A business cannot survive without loyal customers. SaaS companies depend on recurring customers. Ecommerce companies need repeat purchase customers. Consumer internet companies need visitors to keep coming back on a routine basis.
Happy customers are loyal customers. That’s why within many SaaS companies there is a department for customer success. It’s more than a support team – their objective is to maintain happy customers and is responsible to upsells and renewals.
Today’s post discusses the importance of investing in a customer success department. It’s a review of a panel discussion at the 2014 Pulse conference.
The all-star lineup:
- Aaron Ross wrote the book Predictable Revenue, a must read for those in SaaS.
- Jason Lemkin is a VC at Storm Ventures and runs SaaStr.
- Tomasz Tunguz is a partner at Redpoint Ventures and writes at tomtunguz.com.
- Brian Stafford is a partner at McKinsey.
Below is a summary of each of their presentations.
Aaron Ross: Customer Success Is Not Glorified Support – it is a Growth Driver
Customer success is not an afterthought. It’s not something you put off until you’re big enough. That’s the wrong thinking. Customer success is an investment to start now.
Many companies in the B2B space believe that the more salespeople they hire, the more revenue they’ll receive. Salespeople don’t drive growth; lead generation drives growth. Salespeople help fulfill the growth.
But not all leads are created equal. There are three types of leads:
- Seeds: One-to-many, these are leads from word of mouth. It’s largely done through customer success.
- Nets: One-to-many, these are leads from your marketing. This is typically from inbound marketing.
- Spears: One-to-one, these are leads from outbound prospecting.
Customer success is a growth driver. It is not glorified support. The executive team of the future should have a Head of Sales, Head of Marketing, and Head of Customer Success. These three roles should be of equal importance.
But there’s a problem – executives and entrepreneurs don’t want to make a big investment in customer success without first knowing how the department helps the company make money. The way to do this is to have customer success handle renewals and upsells.
At a company like Gild, customer success isn’t responsible for just renewals and upsells. They also own the “90 day adoption”, which is time to value. They must show new customers the value of the product in 90 days. They also provide product roadmap feedback, because they are in close contact with customers and can provide valuable input for building something the customer wants.
Jason Lemkin: To Value Customer Success, Understand Upgrades and Second Order Revenue
There are lots of tactics to grow a business, but the one thing that is guaranteed to work is successful, happy customers. You’ll acquire more customers if you make your current customers happy. All the big players in the internet space will tell you that they get 80% of their new customers from their old customers. The challenge is that it takes time.
The most important concept Lemkin found in his company (Echosign) was called second order revenue. Sales is great at booking new customers, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. There are two things that occur. The first is that successful customers on annual plans are more likely to renew for the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th year. The second thing is upgrades – after a few years the customer is likely to be paying more for your software than in their first year. Even more important is the true second order revenue. This consists of two parts – customers of your product (the champions for your product) changing companies and bringing your product on board with the new company. The other is word of mouth revenue. This system relies on customer success.
When you want to understand the value of customer success, you have to take into account all the revenue and second order revenue they bring. It’s not just lifetime value and upgrades, it’s also the word of mouth and champion change.
Lemkin recommends hiring 1 customer success manager for every $2 million in annual revenue.
Taking this a step further, we know that upgrades and second order revenue make customer success 5x more valuable than sales. That isn’t to say sales is useless, that would be nonsense. It means that sales is only the start of the relationship. Customer success steps in after sales and ensures that customers stay around, upgrade, and refer others. When you see the revenue they bring after the initial sale, you’ll see just how important customer success really is.
Once you understand the value of customer success, book a plane ticket and visit your customers. The CEO should spend far more travel time visiting existing customers than closing deals. This is also a great way to ensure they remain loyal – Lemkin never lost a customer he visited.
Lemkin recommends having the customer success manager make it priority to visit 5 customers per month. This is in addition to the CEO doing their onsite visits.
Customer success is the best revenue center in a recurring revenue business. There’s no “best efforts” – it is not a soft science. You have to measure it, and then drive it up quarter after quarter. It shouldn’t be categorized under “cost of goods sold”. It should be with sales and marketing, because it is a cost of revenue.
