Steve McLeod is the founder of Feature Upvote, a SaaS tool to enable your customers to suggest and upvote improvements. In this episode, we talk about and compare his experiences running both a B2C app and B2B app and the value of having a part-time system administrator on retainer.
Garrett Dimon: All right. We’re here today with Steve McLeod of Feature Upvote. Howdy, Steve.
Steve McLeod: Hi, Garrett. Thanks for having me here.
Garrett: Yeah, of course. We’ll start off. Can you talk a little bit about what you do, products, your background, that kind of thing to provide some context?
Steve: I run a small software company in Barcelona, Spain. You can probably tell from my accent that I’m not from Spain. I’m from New Zealand. Why I’m here is a whole story in itself, but probably not interesting to too many people today.
The software company, our main focus today is Feature Upvote, which is a B2B SaaS. It lets your customers openly suggest and upvote improvements to your product.
Garrett: How long have you been working on that?
Steve: We started in seriousness early last year. It was a small prototype in November 2016. Before that, we were working mainly on a B2C product, a desktop app, which we wanted to move away from.
Garrett: That desktop app is more or less what inspired Feature Upvote.
Business customers typically don’t expect to get answers on Saturdays and Sundays. They don’t write to us on Saturdays and Sundays. It’s been great getting our weekends back.
Steve: Oh, yeah. Feature Upvote is definitely scratching an itch.
Garrett: The other app is B2C. How is Feature Upvote how has that been with the B2C audience? Have they actively embraced it and used it?
Steve: Actually, that’s a good question. None of our B2C customers have actually ever commented on Feature Upvote. They use it to make suggestions and upvote suggestions. Nobody’s ever written us and said, “What’s this tool?” “What is this?” “Why are we doing this?” which we’re really happy about, the idea that people don’t even realize that they’ve been switched to another product, which is what we want to achieve for our customers.
Garrett: With a technical audience, I can see people obviously embracing it, developers, that kind of thing, love and always have ideas. It was interesting to wonder whether a B2C audience would be like, “Uh, what is this? I’m just going to email you.”
Steve: Exactly. In fact, what we’ve done is, when we get the emails from people saying, “Can you add this new feature? Can you make this change?” we say to them, “Thanks for the suggestion. Why don’t you add it to our product suggestion board so that other people can comment on your suggestion and vote it up?”
People seem to like that idea. Without any more ado, they just go and do that.
Garrett: You hinted at this, but it sounds like Feature Upvote is a path away from B2C. Can you comment a little bit on the motivation, the thinking there? Also, at the same time, hit on what you’ve noticed has been different between the two different audiences of B2C and B2B.
Steve: Sure. To make sure I’ve understood, the differences we’ve found by moving from a B2C to a B2B product?
First of all, we no longer need to do customer support on weekends. That, in itself, is a huge one. Business customers typically don’t expect to get answers on Saturdays and Sundays. They don’t write to us on Saturdays and Sundays. It’s been great getting our weekends back.
The B2B product is boring. I realize when I’m at a party and people ask me what I do and I tell them about Feature Upvote their eyes tend to glaze over. You can see they’re just being polite and keeping the conversation going versus the B2C, as soon as people hear about it they start telling you about their idea.
They tell you about their cousin or their brother who did something similar. I’m now less interesting at parties.
Garrett: That’s fair. Have you found it to be all the traditional things in terms of payment, that it’s more reliable, more steady, less price sensitivity, that sort of thing?
Steve: Oh, yeah. In fact, I’m kicking myself for not having moved in this direction years earlier. It’s just so much more pleasant. You get a sale and then that person gives you money the following month, and the month after, and the month after that. As long as you don’t have anything encouraging churn, it just goes on.
Garrett: Yeah, it’s absolutely huge. With Sifter, that’s one of the things I tell people about all the time. As I was going through all of my health issues, having the recurring revenue was completely life changing. There’s no situation that would have been as financially stable as a SaaS business with recurring revenue.
How much time are you spending on this? How do you split your time? How much total time are you spending each week?
I work about four to six hours a day. That’s across the whole team. We all work part-time. Some people call that a lifestyle business, but has that become a negative phrase, lifestyle business?
