Scott Nixon is the co-founder of Meal Mentor, a subscription-based vegeterian meal planning service. Scott handles the technology side of the business and works to keep the operational side of things humming with software.
Scott Nixon: Good, good.
Garrett: So we’re gonna dive right into these questions. Can you give everybody a background of your career, your journey and how you kind of started out and how you ended up where you are today and what you’re doing?
Scott: I mean yeah I basically went to the Citadel, the military school. I got a Business degree, took some programming classes. After a little while later I realized I wanted to do technical work and I worked as a sys admin for about 10, 11 years. And decided towards the end of that that I wanted to be a developer. I worked as a developer for maybe about a year before I came on full-time helping my wife. She had been kind of developing her product, she started off as a blogger, probably about two years. And then started writing cookbooks. About after she had finished writing her second book, we kind of found a new business. So my background was basically just admin to programmer and eventually to entrepreneur. But that was something I always really wanted to do was be an entrepreneur.
Garrett: Right on. So how long have you been focused exclusively on Happy Herbivore?
Scott: Six years. It was approximately September, October when I started so we’re coming right up on that six year mark now.
Garrett: Right on. So what’s interesting to me is we all want to start out, hit the ground running and just have a SaaS app up that just immediately starts making money so we can quit our jobs and focus. So for you it obviously wasn’t the case. She started out very simple. Was there a big game plan all along or was that just kind of a natural evolution that y’all let happen and eventually you’re like, “I need to quit my job to support this full-time.”
Scott: There definitely was some rumblings of Lindsay wanting to work for herself a little bit. She went to law school, passed the bar, worked as a lawyer for a couple years and wasn’t really enjoying it. And she had been blogging as she became vegetarian and eventually vegan and she started creating eBooks just as a way to make a little extra money. I think it was just kind of little by little and once she kind of built up some traction. I mean this was a long time, this was many years ago. I want to say it was like 2009 when she started blogging, no it was actually probably even before then. Probably 2008, 2007 something like that.
And so there was a lot of, at least about a year of blogging just kind of what she was doing, what she was making before she was really even trying to turn something into a business so to speak. And then we moved again and then she kept writing. I think she had written like four eBooks before she tried to get a book deal. And then they kind of rolled those four eBooks into a book. There was kind of plan to see where she should could go with it, write books and stuff. I don’t know that she was ever thinking, “Oh I’m gonna create a business and I’m gonna work with people,” or anything like that.
Garrett: So give a little background on how the site and the meal plans work and kind of the business model. And what was the ah-ha moment that led from, “Okay books are great, but then with something like meal plans, you’d have recurring revenue.” How did that come about?
I mean it started off just being a blog post, like we would announce each week.
Scott: I think after she had finished writing her second cookbook, we were actually living in St. Martin in the Caribbean ‘cause I was working at a French hotel there. She had had a friend in New York where we had previously lived and the friend paid her like $100 to write her a custom meal plan so that their friend had some healthy meals, things that were easy to make and something that could be done week and week out. The person that paid her was a lawyer so it was hard to eat healthy and you’re working all the time. So there was a lot of complications to this and you have more money than you have time. And so that was a little interesting thing.
So we tried to very simple little things where we created a PDF that was basically, “Hey here are the five recipes you could make,” from Lindsay’s cookbook or from the website as a way to kind of suggesting. And those didn’t really necessarily take off but Lindsay decided to try to create her own meal plan, where it was like, “Here’s the recipes for the week.” I don’t know if there was a shopping list in the beginning. I’d have to go back and look. But she kind of put it together and was like, “Okay we’ll just see how this goes.” And we kind of sat on it for maybe two or three months. I literally think she created it before we went to Europe for a three week vacation. Came back and it was about the last month we were living in St. Martin. We were there for a year and she just put it out there just to see how it went. We sold over $1,000 that first week and we were like, “Wow, holy crap.”
Now the thing to know about this is she had already built up a decent size audience. If we had a mailing list, I’m not sure if we even sent an email to announce it. But we put it out as a blog post and this was still pretty early in the days of social media, so Twitter and Facebook were just kind of getting going. But she had a pretty decent Twitter following. And so that was kind of an ah-ha moment of like we kind of translated needs and things that people had asked for into something and it was kind of an experiment to put it out. Because there was so much money from that first week we were like, “Wow, we gotta keep doing this.” And so every week since then, we’ve released a meal plan on Wednesdays.
