieHackers because I send a ton of follow-up emails for the podcast to get guests yourself scheduled.
I send a ton of follow-up emails for the text interviews on the site, to remind people to finish their writing. And I think more importantly back when I was selling ads it took a ton of follow-up emails just to get sponsors to get me their ad copy and pay me etc.
Probably could have made more money if I had something Bluetick so I wouldn't forget to send follow-up emails every now and then. So Bluetick is entirely self funded. Is that right?
How long have you been working on it? And who's working with you? And how much money are you making nowadays?
To start with, before I started breaking code on it I think was 2015. It was just November or December was about the time I started going through the validation process for it and I did not break code until January or so of 2016 and then it took four or five months or so to get an actual thing that people could use.
It took another to eight months to get people to start using it and then at some point I drew a line in the sand and said, okay, you're gonna start paying for it because I'm taking pre-orders. After that, I basically just started onboarding new customers and I work on it full-time for the most part but it's not enough to make a full time living on.
So I have around $1500 or so in recurring revenue. And then I've also got people who've paid for annual plans. It's somewhere north of that but it's probably not quite two thousand dollars a month if you were to aggregate it over the course of an entire year.
What's your long-term goal with all of this? Do you want Bluetick to make enough money to support your lifestyle? Or you want to build a huge business?
Well yeah, I don't really want to make it some ginormous business but at the same time I want it to make enough money that I can use that revenue as a platform to do whatever I want and essentially buy my own time so that I can do anything. That way I can just go to sleep at night and if I want to take off two or three days or a week, I can just go do so.
And I just took a family vacation a couple of weeks ago and drove down to Virginia from Massachusetts, stopped at DC, stopped in Philly along the way. Went and did a bunch of different things. I answered a couple of emails, a couple of support things while I was gone and everything just kept running without me doing anything. Which is great to have that recurring revenue, I mean, I'm still getting the emails that say "hey, this credit card was just charged".
It's nice to see those things coming in and I see, I'll call it, a light at the end of the tunnel. Where at some point in the future there's enough customers where I don't have to worry about what other sources of revenue I have. And I can just, I don't want to say let the money roll in, it's misleading to say that in any business you're going to be able to get it to a point where it's passive income. That's just not going to, that's not the way to really phrase that. I think it's misleading to say every business could be turned into passive income.
That's true but it's also the dream that a lot of people have. To just create this machine that spits out money while you go do other things in your life.
If you consider that to be an unrealistic goal, what do you look forward to? What are your goals?
Yeah, my goal is to get it to that point where it's not as hard and I think it's getting easier, with any recurring revenue business things grow month-over-month, assuming that you're not tanking the business or pushing out things that are completely broken.
But the goal is to get that engine going so that it's growing month over month or at least maintaining its momentum and then you don't have to worry about things as much. You don't have to work as hard.
Yeah, let's talk about working hard because a lot of people want to start a business but they feel they don't have time because they've got a family or a job or other responsibilities to take care of.
Yet here you are running Bluetick and at the same time, you're still hosting your podcast and you're still running MicroConf and you've got a wife and kids. How do you find the time to do all of this effectively? Or are you effective?
That's a good question, am I effective? I am effective enough to be able to maintain everything running at the same time but there's a lot of things where I don't do nearly as much as it may appear on the surface. For example, when Rob and I first built the Startups For the Rest of Us podcast, him and I would alternate with the episodes, very similar when we were creating content for the Founder Cafe community. He'd do an episode and an outline then I would do one.
At the same time we're also doing all of the editing for it. We would send out the transcripts because quite frankly that was just way too much effort so we would pay to have those done but we would do the audio editing ourselves and anyone who's done audio editing, you know that it takes probably about three times as much time as there is raw audio.
If you have 60 minutes of raw audio, it's going to take you about 3 hours to edit regardless of what you edit it down to.
We ended up outsourcing that fairly early on, no later than the 10th or 15th episode I think. It was just too time consuming. At this point our process is really, one of us put together the outline, the other person gets on the call maybe five minutes before maybe five or ten minutes after the scheduled time and we record and it gets sent into Dropbox and that's it. we're hands off completely after that, we don't touch anything. My time for that is actually extremely but it looks I probably put a lot of work into it.
What about the rest of the things that you're working on? How does it all breakdown? You just spend one day a week on your podcast and the rest on Bluetick?
I spend half an hour a week on the podcast. I mean, it's maybe 45 minutes tops.
You were on the podcast once before and literally what you saw was probably about the extent of my involvement with it, aside from just writing the outline. Earlier today we did an episode and we created the outline literally on the call because we didn't have one.
Yeah, that's depressing to hear because it takes me about a full day to get an episode out for this podcast.
What about everything else that you're working on Bluetick and MicroConf? How do you juggle those things into your schedule?
So with MicroConf things are planned far enough in advance that most of the time, there is not much that goes on on a weekly basis. We also have Xander who helps out with a lot of logistical stuff, directly interacting with the hotels and vendors and things that.
We have things split, so Rob handles the speakers for the most part. I handle the sponsors for the most part and I have my own process for dealing with the sponsors. He has his own process for dealing with the speakers but we don't really mix back and forth between them. My involvement in MicroConf tends to be mostly just on that sponsor side of things. It's a lot less work than it looks and plus I Bluetick to help me out with that.
Yeah, so if I had to summarize your strategy, it's three things basically. Number one, work with a co-founder so you've got Rob helping you on the podcast and with the conference. You're not doing it all by yourself.
Number two, reduce the scope of everything you're doing down to the bare minimum and I think this is what most people struggle with and why most of us feel we don't have time. We envision these massive projects. We bite off way more than we can chew, when in reality it would be better off if we just did that small first ten or twenty percent and I think your podcast is a great example of this.
You just do the 20% of the work that gets you 80% of the results and you don't worry about the rest. Then number three is to outsource the rest and so you've got Xander doing events for you for MicroConf and you've got a transcriptionist and an editor for your podcast and all of this comes together to let you get more done in less time.
Yeah especially when there's things that you need to do that you know take a lot of focus and mental energy. If you have to spend that time doing things that are complicated, for example writing code is generally something that you have to dedicate a lot of mental resources to, it's hard to alternate between that and then interrupting it with support emails and I've got to make this phone call or my kid's sick and I’ve got to take him to the doctor.
It's really hard to flip flop back and forth between them or just the context switching will kill you. You just won't be able to get anything done. It's really about limiting the things that I need to do that require a lot of mental focus.
So we've met at MicroConf a couple of times now, but I actually don't know very much about your past history Mike. I know you've been doing all this stuff around bootstrapping and startups for years now, but how did you first get into it? And what made you decide that you didn't want to stay in the normal track of being an employee?
I don't feel I ever really wanted to become an employee of a business. I actually gave this quite a bit of thought a while ago and my earliest business was when I was probably 10 or 11 years old and I made a couple of hundred dollars renting out my Nintendo video games to my friends.