Tomasz Tunguz: The Amount of Leverage You Can Get For a Tiny Investment is Stratospheric For the Business
There are three reasons why customer success is critical. The first is that you have happier customers because you’re listening to them, and because of that you end up building a better product. The second is that happy customers = loyal customers who give word of mouth, and because of that you grow faster. And the third is that you’ll grow at a more capital efficient rate because churn is lower.
This chart shows churn’s impact on revenue growth for a company growing at 15% per month. The bottom blue line shows what revenue growth is like at 4% churn. Look at where the orange and red lines are. That’s if you have zero or negative churn. This is why customer success is so important – happy customers are far less likely to cancel.
Brian Stafford: The Sooner You Invest in Customer Success, The Better
McKinsey ran an analysis looking at the biggest predictors of growth for $100 million companies that turned into $1 billion companies. They looked at 600 companies over a 15-year time period.
One predictor they found for companies going from $100 million – $1 billion was the ability to become good at something they weren’t previously good at. This means they had to build out a new channel or capability in order to grow to $1 billion.
Stafford hits on two customer success metrics – ARR growth per customer, and churn rate. He says that ARR growth is one of the most underleveraged areas of growth for companies. Roughly 80% of the companies in the McKinsey database are growing ARR per customer at less than 10% per year. There is a massive value driver in customer satisfaction translating to new ARR that has not been hit. Even with the companies that are growing ARR per customer 10%+ per year, nearly half their customers aren’t included. They’re only touching about half their customers. This is particularly true for bigger companies. There’s an offer to charge them more, and many companies haven’t taken advantage of that.
Churn gets a lot of lip service, but rarely the attention it deserves. The sooner you realize the importance of investing in customer success and therefore preventing churn, the better growth you’ll have.
Video & Slides
Q&A begins at about 35 minutes, 35 seconds.
It's not about you achieving the American Dream. It's about you getting 1% better ever day.
"Every time you put yourself on the line, you are creating your own luck, and increasing your chances of having some success"
What are you going to do this week to improve your situation?
The only way you get better, is by getting started.
Quote from This American Life, Three Miles
But nothing has happened for her for 10 years. I think it's some special brand of American pathological optimism, that so many of us believe the story of Melanie has to turn out to be happy, and that if it doesn't, something unusual has happened, and not just this is what happens all the time, that the supermarket might be full of Melanies.
Quote from James Altucher on the Tim Ferris podcast:
“I try to get this mindset I want to improve one percent a week. It seems like a small amount but if you do that, it results in enormous improvements over the course of the year."
This week's project: Product People Club
This week's project is an improvement on something I already have. The most successful thing I've ever launched is something called Product People Club: www.productpeople.club
I want to make it better. This week I'll be calling existing customers, asking them why they signed up, and also figuring out how I can improve it. By the end of the week, I'll re-launch it so new members can sign-up.
- This American Life: Three Miles (episode 550)
- James Altucher on episode 18 of the Tim Ferris Show
- Randy Skopecek
- David Henry's Course: Stage Lighting Basics
- Follow me on Twitter: @mijustin
- Rate and review the show
- Join the newsletter
- This week's project: productpeople.club
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Mark Roberge has helped Hubspot become one of the real darlings of the SaaS industry.
He’s one of the first employees, and currently serves as the Chief Revenue Officer. With this role, he’s created the revenue (over $100 million ARR) and customer acquisition (10,000+ customers) machine that has gotten Hubspot where they are today. If you’re a startup in the SaaS business, it’s hard not to admire what they’ve done.
Luckily for us, Roberge recently gave a talk where he outlined the system he used to produce one of the top-notch sales teams in the SaaS industry. And in this post, we’re going to examine that system.
The Four-Step Process
When he started at Hubspot, he had the mission of creating predictable, scalable revenue growth. What helps get him there is this process:
- Hire the same type of salesperson.
- Put them through the same sales training, so you have similar output.
- Provide them with the same quality and quantity of leads.
- Hold them accountable to the same sales process.
If this machine works, Roberge knew he’d be successful. Below are each of his steps, in specific detail.