Garrett: I love how the complete progression of it and almost not quite accidental nature and you’re just kind of floating ideas and one thing leads to another. And it’s a little based on people asking for things. And kind of like, “All right, let’s give it a shot.” And you try it and create a really rough way of doing it. Get it out there. Validate it. People are giving you money and you’re “All right, there’s something here.” So I love how things progressed like that ‘cause all this …
Scott: And she was paying attention to things people were asking for and people needed and starting to understand what people were struggling with. And I mean back then, if you look today on the internet, there’s probably over 50 services that you could find pretty easily that are selling meal plans, whether it’s Paleo or anything. And back then, as far as I could tell, there was only maybe two or three other people doing meal plans, emeals.com being the big boy.
Garrett: Right on, so I want to talk a little bit about the software progression of all this. You started out as a PDF. Now I’m assuming there’s a fairly robust system powering all of this and the subscriptions. How did that evolve over time? Did you just initially throw together something simple and it turned into an application or where’s it at now and where did it start?
Scott: Yeah I mean it started off just being a blog post, like we would announce each week. We were just announcing, “Hey here’s this week’s meal plan.” And I think at that point we were already smart enough to know to use something like ejunkie to make the payment and delivery process really easy. And so it started with that. And then we created a dedicated page on happyherbivore.com, so it was more like a landing page or a sales page, whatever you’d want to call it. And then eventually we were like, “Maybe this needs to be kind of its own dedicated thing,” and so we eventually created a separate website.
Because what happened is we started off with an individual plan so it was meant to be for one person to feed themselves for the week. And this was actually all meals for the week, breakfast, lunch and dinner for seven days. And eventually we added a family plan and so that kind of made things a little more complicated and whenever we bought a domain, getmealplans.com and decided to move that over and eventually we were like, “Maybe we should have a blog on this.” And then we decided within the first year, we knew that because we could watch revenue do this (gesturing up and down indicating peaks and valleys), because it was very much every week you had to show up to buy and we were selling it for $5. And so it was a grind. And it just made it very inconsistent. So it was like, “Wow, we gotta try to subscription.” And this was within the first six months of maybe Stripe being released. And you and I had a conversation on the beach about Stripe and I was like, “Yeah, I’m looking at, thinking about it.” This was at LessConf.
Garrett: Yeah that was a long time ago.
Scott: Yeah and it was back before you hurt yourself too.
Garrett: It was right before my surgery actually.
I think it’s kind of everybody now when they go to create some meal plan service, everybody goes and creates an app because they think that’s where the value gets delivered. And that’s not been our experience.
Scott: Yeah. So we started building that and the way that we have always run the subscription is we basically send the person an email every Wednesday and in that email there’s a link for them to download their plan. Because when you subscribe to something you expect if it’s a weekly product, they expect like saying here’s your plan every week, right? There’s ways that you could do it but I realize that the best way to do this was going to be able to write something custom where everybody got their own link and I sent them an email and it was much more reliable. So much of if you wanted to send something in MailChimp it had to be the same link for everybody and people could unsubscribe and so there was some trickiness to that. And so I just felt like it needed to be custom to some extent. You already have to manage the subscription and all you’re doing is creating something that’s very simple that sends them an email. So it wasn’t that much work so to speak to do it. So that’s what we did.
And we actually still deliver that email every week because the product that we’re delivering is still just the PDF. We’ve just increased the beauty of it and the sophistication of how much thought and process goes into it. There’s not a heavy tech component to it because we’ve never seen that having an app was an essential part of our product. What our product is is basically helping people do something that’s offline. So making it very tech heavy, we haven’t seen a lot of value in that. I think it’s kind of everybody now when they go to create some meal plan service, everybody goes and creates an app because they think that’s where the value gets delivered. And that’s not been our experience.
Garrett: Yeah and that’s I think one of the reasons I was so excited to talk to you was is your business is not purely software. The software is just for managing your overhead to make life easier so y’all can focus on the business. Otherwise mailing out something manually or posting it to a blog manually once a week, sounds simple enough but quickly that gets tedious. You’re on vacation or you’re in the middle of nowhere. You don’t have a connection or whatever it is. Even if you set it up to pre-publish or whatever it gets complicated. So building software to basically empower a business rather than building software as the business because I feel like so many people I talk to, we’re all looking for software businesses when in reality there’s plenty of information businesses or other types of businesses that don’t have to revolve around, “I’m buying subscription to a CRUD-based application,” and instead getting something else of value. And the software just enables that business rather than is the business.
