Rob has been building web applications professionally for 12 years, and has worked as a consultant, a freelance developer, the development manager for the City of Pasadena, and a team lead for the world as largest prepaid credit card company. Rob lives and works in Fresno, California.
TOPIC ROB COVERS
- He is the founder of a conference
- He has been building web applications professionally for 12 years
- He has worked as a consultant, a freelance developer, and the development manager for the City of Pasadena
- He runs an online school
- He has written a book
- He hosts a podcast
- He has one of the most popular blogs related to startups
- He does not work as much as people think and he works on one thing at a time
- He uses contractors to help him out
- The growth patterns of the products vary and are not always predictable
- He owned and operated between 15-20 software products over the past 10 years
- And a whole lot more
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READ THE TRANSCRIPTION
Bronson: Welcome to another episode of Growth Hacker TV. I’m Bronson Taylor and today I have Rob Walling with us. Rob, thank you so much for coming on the program.
Rob: Yeah, thanks for inviting me.
Bronson: Absolutely. I have to admit, I’m a big fan of yours. I follow what you do online. I listen to the podcast pretty religiously. But for people that maybe don’t know you as well, let me run through a list of some of the many things you’re involved with. It’s actually hard to know where to start because you do so much. You’ve developed and grown multiple software products. You’re the founder of a conference. You have an online school that you run. You’ve written a book. You hosted a great podcast. And you have one of the most popular blogs related to startups on the Internet. Does that about sum it up?
Rob: Yeah, that’s a pretty good, pretty good summary here.
Bronson: You haven’t slept in, what, five, six, seven years?
Rob: Yeah. You know, I. I actually don’t work as much as a lot of people think. To be honest, I work. I don’t even work full time now, so.
Bronson: So you’re smart?
Rob: I do. I have a lot of I’ve worked on these things one at a time. And, you know, I don’t tackle too much at any given time. And then I have contractors who help me out.
Bronson: Well, then I definitely want to know what you know. So I’m glad to have you on the program. So let’s let’s start with your software products. Tell us about some of the because you’ve done a lot of products. Tell us about some of the products that you currently kind of own and operate.
Rob: Sure. Yeah, I have over the past ten years, I’ve probably owned somewhere between 15 and 20 different software products. Some of them I built myself and then, you know, they wouldn’t work out and I’d shut them down. Others I have acquired from their previous owners. Once I learned how to market. It became a natural fit to then acquire it from people who had put in the hard work of building it. And if I could just add, the marketing in is like a shortcut to, to a profitable product. So maybe I’ll start. I have five that I kind of have on my website right now that the website is that new, my group dotcom and that lists all five of my software apps that I really public about and then kind of my teaching side of things. And so in terms of software products, I have a couple that are. Well, there’s one called Wedding Toolbox, and it’s a SAS app that helps. It’s a wedding website builder for consumers. And it’s it’s it’s an okay app. It’s not something I’m particularly excited about, but it was something I acquired. And selling to consumers is tough. That’ll be I don’t know if I’ll come back to that or not, but it’s not something I do again. Then I have a job board for electricians is called apprentice lineman jobs dot com and again it’s a nice niche it’s profitable but it’s like I’m not excited about it and it’s not something. It’s dealing mostly with consumers, so it’s like the pricing is really low. Then I have dot net voice, which is it’s web based software written in dot net that helps people invoice. It runs on a server. They download and install it on theirs. It was my first larger success. They got into the multiple thousands a month in revenue, but it it’s not a SAS app, so there’s not recurring revenue. And I learned the lesson from that. I will never do a non subscription app again ever. I just mark my words, you know, it it’s just so hard to grow software, it’s hard to grow a business without subscriptions. And so the last two are what I’ve been focusing on for about the past 20 months. HitTail hit Telecom, I acquired it about 20 months ago and I’ve since grown it, I’ve rehabbed it and redesigned it and then grown it about I think it’s about 15 acts, what it was when I acquired it, 15 to 17 somewhere in there. And then the last one is drip and it’s that’s I get trip.com and it’s an email marketing app highly focuses on like mini courses and auto responders and sequences and it tracks a lot of metrics and stuff that that MailChimp and others don’t. And so Drip launches right now we are using it internally and we have customer number one is set to be installed this week and so we’re basically doing customer development on it. Yeah. Building from scratch and set to launch here in the next month or two.
