Tyler King (@TylerMKing) and I discuss how indie hackers can take advantage of the current cycle of bundling and unbundling. What is bundling, anyway? Why does it present an opportunity for new business ideas? How can fledgling founders take part in what seems like a game for big companies? And who's already doing a good job of this?
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Today I'm talking to Tyler King, the creator of Less Annoying CRM. How's it going, Tyler?
Good. How are you?
Excellent. It's good to have you back on the show. You were here last October in episode number #128. I recommend people go check that one out. You talked about how you spent 10 years building your SaaS product, Less Annoying CRM, which as people can probably guess from the name, is a less annoying CRM tool. And you got to the point where you had 22,000 paying customers, you hit $2.6 million in annual recurring revenue. What are you up to nowadays?
We are just almost at 3 million ARR. We're trying to hit that. If not for this pandemic, we'd be there by now, but we had a couple rough months, but things kind of bounced back around the summer.
Yeah, that's a pretty cool progress milestone to report regardless. And I think what I like about your company in particular is that you're sort of building it to last. You're not like trying to flip it. You're not trying to sell it. You're not trying to figure out the new thing to work on.
You're thinking about how you can still be here doing kind of the same thing in the next 20 or 30 years. You have a whole podcast devoted to that called Startup to Last that we're kind of going to talk about later on.
Yeah, absolutely. We're getting 10 to 15% growth year over year, which if you're trying to exit in two years is pretty pathetic. And if you're like we're going to be here 30 years from now, okay, that compounding…
...can really add up over that time span.
If people want to hear a story, I recommend they go check out that episode. Today we're going to talk about something completely different, which is this topic that you brought up to me a few times in recent weeks, which is bundling. And I think kind of the trigger for this was the Slack acquisition by Salesforce. First of all, let's start there. What do you think about Slack getting bought by Salesforce?
Yeah, it's huge in SaaS because Slack was arguably the biggest success of the most recent generation and them getting acquired is sort of viewed as a failure. I mean, it's obviously a financial success, it was $27 billion. But everyone's saying the reason they had to sell is because they couldn't cut it as a standalone company.
Yeah. I've seen a lot of negative press that's basically Slack had to sell because of the pressure from Microsoft Teams. Microsoft has got this Teams product, it's competitive, a lot of people are using it. I talked to my mom, she doesn't know what Slack is, but she's on Microsoft Teams at her company, using that every day. And she doesn't like it, but she's using it.
That's kind of what matters in terms of revenue. I think from my perspective, people underestimate the degree to which Slack could have grown. I think Microsoft Teams was a very competitive product, but Microsoft was kind of selling this into old mature companies,and Slack was selling to startups. And it's really easy to underestimate how quickly startups can grow over time. But if you're selling to Lyft in 2014, then come 2020, that's a huge customer that you suddenly have that a few years ago was a very tiny customer.
And it seems whenever I talked to tiny startups, they're not using Microsoft Teams, they're using Slack, which I think could explain why Salesforce was willing to pay so much money for it. But it is a little bit disheartening to see Slack sort of throw in the towel and join Salesforce rather than stay independent and kind of be their own standalone tool.
Yeah, absolutely. Especially given that I think most people who have used both Slack and Microsoft Teams prefer Slack. The idea that the better product, and by all rights is a huge company, still kind of failed in a sense is concerning, I think.
Yeah. That said, I have some friends at Slack and they are very happy with their recent boost in their stock price. But let's talk about bundling. What does this have to do with this idea of SaaS bundling that you brought up to me?
Yeah. I'll be curious to see what Salesforce does with Slack. Maybe bundling is related to it on that end, but the reason it's really relevant to me is why did Slack "lose" to Teams? It's because nobody bought Teams, nobody bought Microsoft Teams. They bought Microsoft or Office 365, whatever it's called, and Teams came with it.
And by virtue of it being in this bundle, even though it's an inferior product, it kind of beats Slack in terms of usage and adoption, which in a sense it's just like classic Microsoft's monopoly and used its power. But I think it's a little more interesting because it's happening across the industry.
Right. And the whole idea of bundling is you get this advantage even if some of your software's crappy, you can bundle in that crappy software with better software that people were already buying. And now you've sold two pieces of software and people will probably just use both of them. And so it's kind of a way to win without having to make the best possible software.
Yeah. Slack killed HipChat. If HipChat had been built into Google Workspace or G Suite is what it used to be called, HipChat probably would be doing really well right now. It's less about the product differentiation and more about distribution at that point.
Okay. So what are some other examples of bundles? There's Office 365 and Microsoft has been very good at bundling. They got that anti-trust case in the late 90s, basically, because they're bundling Internet Explorer with their operating system, which made it impossible for other competing browsers to sort of compete. Who else is bundling that people listening might recognize?
Yeah. So one of the originals was when Adobe put out Creative Cloud, they had all these standalone products, Photoshop, Illustrator, whatever that you could buy individually. And then they said, no, pay us 50 bucks a month or whatever it is and you get all of them. You don't have to choose which product you want. I think that's a really classic one. Then, Google Workspace is basically Google's version of Office 365.
Yeah. It's kind of copy pasted Microsoft's Office strategy and put it on the web.
I have Google Workspace and I have Adobe Creative Cloud. I don't have Office. I haven't opened a word document in probably 10 years when people send them to me, I just send them back.
I use it just for Excel, but, everyone at my company has at least both Google and Microsoft, and a lot of us have Adobe as well.
Right. The thing about all these examples is that they're all kind of older examples. These are very established companies. If you're an Indie Hacker, you're probably not going to build a Google Docs competitor. You're probably not going to build a Photoshop competitor. You need a huge team, a lot of money. Let's talk about why bundling matters for Indie Hackers. Are there any examples of smaller, more recent companies that are able to successfully use this bundling strategy to actually get ahead?
Yeah. So, if we're talking about the ones who have already done it, at this point, they're bigger but they're more like startups than Microsoft or Google. Dropbox, I think, is doing a similar parallel where they started with just files but then they acquired, I forget it was called, but it turned into Dropbox Paper.
They just released a password management tool. They acquired HelloSign to do documents like e-signatures. Now if you subscribe to Dropbox, you think of it as a file storage company, but you also get all these other things, you don't have to subscribe to a different note-taking or a different e-signature app.
