We've heard a lot about what it's like to build a company from scratch, but what's life like after you've made it? In this episode, Steli Efti (@Steli) returns to the show for a casual chat about his experience being the CEO of a profitable and growing SaaS business for years. We talk about the importance of "building the house you want to live in," how to guide a company through its awkward teenage years, and how Steli is planning to get through the pandemic and the looming recession.
What’s up everybody? This is Courtland from IndieHackers.com, and you are listening to the Indie Hackers podcast. On this show, I talk to the founders of profitable internet businesses and I try to get a sense of what it’s like to be in their shoes.
How did they get to where they are today? How do they make decisions both at their companies and in their personal lives? And what, exactly, makes their businesses tick? And the goal here, as always, is so that the rest of us can learn from their examples and go on to build our own profitable internet businesses.
Today I’m sitting down to talk to Steli Efti, the CEO of Close. Close is a CRM tool that helps salespeople close more deals. Steli and I go way back. We met in Y Combinator in 2011 in Silicon Valley, back when I first moved here. Since then we’ve kept in touch. This is Steli’s third time on the podcast. I wanted to catch up with him and see what’s going on in his world.
Steli is an experienced Indie Hacker. He hit product market fit years ago. His business has already been making millions of dollars. He’s already grown his team to dozens of people. I wanted to get a snapshot of what decisions and concerns you make when you reach that point in your business, and also how a business of that maturity level deals with a crisis we’re going through right now with COVID-19 and all these lock downs and shelter in place orders. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Steli.
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Steli, how are you doing? How’s it going with you?
You know, I honestly cannot complain but I still do it every day but I'm working on it. I'm healthy and I'm reasonably sane so I have lots of blessings to count, I guess.
I feel the same way. I complain. I've had a lot of travel plans ruined this year and a lot of other plans, but in the grand scheme of things it’s pretty minor compared to what else is going on. I'm healthy. My family is healthy. I'm safe.
I'm also staying sane. I’m a huge introvert, so I think being at home for a long time hasn’t been as much of a challenge as it’s been for some of my friends but it’s starting to wear on me after a couple months. A couple friends and I are going to look into getting a cabin, moving away, and riding out the storm together, see how that goes.
But one thing I've noticed that I've enjoyed, a silver lining, is it feels like everything’s moving a little bit slower. The whole world is moving slower. People aren’t getting as much done. They’ve got their kids at home. Everybody’s cutting everybody a little bit of slack.
For some strange reason that makes me feel better. It feels like it’s taken a load off my shoulders. I don’t have to run as fast. Do you feel the same way? Do you feel like you’ve slowed down, or the world has slowed down and that affects how you think about your job and how you work?
My world definitely has slowed down. My circle has focused a lot more. It’s funny, at first I was complaining, because I had to move. I had these travel plans. We had a big retreat coming up and we had to reschedule and cancel and do a ton of changing my life plans, which I wasn’t cool with. Reality was sending us all some cards and I was complaining about the cards I was dealt.
And then at some point I was like, “Wait a second. I've been complaining about too much travel for the past three years every single week. And now that there’s no travel I complain about not traveling.” I'm like, “I'm just an asshole.” This is the reality. No matter what happens, I complain.
So I started to work on my attitude, and then being able to slowly adjust to the pace, create a routine, and appreciate what this phase and time of my life, what it presents to me and what I can learn from it and it made a big change.
I have to say in the beginning I was fighting reality, and you always lose when you do that. So I was struggling with it hard. The pace has slowed. I think it’s more like I spend a lot more time with my mom, for instance. I have a very close relationship with my mother. But typically, I would see my mom maybe once every two months and I would maybe talk to her once every other week for a longer conversation. I've been talking to my mom every single day.
I visit her twice a week. I’ll drive to her place and she’ll come out at the balcony. I will be down and we’ll chat for an hour. That’s awesome. It’s sad that I wasn’t hugging her and it’s sad that it’s under these circumstances, but I'm still glad for it because I'm spending a lot more time with my family, a lot more time with a small circle of friends than I used to when life was so busy and I was always on the go. So that’s been a blessing.
I have the same story with my mom. We don’t have any balcony chats because she lives across the country but she’s got a Zoom account now and she’ll hop on Zoom with me and my brother and chat with us and talk to us about Indie Hackers and what we’re up to.
It’s cool how that’s brought us closer together. It’s helped us recognize the importance of life and the things that matter. I almost wish that six weeks a year we would just do this social distancing thing, slow everything down, bring everyone together, cut everybody some slack and just relax for a little bit. It’s unfortunate it had to happen under these circumstances.
That’s so true.
The last time you were on the podcast, we talked all about sales. It’s a great episode. I was telling your earlier I constantly recommend that Indie Hackers go listen to it because sales is one of those things that almost every fledging founder struggles with, people are afraid of.
You gave a master class on how to think about sales, how to find your first hundred customers no matter what you’re doing, how to send great emails. But we didn’t talk about your company, Close.
The last time we talked about Close was two years ago when you were on the podcast, and two years is a very long time to run a company. Tell us about how things are going with Close and remind us also what Close is again and how it works.
Close is sales tool, basically a CRM that helps small and medium-sized businesses to sell better, to communicate more and better and to close deals. We’re a fully remote team. I think by now we’re 45 people, 14 different countries.
We’re profitable, we’re growing and we’re trying to build the house we want to live in which is simple but yet challenging. I don’t even know. When you said the last time we talked about Close was two years ago, I was like, “Wow. What happened those two years?”
I draw a blank, cause it’s all blur in my life. If it’s last week I can tell you, and then everything else is two weeks ago or three years ago feels the same. I don’t know. I think for us over the last two years, maybe one thing that we have been going through is this awkward, some people call it the messy middle. I call it the awkward teenage years of a company’s life cycle.
We’re not children anymore. We’re not a startup-startup anymore, but we want to have all the privileges of no responsibility and no process, just being cool and winging it, but we’re also not real adults yet. So we don’t have all the privilege of a massively skilled organization.
So we’re in the middle phase where we have to find our balance of being more adult and stepping up our game and leveling up our game appropriately to where we are as a business. It’s awkward. You’re always one beat off.
The awkward teenage years.
It’s super awkward. Any time you try to change something, saying, “Okay. Now we’re at a size where we need to move differently or change some of the things, the way we do them, the way we work,” it always feels awkward and so corporate. It’s like, “Why do we need this?” There’s an inner rebellion of the child that’s like, “I don’t want this responsibility,” and all these things.
Yeah. I don’t want to grow up.
I don’t want to have a job and earn money. Can’t I be a child at play? But I want to have the power of an adult of deciding where I want to live and make all my own decisions and all that. So the last two years it’s still ongoing, I would say. We’re super-awkward, we’re trying to figure out adulthood and it’s been a fun and awkward ride for sure.
So how do you look at that when you’re deciding, “Okay. I've got this one list over here of all the advantages of being a small scrappy startup, and another list of all the advantages of being a grown-up company and having all this responsibility and all this success.” What is appealing in that second list that’s causing you to drive to be a grown-up company? Why not stay tiny, stay free and keep all those advantages?
Being a 40-year-old that acts like a 12-year-old isn’t cool. It sounds like a cool idea, like “Hey, what if you played video games all day long, collected an unemployment check and ate Mars bars?”