Bronson: Yeah. You know what’s so encouraging with what you just said is that because you’re so good at marketing, you can acquire a product and make it a success. It just shows really the importance of of growth and how it’s achievable. It’s possible. It’s not this mystical thing that can’t be done. You do it repeatedly. So that’s great. Now, given that you’ve seen kind of so many products, you know, the 15 or 20 or so that you’ve done in the last ten years, do they follow predictable growth patterns? You know, do they all kind of look the same like the first few months looks like this and then it looks like that? Or is it just all over the map? They all grow and sporadic, crazy. Who knew that was going to happen? Kind of was.
Rob: There? There are definitely patterns and that’s what that’s what I’ve found looking at all these apps, you know, is that, is that there are these recurring patterns. Um, some of the patterns are that, that I realize at a certain point the app is never going to grow like it’s never going to scale up. And I saw that with dot net invoice as an example and I kept trying to figure out why. And then it’s like, well, of course it’s not subscriptions we start started $0 in sales on the first of every month. And so that pattern led me to say, All right, I’m going to fix it. By now only doing subscription apps and so basically backing into a business model. I don’t do B2C anymore because I’ve had B2C apps and they’re a pain. There’s a lot of support you can’t charge very much. They’re harder to market. Like there’s just all these reasons. And so I don’t do B2C. So that’s so what if you back into a business model and you really go after more like subscription B2B puts some other factors in place then yes, there is a predictable growth pattern, it’s repeatable and it’s a process. And I, I applied it to HitTail and grew it like I just said. And then I have almost the identical basically game plan that I’m going to be applying to Drip when we launch in two months. And so there’s, there’s basically three phases to the growth, there’s the build, there’s the learning and there’s the scaling. The building is when you’re actually writing the code or in case of HitTail I acquired it and rerecorded it. So you know, rewriting code and redesigning and such. And then the learning is once you get a customer involved, so you could still be doing a little coding if you’re doing customer development stuff. But with like with HitTail, the first five months was building, the next six months for me was learning and I didn’t, I mean it was like a flat revenue curve during that time and I was quite frustrated because I kept wanting to grow. It took me about five or six months to learn who my customers were, where I could find them, how much I was able to pay for them, what my churn would be, what my lifetime value was. And then once I figured all that out, it’s like a switch flipped and you see the revenue curve, it, it literally just hockey sticks up. And that’s where all the growth happened in like the next nine months. The first 11 months were spent building learning and the next nine months was was spent scaling. And so that’s that’s the growth pattern that I see. And of course, there are tactics and such, you know, at a lower level than that.
Bronson: Yeah, absolutely. It’s so encouraging to hear that. Talk to me about that middle section, that learning section, because I mean, that’s that’s the that’s the secret sauce if there is one, right? Yeah, I know the build a lot of people can build. A lot of people can acquire. You know, that’s what you learn how to do in a bachelor’s degree. The learning, that’s what people don’t know how to do. So when you have HitTail, you’re frustrated, you don’t know your customer, you don’t know your market, you don’t know how to reach them yet. What are you doing? What does the playbook look like to learn at that point in time?
Rob: Yeah, the key to the learning phase that I’ve I’ve picked up is that you have to do a lot of things that don’t scale at all. You premature scaling, screw you here because you have to do so. Let me give examples of some things I did that did not scale at all, but that I learned a lot from. Yeah. The first thing you do I think of it is concentric circles. So concentric circle marketing, you might call it, although that’s kind of a lame term. But the first thing I did was I went to my audience, so I went to my Twitter people, my people on Facebook. I blogged about it. I mentioned it on our podcast, I emailed my mailing list, and that resulted in it going to the top of Hacker News so that all that stuff was not scalable. None of that will bring me customers past next week, you know, because it’s all this spike and it took a lot of time to do that. But I started getting people to use the app and I started to to learn how they were using it. Who canceled? How many of them canceled, why they canceled. And I started learning, oh, certain people who, you know, let’s just say, like people who have SAS apps who want to hit deals like tool that suggest keywords, right? So people who have SAS apps or software products are more than willing to pay ten or 20 bucks a month for these keyword suggestions. People who are like blogging for other reasons were less likely to pay for it. And so right away. All right, boom, I learned something. Next thing I did is I moved out one concentric circle to other people’s audience, but it’s people who I know. So I know some bloggers. I know some podcasters. I know, you know, just people in kind of in the media, right. Or in our world of the media. And so I went and did some guest posts. I did a podcast tour where I went on ten different podcasts. And again, I was watching the traffic that came from Hansel minutes. Did it convert as well as the traffic that came from Internet business mastery or you know, there’s one called Internet marketing that’s all about SEO. And I watched that and I started learning, all right. And I kind of had a hypothesis, right? I mean, you know, I’m not stupid, but it’s like I bet handsomeness is not going to convert very well because it’s a lot of developers, whereas internet marketing is all about SEO. And so I started learning that and you expand out. And then I did the guest post on blogs. I did people I didn’t know. And all during that time I was also I had Google Alerts going right where it’s like you’re monitoring people, mentioning long tail keywords, the stuff, answering questions on Quora and blogs. None of this scales. You cannot scale a business, but that’s not the point here. And I spent six months basically doing this, but I learned you learn an enormous amount who signs up what they want, why they cancel all that kind of stuff.