I would just charge them a dollar a day and they'd take my video game and most of them would keep them for a couple of weeks because it was cheap enough that they could do that. And then they'd give them back to me and then I would get the money from them.
Then I would use that money to go out and buy other video games that I thought that they were interested in, that I also wanted to buy or wanted to play and then I would just repeat the process. I had a nice little game business going when I was probably 11 years old.
What are some of the first businesses that you started as an adult?
I had a video game company that I wanted to build out. The goal was to not just publish my own video games but to also publish those of others. I had a friend, his name is Andrew Welch. He ran Ambrosia software for a long time.
He still runs it to this day, but he runs a couple of other side businesses at this point. I grew up and went to the same college as he did. I looked up to him, this is somebody who, he actually went to college for photography but he had built up this shareware business while he was still in high school.
I looked at him and said, “Well he's doing these types of things, I'd love to be able to do that too.” The goal at the time was to be able to publish other people's games, basically become a video game publisher and build out the business and I never really quite figured out how to market them well enough.
A lot of the games were built by other people, so it was very difficult for me to have creative control or help them with stuff early enough in the process just because I didn't have the money to be able to get involved that early or the connections or anything that and I was still extremely young at the time. So that business never really went too far.
We did have a game called Cry of the Ancients that was a web-based game, way before the Facebook games Farmville and Candy Crush and things that became popular. This was five, seven years before that, but I got it to the point where it had probably four or five hundred players who logged in pretty much every day to play the game.
I'll say it was a moderate success but there was really no good revenue stream for it. Advertising only went so far, we were doing pay-per-click, inside there were banner ads stuff that, but it paid for server costs to some extent but probably not the whole thing.
A lot of the founders that I bring on the show have stories just that one or maybe their first or second or third business ended up failing and they took the lessons that they learned from that and applied them to their future endeavors.
How much time have you spent reflecting on exactly why your first business failed?
Well, I thought about why and reasons that, that particular business didn't go as well. Part of it was just I didn't have the money to be able to interact with the people who were building better games to be honest. I just didn't have the money to be able to fund those types of things on my own.
In terms of the Cry of the Ancients game, I think that could have definitely been monetized a lot better but one of the core things that I wanted to bring to it was, have a game that where you couldn't buy your way into a better position.
I hated playing games where you could basically pay money and become better than other players solely because you paid money for it. And I never wanted it to turn into that and had I gone in a different direction had I tried to really monetize it, I definitely think that the game could have been a much bigger thing than it was and I definitely think it could have been a money maker, but it was not something that I really focused on.
Those are the types of things that I did think about but it just went against what my vision for that particular game was.
So this is the point where a lot of people would decide, you know,what, starting companies is not for me. This is way too hard. I'm going to go do something else.
What did you do after that and what gave you the confidence to continue being an entrepreneur?
Well I ran that on the side, so at the time I was still finishing up college. So it was very early on, probably '98, '99 something that. I had a server that was co-located that ran that stuff. but in order to help pay for the bulk of my bills and living expenses I was working full-time for a company called Clearwire Technologies out of Buffalo New York and then when I left there in 2001, 2002 time frame, I went and worked at Wegmans Food Markets in upstate New York and Rochester, New York.
I worked there for probably two or three years and then after 2003 I moved to the Boston area and worked for a startup company called Pedestal Software where they made audit and compliance software. I worked for them for two years and then they got acquired for around $75 Million.
I was the fourth engineer that was hired there and I made, I think it was $8,000 for that acquisition.
What! You got robbed Mike.
Yes and that was the line in the sand. I was like, you know what, I'm done. I'm not working for other people anymore. That's really what it came down to.
You got 0.01% or something.
It's more zeros than one after, trust me. Yes, needless to say I did not take it particularly well, but I quit shortly afterwards and after I was able to finally cash in my stock options, because they locked them in too. What happened was they would have been worth twice as much but the company that acquired us was called Altiris.
They acquired us, but then there was a lock on our stock options so we couldn't sell them for six months or something like that. And then by that time their stock price had dropped in half so I got way less money than I should have but oh well.
Yeah that hurts. Today we're working on Bluetick. How did you get started with Bluetick? And how did you first come up with the idea for this company?
From 2005 until five to seven years later I was doing a lot of consulting. When I left Pedestal Software, as I said they did audit and compliance software and the acquiring company, fast forward five or so years, they were looking at possibly getting rid of that particular product and I knew that I had already done a lot of consulting with those types of customers.
And so I said, well I could build a replacement for this and I started doing it and then I realized there's all these legal implications about building a clone of a product that I just did a lot of professional services work on. It got really messy but I built it anyway and then was terrified to start really trying to push it because it is Symantec Corporation product and I had all of these legal agreements in place.
I tried selling it without going into any of those, which you know in retrospect maybe I should have just tried it anyway and if they sued me then deal with it at that point, but I was trying to actively avoid getting sued. So that took several years to churn out I'll say and end up being marked as a failure and I ended up shutting it down.
During that process what I found was, MicroConf was going on at the time and because I was in charge of all the sponsorships I had to reach out to all these people and asked them if they wanted to sponsor MicroConf. I realized at that point there's probably a product here to reach out via email for event organizers and I started looking into it and tried to figure out what the financials behind that would look like.
How much would I need to charge? How much would be worth my time? And I figured okay. Well even if I charge them five or six hundred dollars, that's probably a very tough sell to an event organizer. They're only going to use it once if they're running one event a year and that's expensive. It's going to be very hard.
I ended up abandoning it and then fast forward several years later when I shut down AuditShark I realized that software would have also been very useful during my enterprise follow-ups and I could have really used that in a more generic sale scenario. That's where the idea for Bluetick came from, it's because I had previously experienced that problem and I discounted it because I was thinking about it for the wrong market.
The classic startup advice is to build something that solves your own problem where you're your own customer because then you'll have special insight as to what the customer needs and that's exactly what you did but it backfired because you're applying it to your one use case, which is organizing conferences and the business model didn't work out for that use case. Where as it could have worked for someone else's use cases.
Yep, that's right. And it's interesting to see the number of different use cases that it's possible to fit Bluetick in as a solution. I mean, you mentioned earlier the thought that you had about, oh, I could use it to follow up with people to get them to fill out something on my website or I could get them to schedule an interview for the IndieHackers podcast.
Each of those is definitely a viable place where Bluetick could be plugged in because it's a repeated scenario that comes up for you on a consistent basis. And you need to manually deal with it which sucks but at the same time it's still got to get done. It detracts from your ability to do other things.
I'm all about automating things so that you don't have to do them again. My mother would probably claim that I'm the King of not-doing-things, not wanting to do things more than once and the King procrastinator, but it's really I just don't want to have to do those things over and over again.
Earlier we were talking about just how much can you really automate your business. How realistic is to build something that's truly passive income? Even though it might not be super realistic it's much easier nowadays to get close to that goal than it ever was because there exists businesses yours that automate these tasks that otherwise would be repetitive and take up a ton of your time.
