September WP Curve monthly report 11% growth, best selling book and more

Hey all I’ve had a few people ask me where the September monthly report is at which is cool. I’ve had a busy month travelling so it’s taken me a while but here it is.

We do these reports to help other entrepreneurs get real information about running a startup. I did the 1st report in 2012 when I was earning $0. Here is the full archive. Here is a post I wrote recently on some monthly income reports from other startups. If you like the reports I’d love you to share it.

11% revenue growth and a best selling book. WP Curve September monthly report #startups #wordpress – Click to tweet

11% growth to $39,710 MER

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 8.46.15 am

We just hit out 10% monthly growth goal in September increasing from $35,819 to $39,710 (11%). We’ve now hit that target 15 out of 16 months since launching.

This figure is made up of $37,859 in Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR) and $1,851 in expected one off jobs.

In total we had a net increase of customers of 68 making it our biggest month yet. However on a % basis 11% growth is our second slowest month.

People, Product and Process


We hired 3 more team members in September bringing the total team to 22. We also hired Tom Morkes for 4 weeks to work on the launch of the 7 Day Startup. More on that below.

Welcome to Kyle Gray our Content Marketing Manager

kyleI’m excited to announce that Kyle Gray has joined us in the role of Content Marketing Manager. Kyle worked recently as the manager of the Foundry in Utah where he helped incubate new companies.

He actually interviewed me on the Foundry podcast a while ago which you can check out here.

I’m currently in Bangkok working our content marketing strategy with Kyle. We are going to completely overhaul the blog and release an updated podcast.

You can follow Kyle on Twitter and welcome him to the team @kylethegray.


The service is going quite well. Again our satisfaction is right on our target but I have some ideas on how to improve this. Alex and I are getting together in Hawaii in a few weeks to map out the strategy for the next year. Part of it will include some changes that will hopefully result in happier customers.



Our processes haven’t changed too much since last month. Our content marketing procedures will change once Kyle gets up to speed and our processes for managing jobs may change after I meet with Alex in November.

17% website traffic growth

Our traffic exploded in September and has continue to rise throughout October. Previously our busiest month traffic wise was 33,000 visits. In September we had 37,673 visits. This was an increase of 17% from last month’s 32,233.  In October the traffic has exploded even more and should be well over 50,000 visits.

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 9.23.43 am

Some of this traffic was from the book launch late in the month, but this didn’t really kick in until October. You can see the spike towards the end in the chart below.

Traffic sources


Top pages

Here are our top pages on the site. It’s great to see a few pieces of content continually popping up each month with lots of traffic.



Content wise it was quite a good month. Most of the content revolved around the book. I actually lost count of the amount of interviews I did and related content but I think we would have hit out 15 pieces goal for the month. I included book reviews in this as well as podcast interviews and guest posts about the book.

I also released a 7 Day Startup resources page with 5 downloadable resources and 100+ links and mentions from the book.


I also presented at my first conference, WordCamp Sydney which went really well. You can grab the slides here.

I was nervous about presenting because I’m generally pretty freaked out at conferences. However I found it quite easy and I enjoyed the conference a lot more being a speaker. Everyone came up to me instead of me having to approach people which makes things a lot easier. I had lots of excellent feedback from my talk too which was nice.

I’m in Bangkok this week presenting at DCBKK twice, and I’ll also be presenting at Tropical Think Tank in 2015 with some pretty amazing speakers.


7 Day Startup Book Launch


While it only just snuck into September, my highlight for the month was the launch of my first book The 7 Day Startup.

The full details of what we did are in this book marketing post. The success of the book has completely taken me by surprise. Here are some brief highlights:

  1. The book was a top 10 best seller in 3 free categories and then again when it was moved to paid. It was #1 in startups and small business as a free book then #2 in both categories as a paid book.
  2. It was ordered 13,000+ times during the first week when it was free.
  3. It’s still getting 80-100 orders a day as a paid product.
  4. It’s had over 100 5 start Amazon reviews.
  5. It was featured on the front page of product Hunt in early October which sent 3,000 visits to the site. I’ll go into that a bit more in the October report.
  6. The feedback has been amazing, there are lots of people using the process to build their own businesses.

I’ve put together a Facebook group for entrepreneurs as a result of the book and it’s already up to just under 800 members.

Here’s a pic of it ranking against The Lean Startup and Zero To One.


I’m extremely grateful to everyone who helped me out by sharing the book or writing a review. It’s been a great few weeks. We also had a big spike in traffic, email optins and signups to WP Curve in the launch week. Our signups actually almost doubled which was pretty amazing.

Long term I think it’s going to give us a good basis for creating a lot more content and providing more value to our growing community of new entrepreneurs.

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The post September WP Curve monthly report 11% growth, best selling book and more appeared first on WP Curve.

How to Stop Potential Customers from Comparison Shopping

Every business owner, online or offline, suffers from a problem that decreases sales, narrows margins, and reduces revenues.

The problem is comparison shopping.

Think about the last time you were considering a purchase. You probably checked out several different places in order to find the best options, the best prices, and the best guarantee.

Your potential customers are doing the same thing!

Today, I’d like to show you how to minimize, or possibly even prevent, this comparison shopping so that you can increase the number of customers you acquire without decreasing your prices.

Let’s get right to it.

#1: Exploit the “Mere-Exposure” Effect

The mere-exposure effect is a psychological phenomenon that can be used in advertising. It refers to the fact that people tend to develop a preference for things merely because they are familiar with them. In social psychology, this effect is called the familiarity principle.

It’s also the main power behind branding. Big companies spend millions of dollars every year looking for “exposure.” They want to implant themselves into the minds of consumers. They want to be thought of first any time a consumer thinks about a product in their genre.

For example, I say “soft drink” and you think…

Coke, right?

That’s the power behind branding. Unfortunately, it takes many years and millions of dollars’ worth of advertising to achieve that kind of recognition.

To expedite the process while getting money upfront, here’s what you do:

Think of at least five different places where you can get yourself in front of potential customers while still making money. Here are a few ways to do that:

  1. Publish articles on a large variety of other websites (as I am with this guest post)
  2. Spend money to raise your SEO rankings so prospects find you when performing searches
  3. Retarget visitors based on their behaviors on your website so you can “follow them around”
  4. Spend the time and money to find profitable PAID traffic campaigns, using various vendors (Google, Bing, Facebook, etc.)
  5. Think about using other media such as SMS messages, voicemail broadcasts, newsletters, and direct mail

You don’t have to do all these at once. Make your own list, prioritize it, and start implementing the items one by one. Use as many of them simultaneously as you can so that every time your prospect is participating in an activity associated with your area of expertise, they will see your business. Within a few months to a year, you’ll be “everywhere” and you’ll be taking full advantage of this incredibly powerful psychological principle.

#2: Survey to Find Out Why People Chose You

When I begin work on a new project, I always start by presenting a survey to prospects and customers.

There’s a good reason for that.

Surveys help you uncover marketing gold. It allows your customers to tell you exactly how to sell them.

You’ll be able to uncover their fears, find out why they didn’t buy from you, discover what did make them buy from you, learn what they think about your competitors, identify what products/services they’re looking for, and anything else you want to know!

There are many different ways you can survey your audience. For example, you can create surveys…

  • To ask new prospects what they’re looking for
  • To generate ideas for new products, services, or other ways you can help your audience
  • To discover why your customers chose your product/service instead of your competitors’

I’ve personally used surveys for all three. Before creating your survey, just take a minute to think about WHY you’re building the survey.

Is it to improve your sales pages? Create new products? Improve the ordering experience? Find your customers’ biggest frustrations? Judge how you’re competing against your competitors?

Keeping in line with the topic of this article, you might use a survey to find out specifically what appeals to your customers. When you find out why they bought from you instead of your competitors, put that information directly into your sales messages! It will resonate with future prospects and increase your conversions and sales.

#3: Prepare Comparisons for Your Prospects

Whether you like it or not, people are researching your company and comparing it with your competitors.

The problem with this is that the information they find isn’t always tweaked in your favor.

And, as you know, not everything you read online is true.

So, instead of letting your potential customers be guided by the Internet gerbils, do the research for them and show them – on YOUR website (or offline) – how you stack up in key areas.

Two great ways to do this are through comparison charts and FAQ’s.

Here’s an example of a comparison chart a client of mine uses, which accurately portrays the product being sold as the best choice for the person viewing the page:

krill oil comparison

Including this in your FAQ’s is easy. Simply add a question asking, “Why should I choose your product over <insert competitor>?”

Then, answer the question.

Now, what kinds of results does this get?

Obviously, every person implementing this strategy will see different results. However, from my experience in my own business, side businesses, and conducting conversion rate optimization for clients, I’ve seen a “general” increase of 15% – 20% by adding either of these to the main sales pages.

(I’ve never tested adding both at once.)

To get the best results, I’d recommend following these guidelines:

  • FAQ’s can be placed in your footer on every page, and at the bottom of all your main sales pages.
  • Comparison charts can be shown on the main sales page, typically just before a call to action button. (You also can test comparison charts in other places, but start on the main sales page, test it, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.)

By the way, I recently created an entire “Why Us” page for a client who had so many differentiating factors, it was warranted.

#4: Write “Smarter” Copy

Writing more engaging (what I call “smarter” copy) can make an incredible impact on your conversion rates because it sells the prospect there and then, stopping them from even beginning the comparison process.

Here are a few ways to do so:

  • Conduct surveys – As we discussed earlier, surveys are one of the fastest and most accurate ways to discover the true emotional hot buttons of your market. Find out what is frustrating potential customers, what solution they’re looking for, and what’s going to make them buy. Then, talk about it in your copy! For one client, I looked through nearly 1,000 survey responses, and then I prioritized his page based on which frustrations appeared most often.
  • Add some personality – Nobody wants to read something that’s boring. Add a little personality into your writing. Write like you talk. If you are enthusiastic, show it! If you are a little sarcastic, write the same way! People engage when they feel your energy, so don’t be afraid to show it.
  • Use stories to resonate with multiple “lifestyle triggers” – This is most powerful when it is used in your email campaigns. The premise is simple. Every prospect that comes to your website has certain “lifestyle triggers.” Maybe they love golf or children or sports or the outdoors or a certain TV show or… You get the idea. Within your writing, tell stories about these things and then transition that into a lesson. For example, I love all the things I just mentioned. In my emails, I frequently start off talking about them. For instance, I might say that I “just got back from a hike” or describe something one of my sons just did, and then segue into a marketing lesson that will help my audience.

