Episode 39: Your Product Business Is An Asset w/Glenn Stovall

This Episode Sponsored By:
difficult-clientsConquering Client Conflict
Paying late, not responding to emails, arguing about art direction…enough is enough. Get more respect & make more money by resolving these conflicts in your favor – more details

 

Consultant and freelance developer Glenn Stovall joins the show to talk about how he diversified into the product business. We cover the idea of products as a long-term play, the true nature of a launch, and shadow work!

Bootstrapped Product Talking Points

  • Why a product business launch is a process, not an event
  • Why products won’t earn like services – and that’s OK
  • Adjusting from service sales to product sales
  • How pulling back on scale can help you ship
Hi there! To help Chasing Product grow, please take a moment to visit iTunes and give the show a 5-star rating. Thanks!

 Show Notes:
Dependable: Deliver Software on Time and On Budget – Glenn’s new book
Special deal on Dependable for Chasing Product listeners
Glenn on Twitter
Gumroad
Small Product Lab
30×500
Amy Hoy – creator of 30×500, previous Chasing Product guest
Spin Selling
Drip – Lightweight Marketing Automation That Doesn’t Suck
Marketing for Developers
Justin Jackson
Majestic SEO – Marketing Search Engine & Backlink Checker
Thrive Themes – Conversion-Focused WordPress themes
Editflow – editorial calendar for scheduling blog posts
Audience Ops – content marketing service & tools
Brian Casel – founder of AudienceOps, previous Chasing Product guest
Remarq – create stunning documents from Markdown in seconds
Stripe – oh, come on, you know what Stripe is!
War of Art – book about winning the inner creative battle, by Steven Pressfield
Do The Work – overcome Resistance and get out of your own way, by Steven Pressfield

Glenn didn’t start out in the product business.  Like many of us, he started out working in an agency.  After taking a 5-year long “semester off” from college, he found himself in an agency position, managing other developers.  After later making his way into his own business, Glenn spent 3 productive years freelancing before considering launching a product business.

Glenn learned about the importance of scope in the product business after participating in the Gumroad Small Product Lab.  His initial product was going to be a Saas app but he reduced the scope and launched a book instead. This product would serve as seed material when he launched Dependable a year later, providing more valuable experience and asset-building for Glenn’s product business.

We talk about the disconnect between the skills needed for service business sales and product business sales.  Glenn points out that product is a long-term game, and that it won’t earn the same money in an immediate time frame that services will.  We talk about how building a product business is like building an asset, and the fringe benefits that come from having product on the market.

Glenn shares his basic marketing stack with us, and talks about some of his go-to moves for growing his product business.  Then he caps off the interview by sharing 3 action items for his fellow founders.

Episode 37: Startup Decision-Making and ROI w/Hiten Shah


In this episode, Quick Sprout and Kiss Metrics founder Hiten Shah talks about early SEO consulting, finding the ROI in a startup, and more.

Bootstrapped Product Talking Points

  • Why you need good distribution AND good product
  • Why innovation isn’t necessarily a priority
  • The importance of managing expectations
  • How patterns aid startup decision-making
Hi there! To help Chasing Product grow, please take a moment to visit iTunes and give the show a 5-star rating. Thanks!

 Show Notes:
Hiten.com – Hiten’s newletter
Quick Sprout – Make Better Content, co-founded by Hiten
KISS Metrics – Analytics Built to Optimize Marketing, co-founded by Hiten
Crazy Egg – Visualize where your visitors click, co-founded by Hiten
Neil Patel – Hiten’s co-founder & marketing badass
A Technique for Producing Ideas – book by James Webb Young
Conquering Client Conflict – Resolve conflicts, get more respect, make more money as a freelancer

Hiten Shah has made the transition from freelancing to products in a big way. Starting as an SEO consultant in the early 2000’s, Hiten has managed to hone his startup decision-making skills to a high degree, all while founding 3 companies, each offering a product not too far removed from the SEO consulting family tree.

“On a very high level, I’m just fascinated by the power of words & business”

In this episode, Hiten and I talk a but about keeping your freelancing business in order to better enable your product aspirations. We touch a bit on the importance of setting expectations and maintaining boundaries (which my free e-mail course happens to cover). In fact, Hiten cites his best freelancing skill that carried over into doing startups as his ability to manage expectations, calling it the most fundamental difference between success and failure. We also delve into his startup decision-making process by talking about some of the frameworks and patterns Hiten uses both when mentoring other founders and when making decisions of his own.