Steve: At risk of offending any of our B2C customers who might listen – I don’t think they’ll be listening, but just in case – we’re not spending very much time on the B2C stuff. Basically, it’s in life support. We’re doing what we need to do to fix bugs and answer customers.
In all, I work about four to six hours a day. That’s across the whole team. We all work part-time. Some people call that a lifestyle business, but has that become a negative phrase, lifestyle business?
Garrett: I think it depends on who you ask, right? The people who want to work 100 hours a week and swing for the fences, for them it’s a negative thing. To me, it’s a positive thing. That means that your business isn’t running you.
Steve: Exactly. Are we making as much money as we could be? No. Are we happy about the balance of time and lifestyle versus income? Sure.
Garrett: You said a team. How many people? What’s everybody’s role? How’s that divvied up?
Steve: We’re three people employed and two freelancers. Myself, I do most of the development. We’ve got a graphic designer, a system administrator, who I got because of your suggestion from your book, actually.
Steve: To just go off topic suddenly, that’s such a thing I’d recommend to anybody, is to get a system administrator to help you out from day one.
Back on topic. Where did I get up to? We’ve got the QA guy who also helps the customer support. Then, finally, somebody who’s doing a lot of the social media marketing. Now, I’ve made it sound like we all have clear cut jobs, but, in a small team, we all do a bit of everything.
Garrett: Circling back to the system admin, what have you found? Is there anything specific that you found to be the most beneficial in branching out like that?
Steve: Oh, yeah. It means that, if the system goes down on a Monday morning at 4:00 AM, I’m not the only one who knows what to do to get it going again. Because my system administrator is paid by the hour, because he’s a freelancer, he’s actually quite happy to be woken up at 4:00 AM and earn himself a bit of extra money unexpectedly to get things working again.
We’ve gone down twice since we released Feature Upvote to the public in May 2017. In both cases, my system administrator has been notified of the problem and fixed it before I’ve even woken up. What could be better than that?
Garrett: That’s huge. Admittedly, at least for me, my biggest fear was the cost of it, but as soon as you can financially support it, it is worth its weight in gold. Security updates, all that.
Steve: Exactly. He’s proactive. The things I wouldn’t ever do because…There’s things you know you should do, but you don’t get around them because you’ve got 100 other things to do by yesterday. On his list of things to do every month, he knows that on the first of the month he needs to make sure all database backups are restorable.
He knows he needs to check that we’re not nearing the thresholds of our CPU and so on. You said, “Worth their weight in gold,” we’re not paying gold. You don’t need to pay Silicon Valley rates these days. What’s the site called? Upwork, and having the whole world available to work. You don’t need to pay those $200 per hour prices that people get in the Bay Area.
Garrett: Yeah, for sure. Then a lot of times, too, a lot of those people have their day jobs and, for them, it’s nice to work with a smaller team that you can relate to, that’s more personable, and it’s not just constantly putting out enterprise-level fires and that sort of thing.
For them, it’s a nice way to add some extra income. For them, it’s not very stressful work because they could do that kind of stuff in their sleep.
Steve: Yeah, exactly. Whereas, me, it would take me days to get the right space and things set up because I’m not a system administrator.
I also think, well, at least our guy, I think he really appreciates that he has a lot of freedom to make choices about what products we use and which direction to go. Whereas, maybe, in a bigger corporation you get told, “We are using this product. You must do it like this.” What’s that word? Autonomy. He has a lot more autonomy. I try to give all my freelancers that autonomy.
Garrett: For sure. That makes a big difference, too. That when people care about what they’re working on, they don’t worry as much about, “I don’t need to get paid $250 an hour if I’m doing something that’s a little fun. We can talk about it.” There’s some wiggle room type of thing there.
Garrett: You’re about a year oldish, you’re saying?
Garrett: Can you talk about customer acquisition in terms of the first customers and where it’s evolved to, where you’re at now, and how that’s worked for you?
…most of our first 10 customers, besides those ones, came from Quora.
Steve: OK. Our first customers came personally or through personality, people I knew in person or that I knew from the discussion forum I’m very active on. I think you’re familiar with the Bootstrapped.fm discussion forum. Those first customers churned very quickly. Then I realized that maybe it’s because they were not wholly needing what we had to offer.