People sometimes complicate the process of copywriting. It’s not complicated. Yes, there are more advanced techniques I use in my writing, but I’m a trained copywriter. If you aren’t, and you’re doing your own writing, just focus on being yourself and relating to your audience. The rest will flow naturally.

#5: Provide More Proof

The reason people comparison shop is because they want to find out which product/service is going to give them the best chance of getting the best results.

If you want to stop people from comparing, give them overwhelming proof that you will give them the results they’re after. It’s as simple as that! Here are some ways to do that:

The most obvious way is to use case studies/testimonials. Provide reviews by previous buyers who explain their successful experiences with your product. These stories can work because people like to do what others are doing. Be sure to furnish at least four or five reviews to increase the chances that potential customers will see someone they can relate to in one of them.

You also can use technical jargon. Imagine you walk into a party and strike up a chat with a random person. As you ask them about their job, they begin talking to you in language you can barely decipher. You have an idea of what they’re talking about, but obviously their comprehension of the subject is far greater than yours.

Would you instantly think that person was an expert in their field?

Of course!

One of the best ways to increase sales is to speak to your prospects in a very casual, easy-to-understand language. However, you can add a little spark to the conversation by interlacing that with technical jargon they might not understand, simply to prove your comprehension and authority in the subject.

Here’s a quick example of the copy I created for the client with the comparison chart on krill oil in Section 3 above.

“Our krill oil is then quickly captured and secured in an airtight capsule, using our proprietary capliques™ technology. These capliques™ work in two unique ways…

1) Proprietary Sealing – Capliques™ use an innovative band-sealing technology which minimizes leakage and prevents odor. It also utilizes a proven application that is more natural and doesn’t require additional fillers or binders.

2) Advanced Delivery System – Capliques™ provide a quadruple benefit by utilizing a two-phase delivery system which simultaneously requires less excipients, limits oxidation, improves bioavailability and increases absorption rates. Plus our time-release capsules release the krill oil slowly so you get maximum absorption and longer protection.

By using this sealing and delivery system and combining it with the most potent blend of krill oil we’ve come across, you get better results at a cheaper price.”

Notice how it mixes technical jargon with simple language that is easy to understand? That’s what you want to strive for.

Which of These Will You Implement?

We covered a lot today. Some suggestions will resonate perfectly, while others will not apply. All of them are extremely effective. Go back and skim through this post and let me know which you plan to implement first.

And, of course, let me know if you have any questions. Write your comments below, and I’ll be happy to help out!

About the Author: Jeremy Reeves is a sales funnel specialist. He helps his students and private clients build advanced, automated sales funnels to increase revenue and stabilize cash flow while building trust and credibility. You can learn more about how he can help you at where you can download his free report, “How To Build A Million Dollar Sales Funnel.” You can follow Reeves on Google+ here.

Kalzumeus Podcast Episode 9: Customer Onboarding With Samuel Hulick

Samuel Hulick, one of the guys I trust most with regards to SaaS user onboarding, joined us for this episode of the podcast.  I met Sam first when he was writing a book on the topic.  The best evidence I can give you for the proposition “Sam knows more than the vast majority of people about user onboarding experiences” is the fact that he’s written up 25+ of them publicly (e.g. Basecamp’s) and that the writeups are of very high caliber.  Check them out sometime.

[Patrick notes: The transcript below has my commentary inserted like this, as usual.]

What you’ll learn in this podcast:

  • What mistakes SaaS companies frequently make with regards to user onboarding.
  • How to start preparing users for success pre-signup, using site copy and appropriate expectation setting in marketing.
  • How SaaS companies often botch product tours, and how you can make yours serve the user rather than serving the product team.
  • How to use lifecycle emails to make customers more successful.
  • How organizational issues at SaaS companies often directly cause problems in the artifacts given to customers, and how you can avoid this.

Podcast: Customer Onboarding

MP3 Download (~75 minutes, ~110MB) : Right-click here and click Save As.

Podcast format: either subscribe to in your podcast reader of choice or you can search for Kalzumeus Podcast in the iTunes Store.

Transcript: Customer Onboarding

Patrick McKenzie:  Hideho, everybody. This is Patrick McKenzie, here with the ninth episode of the Kalzumeus Podcast. Our guest today is Samuel Hulick, who is behind My usual co‑host, Keith, couldn’t make it today.

I moved down to Tokyo recently [Patrick notes: And will talk about that more some other day.], so it’s a bit of logistical nightmare getting everybody together, but hopefully that’ll work out itself over the next couple episodes. Anyhow, it’s great to have you here, Sam.

Samuel Hulick:  It is wonderful to be here.

Patrick:  I think today we’re just going to talk a little bit about what you’ve noticed in your experiences as a consultant/author on the topic of user onboarding, what software companies typically do well, do poorly, how they can improve on it.

Also, on a meta-level, I’d like to ask about your experiences of building up the reputation as an expert in this emerging field of dev‑related topics, and how that’s worked out for you personally in your career. Sound good?

Samuel:  I would be delighted to cover all of that.

Patrick:  Awesome. I guess, first question. Sam is one of the few people I trust on the topic of user onboarding.  I trust Sam largely because he’s done maybe 20 public tear‑downs of websites, saying, “Hey, this is a SaaS company. I signed up for their product.”

He makes copious screencasts/screenshots of the product during the onboarding phase. If you’re not familiar with that term of art, onboarding is basically the experience immediately after you sign into the product for the first time. It’s analogous to unboxing in the retail world. Sometimes we call it the first‑run experience, too. Anyhow, onboarding is getting someone shoved into the software.

Sam did public tear‑downs about this for various websites, ranging from Gmail and Basecamp, down to no‑name websites like mine, and just highlighted, “OK, here’s what they’re doing well. Here’s what they’re doing poorly. Here’s what my recommendations would be for doing it better.”

One of the things that I noticed as I was reading a lot of Sam’s write‑ups is that they’re really, really good. These are the sort of things that I used to do for consulting clients. Mine were not nearly so in‑depth or detail‑oriented. I would just say, “I A/B tested things around this before.”

I would do X, Y, and Z, but I had no, really, theory of the mind of the customer that was informing X, Y, and Z, where Sam is much better at the theorizing behind it. Anyhow.

[Patrick notes: I think I was excessively self-deprecating here with regards to not having a theory of the mind.]

Samuel:  I’m honored that you think so.

Patrick:  After building you up so much…

Samuel:  [laughs]

Patrick:  What’s the general takeaway for software companies about our onboarding processes? What are the easy ways that we fluff things up right now, and how can we do that better?  Hmm, that sounds too generic, but let’s roll with it anyhow.

How You Structure Your Teams Spills Over Into How Your Product Is Experienced

Samuel:  I think that probably the biggest mental hurdle to get over ‑‑ well, a couple things. One is I oftentimes will look at how the organization is organized. There’s the term Conway’s Law, which is that the output of a team will be reflecting the way that that team was organized. If one department doesn’t talk to another, the parts of the application that they’re in charge of will likely not talk to each other.  Things like that.

[Patrick notes: This observation is almost painfully on-point at larger software companies.]

I find that a lot of times, when you’re looking at how a product is produced or how it comes to be, there’s typically a marketing department or team, where they’re organized around driving awareness and acquisition, sign‑ups, and whose responsibility just ends after sign‑ups a lot of the time.

Then you’re looking at a product team, where they’re driven around creating new features and driving ongoing engagement. There are often  really any humans in the organization that are really incentivized around bridging the gap from sign‑ups to highly engaged users.

Much of the time, if there’s an onboarding issue in the user experience, it’s a lot of times derived from the way that the teams were split up to begin with.

On top of that, a lot of times, onboarding seems to be something of an afterthought. I look at a lot of similarities between onboarding in a product, like a SaaS product, and tutorials in a video game.

[Patrick notes: I would explicitly point out Blizzard games or the Half-Life series, which quite literally have this down to a science.  Play the first 5 minutes of Diablo 3 or World of Warcraft or Hearthstone or Half-Life and observe how they're simultaneously effective at telling a story, manipulating the player's emotional state, and also introducing several core UI elements of a piece of software whose user-visible complexity rivals that of MSWord or MySQL.]

A lot of times, people seem like they get really carried away about making the “core” game, or the essence of the software product, without really looking at the problem to be solved as, how do you even get people engaged, to begin with?

I wouldn’t say that onboarding is necessarily something that I would recommend waiting till the very end, when all the resources and time are exhausted and trying to staple something on after the fact.

I would really look at your product as the essence of what you’re doing is creating some amount of success in people’s lives. The onboarding process is getting people transitioned from a situation that’s probably frustrating them, because that’s why they’re trying out a new product, to a situation that they’re a lot happier with.  Then, they pay you money for that pain relief.

That is my general take on the matter, as a brain-dump.

Patrick:  Sure. I largely agree with everything in that general take. It’s something that I often went to clients and other people in the SaaS industry and try to impress upon them.

Again, for reasons like you were talking about with Conway’s Law, and the fact that this is not tracked anywhere in the organization, most companies are unaware of this.

Depending on the SaaS company, if you have a free‑trial sign‑up model, where folks can have a way of testing your software out, somewhere between 40 and 60 percent of the people who start a free trial will never log into the software a second time. They get that one free‑trial experience, and then they’re out of there.

Given that the first five minutes of the use of the software is all a lot of people are ever going to see, you really have to make that first five minutes absolutely sing if you’re going to convince, literally, half of the market for your software that they have to do just a bit more work to get the change in their life that your software is promising to them.

[Patrick notes: I occasionally experience pushback from the phrase "change in someone's life", but I honestly think that that is about where we should aim as software entrepreneurs.  You don't need to have the impact of a religion or their spouse, but you should be at least aiming at "washing machine."  Take a person who has never had a washing machine, introduce them to a washing machine, bam, that is a major improvement in their quality of life.  That is, approximately, how much you want to revolutionize a business process with your software offering.  (Or you can try to do it in B2C, but it's really, really hard, and I only recommend doing so if you have a lot of money to spend, for reasons I've discussed before.)]

Patrick: Instead of just typing some information into the computer, they’re going to have to go to bat for your software with other people in the organization. They’re going to have to change the way they how do some process at their job. They’re going to have to change their habits over months and years to get value out of it.

