Rachel Andrew Cofounder of Perch

Episode № 17

Rachel and I talk about what it's like supporting self-hosted software, juggling a busy travel schedule to make time for work. She's been working on Perch with her husband Drew for eight years, and they're still going strong.

Garrett: All right. Today I’m here talking with Rachel Andrew, web developer, speaker, author, and co-founder of the wonderful, but tiny, little CMS called Perch. Welcome, Rachel.

Rachel: Hi, good to be here.

Garrett: Thanks. Really glad to have you. Can you give, I guess, a quick overview of, kind of, your journey, your career of where you started and how you got where you are today, and the steps you took.

Rachel: Yeah. So I’ve been doing this for a very, very long time. I guess about 20 years. So when I started on the web, there wasn’t very much to learn. You could pretty much learn what you needed to do to build a website in about an afternoon. Then you were the person who everyone knew who built websites in about an afternoon, and then you were the person who everybody knew who built websites, so that was pretty cool. So that was really how I got started, just playing around with the web and thinking, this is interesting, and enjoying building things.

So I kind of been doing the stuff as I went along, you know, every time I was like, oh, here’s a site that’s got this magical roll over navigation, how do I do that? So I learned a bit of JavaScript. I wanted to build a guestbook, so I learned Pearl, ‘cause that’s what you did. So that was really how I got started was just doing that, and it’s really just grown from there. I’ve always just learned things, the next thing that’s come along. You know, this isn’t my training. I’ve not got a computer science degree or anything like that. I trained to do dance, so totally different area. Yeah, that’s it. That’s really just how I’ve done it. I worked for one a kind of .com company, during the .com crash, decided that working for other people wasn’t very stable, that it was probably better to work for myself. So I’ve been self employed wince 2001. Which probably makes me unemployable at this point. Yeah.

Garrett: Yeah. I was thinking the same thing after Sifter, but it turns out I’m moderately employable I guess. So, you know, you might surprise yourself.

Rachel: Yeah. But yeah, it’s basically been a long time.

Garrett: So how long has Perch been, kind of, the main focus? When did that transition happen and kind of, what led to it?

Because people were interested in it, and immediately started buying it, we carried on developing it, and over, I guess about 2 years, 18 months to 2 years, we kind of transitioned away from doing the client work to doing Perch, just because it was making enough money to do so.

Rachel: So Perch, we actually launched 8 years ago, yesterday. So it’s now 8 years old, which is actually getting on a bit, really, for a bit of software. So yeah, so we launched as a side project. It was something we were interested in having, really, for the work we were doing. We were doing CMS development, for a fairly large scale, mainly for design agencies. They were interested in having something small and lightweight for their smaller projects. So that’s where it came from, it’s this content editor. Because people were interested in it, and immediately started buying it, we carried on developing it, and over, I guess about 2 years, 18 months to 2 years, we kind of transitioned away from doing the client work to doing Perch, just because it was making enough money to do so. So it absorbed more and more of our time as it brought in more of our income, really. It was just sort of a slow transition between doing 100 percent client work and Perch kind of evens the weekends. So actually, that had been the main focus.

Garrett: So when you originally built it, was the first idea immediately to sell this as well, or were you building it purely for yourselves, for your client work?

Rachel: Fairly quickly we realized it was a nice stand alone thing. Everything we had done before that had been things that we need to go in and install for people. We had a big CMS framework we were working with. But that involved us going and developing, using it. So it wasn’t really so much stuff around, just as there is now, there weren’t the kind of frameworks and things that there are today. So we had our own in house thing, and we’d go and we’d build systems on that. So when we started building Perch though, we were like, oh this is actually, this could be a stand alone. We could just sell it as a thing, rather than needing to have any input in applying it. So fairly quickly we thought we’d probably sell it. I don’t think we really expected it to take off in any great way. It was just, oh well, you know, this might be useful for a few people.

Garrett: Yeah. I feel like that’s one of the best stories. The more I talk to people and find out, the way they said, oh we created this thing, and then we thought, oh, well maybe other will be interested in it. And before you know it, it turns into it’s own little beast. It just takes off on its own. I feel like that’s always one of the best ways to do it. The healthiest ways.

Rachel: Yeah.

Garrett: How long did it take you, from the time you launched it until the time it became your full, hundred percent focus?

Rachel: Actually I think, probably about 2 years or so? It was difficult, because, you know, there were some clients that we kept doing things for for longer because we had … Yeah, things come to an actual end. So we weren’t taking on new stuff, but, you know, we had clients who we cared about and we weren’t just going to abandon. So it sort of all tailed off. But we probably … 2 years or so in that we could really rely on it as being a source of income, a main source of income.