Hiten shares his insight on selecting the best marketing channel for your product, and why it’s necessary to have both a strong product and strong distribution rather than just one or the other. We also talk about the role of innovation in the startup decision-making process, and whether or not it’s as much of a factor now as it was 5+ years ago. He encourages founders to really think about the problem they’re solving and who has it. Hiten suggests that founders look for a direct path to ROI for their customers as early as possible.

And always, we finish the show with 3 action items that you can implement right away in your own business.

Episode 36: Customer-Based Product Validation w/Brad Robinson

FAIR WARNING: I had some microphone issues with this episode, deal with it.

In this episode, Cantabile developer & founder Brad Robinson tells us how he’s been validating his product with customer feedback since day 1, how he got over burnout, and more!

Bootstrapped Product Talking Points

  • Why changing perspective, not skills, is so important
  • How to avoid overpromising while remaining accountable
  • The unexpected benefits of scathingly negative feedback
  • How to keep customers engaged without active development
Hi there! To help Chasing Product grow, please take a moment to visit iTunes and give the show a 5-star rating. Thanks!

 Show Notes:
Cantabile Software – Live Performance VST and MIDI Host
Cantabile – Cantabile on Twitter
Conquering Client Conflict – Christopher’s new free e-mail course (pre-release)
Joel Spolsky
37Signals Getting real; make opinionated software
Work on your best idea (by DHH)
Cubase
Ivory by Synthogy

In some ways, Brad has a very typical story for a software founder. He’s a self-taught programmer who dropped out of university. He has a background in music, as many software developers do. His product was developed as a “scratch your own itch” solution after discovering virtual instruments in his training as a pianist, and finding them lacking.

Where Brad differs from your typical first-time product founder is that from very early on, he was getting – and acting on – feedback. This early customer-based product validation helped him to tailor a product to the actual problems of his customers. Not the problem customers thought they were having, or the problem Brad though they were having. The actual problem they were having.

This customer-based product feedback continued even during a period of burnout during which Brad did no active development. Instead, Brad continued to perform customer service, support and bug fixing operations, all the while capturing feedback. This feedback paid off when it came time to rewrite the product in C# a few years later, after Brad had what he called “an epiphany” regarding the possibilities afforded him by the newer, more modern language.

Initially, Brad stayed quiet about the rewrite, for fear of overpromising, but he eventually went public with it. Part of his reasoning was to create an accountability structure, but part of it was to be able to release what he calls “preview builds”. With these preview builds, Brad got a whole new wave of customer-based product validation that helped him rewrite the product in ways he hadn’t forseen. Every bit of customer-based product validation contributed to his ability to refactor unnecessary features out of the software, and focus on solving the very specific problems his customers relied upon Cantabile to solve.

Episode 34: Self-Care For Founders w/Allan Branch


In this episode, Less Accounting founder Allan Branch shares his journey from freelancer to founder. We’ll touch on being a late bloomer, how cultural values shape the career path we take, and finish on some very strong self-care suggestions to help a founder keep going strong.

Bootstrapped Product Talking Points

  • How having highly-focused non-business interests develop you
  • Why you shouldn’t wait for permission
  • Why nothing can really prepare you to launch a product
  • The value of never thinking you have it all figured out
Hi there! To help Chasing Product grow, please take a moment to visit iTunes and give the show a 5-star rating. Thanks!

 Show Notes:
Less Accounting – Simple Accounting Software for Small Business
Less Churn – Increase revenue by reducing churn while tracking exit feedback
Less Films – We create videos that turn web traffic into customers
I’m a Customer Conversion Support Designer – from Allans’ blog
Life Over Work – from Allans’ blog
Set Up These Automated Emails – from Allans’ blog
37 Signals
Quickbooks
SaasFest
Hiten Shah
Darmesh Shah
David Cancel
Sean Ellis

“If you can’t create a business in a year of nights & weekends, there’s no honor in killing yourself to be an entrepreneur.”

Episode 32: Designing for Startups w/Jane Portman

This Episode Sponsored By:
90-Day Product Goal Framework
Are you tired of failing to meet long term goals as a product creator? Now there’s a system to help keep you on track and on task as you launch your own products – more details


In this episode, Jane Portman of UIBreakfast.com talks about how she helps founders level-up their UI game, shares how she leveled-up her consultancy, and gives good advice to those of us looking to launch a web app.