Then most of our first 10 customers, besides those ones, came from Quora. Is that how you pronounce it?
Garrett: I think so.
Steve: Which someone suggested I answer some questions there with the answer that Feature Upvote is a good answer to the question they had. I was dubious but, man, does that deliver a good traffic? Not a lot of traffic, but the traffic it does deliver converts really well.
Garrett: Yeah, for sure. Well, there’s not a lot of products in your space. There’s a handful, and the pricing is all over the board.
Steve: Yeah. I think you’d be surprised at just how many products are in this space.
Garrett: Oh yeah?
Steve: I think it’s a bit of a darling space of people who can program and want to make a side project or their first product, but haven’t yet realized the realities of marketing.
Garrett: That’s fair.
Steve: They see a big competitor, which is UserVoice, and they think, “Well, I can do this in my sleep,” and they do it. It only takes them a few weeks and they have something to offer, and nobody ever discovers them.
Garrett: That sounds about right. One of the things I really like to focus on is the pain and the misery because everybody else focuses on making lots of money every month and working two hours a day, but that’s really not all it’s about, right? There’s plenty of other downsides.
Not to talk people out of it, but to really help people anticipate and be ready for it so that when it does happen, when something does go wrong, people aren’t blindsided or they’re not beating themselves up about it, and that sort of thing.
We’ll start off with the simple. What’s the toughest day or event so far for you, how’d you dig yourself out of it, and how’d it go?
There was one day in April 2011 in which online poker was shut down in America, out of the blue, without warning, and we lost 55 percent of our customers.
Steve: I think for Feature Upvote, we haven’t had a day like that yet. I know it’s coming, but it hasn’t happened yet. With the B2C software, it was something serving the poker industry.
There was one day in April 2011 in which online poker was shut down in America, out of the blue, without warning, and we lost 55 percent of our customers. Bang. Just like that. It’s hard to keep a positive face or even want to keep working on a product when 55 percent of your business just goes immediately. Could you imagine or did you ever have anything like that with Sifter?
Garrett: I lost eight hours…well, we had five hours of the data backed up because we only backed up nightly, and so we ended up losing three hours of data. We temporarily lost eight hours, we restored five of those. I was like, “Oh, great.” This was, I want to say…No, no, no. Maybe right after I went full-time. It was only a couple years into it.
I assumed we were out of business. I was like, “Oh, great. We’re done. This is it.” I just gave it a shot and tried to save it and it turned out to not be a big deal. I gave anybody affected a free month, no questions asked, spent a lot of time trying to help people through it, explain to people.
As far as I remember, nobody was even angry. Sure, people were disappointed, but everybody was understanding about it. I was blown away because I had assumed we were out of business. I was like, “This is it. Our reputation’s tanked.” It wasn’t a big deal at all in the grand scheme of things.
It was a stressful week for sure, but looking back on it now, with hindsight, it was not something to be haphazard about database backups in the future.
If anything, now I’d have a very precise plan and they know exactly what to do and not to do, but it turned out to not be that terrible. I think it was like $700 in free credits at a time when we were probably, I don’t know, we were probably making $5,000 or so a month at that point. That’s nothing in the grand scheme of things, cost-wise.
Steve: I like that story. I hope my customers are as understanding when the day inevitably comes where something goes really bad unexpectedly.
Garrett: When you say 55 percent, now, is that just short-term and they came back, or did they just totally jump ship and go use some other product?
Steve: No, they just stopped playing poker. These were online poker players in America who used our product to track, just to basically do analytics off their playing, and they suddenly couldn’t play their hobby anymore so they had no need of our products. It took years to get back to the…
Garrett: Oh, sorry, sorry. I was thinking downtime. You’re talking about legal changes?
Steve: Oh, yeah.
Garrett: Oh, yeah.
Steve: Do you remember a few years ago when there was this big poker hype in America? Well, it stopped all of a sudden, and, yeah, that really affected us.
Garrett: That’s one of those things that it’s easy to not think about, but any business is ultimately highly sensitive to legal changes. That can really, really…Wow. OK. Man.