I was also listening to Rahul, the founder of Superhuman. He was talking about why he decided to build basically a competitor to Gmail. He was talking about all these different add-ons and extensions that people will have installed into their browser to kind of make Gmail more powerful.
So he had built one of these 10 years ago called Reportive, where you open an email and it would show you, here's the person's email is from. And then there was a clone called Sidekick that did kind of the same thing, kind of help you figure out things. There's Streak. I interviewed the founder of Streak.
It's kind of a CRM that lives inside your Gmail inbox. There's a million other tools other than CRM inside Gmail inbox. And ultimately they just like slow down Gmail and make it like this really very convoluted, difficult to understand, and just buggy, slow product. And this kind of idea with Superhuman, he's like, "What if we just rebuilt this experience from the ground up? Google was very slow at improving Gmail. We'll just bundle all of this stuff into our native email product."
So you've got Superhuman that has a ton of these features that previously you needed to combine 10 or 15 different features into one and Superhuman is obviously doing pretty well. They got a waitlist of 200 - 300 thousand people. People were paying 30 bucks a month. You can do the math on how much money they stand to make if they can convert the people off their waitlist into actual paying customers.
I'm a user. Are you?
Yeah. I use Superhuman too. What do you think about it? Is it as good as advertised for you?
No. I think it's better than anything else, and that's worth $30 a month to me, but it's not changing the way I use email. It's just a little bit faster which I like.
They're very good at marketing, in particular Rahul. The way they describe it as it's the fastest email experience ever built, I think you're right. I think maybe that's true, but it's also not that fast. I still feel I'm checking my email. It's a lot of analogies to Superhuman being like a game.
They're doing a lot of research on video games to figure out how people play video games and what gives you all the little dopamine hits when you're planning and what makes it fun. mail is yet to hit the point where it's fun for me. I pretty much run from it.
Yeah. It's still email.
Exactly. I don't know how to get over this problem where at the end of the day, you still have to read each individual email and respond to it and act on it. hey're having really nice keyboard shortcuts, it's fine. But what's the magic that's gonna get you out of having to do that actual process of making sure this is not an important email and archiving it and responding to it. I don't see an innovation that's going to really help with that.
Yeah. I tried out Hey, where they try to just make it so you don't see the email in the first place. And I was like, "I'm missing a whole lot of email here."
Okay. I still need to read every email.
Yeah, exactly. I built a product that was kind of in the space when I was in college. It was called Syphir and kind of the original idea was my co-founders are both PhD students at MIT and they were doing the software that was AI based, which had to predict which emails you want to read and which emails you don't. The problem is you just can't trust it.
Google's done the same thing. They had something too with like, oh, this is important, this is not. And you just end up reading both boxes. And if you let one go without looking at it for too long and you just look and you see a bunch of important emails in it that you missed. Ultimately, never really been blown away by any of these products.
But the point is it works. Superhuman has marketed itself as being the better product. They bundled all these different features into one and now people want to use it rather than using Gmail and using 15 different add-ons to try to get the functionality that they want.
Earlier, you said why should Indie Hackers care about bundling? And we kind of talked about one, it's an opportunity that anyone starting a company might consider should they bundle, but I see two other reasons to care about it. One is, if you know that bigger companies, we mentioned Dropbox. Front is doing this right now. There are a bunch of different companies that are launching multiple products.
A part of me thinks should you stay away from this? If you're an Indie Hacker, if you see a type of product that's starting to be an add-on to a core product rather than its own standalone thing, does that indicate a problem? The other side of me, though, thinks it's an opportunity. If everyone's building appointment scheduling into their product, almost all of these are acquisitions.
Dropbox did not build four different products. They built one and they acquired three others. Front is adding appointment scheduling. They acquired that company. Is this potentially an exit path? I personally am not interested in exiting, but if you are being a part of a bigger bundle might be one way to do that.
I like this point that maybe this is what you avoid. You see these companies being bundled, don't build that because you're now competing with is a behemoth. But also for trying to figure out how to exit and you're looking at who's exiting today, you're probably already too late. By the time you build that SaaS, you get in the customer's hands, you grow to the point where it's meaningful. We're three, four or five years in the future and maybe bigger companies aren't buying things Paper or Slack anymore. We're on to the next evolution and you're building for yesterday's world. So that's kind of another reason not to do whatever you see being bundled.
But I can think of a counter argument, which is that often when companies get bought by bigger companies like Slack gets bought by Salesforce, bigger companies are just poor stewards of that software. And that software degrades and three or four years from now, maybe no one's on Slack anymore because it's been Salesforce-ified.
And that's sometimes a really good gap where you can basically come in and build something to replace it. I bet you people are already hard at work on Slack clones and they're playing up the news. Slack is gonna go to hell. It's not gonna be the same Slack. It's going to get all super slow and bloated like Salesforce, use our new thing. And I bet you some people are probably jumping ship because of that.
Yeah, absolutely. And we said earlier, Slack lost to Teams, Slack only lost because they're on the venture capital rollercoaster. If they were an Indie Hacker company, a bootstrapped company, I'm sure they'd be perfectly happy with their hundreds of millions in revenue or whatever they're making. So it's very possible that it creates enough oxygen for a smaller company to come around, but there probably won't be another Slack, is my guess. The product's commoditized at this point.
Here's a crazy idea. Do you think Indie Hackers who are working on kind of individual products or businesses could benefit by joining forces into their own kind of bundles? Let's say you're someone and you've got a note taking app and you're somebody else who’s got a task management app or something. You think the two of you and maybe a few other Indie Hackers could come together and say, "We're going to have a bundle for all of our software. Get all of us together for some cheaper price."
In that way maybe it's easier for you to sell what you're doing together with other people than it is by yourself. And I think the mechanics of this, it's a good deal if you turn out to be kind of a below average player, if you bundle yourself with four or five other companies and it turns out on your own you would have done worse than them. You probably want to be bundled together because then you get kind of the rising tide lifts all boats, if you're in that particular tide.
It's a bad deal if you’re the winner, if you were going to do better than everybody else, you probably don't want to be bundled with them and bring down your prices as a result cause you could have done well on your own. But I think for startups, maybe the math is a little bit skewed because most companies are probably below average. It's not 5 out of 10 or below average. It's 8 or 9 out of 10 are below average because most companies just fail.