1. What to Look For When Hiring a Salesperson
Buyer context is different for each company. Therefore, the ideal salesperson for each company is slightly different. The process to figuring it out is the interesting part. Here’s the system Roberge used:
When he was first hired, he wrote down about 10 criteria that he could interview for. These criteria are things he believed correlated with success as a salesperson. He then developed a 10-point scoring system, where he wrote down how important each criteria point was.
He interviewed thousands of salespeople – only hiring a couple dozen.
After a year, he looked his top 40% of salespeople and went back and looked their interview scores, looking for patterns. Then he looked at his bottom 20%, and saw the patterns with these people. He also reflected on what was missing – what wasn’t on his criteria?
As more data came in, he eventually hired a data scientist to run a regression analysis to see if anything was predictable. Turns out it was:
One criterion he found to correlate with success was coach-ability. This became a big part of his interview process for future hires. They do role-play, where the interviewee has to sell a product to Roberge and his team. After the interviewee finishes his sales pitch (usually 5-10 minutes), Roberge asks how he/she thinks they did. This provides insights into how they self-assess. Then Roberge beings coaching them – telling them one thing they did well and one thing they can improve. He watches them as he teaches. Are they glassy eyed, or are they taking notes? Then they redo it, and depending on how much they improve, that tells Roberge a lot about their coach-ability. If he can improve them in just an interview, there’s a good chance they’ll improve a lot in one day or more of coaching.
In a separate article, Roberge lists prior success, intelligence, and work ethic as other criteria that are correlated with success.
Finding Quality Salespeople
A good salesperson never has to create a resume. They never have to interview, and are always being recruited. You’ll never be successful in going after active sales candidates – the good ones are always passive.
So how do you recruit these top-notch sales folks?
Roberge has built a recruiting agency within Hubspot. He tried hiring outside agencies, but ended up just hiring those people and bringing them into Hubspot.
The best channel they’ve found is called the force referral. Here’s how it works:
About a month or two of a new sales hire, a recruiter for Hubspot will schedule a 15-minute meeting. The recruiter will be a connection on LinkedIn. The night before the interview, they recruiter will go through the new hires connections, and look for the few people that match a criteria – live in Boston (where Hubspot is located), work in sales, come from good schools, and might be a good fit.
They’ll come to the meeting with the list of people and ask the new hire about each person on the list. They’ll get feedback on each and the new hire will intro them to the recruiter.
2. Training Salespeople
Most sales training work by partnering a new hire with the best salesperson on the team. This shadowing is not effective for most companies. Top performing salespeople perform in their own unique way, and forcing a new hire to shadow with a salesperson with different strengths is a bad match. People are great at different things, so no one can teach them the whole package.
Roberge has created a “predictable factory”. New hires first go through classroom style training. This takes a month, and at the end of it they take a 150-question exam, and become certified in areas like the Hubspot product, the sales methodology, and inbound marketing. This exposes them to the blueprint, and gives them the flexibility to add their art.
The other thing Roberge pushes in the training is making his hires think about how much sales has changed since the internet. People can now try products for free, so what is the point of sales?
Salespeople need to be a trusted adviser, a consultant, and be able to understand the unique pains and challenges of the buyers, and associate them with the marketing message that your company puts out.
The more you can put salespeople in the seat of your prospects and feel the pain that they go through, the better chance you’re giving them of becoming a consultant.
There are no sales calls during a new hire’s first three weeks. During this time they work in the Hubspot product, creating the things you can do with the tool. This makes them prepared to handle a call and empathize with the client, because they know more about solving pain points with Hubspot, because they’ve done it themselves.
3. Generating the Same Quality and Quantity of Leads
Most companies take too long on demand gen. The get to it after the product has launched.
The Hubspot blog launched nine months before the product. By the time they launched, they had 700 subscribers to their blog, which helped funnel people into the funnel. They ranked #2 (behind Wikipedia) for the search term internet marketing software. This helped them secure their Series A funding.
Roberge recommends a similar tactic for startups:
Find a 20-something year old studying journalism or english. Don’t look for someone that knows your space, blogging or social media. They can tap into your head and learn it.
Look for someone who can sit down with a person totally unrelated to them (i.e. a PhD in Chemical Engineering) for an hour and be able to crank out great content. Find them, and reward them. Pay them, give them school credit, etc. Keep them on a part time basis. Something like every Friday from 9AM-1PM.