Steve: I think some companies have…
Garrett: Was that ultimately some of the impetus to start thinking about moving away from it as well or did you ultimately recover from that one way or another and manage?
Steve: I recovered and managed, but it did make me always be thinking of what’s next to diversify. It also made me much more careful about building up a war chest, building up a bank account so that we had money to deal with the bad times. Actually, that’s been very helpful with Feature Upvote. Excuse me.
We’ve had the money from day one to pay for our system administrator to put in the right infrastructure to get a security audit done, which cost me a couple of thousand dollars, but I think at least today’s day and age on assess, you just can’t skip the security concerns.
Garrett: On that note, do you have a page on the site that just talks about the fact that you’ve done the security audits and how do you promote that or discuss it? I know with Sifter it was one of those things we’d occasionally get technical questions because we were serving a technical audience.
They wanted some insight on what infrastructure we had in place, what processes we were following, that sort of thing. Is that something you’ve exposed on the site anywhere? Have you gotten questions about that yet?
Steve: We haven’t exposed it on the site. Your question makes me think we should. Wait a moment while I make a note of this.
OK. Audience, I thought they were going to be technical. I thought our customers were going to be, like myself, owners of small software companies. I basically thought we were a target audience. Turns out I was really, really wrong. It’s a whole field I didn’t even know about called product management.
Product managers are the ones who find us and use us, and they tend not to be so concerned with what’s behind the user interface. They just want it to be easy to use, easy for them to share with their team.
Garrett: There’s another gem in there in that you’re not your target audience, right? We all want to believe that whatever pain we have, if we have that pain, there must be millions of other people in the world with the same pain, and often that’s not the case. There might be a subset of people, but nowhere near enough.
Has that impacted? Have you had to make significant adjustments as you’ve figured that out?
Steve: Kind of. It’s changed the type of content we’re using for marketing, and it’s changed the place I’m looking for customers. However, it’s been nice. How bad language can I use on this? I’m not going to go too bad.
Garrett: Yeah, let’s keep it safe.
Steve: Keep it family-friendly?
Steve: Software developers can tend to be jerks, right?
Steve: A couple of software people looked at what we’re doing and have told us how that’s nothing. They could do the same thing in two days. Whereas, product managers, they tend to be much nicer. They talk to you the way they’d like to be talked to. Look, I’m a software developer, I’ve been that jerk often enough. Guilty as charged.
Garrett: Yeah, it’s tough. I think product managers, the nature of their role is to juggle all of the constraints and realities, and create the best thing they can, given those constraints. They totally live in a world of constraints, whereas as a developer more on the delivery end of things it’s easier to idealize.
Screw your constraints, let’s release the perfect thing. That sort of thing. It’s easier to get caught up in that I think.
Garrett: At a year in, have you had any big plateaus in growth or things where you’ve had to break through, or is it just been one big plateau as you’re getting a foothold?
To our customers it might appear that we’re doing nothing while we’re actually working hard to make the site stable, and reliable, and usable by everybody.
Steve: Look, each month we’ve had growth somewhere between 10 and 65 percent. I know that plateau is looming and we’ll need to change our strategy. I’ve noticed that our growth in organic traffic has started to level off, so I’m already thinking ahead about what I have to do to get through that plateau. I don’t know the answer and I’m open to advice from yourself or anybody listening.
Garrett: Yeah. Well, I assume you’ll be posting in the Bootstrap forums and we’ll all be chiming in at that point. What are some reoccurring challenges, with either business really, that you faced that you’ve found long-term solutions for, either through automation or fixing a leak?
Whatever it is, what are those things that, every month, you feel like you’re like, “Why am I doing this again?”
Steve: That’s a good question. Something that was unexpected to me, although anybody who’s put a text field on the Internet probably is familiar with this problem, is the scammers and the spammers. Our traffic went up a hundred-fold from roughly October to December or October to January. I wasn’t prepared for that. It just caught me by surprise.
It was people who thought they could manipulate voting for features by setting up botnets or scripts across IP addresses. We very quickly had to come up with strategies for dealing with that. That takes work and that takes time, and at the same time, we’re not working on new features, improvements that customers want.
To our customers it might appear that we’re doing nothing while we’re actually working hard to make the site stable, and reliable, and usable by everybody.