Bronson: So you learn all that stuff and it’s not scalable. So then how do you make it scalable? Because that’s the goal. The goal is to get the hockey stick to where it actually is, doing what it does without your input. So that’s.
Bronson: Cross that chasm because some people, a lot of people don’t learn anything. But even the ones that learn, they still got to make it repeatable.
Rob: That’s right. That’s right. So after the learning, there’s this transition period where and it was even during the. I really worked on the funnel that the marketing funnel so that because if you’re bleeding everybody out of your funnel, then you can’t scale because you just you’re going to pour money in and it’s just going to bleed out the bottom, right? So during that time, I was watching conversions, watching how many people visited, started profiles and how many people went from trial to paid and then how many people didn’t cancel, right? How many people didn’t churn? And that number. Those numbers were atrocious for the for the first three months of that. And so I went in and did something called Operation Retention, where I emailed everybody who canceled and I figured out why they canceled. And, and we fixed all those issues. And it was a little things like educating them more during the trial sequence. It was offering a down sell option when they cancel, it was offering to take things off of their to do list like HitTail gives you keywords and it kind of makes you feel guilty because you’re like, well now I have to something to do, right? So meaning like create some content around it. So we offer like a one click article service now where you click, you get an article in a few days and we actually remove that item from your to do list because you’ve now you paid us a little more, but you now are actually getting value from the product. So it was things like that. There are about nine or ten things we did and churn cut in half our trial, the paid doubled. You know, that’s a4x switch right there. That is when I knew we were ready to scale. So once I did that, then I started looking at scalable marketing channels and a few of them are SEO. SEO is a great scalable marketing channel paid acquisition, right? Buying ads, I mean, through AdWords, LinkedIn ads, Facebook ads, buy, sell ads. I tried 12 different networks. The four that I just mentioned are the four best that I know for B2B apps. Then their content marketing, which is fantastic. If you want to see great examples of people who know how to content marketing, look at KISSmetrics, look at Crazy Egg, look at bid sketch. Who are you interviewed? Ruben Gomez the other day. Fantastic content marketer. Those are the big three. There’s another one called Integration Marketing that I that I do, which is, you know, you create you integrate with other people, Basecamp, high rise, MailChimp, HubSpot, you know, build a WordPress plugin. Those are I won’t say they’re not infinitely scalable, but they can bring a lot of of new users. So that’s kind of the game plan. And in a nutshell, that’s a high level view of it, but that’s the game plan that grew HitTail and that’s game plan I’m going to apply to Drip.
Bronson: Yeah. And in case people aren’t aware of this, you just put on a clinic on how to grow a product.
Rob: Yeah, that was to go.
Bronson: Back and listen to the last 10 minutes until every sentence of it makes 100%, you know, sense, because that is the game plan. I mean, that is what works. And you can do that repeatedly. You can learn, you can scale, you can grow, you can do those kind of things. Now, what do you think about in terms of when you start this marketing process? Do you need the product out there live out of beta? Do you start it kind of the pre launch way before? When do you begin the learning? When do you begin the scaling? All those kind of things.