I'm curious if you ever considered working on a different idea instead of Bluetick because I know a lot of people listening have a large list of ideas or at least two or three they want to work on and they're not sure which one to pick. What made Bluetick stand out as the one to go with.
Mike Taber [00:18;49] So actually that's a really good story that I probably don't talk about very much. There was one idea that I'd had was that I had been hired for to do some consulting work for a company and they wanted to have this data aggregated from different spreadsheets together and they didn't really have a unique key between them or it wasn't the same one.
And so I had to figure out some system to gather all that data, extract it from the spreadsheets. Match it up individually and then also do that overtime and load it into a database so that they can pull queries from it. I went through that and I said I think that there's actually a really good product behind this because they're paying me a consulting rate. It's thousands of dollars a month to have me work on this for them. And I would have done it for probably, it was three, four or five months something that. It was a long-term project.
They're spending $40,000, $50,000 on this. Well it seems to me there's a tool that you could build for this. I started validating this idea that I had for a product that would do this type of thing called ETL Studio. I built a webpage and tried to drive traffic to it and tried to get people on the phone to talk to them. I got a handful of people. It was really hard to get people on the phone to talk about this particular problem.
These people are paying me lots of money to solve this problem for them and there's got to be a market for it and there are products out there that do that but I couldn't find enough that we're in a price range that I think would have made it a viable product for me to build. I don't think that I could have reached them.
I ended up moving on from that and then I validated Bluetick and the response was 10 to 100 times higher for Bluetick than it was for ETL Studio. That's why I ended up choosing Bluetick instead because I did not get nearly enough to give me the confidence to actually start building and writing code.
I think your story so far is illustrative of why, if you really want to start a business it helps to jump in and get your hands dirty without waiting for the perfect idea. Ideally start multiple businesses over time and I say this for two reasons.
The first reason is. It makes it way easier for you to recognize what traction looks like. If you only started one business, it's very easy to get stuck and say "hey is this really worth spending my time on? Is this taking off or is it not?".
You don't really know because you don't have any reference points. Whereas you started multiple businesses you had your game in the past, you had ETL Studio, you have Bluetick. It's easier for you to say look at the reception that Bluetick is getting. This is something special. I should keep working on that. You really need multiple companies to get that perspective.
I think that cheat that I did there was that I didn't actually start a business or write any code. I was just trying to get people to talk to so I didn't actually start a business for that. I just tried to find people to talk to and I couldn't find them.
Yeah, that's a great point. You don't really even have to go the full distance with the business. You can just do these first validation steps and that's enough to get you the perspective that you need.
The second reason, I think people should start multiple businesses is because it helps you come up with ideas. If you're one of these people who's paralyzed, you don't have the perfect idea. You don't know what to work on just work on a less than perfect idea and in the course of working on that you'll probably come up with a better idea if you keep your eyes open.
So I think in your story Mike, you came up with the idea for ETL Studio while you were running your consulting business. You came up with the idea for Bluetick while you were running MicroConf. A lot of your best ideas came out as a result of you working on some other business.
I find it hard for me to resonate or understand the people who say "I don't have any ideas" because I think that I have way too many ideas.
I actually keep a spreadsheet or Word document or something that, that just list out things. here's my idea for this, this is a problem I run into and there's different things out there. Or it's difficult for me to find a solution to it because this one is good at this but not at this other piece over here.
I don't have that problem personally. I see lots of opportunities and stuff. It's more a matter for me what opportunities am I not pursuing or what am I going to be giving up by pursuing that particular opportunity. I just have too many things that I think would be interesting to go after but I have to pick and choose which ones I do and don't.
What do you think is the primary difference between you and people who say they don't have any ideas?
I mean, what special insight do you have that lets you see these opportunities for starting a business and generating revenue?
I think that there's a reluctance to do things that have been done before and I think I used to fall into this camp as well. Oh I don't want to build a help desk product because there's this other company over here that's doing that and I say that distinctly remembering there was a help desk product that I did not build back in the 2001 to 2004 timeframe because I found this other one that was online that was used in the same types of technologies.
And at the time it was ASP, pre ASP.net, just classic ASP and I just I said, “Well, they've got a product here that does this. Why would I build a help desk product?” So I never did it, but that was an example of one of the ideas where it came from me trying to run that free online game.
Where it would be nice to be able to have some help desk ticketing system to help me deal with inquiries and questions from people. I didn't do it because specifically I was afraid of building something that somebody else had already done.
Yeah, that's a great point. It's really hard to identify a valuable problem that nobody else is solving and then solve it yourself.
But it’s a little bit easier to look at a valuable problem that people are already paying to have solved and then bring your own solution to the table that's significantly better than the competition in some way for some group of people.
Let's get back to your story with Bluetick. You've returned to this idea after putting it on the back burner for a little while. What's the first thing you do to get this project off the ground?
So what I do is I set up a landing page and then I went into my own personal network and started asking people about it and I said "Hey I have this idea for a product that would do something along these lines. Is that something you're interested in or you have a problem with as well? And if so, let's get on a call.
Or do you know somebody who might have this problem? Is there somebody else you could introduce me to?". So I did that and I ended up with about 30 to 40 different conversations with people. I spent a long time, I spent almost a month going through and having those conversations because each one was about a half-hour call.
And I took copious notes on every conversation. I tracked it all in a spreadsheet. And then this is one of those Inception-products where having Bluetick at the time would have helped me follow up with the people that I wanted to get to a call.
So going through the process of that, I knew what the process was I just needed the software to actually do it for me. I had those conversations and I spent about a month with them and asked them tons of questions. I said "What is it that you want? How would you see this working? And what do you think would be a good price point for this? What would you pay for this or would you pay for it?".
That was the question I had asked, is this something you would pay for? And I got yes-es for most of them. I spent about a month, close to three weeks getting Balsamiq mockups built for the entire application. There's about 60 or 70 pages. I use their presentation mode to be able to click through to different pieces of the application to show exactly how it was going to look and then I went back to those people who said "yes, I would pay you for this".
And I showed them I said this is what I built or this is what I'm going to build. This is what it looks like. Is this still something that you're interested in? For the most part most of them said yes, and then at that point I said "will you pay me for this?" And I said here's a webpage where you can put in your credit card and it will take a pre-payment from you. It defaults to three months.
You can put either one month or up to six months and the text field for how much they were going to pay was blank. And they could tell me how much they were going to pay for it and I got about a dozen people to give me anywhere from $40 a month up to $100 a month. With most of them clustered between $47 and $50. There were nine people in that range. There were two people who said either $39 or $40 and then one person said $100 a month.
So this is a huge multiple step process you've got going here. You set up a landing page and you started showing it to people to see if they're interested in the idea. Then you put in more effort into actually coming up with detailed mock-ups of how this product's going to work and you got people to say yeah, they're still interested.
Then you hit them with the question. All right, put in your credit card. How much are you going to pay? I want to dive into the details behind all of these steps and find out how exactly you did them. But before that I want to talk about how a lot of people skip all three of these steps if not one or two of them.