Garrett: I think there’s two things to get out of that. One is, I think we all worry more about, “Oh my gosh, I haven’t made an update this week. Our customers think we’re stagnating and dying.” Customers don’t care. They do long-term, but one of the things I realized, Sifter was still growing even while I was in the hospital or laid up in bed and not working on it and just doing support.
It still grew. Even though there was no new features for months, and it worked. I think we worry about that, as developers, and get caught up and hung up on that more than customers do generally.
Of course, everybody likes to see updates, but if you had a product that’s been very lively and you skip a few months because you’re focused elsewhere, the fallout’s not going to be anywhere near the worst case scenario that we imagine, at least from my experience.
The other is, the spam, and fraud, and all the scams, I think that’s one of those things that is frustrating because it doesn’t stop. Like growth. You hit growth plateaus, right? You progressively start adding layers to restrict that stuff. Then you’re like, right, I’ve got it, I’ve put the fire out.
Then, two or three months later, you get another spike in traffic and get more attention, and then new more advanced scammers, what have you start trying to abuse your system. Then you progressively lock down more.
It’s this constant back and forth cat and mouse game to figure that out, and you end up having to do it. I mean it’s inevitable, right? No matter what your product is. You may be more or less exposed to it, but it’s going to happen. I had the same thing with credit cards.
People were validating stolen credit card numbers using our form. At the time, even failed validations, we got hit with the credit card fees.
Steve: Ouch, that was pre Stripe.
Garrett: Yeah, this was early Braintree. It was like $200, which, again, grand scheme of things, nothing, but I let it consume me for a couple of weeks. It was like, “It didn’t need to. It wasn’t really costing us that much money. It was just more the principle.” I think it’s one of those things where it’s good for people to know and think about.
Do what you can, keep it minimal, understand that it’s going to happen. Then, when it does happen, you just have to stop what you’re doing, handle it, suppress it, and move on, and not stress about it too much because it’s miserable, it’s unpleasant work, it’s not customer benefiting, really. Not directly.
To me that was one of the worst things, was dealing with that kind of stuff whenever it happened.
Steve: It never stops. That’s interesting to know. I’ll prepare myself mentally.
Garrett: Exactly. It never stops, it just evolves. You then progressively need to add more layers to it to help mitigate it. Hopefully, avoiding CAPTCHAS, but, at some point, you may get to the point where you need a CAPTCHA or something like that. There’s just so many different strategies depending on the type of spam, or fraud, or whatever it is.
It’s one of those things that it caught me off guard. In hindsight, the more I talk to people, it’s a very common regular occurrence and it’s just part of the deal, just like system administration. The worst problem is that it happens unexpectedly. You can’t predict it. You can’t say, “I’m going to set aside this week to deal with spam.”
It’s like, “Oh, the spam’s here. I’ve got to drop what I’m doing and put out this fire.” I think that’s one of those things that just helps people to know it’s going to happen. When it does happen, handle it and don’t worry too much.
If people are finding you and abusing you like this, it’s because your marketing’s working. People can find you, they have heard about you.
Steve: Maybe it’s even a measure of success.
Garrett: To a degree, yeah.
Steve: If people are finding you and abusing you like this, it’s because your marketing’s working. People can find you, they have heard about you.
Garrett: Yeah, and it’s just growth in general. We all have that, “Once I get to this point, things will be good,” but, as you grow, your growth and your revenue’s improving, but you’re also expanding. You’ve got more customers. You’ve got more potential problems. There’s more risk of downtime. With growth comes additional burden as well. It’s just an ongoing cycle.
I think we all like to think that at some point we’ll be able to just sit back and relax, but there’s always something more to be done, and that’s just the way it works. That’s part of the deal that we signed on for.
Steve: The relaxing comes if you ever choose to sell your business, like you sold Sifter. That’s when you can sit back and relax, right?
Garrett: Go work for somebody else if you want to relax a little bit, yeah.
Steve: Yeah, exactly.
Garrett: No, go ahead.
Steve: One of the times in which the abuse of our system caught me unawares was when I was on holiday. I went down to the southern hemisphere last winter. My girlfriend and I were in a wonderful beach town in Queensland, Australia.