Rob: So I believe in marketing before you start writing a line of code because it’s so easy, especially if you’re a developer listening to this. We, I mean, I’m a coder, I’ve been coding since I was a kid and our our inclination is always to build. We want to build, we want to create. And so I tried to actually squash that itch because that’s a natural thing I fall into. Most of us do. And so I believe in the first thing you do is you get a landing page up with an email capture form in a one or two sentence value proposition. I’ve done this for a number of products, including a book, you know, my book before I wrote a line in my book, I had a landing page before we launched our conference MicroConf we had a landing page, we hadn’t even booked a venue. We had four speakers signed on and we put up a landing page and we said How many people are going to give us the emails? Because if only 50, well then we’re not going to run the conference because it’s expensive. And I’d done it with Drip, you know as well, there’s a landing page up at Trip.com right now that has you know, I’ve collected 1300 email addresses and I believe that you need to do that. You need to get some validation before you invest the months of time. Now, beyond that, I’ve taken it a step further with Drip. Specifically, I would not. I had a developer who was working for me almost full time at the time, and I said, You will not write a line of code until I have ten people who have agreed to pay me $99 a month for what I for Drip. So I emailed 17 different founders and some were SAS, some were software. I emailed some kind of information marketer type people, and really quickly I could see the pattern of who. Like already I learned we didn’t write a lot of code, but I was getting the learning out of the way. So yes, I wholeheartedly believe if you don’t have a launch list of several hundred emails, you have made a wrong turn somewhere.
Bronson: So, no, you’re absolutely right. I mean, you know, even with the launch of Growth Hacker TV, I mean, that list has been so invaluable. Those thousands of people that told us ahead of time before I ever did an interview that they would watch interviews, you know, and, you know, they’re the ones that were, you know, working with right now. Now, what do you think about launch dates when you pick a date and you create buzz around it? It’s kind of the date that the product is going to go live. Some people love them. Some people hate on kind of where do you land on it?
Rob: I don’t. Like specific launch dates, like June 23rd, you know, an arbitrary day. What I will do, though, is first, I will I will I do a bunch of mini launches, I guess you could call it. So with with drip, drip, as an example, a bunch of times, just because I’m right in the middle of it. And so it’s perfect. It applies to this. So with Drip, about three and a half weeks ago, we installed Drip itself on HitTail like we are dogfood again, right? So we are customer zero and we launched to ourselves and we worked out some bugs, worked out some usability stuff. Then I start going down my list. I now have 16 on that early access list. I said I want to ten before we started. Well since then we’ve added six because people want one in, you know, which is a good sign in my opinion. So now we’re adding one a week or two a week and we’re basically launching individually to each of them or contacting the email hand-holding we actually get on a Google Hangout. You know, it’s very it’s customer dev and we’re implementing stuff that they need. Then I will have that early bird launch, which is the 1350 emails that I have right now, and that will be a particular date that I’ve set up in advance. But I’ll basically send a sequence of maybe three emails talking about drip, talking about why they’re on the list, what they were going to get out of it, letting them know that they’re going to get a discount if they sign up within the first year, probably 3 to 5 days, and then after that they won’t get a discount. And so basically it is a launch, but it’s not a launch in terms of we don’t launch to everybody at once because I want to learn along the way. I want to learn from those first 16. Then I want to go through another learning phase with those 1300 to figure out who signs up, what I, what they need. You know that as soon as I get even 50 people in there who I haven’t intimately talked with, we’re going have a slew of feature. I said, I want to get those done before I then launch to the world. So I will have a launch date eventually a public one where I do blog about it, try to get on Hacker News and TechCrunch and all this other stuff, but that is almost like we should have several thousand dollars in revenue before we ever hit that point. You know, and I’ll.
Bronson: Be I love that quote.
Bronson: We should have several thousand in revenue before we launch.
Rob: Yeah, exactly. That’s true. Yeah.
Bronson: Now, that’s so bizarre because most people, the months after launch, they don’t have several thousand in revenue. Right. And so to have it before launch is so awesome. I love that I can ask you this next question because you’ve been so successful, you know, you can handle it. What have been some of the biggest mistakes you’ve made with marketing some of your products? Because I know you’ve learned a lot just by trial and error.
Rob: Oh, yeah, no, absolutely. How that list that we could go on, we could have the whole interview just on mistakes. But early so early on this is 2000 to 2003. I was. Mistakes I made were things like not doing the everything I’ve just said. I didn’t do any of that right. I learned that over. So I didn’t do landing pages. I didn’t know you could validate beforehand. I went after B2C markets. I thought you had to raise funding in order to launch its offer product. And I kept thinking like, Well, no one’s doing what I’m doing, but there are a lot of us doing this. It’s like it’s totally viable. I thought every idea had to be a moonshot, a lottery ticket, right? I’m going to build, you know, Facebook for this or I’m going to build a, you know, Digg for that, which is what I built. At some point. I it never occurred to me, Oh, I’m just going to build an interesting idea that helps people and that they’re willing to pay money for because no one was talking about it, you know, there wasn’t the community. So those are I mean on and I went to which I won’t do again I went nonrecurring. These are all mistakes that that I learned.
