AMAs April 29, 2019

I'm Natalie Nagele, co-founder of WildBit, ask me anything!

Natalie Nagele @natalienagele

I'm Natalie. I'm co-founder and CEO of an 18 year-old, bootstrapped and profitable company called Wildbit. I lead the direction, culture, and team happiness alongside my husband and business partner Chris. We're the team behind beloved developer tools Beanstalk, Postmark and Conveyor. With 28 team members across 5 countries (15 cities), I'm working to prove that you can grow an extremely profitable business while focusing on shorter work days, an enjoyable work-from-anywhere environment, and staying small.

Ask me anything! #ama

I'll be here on Wednesday, May 1st at 2:30pm Eastern Time to answer your questions.

  1. 7

    So now over a year later, how do you reflect about the sale of your former product DeployBot.com? Did the sale help you focus your resources in a way you intended? ;-)

    1. 2

      Hi Tim :)

      Selling DeployBot was always bittersweet. Looking back, there's no way we could have continued to work on both DeployBot and Conveyor.com. We were spread way too thin working on so many products.

      Selling it still feels like the right decision. We're a scrappy team and we work hard to work on the "right" things at the time. For the team it was important to give Conveyor a shot.

      Now, if only we could ship Conveyor sooner, but I digress 😊

  2. 3

    Thanks for doing the AmA! Having a remote team can be challenging, imo. Can you share if you have structured communication (for example weekly team calls and monthly 1on1's)? And how do you make sure everyone stays motivated? How close are you with everyone?

    1. 3

      We've been doing remote since day 1, so the structure has changed quite a bit. In general we like to review our communication once a year on retreat and figure out how we can improve. One of the biggest learnings for us is that the team dynamic changes quite often, so an internal review is almost mandatory.

      As a principle we limit synchronous communication to maximize focus work. Generally speaking (and it's not across the board) most people on the team have a single meeting on Mondays and then a weekly 1x1s with their leads. The leads have a standing 90 minute meeting on Thursday mornings to review and issue solve together.
      https://wildbit.com/blog/2018/07/12/fewer-meetings-courtesy-of-automated-check-ins

      We heavily limit Slack use and disruptions and absolutely love email as a way to communicate one-on-one. https://wildbit.com/blog/2018/07/17/our-week-off-from-slack
      https://wildbit.com/blog/2015/06/14/lets-get-back-to-sending-emails

      Staying very close has gotten more challenging as we've grown. We do at least quarterly all-hands calls on zoom. Chris and I both check in personally with everyone at least once a quarter as well. We do this awesome thing on Mondays where everyone shares their weekends. This is huge for staying in touch. We also have annual retreats which help (we leave Sunday!!).
      https://wildbit.com/blog/2017/09/13/how-was-your-weekend

      Motivation is tricky. I think we're lucky that our team is highly motivated on their own. We try to set clear goals and really be on the same page on where we're trying to go. From there, the teams work in small groups to get projects and work out. It seems to work pretty well. And of course there's the periodic pep-rally that I like to host :)

      1. 1

        Thank you for your insightful and extensive answer! :-)

        Sharing the weekend on Mondays sounds like a great idea for staying in touch.

        Enjoy the retreat!!

  3. 3

    How are you able to fend off competition and are you still growing?

    1. 2

      We don't spend a ton of time thinking about fending off competition. We spend more of our time figuring out what our unique value proposition is to our user and maximizing on that value prop. I hope that doesn't sound as a cop out, but I've found that the more I focus externally, the more stressed I become. Because what my competition does is out of my control, but what we do inside of our company and our product is 100% in my control.

      We try to really understand who our customers is and what they need. That let's us redirect decision-making from knee-jerk "oh shit competitor raised more money" to "our users will LOVE this".

      We do pay attention to solutions our competitors provide so that we can understand what is expected out of a similar product, but we try to keep our heads down and focused as much as possible.

      We are growing :) Haven't stopped growing in 18 years. Rate of growth varies by product. We're targeting 50% this year.

  4. 3

    Loved your podcast episode. WildBit seems like an excellent company.

    1. 1

      Thanks Sam!!

  5. 2

    You mention in your podcast wishing you had considered diversity of your team members at an earlier stage. What are you doing differently now to try to encourage more staff diversity?

    1. 2

      Well, we stopped hiring with a "do you know anyone?". That was a big slap in the face a years ago when it dawned on us that if you keep asking your team to recommend more people, you'll end up with a lot of the same people.

      Our team is pretty committed to becoming a place where diverse thought and experience is welcome and supported. I believe we have the support system in place, we just need to create more opportunities within Wildbit.

      We're hiring more now that we ever have. Our process for hiring has shifted to placing available jobs with communities that support diverse candidates. We've also started developing more junior roles so that we can expand both the number of people we hire as well as the level of experience needed to do the job well.

      It's a slow process and it's frustrating at times. But we're pretty committed.

      1. 1

        Well, we stopped hiring with a "do you know anyone?"

        Funny you mention that. I've encountered that question immediately after being hired exactly once. It was a YC company that had raised money multiple times and everyone there had gone to Stanford and was younger than me. They hired two more under 25 Stanford grads while I was there, too.