Garrett: Wow, okay. So one of the other things that I also love, is Perch is competing in a really crowded market, right? And not only a crowded market, but a market where there’s many free options.

Rachel: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Garrett: How has that been, has that, you know, I think a lot of people see that and go, oh, well we’d never try to compete with WordPress or whatever it is. Obviously Perch is a very different niche, but it’s still something that somebody is like, well, this is free, I’m just going to use it. Have y’all had any experience, or gained any insights, that would help other people who, kind of, are thinking similar things? If they are trying to, they’ve got an idea and they’re really excited about it, but there’s already a really competitive field in the market. Kind of, what have y’all done to set Perch apart?

Rachel: I think, partly, it’s because there are a number of people who actually want to pay for something and actually want to have … To feel they’ve got some support there. They’ve handed over money and therefore we can kind of be there to do some support and some help. I think that’s valuable to people. There are people who have just had real trouble with WordPress, you know, they’ve had a site that they’ve just struggle with it, or they found it difficult to implement. One of the things with Perch is that you can drop it into an existing site, so if you’ve got a site that’s just a bunch of HTML pages, you can drop in Perch without having to rebuild the whole thing into a theme. So that was really one of the initial use cases, was this idea that a lot of people are building static sites and then the client would turn around and say, oh can I just edit the text on the homepage? And of course if you’ve built that into WordPress, you’re having to take the whole thing and put it into WordPress.

Garrett: Yeah.

Rachel: So we kind of went the other way around. We’re like, well do you want to add a CMS to this site that already exists? And you can do that with Perch. So we’ve got different … There’s different things about Perch. I think there are just a group of people who are interested in paying for things and they kind of understand that their time is worth something? The average Percher knows that their time is worth money. Having something free that takes them 3 times as long, it’s actually not free.

Garrett: Yeah.

Rachel: So that’s really the customers that we go for. So I guess the advice is to make sure you know that there are people willing to pay for what it is that you can do that is better or different than the free thing.

Garrett: Yeah.

The average Percher knows that their time is worth money. Having something free that takes them 3 times as long, it’s actually not free.

Rachel: You need to have something that people are willing to pay for, whether that’s, you know, knowing they’ve got support, or you know, knowing that there’s a sort of community around, the developers are interested in them. That might be important. There’s a few things. There’s always gonna’ be people who say, well I’m going to use the free thing. But they tend to be the people who time is not worth money.

Garrett: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well and I think too, Perch is a much simpler tool and it’s something that you would be a lot less hesitant to hand over to a client.

Rachel: Yeah.

Garrett: There’s a lot less rope to hang themselves with, compared to WordPress where a month later they might be, okay, how do I log in again? You know.

Rachel: Yeah, that’s it. We try to be content editor and client friendly, that’s always been important. Beause I kind of feel that quite often the content editors have forgotten users, people think of the people viewing the website and they think about themselves as the developer implementing the thing. But they forget that in the middle there is this person who has to battle with the wretched thing all day to get the content in. It kind of, they get forgotten, and then you end up with these things where you have to build, you know, you have to basically build a blog and then that blog is used for content on the site. That’s a mental leap that as a developer, that’s fine. Oh, that’s where all my content is stored and it goes on the site, but the client is just like, how do I edit the text on the about page? Where’s the about page? So that was one of the things we tried to do with Perch was make it very friendly for content editors. Which if you are a small design agency, if your clients are constantly ringing up saying, how do I edit text in my CMS? That’s often not billable time.

Garrett: Yeah.

Rachel: You just have to help them out. So one of the things we wanted to do with Perch was make it simple so people weren’t burning up a lot of time they could be billing just helping people out.

Garrett: Yeah. So I want to touch on support in a sec. But one of the other things I want to hit on, so in addition to Perch, you’re on the CSS Working Group, a Google Developer Expert, you’re traveling extensively, speaking, and sharing all of this knowledge. So part of it is, how do you juggle it? Obviously a lot of that work is valuable, you’re, you know, doing really great interesting stuff. But how do you balance the business with finding time for all of that and the travel and the interruptions? I find if I travel somewhere for a day it completely ruins my week in terms of productivity. So has that been something that has been difficult? Or have you just kind of learned to manage it and juggle it? Does Perch help? Because you can work on it from anywhere. You know, can you talk about that a little bit?