So that said, that’s kind of a perfect segue, do you feel like there’s any benefits or drawbacks for that matter, that the software isn’t the business but more an enabler of the business?
Scott: Yeah, I mean the best part of having custom software in our case is really the ability to package and promote things in the way we want to do it. Selling annual plans has become a big part of our business but being able to do things like offer installment plans on those annual plans to you can split it up into three different charges or to do member appreciation day, those little things have been really valuable, because it does create a lot of work but it’s also if I talk about the amount of revenue associated it, with you’d be like, “Okay yeah it’s worth the time,” right? And that’s what we have found is that it’s worth having custom things to be able to do it just our way, it has made a significant difference. I think if we were a $200,000 revenue business it probably would not be worth it. But we have employees, we’ve been doing this for quite a while. So I think there’s a lot of value in doing custom software especially even when your product is not a technology product. I think there’s positives to being able to package and promote things just the way you want to do it.
Garrett: So it sounds a lot like for the most part it’s really, it’s not so much, I mean there’s an application component to it. But it’s not so much a custom application as a really custom billing system that caters to the needs of your customers whether that’s through unique payment types or promotions and that sort of thing.
Garrett: So is the evolution ongoing pretty constant or do you feel like y’all have kind of hit a point where it’s like “we’ve got most of this handled.” Are there customer requests based on, oh it would be really great if we could do this? Are you getting a lot of feedback that’s kind of driving the future of it or has it kind of settled into a steady state?
Because right now we have no idea what percentage of our user base is actually excited about recipes, or making recipes. All we can see is whether they’re downloading their plan. So that’s a very unique challenge to our business.
Scott: So the core of the product, the meal plans are always evolving and we’re learning and making those better. That’s a big part of what my wife and our key employee, they’re constantly working to make that better. They’re just releasing tomorrow a new, it’s kind of redesign around some information that they’re delivering or whatever I mean there’s just constantly improving of that aspect. Now the technology stuff because there’s this key thing where so much, you could say 90 plus percentage of the value is happening offline, what we’re doing with technology is we’re trying to figure out measuring more of that offline engagement to basically understand what is making customers not get started or fail or not use our product. And so we’re trying to use technology to engage them in some sense and get information back. So we haven’t actually released it yet, but we’re getting ready to.
So right now the only thing that we can track is that they download their meal plans. Once they’ve downloaded their meal plans we don’t know if they’ve actually made any of the recipes or gone shopping or done any of that. And so what we’re trying to do is basically learn from, so we have a very active private forums for members and one of those things that happens in those forums is customers come in there and are like, what are you guys excited about with this current week’s meal plan? What recipes are you gonna make? So they’re literally looking to other members to see what they’re gonna make before they decide what they’re gonna make.
And so what we’re gonna do is we’re just gonna have like a very simple poll with a list of recipes and they’ll be able to select recipes from that poll and the idea is that we’ll follow up a week later just to get them to do a review. And so we’re trying to measure excitement and then measure engagement afterwards. Now right now each week 70% of our members download the meal plan. I imagine the number of people that will take the poll will maybe be like 50% or something like that and the number of people that review is gonna be a much smaller percentage of something like that. But at least we’re gonna start getting some amount of knowledge if people are using it. Because right now we have no idea what percentage of our user base is actually excited about recipes, or making recipes. All we can see is whether they’re downloading their plan. So that’s a very unique challenge to our business.
Garrett: That’s fascinating because so much of SaaS business is, and you see everybody talking about engagement, measuring engagement. Are people using this feature or that feature, how are they using the feature and all of that. It’s fascinating to think how do you solve that problem in a situation where your product is offline but you have the custom software to enable that and explore some of those things. So I think that’s fascinating that it’s going beyond billing to finding creative ways to measure engagement with your customers and make sure what are people liking. And I mean I would think you could probably even factor that back into future, here’s the top recipes this week, everybody’s favorites and that kind of thing to help people say, “Oh I should have made that. I didn’t even think about it and everybody’s liked it.”
Garrett: And so that becomes really interesting and further adds value and information for people who are thinking, trying to stay healthier, make all these recipes.
