Walter is the founder of iDoneThis, and in this episode he talks about how inbound marketing has generated $20,000/month in revenue for his startup. Learn why Walter doesn’t worry about PPC or virality, and what he’s learned in the process of launching multiple products.
→ The topic is iDoneThis, a tool for keeping track of completed tasks and sharing them with the team
→ It is different from to-do list, it focuses on accomplishments
→ Started as a side project and now it’s a business
→ iDoneThis is a tool for tracking completed tasks and sharing them with teams
→ Started as a side project, now has 80,000 users and helped people complete 5 million tasks
→ Generates $20,000 per month in recurring revenue
→ Rapid growth from 600 to 6000 users in one weekend, showed it may be more than a side project
→ Important to start doing something, even if it may not be successful
→ Overnight success often takes years of hard work and failure
→ Acknowledge that they were not good at the beginning but continue to learn and improve
→ And a whole lot more
Bronson: Welcome to another episode of Growth Hacker TV. I’m Bronson Taylor and today I have Walter Chin with us. Walter, thanks for coming on the show.
Walter:Hey, thanks for having me, man.
Bronson: Yeah, absolutely. Now, Walter, you are the co-founder of I Done This. Which is a great name, by the way. So first, tell us a little bit about I’ve done this. What is it?
Walter:Yeah, I’ve done. This is just a really easy way to keep track of what you get done every day and share it with the people on your team.
Bronson: Yeah. Now, if I’m correct, this is a done list and not a to do list. Is that right?
Bronson: Yeah. What’s the difference?
Walter:So the difference is that a to do list is where you write down all the stuff that you have to do and done. List is where you write down all the stuff that you got done. And so we had this sort of interesting insight where we found that when, you know, a lot of people don’t like to do lists because it makes them feel terrible about themselves because they are like, Oh my God, I have so much stuff to do. I totally suck. And we found that a lot of really prominent people, people like, I don’t know, Jerry Seinfeld, mark entries and a productivity hack that they have is not only writing down the stuff they have to do, but writing some writing down all the stuff they got done and actually makes them feel great about what they’re doing. It’s easy way to sort of build up a history of your accomplishments.
Bronson: Gotcha. Now, originally, if I’m correct, I done this was a side project. Is that.
Walter:Right? That’s right.
Bronson: How did you begin?
Walter:Yeah. So my co-founder, Rodrygo, he had this idea. It sort of started from this problem that he had gotten really out of shape and kind of that. And and so he he wanted something that would sort of bug him every day and keep him accountable for getting stuff done. And so we sort of we sort of built I done this in January 2011 with the idea that it would help him keep this New Year’s resolution of of getting back in shape. Mm hmm.
Bronson: So tell me about how large has grown since it first began. Any numbers you can disclose? I don’t know what you guys are public about, but. Yeah, revenue completed, task something. How big is this thing?
Walter:Yeah, yeah, yeah. We, we, we’ve recently sort of crossed the 5 million, 5 million tons that people wrote down. So that was awesome. You know, we never really expected anyone to use it. And then five, you know, so people we help people get 5 million things done. That was awesome. And so we have something like 80,000 users right now and yeah, 5 million things and we’re making probably close to 20 K every month in recurring revenue.
Bronson: Oh, that’s great. I didn’t ask that, but I’m glad you disclosed it because it really gives us a handle on what you guys are actually doing there. That’s awesome. So let’s talk about the growth of I done this a little bit because that’s what’s exciting with this audience is how you went from a weekend project to help your body into 20 K and monthly revenue and 5 million dones. Right. I read an article from Baidu Beat and they said that you all went from 600 to 6000 users in a weekend. Was that kind of the weekend when you realized it might be more than a side project?
Walter:Yeah, yeah, definitely. That’s the sort of the weekend we decided, hey, let’s let’s start working on this more because the thing is like if you take a step back, I dunno, this is the only thing we ever built that anyone ever cared about at all. Like before this. Yeah. So we had built random stuff before. No one had used anything. And so like when we even had 600 users, we were like, wow, this is the most amazing thing in my entire life. And and then when it grew to 6000, like, over a weekend, that was like something that made us really take notice.
Bronson: Okay, see, I didn’t know you guys had tried to other stuff before, and I’m the same way. I tried a lot of things before I found anything that even remotely worked. Do you feel like those projects before, even though they didn’t work, were they a part of your learning experience or are they just total garbage?
Walter:It’s hard to say. Yeah. You know, I think in some ways they were total garbage. Like when I look back, I was like, That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. But at the same time, I think, yeah, there is a lot to learn from it. It’s not just like going out and just trying to build stuff, you know, like, stop, stop talking about it. Stop reading Hacker News and like, actually just build something, you know, even if it totally sucks like that, that is like really sort of empowering process.