If that's the case, is there an argument to be made that almost everybody should be bundling together with other companies because there's so much uncertainty in the beginning. Then it turns out that you are one of the winners and your company is growing much faster than everybody else's, you unbundle and you go off on your own.
Yeah. And it's a form of diversification. I hadn't thought of that before, but that makes total sense. If you win, if you're the top tier in the bundle, you're probably fine with half as good of an outcome as you would have gotten. You're still rich and happy. Probably it's worth the risk. That's a really interesting approach to take, I think.
There's a company in my YC batch, way back in the day called Humble Bundle. I did YC in January of 2011. I think they started maybe six or seven months before that. What they did was Indie game bundles. They kind of rode this trend, this wave of indie developers making their own video games.
And what they would do is bundle together five or six indie video games at the same time. And then if you wanted to play one of these games, you could buy the whole bundle for just one price. They also did pay what you want.
You could pay $0 or something. You could pay $10. And then you could allocate I want this percentage of my payment to go to the indie game devs, this percentage would go to charity, and this percentage to go to Humble Bundle. And they absolutely crushed it. I think they were making millions of dollars from these sales.
Eventually they got bought by IGN, which is this huge media company in the game space in 2017. I think they're kind of a cool example of what you can do as an Indie Hacker with bundling. They weren't actually one of the companies being bundled. They were kind of like a third party that bundled other companies together, which I think is cool because it gave him sort of a neutral kind of stewardship position.
They also didn't have to make any video games. They just kind of curated the best of the best which anybody could just do today. It's pretty easy to get started. Then there's a huge marketing advantage on the bundle because instead of just promoting one company or two companies, they vote five or six video games at the same time. All of those creators would kind of jump in on the promotion and you’d get this scenario where when everybody's talking about something suddenly that's news. And then other outlets pick it up and it becomes much bigger than it would have been if everybody was sort of promoting their games on their own. It kind of made sense for everybody involved to be involved with this bundle.
You touched on something that I think is an important part of why bundling works. Part of it is the monopoly power thing if you're a big company, but it even works in smaller examples like that for a lot of reasons. But it has a powerful impact on how people view products.
One of which is I think humans don't like too much choice. SaaS is just, there are an overwhelming number of things to choose right now. I have customers tell me all the time. They're like, "Okay, I chose you for CRM. I'm good. Can you please pick my email marketer? My calendar? Can you pick all of these for me cause I don't want to have to go through this process 20 different times to pick all of my SaaS products."
It's funny to you when people are building their products, and they're so worried about the competition and losing their customers to up and coming competitors. You know how small a percentage of your customers are actively looking to switch to some competitive product?
Usually once people who are in your app, assuming it doesn't suck and it's good, they're happy and they're not spending all their time thinking about all these different choices they can make. They're not doing a giant matrix of every single option of CRM they could use and like figuring out what they're going to do.
Some people do that. But the vast majority would prefer to just start using something and then just keep using it. And this is why we have Notion today and we had Google Docs before that, but people were still sending around like office documents. They're used to it and they're not going to switch.
Absolutely, and especially if you're on the cutting edge of something, probably I think you're differentiated in any number of ways. But if we're talking about CRM or appointment scheduling or note-taking, kind of all these products are roughly the same. I feel bad saying that because I build a CRM, but the reality is we don't have any features that every other CRM doesn't have.
Let's talk about your product, Less Annoying CRM, because you've mentioned to me that you're thinking about doing some bundling with your own Indie Hacker SaaS product. How's that gonna work? What are you thinking about bundling?
My thinking on this has shifted a little recently because I've always wanted to bundle, the reason being I don't want to move up market. I don't want to sell to enterprises. How do you provide more value to small businesses when they want a simple product? It's not by continuing to add features to the product you have, that would be counterproductive.
I've always kind of known it's by solving more problems for those same people. In the past I thought of it more like it's just one big CRM does everything. And with this bundling world, I'm starting to think maybe it makes more sense to basically position them as a bunch of separate products, even if it's all still in one app. But say, "You know how you have 20 tabs open just to run your business? What if I could get it down to 10 for you?" That's kind of what I'm thinking of makes sense for the position.
I like the idea of sort of bundling within one company. Cause you're not thinking about, maybe you are thinking about buying other companies and having them sort of fill out this feature setters or developing it all in-house, you're going to add new features and then create one big bundle where you are not just a CRM, but you're other things too?
I think buying probably makes a lot of sense. That's not in my DNA. I'd get everything wrong. I don't want to have a different code base to deal with and all that. But I also think if you buy, what you end up with is a bunch of different products that probably barely talk to each other. If you build what I want, you've mentioned Notion. Notion is the dream because it's one thing that replaces Trello, Airtable, in my case, Dropbox Paper. It replaces a bunch of things, but it's one tool.
Asana, yes. If Notion had acquired a spreadsheet tool and acquired a note tool and so on, it would be fundamentally different from what it is. I know this is kind of against what I just said. I just said position it as a bunch of different products.
But I almost think that the user experience should be the opposite of that. It should be like, here's one thing that does everything.
It's interesting to dichotomize because when I think about Notion, I'm a huge Notion advocate. I'm constantly trying to get people into Notion. Our little notes for this podcast are in Notion. I want to try to convince people to use Notion. They're like, "What is it?" It's too many things, the website's confused. They don't know why to use it.
And I'm like, "No, no, no. It's this cool document thing that's also a spreadsheet that's also a task." And they're just like, "This doesn't make any sense." I think the way that they've bundled by not having these distinct things actually makes their value prop very confusing.
But the experience, I think as you're hinting at, is actually really good. And once you sort of grok it and you get into it and you see that it's not like all these different products stitch together haphazardly, but it's done in a very natural way where it makes a lot of sense. Then it's really good. So probably retention is good, but user acquisition and conversion is tough because people have no idea what it is that you're building.
I did this multiple times. I signed up for Notion because everyone talks about it and I tried to figure it out. And I was just like, I can't wrap my head around this. And then just a couple of months ago, I finally got into it. And now I'm converted, I love it.
What do you think clicked for you?
It's cheap enough that even if I only use it for one simple thing, it's still worth it. I just moved the company Wiki into it. And then as soon as I had that in there, I was like, "Oh, well maybe I'll tack on my meeting notes and maybe I'll tack on this other thing." And it eventually completely took over Trello, Dropbox Paper, and a handful of other things for us.