I get this part. There are days where I’m like, “That would be awesome.” Not doing anything would be fun. But in reality, it’s not fun to live a life like that, at least not for us. I think part of what drives us at Close is this feeling of this dedication to growth, internal growth, personal growth, and growth as an organization, as a team, as a company.
Any time we’re growing, I feel there’s a sense of fulfillment within the business. People are happy. People feel that things are changing in a positive direction. They’re learning and growing through that process with the business.
Any time we’re stale, there’s this sense of restlessness and unfulfillment, and everything is the way it used to be, but it doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel like we’re learning fast enough. It doesn’t feel like we’re growing.
So I do think that as the business is growing, as the amount of team members we have, as the amount of customers we serve, as the amount of revenue we generate, it’s naïve and childish to be like, “But I want this to keep going on indefinitely up until the right (ph), while I still act like it’s four people in a basement.
I get the appeal. I used to be and still probably am one of the chief offenders of holding onto the old days for longer than I should be. Now I've recognized that in me, and any time I impulsively shut something down, like when somebody’s like, “Hey, maybe we could change the way we do meetings,” or “We need a little bit more documentation here. It would be better if we helped,” my instinct is always to be like, “No. We don’t need more process. We don’t need all this bullshit.”
Now what I've learned is to take a breather. Breathe in, breathe out. Put the emotions to the side. If I have that strong of an impulsive reaction, it’s probably not the smart side of me, the rational side of me or the adult side of me, the mature side of me that is responding to this.
It’s probably the child, the childish side of me. So maybe if I marinate on this idea a little bit, maybe I look at it. Maybe I’ll ask a few smart people, and then I’ll add my two cents if this is good or not good.
It’s challenging. It sucks at times to have to do this, but I've recognized that I was slowing down the growing up process more than I’d like to admit. I'm trying to get better but it’s a never-ending process.
I do think it’s important. It’s important for us to be the best company we can be and for people here to be happy and fulfilled, and for me, for my own sanity, I don’t like to look back three years ago and think everything’s exactly the same and we’re the same people doing the same thing. That sucks. That feels like we’ve wasted life. We wasted an opportunity to grow and learn.
That’s why I think it’s important to not overdo it, which is the mistake that we all also do at times. We’re three people with an idea and we want to have higher CFO and have a corporate responsibility council and do all these things that don’t match the baby size of our life cycle that we’re in. But it’s important to progress and evolve, I think, as you grow as a business.
It’s interesting to think about the focus on growth and evolving when you have a team, and the fact that everyone feels a little bit restless if you’re not growing, if you’re not going somewhere. It’s like, “What’s the point of this team? What are we doing here?”
We feel the same internally at Indie Hackers, but also Indie Hackers as a community is very different. The community is almost the exact opposite. I was on the forum yesterday having a conversation with some people who were complaining about the change.
They were like, “It’s getting too big. Why are there all these different things? What about the halcyon days of yesteryear when everything was so small, and everyone knew each other?” It’s almost like the community is full of people who don’t want change.
It’s fun for me trying to grapple with that difference, but in your situation, you don’t have a community. You're a hundred percent team. You're a hundred percent people all on the same page, working to achieve this goal so you're all in it together towards growth.
You mentioned that you’re building the house you want to live in. What do you imagine that house looks like at the end of the day? What companies do you look up to? Who do you model yourself after, and how do you navigate this process of growing up?
I think that for us building the house we want to live in is applying long-term thinking in what we do and trying to build and create things that have longevity, because that is appealing to us, a value metric.
Looking at something that has real longevity feels more fulfilling, feels like it was something worth doing because it was not just worthwhile for a day and then it was gone, forgotten and useless.
So a lot of that can also be translated into the golden rule, treat others the way you want to be treated. So in our case, how do we build a piece of software that we’d like using? How do we sell to our customers in a way that we would like to be sold to?
How do we support them? How do we give support in a way that we’d like to be receiving support, versus what’s the cheapest way or what’s the way every other company in our space is doing it?
I think that for us, we realized and recognized early in this company that we didn’t enjoy and didn’t like the idea of building a massive organization of people working in this business, so we never wanted to be 10,000 employees, 100,00 employees, whatever.
We never wanted to become the biggest business in our category in terms of headcount and people, because then it wouldn’t be the house we would want to live in. It would be building a house you would like to sell.
That would be a house I would like to sell. It would be awesome probably because you’d get a lot of money if you scaled to an insane amount of employees, but it would not be the company I would want to work for, I think, anymore.
So we had to always grapple with the conflict between, we like small. We like small teams. We like a small circle. We like as little bullshit as possible in our lives, as much trust, and at the same time we’re really ambitious.
We want to have massive impact. We want to accomplish big things, so finding a way to say, “What is the right balance between these two ideas that would be fulfilling for us?” Back in the day we would always say we’d rather be Craigslist than eBay, or WhatsApp than Facebook.
Can we have a small team, small in relative terms. Could we be 100 people doing $50 million in revenue, $100 million in revenue, to 300 people doing a couple hundred million in revenue? That would be amazing, versus could we do $10 billion in revenue and be 100,000 people, which is obviously probably even harder to do or just as hard.
It’s not harder or better, it’s just if I could choose between a $10 billion in revenue company with 10,000 employees or $100 million company with 100 employees, I would choose that, any day of the week. That, to me, much more appealing because I could still see myself working in that business.
So to us, it’s like can we build a company that has significant impact with a relatively small team in ways where five years from now, ten years from now I would still truly like working in it? That would be incredible. It’s hard to imagine. It’s very difficult to accomplish, so that’s why it’s appealing.
I think a lot about the longevity of Indie Hackers as well, and how do I continue growing this but also turn it into something where it’s fun to work on and it’s something that I could see myself doing indefinitely.
It’s very much what you said, building the house that you want to live in, not just the house that you want to sell. I guess in my case I already sold it but I'm still living in it. I'm still here. The owners are like, “Hey, you stay there and take care of the house.” So I'm in your shoes, where it’s like, “Yeah. Let me make this house as great as I possibly can.”
For me, when I think about my ideal life running Indie Hackers, it’s getting to talk to interesting people like you on the podcast three or four days a week. It’s getting to travel around the world, which right now is on hiatus, but going to Indie Hackers meetups across the globe, going to any country in the world and knowing there are going to be 40, 50 people there who are excited to meet, want to show me around, who are cool to talk to.
I can learn from them and broadcast their messages to other Indie Hackers so everybody can build their businesses and learn from each other. And then running this online community where it’s super cool and I get to code whatever I want.
It’s a living breathing thing, and people give me feedback and complaints and compliments. That seems, to me, super fun and very mission-driven, because I know the things that I'm doing aren’t just fun for me but affect other people.
At your company, I think you’re at a much bigger scale in terms of revenue. Indie Hackers makes zero dollars. You’ve got a much bigger team. We’ve got four or five people working on Indie Hackers. You’ve got I think you said 45.
I think the house you want to live in has more constraints, more rules, but also you have more power to do whatever you want. For example, I talked to Jason Fried and DHH at Basecamp who have a four-day work week and they have all different side projects they’re spinning off to enjoy working on the things they want to enjoy working on. DHH is driving racecars.