Bronson: No, I totally agree. And just for me, I feel the same way. I look back on the things I did before and you know, the code is sloppy, the design is horrible, the ideas are childish. I mean, nothing about it like screams immaturity. And yet it was a stepping stone. I learned a little something every time I did one of those projects, and then when I started putting the pieces together, all of a sudden there was traction. So I’m a big fan of Just Do Something, and I tell people when they come to me and get advice about startups, I’m like, You have to assume the first few things you do are not going to work, but you have to do them anyway, or you can’t get to the ones that actually do work eventually. So yeah. Now it’s cool to see your story is similar.
Walter:No, I think.
Bronson: Oh, no, no.
Walter:Please go ahead. Yeah. Just to jump in, you know that there are a lot of great posts about how, you know, like overnight successes take ten years. And I think it really does. I mean, I mean, you know, it’s very true. And just like you just have to. Really successful person started out totally sucking. And so, like, I sort of relish the fact that, like, I suck and, you know.
Bronson: That’s also. Yeah. So let’s talk about those first 600 users because like you said, you never had anybody use anything you did. And 600 was a big deal. And I agree, you’re getting 600 people to do anything online. It may not mean anything in the world of, you know, Facebook’s billion users, but they’re getting started. That’s something. How did you get those 600? Was it just they heard about it, word of mouth? Was there some blog post? Was it something a hacker news like to give it a 600 or something?
Walter:Yeah, the short answer is we posted on Hacker News. And, you know, we did like this show, Hacker News, where we sort of said, hey, I built this project, check it out. And a few hundred people signed up and then it got picked up by the next web. So they wrote an article about it and then that’s how really we got those 600 users. But I think the real the real thing that we did to get the first 600 users was before that. Before even posting it, we made sure that this was like really the first time that we made sure that we truly built an MVP, a minimal set of features, because we were we actually really built this thing in two days. And so even when we launched it with 600, we were doing a lot of stuff manually. So we were, you know, sending stuff out emails, sending emails out by hand and all that. So I think the really the key was getting it done in a really short period of time and then like sort of trying that and then telling people about it.
Bronson: Yeah. Is that difference in the way you did projects in the past?
Walter:Yeah, absolutely. Like building building stuff for like months and just telling nobody about it and then like, you know, finally like calling someone and telling you about it and they’re like, this sucks. Like, okay, so this is like the opposite.
Bronson: Yeah. Now there’s a lot of wisdom to that for sure. So you went from 600 to 6000. Was that the result of more media attention from the next Web and the Hacker News that kind of snowball? Or was there something else that led to that 6000?
Walter:Yeah, it didn’t. It was more media, but it didn’t snowball. It it was it didn’t snowball as and oh, because the next web wrote about it all of a sudden and everyone else writing about that didn’t happen. It happened actually. So after several months passed and people were still using it, we thought, Oh, this is interesting. And so we pitched a bunch of more media publications about it, just like ourselves. We didn’t hire anyone, we just pitched them. We sent them short, concise emails with like a single message, like, Hey, we built this thing and all of a sudden we had prominent people using it. So Naveen Salvadori, who is the founder of Foursquare, he used it and like some other prominent people, started using the product. And so we sent a concise email to like Target that said, Hey, we built this thing like a few hundred people use it, including some very private entrepreneurs, like you should write about it. And Lifehacker wrote about us and Lifehacker is just crazy. So that’s really what helped to take off.
Bronson: Yeah. And that email, when you say it was short and concise, I mean literally a couple sentences kind of thing.
Walter:Yeah, like three paragraphs, a sentence. You just like sort of outlining the main points.
Bronson: Gotcha. And then out of all the people you sent to, Lifehacker was the only one that picked it up or other ones did as well. They were just the biggest one.
Walter:I think a couple other people picked it up at Lifehacker. It was by far the biggest.
Bronson: Yeah, that’s great. I’m just asking with people, you know, they want to imitate that and try to send off some of those emails and do their own PR a little bit because you don’t have to hire a PR agency. Sometimes you kind of you can use the angle with blogs like Lifehacker and the next web, use the angle of I’m a nobody. I built something nobody knows about, but here’s some cool users that use it and you may want to tell people about it. Like exactly use your kind of nothingness to your advantage because you don’t have to seem big, right?
Walter:That’s exactly right. And every time I’ve tried to hire PR and thinking like, oh, we should like do this right, it’s like totally flopped. Exactly what you described is actually really powerful because Lifehacker is run by a bunch of people and these people are just like us. Right? And so they love to support actually, the Lifehacker people are awesome. They love to support, you know, people who are just getting started, who build some cool things, who have some interesting insight. Like for us, one of the interesting insights was like that we talked about with them is like, hey, writing down what you get done actually may make you more productive than keeping a to do list, this sort of like counterintuitive notion. So, so yeah, they love that stuff.
Bronson: Yeah. So now you’re here you are at 5 million tons and 20,000 a month in revenue, has inbound marketing and is kind of blogging and blogs writing about you. Has that been the lion’s share of your all traffic and revenue generation?
Walter:Yes. And that sounds ridiculous because like, it sounds really ridiculous. But yes, that’s that’s the answer. And early so early on when we had slower revenue growth, it was in part because I was like, we can’t continue blogging forever. This is like a ridiculous way to acquire customers. Like we have to be more like Facebook and like, you know, have it like go viral. And so we worked on like virality, but none of it ever worked. And maybe, maybe I mean, not saying that it won’t ever work, but we we actually found that we were able to drive revenue growth stronger when we decided to focus much more on content.