Rachel: Yeah, I’m very good at working on the road. I am very, sort of, structured, in myself. I like structure, I like to be, sort of, organized. I think that helps, if you’re traveling. So I try to keep my days the same you know, I might be at a conference in San Jose, or somewhere, but I’ll keep my days pretty much the same. I’ll go out for a run, I’ll, you know, get the emails done, I’ll get the work I need to do done. Obviously if it’s a conference day I’m going to have less time, ‘cause I’m going to be out at the conference, be talking to people, do my talk. But I’ll try to get work done and I’ll try to keep the structure. I think if you travel enough, you can’t kind of do the whole constantly socializing out every night thing, ‘cause it’ll just kill you. I’m also 42, I’m too old for that.

So I think, you know, it’s kind of, I’ll arrange to meet people maybe for coffee, and then think about, well I’ll have the evening to get on with some stuff, ‘cause that’s what I need to do. I’m not really a late night person anyway. I’ll try and sort of fit around the social obligations of being a conference speaker, you know, you need to be there, you need to talk to people. That’s part of the job really, with being able to do work. I do that by being quite disciplined around those rules that I set for myself. I couldn’t travel for 4 months of the year if I wasn’t disciplined. I’d end up sick, you know. It’s that, it’s being very organized.

I think the more you do, the better you get at that. Because if it’s just a few a year, you say, well it’s fine to throw all out the window. If you go to 4 conferences a year you should just like enjoy it, and you know, eat all the rubbish food, and drink the drink, and go out to the parties, and all that. That’s great. But if you do 36, like I do, or whatever, you can’t. You can’t. You burn out. I think it’s knowing yourself and knowing that you have this stuff that you have to do, and balancing the various things, and yeah, you get better with that the more you do it.

So we get a lot of stuff where it’s just people who are just, you know, they’re blaming the software, well they think it’s the software, and actually what they’ve got is a hosting problem, or they’ve got a problem with their CSS, you know.

Garrett: Yeah. No, I think that’s great advice, something I could take to heart and have a little more discipline in keeping that schedule.

Rachel: Yeah, it’s where that … The ballet training, which is where I came from, that’s where that’s from. So that’s good.

Garrett: Oh, that makes sense. Yeah.

Rachel: Yeah.

Garrett: Yeah, that totally makes sense. So support.

Rachel: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Garrett: Obviously with SaaS, support is different. I want to say, probably simpler. It’s generally going to be more product questions. But with something self installed and hosted, invariably, the support is more complex, probably more varied. How has that been with Perch?

Rachel: Yeah, it’s kinda’ hard with Perch because a lot of the support questions have nothing to do with our software. The person asking them doesn’t always know where our software starts and their front end development or their web server, you know, where those things … So we get a lot of stuff where it’s just people who are just, you know, they’re blaming the software, well they think it’s the software, and actually what they’ve got is a hosting problem, or they’ve got a problem with their CSS, you know. It’s got nothing to do with us. But they’re just seeing it as it’s something to do with the website. Also, you know, PHP is, there are many, many ways to badly configure your server using PHP and we have seen them all. You have people running PHP in all kinds of environments. So yeah, the support is very difficult with a self hosted thing. There’s no way around it. It’s going to be very technical. Which makes it hard just to outsource it, you can’t just say, oh, you know, here’s a person with reasonable computer knowledge, they’ll be able to do the support. You can’t do that, because most of the things, especially over time, you know, all the trivial stuff you code out of the software, the trivial things people run into, you find a way to show a good error message, or write some good documentation, and those things go away.

What you’re left with are people who either, perhaps, shouldn’t be using the software, you know, they’d be better off using, say, Squarespace, or you know, some hosted system. They haven’t quite the skills to be installing this stuff themselves, or they’ve got a problem with their hosting, or their own development environment, or they have, you know, they’ve called, we’ve got some weird thing, but they can’t explain what it is, so we can’t help them. You know, the actual stuff that we get in is quite difficult to deal with. Which is why we still do all the support, because trying to get anybody else to do that support, they’d need to know an awful lot about an awful lot of things.

Garrett: Yeah, yeah. That’s a very expensive support person to have them with that kind of skillset.

Rachel: Yes, yeah.

Garrett: So the upside is, if one of your customer’s sites goes down, they don’t all go down. So there’s that.

Rachel: No.

I think the main thing is to have really great documentation, lots of docs, videos have been really important for us.

Garrett: But so has there been specific strategies that you’ve adopted of that you would advise for other people who are considering a self hosted model? Things that, you know, whether it’s partnering with a subset of hosting providers that, you know, you can count on to have things configured right, or other things like that?

Rachel: We encourage, obviously, the customers to help each other out. They do that, which is great. Because they actually do have the knowledge of the system and they have the knowledge, so there is a bit of that goes on in the forum. People will start to help each other out a bit. I think the main thing is to have really great documentation, lots of docs, videos have been really important for us. In fact, we’ve just done a whole lot of new videos for Perch 3. Because people can then look at those and step through things and learn how to do stuff. A lot of people, I can’t understand learning from a video at all, but lots of people love them. So I spent a lot of time making videos, which I’m completely baffled by in this use case, but, there we go.