Scott: And being able to look at the survey of, we have thousands of members so we’ll be able to even if we have a fraction of them take this, we’ll be able to see in a very great way what’s most popular and then we can then use that information to make sure it’s in future meal plans. And one of the things that I’m gonna do is I’m actually gonna make that survey available on our sales page so people can see what everybody’s excited about this week.
Scott: And I think it potentially will help with the ability to sell the product as well ‘cause they’re like, “Oh people are really excited about these recipes.” And I also think it should have the effect where it should help that social proof element should help push more people to make meals. I have no idea what percentage of that’s gonna be but even if it’s one or two percent that should help our business so.
Garrett: Yeah absolutely. So with something so offline centric but still heavily dependent on software, do you feel like the software helps mitigate support or other customers reaching out for help for different things or do you feel like it creates more because of technical issues or that sort of thing?
Scott: No I mean I don’t think that, I don’t know. That’s a really tough question for me whether the technology helps them. So the availability, the ease of being able to download it is probably the best aspect of it. And so I would say it’s positive for the most part and the ability to be able to go in there and cancel and stuff like that I think is a positive. Because we don’t really hide it, it’s pretty obvious you log in and you hit my account and then you can cancel. We do send you through a little bit of kind of a survey kind of thing. But one of the things that we found is a huge portion of our customers come back and a lot of people when they cancel say, “I’ll come back in a month or two.” And so now we kind of send a reminder, like hey you want to come back. And this is unfortunately just the nature of a consumer product is that people will sign up for a couple of months and leave and want to come back especially in the summertime when people are traveling more and are out of their routine.
Garrett: That’s interesting, I had a lot of that with Sifter. One of the questions I got a lot is people wanted to be able to pause their accounts. And we explored the idea for a while but the problem was people would just pause it instead of canceling and then we’re on the hook indefinitely for their data and all that kind of stuff. And so it was like, “Well we can’t really do that.” And we toyed with the idea of things, we never got around to it before selling, but the idea of like, okay you could pause for three months and then it will auto restart because at some point there kind of needs to be a deadline. But with consumer stuff, it totally makes sense like you said. Vacation or just life changes happen, right and budgeting is generally gonna be a lot tighter with personal stuff than it is with business where you’re like, “All right I see a return on this money so I’m just gonna keep spending it.”
Scott: Yeah. It is very common with yoga memberships, our Yoga Works, you can pause for a month or two months. And I don’t know if other gyms, I’ve never seen other gyms do this, but I know our yoga studio does it.
Garrett: Interesting so there’s a lot more complexity.
Scott: It’s offline behavior that translates to online. It’s like a customer expectation that you should be able to do something like this so.
Garrett: Interesting. So how much do y’all end up talking to customers, interviewing customers about the software and usability or just research about what to work on or does that just come up naturally or do you set aside time for it?
Scott: My wife and some of our employees are kind of constantly talking to them ‘cause we have really busy Facebook forums, we have very busy Discourse forums. So there’s constant discussion. Now it’s obviously not the same as doing a customer interview where you literally get one person on the phone and you go deep on it. And so we are trying to do more of that.
I’ve done one in about the last two months but I want to do more of it and I’m trying to, one of the problems that I had was trying to get the outreach aspect of it, is about getting people onto the phone and that was a little more difficult. And I think some people are shy and they don’t want to talk about it even though I’m not intending to record it or anything like that. I’m just sitting there writing stuff down. So it’s been a little more difficult for us. And I think consumers maybe aren’t as motivated to kind of give feedback. I mean I do think people like to give feedback.
Garrett: I think things like a free month of meal plans or whatever can help bridge that gap. I know with Sifter, in hindsight, one of my biggest mistakes was letting myself believe that the amount of feedback I received via email was a good enough substitute for getting on the phone with people. And the reason for that was the big gap between email feedback and phone feedback is…on the phone somebody will mention something tiny that could take you five seconds to fix and make a huge difference for them but they don’t care about it enough to write an email.
Garrett: So there’s a lot of that serendipitous stuff that collectively you talk to people and you come up with the ideas and you’re like, they never would have emailed about it but they’ll mention it casually on a call and you’re like, “Wait a minute. That’s huge. I could fix that real quick.”
Scott: Yeah it’s a little bit of friction and that little friction adds up, right?