Bronson: Yeah. It’s so great hearing you go through that list because I feel like I’ve gone through that list myself and I didn’t learn the mistakes from you, but just my own trial and error that now if it’s not recurring, I don’t want to have anything to do with it, you know, those kind of things. Now, you wrote a book called Stay Small or Start Small, Stay Small. What do you mean by that? How do your companies, your products start small and stay small?
Rob: Yeah, I the start small is all about starting with just yourself and no funding and just making it happen, not asking anyone for permission, not asking anyone to give you money or to approve a business plan, or for you to even have to figure out a pitch that you can start that small and started a few hundred bucks a month in revenue or 50 bucks a month in revenue and build from there. The stay small is implies you don’t have to hire a bunch of employees to make this work. Up until maybe 60, 90 days ago, I had zero employees. I was my only employee and I had up to eight contractors, eight or nine working for me in any given month, doing all types of stuff, designed development, virtual assistant, tier one, email support, you know, anything, anything you can imagine. I actually hired my first employee, but only he was a full time contractor for me for six months. He wanted to buy a house and he was 1099 and they wouldn’t give him a loan. So I said, Well, we’ll just W2. So it’s really an arbitrary thing, right? He’s he’s as much of an employee as he was, you know, then. So but that’s I don’t I just don’t want people to buy into this myth of you have to grow headcount, you know, like I have to in order to have a, you know, a multi six figure business or a seven figure business, you don’t need that many people. You can you can stay small and keep. Life style all say I know life sounds a little bit of a dry like some people call it derogatory thing. But, you know, I have two kids. I teach one of my kids a couple of days a week, like I work less than full time. And so I’m just a wholehearted believer that if you want to both enjoy your business, you can start small and and keep it focused around, you know, around helping your customers, but also around keeping a sane lifestyle, you know?
Bronson: Yeah, that’s great. You know, the valley needs more balance, so it’s good to hear that kind of that kind of input. Now you have a strong personal brand online, you know, software by Rom-Com, you know, has a ton of readers. Your podcast, like I said, I listen to it. It’s really good content, which is why I listen to it. I learn a lot. But how important has your audience been to the success of your products? And the reason I ask is this because some people watch this might say, well, if I had that kind of audience, then I could launch products like that. You know, they might, you know, give themselves out like that. But maybe that’s the truth. Maybe they actually do need an audience to do what you’ve done. How do you see it?
Rob: So the number of of people in my personal brand audience who have signed up for HitTail is in the tens. It is a minuscule amount. It is the rounding error to my revenue. The growth engines that have grown HitTail have had nothing to do. No people have no idea who I am. That sign of retail. Jason Cohen did a talk just go on of a smart bear and WP engine. He talked at MicroConf two weeks ago in Vegas and he said that he got two sign ups from his blog when he started WP Engine Two customers. That’s been my experience as well. Now there are no I have products, so I have a book that’s about starting a startup that is all about my personal brand, right, that I sell because of all the stuff of my podcast and the blog. We have the micro Preneur Academy that you mentioned, you know, the online startup school that of course would never run without the podcast and the blog and same with MicroConf, but those are things that I do. I’ll say more for fun. I make more money from my apps than I do right from the education stuff. So in terms of just building and growing an app, I would not. If you don’t have an audience, I would not spend the time to like spend three years or five years to build some kind of audience. It’s I’ll say it’s that’s a that’s a weak excuse. You know, I’m saying go out and do it now. But there are also I mean, I’ll say that with a caveat. I’ve also seen people do it pretty well, like Brendan done, has an audience of freelancers because he has a newsletter and he has some ebooks that he put out and then he has a SAS app that caters to them. That’s a pretty cool way to go, but but don’t feel like you have to get all that in place before you start, right? You can you can do just an app and grow it like HitTail has not ran is essentially doing content marketing, right. He has a funnel of an email to a email newsletter to books, to then the SAS app. HitTail doesn’t have that. I just haven’t done content. Marketing has not been one of the growth engines.