Garrett: Yeah, there’s a lot of things like that. Videos, or in person demos, or webinars, everybody is so different in how they absorb the information and it’s tempting to say, oh, we’ve got all of these wonderful detailed help docs with screenshots, and arrows, but that doesn’t work for everybody, right. So a lot of people would rather watch the video.

Rachel: Yeah, yeah. A lot of our customers are web designers first, they’re not developers first. So having the videos, seeing someone actually writing the code and they can see it, and it’s not a lot that they’ve got to do, that is really helpful. So, yeah, I think it’s, if you’re going to have the self hosted thing, you’ve really got to have that material there. You also need to know where to draw the line with someone in support and say, look, this is a hosting problem, you need to go to your web host. We can’t help you with this. Or, you know, this is a CSS issue, you need to … Here’s some good resources to go and learn about CSS, but it’s not our product that you’re running into a problem with here.

I think it’s tempting to want to help everyone, and you essentially end up building their website line-by-line in support. That’s not helpful, that’s not fair on the rest of the customers. You should be improving your product, not helping that one person constantly. So I think you have to get quite strict with people and say, look, sorry this isn’t, you know, maybe someone else on the forum might be able to help you with this. But you might be better to go to a CSS forum, go to the CSS tricks forums and post there, or you need to speak to your web host here, because this is actually a hosting issue. So while it’s tempting to be incredibly helpful to everyone, as you grow, you’re not going to be able to carry on doing that.

Garrett: Yeah. So the forums is an interesting topic. Is that something y’all launched right away or added later as a hope that it could help alleviate some of the support?

Rachel: Yeah, because we’re one-off cost, we don’t have paid support, as it were. So people aren’t paying a subscription to have support, so the forum, yeah. We thought if we have support open, not only does that enable other people to help each other out, and especially those kinds that are kind of implementation requests, you know, how do I do this or that. Often, other customers are better at answering that because they’ve done it themselves. But also being open it means people can search it, yeah, a lot of people just search the forums, find their answer, and never post. So it’s there. So I mean, there are people who ask for some sort of private support, and we can provide that. In particularly with things like Shop, you know, we’ve got a full e-commerce add-on. Around that, people start to actually say, you know, we’d like to pay for support, because they want to know they’ve got someone at the other end if it all goes wrong. You know, we can do that kind of support contract with private support, if someone is after that. We can tailor that to whatever it is that they need. That’s fine. But for most people, you know, they just want to be able to post somewhere and say, I’ve got this issue, and we can help them out.

You also need to know where to draw the line with someone in support and say, look, this is a hosting problem, you need to go to your web host. We can’t help you with this.

Garrett: Yeah. So are the forums pretty self sustaining, or do y’all have to do a lot of moderation? Are y’all in there answering questions as well pretty regularly? How does that work on your time?

Rachel: Yeah, I mean, we do most of the actual support because a lot of it is, the stuff that tends to turn up there is often quite complex. We find that other customers will pick off the simple stuff. You know, someone just say, oh how do I do this, and they’ll spot it and be, oh I know that, I know where that is in the docs, in their answer. Which is great. You know, the sort of easier things get moved out. So that’s good. We do most of the support really.

Garrett: Does, ‘cause I know I had always thought about doing something like that with Sifter, obviously it doesn’t need that kind of technical, but do you find … My fear was moderation. Whether spam or things like that. Has that been a problem or is that just largely a technically solved thing and not something y’all have to deal with a lot?

Rachel: Yeah, we’ve not had a problem with spam until recently. We’ve had a sort of ongoing, sort of bizarre situation with hand entered spam. You can deal with it, stuff which has just been thrown at your server, because it’s a custom build, the forum, we don’t tend to get a lot of that, scripts just throwing stuff. People have to have an account, they have to sign up for an account to post. So there’s quite a lot of roadblocks. But if someone is handenturing spam, they’re going to create an account, they’re going to hand enter spam. There’s very little you can do about that in any scenario. So that’s been a bit difficult. But other than that, we have the ability to ban people. But because they’re all customers we tend not to have too much trouble. Obviously if someone is unpleasant, we will cheerfully ban them, because we don’t want people making, you know, making the place unpleasant. But generally that’s not something we have to do. That’s not really an issue.