How did you know this is the right way to go. Where did you learn this stuff? And how does anybody acquire the right knowledge and learning that they can go into their business with confidence. They're not going to repeat some of the more often repeated and easy to avoid mistakes.
One, was just from having attended MicroConf for so many years. I knew what other people had done and how some of them had validated their own products.
I took things to, I'll say, what amounts to almost an extreme level. I don't know anyone else who's gone to the point where they took pre-payments before they even started writing code on something. I'm sure there's an example of somebody out there who's done it but I haven't met them and I don't know who they are.
What I was trying to actively avoid was building something that people did not want or that I wasn't going to be able to get in front of the right people. I was trying to make absolutely 100% sure that I was not making a mistake and was going to spend the next couple of years building something that ultimately I couldn't sell because that's exactly what had happened with AuditShark.
I built it because I knew I could build it and I knew that I could implement the things that need to be implemented and it worked, the product was good. The problem was I couldn't get in front of the people and I wasn't able to sell it in the way that it needed to be sold. It really needed a salesforce and resellers and things that.
All things that I actively want to avoid. I used all those things that I did not want to do, to find and settle on a product and that could be sold in a way that I did want to sell it. All those things really come from years of mistakes and learning more about myself and how I needed to run things moving forward.
Yeah, you touch a hot stove once and then from from then on remember exactly not to touch that stove again. It's tricky because having been through that yourself it's extremely visceral to you how important it is to validate an idea and how easy it can be to be overconfident in your idea and start building and it turns out nobody wants it.
But I think when you're maybe a first-time founder, you're listening to an episode this or you're reading about entrepreneurs online. It's hard to internalize the lessons that have been learned by other people that you haven't experienced yourself. It's much easier to get caught up in the moment, to get caught up in the excitement and the emotions that you're feeling in the president and make all the mistakes you've read about other people making.
Mike Taber [00:29;14] I think it's very easy to be overly optimistic, especially as a developer because if you're a reasonably good developer you can build just about anything. The question is, how much time do you have to do it? And the other thing is, how much runway do you have?
Well, if you have a full-time job and you're working on it on the side, you've got unlimited runway and that's not necessarily a good thing. Which I found with AuditShark was because I didn't have these lines in the sand that I absolutely needed, to be able to make rent payments for example.
There was no constraints on how much time I could spend on it, other than public perception, which was overly negative in certain cases and justifiably so.
Courtland Allen [00:29;54] Okay let's go through step one of this process.
You put up a website, landing page that describes your idea so that hopefully people can read it and you can get feedback from them.
What was your process for actually finding people to visit this website?
So I'd had a mailing list for my personal blog, I leveraged that and sent out to a couple thousand people and that doesn't necessarily drive a ton of traffic because if they're not interested in that type of product they're just not going to visit it. Then also it filters down even further to how many of those people who do visit the page are even going to reach out you.
The biggest thing that I found that was helpful was talking to the people that I knew and saying do I think that they're a good fit for it? And if so, I'll reach out to them. Most of what I got from those first 20 to 30, 40 conversations was people that I reached out to and said, "Hey, I'm building this. I think that this might help you. Can we talk?'.
And from there what I always did on every single call, I would ask them, "Are there three people that you can think of that would fit a similar profile to you, that would also have this problem? And if so, can you introduce me to them?".
Oh that's smart.
At least, I would say probably almost 60% of the people that I talked to were actually introductions from the people that I talked to. It wasn't me reaching out directly to my network.
It was people in my network introducing me to other people that they thought would also be a good fit.
Yeah, that's super smart. I never really hear about people going about it that way. Were you doing any posting online?
Were you posting your landing page on online communities or different websites or forums? Or you taking out ads on Facebook or Google or was it 100% cold calls?
It was all calls, introductions and referrals. That was what I relied on. I think I might have run some Twitter ads at one point but not very many. It was minimal, if anything I wouldn't have spent more than fifty or a hundred bucks. I'm sure of that.
The other thing that you mentioned was that you'd already built up an audience through years of blogging and growing your mailing list and running MicroConf, but it's interesting because the audience that you built through those activities isn't necessarily a line of the types of customers that you wanted for Bluetick.
How did you think about this at the time and how helpful was it that you had built this audience beforehand?
So remember the percentage of what I got from Pedestal's sale is like 0.001%. It's probably about that. That's what my personal blog contributed to the number of people that I talked to. It was almost nothing.
I think that in general building an audience is a good thing to do. The problem is that if you're trying to build a software product and it's the first product that you have, what are you actually going to attract them based on? You have to attract them based on content or something like that or advice or videos or tutorials or educational stuff. At which point you're building an educational product probably anyway.
So I feel in some ways that's overly generic advice that sounds good on the surface, but the reality is most of the time it doesn't help. And then there's the other aspect of it where this was my personal blog. The people there were there to read stuff I wrote about not necessarily read about some new product that Mike is developing.
They didn't necessarily care as much. So you're not probably going to get customers from it. I think even Jason Cohen had said when he was building WPengine, he blasted out an email to probably ten or twenty thousand people and he got three customers from it or five or something that, which does not move the needle in any way shape or form.
Yeah it really is kind of a crapshoot unless the audience that you happened to be building over the years is perfectly aligned with the product that you decide to launch.
And I think that's something that you have to consciously make happen. It's unlikely to just happen on its own.
So you ended up getting a bunch of pre-orders for Bluetick before you launched.
Do you remember how much money those pre-orders were worth? And the point at which you decided, this is something I want to work on and you actually started building the product.
So I had people pay me roughly $2,000 in pre-orders. I think I had 11 or 12 people pay me and each of them paid anywhere from the $40 to $100. Many of them paid for multiple months. I think one person paid one month. One or two paid me for two months and everyone else paid me for three months.
Collectively it was all about $2,000 in pre-orders. And that was what gave me the confidence to say, well if people are willing to shell this out without having actually seen me write a single line of code and based on some Balsamiq mockups that I created, it seems to me there's definitely something here.
And I've got this group of 12 people who have already paid me to deliver on something. In a way it's kind of like consulting but not really because they're prepaying for something that you're going to build.
Yeah and you're making sure up front that it's not susceptible to what consulting is susceptible to where only one person wants it. You're not going to actually start building this thing unless you've proven that it's not just a one-off thing.
I think another thing that's smart about this is that once people have actually put in their credit cards, you suddenly have a fire under your ass where you need to deliver what you're building. It's like you were saying earlier you don't have any constraints if you're building something in the side of let's say a full-time job.
You can keep going forever. Well, if people have paid you they probably want a product by some sort of deadline that's actually functional and so you're going to be a lot more motivated to get it out the door. What were some of the first things that you did to make sure you could actually deliver this product to them? And did you have any deadline to get it built?
Obviously I showed to everybody the Balsamiq mockups that I had and walked him through exactly what the product was going to look like. That actually helped in two different ways, one is I was able to show it to people and say this is what it's going to look and this is how you interact with it.