I talked to Natalie Nagele at Wildbit and she’s also got a four-day work week. Her whole vision is her employees having this playground where they can grow and learn and thrive. Do you have anything like that at Close? How much are you focused on the core mission? Do you ever get distracted by these little side things and these meta-projects working on your business? What’s the balance there?
That’s a good question. I think when we started, early on we assumed that we would have a ton side project and run our businesses very similar to some of the examples that you shared. We’ve never gotten around to it so far. I think that one thing that has always been amazing is that the people that we’ve hired have always been incredibly entrepreneurial. We’ve always encouraged them.
When people came to us and said, “Hey, I just want you to know I want to work here for two years and dedicate myself and grow, but then I want to go on and do my own thing,” we’d always go, “Awesome. Just keep us in the loop. We want to support you. Maybe we’ll be the first customers. Maybe we’ll be the first investors.” We want to be part of that journey.
We call it the Close Mafia. There are all kinds of people that have been part of our journey for a number of years that are now running their own businesses, a lot of them are customers of ours. We’ve had all kinds of cases. We had somebody, Ryan Robbins (ph), who is quite well known in the blogging space and helping people to make money online, his blog was much smaller, and his online stuff was much smaller when we got to know him and work on some conference stuff.
Then I told him I wanted him to join us fulltime and he said, “Hey, dude, I’d love to. I think the team is amazing. But I will always work on my blog and podcast and my other projects. Ultimately I want to do that.”
We talked honestly about it and it was like, “All right. We’ll try to help you on your journey there. You’ll help us on what we’re trying to accomplish on our journey.” This doesn’t always have to be forever. So for two years, Ryan did amazing work for Close.
We tried to help him as much as possible. Then eventually he was making so much money, we’re like “One day we’ll all have to come and work for you, working for your blog.” Then we parted ways again and we’re still very good friends and constantly in touch.
So we will always encourage side projects. We’ll always encourage people to follow their dreams if they’re entrepreneurial, and lots of people at Close do have ultimately the goal to do something on their own one day.
But in terms of launching different products and having all these different product brands, and all these new spin-off companies within the company, we thought we would do that and then so far we’ve always been like, “Well there are all these things we want to do at Close. There are all these projects that we’re passionate about. There’s all this stuff.”
And then any time we discuss, “Well, this would be a neat idea,” nobody was more passionate about that neat idea than the other stuff that we were doing, and so nobody would ever champion, just take a project like that and run with it.
I used to think a lot about it. One day will we change, and will we start doing more of these things? That idea or that thought faded in the background. It might pop up at some point in a different cycle of the company, but so far, it’s not been the case.
It’s very ironic considering how Close started. You’re running Elastic Sales and Close itself was one of these distracting internal side projects that eventually did so well that it blew up and became your primary company. You’ve stayed so focused on that and not had that same thing happen again. It’s great.
Most companies have the opposite problem. They’re not that excited about the thing that they’re working on. They’re constantly chasing cars and they’re distracted and it’s hard for them to focus. What is it about Close that gets everybody so excited on your team? How do you make a product that everyone is super enthusiastic to keep working on?
This might sound cliché, and I don’t want to make it sound like there aren’t any days that people are frustrated with this business or over it. The last seven years since we’ve been running Close, there have been a dozen times where my cofounders and I were like, “What are we doing with our lives? What is this? Is this the meaning of life? Are we making the right choices?” So I don’t want to sound too much like, “Oh, we chose such a great thing that every single second of every day is” – it’s just not true.
It’s just butterflies and sunshine and rainbows.
Yeah, no. That’s not realistic, at least not for us. We do have days where we’re like, “I wish I could do something fun that was new and had not all this baggage that comes with an adult-ish company.”
And you make any small change and there are thousands and thousands of customers and users that will complain and that will resist the change. When you start with a clean slate, everything is pretty. Everything is neat, beautiful, and you do whatever you want. So we definitely have those days.
But I think it all starts and ends with the customer. We serve customers that we care about. Similar to what you described, a lot of our customers are very entrepreneurial, startups or at least interesting companies that are moving differently, that are changing differently.
I often describe it as the type of businesses we love to serve is the businesses of the future. Smaller companies, a lot of them distributed, a lot of them tech enabled. Even if they’re not a technology company they’re more tech savvy than a lot of companies in the industry, very entrepreneurial, very international.
So when we talk to our customers, we’re consistently inspired by what they do, by who they are. We’re like, “This is an awesome product that they’re building. These people are smart and good people. This is fun, how they figured out to have success so far.”
So we get passionate about the type of customer we’re serving, and then it’s easy to be passionate about building things for them, helping them succeed, giving them advice, supporting them.
I think one of the best decisions that we made from day one was to say no to the enterprise. This is something that most SaaS businesses don’t. Most of them will never be able to become a $10 billion revenue business without going to the enterprise, for many of them at least not.
But for us, from day one I said, “The enterprise is not the type of business I care about. It’s not the type of business I'm intimately familiar with. I didn’t have a corporate career working at these large organizations. To have a real connection to the people that work there, the problem they have, the way they operate, and to be passionate about changing it and helping them.”
I am like, “I don’t care about you people. I don’t care about your problems. I don’t understand it and I don’t want to be in that world.” That also means saying no to a lot of money once in a while.
There’s always going to be an enterprise customer that knocks on our door and waves with a huge potential check and you know, “Wouldn’t this amount of money be great for you people right now? It’s going to be easy for you to get it. Just take one meeting with us.” I'm happy that we’ve always said thanks, but no thanks. Not because it’s not good but it wouldn’t be the house we want to live in.
It’s almost like how much money would you accept in order to be bored for the rest of your life. How much would someone have to pay you to be bored and live an unfulfilled life?
Yeah. How much money would somebody have to pay you, so you marry somebody that you don’t like, and you have to spend every day with them at least 8 hours a day talking to them.
I don't know if there’s a check size. There’s not enough money for that.
Yeah. Is there enough to be like, “For the rest of my life I'm going to be spending 8 hours worrying, talking, and interacting with somebody I don’t enjoy?” That sucks. That would be the reality if we went into enterprise for me.
At that point I would be like, “All right. If this is what’s right for our company and this is what’s right for everybody else here, then I need to move on and there needs to be somebody else that’s going to be doing my job,” because I would hate my life. Then I wouldn’t be passionate about the things we’re doing.
Sometimes we’re building features that I know will serve our customers, but I'm not passionate about it. I'm not using this functionality every single day. It’s not benefiting me directly, but I care about the people and I care about helping them.
When we then launch it and I see how they respond and how much it helps them accomplish their goals and dreams, then I'm like, “This feature’s amazing. This is awesome that we built this.”
So I think caring about the audience you serve helps with longevity. It helps with still being passionate five years, seven years into the journey. I think it can be fun to chase money and opportunity and be like, “Wow, we are making all this money. We have this nifty idea in this nifty market.”
I think that can be incredibly stimulating and fun, but not for ten years probably. Eventually you’re going to be like, “I hate the people I serve and the people I interact with and the things we’re doing here,” no matter how much money it is. So I think that that’s been our hack, to still feel passionate about what we do seven years in.
Do you think making so much money has changed your perspective on it? Last time when we talked to you, you were already doing millions in revenue. I can only imagine that it’s more now, and it’s been years of you making this much money, having a successful company. Has your perspective changed?