That’s just when we got a warning from our content delivery network in which we serve up images, telling us that we had gone way over our threshold and they were shutting us down unless we paid a lot more money. I wanted to just go and sit on the beach, and go for a swim, and go kayaking, but instead, first I had to fix this problem.
When you’re an employee, your holiday’s a holiday, but I think, when you’re self-employed, but especially when you have a product with customers, your holidays are never completely holidays.
Garrett: It’s very true. To me, my solution for that was to work fewer daily hours knowing that even when I do get an official vacation, I’m going to be making up for it then. It’s almost a, work four-day weeks because even when you finally get that vacation you’re not really going to get a guaranteed vacation.
Anything can happen, and so it helps to go a little easier on yourself day-to-day and just make up for it on the tail end when you do have to work those extra hours. You can at least justify it and say, “Well, I took that day and went kayaking in the middle of the day,” so that was our kayaking vacation.
You stitch together those moments and have lots of little mini-vacations so that, when the stress does come inevitably on the vacation, you at least had some time elsewhere. Whereas, if you’re working 100 hours a week, then you go on a vacation, and then you’re still working, that’s not healthy for anybody.
Steve: Not at all. Not at all.
Garrett: The last two questions are in a way my favorite. Sometimes they open up some great stuff. The first one is, if you could go back to the very, very, very beginning and give yourself a heads up – this could be before any product – what would that heads up be?
Something you would make yourself ready for, or something you could tell yourself, “You’re going to waste a lot of time on this. Don’t bother. It’s not worth it. Ignore it entirely,” or is there a skill you would have learned? What would that have been?
Steve: My answer’s not directly appropriate, but I’d say think really hard about what kind of business you want. If what you want is a business like mine where I can go kayaking tomorrow, choose a product and a target audience with that in mind, but if your business is one in which you want to be earning $10 million in five years’ time, choose your audience and product.
I think people give themselves a lot of stress by having one target in mind, but choosing a product and audience in mind that are just incompatible. You’ll be familiar with Peldi. In fact, I think Peldi, from Balsamiq, has been on your podcast before me. I heard him say in a presentation somewhere how much stress that caused him.
He thought Balsamiq mockups, or Balsamiq wireframes as they now call it, was going to be a one-man business, a one-person business that he would work on and have a nice lifestyle. It turns out, with that type of business, its natural size is, I don’t know, 25-30 employees, and he had to come to terms with that. I think that it cost him a lot of painful stress, and I really mean painful stress based on what he’s had to say.
Garrett: The misalignment of expectations, I think, is surprisingly one of the more challenging things, probably with starting any business. You hear about everybody that’s successful and you go into it thinking, “This is going to be easy. So many other people have done it.” Then you start realizing that it’s just a long, slow growth ramp.
Gail Goodman’s talk, “The Long, Slow, SaaS Ramp of Death,” with Constant Contact. Everybody’s probably not super-thrilled or excited to use Constant Contact because that’s not really the technical audience. The story is the same. It took them a lot to grow the company.
That’s just the nature of it. I think everybody just now expects because there are so many success stories and all the survivorship bias – “It’s going to be easy. I’m a developer. I don’t need to know how to market.”
You go into it and it’s like, “Wait a minute. Why isn’t this just happening?” It can be really off-putting. You’re like, “Man, I poured all this effort into it and it’s not working.” It just takes time.
Steve: Not just time, but consistency. You have to turn up every day, do something every day. That takes motivation. When you have very few customers or even no customers, it’s hard to make yourself motivated to do something every day, which is actually a good argument for getting a first customer as soon as you can, even if you’re giving them half price, or it’s a friend of a friend.
As soon as you have someone actually listening to what you’re writing and using your products, it’s just so much easier to turn up, get in front of the computer by nine o’clock in the morning, and work for a few hours every day.
Garrett: Having a customer or a handful of customers and having really, really open channels with them, to me, was a great way to light a fire. Some days it might just be analysis paralysis, where you’ve got too many choices.
You’re like, “What should I work on? I need to do this. I need to do that.” If you have customers and the customers are in your ear, they’re going to let you know what you need to work on.