And two, I was able to take that and then I went on to UpWork and I hired three developers to help me build it. I essentially went through and vetted them and it took a couple of weeks to do that. But from there, I basically set a deadline and said okay in three weeks, we're going to ship. Not three weeks, in three or four months we're going to ship this and I want it shipped by April or May.
And we wanted to have it usable and have at least one person on the system and actively using it by that time.
That's fascinating to me because you are a programmer yourself.
You could just build this yourself. Why hire other developers off of UpWork to build it for you?
Because I knew that I could hire multiple developers. I was doing consulting work at the time and I had a lot more money than time. I knew that if I hired developers to come in and handle certain aspects of it.
I could handle the high level architecture stuff and management of the people and make sure that different things were getting done and they were getting done in the way that they needed to be, in multiple areas of the application. Many of those things were separate from one another so the email sequences page for example can be completely different from the profile page and you don't need the same person working on both of those things, as long as they both work.
I knew that there's lots of these different things that could be done in parallel. Hiring somebody, hiring three different people to help work on those things made a lot of sense because I could get more of it done in parallel and then I could be essentially responsible for quality control and making sure that things were going in the right direction.
What are your tips for making this work? Because I know a lot of people who outsourced development of their product and there's definitely varying degrees of success. If you could go back and do it all over again, what would you change? And what did you get right the first time?
If I had to go back and do it over again, I'm not sure that I would hire a development team to do it, to be honest,
So it didn't work out?
I don't believe so, it did in some respects. There were some choices that were made in terms of the technology stack and how certain things were implemented. For example, the front end was all done in Angular and I have no background in using Angular in any way shape or form when the project started. That said I've had to go back through and fix a bunch of things and make them work but at the time it seemed a reasonably good decision to make.
I think what I would probably have changed is I would hire somebody to show me how to do some of those things and different ways of doing them. I would hire probably a developer and say I want you to teach me how you would do this. Then hire a different programmer to teach me the exact same thing about how they would do it. So that way I get two or three different perspectives because what I found was each of the developers I hired had different ways of doing things.
There were overlaps to some extent but some of them knew better about how to handle certain situations than others. What you get is the best and worst of both worlds when you're hiring one person and if you've got two or three different people who have never worked together before you end up with a hodgepodge of code that in some places works really well and then in other places does not because a different person implemented it in parallel.
Going back to the thing where I thought I was hiring three different people to be able to build an app in parallel much faster, what I ended up with was some places the app works really well and some places it worked really poorly even though it's the same team. It's just because different people were doing different aspects of it. I think that just nailing down exactly how things would be handled would have been a better way to go.
What were you spending your time doing while these developers were building your product?
So l had a full time consulting job and then on the side I was also trying to manage these people and then there was another component, the backend component that would synchronize with the mail servers that I was basically responsible for. So they were doing their code. I was doing mine for the backend system stuff then I also had the consulting gig.
So my time was spent mostly doing those things but then also trying to make sure that what they were delivering and checking in was functional and was doing what the specs says it was supposed to do. I think the big issue I had was mostly just communicating with them exactly how these different pieces fit together and I don't know whether it was, I assume that it's mostly my fault to be honest.
I don't think that I'm a particularly fantastic manager and I think there's definitely a lot of growth that I have to becoming a better one and you don't get that unless you practice it. In that respect, it's helpful. I don't think that it was a good idea for me to outsource as much as I tried to just because of the scope of the product. I think it was too complicated to start off with.
Yeah. I wonder what the consequences of that ended up being. I mean when you launched or when you first started showing this to the people who had agreed to pay, were they upset with the product or disappointed? Or did you have to go back and rewrite it? Or was it full steam ahead. this is what we have got, we're going with it.
Yep. I think the consequences of it were that it was six to eight months of re-engineering lots of things to make sure that they actually work the way that they're supposed to and then standardizing the code in different places.
Some places were just radically different than others, for example doing an API call and paging results back versus this works fine for receiving 10 rows or 20 rows but we've got to pull back 100,000 here and this is just not going to work, so you're going to have to page it.
So the whole thing has got to be re-written and we spent or I spent a ton of time re-writing things because of issues like that.
Let's talk about your launch and how you got Bluetick out the door. I know it took a lot longer because of these development issues and maybe other things to get the product out the door than you would have hoped for initially.
How did things change once you launched Bluetick and was there even some singular launch? Or was it more of a slow gradual process of opening it up to people?
I don't think there's ever a singular moment. There was a time where I just decided to make it publicly available and that was last August. I decided to just start pushing things live and making it available and I think it was last August when I went to my own personal mailing list and said, "Hey, I'm going to blog about this.
I'm going to do 21 days of videos before I make this thing public". And there's a 21 days series, you can watch a five to ten minute video of me basically just talking to the camera for a little while at the end of each day about what I did, what I'm going to be doing and then leading up to the actual public launch of it. And I used my Bluetick mailing list mainly for the actual launch itself.
I had a couple of different emails that were going to go out, I told people what the product did and how it would work and gave them a couple of video tutorials of how they could use it and that's how I handled the launch. I don't think there was some single moment in time where it's like, oh, this is ready for prime time. I mean, there's still things that I'm going through and reworking. No product is ever finished I'll say.
So how did things go? Did people respond well to the video series you created and the emails that you wrote?
Well the video series was just in my personal blog it wasn't to the Bluetick mailing list. To the Bluetick mailing list I had three or four emails that was just a sequence to get people interested in and have them come and sign up. I roughly doubled the customer base when I did that so I went from I think I had 10 to 15 people on it, to about 25 to 30. I mean that helped at the time, so it was helpful in sorting out places in the app that were just more broken than I thought they were.
When you start adding more people into an app that is still very early stage you start finding, you just have more people exercising it. There's more use cases that you didn't necessarily account for and more people touching something where they're you know, putting in weird things or they're using weird languages. I had a customer who they had a Japanese mailbox connected and it worked fine.
Then I'll find another customer who had their own private email server connected and that worked fine as well. But then I had places where not every mail server follows the RFC's for sending and receiving emails. I definitely found places where as I added customers I identified more and more of these emails that would just break certain parts of the app because they included a weird character or something along those lines.
Or some RFC was violated and I depended on that being correct to store the data and it didn't so I had to fix stuff
This entire process of going from idea to launch is full of hardships. You have situations where your development isn't going as smoothly as you'd hoped and it's expensive and it's taking a long time.
The product isn't what you envisioned and you have situations where your marketing efforts aren't going as well as you'd hoped or your audience that you built didn't really come through the way you wanted it. I think a lot of people facing this kind of resistance would just quit. They'd say, okay I'm done.
It's not working out. It's a lot of time. I'm just going to keep my job. What kept you going? Why didn't you decide to quit?
I think mostly because I knew that I just wanted to get away from consulting. So very early on when I first started doing consulting I loved it. It was fantastic.