Bootstrapped Product Talking Points

  • The importance of launching to the right audience
  • Why design templates are actually OK
  • The challenges of managing a team
  • The 2 design stages every Saas app goes through
Hi there! To help Chasing Product grow, please take a moment to visit iTunes and give the show a 5-star rating. Thanks!

 Show Notes:
@uibreakfast – Jane on Twitter
The UI Audit – A book by Jane
Mastering App Presentation – another book by Jane
Fundamental UI Design E-Course – authored by Jane, offered by InVision
Authority
Joanna Wiebe – creator of Airstory
Amy Hoy – creator of 30×500
Rob Walling – GetDrip and HitTail
Egghead.io
Brennan Dunn
MicroConf

At age 16, Jane was a typical student, interested in math & physics. After winning a scholarship and becoming an exchange student in South Carolina, Jane studied design and never looked back. Upon returning to Russia, she started working in an agency. Over the next 8 years she honed her skills while working up from Junior Designer to Creative Director and eventually began to freelance, designing for startups. She shares a bit about why perfectionism is more tolerable in agency life than startup life.

Jane shares the reason why she left the agency, and what made her decide to “conquer the US market” as a freelancer designing for startups. She also talks about some of limitations she encountered working as a freelancer on oDesk, and the three things she did to “level-up” her work:

1) Changed title to “consultant”
2) Wrote a book
3) Set a minimum rate of $95/hour

To build authority, she launched first book to start attracting clients. She interviewed her “personal stars” for the book, to start making contacts. Jane talks about launching to a small list, and what the very valuable primary payoff of that first book was (hint” it wasn’t the money).

“Being not-pretty is not a big obstacle to making money online. Seriously.”

To arrive at her current positioning as a UI/UX consultant designing for startups, Jane used the Sales Safari technique, which was intensive but very productive. Jane found that Founders don’t always prioritize design, they have so many other things to worry about.

We talk a bit about The UI Audit, Janes third book and she tells us how this book served to scalably distill her consulting knowledge and spare her personal time. She also explains how this fits into a “product ladder” model.

Not every founder is able to prioritize design, for reasons on finance or exigency. It’s not something that most founders can do themselves, either. Jane found that her client work was primarily related to designing for startups – specifically, bootstrapped Saas founders. It’s a perfect nice for her because it’s between a big corporation and VC-funded founders. Jane says she fell in love with the community at MicroConf. We talk about the two features Jane looks for in an ideal client.

Jane & I talk a bit about the proper role of using templated designs when designing for startups, and when/how/why to invest in a proper designer.

Jane talks about the skills required to know when it’s time to seek expert help, when it’s time to hire team members, and when it’s time to re-evaluate and fire them – “You never regret that you fired someone too early, but you sure regret that you fired someone too late.”

Episode 30: MVPs and Product Validation w/Ian Lawson

This Episode Sponsored By:

Mastering Business Email
Don’t let unprofessional emails cost you business or harm your reputation – simple guidelines to help you write better, more professional emails
Special offer for Chasing Product listeners in this episode – more details


Ian Lawson from Awmous and SlickPlan joins us today. As an agency owner turned product-creator, Ian has plenty to tell us about the importance of an MVP, and the surprise product validation that launched his product.

In this episode, Ian talks about being a self-professed art nerd, starting his own interactive studio, and how he went about deciding what product to create.

Bootstrapped Product Talking Points

  • The importance of avoiding tech/design debt
  • How to capitalize on a business accident
  • How to plan for growth
Hi there! To help Chasing Product grow, please take a moment to visit iTunes and give the show a 5-star rating. Thanks!

 Show Notes:

Awmous – Ians newest venture
SlickPlan – Create a beautiful site map in minutes
Honeypot – Simple and intuitive web app that simplifies HR tasks
Startupland
Basecamp
Lean UX
Remote: Office Not Required

Episode 29: Launching a Productized Service w/Brian Casel

This Episode Sponsored By:
RECORD & RELEASE: Learn How To Podcast In Just One Day
Podcasting can help you gain status and notoriety as a subject-matter authority, and effectively build an audience by reaching your entire market.
More details


Today’s guest is Brian Casel, a return guest, in a first for Chasing Product.  Brian is currently the founder of AudienceOps, a done-for-you content-marketing productized service. Before launching a productized service, Brian had successfully made the transition from freelancer to product creator over the past several years with his earlier businesses.