While it’s not always the perfect thing, the collective consciousness of your customers will help guide you and help light that fire to keep you focused and keep you marching forward even on the days where it’s a struggle, or you’re exhausted, or you feel like the business isn’t progressing the way you want.
When you just sit there and listen to customers, and absorb it, and act on that, it tends to work out in the long run as long as you’re judicious about what you’re acting on.
Steve: I have to recommend a really good product for helping choose what to listen to. It’s called Feature Upvote.
Steve: Basically, my own product.
Garrett: Yeah, absolutely.
The last question – and I think we may have already touched on this – is, if you were starting a new business today, would you do the same type of business or would you talk yourself out of it and go in a different direction? If so, why?
Steve: I’d be doing the same business. I would have started it years earlier, specifically talking about Feature Upvote as a B2B SaaS. I’m kicking myself. I’m really kicking myself. I read people talking about this 10 years ago, how it was the future, and all the advantages. I just made up excuse after excuse.
To know that if I’d started a few years earlier I’d be a few years further in the journey, it’s a regret, but, hey, what can you do?
Garrett: For what it’s worth, and some peace of mind, it was a heck of a lot harder 10 years ago.
Steve: Thank you, thank you. That’s good to know.
Garrett: You would have been on the bleeding edge at that point. The things I see today, I’m like, “Man, if I was starting Sifter today…” Admittedly, there’s a lot more apps out there. It’s not quite as easy to just throw something up.
Between the monitoring tools, the infrastructure, deployment management, version control, Stripe, payment processing, all that stuff, fraud, spam prevention, everything, it’s just leaps and bounds further ahead. All it is is just a small monthly fee and the pain just disappears.
Steve: Yeah. It’s cheap and it’s good.
Garrett: Things have definitely improved. The downside is it’s a lot more crowded market because it’s much easier for people to launch things. I firmly believe there’s enough small corners out there of people that need help and aren’t getting it through…Software could solve their problems.
To me, that’s where the most opportunity is now, right? You can build developer tools. That’s what we all gravitate towards because that’s what we know. There’s so many opportunities out there for things to help people who aren’t software developers.
That, to me, is where the next batch of niches is going to be because you find that and you can leverage all this advancement in software tools that all of us software developers have been making and serve those people at a much lower cost, a much lower burden. I think there’s a lot of interesting opportunity out there in that space.
Steve: 100 percent agree. In fact, Sifter was an example that made me realize that, even though we have this very dominate competitor, UserVoice, that it was possible. I could not believe somebody had managed to make a product in Atlassian Jira space and actually carve out an area for themselves.
When I heard that not only had you done it but had done it well, I realized…It just gave me the confidence to know that, actually, we could do it with Feature Upvote, too. We didn’t have to be able to compete with them head on for every customer. We just had to find our own part of the universe and do it really well.
Garrett: The big part there is coming back to expectations, right? You didn’t want to be UserVoice. I didn’t want to be Atlassian. I didn’t need $10 million a year to be happy. I think that’s the key, is realizing…
Even if maybe you do want to be $10 million a year at some point, start small. Start with something else that can’t necessarily ever get that high. You know it can’t get that high. Build that and then use that as your runway to build that bigger, more ambitious thing you want to try instead of diving right into the really, really ambitious thing right away.
When you have very few customers or even no customers, it’s hard to make yourself motivated to do something every day…
Steve: Right. You learn a lot just by building anything, and taking customers, and receiving money. You learn very quickly about the things that are not important, as you touched on earlier, and the things that are important, which are usually not what you expect.
Garrett: Absolutely. All too true.
That wraps up everything I had on my list. Is there anything else, any other last words of advice or words of wisdom you’d want to share with folk who might be thinking about following in this same path?
Steve: You mentioned Gail Goodman’s talk from “Business of Software,” The Long, Slow SaaS Ramp of Death. Everybody should watch that. If you haven’t watched it, find it. It’s something that really helps you understand the nature of building up a SaaS business. How slow it is, but how, once you get it going, it really gets going. I’d finish on that note.
Garrett: Absolutely. Cool. We’ll add that to the show notes, too. Thanks so much for being on. This was fantastic. Yeah, thanks.
Steve: It was all pleasure. Thanks, Garrett.