Bronson: Wow. Gotcha. So how do you scale it? I mean, is it literally just you writing a lot every chance you get? Is that kind of how it skills?
Walter:Yeah. So that’s one of the sort of concerns with content is like does it scale? And so I’m not totally clear on, I mean because like we haven’t hit crazy scale but I would say in the scale from one K recurring revenue to 20 K recurring revenue, yes, it does scale 20 to 50 K, I think it does scale by like 50 K to like 500 K like probably. I don’t know. Yeah. And so the way it scales right now. Yeah. Is mostly with you. We brought out an additional content person but you don’t want to gillnets over their head count. That’s a bad idea I think. But we scale sort of through process like we figure out what works and then do more of it and it sounds sort of vague, but that’s like I think the sort of like the main way it’s like, yeah, find what works is c like to give you an example. Mm hmm. You can earn a storyline that works like for instance. Don’t you know, keeping track of what you get done every day may actually make you more productive than keeping track of what there is to do. And people are like, Whoa. And so you find out that, okay, let’s say that storyline works. Now you’ve scaled your you scale your content by just writing about that a lot. Right. So it’s like rather than like write about ten topics of which you don’t know which one works. Now you’re writing just about one topic over and over and over. Right. So you’re sort of scaling you’re making yourself more productive by writing about a storyline that you know is effective.
Bronson: Yeah, that’s great. You’re kind of ab testing your content ideas and running with the results that work.
Bronson: And I like what you said about how you think it will, you know, it scales the 20 day, you think it’ll scale to 50 K and there will be a ceiling at some point after that. But in a sense, that’s okay because once you get to 50 K, then you can spend months thinking about how to build a viral loop that works. And you’re not worried about paying the mortgage. Right. But the 20 K is a big deal. So if content can get you there, that’s a huge win that you can build on for a long time to come.
Walter:Yeah, I totally agree. I sort of you know, I do think with most people, most people who are obsessed with growth, they’re never happy to not grow. Like so like once you start growing, you’re like, oh, my God, I got to do whatever it takes to, like, maintain the growth rate and then try to increase it. Right. So. But there is yeah, true. Once you hit profitability, there is a bit of like a sort of sigh of relief. But but yeah, I think that I think the sort of key thing is what you said, which is sort of the point of like it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t scale between 50 K and 500 K, if you can get to 50 by doing something that doesn’t scale it, especially if in the process you learn a lot about why people like your product, because you begin to understand the storylines and then you begin to understand why people like your product. Then you can sort of it helps in all phases of what you’re doing.
Bronson: Yeah. And I had the assumption that you guys used a lot of inbound and, you know, blog and content because as I search for you all online to get ready for this interview, you had a lot of inbound links from a lot of different kinds of sources. And that’s one of the telltale signs. I mean, you do a search for a company and all of a sudden they had their blogging for, you know, 20 different publications. You’re probably onto their strategy, right?
Bronson: It works. It works, you know. Now, one of the blog posts you wrote was about inbound marketing to go kind of meta for a second. You’re writing about the thing you’re doing while you’re writing it. Yeah, but you broke down some of the things, some of the tricks to keep in mind. I want you to walk us through this a little bit. The first one was Know your audience. What do you mean by that?
Walter:Yeah, I think it’s just the sort of like fundamental of like speaking and writing is like got to make sure you know who you’re writing to and that’s also who you’re selling to. Right. And so I think it’s part of it’s part of the learning process that we describe. But it’s all so it’s like iterative. But yeah, that’s absolutely right.
Bronson: Yeah. And then the next one, you say, don’t just blog, but get published. So kind of oxymoronic there. What does that.
Walter:Mean? I like to focus on this notion of thinking about and this fits with the knowing your customer, which is like know where your post is going to be published before you even write it. Like you should write with some distribution strategy in mind for that content. Because what you often, what you often see is people writing content with no distribution. It’s like, you know, it’s, it’s then the content is nearly irrelevant. And so, like, I like to think about where is this going to be published and then use that to help me tailor the whole article.
Bronson: So like when you email a blog and say, Hey, I want a guest blog for you, do you wait for their go ahead before you really craft the blog post? So what you’re saying.
Walter:Yeah, that’s part of it. That could be part of it. But yeah, it’s it’s really like say, it’s really like say I’m going to write a blog post for my own blog and I have an idea about what it’s going to be about. Now, depending on whether it’s gonna be published on Lifehacker, say, or Business Insider and Business Insider, maybe it’ll focus more on describing management, you know, from take a management perspective, but say it is going to be published on Lifehacker, then it might take a more personal productivity angle. And so, like, I like to think these through, think these things through beforehand, because if you don’t, then you might be in a case where you spend a lot. The key is just to avoid a situation in which you invest a lot of time writing something and no one reads it like that sucks.