That long trek to changing those habits and unlocking the value starts with just that first five minutes, so that first five minutes absolutely cannot be a blocker to them.

Samuel:  For those listening, I’m nodding vigorously right now. I completely agree. The 40 to 60 percent, I’m very thankful for you making public claims in that regard, because then I get to reference that in my material. Very, very much agree.

[Patrick notes: I'm a little afraid of citogenesis in the Wikipedia sense, so feel free to share stats from your own businesses if they agree or disagree with that range.  It is my rough rule of thumb for B2B apps sold on a low-touch free trial model.]

Samuel: I would also say, one thing that you touched on is it’s really important to make those first five minutes really great, but at the same time, I wouldn’t constrain the definition of onboarding to just that first‑run experience. A lot of times, when I see onboarding done really well, it’s because they have a really smart automatic‑trigger life‑cycle email campaign that follows, or things along those lines.

Then also, even before sign‑up, just orienting people around the value that your product offers and setting expectations and guiding their motivation and momentum in the right direction. If you think you’re signing up for one thing and you’re getting another, that’s an onboarding problem, but certainly the heavy weight could’ve been lifted long before that person signed up.

Patrick:  I have a priceless anecdote about that, actually. Everybody does experiments, right, with traffic channels, different acquiring customers, whatnot. I presume they won’t be too mad at me for talking about this.

Fog Creek has FogBugz, which is a bug‑tracking product for developers. Due to an AdWords campaign at one point, Google was sending people to the landing page who were looking for things like [bug for tracking boyfriend's car].

[Patrick notes: Back in the day, I did occasional consulting for Fog Creek.  Assume that I caused this problem.]

The landing page, at the time, did not disabuse someone of the notion that FogBugz was the right product for them. They got some very interesting feedback in the customer support channel about, “I don’t see how I track my boyfriend’s car,” “How do I start tracking my boyfriend’s car?” et cetera.

Samuel:  [laughs]

Patrick:  You can think of that as an onboarding problem. Obviously, the solution was tightening up our Google campaign so that we’re no longer paying them a lot of money to send people who want to do various illegal activities with software. Setting expectations is really important.

I like that you mentioned life‑cycle emails. Some of the best individual wins that I’ve seen companies get are just circling back with someone in an automated or semi‑automated fashion, a day or two after them signing up, and saying, “Hey, you signed up for blah the other day, but it looks like you haven’t gotten around to using it. Here’s how to get started.”

Then you’re giving them X, Y, and Z, where if you can, X, Y, and Z are triggered based on their actions in the app. For example, hypothetically, if I was writing one for GitHub, and somebody had signed up for the paid version of GitHub, but 48 hours later they didn’t have a single repository in their paid version of GitHub, I might ping them and say, “Hey, thanks for signing up for GitHub.”

“Github the place where you want to get all your source code, but you don’t have your source code in yet, so here’s how you can start by getting your source code into GitHub. Or maybe that isn’t your job. Maybe that’s someone else’s at the organization. Here’s how to give them the instructions they need to start using your company’s new GitHub account.”

Samuel:  I completely agree. I think that looking at what are the external pressures that are forcing that person to be trying out new software to begin with, and being as aware of those as possible, is a total no‑brainer.

Especially B2B software, understanding who’s the person who needs to sign off on this check being cut, is there an IT review of some sort that needs to happen, can you create a PDF that they can slide across the desk to their boss that explains the ROI of your product instead of hoping that they can come up with something clever on their own ‑‑ those are all things that I would highly recommend doing, for sure.

Patrick:  That ROI calculation is priceless. I actually do that in a scalable fashion for Appointment Reminder. Somebody, several weeks into a trial, once emailed me when I said, “Hey, your trial is coming towards the last couple of days.”

Since I have their credit card already, it’s just like a courtesy notification, like, “Hey, we’re going to charge you in three days. If you don’t want this to happen, cancel now.” That is not actually the copy I use, but that’s the sense of it.

They wrote me back and said, “Hey, Patrick, really appreciate the email. I’ve got a question. My boss is asking me for an ROI calculation on this software. I don’t know what ROI means and I don’t know how to calculate it. Can you do that work for me?” I’m like, “Well, since it’s going to help you pay 80 bucks a month for my software, I can certainly help you out for that.”

I attached an Excel spreadsheet, where I made some assumptions about their level of use of the software based on what I had seen in the database about them and assumptions on their cost structure as a business. I said, “OK. It turns out that this is saving you,” make up a number, “$500 a month. It only costs you $100, so that’s an ROI of 500 percent.”

Then, right after I sent that email, I’m like, this calculation is generalizable to everybody, and there’s approximately nobody who would hate hearing that they’re getting 500 percent ROI. I just changed the email that they’d gotten that eventually prompted them to ask about ROI, such that the computer automatically calculated the ROI if they were getting a happy number.

[Patrick notes: Maybe this would be easier to understand with a visual aid?  Here's the "trial progressing well" email, which goes out on day 20 for trials which the system has heuristically decided that the customer is likely happy with Appointment Reminder.  I've taken the liberty of marking it up a bit to direct you directly to the ROI-focused portion.

Appointment Reminder ROI Calculation in Email


If it calculated the ROI and they were getting an unhappy number, it instead sent them a second email, which was ‑‑ informally, it’s called “trial unsuccessful,” although that’s not actually in the email to them.

It basically says, “Hey, I’m a small businessman. I understand that sometimes I want to do something in a given month, and life just gets so freaking busy, and I’m not successful with getting that done this month. I totally understand how that might’ve happened to you, too. If it did, drop me an email. I’d be happy to extend your trial by another month.”

Maybe a quarter of people who get that email will write me back and say, “Hey, I wanted to use it. I just got busy. Can you extend my trial?”

Then that gives me an opportunity to both talk to them, figure out, if there was an issue with Appointment Reminder, how do I fix it such that they won’t need the second month. Also, the value of a trial that bounces out of your system is zero. The value of a trial that’s still in your system is nonzero.

To a first approximation, it’s always to your advantage just to give people the extra trial, especially if you don’t advertise that you’re doing that ‑‑ which, oops, I just told the podcast with 40,000 people, but none of you will pay me money so it’s fine.

Samuel:  [laughs]

Patrick:  Life‑cycle email is where it’s at.

Samuel:  I concur. Yeah.

Patrick:  One of the things that I see trip up folks a lot when they’re doing onboarding is sometimes the folks who are in charge of onboarding ‑‑ and this goes back to your organization point ‑‑ might not be the folks in charge of product.

Prior to and ‑‑ shoot, what’s the other dot‑IO company?, which gives people who are less technical the ability to set up these complicated life‑cycle email chains without having to necessarily dig into the code of the product to do it for themselves.

A lot of the marketing or customer success teams might have had a little difficulty hooking up life‑cycle email. In addition to life‑cycle email, what are tools that someone who might not have total control of the technical aspect, what could they do to influence the customer in their onboarding phase?

Samuel:  Hopefully I will be able to point to something that I am making sometime down the road.

Patrick:  Oh, please do.

Samuel:  In the meantime, I am a big fan of Jonathan Kim and what he’s doing at AppCues. That’s a piece of third‑party software that I would recommend people check out.

This maybe is cheating a little bit, but looking at live‑chat software, like Olark, just being present in there and understanding where your onboarding experience is breaking down, to me is really, really valuable. Most people who are faced with the onboarding dilemma in their company tend to be more like user experience or product, but just don’t really have the resources to pull it off.

Even if you’re just living in that world and can just say, “Guys, people think that they’re signing up for a bug to track their boyfriend’s car or whatever. Can we just make a copy change or something like that?”

Typically, those can get pushed through. It’s not like it’s a whole new feature, things like that. I would really recommend having live chat in that moment, because you can find out where one person’s going wrong and then make changes that affect the untold thousands of other people that will be following them.

The Fundamental Feedback Loop Of Low-Touch SaaS Companies

Patrick:  That is, by the way, just one of the generic secrets of running a SaaS company at scale. You do lots of stuff that doesn’t scale, and then use the stuff that doesn’t scale as fuel for the mass‑scalable approaches that affect the rest of the customer base that doesn’t talk to you.

Whether that’s automated email sequences, website copy changes, whether it informs your general marketing strategy, whether it drives changes to the product to make things easier to understand, et cetera.

Samuel:  Completely. One thing. I was speaking with Nick Francis from Help Scout the other day, and he made a really great point, which is, even if you’re using your own product or eating your own dog food, you’re not dog‑fooding your own onboarding experience. You’re not signing up for your product over and over every day.

A lot of times, you can be pushing out changes over the course of three weeks or three months that change A, B, and E, collide somehow and mess up your onboarding interface and the onboarding experience, but it’s a real blind spot for a lot of people. That’s another big reason that I really recommend getting a live‑chat box, like Olark or something like that, installed, just maintaining a presence there.

Patrick:  That’s actually a really good point. One of the exercises that I used to go to with consulting clients was, roughly on a quarterly basis, I would have people take out an actual, honest‑to‑God, physical credit card and sign up for the product. Not on the staging server, not through the API, not using autofilled details provided by the browser.  Buying the actual product from the actual production system. Put in a credit card, buy it, and see if everything works, and see if everything was optimally optimal.

I think sign‑up flows, purchasing flows, et cetera, they have a great tendency to go stale, because they get implemented by a junior Rails engineer in the first two months of the company, and since they <airquotes>”work”</airquotes> nobody ever looks at them again, until you break them in such a way that sales go to zero.

Samuel:  It’s crazy to me. I mean, you spend so much. Your team breaks their backs to create features that people would bother signing up for, and your marketing department is killing themselves trying to get more and more people to sign up for them, and then looking at just even getting people introduced to that or finding some sort of wins.

Then, even if they defy all the odds and get that far and they’re ready to pay you, like let’s put a ring on this, and then that experience breaks down. It’s super frustrating, so yeah. I completely agree.

Patrick:  You would not believe how many times you have really good, passionate product people in a room, these folks who would not tolerate a single comma out of place on a preferences screen, and you put them in front of the credit‑card form and ask them to buy their own product.

They put in their credit‑card number like it’s written on the credit card, with spaces, and the form blocks them from doing that.  “Your credit card number cannot contain spaces.”

Flag on the play. Why are we telling a human to do something that a computer can do better? Let’s fix this.

Samuel:  I completely agree.