Garrett: Well then it sounds like the upside benefit of all this is that it’s kind of, almost, an organic way of building help documentation so that it’s going to show up on Google, somebody has a problem, they search for it, and yeah. So that seems like that’s handy as well. So now we’re going to kind of, I want to get into a little more of the downsides of running the business and some of the things that I think a lot of us … everybody, you know, you get started and you glamorize, it’s going to be so great, I’m going to have my own business, it’s going to be so perfect. But I think we all know it’s not like that. So the first question is, what’s the toughest day or event, I mean it doesn’t have to be a specific day, that y’all have encountered with the business. A day where you’re like, what are we doing, why are we doing this, there has got to be a better way. You know, can you talk a little bit about what they may have been and how y’all kind of, dug yourselves out?

Rachel: I think, the worst thing was we’ve only once had a, in all of our 8 years, we’ve had one security issue that resulted in people being able to compromise sites. It was actually in a plug in. That is the only time we have ever had any security problems with Perch, which is a pretty good track record. But because of that, I think, and it was in a plug in, it was … We immediately, you know, that day, released a patch for every single version, every single dot release of Perch that had ever been. We released this patch so that people didn’t have to upgrade their entire system, they could just fix that file. We did that that day, generally the customers were brilliant about it. It really wasn’t that big of a deal, you know. Because people are quite used to the fact that WordPress is constantly having these security updates. But to us, it was like heartbreaking, that something had got through. You know? Because we’ve had this fantastic track record, and you know, we really care about this stuff, worry about security and making sure that people’s stuff is safe. You know, even if most of it is actually public, with customers having the shop and things. So really, most of the content is public content anyway, it’s not … It was just, yeah, that was the worst thing. Because we don’t want to let our customers down.

Garrett: That’s not the type of work that’s fun and energizing, it’s kind of more, monotonous and tedious and really kind of wears you out.

Rachel: Yeah.

Garrett: So was a site compromised, is that how you guys found out about it? Or were multiple sites compromised?

Rachel: Yeah, someone uncovered it, I guess, and luckily the one thing about being a smaller solution, you know, if there’s a problem with WordPress, then you’re going to have tens of thousands of sites potentially very quickly. Whereas, with something like Perch, although we’ve got several thousands Perch sites out there, that’s quite a small number. It’s not interesting to people trying to hack. So it took a long time before this was spotted. I think we’ve probably spotted it because it was actually in a plug in, rather than Infinite, which is more widely used. Yeah, so a site, it was used to compromised a site, which then, obviously that was spotted. Normally, you know when people come to us and say, oh, this sites been hacked. Pretty much every time I investigate it, it was through their control panel software or through an old WordPress install they had lying around on the server, and we’d never found anything that was us. So at first we were like, oh this probably isn’t us.

Garrett: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Rachel: Then we’re like, no, this looks like this is us. Then immediately, you know, released patches and emailed everybody, everyone who had ever had a Perch license ever. We emailed straightaway, said, here are the patches. Really most of the feedback we got was really positive, people were just like, oh you dealt with this really well, thank you for giving us the file for our installs, we didn’t have to update old sites. So I think, in terms of the business, it was fine. But it was a horrible day. Yeah, we were just really upset about it really.

Garrett: Yeah. So how has growth been over the years? It had been pretty slow and steady and then, has there been any kind of points where, you know, obviously it’s different than SaaS, so it’s not recurring. But have there been points where you’ve kind of hit a plateau and in growth and you’re like, man if we could only grow a little bit more, we could go full time or we could invest a little more time in this or whatever it is. So, I guess, talk a little bit about the growth and the patterns and plateaus.

Rachel: I think that’s probably really where we are now, is that we’re kind of not quite at the point that we could hire somebody else full time, it would probably be nice to be able to do that. But this sort of level of person that, if we were to hire another developer here, at the point we are. You know, Perch is it’s own thing, there’s an awful lot of it, there’s an awful lot of software at this point. So it is not junior developer kind of territory, so you’re talking about someone quite expensive to, you know, to be able to hire and to work on Perch. I think that’s really the point we’re at now, is that we feel like, yeah you know, if we could just get it over a certain point, there’s all these things we’d like to do. It would be really good to be able to do that. I think, yeah, that’s sort of the point that we feel we’re at. It’s hard to get past that, because it’s quite the big jump to go from 2 people to 3 people, essentially, and how that works with the business, which is essentially, you know, a married couple. That’s kind of an interesting dynamic to then bring somebody else into.

Garrett: Absolutely.