In this episode, Brian talks about what he’s been doing since we last heard from him, what he’s learned along the way, and shares some insights into what launching a productized service requires, without becoming overwhelmed.

Bootstrapped Product Talking Points

  • The importance of a team
  • Why “done for you” is the new hotness
  • Content marketing for personal vs business branding
  • Building an audience from nothing
Hi there! To help Chasing Product grow, please take a moment to visit iTunes and give the show a 5-star rating. Thanks!

 Show Notes:

Casjam – the online home for Brians projects
Audience Ops – Grow your audience, your email list, and your customer-base with done-for-you content marketing
Restaurant Engine – Brians original Saas product
Content Upgrades – WP Plugin for use w/Audience Ops service
Software Product Marketing & Design (the previous episode of Chasing Product, featuring Brian)
How To Start A Freelancing Business That Won’t Fail

It was interesting to talk to Brian again after having him on the show so early on. He’s been talking about launching a productized service for a while now, even creating a course to teach others how to do it. Getting to sit down with him and actually talk about how a bootstrapper can go about launching a productized service was educational.

Brian learned that launching with a team was crucial – he wasn’t interested in going back into freelancing. Launching a productized service with a team behind it on day one allowed Brian to work ON the business instead of in the business. He had no interest in this business if he’d be the only one doing the work, which is reasonable.

The other part of launching a productized service that was crucial was focusing on doing ONE thing really well for an ideal customer. Audience Ops does content marketing for B2B software companies; that’s their focus. This powerful focus made a lot of decisions very clear in the new business.

The real wisdom in launching a productized service is in how easy it is to launch and how little infrastructure is needed ahead of time. Launching a service offering allows for lower costs and lower technical requirements on day one. Brian was able to launch the offer with a 1-page sales pitch and start signing up clients right away. It may *use* software, but software is not the offering.

Launching a productized service is not easy, but Brian was able to take the lessons learned from previous business efforts and roll them into this one. It’s a big inspiration for those of us who hope to eventually do the same thing.

Episode 28: Teach Everything You Know w/Nathan Barry

This Episode Sponsored By:
RECORD & RELEASE: Learn How To Podcast In Just One Day
Podcasting can help you gain status and notoriety as a subject-matter authority, and effectively build an audience by reaching your entire market.
More details

convertkit-nathan
Today’s guest is Nathan Barry, founder of ConvertKit and author of several books. His career has spanned from anonymously doing client work to becoming a highly-visible and well-respected author, speaker and founder.

In this episode, Nathan talks about his journey, including early struggles, professional epiphanies, hard-learned strategies for growing his Saas app, and why “teach everything you know” is so powerful for marketing.

Bootstrapped Product Talking Points

  • Growing a Saas app
  • Why your heroes are no different than you
  • How to position yourself as an expert
  • Why it’s important to get customer feedback
Hi there! To help Chasing Product grow, please take a moment to visit iTunes and give the show a 5-star rating. Thanks!

 Show Notes:

ConvertKit – Email Marketing For Professional Bloggers
Authority – A step-by-step guide to self-publishing
Designing Web Applications – Nathan’s guide to web app design
The App Design Handbook – Nathan’s guide to iPhone/iPad app design
How To Cheat At Online BUsiness – Nathan’s article about audience-building
Chris Coyier – Writer, CSS Tricks
Jason Fried – Marketing By Sharing

Episode 26: Long-Term Product Success ft/Tom Rossi

Hi there! To help Chasing Product grow, please take a moment to visit iTunes and give the show a 5-star rating. Thanks!

buzzsprout-tom
Tom Rossi, founder of Tickspot and Buzzsprout, share his founders’ journey on this episode. From client services to a Web 2.0 epiphany to long-term success without marketing, Tom has managed to sustain a career by focusing on long-term product success.

In this episode, we talk about Toms’ experience dealing with the economy post 9-11, switching to Rails from .NET, and more!

Bootstrapped Product Talking Points

  • how to “accidentally” create a product
  • letting go of client service work, the right way
  • how to manage a team effectively
  • how to prioritize for long-term product success

 Show Notes:
Tick – Time Tracking
MSites – Web sites for no-profits
bsites for non-profits
Buzzsprout – Everything you need to podcast
Tom Rossi – Twitter feed
37Signals
RECORD & RELEASE – Learn How To Podcast In Just One Day (discount code provided in the episode)

After starting out in 1996 doing client services work, as many of us do, Tom quickly got excited about the Internet boom. But he soon found himself trying to stay afloat in a post-9/11 world.