I want to say no because I don’t like that idea, but I do think it has. I went through a number of changes of having a lot of money, a lot of money contextually for me at the time, and then having no money contextually for me at the time.
I went through this cycle a couple of times early in my life, and that helped significantly. So I think this hasn’t impacted me as much because I had recognized early on already that money is really amazing. It’s important. It’s great. But it’s not what drives me and makes me really happy or fulfills me.
At some point the numbers, you lose touch with it. They’re all meaningless. They’re not exciting. I think at the beginning, the first time I made 10k in my life it was like, “Wow, I'm rich. This is it. I can buy everything I want.” I was, I don't know, 19 years old and I’m like, “This is incredible. I'm so rich,” because most people that I knew, my mom was making like 30K a year. Ten K, I'm like, “I'm the richest person I know.”
But then I was also broke many times. I remember raising money. I was like, “If I ever raise a million dollars.” I don’t know why a million. That’s what we see in movies and the stories we read in books. A million dollars is going to be meaningful. It’s going to fill me up with fulfillment and make me feel great.
Yeah. Life will be different after that.
Yeah. And then you do it and you realize three weeks later, what’s next? You go through that cycle often enough and eventually you stop even believing in it. Many years ago I stopped believing, “Once we hit this revenue number, or once I hit this number of whatever potential net worth, I will feel different.” It all doesn’t matter. It doesn’t anymore.
The reason I'm asking all these questions is because most people listening have not built a successful startup that’s generating millions. They have no idea what it looks like at the end of the tunnel.
I talk to a lot of people who are getting started, who are in the thick of it, and they’re not sure how things are going to turn out. So it’s cool to see you go through these teenage years and adjust to the money that you're making and figure out what’s important for you.
I think when I talk to founders in your situation the answers are remarkably consistent, that the people that you deal with are what give you meaning. In your case, you get to work with a lot of entrepreneurial people. The employees at Close are very smart, very talented, and ambitious, and quite frankly those are the most fun people to work with.
I love working with entrepreneurs as well. That’s how we’ve set up Indie Hackers. You could talk to them and they know what you're going through, and they know what you're going through. It’s fun to cheer them on and see how talented they are, but also your customers are people that you want to deal with.
Like you said, you made the conscious decision not to take more money and sell to the enterprise because that would be boring for you, but to work with customers you’re inspired by. I've seen the same thing at Indie Hackers. I've seen the same thing that I’ve talked to other people around.
If you’re going to start a business, probably one of the most important decisions you can make up front is, who do you want to work with, and who do you want to work for? That puts you on track with a good life as a founder and gets you through these awkward teenage years and keep going and keep being excited about your product, even if you’ve been doing it for seven years.
Let’s talk about some of the hard parts. Your cohost on your podcast tweeted a while ago that the most difficult part of sales and marketing is getting used to the grind, doing the same thing over and over and over again. Do you think that applies to being a founder? What’s difficult about running a company as long as you’ve run one?
Intuitively feels to me that there’s a kernel of truth in that statement. I saw that as well. I was curious. We’re recording tomorrow so I’ll try to figure out what inspired that tweet.
Yeah, what prompted that?
What prompted that? I've many times talked to salespeople that are like, “Hey, first year of sales was exciting, but I've been doing this five years now and having these quotas that are erased every three months and you have another batch of prospecting, calling, emailing, negotiating, closing, and then you hit the goal and then again, it’s a race and you have to start from the get-go.”
People burn out and they feel that this a tough grind and what’s the meaning in all of this. I’ve always been telling people that if you’re able to find new ways of looking at this and different ways of looking at this it makes a significant difference.
With salespeople oftentimes, the most surprising thing is, because salespeople chase the closed deal so much, in their mind they’re not thinking about the customer as a lifelong relationship. Most salespeople aren’t. They’re just thinking about it as a deal.
“I'm going to close this deal. Once it’s signed, I got my money on the board, this thing is done for me.” But the moment you think about these interactions as relationships, I've taught this to many salespeople, I think at a pretty good success.
If you think about these people not just as customers but customers for the business as your customers and as your potential lifelong relationships and partnership, all you can do, no matter how high the frequencies, how many deals you’re dealing with, you can at least pick one customer a week that you’re interacting with where you're like, “This is the winner. This is somebody that’s going to do awesome things in their life. This is somebody I really like, I really enjoy. If I had money to invest in people, I would put money into This Person, Inc.”
Then don’t just treat that person as a deal or as a decision maker in a deal, but treat them as a new friend, somebody that you want to nurture a relationship with for the rest of your life. Because this person’s probably going to go on and be a decision maker at many other companies, do many other interesting things, and you're going to keep going being a salesperson at other companies, start your own companies.
You’re going to have a lifelong career. You’re going to be able to benefit and get so much bigger of a return and so much more of a fulfilling return because some of these relationships, hopefully many of them, will turn to friendships as well.
If you look at it that way, then it’s not just a number that’s a race because I hit my quota this month, but I have added five more people that I am inspired by, that hopefully if I nurture that relationship, stay in touch with them over the next 30 years, now selling is building my career. It’s building my network. It’s building my relationships, and not just chasing numbers that I have to now chase again, again, and again and again.
I think the same is true in many other situations. There’s a certain grind to being a founder. I can’t say founder as if it’s a generic thing, because Thomas, Anthony, and me were three cofounders in this business, we live very different lives and do very different jobs, but I’ll speak from a CEO perspective.
In many companies there’s a consistency of you dealing with difficult problems, or the most difficult problems bubbling up to you because people don’t know how to solve them on their own. At times this can be stimulating and fun and at times it’s a grind and it’s painful and difficult.
There’s no one you can go to above you to be like, “Hey, solve this for me. I don’t feel like solving it.” It stops with you.
Yeah. I think you turn into the type of person, you probably already are that type of person, but it turns you even more into the type of person that becomes incapable of ever asking for help from anybody else and is always in the mindset of all problems in the universe flow to me. I solve, solve, solve, solve, solve problems and when I have problems, I just solve them. How would I need help? I'm the center of the universe. I'm the sun that everything revolves around.
I think that that then turns into unhealthy and unbalanced human beings that then become terrible CEOs. I've done this, and I'm still in the process of getting better at asking for help myself or even sharing my problems.
It’s been a five-year process of learning to tell a friend or family member or my cofounders or anybody, “I have a problem. I have something that’s a problem in my life right now.” This is still difficult to me, but I'm learning to get better at it.
But I think that if you purely stay in that mindset of, “I'm going to do this superhero, solve all the problems, have all the answers at all times,” if you stay in that mode for too long, then I think it can become very, very burdensome. It can burn you out for sure.
I think this concept of work/life integration, where you realize that these relationships that you’re developing with people because you’re trying to grow your business are still real human relationships. It doesn’t have to be business, business, business, work, work, work all the time.
I think most of us are naturally like that. We talk to people. We realize they’re humans. But there’s something about having this overarching mission where you have to grow this company and it has to work that can turn you into a single-minded, single-focused robot at times.
You start treating people like they’re not people. I've been there before, too. When you take a step back and you realize every interaction you have with someone can be a meaningful, fun interaction, and a lot of people that you work with probably can and should be lifelong friends, because you spend so much time talking to them.
They have stuff going on in their lives. You have stuff going on in your life. If you slow down and have conversations, this is part of why I like going to Indie Hackers meetups all over the world.