Maybe just kind of a wider trend of what bundling is good for. Because I think there's this drive when you're doing kind of productivity work, you're drafting posts or something, you're taking notes, you're checking your tasks and your calendar, or you just kind of in the same head space when you're doing any of that stuff And you just really want it to be in one place.
Before I was using Notion, I was using Asana to track my tasks, but then some of them were in my GitHub issues. And then I had my Google Calendar and my inbox in Superhuman. And I'm using Google Docs to take notes. It's a million different things.
They all need to kind of reference each other. I might take notes on "here's my strategy for March". But then I have tasks associated with that. And those are in Asana. I'm awkwardly linking from one to the other. Any productivity tool that can seamlessly bundle all of these different things together is going to have a huge advantage because then you don't have to go from place to place.
Whereas maybe I don't need Twitter to be bundled with Facebook or something. I'm cool with my social networking tools living in different places. And there's no real advantage to bundling those in that way. Although that's not true. I would like to get all my messages in one place instead of having to check 10 different places.
A 100%. The note taking experience in Notion, in my opinion, is just awful. The actual text editor is so much worse than Dropbox Paper. The Kanban board is certainly worse than Trello, but I mean maybe comparable. The table's worse than Airtable.
Honestly, just the fact that you can click on any of them from the sidebar to get from a table to a Kanban board to a note, yeah, that's huge. I almost wonder if there's an opportunity to bundle products you don't make. Could you make a Chrome plugin that basically builds a Notion sidebar, but for other products to combine them together?
Yeah, that's interesting. It might be a little kludgy cause I think one of the things I like about Notion is that not only can you click all these things in the sidebar, but you can put one in the other. You can take notes, and then inside your notes, you can put a table that's basically an Airtable.
And then below that you can put a Kanban board, if you want to. And it's just seamless and then put your task list below that. I've worked with some VAs where I'm like, "Okay, I need my VA to do these particular tasks." And I need to also explain the tasks. And previously it's like, Oh, how do I do that in one place?"
But now I can write an explanation of the tasks in one doc then put the task list whereas she can then check them off and I'll get little notifications that they're checked off. And then send that whole page to her and it's all one thing. If you could figure out a way to somehow combine these other tools that seamlessly, that's a huge engineering challenge. But does it work with anything besides productivity tools?
I guess games. Games seem to be bundled. You've got the X-Box store or whatever. You've got the PlayStation store. You've got Steam, Humble Bundle. And people who play games want to go to like one place ideally to access all of their games and talk to their friends who are playing these games. There's productivity tools. Can we think of anything else that comes to mind, off the top of my head where bundling seems people really want to be in one place to do all these different things?
Yeah. Every once in a while you see one of these products that is effectively a fork of chromium, and it's just a browser that is better at keeping you logged into you're, it's almost every website is a little app experience and it's kind of its own operating system basically. That's maybe a version of a third party bundling a bunch of products they don't control. But yeah, I don't think there's a huge amount of opportunity there in different spaces, I don't think.
Let's talk about unbundling then. Unbundling is this recently popular discussion topic. It's kind of popularized by Greg Eisenberg, who got it from, I forget who wrote about this, it's a CEO of some big company. But they talked about this constant cycle of bundling and unbundling. Notion is kind of a bundler. They're figuring out how to kill all these other products and put them all into one product.
But people are probably going to unbundle Notion once I see very specific use cases for Notion, they'll start building very niche apps that are much better at that. And there are other bigger properties and websites that people have been unbundling for ages. The most obvious one is Craigslist.
Craigslist is this God awful, hideous collection of a bunch of different "buy tools and rent your apartment out and meet someone to date all on this one website". People have just completely verticalized Craigslist and created startups were pretty much everything that it does. And unbundling something doesn't mean that thing dies. Craigslist is still going strong, but it does give you an opportunity and ideas.
If you're a founder, what could I build? I see in this one corner of Hacker News, people are talking about this particular topic. Maybe I could build a website for that. That's Indie Hackers in a nutshell, it's just an unbundling of one part of Hacker News. People have been talking a lot about unbundling Reddit recently. Reddit is kind of the sloppy collection, millions probably of different subreddits and different communities and a lot of them are thriving.
But is it really true that the best format for every single one of these communities is this very stereotypical, subreddit structure? Probably not. And if you figure out what makes that community tick, you can go in and unbundle and make your own website for one of those verticals.
Greg's been doing that a lot. What do you think about unbundling? Is it a good idea? Do you see any platforms that are ripe for unbundling if you're an Indie Hacker trying to figure out what kind of business you can build?
I think it's a great idea, especially for an Indie Hacker, because what I referenced earlier, an outcome for us that's acceptable, it can be much, much smaller than for someone else. The opportunity for Slack, maybe wasn't big enough, but for an Indie Hacker, it probably is. I think the classic unbundling opportunity in B2B, almost everything you named was B2C. In B2B, it's Excel.
It's what are companies doing in Excel and how can we pull that out and make it a standalone product that, yeah, it's not as powerful as Excel, it can't do all of those things, but it can do this one specific workflow really well. Now that's not a new idea. That's been out there for a long time, but I think that's kind of the classic.
Yeah. I liked that one. And that one's kind of hard too, because you can't just look at Excel, the tool itself and tell how it can be unbundled. Like you can go to Reddit, you can see, okay, this subreddit should be unbundled. That subreddit is fine. The subreddit should be on bundled, et cetera. But if you go to Excel, nothing in the tool itself tells you how people are using it. But if you go the customer development route, you can kind of go into these companies, you can figure out how they're using Excel, and you can ideally see some patterns and then figure out what you need to unbundle.
And I think you mentioned this is kind of the classic one, and a lot of this has already been done. A CRM tool, for example, is a special purpose tool that people were probably using Excel to do. You track all your customers in Excel, you've got all these spreadsheets set up and then somebody deletes one sheet or changes one formula, the whole thing's ruined.
It wouldn't be much better if you had a CRM tool that was built from the ground up to kind of let you do this. And it was less touchy and less hacky than an Excel spreadsheet.
Yeah, absolutely. Another version of this that I find interesting. I'm not sure if you'd consider this unbundling, but it's basically swimming in the wake of a bigger acquisition. We were just saying Slack had acquired probably a lot of companies are now saying we're going to be the next Slack. One of the best bootstrap success stories in the last five years is Tuple, in my opinion. I'm not sure they did this intentionally, what happened with Tuple?