I would get dropped into a customer and it was a different environment every time and I was solving interesting things and I was getting paid a lot of money for it. But the problem was I was on the road between 40 and 50 weeks a year. There were at least one year that
I think of I was on the road for 45 weeks. And so I would fly in on a Sunday, fly out on a Friday and I was there the whole week. It was a different customer every week. If you have a family, that wears on you after a while because you never see your family. I got to a point where I was just like I can't do consulting anymore.
I just do not want to do it. You can't pay me enough to continue doing it. That's really what drove me to say, look I've got to get this out there and I've got to push it to the point where I can actually make a living from this and not have to go back to consulting.
Was it stressful knowing that Bluetick was your lifeline? And that if this business doesn't work out you're going have to keep consulting and doing something that you don't like doing.
It's stressful. It was stressful but at the same time I also recognize that if I really needed to go back to consulting it's not like I cut all ties and would never be able to go back to it. I knew that I'd be able to go to that and make ends meet even if it was only for a little while.
I knew that I wasn't burning the ship completely so to speak. I could go back if I needed to and maybe I just needed a break from it. I definitely don't want to go back to consulting on a long-term basis, especially if it involves any travel. Otherwise it's not the end of the world if I had to.
Let's talk about growing Bluetick after your launch. In the very beginning when you first had the idea, you've got your pre-orders by reaching out to people in your network and making cold calls and getting introductions to other people that way.
Then in the weeks leading up to your launch you reached out to your personal mailing list, and you started a new mailing list for Bluetick. How did things change after you launched Bluetick? And how did you go about finding customers and making sales after that point?
So most of what I've spent my time on it is making the product as good as I possibly can and then asking people for referrals and other people that they know that might have a similar problem. I found that that's actually worked pretty well. I know that there's definitely room for me to grow in terms of doing a lot more online marketing or content and driving more people to the mailing list.
I've automated some of those things to some extent but one of the things that I have is, in Bluetick there's actually an email sequence that I have set up where I can ask people and say "Hey, I see that you've been successful with Bluetick for a little while. Is there anyone that you know that you think could also benefit from using this?"
And it's interesting you're almost asking for a testimonial but really what you're asking for is for a customer referral. The only way that you can get, not the only way but one of the better ways that you can get people to basically give you an introduction to somebody else is to give them the best services you can possibly give them.
I spend a lot of time making sure that if somebody emails me with support I'm fairly responsive almost always within 24 hours and the answers that I give them are fairly comprehensive. If they need help I'm more than willing to do things on their behalf. I've gone I've logged into people's accounts fixed up their entire email sequence for them so that they don't have to go in and mess around with any HTML.
Just giving them the best possible experience they can have with your software has been, I won't say monumental but it's really really helpful when it comes to turning around and saying "Hey, can you do me a favor?"
Walk me through how you're thinking about this because you have a ton of options as a founder for what you can do, once your product out the door to bring more customers in the door.
What you're doing here is very salesy, you're reaching out to people one-on-one asking for referrals and then I imagine reaching out to those people, but you can also change your pricing, maybe raise your pricing or lower your prices to reach more customers.
You can do a lot of marketing activities. You can do advertising. What was your overall game plan if you had one?
So I have a Google doc that just lists tons and tons of ideas that I have for how to grow the product and I have a hard time going through and deciding hey, I'm going to focus on these different things or I'm going to do these things in this particular order. Reality is it's mostly just a checklist.
The problem is some of them take a long time to get to the end of. SEO, for example or building a content marketing strategy. Those things take a lot of time and effort and money and quite frankly I don't have a lot of any of those so I would have to outsource it and pay somebody else to do it, but I don't have the funds and revenue to be able to do that either.
Mostly what I focus on is the types of things that I can do without spending a lot of money. That excludes certain activities like paid advertising. I don't have the money to be able to do that. Mostly I'll focus on things where I'm asking people for help in various ways or providing the best service I possibly can that makes them feel so much indebted to me, that kind of thing.
And then also promoting things like annual plans that's actually really helpful as well. But you have to be able to get people to trust you enough to be able to say "Okay, yeah, I'll pay you for an annual plan."
It's funny because it's super basic and straight forward when you hear it, but a lot of people don't have that list. A lot of people don't have a list of all the different things that they can think of to try to grow their business or improve or overcome some obstacle.
What they're doing instead is they hear about one thing, they become fixated on it. Maybe that's search engine optimization, maybe that's advertising. Maybe that's making cold calls. They say okay, that's what I've got to do.
You know so-and-so did that to grow their business, I've got to do that to grow my business. And if you get fixated on one option and you don't have a list then you can't compare. You can't compare and contrast these options. You can't say which is going to take more time.
Which one do I have more certainty about, which one is most likely to succeed. I think just having that list is crucial. Were there any things that you tried that are maybe on your list that didn't work as well as you'd hoped?
I think the easiest thing to do as a developer is actually to just dive in and write more features and think that you're going to feature your way out of this customer acquisition problem.
That doesn't happen at all. Adding new features almost never adds new customers unless somebody came to you and said I need this feature and I'm not willing to sign up until you implement it. I actually take that and turn it around.
This is a good hack for some people, have them sign up and then offer to extend their trial until that feature is implemented. If you say that you will implement the feature and then they'll sign up what you've done is you've committed yourself to doing work for somebody who hasn't paid you yet and isn't going to pay you.
If you turn that around you get them to sign up, then they're not off looking for a replacement or some other product because they've kind of made a commitment to you already. And that works especially well if you can get them to give you the first payment and then you'll give them a credit for one month down the road or something like that. At least that way there's that tie in because I did find that with the pre-orders for example, I had a lot of people who prepaid me.
Then even after going back to them most of them did not stick around and become customers for a long time because they had in the meantime went and found other things. They had that problem they needed it solved and they needed it solved sooner than I was going to be able to deliver.
You mentioned earlier that one of the things that helps you come up with business ideas is that you don't get frustrated by the existence of competition.
You don't care that someone else has done something similar to what you're doing. And I think that's the case with Bluetick as well, Bluetick is not the only business that exists that helps people automate their email process and send follow-up emails.
How do you think about the competition? And what do you do to stand out and make sure that people choose you over your competitors?
Personally, I use the trust factor and service. So if I can get somebody on to a phone call, I will because I've not only run into this problem and experienced it but as the founder of the business people feel much more trusting of the founder of a business when they're talking to them versus talking to a sales rep.
I have a list of probably 30 different competitors that I basically track and the problem is that with so many different vendors to choose from it's difficult to know who to trust and who not to. If you find one and you get to talk directly to the founder that says a lot. People have a tendency to trust that, especially developers.
I've been in various sales calls before and I apparently have a persona that projects confidence to people when I'm talking about technical stuff because it's obvious that I know all the different edge cases and I know the different ways that something could be exploited. Or you know misused or just somebody does something wrong and I can talk to those things and it's clear to them that I have a certain level of expertise.