Garrett: It is amazing the different types of feedback that a phone call or a face to face conversation will uncover versus ‘cause I would say half of our support requests were really just feature requests. And so to me I said, “That’s enough, I don’t need to talk to people. I’m getting feedback every day.” But when I get on the phone with people and talk to them, I was like, “Wow, that’s a tiny little thing that’s bothering you that I could fix.” So that’s one of those things where it’s tricky. You want to make time for it. It’s hard. And I think in a way, because it’s hard that’s why it’s one of the more valuable things to kind of carve out time for.
Scott: Yeah and my thing is, I don’t have a system set up to do this. And it’s something I want to. And the problem is I need to just work that out and I haven’t done that.
Garrett: And one of the best ways to do something like that, I mean it’s obviously gonna vary for every business but at the third month of paying, send out an email saying, “Hey I’d love to talk to you in person. See how it goes. We just do this customer outreach research. Do that and we’ll give you a free month just to chat with on the phone, give us your feedback and thoughts.” And having it built in to kind of that automated email stuff or just include it on their invoice, on their third month, like if they’ve been with us three months that type of thing. Enough people will reach out and say, “Yeah I’d love to help.” And it’s just kind of built into your process so it’s unavoidable rather than, “Oh I haven’t talked to anybody in three months. I need to make time for that.” That’s a lot harder to do.
Scott: Yeah. That’s an interesting way to approach it. I have to consider that whenever I go back to try to get this really ticking.
Garrett: There’s so many ways to do it.
Scott: I think I’ll have better success whenever it’s not summertime anymore so.
Garrett: Yeah that’s true too. So overall, how has it grown? Have there been any particular plateaus that were tricky? Any marketing tactics, because it’s an offline product that does complicate things? How’s that work?
Scott: Yeah, it is definitely tricky especially because we have high churn. Because every churn calculator out there will show you that if your churn is this rate, they can mathematically show you a plateau. So yeah it is a massive problem for us. So I think the problem that we face is that we’re so small that there’s only so many things that you can do.
So I took a class on…I’ll just call it growth hacking, they just call it growth, but growth is a very, very serious and important thing that pretty much every business needs to work on. The problem is that one of the key takeaways I’ve had from growth is that if you’re not testing really often, now Sean Ellis talks like five tests a week. But that would be impossible in probably most one person, now you can do really small tests but for the most part, you just don’t have enough time to create those tests and then spend time to analyze them especially if you’re one or two people.
But I’m now trying to figure out how to incorporate more testing and then the review aspect and so we’ve redesigned the cancellation process, we redesigned the onboarding process and I’m getting ready to launch this whole polling and review thing. And so as soon as I get this polling and review out the door, I’m gonna step back and then look at these other two things that have been churning for a couple of months. I mean that’s the thing is I need to make significant changes and then I need to review what the impact of those changes are because you might be able to make little changes on landing pages or opt in buttons and see some lift but with marketing stuff you have to constantly change that stuff.
But the, gosh what’s his name, Lars Lofgren from I Will Teach You to be Rich, he’s like your changes need to be really significant because if you don’t make a significant change, how do you know that that impact isn’t just noise?
Garrett: Arbitrary, seasonal.
Scott: And he’s got some fantastic stuff like his rules on A/B testing are incredible because it’s about setting up these harsh parameters and something like 90% of your test should be inconclusive or failure or you’re not making big enough changes and stuff like that. So that’s my thing, that’s my struggle with fixing growth, is being able to make big enough changes, make them fast enough and then learn fast enough and that’s the Sean Ellis take away is if you’re not learning fast enough, you don’t know if the changes that you’re making in your business are really having an effect. That’s the struggle for us and that’s why things like the onboarding cancellation and the review things are all around retention and activation because that is everything for us right now.
My wife can go and do a Facebook live video right now, she could do one every day, she could do three a day and it would totally drive the number of sales that we get because we have a quarter million Facebook fans and it will drive sales. But the problem is that we don’t have any problems getting new sales every month, what we have problems is that just constant churn. And so we need to be really focused on that first five minutes, that first day, that first week about getting them going and so that’s what I’m trying to figure out right now. And I’m using the growth hacking process where you’re measuring all these steps and really trying to iterate on it. It’s just slow.