There was a company called Screenhero that made pair programming software for developers. It hit product market fit, it was doing well, Slack acquires it. But they didn't care about pair programming. They just acquired it for video chatting and stuff like that. As soon as that acquisition happened, you can say, well, that creates oxygen for someone else.
Tuple just did this. Tuple was like, "We're just going to make what Screenhero was, but Screenhero's gone." And the opportunity has proven all the market risk was de-risked for them. I bet there are other opportunities like that to effectively, as soon as a bigger company bundles something, take that as an opportunity to immediately unbundle it.
Yeah. Just jump in and get all the people who don't want the bundled version. And especially if it's a bigger company that people hate. If Facebook buys something, guess how many people are no longer going to use that thing because they hate Facebook. Probably a lot. And if you can build a better version, there's also a good PR opportunity there too where you can position yourself as "We're the anti-Facebook and we hate Facebook"nd anyone who agrees with you will use your thing over Facebook.
I'm sure the same thing is true with Salesforce. Probably a lot of people who just, for whatever reason, we refuse to use any Salesforce product and are going to hop ship off Slack. I talked to these guys from a product called Honeybadger on Indie Hackers a while ago, and they also did the same thing.
There's another product called Hoptoad. It was sort of air tracking for your Ruby applications. And I used it back in the day. A lot of people used to back in the day. I think the founders just kind of sold it and it got sold a few times. It got rebranded to Airbrake somewhere during this, eventually it just started to kind of suck.
Everyone's like "What happened to this tool that we loved?" It's just been bundled into these bigger products that have not really done a good job of stewardship. And the Honeybadger guys, their whole pitch early on was just emailing disgruntled Hoptoad customers, or Airbreak customers, and saying that, “We're going to rebuild this. We're not really going to change very much. We're just going to make it good.”
I think it's probably pretty reliable that a lot of these companies that get bundled just lose their quality and then they suck. If you're an Indie Hacker, you could kind of just keep your ear to the ground, whose product is slipping in quality. What is a product that lots of people use and pay for, but they're complaining about it or who just recently got bought or acquired by some very old slow moving company that's probably not going to do a good job?
And the perfect recipe is not just they won't do a good job, but they didn't buy it to run that product. They bought it to incorporate the technology into their own or an acqui-hire or something like that, because then it's not a matter of quality. They're just going to shut the product down entirely. You know that that's the playbook of these big companies.
Right. Thinking about some other things that are ripe for unbundling in the same vein as Excel, or it's kind of this one purpose tool, but you can use it for a million different reasons. I think website builders have kind of gone down the same route where there'll probably be infinite different reasons why you would use a website builder like Squarespace or Wix or Weebly or Webflow or any of these, but they're all very general purpose. They let you build pretty much any kind of website you can imagine, but it turns out there are some very specific types of websites that a lot of people want to build.
f you can identify those, you can make a product just for building those specific kinds of websites. And I think not intentionally, but AJ ofthe Creative Card did this, where he's just like, "I'm going to make a website builder, but it's only for very simple kind of one page websites."
t turns out a huge percentage of the websites that people want to build on the internet are these very simple one page websites. And He gets like a huge portion of that market kind of unbundling these very general purpose website builders. Or with Indie Hackers, right now we're kind of building this mailing list product where you can kind of run a mailing list on Indie Hackers, like your own little Substack mailing list, except unlike Substack, we'll help with distribution.
We'll try to put you in front of the Indie Hackers audience. One of the things we need to do for that is give you a landing page for your mailing list. I bet you there's a million people out there right now who want a really good landing page for their Substack mailing list or maybe for their podcast or something.
If you can kind of unbundle these bigger website builders and say, "We're just gonna handle those one very specific use case. Maybe there's like a way to carve out a niche like that." Probably a million different niches for Indie Hackers who are trying to figure out, you know, what they can do in that space.
The pattern we're seeing here is if you want to unbundle, it has to be a general purpose product that's used for a lot of different things and where the market is so big that even if you only take 1% of it, it's still a good outcome. I mean, I think with that framework, you can narrow it down pretty well.
That as soon as you started talking, I was like, well, CRM has to fit in here. People buy Salesforce, they do a million different things with it. I would argue applicant tracking, ATS systems, which is a recruiting tool, that's basically unbundling a CRM. You could use a CRM to manage your recruiting process.
But now they make these other products that are specifically for hiring. I bet there are a million other unbundling CRM project management, anything with a huge market and that's used in a lot of different ways is probably right for this.
What do you think about education? When I think about Indie Hacker businesses, one of the ways that people get started sort of the most easily is by educating, just like one of the easiest ways to start because you don't really need very much to educate.
You just need to know something that other people want to know. And you gotta start putting out content that teaches people and that can be courses, books. It can be tweets. It can be a newsletter. It could be interviews, could be anything, a podcast. Maybe in a way like educational businesses are unbundling college.
You go to college, you get a whole bunch of different things. You get the social connections, you get a piece of paper that says that you know this thing and people should hire you. You get, allegedly, an education that's going to help you do better in the workforce.
Maybe you could unbundle college to some degree, where you look at, okay, what is college providing? There are a lot of people who really struggle with social experience and they don't have very many friends, especially as the workforce modernizes and we all sort of move around for work.
It's harder to find connections like I'm going to unbundle the social experience part of college and create some sort of program where you just spent a lot of time with a group of people who are somewhat similar to you and similar in age and you make good friends. Or maybe you unbundle the educational part where it's like we're just going to teach you just the raw computer science stuff.
And that's all we're going to teach you. And you don't need to go to college. You don't need to pay $40,000 a year and go into crazy debt. We're just going to be a hundred percent of what you need here. And that's it. The rest of college you don't even need.
I love that because college, you think of it as an educational institution, but depending on what school you go to, it might be 30% research and 20% sports or something like that. You can definitely strip that out. I had a friend, he got a PhD in math. And he's like, "It's ridiculous. I'm at this world-class institution with all of this money to do math research. You literally just need a pencil and a notepad. You don't need any other equipment. Why am I giving 50% of my grant money to the university so that they can buy me a notebook?”
To subsidize all this other stuff that's going on. Exactly.