  6. 2

    Hi Natalie,

    I really enjoyed your podcast episode on IH. I notice Wildbit is an LLC. Was that very intentional from the start? Secondly, over the past 18 years, did the need to migrate into a c corp formation ever come up? I get conflicting information as to which setup is best for an indie software company.

    Thanks!

    1. 1

      The LLC was an intentional choice, as recommended by the "experts" when we started. Right now we're a S Corp for taxation. But honestly, I'm not an expert. This is probably where I say "please ask your Accounting and Legal professional" 😊

    2. 1

      They do profit sharing so that could have something to do with it

  7. 2

    How did you make the transition from services to products?

    1. 3

      We started building Beanstalk while we still did client work. Once we saw that Beanstalk had traction, we committed someone full-time to development. After a few months of consistent growth we decided to move away from services, but only once Beanstalk could support the entire team. We weren't going to fire anyone.

      As soon as the MRR of Beanstalk covered payroll we stopped doing client services. I borrowed something like $30k from Chris' parents in case, by some chance, the Beanstalk revenue went down. I drew on it a little each week just to make myself feel better. We paid it all back in 4 months (I think).

      1. 1

        Seems like a super smart way to proceed. Thanks for sharing the details, super inspiring.

  8. 2

    After looking at your site, my first question was how you feel about the diversity of your team?

    By the way, Brian from Philadelphia was a great hire.

    1. 2

      I would like our team to be more diverse and representative of the world. We're working on it. It'll be slow going because we don't hire often, and people like to hang out at Wildbit for a while. We're committed and actively working on it with every new job we put out.

      1. 1

        Thank you for your response. What steps are you taking to actively work on it?

  9. 1

    Hi Natalie,

    Thanks for doing an AMA.

    To me it seems very difficult to be successful in such competitive markets, eg Beanstalk is competing with BitBucket which does a lot of what you do for free, GitHub which is just a behemoth and owned by Microsoft, GitLab and others.

    What do you attribute your success to in the face those difficulties. My motivation for asking is because I feel frustrated by being a bit of small fish in a competitive market.

    I've used Beanstalk and Dploy.io and loved the simplicity of your products.

    1. 2

      Related to above answer, we've really just tried to focus on our customer and what they want. When I see a huge market, I get excited because that means I can grab a piece. We've always felt confident in saying we don't want to be a billion-dollar business. It's why we don't raise money. So for us, seeing a massive market just means we can offer something unique and special for a small group and still do really well.

      I get asked this a lot and it's one of the easiest answers to give only because we've been honest with our desires and what we want to build. If we wanted to be GitHub, we'd raise money and go all in. GitHub is an awesome product providing a great service to the community. But there will always be an audience that isn't perfectly served by the big behemoths, so we go try to make those peoples' lives better. Small fish, but pretty mighty.

  10. 1

    Hey Natalie, Thanks for doing this. How did you build the team over time being bootstrapped? Did you setup a process to hire, train and retain good people ? Can you talk about the challenges of growing the team slowly especially with multiple locations? How do you decide to hire someone new ? We are located close to Philly (South Jersey) and I found your company to be very close to what we want to achieve someday :).

    1. 2

      We've gone from hiring too slowly, to hiring too quickly, to now trying to time things better. 😊 We are not a model to follow for sure. Our team runs remote first, so we're not building out a specific location.

      We're working on a better process for hiring people. It's actually a big project for this year. Our current process varies on role and how easy it is to find someone. I would say our Customer Success team has the strongest hiring process. They have a great way of evaluating candidates with a series of questions on application, a very fair and thoughtful test project, a series of Zoom interviews and then a final selection. They also have a super solid, documented on boarding plan. Other roles aren't so well defined.

      Retaining folks has been just a matter of really caring for people and making sure to make decisions based on the impact on the individual instead of the company. That's always been our way.

      I think the hardest part in bootstrapping and hiring is understanding when to be scrappy and when to spend money. Is it cheaper to hire someone or to spend more on hosting? Is it better to do all the internal tooling manually or hire more to build tooling? Can we grow faster/more consistently by building faster/supporting people better? Those questions are so tough to answer because it's all guessing. And I operate very conservatively so guessing is hard.

      Lately we've taken to hiring a little bit ahead of what we need. This gives us room to grow, and also helps if someone finds a new job and we are shorthanded.

      1. 1

        I appreciate your insights. In terms of hiring, what are some of the key things you look for in your experience that really matters ?

  11. 1

    When you were getting started, what skills did you find that you and Chris have that really helped? What skills did you feel you were missing?

    1. 3

      Chris and I have very different strengths which I think really helped us. Chris is more technical and has a great eye for product. He really obsesses over user experience, design and product-value. I love working with people. I also enjoy the finance, legal, operations stuff of running a business.

      These are opposites in a good way - they almost complement each other perfectly with what we needed to do to build products and grow a team.

      Neither of us are very "growth" focused. We don't come with Marketing DNA. We care about product positioning and messaging, but we wake up and go to sleep thinking about our team or the product, not distribution channels. That has definitely caused our growth to be slower, but I'm ok with it.

  12. 0

    Hi Natalie, thanks for doing this AMA! May I ask you what your favorite color is?

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    This comment was deleted a year ago.

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    This comment was deleted a year ago.

    1. 1

      Aw, thank you!! That made my day.