Garrett: Well and that’s the nature of a consumer business too. It’s just gonna be a little more fickle and fluctuation-centric. But that’s interesting. And I think at least in my experience, I think one of the other challenges is a lot of people when they’re getting started they end up believing, “Okay, I can just A/B test everything.” But in the early days you just don’t have enough traffic or enough customers for any test to be conclusive. And I think everybody, especially developers, we all want to go to that because it’s easy to just throw up some stuff, look at some numbers and make a decision. It’s quantifiable. It’s measurable. It feels good. But in the early days, that doesn’t work. You have to talk to people and make those decisions to grow a compelling enough product to where you have enough traffic, enough volume to where those tests actually give you data that’s conclusive and useful. So it’s interesting to me that it’s not so black and white. Everybody wants to buy into it and it’s not that easy in the early days.
Garrett: I remember so many times with Sifter we just simply didn’t get enough traffic. For a test to be conclusive it would take months. And so it was like, “All right that’s useless. I need to just get on the phone and talk to people.” There’s different ways. The whole point is to find out what’s gonna make a difference to people.
Scott: And do you have an estimate how much time you were spending even on marketing and acquiring new customers?
Garrett: Man with Sifter it was so fragmented. The short answer was probably not enough if I remember.
Scott: Was it less than 50%?
Garrett: I would say for me it just fluctuated so much. When I was in feature mode, marketing, I very much stayed focused on one thing at a time. So I’d build a feature for a month or two, and then I’d switch over to marketing for a month or two. And then back and forth. ‘Cause juggling it on a daily weekly basis, that just killed my productivity ‘cause my mind was switching gears so much.
Garrett: But that’s what I would say, it’s probably close to 50% with for Sifter if you count writing and a lot of that kind of stuff but nowhere near enough.
Scott: Yeah and so much of I think that our issues … I don’t think our issues are with our product as much as it is helping people maybe getting into the right mindset and just helping them work on those habits, kind of get them going a little bit because I think that’s the key that’s really screwing us. That’s just my inclination. I do see it as kind of a marketing product problem so.
Garrett: So not to get too much into solution mode for y’all ‘cause that will take us down a rabbit hole, but have y’all thought about doing offline things. So when people signup for instance to the plan, you mail them a variety pack of Glad packages for packaging up the meals so that they get and then there’s an extra level of like, “All right this step is done.” Or find a way to where, things like that that help provide that extra offline motivation to make it more real for them. Have y’all experimented with anything like that?
Scott: So it’s interesting. In the redesigned onboarding I did include a link there to a suggested containers. At our monthly price point it would have to be some kind of added charge to make that work. And it’s definitely something that’s interesting and we should continue to try more on those kinds of things. It’s balancing logistics of and also it’s a very tricky kind of thing. I plan to do, which actually have bought a lot of different containers and I plan to just like this massive review of all these different containers.
Garrett: Oh like Wirecutter style review.
Scott: And they’ve done one actually. But to try to help people because I think this is some of the stuff that really screws people up is. You just don’t know because some people’s problem could be that they don’t have a habit of shopping every week. They have a habit of getting Chipotle or whatever. Or maybe they have the problem where their kitchen’s a mess and so they’re stressed out in their kitchen so it’s an environmental issue. Or maybe their cabinets are disorganized and so it takes them three times longer to cook because they don’t know where anything is and they’ve got their cabinets are stuffed full of stuff. And so you just don’t know which of those problems are. And so the idea is so Kathy Sierra is obsessed with showing people lots of high quality examples of excellence and so that’s what I’m hoping to do.
And Lindsay does this with a lot of her videos where she’s showing you her pantry and how organized it is and so if you open one of our cabinets, we basically don’t have a pantry. We have cabinets and there’s literally nine little Ikea containers that you just pull out and it has jars of stuff. So you just pull them out, they’re all labeled and it’s like we’re showing them high quality organization and the way you make these seems easy and know where thing are and so it makes the whole cooking process like boom, boom, boom, boom. It’s stuff like that.
Garrett: There’s a whole interesting component of offline onboarding that you could help with, that could help streamline this and remove some of that friction that’s completely outside of the application but the application could probably help enable it or maybe it’s content-based.
Scott: Well I mean, what is the way we eat, in our lives, they’re nothing but habits and if you don’t have those good eating habits or good environmental habits and any habit book you read, they always talk about how big the environment is. And so that’s a huge, huge component of it and we just haven’t figured out how to unlock the message in the right way to get people, and they gotta fix all that stuff too.