Patrick:  That can be your takeaway. Just take out your credit card right now, try to buy whatever it is you sell.

Anyhow, one more thing on the topic of user onboarding, before we go in a new direction.

Samuel:  Sure.

Patrick:  I’d like to talk about one of my favorite tactics for improving the onboarding experience, even though it is a bit resource intensive: the product tour.  There’s the less‑invasive changes you can make to an onboarding process, like changing the marketing copy for the sign‑up to establish expectations better, changing the life‑cycle email copy or the life‑cycle email timing to rescue more of the people who might not have a hundred‑percent‑successful first‑run experience.

Or to not even rescue people but assist them in being more successful with the software, for folks whose decision‑making process just naturally doesn’t occur at their company in a five‑minute increment.

The more resource‑intensive thing that I do for my own products and do for a lot of clients is implementing a post‑sign‑up tour in the application. I was wondering if you could distill some experiences that you’ve had of doing that with clients, sighting it on the Internet, and dot‑dot‑dot.

[Patrick notes: Verbal ellipses?  Sure, why not.]

Samuel:  That is an area, philosophically, I have some issues with it, to be honest. I somewhat hesitate to anti-recommend it, given that you’ve presumably done a lot of experiments and had great success with it.

[Patrick notes: Careful Samuel and all you other guys!  I have actually done a lot of experiments about this particular thing, but because there is finite experimental bandwidth and because often we don't have enough traffic post-signup to get results before the sun goes nova, I will often ship things based on my/the team's best guess as to what user behavior is without actually testing them.  People assume I never do that because I talk about A/B testing so often, but that assumption is dangerous.

I also have to point out that, in the context of user tours, I am aware of ones which were major wins and ones which were "worthwhile to do but won't make a difference to our overall numbers" and other ones which had to be yanked out of the product at a later date, for a few reasons.  Like any tactic, they're heavily sensitive to the particulars of one's own use case, one's implementation ability, and uncontrollable vagaries.]

Samuel: I don’t want to pooh‑pooh it out of hand, but I think that there are a couple issues of going down the road of basically what you might call a tool‑tip tour or something like that, where you’re spotlighting different parts of the interface or things like that.

[Patrick notes: Tooltip tours are in vogue because they're comparatively easy to implement, relative to all the other ways of doing a tour experience.  Unless you put a lot of thought into what you're actually getting people to do with the tooltips, they are not value creating.  I see many more tooltip tours that are vexatious than ones which, like the Blizzard example earlier, excite the user while simultaneously instructing them on how to get started with saving the world from orcs and poorly managed projects.]

Samuel: One, going back to my initial point of tacking onboarding, stapling onboarding on at the very end of the product cycle, a lot of times, I think people use it to literally cover up user‑interface issues that they have. A lot of times, people will use it as a crutch to say ‑‑ I’ve literally seen a button that says, “Create project,” and there’s a tool tip that points to it that says, “Click this to create a project.”

There’s a really wonderful Flickr group that Jason Fried from Basecamp started a long, long time ago, called Signs on Signs, where he takes pictures, or he did at the time, took pictures of a sign in a library that says, “Please be quiet,” and then there’s a sign attached to that sign that points to it that says, “Look at this sign,” or “Attention, please be quiet,” or things like that.

A lot of times, if your interface is messed up, adding more to it that literally points to the parts that are confusing is not something that I would recommend. I would really recommend just fixing it to begin with. There’s that.

I think another issue with tool‑tip tours and things along those lines ‑‑ I’ve seen your Appointment Reminder tour, and it does not qualify for this critique, but a lot of others, I think, do ‑‑ is that they’re very focused on introducing people to features or introducing people to parts of the interface more so than they are at guiding people to actually accomplish something.

A lot of times, you’ll see six tool tips that all show up at the same time, and it says, “Click here to do this,” or “When you need to do this, go over here,” things like that. They’re not actually walking you through getting something accomplished. They’re just basically asking you to remember where to go when you’re faced with a situation in which that button would be useful.

[Patrick notes: This is, indeed, a failure case.  I pointed it out at one consulting client and asked who to talk to to get it fixed, and was told that nobody "owned" the tour, which is another failure case.  They thankfully came to the conclusion that that was suboptimal and tasked an engineer on it.]

Samuel:A lot of times, when I see tool‑tip tours done poorly, it’s because they ask people to learn by remembering and not learn by doing, which is not the case with yours.

You focus on one thing at a time, and the entire thing is about let’s just guide you through, hold you by the hand, and get your first appointment scheduled, and understand what it’s like, what kind of phone call you’re going to be getting when that happens, and things like that. I would say, not in your case, but a lot of times, that can be an issue.

Then, one other thing to really look for with tool‑tip tours is that they can be, how would I put it, sequentially fragile. There are a lot of times where, if your plan is to get people through maybe a 15‑step tool‑tip tour workflow, but if there’s an issue where somebody thinks they’re supposed to click on one button, but they’re actually supposed to click “OK” within the tool tip or something like that.

All of a sudden, it disappears. Getting back into it, do you start back at step one, or step seven, where you left off? Things like that. Using that as a highly linear narrative device can go sideways really quickly. That’s another thing to be concerned about.

Patrick:  Just in terms of building stuff, when I build out tours, partly because I’m aware of the fact of sequential fragility, there is generally an easily accessible bailout button for the tour at all stages of the process. When somebody bails out, it should probably keep them in a consistent state that doesn’t totally hose their account.

That’s not universal on all tours. Either you give them a wiped‑clean account, or, ideally, you would just give them full control over the interface, but keep the state of the account as whatever they were just seeing, to not have the leaky abstraction of, OK, the tour‑mode stuff was actually just fake objects created in a fake state that we displayed to you, but it was actually a lie, which is how a lot of them are implemented.

[Patrick notes: Why?  Well, since the tour will often involve running through the core use case for the application, it will necessarily plug very deeply into the core workflow / business logic / etc.  That is a non-starter at some places, so rather than changing the core workflow / business logic to accommodate a special tour state, they just fake the existence of the happy path of the workflow with smoke and mirrors.  Appointment Reminder's tour, by comparison, is done with maximum verisimilitude (and a whole lot of elbow grease, which involves some hackery deep in the bowels of the application, like a special case in our outgoing phone system which detects Hollywood phone numbers of the (555) 555-XXX format, short-circuits actually attempting to call them as you're directed to do in the tour, and then simulates the results of interaction by a human with the phone call that would have happened but for the short-circuit).

Samuel:  We almost think about, I can almost guarantee that you, myself, and every listener for this podcast has downloaded some sort of mobile app that's been greeted with a series of welcome screens, and gone swipe‑swipe‑swipe‑swipe‑swipe to just get through it to get to the actual thing. Then not know what was covered in the thing that you just skipped over and not really know how to proceed from there.

I would say any kind of intro or tour or anything, create it around helping people make progress and move forward, but don't absolutely depend on that.

I would design for a null state, where, basically, OK, is it still going to make sense and we're still going to be communicating the most important things when the dashboard is empty or things along those lines, and not really count on the hand‑holding as your only source of orientation and motivation.

Put Better Default States In Your UI For New Accounts

Patrick:  Definitely. Speaking of null states, often, if you're in a project‑management app and you have no projects, the first screen will say, "You have no projects."

Samuel:  Right, kind of accusatory.

Patrick:  I would always say, rather than saying, "You have no projects," OK, if you're in development mode, sure. Whatever. Put that up there, like zero of zero results returned for projects.

When you're shipping that to actual customers, just a quick, one‑line if statement, replace it with a, "Here's how you can get started creating a project." Then most people just put an arrow that points to the "add new project" button or they say, "Click above on 'add new project' to get started." Rather than that, I would give a little bit of goal‑oriented instruction.

Samuel:  100 percent. The only thing I would add to that is not only prompting them to fill it up with something, but also, "Here's the value of doing that to begin with."

Patrick:  Exactly.

Samuel:  "You don't have any projects yet, but this is where you'll be able to see which ones are at the biggest risk of not shipping on time. Click here to add your first one." Something like that, to me, that's my general recommendation. Because just changing it from, "You don't have projects" to, "Click this button to create one," it's not making it a meaningful action.

That's a term that I use over and over again when I'm looking at onboarding experiences. Do I even know what I'm doing, or do I even care about what I'm doing? Can you help me at least get to one, if not both, of those?

Patrick:  One of the things I really like is when you provide people with a vision of the future they'll have if they're using the software, ideally a vision more focused on them than just focused on your software. For example, I think Baremetrics does this very well.

They're a company that slurps data out of your Stripe account and presents a variety of metrics for you. My recollection is, when you start using Baremetrics, in the pre‑slurp state, it's got nothing to show you. Rather than showing you, "We've got nothing to show you," they show a grayed‑out version of their real stats.

It's like, "Wow. You can see all of this stuff, except for your business, if you just click the Slurp button and give us however much time it takes to do the Slurp out of your account thing."

Samuel:  That can be like a PNG. You don't have to build in a feature that has all this mocked out or whatever. Yeah.

Patrick:  Is that how it's pronounced, PNG?

Samuel:  I always call it "ping." I don't know. Do you just say the letters?

Patrick:  OK. Here it's PNG, but then again, I've lived in Japan for the last 10 years.

Samuel:  Do you call it a J‑P‑E‑G, or a J‑peg?

Patrick:  Wow, I don't know. It's different than "jiff."

Samuel:  [laughs]

Patrick:  “Jiff,” and then, I don’t know. It’s been too long since I’ve been in a Japanese office, despite being here for 10 years.

Samuel:  That’s something to celebrate, I guess.

Patrick:  Oh, yes. Every day that I’m not a seller man is one more day of actual life. Yay.

Samuel:  [laughs]

How Samuel Set Out To Become, And Became, The “User Onboarding Guy”

Patrick:  We covered onboarding tours a little bit. We covered a bit of the design of UX when someone is getting started with a product to feel like they can get more success and not just have to do meaningless busywork until they get to the good stuff.

We covered a bit of life‑cycle emails and whatnot. I’d be a terrible businessman if I did not mention the fact that if you go to, there’s a course from me teaching you how to do that. A little plug.

I mentioned you have the blog at Maybe blog isn’t the right thing. A site, where you go into this customer‑onboarding thing in a bit more detail than people typically do in a blog post, and you do tear‑downs of folks’ user‑onboarding experiences, the pre‑sign‑up process, the sign‑up process, the post‑sign‑up process. You dig into what emails they send.