Bronson: Yeah, that’s great. The third one is drawing big guys. What do you mean by that? Who are the big guys and how you draw them in?
Walter:Yeah. So we’ve been we’ve been really lucky in building relationships with publications like Lifehacker, but also relationships with individuals like Dan Pink, who I don’t know if you know who he is, but he is a five time bestselling author on the changing world of work. And so we’ve been able to do and this is in part through content is like write interesting stories, attract sort of like a thought leadership style, like sort of like inbound interest from people like Dan Pink. And then we reach out to them and build a relationship with them. And then so later on they write about us, they publish our content, etc.. So he’s written about us several times and actually he decided to invest in our company, which was awesome. And so so that’s where I think it’s important to connect with influencers and build relationships with them.
Bronson: And then the fourth one is follow up. Who are you following up with? Everybody.
Walter:You’re following up with these these influencers. Yeah. And saying thank you for sharing and following up with anybody who’s willing to share your article. Because like, if you imagine some people, like if you ask someone the question like in a black box, like what is the purpose of content? You might get several different answers. And I would say that the primary purpose of content is to be shared. And so, like, if someone shares your content, you’ve got to say things like, you did that for free. Like you did. You know, you did something that I wanted you to do that I hoped you would do. And and I didn’t have to do anything. Imagine, like in the past, the notion of advertising is is the notion that I have to pay you to actually read my message, but you shared my message and I didn’t have to do anything like. That’s incredible, right? Yeah. So I would say it’s absolutely critical that you say thank you to those people because, like, they’re the lifeblood of what you’re trying to do.
Bronson: Yeah, and that’s great advice. Now, besides NBA marketing, have there been any other channels that you guys have tried that have performed? Have you tried pay per click? Have you tried, you know, fill in the blank, you know, affiliates, you know, incentives, anything else?
Walter:Yeah, I think we probably tried all and none of them worked, but I wouldn’t say that they don’t work. I would just say that there is I think the real problem is like when your attention is. So let me take a step back. I would say there are people who are really experienced doing certain things like doing like PPC or whatever, doing like a like viral channels or whatever. Like, you just heard my history. I don’t have experience in anything. So, like, so. So it’s not like when I. When I decide to spend half of my day or, like, 20 minutes out of my day trying to do AdWords, that I actually know what I’m doing. Like, in other words, like I’m splitting my time between something that I actually have no clue what I’m doing. So like, ultimately it just became a waste. It was, I think, more of a problem of focus than it was like really a problem of like the channel itself. And so I think most early stage companies can probably only really focus on one channel. And so, like, is a hard lesson to learn because like, I was like, oh man, we need virality, we need like advertising, we need like content. But and ultimately, like when you do multiple things, they all, they all struggle. And so like we decided to focus on hundred percent content.
Bronson: Yeah, that’s an awesome insight right there because the inverse is also true. The people doing pay per click and they know what they’re doing. They may not go to write a blog article to save their life. And I mean for them to do that and maybe wasting their time because they build inbound content, they don’t know the emotional triggers that work for a headline and all that stuff. And so it really just using what you have your disposal and not necessarily trying to be like someone else all the time. Is that right?
Walter:Yeah, absolutely. I think one. Mistake I always make. I always see people making it. You know, it’s like. Reading. Are you seeing an article? You know, one way I made $30,000 in 5 minutes, you know, it’s like, oh, god, I have to read that. And it’s like, oh, this is easy. It just takes five. And I’m like, Oh, I have to try that. And then I try it in. Like, I inevitably waste time and money easily distracted, you know? And so like ultimately I think, you know, the analogies between other companies often just fail and like you really need to find what works for you, you know, leverage and sort of leveraging other people’s knowledge, but really trying to think about it in the context of like your own product.
Bronson: Yeah, because if you can find one thing that works, that’s one more than most businesses have ever found.
Bronson: So yeah. Need to find ten necessarily right away, especially so to find one. That’s a good thing.
Walter:Yeah. If you find one, you should just like, you know, just like, praise Jesus. Like, that’s crazy.
Bronson: Really? Yeah, exactly. Now, as you look back on the journey of growing, I’d done this to where. Where’s that now? What have you learned most about growing a product? And I know you’ve already covered some of it, but anything we haven’t covered that you really take away is like, All right, I’m going to remember this about growing a product after going through this experience.
Walter:Yeah, I think that’s growing us. Yeah. I think that’s a that’s a really good question. I think it’s a really tough question because I think, you know, what you ultimately find and this is something I learned, like I used to do a lot of math and like you would find that like in math you think that, oh, it’s like honing your like, you know, reasoning abilities, like from an abstract standpoint. But really it’s learning a bunch of small tricks, you know, it’s like this is like that problem I saw before. Why employ this little trick, you know? And, and I actually find the growth of growing a product very similar. It’s like everyone, everyone is always talking about these, like, broad, overarching concepts. It’s like, you know, emotional triggers, you know, or like, you know, I don’t know, like sharing, you know, social media, I don’t know. But but what you find is it’s a lot of little tricks. And actually, I find that that’s that’s like one of the interesting parts, but also one of the difficult parts because as you hire, it’s hard to convey this to other people. It’s like a bunch of little tricks, like, why aren’t you doing this exactly the way I would do it? But it’s like a bunch of little stuff, like, how do you write an interesting headline? You know, for instance, in content it would be like, How do you write an interesting headline? How do you like write an introductory paragraph that’s interesting? Like how do you intersperse? Like, you know, like, you know, multimedia context? How do you get people to share that, you know, etc., etc., etc..