Bronson: So yeah. Oh that’s that’s great to hear. Kind of how that works together, you know, growth out of TV. I initially had a blog on it and I was like, Yeah, I’m going to post on a new content and I will someday because I think it’s important. Honestly, I said, okay, take it. I’ll put up a Twitter link. Like, right now, Twitter is going to be our content marketing just because there’s there’s too much time that I’m spending doing other things that are better growth channels for right now and labor content is going to work its way, you know. So I like that a lot. Now, you mentioned the Micro Preneur Academy. Tell us about that a little bit. One of the many things you do, you run an online school.
Rob: Yeah. Yeah. So that’s at micro preneur dot com. And basically, it’s it’s just a it’s like an online membership website. I mean, it’s a monthly you pay monthly fee, it’s 50 bucks a month and it has both content in there. Like it’s kind of Mike and I, if you listen to podcasts, our podcast is called Start UPS for the Rest of US. And Mike and I have created a bunch of content. It’s more tactical, it’s more in-depth, and you get access to new content each month. And so that’s kind of our where we teach more in-depth stuff that you kind of can’t go into on a podcast. So in addition to, you know, I don’t know, there’s almost ten books worth of content in there. So what it amounts to, it’s like hundreds of thousands of words. It’s about 10 hours of video screencast and that kind of stuff is about 50, 60 hours of audio. And then yeah, there’s about 12 months worth of content and if you hang around for 12 months, you get grandfathered in and you just have perpetual access or you can buy the whole, you know, the whole shebang for 500 bucks upfront. Yeah. And then there’s the other side of it is a forum. It’s the community. And that’s the perhaps probably the most worthwhile part of it is that there are a bunch of people in there doing exactly what I’m talking about, you know, launching with no funding on their own, where the micro preneur is. You know, we’re trying to make this work start starting small and starting small.
Bronson: Yeah. You know, you see all these entrepreneurs coming in to the academy, and so you get to see all their misconceptions, all the wrong headed thinking, all the things they think are like known truths that have no bearing on reality. What are some of the big misconceptions that people carry in to the academy before you show them the truth?
Rob: Well, the you know, a big thing big thing that people think is they wonder if they can possibly do it without raising funding, which is just amazing to me. Now, was it, you know, a revelation to me seven years ago, but that just shouldn’t shouldn’t even be on your radar anymore? If if you I’m not saying funding is bad, like there are business models where you need funding, but it just if you’re a loan developer want to launch a product like you can absolutely do it on your own, you know, or a loan designer, a loan, whatever marketer. So that’s a big misconception. I think another one is having the kind of the survivor bias thing. So, you know, you watch maybe what you think magazine or Fast Company or maybe you watch too many Mixergy interviews and you think that you might even think it’s easier than let everyone have success. And all you have to do is launch a product and you just build some software and launch it. And then you’re going to be, you know, at six figures in no time. That’s the flip side of it, right? That it’s too easy. And it’s definitely it’s a lot of hard work and you need a lot of marketing, a lot more marketing skill than most people realize. I said I.
Bronson: Would tell some of the success stories that have come out of the academy. So there are people watching this. They might be really interested in going in and being a part of the academy. So so Brad out a little bit. What’s come out of.
Rob: Sure. Yeah. There’s a we actually have a lot we have I don’t have an exact count. Probably there’s more than 50 people who have, you know, quit their jobs or have launched products and quit. So it’s it’s awesome. Yeah. There’s a long list. Let me I’ll just throw out a few. There’s a guy named Anton in Hildebrand. He’s an he’s in Czech Republic. He launched Total Finder and Total Spaces, which are awesome desktop apps for the Mac that help you with finder stuff. Ruben Gomez who you you email are you interviewed a few days ago. He was like a founding member. I mean, he was a charter member. He had didn’t have a product. When he and I met, I started helping via email and I told him, Hey, I’m thinking about building like a site to try to help other people, help more people, you know, and he’s like, Let’s do it. And so he was like, customer number one for the Academy. I kind of built it around his needs and then he launched it, has success and quit his job. You know, within a year of launching Richard Chen, he has AP grid. He quit his job about six months ago. He lives down in L.A.. Awesome. Awesome product. Awesome dude. Brick Palombo runs distressed products. He did a little MicroConf attendee talk. I have at least ten more. I could rattle a lot but it’s probably it’s.
Rob: There’s a lot of and that’s when I celebrate I mean even people there’s folks who will launch and are making like ten or 15 grand a month within a year. It takes a couple of years to get to that and for a lot of folks, but then they keep their job and they just use that money to like fund other stuff like they’re going to. And I think so it’s really that’s the fun part. I love it when people like really go after it and change their life, you know?