Samuel:  Slideshows.

Patrick:  I thought this was really, really smart back when I first got to know you, in that you very clearly said that, “OK, there’s a million UX designers out there. I’m going to be the one that just takes user onboarding and owns that.”

How’d that work out for you? I know you wrote a book on it later, and we can talk about that in a moment, too, but I presume you also do a bit of consulting and whatnot?

Samuel:  I would say that going after a niche has been a highly lucrative decision on my part. The consulting and the book sales have both been really strong. Really, it’s been a pretty fun ride.

Patrick:  Awesome. Mind if I rewind the tape to a little bit before the fun ride and whatnot? What got you into this in the first place?

Samuel:  Interestingly, you were saying that I wrote the book later, but the book was actually what got me into it to begin with. I was a user‑experience generalist for years. I was at this weird in‑between place.

Looking at things like conversion‑rate optimization is not typically something that’s part of the UX wheelhouse, but I was always really, really interested in ‑‑ I think that you’re actually probably a good representative of this mentality of, “Let’s find out what the problems with this flow are and empirically demonstrate that we have improved upon it.”

To me, I guess, the job to be done of what somebody hires a UX consultant for is typically not that. I really struggled with that for a long time, looking at a competing set of passions that were between qualitative and quantitative, so user experience versus conversion‑rate optimization, and then the ever‑contentious term “growth hacking.” [laughs] Was that as well.

They all embody the same thing, which is aligning your success around your users being successful and paying attention to whether that’s happening and where that’s breaking down, and then being able to measure the impact of the way that you’ve improved upon it.

Let’s see. Where do I even start here? I decided to write a book, because I wanted to take a product to market, but I didn’t want to go six months to a year into developing some sort of a SaaS product and then take it on the chin with a bunch of rookie mistakes about just how to price something or how to create a landing page that sells it or how to have a product launch or things like that.

I thought, instead, “I’ll just have a really constrained product, in the form of an eBook. Surely I can write that in a couple weeks.” Which was, spoiler alert, not the case. [laughs] Then be able to just get my toe in the water by getting something out there and just go through that experience and learn from it.

Very naively, I put up a landing page for the book, and I titled it “Customer Growth.” It was basically all about “Grow your customer by helping your customers grow.” That was the one‑liner for it.

A lot of issues there. One, that’s not a thing that people explicitly care about. It’s more of I would have to write a very philosophical thought piece on why people should care about it to begin with, and convince them of the value of the subject, before even convincing them of the value of the book that covered said subject.

The best way I can describe it is nobody was sitting down and saying, “You know what? We have this problem with this thing that I’ve never heard of. I wonder if there’s a book out there on it.”

Patrick:  Amen. If you have to convince the market that they’ve got a problem, that may be an option, but you need to have a previous success behind you or a war chest or maybe VC investment.  [Patrick notes: But that wouldn't be my first choice for any of those folks, either!  Pick the screamingly obviously high-impact problems first.  Plenty are left unsolved.]

For those of us who are just getting into business for ourselves, you should not be targeting problems that you have to explain to people that they have. You should be targeting problems that they know they have, that when they wake up in the morning, it’s one of the one or two things that is keeping them up at night.

That’s a mixed metaphor. One of their one or two top hair‑on‑fire problems for today. Virtually, every mistake I’ve made in business in terms of product selection has been not targeting those, but that’s another podcast entirely.

[Patrick notes: I do not regret Bingo Card Creator or Appointment Reminder, but if I got a do-over, I'd pick something higher saliency in a tightly defined commercial niche that I would like exploring and knew I had "unfair" advantages in.  That would probably be selling software, though there's an interesting meta question in whether I would be any good at selling software but for the experience of BCC/AR and taking advantage of the doors they opened.]

Samuel:  The one thing that I did right, though, was fully committing to getting the book out before I started. As I guess we’ll get to in a second, there were definitely some hard stretches in the middle, where people would ask me how the book was coming or something like that.

I would very truthfully tell them that I was glad that I didn’t know how hard it would be before I started or I never would’ve started. I was equally true about how hard it was, and also equally true about how glad I was that that wasn’t the case, because I was fully committed when I started and I was just absolutely going to see it through.

I put up the landing page, wasn’t really sure how I was going to go about writing the book or establish my expertise. Obviously, Nathan Barry’s information out there was a big source of help and inspiration. He’s pretty email‑list‑centric. [Patrick notes: For a reason.  Email is the secret weapon of low-touch marketing like airplanes are the secret weapon of modern militaries.  It's not a secret at all -- if you don't have them, you're giving up a tremendous advantage.]  I was like, “I guess I should start an email list and see. Maybe I could get up to hundreds of subscribers or something.”

Literally starting at zero, not even having an email list, that was like, “OK, I’ll put up a landing page, get people to sign up.” I had to figure out how were people even going to be getting to the landing page. This was the definition of a cold start, I guess you could say.

As a UX consultant, generalist, at that time, a lot of times I would do something very much like the tear‑downs that are on the User Onboard site right now. I was like, “Man. I’m already writing the book,” which is really hard, because I’m a painfully, painfully slow writer, which is another issue. I was like, “Am I going to try to guest‑post on other blogs?”  [Patrick notes: I did a guest-post tour when I launched my Lifecycle Emails course.  I cannot recommend it for generating sales, though for someone with less of a platform it might make sense for audience building.  I think I wrote six good essays on the topic for other people, and seen in hindsight, six good essays for my own purposes would be better than six good essays for other's sites.  I think I have about $3k of attributable sales as a result of that, and even if you double the number to count ones which I missed due to the vagaries of tracking, I'd rather have the essays than the money, both for the initial results and for the residual portfolio value.]

Samuel: That’s even more writing on top of writing the book. I’ve heard sometimes you just basically get a really deemphasized link in the byline, and it results in three people signing up. I can’t spend 15 hours on a blog post and hope that that happens.

I was like, “Man, if only I could share these tear‑downs that I’ve been doing.” I’d feel weird, because they were commissioned and paid for and not really owned by me. I was like, “Oh, I can just pick a company and not ask them to pay me for it and just do whatever I want with that.”

I just picked a company at random, which was OpenTable, and recorded the experience, and I was like, it just didn’t really come out right. Their onboarding experience is very confusing, or nonexistent, almost.

I had to scrap that one. It was getting kind of late into the day, and I was like, “Maybe I will do this. Maybe I won’t. All right, screw it. I’ll try one other company.” That company, once again, just completely at random, was LessAccounting. Your listeners would probably be ‑‑ it’s kind of in a similar space, I guess.

Patrick:  LessAccounting, for those of you who don’t know it, is a bootstrapped software company that is basically a stripped‑down competitor to Quicken.

Samuel:  There you go, yeah. Also, they seem to really maintain a presence in the bootstrapper community and stuff. That’s what I was referring to.

Patrick:  Oh, yeah. It’s a funny little bit of community inside baseball, I think. Sometimes we overestimate how much folks know about the <airquotes>”scene.”</airquotes> If you hang out at Amy Hoy’s conferences and go out to BaconBiz every year or go out to MicroConf every year, then you’ve run into the LessAccounting guys and you know who they are.  (I would bet you that the average Quicken-using accountant or bookkeeper in Normal-Bloomington does not.)

[Patrick notes: I think this is observation is widely applicable.  Our community is simultaneously bigger than we realize and yet smaller than we think it is.]

Patrick: I happen to know that for a lot of the world it’s the first time they’re hearing about it right now. By the way, they’re good software. You should use them. A plug. Yeah.

Samuel:  Actually, speaking of which, that was back in November of 2013, so not even a year ago, I was one of the people who didn’t know who they were. I’d known them just because they’d been around for several years, didn’t really know that they were highly involved in the bootstrapper “scene,” or whatever that might be.

I was like, “All right, they seem friendly enough, at the very least,” went through, created the tear‑down, put it up on SlideShare.

I think it was the end of the day, and SlideShare messed up the formatting and the aspect ratio. I just wasn’t really happy with the product, but I was like, “I’ll just go home and talk to my wife, and tell her I blew another day while I’m trying to get this book out.”

I posted it, and the next morning I got an email from one of the co‑founders of LessAccounting. I see it in my inbox as the subject line and see who the email’s from, and I was just like, “Oh, no.” I was sure that when I clicked on it, it was going to be him coming and being like, “Oh, thanks a lot for airing our dirty laundry and pointing out how our onboarding experience isn’t working, and who even are you?”

It turned out to be completely the opposite, that he was like, “Thank you so much for pointing all these things out. We already made a bunch of the changes that you recommended. I see you’re writing a book. How can I help promote it?”

It was just total night and day from what I was expecting as a worst‑case scenario, really just a super‑supporting response. He wound up featuring it on the LessAccounting blog, and that was really the very first thing that I did that got a decent amount of traffic and a decent amount of sign‑ups for the email list and things like that.

Patrick:  Awesome. I think this strategy is very generalizable, and in fact, folks have done it in a lot of circumstances, and it often works well. Dustin Curtis is a designer. He basically made his name by taking a few big Fortune 500 company websites, doing redesigns on them.

I might have issues with that particular work product, but that’s neither here nor there. 37Signals, back in the day before anybody knew who they were [Patrick notes: 2002 -- Basecamp and Rails were in 2006, I think?], just did unsolicited redesigns of the FedEx application and said, “Here’s all the mistakes that FedEx is making.”

It wasn’t actually FedEx, because I think they were probably worried about getting sued, but it was a purple‑looking delivery company.

[Patrick notes: I apparently misremembered this -- it appears to actually mention FedEx.  Their BetterBank was a better example of a generically attacked problem.  Though I'm fairly certain that somebody has done a You All Know Whose Website I'm Talking About redesign without actually using the trademark -- can't recall who at the moment.]

Samuel:  [laughs]

Patrick:  They just had purpledelivery.pdf, with the redesigned with the purple delivery company’s Web app, which featured package tracking as a first‑class citizen rather than the 15th thing that you wanted to use.

Especially, if you do this for other people who are closer to the us‑es of the world than the Fortune 500s of the world, folks, often, the first impulse will not be send a cease and desist or be very annoyed at you. It’s like, “Hey.” Folks describe me personally as Internet famous, which is a funny, funny word.