Yeah. That's really interesting. Could you unbundle academia? You've got all these different scientists, all these different researchers working kind of under the same umbrella, but they're doing very different things. Some require much more funding or less funding. I'm sure if somebody is already doing this, lots of institutions that have already focused on one particular thing.
And then in the private sector you see companies like Google, which are spending a ton of money on research. And they're actually peeling off a ton of researchers from universities to do things like AI research, et cetera. Maybe that's already happening. People already are unbundling academia.
Maybe there's more room if you're in Indie Hacker, so try to look at what's going on there and what doesn't necessarily need to be connected to the rest of academia that's only sort of connected for traditional reasons. But in terms of the physics behind how it works, it’ll be much better off on its own. And maybe that's better than it being part of a college where a lot of the tuition money is funding not just the research, but also the football team and student dorms and other kind of irrelevant stuff.
It makes a lot of sense to me.
Yeah, me too. But I also don't know what I'm talking about. I don't know anything about academia, so we get very off topic here. Another thing you brought up that I think is really worth going into is this notion of subscription fatigue. Explain to me what subscription fatigue is and why it's related to bundling?
Yeah. Subscription fatigue is the idea that 10, 15 years ago, before everything was SaaS, you would buy a thing, you'd get it, you'd own it, you'd have it for however long you need. Now more and more things are becoming a monthly subscription. A lot of things are unbundling like cable turned into Netflix and Hulu and whatever else. I think both as individual consumers and especially as businesses, you look at your credit card statement and you're like, "I just have way too many subscriptions."
This has a lot of problems, one just the cognitive overhead of having to keep track of this and is this thing worth it? From a business standpoint, it's a big problem to say, we're only a 19-person company. We're about as small as businesses get. Every time we hire an employee, we forget to get them added to one of these subscriptions, I guarantee you.
Whereas with Microsoft, as much I don't really like any of their products, but it's great. They're in there. And if someone's like, "I also need a digital white boarding tool." I'm like, "I'd bet you already have that through your Office 365. Just go find it, download it. We're already paying for it." It's much easier than like, "Well, let's get the credit card out and find one of these other tools."
Yeah. It's very true. I was going to say, I don't know if I really experienced subscription fatigue, because of Indie Hackers I got a ton of subscriptions, but I've never had too many subscriptions. But in part that's because I use kind of a Stripe issuing card. I get a text message every single time my card is charged and I also get a Slack chat and it says, "This is the vendor that's charging your card on this date for how much." So it kind of feels like all my subscriptions are in one place.
If I didn't have that, maybe I would be extremely fatigued by it. But I think number one, not everybody uses that product. Number two, there's certain problems it doesn't solve. I lost my personal credit card a few months back, and that was a nightmare because what is even charging this card and how am I going to figure out all the different subscriptions that are on it. It's 30 or 40 of them.
I have to kind of go one website at a time, log into that website, basically to search my email for charges and try to figure out what was going on. It took literally a month of just me looking at every charge in my bank account trying to figure out what I'm being charged for.
There's probably some stuff that's yearly subscriptions that I'm subscribed to that I don't even know about. Maybe there's an opportunity here to build some sort of subscription roll-up tool. Does this already exist? This has to exist.
I wonder if you had that, it would be so easy to then also turn that into one of these kinds of group bundle things we were talking about earlier. You could really grow that into an interesting product where any group of SaaS products could bundle themselves together through your billing system. That'd be really, really nice.
Yeah. That'll be cool. I just searched for it. I'm getting like Chargebee, simplifies subscription management. Chargebee...
Yeah. That's not what they do, I don't think. All those subscription tools they're for the SaaS company to manage their subscription.
Right. Not for the customer. Welp! Business idea for any Indie Hackers out there? Sounds incredibly difficult to probably convince these companies to do this.
Yeah, for sure.
But maybe it's in their best interest because it's kind of a bundle for them. If they can get some free marketing out of it, like, "Hey, we've integrated with this new subscription management thing. You can maybe get them some users or some press." If I knew that I had to choose a CRM and outta the six options I had, only one of them was on this subscription management tool that would let me sort of easily cancel my subscriptions all at once or change my card all at once, then I'd probably go with the one that's on there.
Okay. So there is a tool for this and it's called iOS, right? Like, is this part of the reason why people like buying an app?
Mobile stuff. Yeah, I use Android, but it's the same thing. I kind of have one credit card. I don't have to put in my credit card number once I'm paying for an app or something. And then I can easily just see here's all the apps that you're subscribed to from one place, and it's super easy.
On the topic of this subscription fatigue. I also want to say it pairs really nicely with the idea of things being commodified. I think these are two separate issues, but they work nicely together, which is to say, I'm not going to go out and use a worse, well, CRM is really important for a company that uses one.
I'm not gonna use the worst CRM. But I might use a worse calendar scheduler. Not much worse, but they're all kind of the same. If one's bundled in I can get rid of that subscription, partially to save money, but also just to save the fee. Subscription fatigue is not a problem if the product's differentiated and awesome, but in a world where there's just a million clones of the same thing, that point I start to say, "Why am I paying separately for this?"
Yeah. It might be nice to have them all bundled together. I'm thinking about other things where I've had subscription fatigue recently like Substack. I had this frenzy, I don't know how else to describe it. It's subscribed to 10, 15 different Substacks in a week.
This is a few months ago. And maybe I was willing to do that because they were all on Substack and it was just kind of one credit card. They're all bonded together. It's easy to sort of cancel and change it up. And maybe that's to Substacks advantage that, okay, you could put your newsletter on some other framework.
You could use Ghost, you could use MailChimp or whatever, but people haven't put their credit card in yet. Since Substack is bundled together with all of these people's newsletters in one place, it's just easier as a subscriber to subscribe to a Substack newsletter than it is to subscribe to something else.
But now I'm starting to get kind of the fatigue where it's, "Well, I'm subscribed to so many of these things. I can't read enough of them." And I'm also subscribed to so many different SaaS tools. For Indie Hackers, if I go into, let's see what I'm paying for for Indie Hackers, let's see what recent text messages I've gotten on my Stripe issuing card to see what I'm being billed for.
Okay. So I got, as we discussed Superhuman. I've got Notion, I've got my podcast editors, Github, Chartable, which hosts my podcas,t and Transistor which also does my podcast stuff. I've got Calendly for calendaring. I've got Google Cloud for hosting Firebase. I've got Render of hosting my website. I've got SparkPost and Postmark for sending transactional emails. I've got Descript for editing podcasts. I've got Adobe Creative Cloud for both Photoshop and Adobe Audition. I've got Zoom. I've got Riverside. I got like just a million subscriptions.