From 9-10AM they sit down with a thought leader in your company. The thought leader can come from any department, doesn’t matter if it’s engineering, sales, product, marketing, etc. They pick the thought leader’s brain on a niche topic. Then they go and write a 3-5 page eBook, a couple short blog posts, and create a few tweets containing stats or quotes that were mentioned. The tweets point back to the blog posts, and at the end of the post there is a CTA linking to the eBook. They click the CTA and are brought to a landing page, which asks for the name, title, phone number, and email address.
The posts and tweets should be spread out over a month.
This process will help create leads, bring a social following, and improve rankings. It provides a great start to your demand generation efforts.
4. Holding the Salespeople Accountable to the Same Process
Here’s the basic sales process Hubspot started with:
Sales has changed a lot in the past decade, and this process is more adapted to the modern world. It focuses on “Always Be Helping” instead of the old adage “Always Be Closing”. Roberge breaks down the first three steps:
- Research: Stats show that prospects are 57% of the way through the buying process by the time they talk to a salesperson. Take the time to do research on them. Look them up on LinkedIn. What department do they work in? How long have they been at the company? Are they a VP or intern? Who is their boss? Do they know anyone at your company? Do you know anyone at his or her company? Spend this time to learn about them.
- Prospecting: This is about the context that the prospects are coming to you from. Equip your sales team with the information on how the prospects are engaging with you. How and when did they first hear about you? What pages on your site did they visit? Do they receive email from you? Do they open it? This context can help set the sales messages. The other important part is to listen. If the prospect is sending buying signals (i.e. opening email, visiting website, mentioning the product on social media, etc) you need to know about them and react.
- Connect: This is not leading with the elevator pitch; it’s leveraging lead intelligence and advising. Did they just download your Facebook marketing guide? Call them up, tell them who you are, and give them additional tips on Facebook marketing. They may not like to talk to salesperson, but when they realize that you’re helping them and not reading off a script, they’ll be much more engaged. A good signal of engagement is a real conversation – where they’re asking questions. Eventually the call may get into the prospects product. From there you can set up a meeting to see how your product will work for them. It’s important to train salespeople to live their prospects life, and advise them. They downloaded the Facebook marketing guide because they wanted more leads/engagement on Facebook. The company helped them by providing an eBook, and the salesperson goes further by providing more tips. When done correctly, it feels more like a doctor and patient than a salesperson and a patient.
Metrics-Driven Sales Coaching
Roberge likes his managers to maximize the time they spend coaching. Yes, they tasks like forecasting, but the time spent doing that should be limited.
New managers often struggle with coaching. They’re overwhelmed with the gap of where the rep is today and where they want them to be. Great sales coaching relies on finding the one thing will make the biggest difference in bringing the salesperson to the next level.
Roberge uses metrics to help give him guidance:
This is basically a funnel for salespeople. It shows how many leads they got, how many of those they worked, how many got to the demo stage, and how many of them closed. He looks at the conversion rates for step, and that helps him isolate how the new hires that are struggling are different from the top salespeople. Based on where they’re struggling in the funnel, they can prescribe the right coaching for that skill.
The more Roberge can isolate the data, the better he’ll be able to diagnose and provide better coaching. For example, if Roberge finds that they’re working a lot of leads but not getting any demos, then he’ll try to learn more from the data. Is the problem that they’re not getting any connects? Or is it that they’re getting on the phone, but not getting a demo? The coaching depends on the answer.
Video & Slides
Q&A begins at 25 minutes, 20 seconds.
Brecht is in San Francisco, Scott is in New England.
We're all on the internet. That's the power of online business.
Brecht and Scott talk about growing your customer base and reaching out not to sell people your product, but to solve their problem. They discuss how gathering customer information benefits you, your sales copy, and your funnel in improving your conversion rate.
Also, you don't necessarily need to go out looking for new customers - look at the ones you already have. Find out how you can improve your relationship and solve their other pains and increase your sales.
Brecht really loves Asian food and Scott discusses his fashion disaster.
If you do any reading in the digital marketing space, you’ll find a ton of articles on landing pages, conversion rate optimization, email techniques, etc., etc.