Scott: It’s like, hey you just bought the meal plan, now go spend eight hours organizing your kitchen.
Garrett: Clean up your kitchen and buy all this stuff and yeah wow. That is a hefty challenge but to me it also seems like something that’s exciting. So when you get bored with the software side of things you can think through a lot more of the just the human nature of getting people engaged to actually commit and follow through.
Scott: Yeah our hope is to try to figure out a way to get everybody, especially new people, to make one recipe each week and if we can get them to make one recipe each week, we’re hoping we can get that snowball building a little bit and kind of get them going so.
Garrett: Interesting. Okay. So we’re kind of getting a little on the long side but I’m loving this. But I’ve got a few more, I want to focus on pains and troubles through all of this. What’s been the most difficult challenge y’all faced growing the business and or the day that you were like, “Holy crap, what have we done?”
Scott: To me I think organizationally, delegation and hiring has been a big challenge for us. Some of it is not wanting to let go and it’s really hard when you see the amount of effort that’s involved in training somebody and getting somebody up to speed and then maybe the quality is 60% of what you were producing. So much of this is this detail-oriented work and it’s just tricky. That’s been a really hard thing for us. At least for me, there’s a lot of learned around being able to hire developers, customer support people and I have spent more time hiring delegated people, at least in the sheer number of volume of people. And so I’ve gotten a lot of good experience with that.
One of the things I would recommend, if you want me to help with something, start with something really, really small. Like go to Upwork, put up a really small job and start with something really small ‘cause you can find fantastic people if you make the thing you’re trying to solve really small. Because if you try to go up there and you want them to build a whole website, just start with something easy. Just make your life easier ‘cause it will make writing out what you want easier, it will make the entire communication process easier. It might not feel like it’s worth it but that’s how I have found really good people over and over again, just starting with something really small.
Garrett: That’s really, really good advice. Delegation is one of those things, everybody starts out with too high of expectations that it’s just gonna magically cut their time when in reality the initial commitment to delegating is going to be significantly more effort on your part to communicate clearly and articulate what you expect and what you need and that sort of thing. And I think too often when you’re so drowning in work, you’re “Oh, I’m gonna delegate. I’m just gonna hand this off and not have to deal with it.” But it doesn’t work that way and then you can get disillusioned, you give up, you just keep piling on yourself. At some point you have to break the cycle and that can be a really difficult thing to do. So taking baby steps towards breaking that cycle I think is important.
Scott: In my opinion, the easiest place to delegate first is in your personal life, ‘cause it’s easy to hire maids. It’s easier to hire people to deliver groceries, the pool, yard work, all that, hire that.
Garrett: Yeah that’s true, start there. But then too that’s not a great proxy for delegation because you’re not having to really tell them what to do because they know what to do. They know how to care of a pool or to mow the lawn and that kind of thing.
Scott: Yeah and the more that something fits into a box, the easier it is to delegate it. It’s like, “Hey developer, do this.” Okay, you might like but still it’s like when the task is very clear and the skills are very clear, it’s so much easier. It’s whenever things are really fuzzy, customer support is usually very fuzzy.
I had something to change it would probably have been to focus a lot more about being systematic with everything and really documenting and getting help and really focused on systems and being organized.
Garrett: No it takes time. But I never succeeded at delegating and I think I can look back now and easily see some of those places I failed and why I failed. But yeah it’s something I wish that I had gotten better at. So if you could go back to the beginning, so six years ago and give yourselves a heads up, about the business in general, the software, I mean it could be as fundamental as how you set up accounts in the software or whatever, that you could change and it would have a significant impact on your life these days, what would it be?
Scott: This is a really difficult kind of thing for me. I think that if I had something to change it would probably have been to focus a lot more about being systematic with everything and really documenting and getting help and really focused on systems and being organized. There’s been a lot of struggle around project management in our organization and a lot of it is, the number one thing that’s kind of a pet peeve that I’ve learned is that people turn project management into a dumping ground. So they dump all their hopes and their dreams into the project management thing. And I was trying to get this phrase out, you declare bankruptcy and you go to start a new project management because oh, that one wasn’t working for us so you go to some new thing and then you do the same thing in that one.
In my opinion, you should have a very tightly focused project and you should be very clear about what’s in there. And then you tell your people you maintain some separate personal project management if you need that, but don’t dump all your hopes and dreams into those project management tools. I’ve never run a software product, so I’ve never created some big feature thing within some software management system but I have to imagine that those things get really gross. And I know that was your product so.