What's the end game here? Do you think people are just gonna keep subscribing to more and more stuff? I feel like for an Indie company of my size 5, 10 years ago, I wouldn't have even half this many subscriptions. These are all useful products and companies, but something's got to give, this can't just keep going. Ten years from now I can't just have a thousand subscriptions.
I can't imagine that. I mean, aside from the fatigue, they cost money.
I know people say, "Oh, well, if you use this product, you'll save 10 minutes a day, and that adds up to whatever." But if that were literally true, you'd just go out in the more SaaS products you bought, the more money you'd make. hat's not really how it works. There is a limit to how much you can actually utilize. You said it earlier, I think, they're cycles. I think we've gone through a really long unbundling cycle over, SaaS has really only been a thing for the last 10 years.
Most SaaS products have been standalone products that in a sense, unbundled the previous generation of enterprise like Oracle or whatever type products. This is one of the reasons why I think bundling is a trend that's coming up, is that what you just described where you have a thousand subscriptions isn't viable, I don't think.
Yeah. Maybe 10 years from now I won't be paying for any of this podcast stuff because Spotify will have bought all of it and just bundled it all up into their sort of mega podcasting empire. And then maybe all my hosting will sort of be consolidated into Google, which is already kind of happening.
They're sort of bundling all the different hosting things. Just use Google Cloud or use Amazon or use Microsoft. I think you're spot on. I think the way we sort of avoid the subscription fatigue is because these companies end up bundling everything because we don't all want to have a thousand different bills, and we have a limited amount of money in our bank accounts anyway.
Yeah. And that's terrifying because the big tech companies already have enough power. Do we really want the only products we use are from Google or Microsoft or Apple? But I think there's hope of small businesses, Indie Hackers, bundling stuff as well.
Or we talked about Notion, sorry to keep going back to that, but they're becoming a bigger company. But they did a lot with a very small team before they raised a whole lot of money. I think that's probably, if we look forward five, ten years from now, after everything bundles, there's going to be a counter response to unbundling again.
And I think Notion might be a model of what that looks like. Take a bunch of different things, merge them all into one product. It's now differentiated. It's not a commodity anymore. And people will switch away from the big bundles, hopefully.
Let's talk about the Indie Hackers Podcast network, which is not really a bundle in the sense of what we're talking about or is it? Would you describe the Indie Hackers Podcast network as a bundle?
I think loosely. If you think of a bundle as separate products grouping together for easier distribution, it's stretching the definition a little bit, but yeah, I think so.
It kind of is. If you think about a traditional media company like the New York Times, that's definitely a bundle. You've got a bunch of different journalists writing different columns. And maybe you only care about one or two of those columns, but once you go to the New York Times, you discover a whole bunch of different other things in the newspaper, and it's kind of buled together and it kind of stronger together than they are separately.
And the whole idea of the podcast network is it's not just the Indie Hackers Podcast anymore, but it's your show, Startup to Last, plus four other great shows. We're sort of combining forces into one podcast network and they're internal benefits and external benefits. The internal benefits are pretty obvious, the six of us, really nine of us cause a few of the shows have two hosts, including yours, we get together on a regular basis.
We talk about our shows. We talk about how do we make our shows better? How do we promote our shows? How do you sell sponsorships on a podcast? How do we kind of mutually help each other? And I think that's really great because typically people working in any particular field, either don't collaborate or worse, they see each other as competitors.
And none of this knowledge gets shared. But if you kind of join forces together, then you improve together much faster than everybody who has their own podcast by themselves. Plus, there are all these other theoretical benefits that we haven't really gotten yet where we could, for example, kind of pull our resources and share resources.
Maybe we could all be on one Transistor account theoretically and save money on that. Or we could have the same podcast editor who knows exactly how to edit all of our shows and we give them enough business to sort of be satisfied. And we don't all have to look for different podcasts editors, or we have the same advertisers or the same distribution channels.
We can kind of join forces and then just focus on what makes our shows different and kind of have one central entity handle kind of the shared resources across our shows. Those are some of the internal benefits of the Indie Hackers bundle. What if anything are the external benefits? If you're a listener, is there any benefit to the fact that our six shows are all part of the same network now?
Yeah. I don't think they're as obvious as the ones you just said, but let me just throw some ideas out there. One is we've bounced around the idea before of what if all of the podcasts on the network picked kind of themes or topics.
Let's take bundling, let's say everybody's going to do a bundling episode now. Would that be interesting for the listener to say, "Oh, I can follow along in these bigger trends that normally wouldn't be covered." The other thing, this is probably a stupid idea, but I wonder if there were a single podcast stream that picked one of ours per week or something so that the listener could actually consume these different podcasts in an easier way.
Cause right now, even though we're in a podcast network, they still have to subscribe to each of them separately. It doesn't really simplify the distribution for them at all.
Yeah, that's the problem. We don't control podcast distribution. We don't own a podcast player. We could theoretically build one. I mean, I built sort of an RSS feed reader for Indie Hackers, so you go to IndieHackers.com/podcasts. It's just every 15 minutes pinging each of your RSS feeds and pulling in your latest episode, if you have one. And what else is a podcast player besides just a list of shows that you could play on?
What if there was a very niche podcast player, you're an Indie Hacker, but the only podcasts that you even listen to are Indie Hackers podcast. What if we had a podcast player for our show and that was kind of the feed?
Yeah. Would anyone use that? Probably not with just that, but you could imagine building it out more. Could there be more discussions because you're using this app or something like that? Yeah, I don't know.
Someone should build this because all of our podcast feeds are open-sourced and you should make it so I can plug Indie Hackers comments into it. Because my pet peeve is it's so hard running a podcast to get any sort of feedback at all from listeners. If I could plug the Indie Hackers forum into it and we can just get comments directly on our episodes while people are listening from their player, that would be sick. I would pay for that podcast player in a second.
I 100% agree. It's so frustrating that all podcast conversation happens on Twitter basically. Which is a terrible format for it and it doesn't make any sense, but there's not really a good option aside from that.