These are great resources, and I think you should keep reading them.
But there’s a gaping hole in the marketing literature and blogs. I see very little being published on the subject of product descriptions.
The Conversion Vortex of Product Descriptions
I think that the lack of conversion optimization interest in descriptions is a big problem. Why?
Because product descriptions are an important part of the conversion process. Let me explain.
- Product descriptions are a major reason a user may (or may not) convert. What a user reads about the product influences whether or not she will buy.
- Product descriptions are the final point in the conversion funnel. The product page is usually the final point in the conversion funnel before a user enters the checkout path. You have a final and critical point at which you can secure their purchase.
- Many ecommerce retailers use the standard product descriptions provided by a manufacturing company or third-party marketing organization. These are usually brief, bland, uncompelling, and may result in duplicate content.
- Product descriptions are usually outsourced to a writer who may not have conversion copywriting experience. The result is sometimes poorly written descriptions that lack the conversion-ready sizzle that you truly need.
Basically, we’re not talking enough about this important subject. What I’ve tried to do in this article is provide a few simple things that you can do with your product descriptions to improve conversions.
Note: In this article, I’m focusing on ecommerce sites as opposed to SaaS or service sites.
Use emotional language.
According to research on the psychology of advertising, the “emotional response to an ad has far greater influence on a consumer’s reported intent to buy a product than does the ad’s content – by a factor of 3-to-1 for television commercials and 2-to-1 for print ads.”
In the online space, the whole reason that content goes viral is because of its emotional impact, according to a study from the University of Pennsylvania, The Wharton School of Business.
Researchers from the Missouri University of Science and Technology argue, “Consumers’ emotional responses play an important role in predicting and measuring behavioral intentions and satisfaction.” In other words, consumers buy based on their emotional response.
Since emotions are so powerful, it is possible to influence them in some way? Thankfully, it is. There is a wide variety of things that further the emotional impact of a website. The website’s design, the customer’s previous experiences the product or service, the time of day — there are plenty of factors.
One such factor is the manner in which the product description is written. Emotional language has to do with feeling words. Instead of using ordinary functional words, go for some emotional pizzazz.
Here are some examples of such words:
- Taste = savor
- Smell = aroma
- Use = luxuriate
- Sweet = decadent
- Future = destiny
Be careful, though. You don’t want to get so emotional that you lose the meaning. People like simplicity as much as they like emotional connection. Don’t mask the meaning.
Miele coffee machines make an emotional connection with their product descriptions. Here’s an example:
How does this description connect with the emotions? Let me show you some of the phrases that have emotional resonance:
- Enjoy the delicious aroma = The sense of smell is powerfully connected to memory and emotion (source).
- Is for you = “You” is an important word.
- Whichever system you choose = Inspiring a sense of freedom of choice
- Your favorite drink = “Your” and “favorite” are emotional words.
- Comfort = The dictionary definition of “comfort” is “A consolation; something relieving suffering or worry.” That’s pretty emotional.
- Perfect and simple = also emotional words.
The entire sense of this description is one of freedom, peace, comfort, ease, lack of worry, enjoyment. The language that the writers used produced more emotional engagement.
Compare that product description with this generic one:
One product description promises me a life of ease and comfort. The other promises me a coffee maker with “auto shutoff.” Which one do I want?
You can describe almost any item, no matter how unsexy, in emotional terms. Take an office chair, for instance. This description has plenty of emotional terms.
- Instant comfort
Use descriptive words.
Emotional words are often descriptive words. But descriptive words deserve some specific attention.
Descriptive words are ways of describing the product in unusual or innovative ways. It’s challenging to come up with these words, because they aren’t typically associated with the product.
The best way to explain is to show you some examples. See if you can guess what product is being described in the following brief description:
- New heights
It’s spray gel. For your hair.
Aussie even invented a new word to pull off that description: Va-va-voom. I may not know what it means, but I know how it makes me feel, and I sense something of the power and authority of this hair gel.
But really. Command? Heights? Those aren’t your typical hair gel terms. Yet they work, and they help to describe the product in an intriguing and engaging way.