Garrett: So in hind sight, I didn’t realize until I sold Sifter all of the areas that could have benefited from documentation but that was one of the biggest eye-opening experiences was my other mistake and I kind of factor this into automation, was documenting all that stuff. Like when it’s just you, you’re like, “I don’t have to document this, it’s in my head,” but that becomes a gating factor to delegation down the road or selling or whatever. It was through the lens of selling that I noticed, I really need to document all this ‘cause you know you’re gonna have to transition to a new team and so well I’ve gotta teach them. And so you end up having to go back and document all this stuff, to make sure that transition is seamless and as painless as possible. And in doing that I realized all of this documentation would have been useful for me over the years as well, especially when you’re switching gears and changing projects and doing this and that. You circle back to it and you’re like, “What was I thinking here?” So it’s simple, it’s code documentation and even process documentation, like keeping your certain bits of information handy that you constantly end up needing but you need them only once a month. And documenting all those systems and processes just makes life easier and it sets up for that future delegation.
Scott: Yeah, yeah.
Garrett: So that was one of my big mistakes. So on the final note, y’all are one more of a husband and wife team. I feel like I keep talking to people who and it dawned on me the other day, how many people I’ve talked to are husband and wife teams. Is there any advice for people who may be scared of that idea you know, because it’s probably not for everybody, but is there anything that has helped y’all work through that? Is it y’all obviously have very clear delegation or kind of separation of what your areas are. Has there been any challenges or things that you could, advice for other people who are considering that but may be kind of little hesitant?
Scott: I think that if ‘cause I think this something that is a massive struggle for us, and I think being working very separately helped make that a little easier. Sorry this is kind of a difficult thing for me to answer. I have found recently that creating space around the amount of time we spend together because we’ve basically been together 24/7 since I’ve been full-time in the business. And I think creating space, leaving the house, ‘cause we work out of the house most of the time, leaving the house. I actually just got an office so creating more of that space makes that easier. And I also think it’s good to not talk about work when it’s not work hours. So we try to not talk about work if it’s not Monday through Friday you know nine to five or whatever.
Garrett: And that happens naturally and easily or is that a constant struggle?
Scott: I think it happens pretty easily. We’ve gotten better about compartmentalizing it. There was definitely way too much working on nights and weekends over the years. But I think that not talking about it all the time is good, that’s a healthier thing to do. It’s important if you tend to be more of a workaholic, you should probably reflect and find some hobbies or find some other healthy self-care things to do. Just because you have these things that you really want to get done at work, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be taking care of yourself and feeding other aspects of your life.
I think people with kids it’s probably a little easier to balance some of that stuff at least, getting away from the work. But when you don’t have kids, you don’t have anything that’s pulling you away from work to like take care of the kids and put them to bed and read them a story and all that stuff. And we don’t have that. I think having hobbies is a really under-utilized focus in people’s lives.
Garrett: No, that’s a really good point. All right, well that’s pretty much all I’ve got. Thanks for doing this. I really appreciate it. This is really fascinating because it’s a little less pure software and a little more balance of how to make something work using software so I’m excited about this one.
…consumers have their own challenges but you can grow a consumer business’s revenue a lot quicker than you can go a business revenue.
Scott: Cool man, well thank you very much. And one of the final things I will say is consumers have their own challenges but you can grow a consumer business’s revenue a lot quicker than you can go a business revenue. Obviously it’s gonna be a lot smaller transaction level but lot of people are very negative on consumer businesses and stuff like that and it has its challenges but remember that it has challenges but it has some massive upsides to it too. Can you imagine Dr. Dre growing Beats headphones to a billion dollars if it was like a business play about selling something else? I don’t know. You can just grow things so much faster.
Garrett: Consumers far outnumber businesses, right? So yeah there’s the challenges but I definitely think it’s something that everybody should give more consideration to. It’s just a different set of challenges is really what it is so that’s a really good point.
Garrett: All right, thanks man. I appreciate it.
Scott: I’m just @[inaudible 00:50:20] on Twitter if anybody wants to [crosstalk 00:50:22]
Garrett: Yeah I’ll definitely link up all that stuff in the show notes.
Scott: Cool man, great. See you.
Garrett: All right. You too. Thanks.
Scott: All right, bye.