Bronson: Now, I love that idea right there because it really hits upon something that we talked about earlier. Have you had to do a lot of projects and fell a lot? But what you’re doing is you’re accumulating a lot of small tricks, but you never pull them together enough to make the whole thing work. But then when you get to the point that there’s a kind of a tipping point of the small tricks, you can really make something happen. And another thing is there’s this debate that I can kind of like feel starting to begin with in growth hacking. And it’s this idea of, okay, there’s the high level principles. On one side, it’s almost like the scientific method of growth hacking, which is awesome. You run things through an experiment, you have a hypothesis, you’re maybe testing whatever. And then the end result is this small trick that works. And then some people gravitate towards the small tricks and they ignore the scientific method that got there. And there’s, there’s a valid point on both sides. You need to understand the process that got people there in the first place and why we’re doing it. But then you also need to know just how to implement the small trick, even if you don’t understand all the high level concepts associated with it. And it’s somewhere in the middle there of understanding both that I think gives a growth hacker just a great arsenal pull from. But you can see people on both sides kind of throwing stones at the other sides. So it’s funny.
Walter:Yeah, I think that’s really interesting. And you know, Andrew, Andrew Andrew Chan has this interesting blog post which is like the law of shooting click through is which he makes a point which is like as soon as anyone knows a channel of acquisition that works, it’s going to get worse and worse. And so like so you constantly need to be like sort of it’s sort of the fun part, but the dorky part, which is like it’s always like you constantly need to be innovating new ways to grow because like, like you can see it with content now because content marketing is growing so much, there’s so much content out there is even harder to get people’s attention. And you know, like you could just measure, for instance, like in the amount of submissions to Hacker News needs to be like it’s really easy to get a front page of acronyms. You only need like three upvotes and like, you know, within a 30 minutes to an hour now you just it’s like crazy. That’s like just like a stream of content, constant stream. So, so yeah. I think, I think it’s interesting, you know, you want to learn these sort of like general principles at the same time you have it, you know, it’s like they’re irrelevant unless you’re actually applying them because. Because the you know, the tricks are changing constantly.
Bronson: Mm hmm. No, absolutely. That’s great. And, you know, it’s funny to think about inbound as a channel that’s getting saturated, but it’s like, you know, you look at your feed reader of choice and you can tell how many people are trying to use it as an inbound channel. You know, seven ways to do this, 13 ways to do this. Nine things I learned doing this. Like you can tell, the content marketer is taking the reins and just, you know, ruling the blogs. And you wonder, I don’t know if it’s going to last or not. I mean, we’ll see what happens. We’ll see how much content people can actually have. Before they reach a saturation point. Speaking of content again, yes, they wrote another blog post, which I thought was interesting, was talked about why your startup shouldn’t scale. And I want you to talk us through this a little bit. What do you mean when you say that a startup necessarily shouldn’t scale at some point?
Walter:Yeah, I think that you see a mistake that a lot of first time founders make, which is that startups are cool because they scale. Therefore, I must do stuff that scales. And you know, Paul Graham has his post recently where he says do stuff that doesn’t scale, but I actually think is stronger than that. It’s like you shouldn’t scale like like you. You actually shouldn’t scale until you know what you’re doing. And and you see, I’ve seen a few companies take this to an extreme. So in other words, like, if you imagine yourself in their shoes, you’re growing your monthly revenue really quickly and you’re I would have probably scaled the startup sooner because I’m an idiot, but these people like did it for a while. So I know two companies just personally company goes virtual that does personal assistants for virtual personal assistants for people and they for a year and a half built literally no technology. Well I don’t know if it’s literally but they built like no technology so their website, they just had a website and any time someone signed up it would send an email to like the CEO and she would have to spend like 45 minutes adding a new customer by like adding to certain spreadsheets and then like getting them hooked up to like their personal assistant, etc.. It was all manual and for a year and a half they didn’t build any technology on the backend. A year and a half. That’s crazy. I mean, long time. Yeah. Yeah. We’re talking about tens of thousands of revenue. And and eventually a few months ago, they announced they raised $2 million. And so that to me is an example of really sort of really trying to nail it before you scale it.
Bronson: Yeah. Now connect the dots for me really clearly. Why is that a good thing that they got an email and manually input stuff for 45 minutes? Talk to me about how that led to something good down the road. You know what I mean?