Here’s another one. Check out the words:
- League of its own
- Extreme tactical responsiveness
- Self defense
- Weapon mounted
Sounds like a S.W.A.T. team. But it’s a flashlight.
Descriptive words are more than just adjectives. They are a way of painting a picture of your product that is unique and interesting.
Talk to the customer.
Many product descriptions are written in such a way that they talk only about the product.
Wait a second. Instead of merely describing the product, why not describe that product as it’s connected to the user.
For example, to use coffee example, you have two options in the way that you describe the product:
- Brew capacity, six cups max.
- Brew a single serve for just yourself, or put on a steaming hot carafe for your entire party — six cups total! The choice is yours.
The first description talks about the coffee maker. The second description talks about the person using the coffee maker. You want to write like that second one.
Some products are explicit about it. L’oreal uses a website refine feature to help a customer find exactly what she wants.
Based on those unique specifications, the company recommends a variety of products. But first, they help the user understand how to enhance her specific physical characteristics.
Only after seeing this information does the user see the actual product description.
By this time, the user has already seen plenty of compelling description in the previous screens. It was focused on the user herself, making the product seem far more personalized and compelling.
Here’s another example. This product description from JayBird describes the Bluebuds X.
Notice these phrases:
- Ready for anything you can dish out on the trail, in the gym, or on the slopes.
- Offering a full week of workouts
- A full day of listening
- Use your music device on your left or right side, above or below the waist, it doesn’t matter…
Descriptions like that speak to the user, and don’t just describe the product.
Axe, which provides hair care products, does this quite well.
That’s the extent of their product description. Obviously, photos play a huge role in this description. (Take heed!) But the description itself is powerful because it focuses on the user.
Read these phrases:
- Feel your finest.
- How you feel says it all.
The phrase “feel your finest” appears twice. The word “feel” appears three times in the space of a few sentences.
Why? Because Axe knows that it’s all about the customer, and the way that they feel.
Describe results, not functions.
A customer is more interested in what a product does for her than what the product does.
This is hard for product description writers to do. They are so focused on the product, its unique feature, or its selling points that they forget that the product not only has functions, but also results.
A good example of a product description that blends the two is Sleep Number. Sleep Number makes mattresses, and their most notable feature is that can adjust to your exact preference for firmness or softness. Notice how the description subtly weaves the result of this feature into their discussion of its function (highlights mine).
GoPro, the maker of a portable action camera, blends results and functions nicely with their product description.
The feature described here is called burst mode. The camera can take a rapid succession of pictures. But the result is what’s important — “capture the moments you don’t want to miss.”
Downplay product details.
Have you ever gone to a product website only to discover that the product description is all about facts, stats, and measurements?
Most people are looking for a description of how the product benefits them. For this reason, place your technical specs in a place where they don’t blind the user with jargon right off the bat.
Look at how Bose does it. They frontload their description, which is full of powerful language.
If you want specs, you can click on the “Details” tab to see this:
Are those details important for a user to know? Maybe. But do those details sell the item to a potential customer? Nope.
Tiger Direct is a great place to get tech products. They sell a lot of items to technologically-savvy professionals. But even Tiger Direct realizes the importance of placing the friendly description before the specs.
Here’s the overview (somewhat interesting):
And here are the specs. You have to click a tab to see them. Why? Because people don’t deeply care that the vertical refresh rate is 55~75 Hz.
If you want to take your product descriptions to a whole new level, you’ll have to do a whole lot more than just plunk out a few words to fill up a copy block. You’ll have to work hard to create descriptions that are emotional, descriptive, and result-oriented.
Once you master the art of the product description, you’ll be soaring to new heights of conversion optimization.
How do you tend to write product descriptions?
What are the two main ways you can grow your revenue? Driving more traffic to your website and boosting your conversion rates, right?
Although those two ways are effective, there is also another way to increase your revenue… it’s by increasing your average order value. A simple way to do that is through upselling and cross selling your products.
In order to teach you how you can implement this tactic in your business, I’ve created an infographic.
Click on the image below to see a larger view:
If you don’t think upselling and cross selling are effective, just look at Beach Body. They offer a lot of popular products like P90X and Insanity. When you check out, they try to hit you with seven upsell offers. By doing this, they were able to double their revenue per customer.