Yeah, part of it is I'm doing customer research. I'm trying to figure out why people are using the site and how they're running their companies, but a lot of it is just like, “Hey, show me around Cape Town. I want to know what life is like in your shoes.”
There are people that I've met all over the world who I still talk to a ton. I've realized that, again going back to this idea, the business that you build, the house you want to live in, is not just for your bank account. It’s not just for your professional accomplishments. It’s also for your happiness.
If you can use a business to help you build the kind of life that you want to live, for example if you start a company that helps you meet the kinds of people you want to meet. There’s this company, Cameo. You can go on their website. You can find any celebrity. Not any celebrity but a lot of them, and you can pay them a certain amount of money to send a cool video to a friend for their birthday or send a video to your mom for Mother’s Day or something.
If you start a company like that, I'm sure the people who run that company get to talk to celebrities all day. Maybe that’s their dream and that’s what they want to do. That’s something that extends beyond their business. It’s something that’s now a part of their personal life. They are part of these circles that they weren’t before.
There are tons of companies where people get to meet people and talk to people and live and do all these different things that they couldn’t do otherwise. So, right there with you. I think it’s cool to have this awareness that these relationships aren’t just all about work. They’re not just about the bottom line.
Somebody once said if you wouldn’t want to work with somebody for the rest of your life, don’t work with them for a single day. It’s a beautiful idea. I've always been telling people and I've been living this.
This has been the single biggest impact thing I've done in terms of my happiness and fulfillment is that any relationship in my life, I’m thinking of it as a 30-year relationship. So if I don’t want it to be a 30-year relationship, I know I don’t want to deal with you at all, and I'm not the right person to be in your life.
But if I do, I try to think very long term, and there’s real power in that and benefit. I know that when you are at the very beginning, all this sounds like a luxury. It almost sounds like us discussing which color of Ferraris are the best when you’re a founder. It’s like, “Dudes, I'm trying to get my first customer, and it sounds like this is the type of decisions I'm going to make once I can afford making them.”
This is what I would have thought, but I don't think it’s true. I think that you make these decisions and then you are able to afford to have that life. But you don't know how many times people reach out to me and they’re like, A, very selfish, which I get as founders. They’re trying to get something started. You have to hustle. You have to be a little shameless. That’s totally fine, and I’ve definitely been that many times in my life.
There’s just a, “I have this thing I need from you, Steli. I read a blog post, or I listened to you in a podcast. I want your advice. When can we talk for an hour or two hours this week and you give me everything you have?” That’s a very selfish proposition that assumes that I have nothing better to do than to give all my time to you.
But the funny thing is that when I then ask them, “Hey, can we first start in email and you tell me what it is that you need and then I’ll try to help by email and eventually we can graduate to a call,” 50% of people just fall off the face of the earth or you never hear from them again.
Same thing with advisors. People all the time email me. “We want you on our advisory board. We want to give you shares to be an advisor in our startup.” I always go, “Go easy. Let’s not get married. I don’t even know you. Why don’t you decide to email me once a month your progress, ask me how I could help, and if over the next couple of months we both find that I am truly useful and helpful to you and I enjoy helping you, then maybe a year from now we’ll put a ring on it and you’ll give me some advisor shares and I’ll be a formal advisor. But let’s start one step at a time.” Everybody’s always like, “That’s a great idea.” And then again, 90% of these people I never hear from again.
That’s how you know it was going to be a waste of time. If they can’t even tell you what they were going to talk about on the call, they don’t want to talk over email. You’ve just dodged a bullet.
And then there are people that follow my advice on this. I've written about this, where I said, “Hey, make me part of your journey. Just let me know how things are going over the long term. If I keep hearing from you for 12 months in a row, in month 12, I'm much more invested in your story.
I understand you much better. I have much more context and I'm much more willing to help, versus the first time that you’ve pinged me where I want to be helpful but I have to ration how much resource and energy I give you.”
I think people underestimate that. They’re like, “I want everything right now.” But they underestimate, if I keep in touch with these people that I find useful and helpful and I want to have them in my life, and I want to learn from, then a year will pass very quickly. Five years will pass very quickly, and you’ll build up.
Five years from now maybe you’re good friends with these people. Maybe these people are willing to go to bat for you and willing to move mountains because they care about you, and all you had to do is stay in touch. Keep investing a little bit in the relationship.
That’s not instant success, riches, and wealth, but time passes fast. I’m all with motivational quotes today. “The best time to plant a tree was 30 years ago, second best time is today.” Start now and you’ll see time will pass faster than you think and a year will go by like this, and these relationships that at the beginning were quite cold will warm up and you’re going to benefit a lot from that.
People get so impatient when they’re just starting off as founders. They’re like, “Well I don’t have time to invest a year into anything.” But that time’s going to pass anyway. A year is going to go by no matter what.
So would you prefer that year to go by where you invested in these things a few hours a week, maybe even less than that, or would you prefer that time to pass and you look back on that year and you didn’t do any of that stuff because you were so focused on the short term?
And also, two years from now to be in the exact same position you are in now when you need help from certain people, think about this. Think about being 30 years into your entrepreneurial journey and still having to send cold emails to people going, “I need your advice. Can you give me an hour,” and these people going, “I don’t even know who you are, and I don’t have time.” That idea should suck to people imagining that. You don’t want to be that person, but the only way not to be that person is to build relationships and invest in those relationships.
Let’s talk about the modern era. I think it’s safe to say we’ve entered an entirely different era. Do you remember when COVID-19 first popped onto your radar and you started thinking about how it affected you personally and also affected your business?
It started popping up in my radar I think in January, but it was more of a thing that’s happening in China sort of thing. So I was very passively consuming some information. I was more like, “Interesting. I wonder what this is.”
Then in early February it started becoming more serious, and I remember I was traveling to Thailand. There was even a discussion. Should I go? Shouldn’t I go? One of my best friends has lived there for 50 years, and I wanted to visit him and spend some time with him, and he was like, “You know what, yeah, it’s still stable here. I still feel safe. Do these precautions. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Keep your distance and it should be fine.”
I went there and I was there two weeks and when I came back mid-February, then all of a sudden, my Twitter feed started to heat up and then I started following all these people and all these virologists and experts.
Then I started to go, like many people as well, to the deep hole of hours and hours of reading and studies and metrics and very dark forecasts. Then I was like, “Holy shit. What is happening here?”
I think towards the end of February I was convinced, no matter what it is it’s going to come to Europe and the U.S. in a big way. It’s going to impact me and my family and my business. So what do I do now?
The first job was trying to convince my friends and family members to take this more seriously. That was such a trip. That was the weirdest thing about this whole thing, because they all looked at me like a tinfoil hat conspiracy guy that’s just weird.
And they’re all like, “Why are you so negative? Why are you so scared?” Literally they were making fun of me and I was like, “I've never been in this position in my life. This is weird. I’m the person that screams, ‘Hey, you need to take this seriously,’ and everybody’s like, ‘This guy is crazy.’”
It was an awkward time. It definitely ramped up my anxiety to DEFCON level red. I was like, “Here are the people that I care about and none of them care about this. I don’t even know if I'm right, and I don't know exactly what advice to give them, what to do.”