Walter:Yeah. So the CEO of Shopify, a guy named Toby Luke, who is like awesome. He told me something which I really resonated, which is like whenever you go to anyone for advice, everything they say is actually probably true. But it doesn’t matter. It’s not helpful because what’s most important is not what to do, but in what order to do things. And like, so it’s like, yeah, it’s obvious. You should, like, you know, I don’t know. I don’t even know. It’s like, obvious that you should build technology. At some point, the question is like when? And the order of operations really, really matters. And so, like, it’s it’s really important, I think, not to scale your technology, because the technology these days is rarely the biggest risk in your company. The real biggest risk is like building something that people don’t want and wasting time and energy and sort of, you know, emotional energy doing so and so. That’s why it’s so vital to, like, really nail what people want and figure it out before you build the technology.
Bronson: Yeah, I like what you just said about the order of operations because I think about that with growth, Apple TV, for instance, that’s my latest project and there’s a lot of things on my to do list and there’s a lot of things on my done list, but when they get moved from one list to the other makes all the difference because there’s things I just I’m not going to do yet, not because they’re not important, not because they’re not true things that need to be done just because we don’t have the resources. And it’s not the biggest win. I don’t have leverage there yet. And so my question to you, though, is, how do you know the order of operations for your business? Because I think of myself personally and it’s almost like it’s just in me. Like I just know because of past experience, what order do things end? So I can, you know, navigate the environment. I can tell the team members what’s up today and this week and this month. Is there any better method? Am I doing wrong or is it really just you have to get to where you know it?
Walter:Yeah, that’s a really hard question. I would say I you’re probably better than I am. I totally suck. We, you know, so like I’m terrible at it. And I find that the more even so, like there’s a company called Wistia that does video hosting for businesses. They’re awesome. They make a ton of money. And the CTO and co founder, a guy named Brendan, told us, told me that you should know the way to deal with this problem is do ten x thinking, one x doing okay. And so I don’t know if I’ve only been doing five x thinking, but I but he said even given ten x thinking, it’s still really hard to figure out how to, you know, what order to.
Bronson: Break that quote down, what is ten x thinking and what X doing because it sounds so good, but I don’t think that means it.
Walter:Right, right, right. And I don’t know. So, I mean, for every save for every minute of doing that, you plan on doing you should have been thinking about it for 10 minutes. Okay. And so, like the ratio of thinking, there should be an order of magnitude more thinking than there is doing. But, you know, and I take that advice and I try to like I like recently we did something where we did this change in the way we like to credit cards. And I did some math on it based on and I took estimates from different data points. Like, I feel like I did it all right, you know, and and when it was done, I was like, oh, my God, why did I do this? And I was like, this is not the right order. And so, like, I don’t know, man, it’s one of my biggest struggles right now, and I think I suck at it. But I would say that identifying the problem at least is something that that has been helpful kind of. And so I think I was sort of bring it to your attention as someone who’s trying to grow something like, hey, this is really important. Maybe this is a reason why you’re not succeeding. But I would say, like, if you if you took the next step and were like, okay, so what can I do? I’d be like, okay, I’m going to stop you right there. I don’t know. I suck on this.
Bronson: No. Yeah. Thanks for your honesty. It’s a hard problem. Know what to do next. And like you said, if order of operation matters that much, then just knowing that could be the difference in winning or losing. But obviously we’re all still losing a lot, so we haven’t figured out the order of operations completely. So I think right now is I done this transition from a side project to a full blown business. Was it hard for you to make that transition that things have to change in kind of the way you conceptualized it or thought about it or approached it?
Walter:I would say not really. I actually like that and I like I like making money, you know, and I like having some concrete way to, you know, like in the way that, like, people are happy, customers are happy and they’re paying you like, that’s awesome. So I, I, I sort of, I don’t know, I, I never thought I would run a business. And I actually thought it was like in my naive startup days, I was like, Oh yeah, it might be possible that I could build a product that could get 10 million users or something like that, you know? But I never thought, Oh, I could build a product in which I was making $10 million. Like I thought actually that was much harder. And, but I found the transition to be kind of easy and gratifying because it’s like, because like with when you just, for instance, when you don’t, when you’re building a side product or when you’re building just a regular consumer product, it’s hard to really nail down what you’re trying to grow, the metric you’re trying to grow. It’s like I’m I’m measuring the number of logins or something like that or, you know, like the number of, you know, discrete actions. And I’m doing it on a weekly, monthly, yearly, you know, number of percentage of user base on a weekly, monthly, etc. is like and there’s always questions like, why is. Right engagement metric and like what happens when you break it down by cohort, blah, blah, blah. And that’s all true for money. That’s all true when you have a real business. Nevertheless, at least you’re making money. In other words, like, okay, okay. You know, it’s like, okay, yes, the engagement is this the blah, blah, blah. But like, how much money am I making? You know, it’s like there’s a much more concrete way to to identify what the key metric is and then grow that metric. And I think that actually really helps with growth.