The problem is that you listen to podcasts usually in a very particular context, you're in your car driving somewhere, or you're walking somewhere, or you're doing chores around the house. The reason you're listening to something on audio is because your eyes are preoccupied and your hands are preoccupied, but you still have your ears and your brand available to you.
I think we use Twitter in a very different mode where you're distracted, you're kind of bored or you're sitting at your computer or you're on your phone looking at your screen. So, it doesn't overlap. The podcast conversation that happens on Twitter, happens when people have already listened to the episode a few days ago or a few weeks ago or something. That'd be really nice if there was a way where these podcasts players would encourage people to actually interact while they're listening or just after they listen. It doesn't really exist yet, but let's talk about your show.
Your show is called Startup to Last. I mentioned it at the top of the show, how you're building Less Annoying CRM to basically last for decades. Is that what you talk about on your show?
Yes and no. That topic gets dry pretty quickly. So it's more, how do you run a business with that kind of in the background. We're still talking about normal, how do you do marketing? It's just my friend Rick and I helping each other through business problems but the answer, so the questions I think are the same as any other startup podcast, but the answers are differentif the goal is to last for 20, 30 years versus get acquired five years from now.
Which is a goal I hope more people strive for. On the internet we kind of measure businesses in terms of months or years. I was just listening to Ben Orenstein on the Run With It podcast. They're also on the network. And I think they call it his product Tuple kind of the old guard. It's only been around for two years and only on the internet that people will refer to businesses that way.
But I think yours, you sort of put your money where your mouth is. You've got the experience, you've been building Less Annoying CRM for ten years, eleven maybe. And Rick, co-host on the podcast, he's got kind of a brand new thing, where he's just now kind of getting into it. How long has he been working on his product?
Basically this year. So going on one year now.
It's a cool juxtaposition where you’re sort of dispensing wisdom from the top of the Indie Hackers mountain and he's kind of climbing up the mountain himself, but learning a lot of different things because I'm sure building a business today is very different than it was when you built yours.
Yeah. It really is and after you've been doing it for 11 years, it's also fun in both directions. Maybe I have a little wisdom, but it's easy to get complacent and lose a little bit of hunger sot's great to hear the other side of it and be like, "Oh yeah, I should probably be moving faster, huh?"
What's your favorite episode of your show so far?
My favorite episode of the show, the one that got the best reviews was when Rick wanted to learn how to code. And I just told them how I would self-teach, although that's probably not representative of what the normal episodes are. I gotta be honest, one does not stand out to me, but recently, cause you've been giving us a lot of feedback,e've been talking more about kind of trends and topics that are not necessarily just what we're working on in our business, but kind of zooming out and saying what's going on in the startup landscape. I've been having a lot of fun with that because it's important. Entrepreneurs should be thinking big picture, but it's really easy to get bogged down in the day to day and forget to think about that stuff.
Yeah. I like the one you did recently on the topic of community fatigue. Because it kind of had me screaming at my phone because I wanted to jump in and talk, but it's a podcast, so I just have to listen. But you're talking about how there's just so many startup communities.
Twitter itself is a community and has a bunch of different sub communities. Indie Hackers is a community. There's a million others, Slack groups and discord groups and Telegram groups and little communities you can belong to as a founder. And in the same way we have the subscription fatigue, we have community fatigue.
And so the two of you were talking about what your thoughts we're on it. And I just wanted to jump in. Now you're here, I can actually say it. My thought was I think about communities almost exactly the same way I think about offline communities. Online and offline are kind of the same.
I think the answer is you don't have to belong to all of them. You don't go to every single barbecue that's ever been thrown. You just go to the barbecue with the friends that you want to hang out with. I think the same thing is true with the community stuff.
I feel the same way about newsletters. There's newsletter subscription fatigue. How can you subscribe to all of them? The answer is you don't have to. You can just read the ones that you like. I think that's kind of what makes it possible for so many Indie Hackers to succeed, which is that none of these communities and none of these newsletters or whatever, or kind of winner take all.
All of them kind of have a small group of subscribers or readers or community members. ven if they only grow to a hundred or a thousand or 10,000 or something, that's enough for their founders to make a really good living and they can be a million other newsletters and communities and things work out.
I buy that, but my pushback would be, I think a lot of people running these communities aren't thinking about it that way.
No way. Indie Hackers is going to be the biggest thing ever. It's going to be a winner take all.
It's funny talking to you about it cause Indie Hackers is the winner in a niche, but there's nothing bigger than Indie Hackers targeting this kind of bootstrap. You basically invented the term. The problem is everyone else is trying to start Indie Hackers part two. And there's only going to be one Indie Hackers. There's only one Hacker News. I love what you're saying about, it could be a barbecue. It could be 10 or 20 or 30 people.
Those have been my favorite communities I've ever been a part of, but there's not a business there. And when people are trying to start a business built around a community, it has to get bigger than that, I think.
Yeah, that's very true. You've got to get bigger than 10 people to make this work. But I think some people are doing it. There's Weekend Club. They are based out of London. I think they do Saturday co-working sessions. t's 50, 60 bucks a month. And if you charge that kind of price for a group of Indie Hackers to get together, you only really need a hundred or 200 people for you to make a living off of a group like that. t's probably not a 40-hour week job for you.
It's probably pretty easy to run something like that. There could be lots of those. You need lots and lots of those. They're still at the level where it's still kind of, there's a personal connection there where people can know each other. I think probably some people will be doing this with an eye towards killing Indie Hackers in making the next big Indie community.
But I think I'll probably be okay. I think I've got some really good network effects going in my favor. Okay, well that looks pretty much everything on our list.
I think it is. Yeah.
Cool. Well, thanks for doing this co-hosted episode with me. Hopefully we'll have you on again, if you're up for it. Where can people find you and your podcast, Tyler?
Yeah, I am TylerMKing on Twitter. The podcast is a Startup to Last on Twitter or www.startuptolast.com. And my company is LessAnnoyingCRM.com.
All right, thanks again, Tyler.
Yeah. Thanks, Courtland. It was fun.
Listeners, if you enjoyed this episode and you want an easy way to support the podcast, you should leave a review for us on iTunes or Apple podcasts. Probably the fastest way to get there if you're on a Mac is to visit IndieHackers.com/reviews. I really appreciate your support and I read pretty much all the reviews you leave over there.
Thank you so much for listening and as always, I will see you next time.
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