Bronson: Now that’s great. Now let’s talk about the conference a little bit. You also run MicroConf this the conference kind of. Follow the same theme as your book and as the Microcomputer Academy is a sort of the conference for that group.
Rob: It has its conference for self-funded startups, is what we call it. And, you know, last last year I was going to say, but it’s two weeks ago, we had there’s about 160 people there. Half of them have launched a product and are trying to grow it. And then about 15% are have launched and are like quite successful. Like basically 15 to 20% have launched and don’t consult or don’t work. You know, they live off their product or more. Some of them have ten employees and then the rest is a mix of people who are looking for an idea or have an idea and are working on it. But all self-funded, no one’s raising funding. Most of them are a lot. There’s majority are web and there’s some mobile and desktop as well. But yeah, it’s definitely for the it’s similar audience. It’s you know, we had probably 50 out of that 160, probably 50 Academy members and the other 110 are just from around the world. People come from New Zealand and and Europe and Asia and all that.
Bronson: Yeah. And now you deal with self-funded entrepreneurs so much. What are kind of the unique difficulties that they have that venture backed startups don’t have? Because, you know, people don’t realize it’s almost two different worlds. We call them both startups, but they’re different flavors or different styles or different ways of doing things in the world. So what does a self-funded person have to deal with or put up with or survive through or whatever that may be? Either their partner on the other side of the fence doesn’t have to worry about.
Rob: Yeah, I like to say that funded startups collapse or they go out of business when they run out of money. Self-funded startups go out of business when they run out of motivation. So it’s a big psychological game. As much as a way to fund a startup like it, you have to keep your motivation up. And what that means is along the way you need little wins so you don’t have 500 grand or a million sitting in the bank account that the venture capital gave you, that, you know, you have to scale up. You’re sitting there saying, all right, I need to put in ten, 15, 20 hours of my time every week, nights and weekends. That’s a huge sacrifice. So that’s a big it is hard. Like it can’t be understated how hard it is to work nights and weekends. And it’s a big difference between being funded and, you know, and not. And then the other thing I think is you’re you’re just you have to get to revenue so quickly, but you can’t start a social network like you can’t start Google or Facebook with no funding. So you need to be a little picky about your idea because it has to be something you can directly monetize. Right? You have to charge the money for it. I don’t know. There’s probably an exception somewhere, but I don’t know of very many at all. Single founders who who self-fund, who don’t charge money for their product. At least $0.99 in the App Store.
Bronson: Yeah. No, that’s great. You really do have to be selective about the ideas. If you’re playing this game, it’s a different game with different rules, and you just have to obey those rules when you when you go about it. When’s the next MicroConf. We just had it recently right.
Rob: Yep. Yep. So the next one in in the States will it’ll be in Las Vegas probably next April and MicroConf dot com is you know you get on the list for that we sold out in 51 hours this year. So if you if you are interested in going get on the list because we didn’t even get through that email list before it was sold out but we’re also I know we’re all so because of that demand actually and because we don’t want to grow the size of it, we’re having a MicroConf Europe in about five months. So in October, yeah, early October we’re, we’re having one there. So I just started emailing speakers today but MicroConf Europe Bcom if you’re, you know, if you’re at all interested, we’re collecting emails right now and then we’ll be selling tickets in the next month or two.
Bronson: Yeah, that’s great. Well Rob, this has been incredible interview. I have one last question for you here. It’s kind of a high level question and you’ve answered it, you know, in a dozen different ways already. But I’ll end on it anyway. What’s the best advice that you have for anyone that’s trying to grow a startup?
Rob: My advice would be to have have early wins, have some early wins, because without that, you’re number one, you’re not validating your product, right? You’re not getting validation that someone’s going to actually use it or needs it. And number two, you’re not getting that motivation to keep you going if you don’t launch. What I’ve seen is if you don’t launch within 4 to 6 months, 4 to 6 months, you will very likely never launch. You’ll just shut it down. And so get there quickly and start having someone use it so that you get feedback and you can iterate because it’s more for it’s both for validating the product, but it’s also for your motivation. You know, I see a lot of startups fail because of that.
Bronson: Yeah. Well, Rob, this has been an excellent interview. Great advice. Thank you again for coming on growth out of TV.
Rob: Absolutely. Has been a pleasure.