Bronson: Yeah, no, absolutely. I’m glad you said that, because if I even build, you know, the backend analytics panel for my projects, the first block of analytic on all of them is how much money we made and how much money we’re making and how much money we’re going to make. Right. Right. Those are the numbers that matter to me because, you know, retention is really important. But if I make more money next month than last month, you know, I’ll get over whatever their attention is. You know, other, you know, metrics matter. But if I make more money next month than last month, like, I’ll get over it. I’ll figure out a way through it that’s not going to end things for me. And so you’re right. I mean, in of the day, a business is about making money. And as a growth actor, if we get too caught up on analytics for the sake of analytics, they’re kind of missing the point of what we’re doing in some sense, I think. Yeah, so I like that. Now, concerning the product itself, you guys, it seems, have kept things very simple and lightweight. As I think about the product and how it works. Is that on purpose? And if it is, why do you lean toward kind of simplicity with your products?
Walter:Yeah, I think, you know, simplicity is something I like. So I think it’s important. I think, you know, if you look at the sort of market of SAS products, I guess what you see in general is like, you know, trending towards simplicity, training towards solving a single problem like really easily and well. And so I think so it’s part of some important trends, I think. And I think in general it’s just the kind of tool that I want to use. So I think that’s why, you know, we want to ultimately it’s really important to build something that we ourselves use and like find really useful. And so I think that’s simple answer to that.
Bronson: Yeah. Do you think people like it or love it more when it’s simple in your experience?
Walter:Yeah, I think so. You know, I yeah, I really do. You know, see, I can’t. It’s hard to tell, because it’s hard to, like, take ourselves out of this, like the current, you know, design paradigm that, like, say, Apple’s put us in or whatever, you know, right? It’s like, you know, very simple, elegant products or whatever. But as someone who is, you know, you can imagine being like someone who lives in like Japan or something and looking at, you know, and preferring to see like websites with animated gifs and joking like, I don’t know, you know, and then being like, Oh, this is like the way the product should be designed. Like so. But I would say, like I do think, yeah, I think, I think simplicity sort of has a few things. One, it’s something that I want to use and to actually it’s, it’s focus on like a it helps you focus on like doing things that don’t scale, like really just building a simple product that does like a single thing and then figuring out where to go from there. So I think it’s like much easier to like, you know, deliberately think about what features are useful and then add them slowly rather than like building a bunch of random joke, a bunch of which that sucks and then like taking it off.
Bronson: So I MVP and simplicity kind of go hand in hand, maybe for different reasons, but they kind of have the same result in that they work because it’s hard to have an MVP. That’s super complicated. It’s hard to pivot quick when things are super complicated. It’s hard to know what feedback to focus on when things are super complicated. Yeah. So maybe you’re doing it for static reasons, maybe you don’t for MVP reasons. Maybe you’re doing it because people enjoy it because of the context of them with Apple’s brainwashing, you know, I think it works personally.
Walter:Yeah, no, it’s actually true, too. And it’s not just simplicity of like the way the product works, but also simplicity of code, you know, and that goes to like the your ability to iterate and you know, it’s like, is the code simple? Like is logic simple? Is everything simple like simplicity through the front, from the front, through the back, you know. So yeah, I think it, I think it actually does really help with just like the process of building.
Bronson: Yeah. And when you guys I’ve seen you stayed on online before that when you make decisions for the product, you base it on three or four things you based on feedback and data, social science and your gut.
Bronson: So tell me about that mixture a little bit. How do you make product decisions based on those kinds of things?
Walter:Yeah, so I think it’s it’s, you know, it’s it’s hard. It’s everyone says talk to your customers like, you know, and build something that you want and then like, you know, it’s like, yeah, it’s just like all these different considerations. So it’s basically just like, how do we and I don’t think anyone, you know, and I don’t think of it as I try to even think of it in a scientific way, like how to like mash feedback together and like turn it into product. I was sort of just like sort of enumerate the broad spectrum of potential influences and then sort of like and then say like there’s this indescribable, you know, then then there’s the things that you can’t describe that drives the product. And it’s like, you know, and then ultimately, like, the product is just like some miracle, you know, it’s like a miracle in itself. It’s like birthed from some place, you know, then it’s like a mishmash of like a bunch of different stuff. So that’s sort of like that’s sort of the attempt to articulate that idea.
Bronson: So it’s more an attempt to say what not to do. Like you can’t just listen to customers and you can’t, yeah.
Bronson: Them gut. You can’t just look at the data because any of those alone could lead you to a very dark place. Right?
Walter:Right. Actually, that’s a really interesting point. So yeah, I would agree with that. And you know, it’s interesting, I think that with there’s sort of like and you see this to this tension, it’s always like, you know, growth hacking is about the arbitrary, you know, focus of like making making numbers grow. It’s not about like making great products, you know, and then like, oh, but like you can make a great product. You can’t just build it and expect people to come. You have to like, you know, it’s always like, like, like, you know, these like two sort of warring camps. And and I think it’s, you know, it’s always, you know, it’s just like unhelpful, but like, it’s obviously just a mash, you know, it’s a matter mashup of the two. Like sometimes you have to, like really focus on growing a metric and then sometimes you need to focus on like what is the core and the soul, the sort of ineffable soul of what I’m trying to do this like.
Bronson: That’s great. Now you guys have chosen a price point. I think I have this right. A $5 a person. Did you guys arrive there through intuition, gut data, social science? What was it that got you guys? Yeah, because a lot that’s interesting about how people priced their offering, you know?