Don’t take upselling and cross selling for granted. Although most people don’t use these tactics, it doesn’t mean they are ineffective.
How else can you get more revenue from each of your customers?
Embed This Image On Your Site (copy code below):
Rob Walling wrote a great post yesterday about building up your bootstrapped business over time by taking on smaller projects before diving into big ones. His post reminded me of Amy Hoy’s Stacking the Bricks philosophy, and I think that taking the approach of learning to walk before learning to run makes sense. Rob’s post made me reflect on my experience building products that have gone from producing no income, to putting some change in my pocket, to providing a nice income for my family, and I thought it would be fun to share.
My day job has always been building web apps, so my first side projects were also web apps: first, a community site, and later, a SaaS app for managing test plan execution for software testers. Those were fun, but never amounted to much.
The first side project I did with the goal of making money was a self-published ebook about building e-commerce sites with Rails. This was in 2006, when Rails was young, and that $12 ebook sold pretty well.
In 2007 I started freelancing full time, and I decided that I needed a product with recurring revenue to help even out my cash flow, so I started on Catch the Best, a SaaS app that scratched my own itch. I launched that in October of 2007 (working on in it part-time while working on client projects), and it got some paying customers from day one. The revenue from that app has never been large on a MRR basis, but it has been consistent, so I’m pretty happy having that as a cash machine.
In 2008 I was building a SaaS billing system in Rails for the third
time. The first time was for Catch the Best, and second two times were
for clients that had engaged me to build SaaS apps for them.
It occurred to me that other developers might be interested in buying what I had built so that they could save themselves the time of building their own. So I cleaned up the code I had written and launched RailsKits to sell that billing code to other Rails developers. I priced it starting at $250, and it was a hit. It effectively replaced my freelance income for a while, and while it doesn’t make as much as it used to (since other options for implementing billing have become available), it still is a consisitent revenue stream for me.
After RailsKits, I knew I wanted to do another SaaS project, and in 2012 I found the right one: Honeybadger — an application health monitoring service for Ruby developers. It has been an incredibly fun project with awesome co-founders. Since its launch in the fall of 2012 it has grown consistently, allowing me to cut back and eventually eliminate my freelancing business.
I didn’t set out with a plan to start with an ebook, then move to a larger product, then move to a recurring revenue product, but after having considered Rob’s Stairstep Approach and having reflected on the past decade of my own experience, I can certainly recommend going that route. It’s not the only way to go, but it does give you a variety of opportunities to learn how to find customers and sell something to them, and it can be a whole lot of fun.
We may have to eat our own words a bit on this one. Regardless, it’s eye-opening to see what makes some of the biggest blogs on the web work.
If you’re interested in choosing a niche (or in not choosing a niche), this conversation will be important for you.
I’ll leave it at that and let the podcast episode do the talking. Enjoy! (Subscribe if you haven’t yet!)
It’s better to listen on the go! Subscribe on iTunes
You don’t have to choose a niche! (The largest blogs online never did)
Hey Fizzle Crew,
I have a problem I’ve been trying to figure out for a while and thought if anyone would know the answer it would be you guys: there’s a lot said around the blogging world and on your guys’ site, also, about defining your audience and finding your niche.
I’ve just recently found out about Fizzle so I’m a bit behind on the backlog of podcasts, but you guys have mentioned a few times brainpickings.org and farnamstreetblog.com, and I’m wondering this: how is it that something so ‘cross-disciplinary’ (or kind of anti-niche) does so well, and how would they go about doing things like defining their audience and/or doing market research when their audience basically is people who enjoy random interesting things?
I’m not sure if you guys answer random emailed questions, but if you do, then thank you very much for helping me out with this and I hope to hear back.
Best regards, Logan Maro
Your take on the 100th episode!
Take 15 seconds, go to FizzleShow.co/ask and:
- Tell us your name,
- your URL (if applicable)
- and either simply say something like “hi” or “thanks”
- or tell us your favorite moment or inside joke, something this show has inspired you to do or what this show means to you.
We’ll include your voice in a special project we’re doing for our 100th episode(s)! Yea, i said our 100th episodes. We’re building you something awesome. Be a part of it! spend a few seconds of love at FizzleShow.co/ask.