It was a weird phase, but eventually I got around to convince my immediate family and then go through a couple of steps that felt like preparation. That’s all it was. Then I went through the same process in the company where I'm like, “All right. I need to convince my cofounders to take this more seriously.”
At that point I was the one that was like, “This is going to be a huge deal,” and they were like, “We don’t think so.” I had to go through that and then come up with a game plan. I'm like, “This is going to become a huge thing and we need to prepare ahead of it right now. We shouldn’t go slow and we shouldn’t wait and see.”
I think for most people, they went in their own little universe through these cycles, but for me it was early January I started reading and paying attention. February, I started thinking it’s going to be a huge thing and then March, a month later, was when it started to be the lock downs and everything else going on.
I'm putting my founder hat on. I went through the same period, but there was always this uncertainty in the background of, “Okay. With Indie Hackers, how is this going to affect the company? Are they going to be more people on the website, fewer people on the website?”
In a lot of ways I think I was so focused on my personal life, my friends and family, that I put that on the back burner and said, “Whatever happens will happen. I’ll just react. I don't know how to plan for this. I’m just going to react.”
In your situation, I think you’ve got a much more substantial company. You have a lot of advantages. You’ve been remote for many years, for example. It wasn’t this awkward transition that you had to make. But you're building a CRM tool. You're a SaaS company.
I have absolutely no clue. I honestly have no clue how sheltering in place and lock down has affected Close and the CRM space in general. What are some of the biggest changes that you’ve had to react to? Were you able to predict any of these things or are you doing what I'm doing and being in reactionary mode and trying to react very quickly to whatever happens?
I think for us, some of the things that we recognized early were that if we’re going to go through this global pandemic, and if it’s going to have this massive economic impact, then cash is king and we need to make sure that we can finance things if we experience a big dip in revenue because maybe lots of businesses will churn and lots of businesses will fire salespeople.
For us, that means downgrading seats or canceling seats, which brings us down in our overall revenue. So we decided fairly early, a couple of things. One was that we would shift our attention away from contracts. Our sales team would focus a lot on signing these one, two, three-year contracts that would be paid monthly.
We thought, in an economic downturn when there’s a massive shakeup, a contract is not worth that much. If these businesses go out of business, the contract is not worth anything. If they have to break the contract to not go out of business, we’re not going to sue them.
A contract is good during certain, stable times, but it’s worthless during these insane times. So let’s not worry about contracts right now. It shifted all our attention to prepaids. Let’s push to have our customers prepay for a year, two years. Give them a great deal because they’re buying during uncertain times and see what they say.
We didn’t know if people would do it or not or if people would get upset with us for even proposing it. I remember when I early talked about this with other founders, they were like, “People are going to get upset with you asking them to pre-pay in these times. That’s unreal. That’s an unheard of ask.”
And every single month since February has been a record month in prepaids for us. It has significantly impacted our cash position and it stabilized the business quickly. Like “Wow, our cash position has gone up. We’re in a much better position to weather any big decline or multiple declines of revenue.”
I was even surprised at how good this worked. Even still to this day every day, even on the self-service side where smaller customers plug in, create an account, and buy, I'm surprised how many choose to prepay for a year right now. They feel the confidence. They feel that the deal is good enough that they want to do that.
That was a very good decision for us, that we made fairly early and that helped us. Then we went through some of the things that everybody else went through, probably. How do we cut costs as much as possible?
We made a simple map in February, March where it was like, “If we lose 30% of our revenue but we want to keep the entire team afloat, we have a small team. There’s no fat to cut here. There are no people that we don’t like.” Anybody there that we would have to let go now, it would take us another two and a half years to find another person like that and hire them again. This is very costly.
So how can we cut costs drastically and save as much as we can without letting anybody go so we can weather the storm together? We got very creative and we came up with a lot of aggressive ideas. We did move mountains in that way also fairly early.
But we had told the team that we’ll do all this together. Then we have this worst-case scenario that you will all know we can weather without any more changes. You know we’ve done everything up front, and now we can weather the storm. I think that helped tremendously make people’s anxiety be relieved, because people are so on the edge with their families at home, worrying about their jobs.
What we didn’t want to do is we didn’t want to be the type of company that’s like, in March, “Everything is fine. We’re just going to cut some server costs and cancel some subscriptions,” and then in April it’s like, “It’s not. We have to do these other measures.” In May, it’s like, “Well, we have to let go of some people, but most others will stay,” where people constantly feel in the next couple weeks there’s going to be more news, more bad news.
We didn’t want to have that. That was a good decision and we acted quite fast. We didn’t know what the impact would be for us. The reality is that we did at first see a lot of teams firing salespeople, downgrading to a lower tier plan or some of our smaller customers going, “I wanted to build the tools to sell to schools. Forget about it.”
Or “I wanted to build something to sell to bars, a software tool for bars or restaurants. Forget about it.” Or “I'm in the tourism industry. Forget about it.” We saw a lot of cancellations on the lower levels and we lost some revenue early on, but things stabilized in terms of RMU.
That was mostly our existing customer base, being conservative, saving costs, acting early as well on their end. But in terms of new customer acquisition, nothing changed. We still kept bringing new revenue, lots and lots of new customers.
That has continued and even improved. Now it’s stabilized where our customer base feels like, “Okay. We can start adding some seats. We can maybe upgrade again.” We’re in wait-and-see. We don’t see these big wild swings of downgrades or cancellations anymore.
We’ve been in a better position than what we predicted and projected. It’s always good. That makes everybody feel like, “Wow, we’re in a good situation, much better than what we had anticipated. More bad news can come, and this company can weather it.” That gives people, I think, some peace of mind which is important right now.
It’s so smart to focus on prepayments like you’re doing. I've seen a trend of people doing this recently, even separate from COVID-19 and this looming recession that people are worried about.
A lot of people have come on the show and said, “Yeah, we’re not even offering monthly plans anymore as a fledgling company trying to build cash flow.” It’s much more lucrative to charge people for a year and get them in the door.
You can spend way more to acquire customers that way because you’re making way more per customer. You’re not as worried for month-to-month. And now, like you said, it’s extremely important because you’re not even sure if a lot of these customers are going to be in business a year from now, so these month-to-month contracts might be completely worthless.
How do you, if you’re already charging a certain way, go to customers and ask for these big prepayments? How do you get them to say yes? Do you offer them a discount? Do you offer them a deal? Do you change things up, or do you just say, “Hey, look. Things have changed. This is our new ask.”
I think everything is on the table. I think that people are too afraid of things. In our case, in general I think that people feel like, whenever they want to change something about pricing or the way they do contracts or the way they charge, they feel like, “We can’t go to people that we have won a certain way as customers and now tell them things are changing.”
But why? Who says that? Who says that you can’t? Is your support team still the same? Is your service team still the same? Is your feature set still the same? Is any customer that buys from you never asking for more things or demanding any changes from you?
There’s no such concept where this is how we got into business last year, and so this is the only way we can be in business for the next 30 years. That doesn’t exist. I think especially less experienced founders and teams have a lot more anxiety around this.
They see they need to change something but what holds them back is the fear of confronting customers that might get upset. I think that you shouldn’t. Some people will always get upset. Some people will get upset but if you respond calm, cool and collected, they’ll relax.