You don't really get that when you're talking to a sales rep and say "Well how does your API interact with this?" And they're like "Well, let me get somebody on my team to get back to you". It becomes this convoluted process that they don't want to deal with. Between that and running the podcast and MicroConf there's a lot of trust that I try to establish as quickly as possible. And that translates into like I said, lots of other things and the ability for them to give you the benefit of the doubt in virtually every scenario.
You're a pretty well-known guy. I think people probably look up to you as an expert because of your podcast because MicroConf.
They look at you as someone who should know all the right things to do with their business, which I think can be a lot of pressure.
How do you how do you deal with that? And you ever feel afraid or embarrassed about sharing what you're up to you and talking about the decisions you make with Bluetick in public?
So I try to ignore as much public commentary and feedback as I possibly can more because it's detrimental than anything else.
I think I found that I became acutely aware of that when I was running AuditShark because I felt compelled to continue working on it and building it and trying to sell it because I had a podcast and I talked about it and things really just did not go very well.
Things are completely opposite with Bluetick and that's great but at the same time I'm not where I want to be. I don't think any founder has ever said "No. I'm going to rain in growth this month because I just don't want to grow anymore."
You're doing way too well, we need to hit the brakes.
We're going too fast. Let's put the brakes on. That does not happen and don't get me wrong there are certain cases where you may say "Let's not run ads this week because I'm going to be on vacation for the next two weeks and I know I'm gonna blow a lot of money".
That's a very different scenario than "I'm good. Look, I don't want any more money." That's not something people typically tend to do I think that there is a certain amount of expectations about, oh well Mike should be doing much better and you know quite frankly there's times where I look at my revenue numbers and I wouldn't say that I'm embarrassed about it but I'm certainly not happy with where things are, where I feel I should be.
I think that's probably where a lot of founders feel the exact same way. It's you always wish things were better than they were and you always plan for them to be better and it almost never works out that way. So there's always this lingering, not general disappointment but self disappointment. I should be doing better than this.
Yeah, it's crazy because it exists at pretty much every level. If you're someone who's been thinking about starting a start-up for a very long time you might be disappointed in yourself because you just never started.
Whereas if you are someone running a ten billion dollar company, you might be thinking of all the things you want your company to be doing and how you're not there yet. You're looking at the Amazon's and the Google's of the world and thinking why don't I get to that point?
It's hard to internalize but it's really true that there's never a point along that continuum where you just feel like you're doing everything you could be doing, because no matter where you get you end up looking above you. You want to impress the people who are doing a little bit better than you and you want to reach a level that's further than you've gotten.
I think you also have to recognize that everyone has a different situation. I make it a point to not compare myself in any way shape or form to any business that's funded because I'm bootstrapped.
I know that if I had a million dollars, heck even if I had a $150,000, $250,000 in my bank account that would enable me to do a heck of a lot more things. That goes down to the question of well should I look for funding? And that's a very very different conversation that we could have another two or three hour conversation on.
For me right now, that's not on the table. The question is who should I be comparing myself to? And the reality is you should be comparing yourself to yourself, three months ago or six months ago. Are you in a better position now than you were? And if not, how can you fix that?
How can you improve things? Or should you move on to something else? Because if you start comparing yourself to other people, it's keeping up with the Joneses. You're always going to be comparing yourself with other people and it's never a good scene mentally. You can never catch up, there will always be people in front of you. There will always be people who are smarter than you.
Despite your best efforts is there anybody that you do look up to you and you find yourself chasing after or comparing yourself to? Or are there any businesses that you look up to as role models?
Or maybe a better question is, do you have any mentors who you look to for guidance and advice in running Bluetick, who are perhaps further ahead than you are?
Yeah, it's a very subtle distinction between looking up to somebody and respecting them and how they run their business and what they do versus comparing yourself to them and saying, "Oh, I wish I were there. I wish I were doing things like you". So for example, Peldi from Balsamiq, I very much respect him and I look up to him and what he's achieved with Balsamiq.
But I don't look at myself and say, "Oh he was able to get to $800,000 a year in revenue in eight months and I want to be able to do that. Why am I not? I'm disappointed with myself.". It's a completely different business, everything is different so I don't compare myself to him, but I definitely look up to him and respect him.
And if I were to ask him the question I would absolutely listen to what he has to say, but I don't beat myself up over the fact that I'm not there.
Let's talk about Bluetick today and how you grow into the future.
What's top of mind for you every day that you're working on your product?.
And how do you grow from $2000 a month in revenue to $10,000 a month in revenue and beyond?
I've spent a ton of time basically making sure that the app is stable and can scale. On the back end it does a ton of processing and because it operates at a fundamentally different level than most other applications that are out there that do similar things. And typically that's explicitly because during the validation process for Bluetick I looked at what they were doing and how they were doing it and said "Well, how can I do this better?"
So there were products out there and they said "I like this product and I use it now, but the reason I don't like it is because I only get updates once an hour." Then I said "Why is that?". I look around and find out that they're using some third-party service and that's what they're using to synchronize the mailboxes. They're not doing it themselves.
That's part of why it's taken so long for me to get to where I am with Bluetick, but that said I also did it myself. I own that entire tech stack, I'm not reliant on an external party. So although I have to move slower I have much more flexibility in the technical capabilities at a lower level and those competitors don't.
What that has allowed me to do is put things in such a position where it can scale and I've done premature scaling, premature optimization for sure. At the same time I also recognize that as I'm adding customers in, some customer I added had a mailbox that had 750,000 emails in it and my server just basically handled it, it didn't even bat an eye really. But they do that every 10 to 15 minutes.
It's got to synchronize the entire mailbox and it does that for every single customer but by owning that technology stack I don't have to worry about that stuff and by focusing on making sure that the app is, I don't want to say stable because it is stable. It's able to handle those types of situations without breaking or slowing down or bogging down.
By focusing on those things I put myself in a position where I can leverage things like a Zapier integration or I can go out to Product Hunt and post it there or I can do things that leverage other people's audiences to add a bunch more customers in there in a very short time span and not have to worry about the app breaking. Because that's more stressful than anything else. if the backend service has stopped working, that's a big deal.
Let's say the technical aspects and the robustness of your product get to exactly where you want them to be tomorrow. How do you think about finding customers and getting more people in the door using Bluetick?
I think it's mostly it's awareness but there are places where Bluetick is not going to be the right solution for everyone in all cases. Bluetick includes a lightweight CRM in the middle of it but I think that integrating with other CRM's so that you can bring your own and integrate with it is helpful.
I mean the way you phrased the question, if it did everything I wanted it to, all those Integrations would be in place. I wouldn't have to build them, it's a catch-22 there. At some point down the road integrating into other products so that Bluetick is, I'll say a point solution and a specific piece of your sales funnel.
That's where it needs to go. That's the piece where I would focus and making sure that people are aware of it because at the end of the day marketing in general is making people aware of your product and getting them to trust it enough to give it a shot to solve whatever problem they have.