Farnam Street — “I have a fairly simple objective: I want to go to bed each night smarter than when I woke up. I also want to live a meaningful life and become a better person.”
Brain Pickings — “Founded in 2006 as a weekly email that went out to seven friends and eventually brought online, the site was included in the Library of Congress permanent web archive in 2012.”
Brain Pickings: 7 Things I Learned in 7 Years of Reading, Writing, and Living — “Reflections on how to keep the center solid as you continue to evolve.”
Kottke.org – home of fine hypertext products — “The editorial direction of the site is all over the place but clusters around a pair of hand-wavy ideas: the liberal arts 2.0 and people are awesome.”
Why Finding Your Niche Is Just Plain Bad Advice — “If you pay attention to those who succeed in online business, they aren’t following their own advice.”
Maria Popova on Writing, Workflow, and Workarounds — “In this in-depth conversation, we cover just about everything: how it happened, her workflow, how she writes, how her site generates revenue…”
What to do When It's Your Turn [and it's always your turn]
A Professional, goes to work to face the fear on a regular basis. They create an environment where they can't show and do the hard work. https://overcast.fm/podcasts/episode/275866560750657?t=2160
READ - No such thing as writers block.
What professionals do not do... Is they do not wait until they are in the mood. They show up on a regular basis, find the thing they are afraid of, and dance with it. https://overcast.fm/podcasts/episode/275866560750657?t=2313
GMS - Episode 14 - Dancing with the Fear
15 Slides. 30 seconds each. Your Subject. Our Stage. Haven’t worried you yet? Great!
Lightning Talks are always one of the highlights of BoS and this year will be no different. We are pleased to say the BoS Lightning Talks are open for public application now.
If you want an opportunity to talk at BoS about a topic that interests you, send us an application. Lightning Talks follow a simple format – every speaker gets 15 slides and 30 seconds per slide to talk about a subject of their choice. The slides advance automatically. Warning, they are a challenge! But one worth taking: Lightning Talkers have a special place in the hearts of the BoS audience, not to mention a free pass to BoS, and many people have made the jump to more speaking gigs at BoS and other events.
But the fun does not stop there. Oh no! Lighting Talk Competition entrants receive a free pass to the Business of Software Conference where they will speak, the chance to share an idea they care about with a live audience of 200, and the respect of their peers. Don’t underestimate the last one.
If you would like to submit a Lightning Talk, here is what to do before Midnight GMT, April 20th:
Send an email to Joe and enclose:
- Your name
- The title and description of the talk you propose
- A link to a video of you speaking – ideally about what you want to do a Lightning Talk about.
We will review all of the submissions, and pick what we feel will be the most appropriate ones, to talk live at BoS 2015.
Remember to submit by April 20th.
(Please note submissions from third parties including marketing departments, speaking agents etc will be ignored – we don’t have the time – please see below).We only want submissions from people that care enough to do their own stuff. This is a chance to stand up in front of a bunch of people and share an idea you love.
To get your creative juices flowing, here are some previous winners:
- Des Traynor, Product development is about saying, ‘No’.
- Claire Lew, How to Get Honest Feedback from your Employees
- Dom Read, ‘The second most disturbing thing I have ever had in my hand and other stories.
- All of the Business of Software Lightning Talks from 2012.
- Business of Software 2011. Justin Goeres, ‘Getting to Nowhere‘ (You can also see all last year’s talks here too).
- Business of Software 2010. Patrick McKenzie, ‘Hello Ladies’
- Business of Software 2009. Mark Stephens, ‘Are you a large lizard or small and furry?’
- Business of Software 2008. Alex Ohanian, ‘Keeping it Real’
Even if you don’t submit an idea, why not think about what you would talk about in 7.5 minutes? Strange as this might sound, lots of our attendees do, even if they have no interest in standing on stage. Thinking about the essence of what you are passionate about can be a very good way of helping you work out what is important to you.
Remember to submit your application to Joe by 20th April:
- Your name
- The title and description of the talk you propose
- A link to a video of you speaking – ideally about what you want to do a Lightning Talk about.
The post Lightning Talks 2015 | BoS Europe Applications Open appeared first on Business of Software USA.