It’s funny how people are like, “This is outrageous,” and then you go, “I get that you feel that way, but if you think about it, it really isn’t.” And then they go, “Yes, it isn’t.” What? One email ago you’re screaming at me and now you're totally agreeing with everything I said.
In our case, to be specific, we offered people a great deal. We told them, “It’s simple. You buy now. You get a great deal. You wait until the world is more sane and certain, you get the deal that the sane world gets, that everybody else gets. It’s a risker time to prepay so you get a better deal.”
A lot of people felt that that was appealing. But we’ve also done other things. When we did the cost cutting thing, there were certain customers that were doing things that were costing us a lot of money for a variety of reasons, that we didn’t care as much about holistically.
Amongst all customers our margins are great, and if a few of them do things that eat into that margin, we weren’t paying attention to that. That was not that big of a deal. But when we went through the “every penny counts” exercise of what if the world changes forever and we need to save every penny, we had to approach a couple of customers and go, “Hey, you're doing all these funky things with our API or we’ve built these other things that you’ve done. You cost us too much money and you need to change it.”
It’s not up for debate. It’s also not a question of if you like it or not, because none of them liked it. But it was like, “We need to do this. This is the deal. We cannot have a sustained partnership if our relationship isn’t healthy right now. The way you’re using our service is not healthy for us, so it needs to change.”
I've had this before. I had to renegotiate once with a customer that had prepaid and signed a contract for three years, and then when we looked at how we charged them back then, how the deal was posed, this was in the very early days, we’d given them an insane discount and we’re losing money on them.
So I had to renegotiate and tell them, “You either have to pay 50% more,” and this was a customer that was paying us hundreds of thousands a year, “Either you have to pay 50% more or you have to go.”
They shouted but it always came back to the, “I get it, but for this relationship to work, for us to be able to serve you long term, we need to make money. We cannot lose money. We’re losing money. So either you need to bring your money somewhere else or you need to give us enough so we can do a good job serving you. It’s that simple no matter how upset you are.”
And sooner or later, especially the ones that scream the loudest, they get on board. They just go with the flow and go, “Okay. Well I guess they have a point.” So if you need to change something about your contracts, how you want to charge, you can make it optional.
Some companies make might be in a situation where they can’t. They have to say, “This is the only way we’re going to do business now and you have to take it or leave it.” That’s always going to be harder. People are going to respond stronger to it but if it’s the right thing to do, if you think it’s so fair, then you’ll have to do it if you like it or not. You don’t have to be that afraid of it. It’s just part of doing business and part of life.
What about running your company? The fact that you’ve already been remote, like I was saying earlier, I imagine a lot of the stuff is the same. But there are some differences.
For example, a lot of your employees probably are spending a lot more time working with their kids around than they were earlier. You’ve written a lot. You’ve talked a lot about running a remote company elsewhere online, but what’s changed with you trying to motivate the troops and keep your company running?
First I think it’s important to recognize that working from home during a global pandemic with your entire family is not the same as working remotely. They’re related but they’re not the same thing.
So for us, we had decided fairly early that we would want to move a number of our teams and people to a four-day work week, which is not what we usually do. We usually work for five days.
There are still some people that are very customer facing and they didn’t want to do the four-day work week. People that are not at home with their four children and are having a hard time dealing with homeschooling a number of children, running a school from home and doing a bunch of things that they didn’t use to while they were working, we made it optional.
But a lot of people we gave the option to go down to a four-day work week because a lot of our team members were telling us that it’s become very stressful for them to work and they have so many more responsibilities at home, having to take care a lot more of the children, having to deal a lot more with family issues, so we wanted to relieve people of a little bit of pressure and give a bit more space so people could deal with it.
Even if we said it’s still a five-day work week, just deal with it,” people would just not work. They just wouldn’t. But they just would feel more stressed about it, versus now they can not work and relax, hopefully be more sane, be better family members, but also be better employees for us.
That was a big change that we made for us, to keep everybody sane. We had to increase the social interaction. Usually a lot of the social media interaction, the fun interaction, and games and all that for us would happen during team retreats. Every six months we would fly everybody into a city for a whole week.
Those retreats are our second-best product. Over seven years, we’ve built them to a science. It’s not just, “Let’s hang out and kumbaya and get drunk or whatever and work from the same room.” Those weeks have become very important strategic tools of how we run the company.
It was taken away. This retreat was supposed to be in April. We had to cancel it in February seeing that we didn’t think we would be able to make it. So we had to start doing more of this, having game nights virtually, doing a lot more of that.
We changed the way we do meetings in the sense that every meeting that’s happening now at Close starts with a personal update. So we do meetings. People go, “Okay. Since last week, things are fine. I'm happy. I started gardening and so I feel a bit better.”
Then the next person would go, “Well, my mom is sick. I'm stressed the fuck out. I'm constantly on the phone with her. I'm worried and I can’t focus,” and everybody goes, “Oh, shit.” Then the next person goes and says, “Well, we’re moving right now and we’re having this and that trouble and this is going on.”
That personal update, we didn’t used to do that in every meeting. Now we do and we see, especially during these times, it was incredibly important, because we would have these moments where people would say things that made everybody go, “Holy shit. This is going on in your life?”
It would, A, be good for everybody to air out what’s going on and be able to communicate that, but it also helped us to understand, how are people doing? What is going on in people’s lives and be more supportive and be more understanding and have more context.
For many it was also a relief to hear that everybody was struggling with the same stuff they were struggling with, so it just made them feel a little bit better and a little bit more connected. Those are just some things that I could think of that we had to change, improve.
It sounds like one of those changes that might last. Like, “Wow. This is nice to hear everyone’s personal update. Maybe we should keep doing this indefinitely.”
At Indie Hackers we have a community manager and she’s got five kids, so you can imagine what her life is like right now with five kids at home. She already does a ton of work. So my brother and I have taken over a lot of over a lot of the community management to help her out, especially on days where she wants to spend time with her family.
That’s also a habit where its’ like, “Hey, we should be doing this all the time. Even when all of this is over, we’re going to keep doing it the same way.” It’s interesting to think about what’s going to change.
The point that you made that remote working is very different than having to stay at home with your family, they’re kind of related but they’re not necessarily the same. I think a lot of people are assuming that, “Oh, this is going to completely change. Everyone’s getting a taste of remote work and everyone’s going to see exactly what it’s like.”
But that’s not necessarily the case because this isn’t exactly what it’s normally like, so a lot of people might not like it because it’s completely different. What do you think is going to stay the same at Close, and what do you think is going to change in the SaaS industry? What do you think we’re going to see on the other side of this?
I don't know. I'm not sure yet. At first, I was very cynical. I did a lot of counter-tweeting to the tweets of like, “This is the moment of remote work. Everybody is going to –.”
I was like, “Dude.” The people that are forced to go home while a screaming baby’s in the background, downloading a bunch of software they’ve never used, trying to figure out how to do work in that environment, they’re not going to be like, “This is the future. This is how I want to live my life every day from now on.” This is not a soft, gentle introduction to this world.
But now I’m like, “Well, it is a rough introduction,” but still I do think that ultimately it is accelerating. I think there’s going to be a pullback and lots of people are going to be like “I could never work from home long term.” But I do think that a lot of companies are going to go, “Well massive office spaces, maybe we want to shy away from that, giving people more options to work from home.”