Rachel: So there’s all sorts of things. We’ve tried contracting stuff out. I mean, we contract our design a lot, because neither of us are designers, so there’s all sorts of things that other people do. We’ve had terrible struggles trying to outsource development work. Typically we end up with it back here and it having to be fixed in house. Front and back end. Actually finding people with the skill to work with just the code itself, and who don’t want to bring in every single framework they’ve ever heard of, is incredibly hard these days. Then of course, when you work with something like Perch, it’s its own framework, so you can’t just say, oh I’m going to … And you can’t just, because people have been installing it on their own hosting, you can’t pull in, they often don’t have access to things like Composer, for example, so you can’t just pull in everything. They’re using old versions of PHP, so a lot of these libraries that people want to use don’t work anyway, even if it did pull in, you know. So it has to work on PHP and Windows, because we’ve always supported that. So there’s an awful lot you need to know, and it’s very hard to find those people, especially on a kind of contract level.

Garrett: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Somebody who’s got to be in it and in deep and in deep for a long time.

Rachel: Yeah, and that’s it. If you put that kind of work out to contracts as well, you lose that investment in the person, as well. You know, the minute they, whereas if you’ve got someone who’s actually an employee, well it’s worth spending time with them, showing them how this stuff works. Yeah, you know, like all the things that we just know about making PHP work on all these systems. Normally a PHP developer dictates the system their stuff goes onto, and so they don’t work into this stuff.

Garrett: Mm-hmm (affirmative). All right, so the next set is, what are some of the reoccurring challenges that you’ve faced and whether you’ve solved them or not solved them, kind of, how did you solve them? Or how did you try to solve them that hasn’t worked? Some of those.

I think those are my biggest challenges. You know, how to do that. And how to market the thing. You know, we’re not natural marketers. How do you market something, and how do you market something that’s so diverse in the things it can do and the sort of stuff you can do with it?

Rachel: I think reoccurring stuff is often around support, often around writing good documentation. You know, every time we kind of relaunch the docs, we refresh the docs, there will be a group of people who hate it, there will be a group of people who love it, because the thing with documentation is, yeah, as we said before, everyone wants something different. That’s, you know, getting that right is really hard. That comes around constantly. You know, I’m a good technical writer, I do technical writing as something that I do. You know, I write articles and books, and so I know that I can write clear stuff. Yet, still, there are people who are like, “oh we don’t understand this.” You have like, how do we make this accessible to the beginner? Which a lot of them are in terms of development, they’ve never installed a CMS before. But also showing the capability of it all to someone who’s really experienced, you know. We’ve just shipped headless CMS capabilities, you know, we’ve got a sort of full API, and yet it’s easy to kind of dumb that stuff down while you’re trying to make it easy for another group to use. Really, really hard for something like Perch.

I think those are my biggest challenges. You know, how to do that. And how to market the thing. You know, we’re not natural marketers. How do you market something, and how do you market something that’s so diverse in the things it can do and the sort of stuff you can do with it? Particularly Runway, which is our developer friendly version of Perch, which has things like the headless CMS capability in it. We’ve not done a great job at marketing that because we’re much better at the really little CMS stuff and that’s where we came from. So that’s really hard.

Garrett: Are there specific marketing things that you’ve tried that haven’t worked or that you’ve seen a little bit of lift from, but … I know, for instance, with Citra, I tried and dabbled in a lot of different things, and I would have moderate success in something and think, all right there’s potential here. But then I would know that the amount of time and effort to really, truly tap into that potential and that marketing channel was just not scalable or it was such a massive investment it would be a huge distraction from continuing to work on the product. It was easy to say, eh, maybe another day.

Rachel: Yeah. I mean, that’s it. The paid advertising and stuff doesn’t tend to work that well. What works best, really, is if one of us can actually talk to people about the software and show. I mean, that ultimately, is the best way to do it. But that’s not very scalable.

Garrett: Yeah.

Rachel: But then, you know, we’re not trying to take over the world with our software. You know, I think the techniques, that if you’ve got a SaaS product, for instance, it really is about getting as many people as possible to use it. That’s the model. To get people to use it, they’ll hopefully carry on subscribing, they’ll hang around. With us, actually, it’s the person who wants to buy 20, 30, 40, 100 licenses. That’s what our reoccurring model is, that they’re putting it on all of their sites.

Garrett: Yeah, okay.

Rachel: So there’s a lot more, for us, we try to find those customers. It’s the customers who are going to buy multiple licenses. But there’s actually people buying one Perch license and then sitting in support for 3 weeks, chatting to us as they build their site, and then never building another site with Perch again. They’re not a profitable person. But if they then buy 100 more licenses because they’re constantly churning out client size, well that’s great. You know?

Garrett: Yeah.