To this day, my heart lights up anytime someone shows any bit of attention to one of my products. If you want to screen‑grab everything and show what I’m doing wrong with the world or how my pixels are out of place, I won’t think, “Oh, he’s insulting my pixels.” I’ll think, “Yes! Totally! Someone noticed me! That’s awesome!”

Samuel:  Just to briefly touch on the whole unsolicited‑redesign thing, I can see how I’m in a similar space as that, but personally, I’m really not a huge fan of unsolicited redesigns as a thing, largely because it’s a very surface problem.

You’re basically saying, a lot of times when you see them, especially on Dribble or things like that, it’s, “I didn’t think this was pretty, so I made it prettier,” where you don’t really know what’s working that well, what’s not, what kind of constraints the team is faced with. You’re probably not even necessarily the primary audience that the product was intended for.

For a lot of reasons, when I’m creating a tear‑down, I try to be very, very conscious of the fact that there are real people who had made this under real pressure, and it was to serve a job that may or may not be something that was…I’ll literally go through the sign‑up process to create the tear‑down.

It’s not like I’m even really genuinely trying to make it work for me in that moment. There’s already that, and maybe I’m not even a key audience member at any point in time. There are those issues.

Then also, I’ve actually had conversation with people, where maybe I’ll say, “Yeah, deciding to do that made me scratch my head,” or “That doesn’t really conform to the “best practices” or whatever that might be.” The design team will be like, “Yeah. Yeah, we hated it, too, but it’s working really well.”

Not having visibility into the conversion funnel or whatever that might be, and then also just not knowing about what kind of internal pressures they’re dealing with in the office, I really, really try to say, basically, “Objectively, these are what our best practices are, or not, considered to be generally within the community.

Then also, anecdotally, as a user, I was legitimately confused when I went through this.” Really, really distance myself from saying, “This is objectively wrong” or anything like that.

Patrick:  Right. I think that is a great attitude to have about it in general, and probably a karma‑maximizing attitude, if you’re hoping to borrow an audience as a result of publishing these things.

Also, I think, as somebody who has worked in a lot of companies and seen the sausage get made, it absolutely tracks with the internal human/political/resource‑based constraints on why something might not be totally optimal. There’s a lot of times where, heck, I’ll own it. I won’t blame the client, I’ll blame myself.

There are something that I have shipped where I could point to you X, Y, and Z decisions of the things that shipped today and say, “I hate X. I hate Y. I hate Z.” I had 100 points of awesomeness in that engagement, where awesome is an arbitrary resource. Fixing X would’ve required 20 points of awesomeness. We just had other things to spend awesomeness on, so we just shipped it out the door.

Samuel:  There you go.

Patrick:  Often, a particular team or person in the organization just did not want to budge on Y, and they had been really cooperating on some other part, and so you trade tit for tat. That happens all the time in real life.

Anyhow, going back to the book for a moment.

Samuel:  Yes.

Patrick:  You release some of these tear‑downs, and both the folks who were, quote‑unquote ‑‑ I hate that word, tear‑down, by the way. I’d like to say, “build‑up.”

Samuel:  [laughs]

Patrick:  You released some of this feedback on people’s onboarding processes. Some of the folks who were featured in this feedback found it really, really useful to them, like the guys at LessAccounting.

They spread all over the Internets to these people’s preexisting networks, as they said, “Hey, someone has taken this interest in our business and given us really useful feedback. We could read the writeup.” Thus, you got, what, a few hundred or a few thousand people to subscribe to your email newsletter?

Samuel:  Specifically, in the early, early days, it was maybe a couple hundred, when the book was still called “Customer Growth” and people probably didn’t really know what they were signing up to get.

Through the success of the tear‑downs ‑‑ so I did the LessAccounting one, and I was like, “Well, that went well. I should do another one.” Then I did Basecamp, and then that one got shared a lot. I think that wound up Designer News, the front page, for quite a while.

At that point, it was suggested to me that I stop using SlideShare and instead create a site that’s dedicated to those, where I could control the conversion timing, the asks, basically. I also just wasn’t really a super‑huge fan of the user experience on SlideShare, either.

Patrick:  Can I circle this point and star it, guys? There’s a lot of folks who put their best work on 3rd party sites. In my case, some of my best work is on Hacker News. In other folks’ cases, it might be on Dribbble, on Twitter, on Facebook, on Medium, et cetera, on GitHub, a major one for the developer community.

For things that are central to your career, building up a public portfolio, you really want to be able to control all aspects about that, both how the work is presented to people who will be future decision‑makers about your career and what you emphasize about it.

If you embed something in GitHub, you’re going to end up with a very GitHub‑y experience for that, regardless of what it is. The way that people consume that artifact that you have put on GitHub will be a very GitHub‑focused consumption experience rather than a you‑focused consumption experience or a them‑focused consumption experience.

Samuel:  Yes.

Patrick:  I would strongly encourage, from both a UX point of view and a “maximizing the future value of your passport to your future self” point of view, that you put your best work on your own darn website. Think about wrapper‑type issues, like:

Should I put a logo on it?  [Patrick notes: If it represents more than a work-week of effort from you you'd be crazy to not spring $100 or $200 for a logo.  I strongly feel like the logo, the dedicated web presence, and the non-zero effort put into documentation for A/Bingo were reasons it redounded to my favor.]

What sort of asks should I be having on the page? Whether that’s asking someone for their email address, or, for those of you who might not be selling a book but might be selling freelance or consulting services, maybe you ask them to send you an email and ask for a quote, or “Send me an email. I’d love to have a Skype chat about this if it interested you.” You convert them and do a request for a quote or something on the Skype chat, et cetera.

Yes, asterisk, asterisk, asterisk. You should absolutely have it on your own website. Which is, by the way, to this day, why ‑‑ well, aside from Hacker News ‑‑ almost all of my writing is on either my own blog or on my other sites. Most of the things that I produce even for free, the canonical source for it is on my Web presence rather than other people’s Web presences.

I love GitHub, don’t get me wrong. In the absence of contracts that I can neither confirm nor deny exist, my job is not to make GitHub money. It is to make my family and I money while producing stuff of value to society, so I tend to keep that on my own Web presence rather than theirs.

Samuel:  I completely concur.

Patrick:  Anyhow. You did the smart thing. You moved some of the stuff from SlideShare. By the way, you can still host stuff on SlideShare. Just put the embed in the write‑up in your own site, and then it will collect the links and citations that people are looking for.

Samuel:  There you go.

Patrick:  That’s what I do for all my presentations, by the way. You’ve created a Web presence for this.

Samuel:  Right. I guess, at that point, it was very clear, like, “Oh, user onboarding is the thing that I should be talking about, not a component of this very vague thing that I want to talk about.” I guess a good litmus test is, if you’re going to be writing an eBook, is it something that people would find helpful?

Are you doing it to help people, or are you doing it to preach at people? I made the shift from preaching at to trying to help when I made the shift from writing a book on customer growth to writing a book on user onboarding.

At that point, too, that’s when I bought the User Onboard domain, because was already taken, created the site in a weekend, and transitioned the slides over to that, and then just kept coming out with new tear‑downs. Basically, it was like one a week at the beginning. At that point, the email‑list sign‑ups went from a couple hundred to a couple thousand, and then even further from there.

Nicely enough, the book’s already been out. I didn’t really launch it very well. I set out to do it so I could learn rookie mistakes, and boy, did I make some. A really nice thing about it, too, is having an ongoing Web property, there’s some repeatability to it, I guess you could say.

Every time I put out a new tear‑down, I know that’s going to result in X‑hundred more newsletter sign‑ups and Y more book purchases, or whatever that might be. It’s been nice to have as just an ongoing asset, for sure.

Patrick:  This is something that I really like about this emerging publishing model.  In the old model, you contract with a publisher, you write a manuscript, they pass it through a few other professionals, put it out, and it goes to bookshelves across the country, it sells a thousand copies. Then is available for back‑ordering from anyone who wants it, but nobody will because they are very launch‑focused.

When we control the assets and we control the marketing plan, we cannot just have a launch‑centric approach to the value we’re creating. Most of the value’s not created just by launching something. It’s created by building something of value and then figuring out what the right recipe of things is to get people to be exposed to that thing of value, and you can tweak and adjust over time.

Even in the ‑‑ going to use a word I hate ‑‑ information marketing space, a lot of it is very launch‑centric. I think that’s partially because a lot of folks who are broadly in that space don’t produce things of value, and then after the market figures out that the new thing that has been produced is not of value, sales go to zilch. For people who generally produce books, software, et cetera, of value, they often have a substantial long‑tail component to the sales.

If you follow the usual email/launch‑centric approach, where you’re collecting email addresses, the thing launches, you get 10,000 people or whatever with an offer to buy the thing in the first two weeks, then you typically will get a spike at launch day or in the first two weeks.

There is residual value to having that, both in terms of quantifiable money in your Stripe account, residual value, and also in the fact that you can point, in conversations with people three years from now, you’ll still be the guy who quite literally wrote the book on user onboarding when you’re talking to potential consulting clients. Or if you have a new book, it will be by the author of the bestselling book on user onboarding, dot‑dot‑dot.

Samuel:  For sure.

Patrick:  I wrote one book, by a nontraditional publisher, Hyperink, called “Sell More Software,” on Amazon. One of the things that traditional publishers tell you is, “You should write a book. Not because making a book will make you money, because it won’t, but because having written a book on something is great for consulting.”

I always thought that was self‑serving BS.  I still believe it is self‑serving when the publisher tells you that, but it is not totally BS. There are some clients who really, really connect to having a book available on Amazon. I happen to know that there’s a few copies of mine boxing around at Fortune 500 companies at the VP level, which surprised the heck out of me.

Samuel:  That’s awesome.

Patrick:  I also produced a video course two years ago about life‑cycle emails, and that just has, as I write more stuff for my email list and people get added to the email list, and then eventually, 30 days later, they get a brief blurb about the life‑cycle email course in one of the emails that on‑boards people onto my email list. It produces just a nice, happy Chinese water torture of sales over time.

Samuel:  [laughs]

Patrick:  I don’t do any active promotion for it, and it’s been out for two years. It’s probably still made $10,000 this year, [Patrick notes: for values of $10,000 equal to $7,500] which is a pretty nice place to be for not doing additional work. Would you mind if I asked, how many people do you have subscribed to your email list these days?

Overnight Success, Isn’t.

Samuel:  A little bit over 11,000.