Many companies will see that certain teams, the same amount is getting done or the same work product, and they’re like, “Interesting. These people were able to responsibly work without us having them confined in a specific space.” So I do think that it’s going to ultimately accelerate the adoption of technology in many areas of life. It already has. Zoom, that my mom knows what Zoom is blowing my mind.
I know, man. It's crazy.
It is mind blowing. I never would have thought that. My mom is as un-tech savvy as you can be. I think that this has pushed even more technology, not less. That probably is going to continue, accelerating it a little bit, not that that was not a trend before. Same thing with distributed remote work.
The other thing that’s interesting, I'm not sure if this is true or not or really will last, but I'm wondering. I'm hearing a lot of people’s sentiment being, “Maybe living in the city is not as awesome. Maybe I want to live somewhere else and then work remotely. Maybe if I could have great career opportunities but live somewhere that’s beautiful, that has nature, that’s closer to my family, that’s not as stressful and that’s not as vulnerable to these types of things, maybe that is the future I want to be in.”
So I see a lot of desire from people to move away from big cities, and that is not something I was seeing before, I personally. So that’s interesting. I wonder if that’s going to last. I worry about travel. I love to travel. I'm slightly worried about the future of travel the next two, three years. How difficult will it be?
Did you read Brian Chesky’s letter? Airbnb did a huge round of layoffs. He had frankly a heartbreaking letter to a huge part of the company. A big part of it was. “Things have changed for now. We’re going to make it through it, but at the other end of this, we’re not sure what travel and these short-term stays are going to look like. We just don’t know.” So I'm right there with you. Travel’s going to be different.
Yeah, and I'm not sure if it’s going to be in a better way. I'm afraid not, but we’ll have to wait and see. But the thing I'm waiting for mostly right now is over the next six or 12 months, I'm expecting some dominos to fall globally that are going to feel surprising because they’re not in the headlines right now.
They’re not something we’re all thinking about, but they have been affected by this in ways that will be impactful. Nobody talks about it, and all of a sudden, it’s a big deal and it’s impacting us, and I wonder what that’s going to look like.
I also feel we’ve just entered the stage of this pandemic where it’s not - I think we all think as humans in story lines for movies. There’s a beginning, a middle and an end, and I feel like February and March was the beginning for most people in the way they felt about things.
And then April, May now feels like the middle, and so people are thinking about the end, like “It’s just one more act and we’re out of this.” I wonder if it’s going to be multiple movies, one after the other, if this is going to be a trilogy or a five- part series.
And so we’re not going to get out of this in the next whatever, three, six months and then it’s behind us as a distant memory. It’s going to be very interesting times, I think, for a good amount of time ahead.
Yeah. Maybe it will be like The Lord of the Rings, where there are eight endings. There’s ending scene after another ending scene and it never quite ends.
But it leads into a happy ending. I'm mean happy, relatively speaking.
Hopefully we’ll get a happy ending this time, too. Anyway, Steli, it was great catching up with you, hearing what’s going on in your life and how you’re navigating all this stuff at Close, and also getting a snapshot of what it’s like to be the founder of a maturing company.
A lot of Indie Hackers are listening to this. They’ve been trying to start fledgling businesses and now they’ve been hit with this existential crisis. “Okay, well now it’s real. Now I might not be able to get a job if this doesn’t work out, or I might not be able to quit my job if I don’t grow my company.” What’s your advice for people in that situation? Do you think they should be thinking differently about being Indie Hackers?
In general, I think this is a better time than ever before, probably, or in recent history, to start something versus to look for a stable career. I mean, let’s be honest. I feel like trying to look for a company that has stability over the next five years and can give me a secure job that’s not going to change, I’m not going to be in jeopardy, is harder now than it seemed in 2019, 2018, 2017.
So doing something entrepreneurial seems smart to me right now and investing in that. Then I’ll just say one thing that we’ve been repeating in the company I think might also be useful, I am a quote machine today. Another quote that I've been repeating a lot is, “It’s not the strongest that survive. It’s the most adaptable that do.”
So I do think there’s beauty in being an Indie Hacker. Everything that you have always seems to suck. We were joking about this. If you run a community and you’re like, “Huh, I wish I’d run a SaaS company.”
I run a SaaS company. I’m like, “We wish I’d just run a podcasting community. Life would be so much easier.” Whatever we have, we devalue but being small feels that way. It’s like, “Oh, I'm in such a disadvantage against anybody out there.”
That’s not true. There’s beauty in that. And being an Indie Hacker right now gives you such nimbleness. You can be so adaptable. You can change your mind in a second and change what you do.
The numbers you need to drive are not that big to be meaningful and significant. You can take risks maybe now that you didn’t feel comfortable before because the opportunity cost was too high. Now, what is the thing that you are really losing out on? Where are all these companies that are offering amazing salaries and a ten-year contract where you’re never going to have to worry?
They’re not out there right now, so you might as well invest in you. Take some risk on you and build something for yourself. So I think this is an amazing time to be an Indie Hacker. Being small means you travel with less baggage. You have less responsibility. You have less commitments so you can move faster. You have to accomplish very little to start doing meaningful things and have meaningful impact on your life.
So I'm excited for all the Indie Hackers out there. There’s a romantic side of me that’s like, “It would be nice to be an Indie Hacker right now. It would be adventurous.” So I think it’s a good time to be that, and people should feel excited and confident about their position in the world right now if they’re an Indie Hacker.
I think that advice is spot on, and it’s happening. There are more Indie Hackers right now than I've ever seen on the website. The numbers are just going up and to the right. People are realizing that there’s a lot of uncertainty. There’s a lot of change.
It’s a good time to start a business. I think Indie Hackers tend to be an ambitious, opportunistic crowd, where they look on the bright side and are optimistic. They see crisis and they see how they can change their lives for the better as a result of it.
So Indie Hackers take Steli’s message to heart. Realize you can be more nimble. You have all sorts of advantages that other companies don’t have. If you want to change your mind on something you don’t have to write a sad letter and fire 3,000 people. It’s a great place to be in. Steli, thanks so much for coming on the show.
Thank you so much for having me.
Can you let listeners know where they can go to learn more about Close and what you’re up to?
Yes. You can go to close.com and visit our blog to check that out. You can send me an email, [email protected] We’ve put together a few resources for people that are trying to sell and acquire customers during this crisis, email templates of good emails and bad emails, some strategies to get your first couple of customers during this time.
If that’s of interest you can send me an email, [email protected] Say “Indie Hacker book” or “crisis tool kit” and I’ll know what you need, and I’ll send it to you. Then if you’re into podcasts, as you’ve mentioned, Hiten Shah the living legend and I, we have a podcast together called The Startup Chat. You can go check that out at thestartupchat.com.
Yeah, if I can ever help anybody from the Indie Hackers community, over the last couple of years people have always stayed in touch with me and reached out and asked questions. I love the community that you’ve built. Always feel free to reach out and ask for help. I will do my best.
I want to second the recommendation for The Startup Chat. Cool podcast and the fact that Hiten is so focused on marketing and you’re sales, the two of you have the bases covered.
You always figure out some new, interesting topic to talk about. I don't know how you guys keep coming up with so many things to talk about. But episodes are short and sweet. I think if you listen to this podcast and enjoy it you’re going to like The Startup Chat. Thanks again, Steli, for coming on.
Hey, thank you so much.
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