Rachel: So I think a lot of, I think, a lot of the things we’ve tried to do is to find where are those people. You know, where are the people churning out lots and lots of little marketing sites, particularly for Perch, because it’s ideal for that sort of role. So yeah, I think marketing, it’s, if you’ve not got a SaaS, it’s more about, you know, really targeting the type of customers that you want and finding places to find them, and then, yeah, I think talking to them if you can. Especially if it’s your product, because you’re always going to be more enthusiastic about the problems it can solve than everybody else is.

Garrett: Yeah. Absolutely. So if you could go back to the very beginning of all of this and give yourself a heads up about something, whether it’s something to be ready for or something to say, you know what, you’re going to waste months on this and it’s not important, or you know, you should really invest the time to learn this skill or that skill, what would it be? What would your advice to yourself be?

…looking back, I would probably have continued doing the consultancy for longer, and perhaps got to a point where we’d employ someone back to, you know, 2 years after the launch of Perch.

Rachel: I think, looking back, I would probably have continued doing the consultancy for longer, and perhaps got to a point where we’d employ someone back to, you know, 2 years after the launch of Perch. I think we kind of, as soon as it was, sort of, equal to the money we were getting from consultancy, we were like, oh we don’t need to do consultancy any more because it’s making the same amount of money. I think that made it very difficult to get past it being just 2 of us. I think had we, perhaps, waited a bit longer, it would have made that transition easier. I don’t know that we had much of a … Because we hadn’t got a plan, really, for Perch. It was just, oh this is working. This is good. I think that, that was really nice for a few years, ‘cause we weren’t that worried about, oh it’s just us 2, we’ll just carry on doing this.

But I think it would have been easier to make that leap, to make that step up if we’d had more income coming from other sources at the time. I think that, I think I would probably say don’t be so keen to jump into this being the only thing that you do. I think that’s a really common thing. It’s almost like the first goal, isn’t it? Is to, I only work on this product, that’s the goal. That’s so many people’s first goal. They don’t think past that. We didn’t think past that really.

Garrett: It’s really funny. I mean, that was always my goal, when I wasn’t full time. You know, it’s so true, that we’re in such a hurry to say, oh, I’m just exhausted … And a lot of it is, you’re genuinely exhausted by consulting and you want to mix it up, because, you know, it’s a struggle. It’s a constant struggle to win clients and follow up for payment and all of the general logistics to it. It’s kind of nice to be like, oh, well I won’t have to do that anymore. That’ll be wonderful. I’ll just charge people’s credit cards.

Rachel: Yeah. We had all this support as well that we were doing, and then having to do the client work, and work on the product. So, you know, we were kind of pulled all over the place. But I think we, probably, we could have done that. We could have carried on, you know, doing maybe 2 days a week, maybe doing client work or whatever. I think, yeah, I would just say to people to just be careful of that desire to leap into it, you know. Just check what the plan is, what’s the next step after that.

Garrett: Yeah, I think a simpler way to put it might just be, endure the pain a little longer than you really want to.

Rachel: Yeah, yeah. I think so.

Garrett: It’ll have some far reaching benefits.

Rachel: Yeah. It’s certainly worth, just thinking, well, what’s next. What is, before you make that leap, what’s the next thing you’re going to do and will this step help you get to the next one. You know. Doing this at this point, is that the right thing to do? But yeah.

Garrett: So the last question, and we may have kind of already touched on, is if you were starting a business again today, would you still do the same thing and do it all over again? Would you do something else? And why?

Rachel: I think it would be harder to launch something like Perch now. I think there is certainly more in the market. At the time we launched, Expression engine was around, which was a sort of self hosted page for thing. That was really the only thing there was, and it was very different to what Perch was. I think the market is a bit more crowded now for the sort of paid for PHP CMS. I think that the, what people want out of a content management system is changing. I mean, that’s why we’ve done things like headless, because that’s a thing people are sort of interested in. You know, we try and see what the next thing is and provide that for people and stay up to date. I think the market is changing. I, if I was starting over today, I don’t think I would do something that had such a huge support burden.

Garrett: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Rachel: I’m also 8 years older than when I started Perch, so maybe that’s it. But, you know, there is that. You know, we do have this huge support burden. We don’t have the server issues of we need to keep all these servers up and running. So we don’t host anyone’s site, so that’s a different issue that you might have if you go down like a SaaS route or whatever. But yeah, I think I would … I think we thought we were building software for people like us when we launched it, and that people like us, you know, we only come into support when we absolutely have to.

Garrett: Yeah.

Rachel: We phrase a very polite support request saying, you know, I’m really sorry, this is probably something wrong I’ve done and here’s my reduced test case. What we didn’t expect was people to be asking us their CSS questions.

Garrett: Yeah.