Patrick:  That’s actually right about where I am, at about 12‑ish or so. One of the things that I frequently get when I’m talking to people about making stuff and then selling it, about the Internet, is that folks have unrealistic expectations about what “Internet fame” is.

11,000 subscribers to an email list is not a number that you have to be an international celebrity/Internet man of mystery to hit.

You and I are both, total mortals, we take the not too difficult to comprehend tactic, of doing the thing we were good at in public, and saying, “If you want more of this stuff, give me your email address, I am hooking that up to an easily available mail provider, which costs less than a cable bill, a month, and then, just continuing that for a year, in your case, or 10 years in mine.”

Oh boy! Can’t believe that I have been in the industry for 10 years now, blows my mind.

Samuel:  That’s also worth noting too, I have been in the industry for 10 years now, too. I would not consider myself to be an overnight success by any meansI think a lot of whatever success that I have found in the last year has come from paying attention to things that you’re writing and putting out there about like, “Yes, you can do this.”

You don’t have to just be toiling in obscurity. You can do a very reasonable amount of effort put into creating something that people find valuable and be able to benefit from that. It’s very, very achievable.

Patrick:  I totally got everything that you just said there. One of the things about overnight success that always staggers me is that Peldi, the gentleman behind Balsamiq Mockups. Balsamiq Mockups have the first like first year of sales of, virtual of any software company that I know about, aside from one that $500 million obviously injected into in year one at $300 million in adds and sold $200 million in software.

The absolutely meteoric graph that first year, Peldi had a great presentation where he showed the meteoric graph. That’s what it looks like from the outside. From the inside, and he shows a graph that expands 28 years in the past for as long as they’ve been in software game in various companies, where obviously, for the first 27 years or so was zero software sales.

Then, overnight success. Overnight success didn’t take overnight. It took 27 years. But then people selectively edited that down when they’re talking about it.

Yeah, very important to point out that overnight I was just doing, I call it the grind, just get up, day to day, bang out some code, write some emails, try some experiments. For, I’d say, maybe after four or five years of doing it, a thousand people knew who I was.

Samuel:  I like the metaphor of pounding the rock. Totally in agreement. I think it’s also a thing that you don’t have to be that long tail of toiling in obscurity, like I was mentioning it before. I could have been doing things so much smarter, so much earlier.

It wasn’t like I’m a radically more experienced or smarter designer now. I just had to do an inch more smartness around being able to distribute that information, I guess.

Patrick:  Kind of like operationalizing it, in a business sense. Oh, that just sounded like a management consultant.

Samuel:  [laughs]

Patrick:  Sorry, guys. Anyhow. I totally agree on that. That’s one of the reasons I have my blog, one of the reasons why I really like the openness in our industry, from folks like Paul Graham, Joel Spolsky, all the way down to folks like me, Nathan Barry, et cetera, where you don’t have to make all the mistakes to learn all the stuff anymore. It’s great. I’ve made so many mistakes so you don’t have to.

Samuel:  Hiten Shah has been another person I would certainly put up in that pantheon of helpfulness as well.  [Patrick notes: Hiten is writing again, after a long hiatus.  Check out his blog.]

Patrick:  I’ve learned many things from Hiten over the years. Man, could do an entire podcast just about intellectual influences for stuff that I do on a day‑to‑day basis, probably get up to 200 names.

Samuel:  You should. I would absolutely listen to that.

Patrick:  Putting it on my list. Intellectual influences. Sorry, just writing that down. Anyhow.

[Patrick notes: I'm serious about doing this, but it would be a lot of work and might not be interesting for folks who don't play inside baseball, so tell me if it is interesting to you.]

Samuel:  [laughs]

Patrick:  I’ve learned this over time. I think one little asterisk that I put, often, when talking about the topic of learning from other folks is that you should generally balance learning from other folks with doing for yourself. Just because I know a lot of folks who, they’re working the day job, the day job’s taking up a lot of their creativity/mental energy.

They listen to podcasts. They read the blog posts. They even go to conferences, watch the presentations. It’s like they’re perpetually in training for the championship bout that never comes.

Samuel:  Right. That totally resonates with me. For a very long time ‑‑ if this was school, I would be so ready to take the test right now, but nobody’s sliding that test onto my desk or whatever. Very much felt that way, for sure.

Patrick:  I felt like that myself for many years prior to actually starting a business. I would encourage all of you guys ‑‑ take the plunge. Doesn’t have to be a life‑changing, burn‑the‑ships decision or anything. Just start a blog, if you don’t already have a blog.

If you got a blog, start an email list. If you’ve already got an email list, put a stake in the ground on a product that you want to get out and make the progress towards actually getting that out there. Launch it. Everything about life gets better after shipping things.

Samuel:  I think it’s important to emphasize, too ‑‑ this is probably actually where I picked it up is from you. Don’t discount the expertise that you already have.

Patrick:  Yes.

Samuel:  Just because you’re not a nationally recognized name or whatever that might be, if people are paying you to do something, then that is enough expertise for you to be able to disseminate that information in exchange for an email sign‑up or something along those lines.

Patrick:  Getting somebody’s email address, you are not proposing marriage. It’s just like, “Hey. If, in this one interaction we’ve had together, you think that it might be useful possibly having a relationship with me in the future and hearing even more valuable stuff, here’s an easy way to accomplish that.”

I know many, many geeks have an anti‑email bias. I did, too, as an anti‑spam researcher, because I only saw the absolute worst of email for years and years. A lot of folks are not offended by being asked for an email address. Even if 50 percent of the audience is like, “I never give my email to anybody,” you can read the blog at your own pace. That’s fine. The other 50 percent, though, their email, those are quite valuable to have.

Samuel:  I think that it’s an important distinction to make, too. I certainly completely concur with that, but at the same time, I wouldn’t say just start a blog to have a blog or start a podcast to have a podcast. The lens that I would use on that is just start contributing things that people find useful, and whatever the delivery mechanism is.

Patrick:  Yes. Absolutely true. I totally agree with that. I also think that the effectiveness for these sort of things, both in terms of reaching an audience and creating a value to that audience and in terms of helping out your career/business interests, goes way the heck up once you find that thing that you’re good at.

I started my blog the same week that Bingo Card Creator shipped [Patrick notes: July 1st, 2006, crikey I'm old], and the original idea was I’m just going to write down stuff about what I did for Bingo Card Creator.

That blog really only hit its stride maybe three or four years later, after I figured out the thing that I had a comparative advantage against versus the rest of the Internet, that little, itty‑bitty intersection between engineering and marketing, and started writing about that a lot. It resonated with a lot of people. It actually, knock on wood, changed other people’s businesses for the better in a lot of cases.

The more I wrote about that, and the more I wrote about it in a particular format that you might be familiar with if you’ve followed my blog or podcast, et cetera, for a while, because I’ve got a style ‑‑ that style worked.

Whereas a 500‑word update on, “Here’s what I did for SQL optimization today,” there’s probably a post or two on my blog about that, which five people have read and nobody found tremendously valuable, and there’s much better SQL optimizers elsewhere on the Internet.

Samuel:  I guess, when you talk about going after a niche, whatever that might be, looking at the gaps in between really big things. For me, marketing and product, there’s user onboarding, or for you, between engineering and marketing. A lot of times, I think that’s a place that you would look.

Patrick:  That is good. It’s going to sound a little weird, but you can have a very happy, fulfilling, rewarding career just by being the spackle between different teams in an organization.

Samuel:  That’s why they have consultants. Otherwise they would have already staffed for it.

Patrick:  [laughs]

Find The “Known Groan” To Find A Profitably Exploitable Niche

Samuel:  If I could make a recommendation on niche‑finding…

Patrick:  Sure.

Samuel:  Actually, I was preparing for this, and I was like, “What do I do that I didn’t get from Patrick McKenzie [laughs] , that’s not already out there?”

One thing that I haven’t seen anybody really write about ‑‑ the people that I recommended it to have found it helpful ‑‑ is to pick a term, almost like if you wanted to compete for SEO or whatever, just like the presence of mind.

I very quickly realized that there was not the user onboarding guy. Specifically, that being a term that A, people had an emotional reaction to, like, “Ugh, onboarding.” I call it the “known groan,” when people are like, “Ugh. Yeah, ours sucks.”

Patrick:  [laughs]

Samuel:  Looking for something that they actually have some sort of emotional, I guess, revulsion to. That indicates that it’s a hair‑on‑fire need, like you were mentioning before.

Also, it’s a specific phrase, term, or something like that. Really, the actionable part of this recommendation is once you’ve…Maybe if you have a few different ones that you think you might want to try, set up Google Alerts for them.

If you’re getting flooded with stuff, you’re probably too broad. If you’re not getting anything, then people don’t care about it. If you’re getting three to four or five a day of new articles that are coming out, that have that term in the subject line, that’s a very strong indication that you can own that niche and it’s a niche worth owning.

You can be the person who comments. Every time somebody sees a user onboarding post, I should have some sort of presence there. I can leave a comment, or I can link to it through the user onboarding Twitter account or something. I have that Google Alert, and it’s been just tremendously valuable for me. That’s my tip of the week. [laughs]

Patrick:  I think that is a useful tip. One of the things that I struggled with in my own consultancy/larger business interests that there wasn’t really…I had an idea for what I was good at, but I don’t really have a word for it. I bounce around a little bit.

Other people created words for that sort of thing. “Growth Hacker” is a created word to identify some niche for a particular type of individual, and then allow them to go after it. I don’t particularly love that created word, but there might be better cases for it.

Anyhow, that’s neither here nor there. One quick question before we get off the topic of your book. Do you mind if we share with the audience what the results from that book were for you?

Samuel:  Financially speaking?

Patrick:  Financial or more important than that, either way.

Samuel:  Yeah. Either of those sound good. As I mentioned, I really did not do the launch super‑well. Being a hypocrite cost me thousands of dollars, I think [laughs] , in that scenario.

One of my strongest philosophies is paying attention to the last mile. Don’t tack onboarding on at the end. Make sure people are oriented around the value that they’re going to be getting, paying attention to those switching moments, so on and so forth.

I literally was editing my book up until hours before I launched and spent probably about one‑fiftieth of the amount of time I should have spent on the sales page. Worked really, really hard to build up the email list to a few thousand people, and blasted them at a page that was really confusing to them and did not emotionally engage them or anything like that.