And if you haven't done all of those things you're never going to be able to sell the solution to them. But you also have to remember you need to make sure that they're getting their problem solved and once they are, automating everything. I found that the most successful customers have integrated Bluetick so that it automates stuff for them.
I think what I'm getting at here is something that we touched on briefly earlier, which is especially if you're a developer, there's always this temptation to build more features, to write more code, you know, things can always be more stable. They could always be more robust.
They could always be more feature-full. And you're in the middle of this situation right now where you have to decide. Okay, how much time do I spend on improving my product? And how much time do I spend on trying to get more people to use it?
How do you navigate that? Especially when you're a resource-constrained solo founder. When you're marketing nobody's writing code and when you're writing code, nobody's growing your product.
So I'm crossing that line at the moment. So you could probably argue that I could have done that back in December or January, February of this year. I mean, you could probably make a case that oh, last August is when you should have done it when you first opened up the doors to the public.
But the reality is that if I open up the doors and a lot of people come in all at once, all it takes is one customer who crosses a certain threshold and then the entire app falls down on itself. I think a lot of apps probably fit that mold where if one thing goes wrong in a certain piece of it the whole thing just get grinds to a halt. I've spent a lot of time making sure that I recognize those situations. And either code around them or have avoided them and I'm at the point now where I feel much more comfortable moving forward and pushing on the gas more to add more people in because those situations have been largely resolved. That's because I've slowly added customers in, they find problems,
I fix them. I iterate, push out new features or new things that will cover different edge cases and then they say "yes, this is great, but could you do this over here?" And I just keep iterating on that process and at this point, I'm much more comfortable with it. Versus if you asked me to do that last August when I first opened the doors, I'd have been really hesitant because if one thing goes wrong.
I've had situations, in November, December time frame where I integrated OAuth authentication and things ground to a halt because I used some example code that I shouldn't have used. I basically just copied and pasted it from the wrong example. And what was happening is in the background the token would expire and it would pop up a browser as the local system account and because there's nobody there, nobody sees it and you can't click on anything.
So all of the synchronization stopped working and I only had 20 customers at the time. Let's say I had a thousand. I've got a thousand people who I just introduced to this new feature and it stops working for a thousand people. Trust me. I do not want that problem.
But by slowly doing things, by slowly moving forward I think you're in a much better position to handle those exceptional or edge cases where something goes massively wrong and only a handful of people see it. And I think that's actually an advantage to moving slow.
Obviously there's disadvantages to revenue and profit margins and stuff that, but when you've got something as complicated as this on the back end, it's actually a benefit to go slow.
It's interesting because it's so dependent on the product that you're building, you know for what you're doing. It's so mission critical that these emails get sent, that they get sent correctly, that they can handle your customer's workloads.
Or another example would be Stripe. With a business like Stripe, dealing with customer's financial data and payments and really the core of their business. And so it's extremely important to be reliable and stable, but of course there are tons of other businesses that don't rely on that reliability and stability and they have other concerns and so really just comes down to understanding what your central selling points are to your customers.
What do your customers want? What do they fear? And you can't necessarily just copy what you see other people doing. You have to understand your customers.
Yeah and I think that I'm really trying to focus on, I promoted the trust factor earlier on today, but at the same time I also want to make sure that the customers are getting exactly what they need and that they trust that the app is not going to break on them or not going to do things.
I mean, that's one thing that I found from the validation process and asking people, what do you like about other products? And what you do not like? What have you tried? And I got up a whole laundry list of complaints about other people's products and I engineered it around all of those things. And if I can't solve those then people aren't going to trust me. If they're not going to trust me they're not going to tell their friends or their colleagues about it.
If I can make sure that they never run into any of those problems it's very difficult to bad-mouth a product that has nobody bad-mouthing it. Somebody at MicroConf earlier this year and I'm sure this will trigger something but they said "I came to MicroConf in the large part because I looked around for bad reviews and I could not find one."
He's like, "I'm not bad at Google. I just couldn't find one." I'm like, "that's great" but now of course we're going to get a flood of people.
I want to put Bluetick in that position as well. I want it to be able to be something that people can get in, can use and really just does its job and does its job extremely well.
I have to go slow because of that, which sucks in some cases but I have to.
What's your advice for people who want to follow in your footsteps and build something that can generate thousands of dollars a month in revenue, but who haven't yet gotten started?
If you're just starting out and you don't have anything that you've built or sold, my first piece of advice is to find something that you can create, that you can charge people money for. I think people underestimate how long it's going to take to do that. There's a lot of opportunity to just build a pamphlet or a cheat sheet or guide about something.
Whether it's a software development framework or publicly available library. You can put it out on various platforms, Gumroad or something along those lines. Where you just sell a very short ebook and you'll learn a lot about running a business and the types of problem that you're going to run into just by selling that one simple thing.
Amazon is a good channel obviously for that type of stuff as well. But you're going to learn a lot in going through the process of trying to put something on Amazon. Just by virtue of getting started with a business, doesn't matter what it is and selling something online.
That's the very first thing that you should do because that will give you the experience and at least a little bit of revenue and confidence that you can do bigger things.
I think that's great advice and having constraints is so powerful because if you can eliminate some substantial portion of the types of things you typically have to worry about when running a business then you can focus your efforts to other areas and learn a lot more about those.
If you build on an existing platform, you don't have to worry as much about marketing. Or if you build something really simple, you have to worry that much about development and spending months dealing with development issues.
Totally agree there. Anyway, Mike it's been such a pleasure having you on the show and walking through everything that you're doing with Bluetick. Can you tell the audience where they can go to find out more about what you're up to personally and what's going on with your business?
Sure. If you want to learn more about Bluetick and head over to Bluetick.io.
There's also a mailing list that you can sign up for, there's an email course there as well, talks a little bit about follow-ups and how to go about them in different ways that you can do them, even without using Bluetick.
Then if you're looking to find out more about me, I'd say Twitter's probably the best place but you can also go to singlefounder.com which is my blog but on twitter you can find me @singlefounder.
Awesome Mike. Thank you so much for coming on the show.
All right. Thank you.
If you enjoyed listening to this conversation and you want a really easy way to support the podcast, why don't you head over to iTunes and leave us a quick rating or even a review? If you're looking for an easy way to get there, just go IndieHackers.com/review and that should open up iTunes on your computer.
I read pretty much all the reviews that you guys leave over there. And it really helps other people to discover the show so your support is very much appreciated. In addition if you are running your own Internet business or if that's something you hope to do someday you should join me and a whole bunch of other founders on the IndieHackers.com website.
It's a great place to get feedback on pretty much any problem or question that you might have while running your business. If you listen to the show, you know that I am a huge proponent of getting help from other founders rather than trying to build your business all by yourself.
You'll see me on the forum for sure as well as more than a handful of some of the guests that I've had on the podcast. If you're looking for inspiration we've also got a huge directory full of hundreds of products built by other Indie Hackers.
Every one of which includes revenue numbers and some of the behind-the-scenes strategies for how they grew their products from nothing.
As always thanks so much for listening and I'll see you next time.