I don’t think I would, sort of, willingly head down, sort of, the same route again without some sort of plan as to who is going to support these people. I wouldn’t expect it to be me. I think that’s something we’ve learned, that yeah, it is reasonably tough to support this whole thing.

Rachel: You know, the fact that there is this huge range of understanding of what it is to build a website and where people are in that spectrum is, that I think is a huge problem. I don’t think I would, sort of, willingly head down, sort of, the same route again without some sort of plan as to who is going to support these people. I wouldn’t expect it to be me. I think that’s something we’ve learned, that yeah, it is reasonably tough to support this whole thing.

Garrett: Right on. So yeah, that’s all the questions I have. Is there any kind of parting advice you would give to anybody who is looking at either the installed model or just running a small software business or anything like that, that you think somebody else could benefit from coming up?

Rachel: I think, stick to the things that, you know, make your sort of idea unique. I mean, one of the things with Perch is that the first idea we had was this idea of a drop in content editor to the static sites. You know, you could drop the content tags in, reload the page, start editing content in the admin. That use case is still there today. You know, people still use Perch like that. An awful lot of people still use Perch like that. That actually has always bene our most successful thing. You know, we’ve got this e-commerce add on, we’ve got the sort of big sister of Perch, Runway, we’ve got all this other functionality and yet, possibly still, our key thing is this very, very simple idea. I mean, it wouldn’t be a success without the other things to support it, because actually what happens is people then, oh I need to blog, I need to do this, I need to do that. But that kind of core idea, I think it’s really important to think what are those core idea … They let you start small to start with, because you can just start with that little idea.

Garrett: Yeah.

Rachel: And ship that, see if that actually is what people are interested in. But they also keep you focused. You know, we protect that use case. If we start thinking, oh we could do this, you know, no. That would mess up this thing that people do. So that’s probably, and I think that helps to keep you sort of leaning, sort of focused on the thing you’re doing. Because to move away from that would be actually a huge change for what we do. So yeah. I think it’s right in, to think what you’re future looks like with your product a bit further down the line than, oh, it might pay the bills.

Garrett: Yeah.

Rachel: Just having a look. Well, what are you thinking of building something to sell, because that creates a whole bunch of stuff you need to think about from early days. You know, do you even intend to just carry on working on this, or what’s the end goal. What will you do if you decide you didn’t want to do it any more? You know, what would that look like. I think it’s work having these things in mind. Because if it takes off, then you’ve got it. You’ve got a site now, you’re gonna’ have customers that you really care about that you don’t want to let down. So I think there’s a whole bunch of things to think about further than just, oh I might make a bit of money out of this thing.

Garrett: Yeah. I think there’s an incredible amount of wisdom in that advice. It’s funny, because early, early conversations with people before Sifter, you know, people would inevitably ask, oh what’s your exit strategy? I don’t have an exit strategy, I want to do this forever. Then sure enough, what happened? All of my leg issues and all of that, and I just didn’t have anything left in the tank and I needed an exit strategy. Thankfully with SaaS with was easier. But now, for y’all, you would have to have somebody to support it and, you know, be able to get familiar with the technology and there’s no way they can provide the level of support that y’all have been providing. So there’s challenges there.

Rachel: Yeah. That’s it. You know, we love doing it, we really … For all of its downsides you’re saying about Perch, there’s all sorts of very cool things. Seeing, you know, every day, the sites people launch on it is brilliant. We love that.

Garrett: That’s got to feel good.

…we’ve made a thing that lets other people make things. That’s pretty cool in itself.

Rachel: Yeah. You know, we’ve made a thing that lets other people make things. That’s pretty cool in itself. So I don’t think we’d change it, I think there are things we could have done differently, which might have made our lives easier.

Garrett: Yeah.

Rachel: But you learn that as you go along. Everyone does, ‘cause every business is different.

Garrett: You can’t launch and have everything be perfect and all figured out. That’s never going to happen.

Rachel: No. ‘Cause you’ve never done it before. Even if we’d launched another product it would be different to this one. There’d be a whole bunch of things we would be like, oh, I didn’t think of that.

Garrett: Absolutely.

Rachel: So yeah. That’s kind of the fun of doing this, really. It’s solving all these things as they come up.

Garrett: Yeah. All right. Well, that’s all I’ve got, this has been really great. Thanks so much for coming on. I really appreciate it. For fitting it into the schedule, I know how hectic things are for you.

Rachel: Yeah. I know. It’s good fun, to talk about the sort of behind the scenes of having these products.

Garrett: Yeah. Yeah, well I think it will be really useful for people too, so. All right. Good deal. Thanks so much.

Rachel: Okay, thank you. Bye bye.

Garrett: Bye.



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