Walter:Yeah, yeah, that’s a good example. So I would say that we priced at a $3 a user based on gut and then we raised it to $5 and we tested it and people were willing to pay it. And so we said. Let’s keep it at five. Based on data, data told us that like, five was good and but data didn’t tell us that five is the best ten it was just the five was okay and that we were more than three. And so like and then, you know, and then the question is like, what’s the best? Well, we don’t know what the best is because we haven’t invested time into it because we think that we can. We think based on our gut that we could, that it’s more important now to sort of grow the overall trajectory of the product rather than optimize on a single number. So so that’s sort of like a good example of how and I don’t know if we’re doing it right, but that’s sort of like a good example of how we’re sort of like trying to figure that out based on, like, a mishmash, a bunch of random junk.
Bronson: Yeah. You know, I like how honest you’ve been in this interview because it really exposes the truth about growing products, is that we know very little. We try things, we learn things from other people. We get advice, we fail, we grow, we do something that’s right. We stumble upon something and really like that’s the life of a lot of nerds is you keep moving and you acquire little bits as you go. But it is not this super calculated thing that sometimes the end result of Oracle makes it look like it was right.
Walter:Right, right, right. And that actually is a funny tie in back because this sort of notion of content, because content always makes things seem better than they actually are because they have to have a narrative. You know, the narrative is, you know, rarely so simple. I think I would the one thing I’d add to what you just said is that I found it really useful to have, I don’t know, mentors, but people you really trust, people you really trust on your product and people you really feel like you can talk to who who are really thoughtful, smart people. So for me, I know the guys at a Leo Goodrich, the founder of Buffer, I know really well. And he’s been like a really big he’s like a genius when it comes to content, so. Right. Yeah. Yeah. And then guys like Chris Savage, who’s the CEO of Wistia, he’s just been amazing sort of guide to support our company and like finding these customers that you really trust and people you really trust who can help you think through. Some of these things I think is, is like really surrounding yourself with a cohort. People that like are awesome, you know, that you think allies are great people, that you know, that you’re working together figure out. I think that’s that’s like really key. So like, for instance, like Greg colada or shallot. Yeah. Screwing is that. But the chief marketing officer at Help Scout.
Bronson: Yeah, that’s psychology stuff.
Walter:Yeah, he’s blowing up. He’s the one who introduced us so like. Oh, that’s right. Yeah. So, you know, that’s just another example of like, how, you know, I got to go attack TV because not because I’m the greatest growth hacker in the world. In part, that’s because that’s part of the reason. But the other part is because of like we I’ve surrounded myself with people and, you know, people awesome people like Greg who are really good at this like far, you know, really good.
Bronson: Yeah, absolutely. And I’m sure Greg was probably introduced to us by somebody else, I think, who does psychology book and thought it was one of the greatest things they should an email and that’s the way this world works so networking it still matters as much as now things are done with viral loops and things. Just knowing people, it still is very effective. Well, Walter, this has been an incredible interview. I mean, there’s been so many insights here. I think this is going to have probably one of the most quotable tweetable interviews that we’ve had because of all the little one liners. But let me end with this question. What’s the best advice that you have for any startup is trying to grow? And I know you don’t know the specifics of their situation. I mean, it has to be high level and vague, but what’s the best advice you have for them?
Walter:Yeah. Yeah. I think the best advice I always talk to people about when people ask me for my advice, I guess the questions I always ask back are centered around what’s unique about them and what’s unique about their value proposition, what’s unique about what they’re doing. Because the thing that’s unique about what you’re doing, I think, is going to drive everything you do, whether it’s going to be what your content is about, you know, and it’s going to be the thing that the thing that the reason why people are going to share you with somebody else, like if it’s virality, that’s your main growth thing. So I really focus, I really say reflect a lot personally and within your company about what it is that’s actually interesting and special about what you’re doing. And that’s going to drive like I think that’s going to drive how you grow at least. Yeah. So super high level and vague, but I really think that that’s incredibly, incredibly important. And I, you know, I use the word incredibly to sort of reinforce how important.
Bronson: Yeah. And I can reflect that even in your own products when I done this, you know, landing page, you know, it’s all about what’s unique about I done this, how it’s not to do list. It’s a done list. It isn’t something you have to learn. There’s not a steep learning curve. If you know how to use email, you know how to use it already. There’s all these things you do to kind of reinforce what’s unique about your all’s offering. And so just, you know, if you just skim the home page, you’re going to walk away with an A place for I done this to live in your mind because you understand it’s unique in the offerings. Yeah. So I think you’re following your own advice.
Walter:Yeah. You got to tell your own story. You know, like, I really think that’s like, yeah, you got to like, yeah, at least that’s from a content perspective. But yeah, you got to tell it whether through your product or whether through words, whatever. But yeah.
Bronson: Yeah, absolutely. It’s been a great interview. Thanks again for coming on growth out of TV.
Walter:All right. Thanks, man. I appreciate it.
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