Creating a CMS for non-profits in 2001 was Toms’ first step toward long-term product success, made for a variety of reasons:
– desperation move
– important for culture
– trying to retain the team
– fell into developing it
– no strategy

Creating a time-tracking tool for freelancers in 2005, in the wake of the Web 2.0 ethos popularized by 37signals, was another step toward long-term product success. The motivators for this product were:
– frustrated w/ clients
– more planning & strategy
– just me & kevin
– Switching to Rails from .NET
– Attending the “Getting Real” workshop
– letting go of client services thinking: documentation, process, making everything provide value, default to “no”, shoot for MVP, how can we be the best at x?

Later, Tom created podcasting software, based on client work helping churches to put sermons online. This would be yet another link in the long-term product-success chain.

As always, a horrible client project spurred a desire to change to products – Tom goes into detail on this in the show. We’ve all had horrible client projects, and the one that drove Tom out of client services was a bad one!

SEO & marketing was difficult for Tom and his partners, as it is for many of us. A chance conversation with Rob Walling convinced Tom that he needed to improve his marketing game in order to maintain that long-term product success. Tom talks about some of his go-to marketing moves, and shares his shock at discovering where Buzzsprout stood in the podcasting world due to a lack of marketing. Don’t miss his story here, it’s good.

A big part of Toms’ long-term product success is the idea to “make quality of life a part of what you do”. A lot of us in the freelancing world struggle with this, as well.

Tom also talks about how changes in the cultural outlook on how software is sold have made things easier in some ways, including the old outlook that Saas will never work, that nobody understood it, and why Ruby On Rails has changed the game for small-time product founders looking to experience long-term product success.

And of course, we finish the show with Toms’ 3 “do this now!” bullet points for aspiring founders. You don’t want to miss these.

Episode 23: Building An Audience w/Richard Felix

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Richard Felix joins the show in this episode.  Richard Felix has a multi-product mini-empire going on. From his early collaboration with Chris Coyier until now, Richard has leveraged building an audience and education people into a steady stream of lifeblood for his products.

In this episode, we talk about his start as a big reader & computer support pro as a teenager, his early lesson regarding audience-building and how it impacts success, and his experience using the act of teaching as an audience-builder. We also cover some practical aspects of being a founder and keeping a product moving forward.

Bootstrapped Product Talking Points

  • how having an audience made his first success without knowing it
  • the importance of developing marketing skills
  • opportunity cost and how it changes when you have product out
  • why the term “MVP” has baggage

 Show Notes:

Be Stunning – Richard’s product; stops SaaS app churn by preventing failed payments
Get Retained – Richard’s product; stop Saas customer cancellations before they happen
– Retained tells you what customer to talk to & what about
– Customers need to do certain things to be successful
– Customer questionnaire upon sign-up; use the responses as criteria

Customer Retention Academy – used to build e-mail list
– Creating customers through education

Richard’s Blog
AreMySitesUp – Richard’s project from 2009
Chris Coyier & CSS Tricks
– Chris was building an audience long before the site – this is important

Amy Hoy – product-launching badass
30×500 – Amy’s product-launching course
– never build w/o an audience
– lots of structure
– lots of goals
– sales safari…identify needs & marketing opportunities in peoples own element
– see what people complain about…find enough of them

David Kadavy
Steli Efti
close.io

Dropp – geo-tagged messages & media

Richard Says:
Build something small first
– maybe solve 1 part of the problem & see if the complainers bite

Marketing skill development
– be social!
– come out from behind the keyboard & meet people (the opposite doesn’t work)
– keep up a constant trickle of communication while building an audience
– losing a lot of customers to easy-to-fix problems prompted a desire to communicate better

Mistake: taking things I read as fact – too much focus
– Now, focus on outcomes
– Don’t get overwhelmed
– There’s a chance people don’t know why they’re successful

Opportunity cost – freelancing takes away from the product business now
– Most of us have the opposite problem

3 things
– build an audience…this is important!
– talk to your customers, or the people you want as customers (do you really want those customers?)
– ship as fast as you can – get as much as you need shipped to see if people pay
WARNING: MVP HAS BAGGAGE