Fortunately, because of the robustness of just having built up the list, trying to warm it up before I launched, and sharing the ride, I guess, as we were going, I still made 7,000 and change on the launch day, but there were some very forehead‑slappingly obvious problems with the sales page itself.

Fortunately, that’s, again, a nice thing about not just basically optimizing for launch and then trying to keep as much money from it as possible.

Being in it, invested in the long haul, and seeing it as an ongoing asset, I guess, for lack of a better term, I was able to make those changes within a couple weeks, and saw that things were not going to be nearly as dire as they appeared to be on launch day.

Actually, I just pulled up the launch‑to‑date stats in Gumroad. Also, I recommend Gumroad for those out there. One more person who’s a very happy customer. Probably by the end of the week, I’ll cross over the 70K sales number.

Patrick:  Awesome. Congrats.

Samuel:  Thank you.

Patrick:  That’s probably the first time I’ve heard a 10X increase from launch to lifetime. Actually, it makes a lot of sense in software. Man, the power of having assets. Just last week, Bingo Card Creator sold its 10,000th license.  [Patrick notes: I will note that while this asset is quite impaired these days, due to less traffic for some reason I've never really poked into, it is still trucking along quietly powering classrooms and underwriting lifestyles of the rich and famous maybe half our new-and-improved Tokyo rent.]

Samuel:  Awesome.

Patrick:  Only took 10 years.

Samuel:  [laughs]

Patrick:  Or eight years or whatever 2006 to today is. The power of having assets.

Samuel:  It’s also something where that is basically what I used to make in salary. Not only has it led to more consulting work, higher‑priced consulting work, and things like that, but just knowing my family’s not going to starve if something weird happened, just having that as an ongoing source of revenue is very comforting, I guess you could say.

Patrick:  It allows you to also optimize for other decisions. If you’re the typical person with a salary job, you have to have that salary job, or else the rent does not get paid for next month.

If you are the typical freelancer and somebody comes to you with a proposal, and you’re not really feeling it about this client, it’s not exactly the kind of work you want to be doing, or maybe they’re giving you pushback on your rates or whatnot, you might think, “I have to make these compromises in this business relationship because your rent is due next month, and I need to sell these hours.”

Where, if you have a baseline, even a small baseline, you get to be really picky about things. It’s like, “I don’t have a great option for consulting next week. I could take a middling option to consult for the next four weeks, or I could just wait and see if a great option shows up.”

That lets you be more selective with your clients, lets you pick the kind of work that you want to be doing. In a lot of cases, it actually is better for your clients.

Samuel:  Nodding vigorously over here, once again.

Patrick:  There were a lot of consulting clients where we heard the outlines of what they want and said, “Look. I am not the right guy for this, so I’ll just give it to you straight. Here is the right guy for it. You should have him do it instead.”

If I was more constrained by financial stuff, I might think, “I’m not the right guy for this but…” or “For my rate per week, I could be the almost halfway decent guy for it.”

When I go into clients, I have the ability to say, “You brought me in to do the best possible work and get you the best possible results, so we are only going to do projects which will be my best possible work and get what I think, before doing the project, is likely to give you the highest results. If you are not amenable to that, that’s fine. There are many consultants out there. I can recommend you to one of them.”

Samuel:  I totally agree. It’s at this point where I know the unit of work that goes into creating a tear‑down is going to result in roughly a certain amount of money coming back in book sales every time I do it. When I’m bidding on a project, I’m like, “How many tear‑downs, basically, is this project going to be?”

The number, financially, that I would get out of doing X tear‑downs is often a lot higher than what a client would be willing to pay for the same amount of work to work directly for them. Or at least it’s a healthy way for me to keep that in perspective, so there’s that.

Another nice thing is, as I mentioned way earlier, I’m in the very, very early stages of creating software for the onboarding space, and so I put out a survey. I didn’t even drive that much traffic to it. I haven’t sent out an email linking to it to my email list or anything, just tweeted it out a couple times.

At the end of the survey, I said, “It was really great of you to complete the survey. As a thank‑you, can I send you a coupon for 15 percent off the book?” It’s a nice opportunity to be able to be generous. There is something that you can offer, and also, at the same time, I don’t care if somebody buys it for 15 percent off.

If that’s going to be a triggering moment for them, then great. I’ve already made a couple hundred bucks just from putting out a survey. Which, I’m almost getting paid to do customer development. That kind of thing is really nice.

Patrick:  I really like your idea of writing the book before writing the SaaS product, for a lot of reasons. I think probably my next‑next project is going to be a SaaS, just because, a long story. I could do an entire episode on this.

Appointment Reminder is not exactly holding the fire in my belly, and I wanted to get into some sort of ‑‑ since it turns out the thing that I’m really good at and that my audience really trusts me about is making money for software companies, I want to make “making money for software companies” as a SaaS business.

Samuel:  That makes a lot of sense.

Patrick:  I’m probably going to be thinking in the next 18 months about how to actually turn that into something. It’s a heck of a lot easier to make the SaaS business after you’ve written a book on it and proved that there is an audience that cares about that topic.

Is empirically willing to pay you money about it than it is to just parachute into a field and say, “Well, I don’t have any evidence that people are willing to pay money for solutions to this, and if they are willing to pay money for solutions, I don’t know who that is. I’m going to spend the next six months writing Ruby code anyhow and see if it works.”

Samuel:  You’re going to be spending a bunch of time trying to build up that audience regardless. Looking at Rand Fishkin, with what he did with SEOmoz at the time, where he put out “The Beginner’s Guide to SEO” and got all that attention and built up his audience around that, and then were like, “Oh, we should create tools to serve this audience that exists now,” you can very clearly see the transition from one to the other.

Patrick:  I want to just do a little bit of a callback to something we were talking about earlier. You mentioned how, when you were writing your book, you had really, really hard stretches, like, “Man, this is taking much more time than I expected it to be.” Creative work is occasionally a beast. I have a funny story on that.

I’ve been saying since last August ‑‑ not the August in 2014 but the one in 2013. Yeah, I’m good with math that way. Since last August, that any day now, I was going to be releasing a course on conversion optimization.

Knock on wood, any day now, [laughs] hopefully before the birth of my daughter at the end of the month, I will be releasing a course on software‑conversion optimization. It’s on if you guys want to take a look at it. If you could, yay, great.

[Patrick notes: See the postscript.]

That’s the other thing I really like about the asset‑building approach to business, as opposed to the “grinding it out for the day job” approach to business. I am trying to just push the pause button on pretty much everything, aside from responding to routine email, business‑wise, for much of the next six months after my daughter is born, just to be able to be present for that, which is something that is difficult to do if you’re committed to the standard W2/working‑professional life.

Samuel:  There you go. Count me in as a first‑day purchaser of said course.

Patrick:  Oh, awesome. Thanks very much. I should also mention that I think I had bought yours as well.

That’s funny. There’s lots of stuff on the Internet that teaches various worthwhile things, like your stuff on user onboarding. Like any other business, I have a budget for training employees [Patrick notes: The business has only one employee and there is a heck of a lot he doesn't know.], and I think mine runs to ‑‑ I’m going to check with the accountant ‑‑ probably on the order of $2,000 a year.

My business makes, well, let’s say “mid six figures” in turnover. That $2,000 is not a lot of money. When you divide it over the fact that I only probably read 10 business books a year, that means I’m spending an average of $200 on each of them. Or maybe not books. Courses, products, what have you.

Then you figure, OK, if you can price things at $200 and then have businesses be happy to pay for them, like I’m happy to pay for your stuff. Then you aggregate that over even a small number of people, that turns into a real amount ‑‑ maybe life‑changing isn’t the right word, but definitely life‑impacting amount of money for an individual running the training business, in a really short amount of time, as a producer of useful stuff.

Samuel:  I wholly concur.

Patrick:  Thanks very much for coming and getting interviewed on the podcast, Sam. It was really awesome to have you. If folks want to hear more from you, where should they go?

Samuel:  I would recommend, as we’ve mentioned. On Twitter, also UserOnboard, and on Twitter as SamuelHulick, which is just my name as one word.

Patrick:  For those of you have difficulty spelling, like I did, it’s H‑U‑L‑I‑C‑K.

Samuel:  S‑A‑M‑U‑E‑L H‑U‑L‑I‑C‑K.

Patrick:  Awesome. Thanks very much for being on the program. Knock on wood, we’ll have another podcast available in about two weeks or so, assuming I’m not called away by either work duties or baby duties, and it will likely be on the subject of churn. I hope you guys can catch it. Thanks, as always, for showing up for the podcast, and we hope to see you next time.

Samuel:  Awesome.

Patrick:  All right. Bye‑bye.

Brief Postscript On My Conversion Optimization Course

This podcast was recorded a few weeks ago, when I was still holding out hope of getting the Software Conversion Optimization course out sometime before my daughter was born (later this month).

At the time I thought “One more quick sprint and I’ll finally finish this thing!”, but between the course and the impending baby I was under incredible stress and it was compromising both the quality of the work and my mental availability to support my wife.  Ultimately, I’m disappointed that I haven’t shipped this yet, but I’d be far more disappointed to not be a good husband and father, so in lieu of continuing to provide a slipping shipping date I’ll reiterate that “It will ship at some point, when it is ready.” and “If you pre-purchased the course and are in any way not happy with waiting, get in touch with me and I’ll refund you.”

If you’d like to hear when the course ships (and also get a free eight-ish lessons on software conversion optimization delivered over email), you can sign up here.

6 User Interface Fixes That Can Greatly Increase Conversion Rates

A good user interface is about more than just pretty graphics and stylish fonts. It’s about all the “little things” that add up to a professional, compelling brand presence.  It’s about creating websites that users actually look forward to browsing and using. So what kinds of user interface tweaks can you make that can improve your conversion rates – sometimes considerably? Let’s take a closer look:

Calls to Action

*Yaaawn* This again? Seriously? I know what you’re thinking, but there’s a twist. Oftentimes, particularly with the influx of mobile users, having a large clickable (or tappable) area on your call to action buttons is crucial to getting them clicked. While many buttons are entirely graphics, there are still some hold-outs that still embed small link text as opposed to a more responsive and user-friendly option.


Small links may look slim and sleek on a desktop, but are squint-worthy exercises in frustration on a smartphone.

And, if you’re concerned about load time, you can swap that image out for a more sophisticated CSS button that mimics its graphical cousin, such as the kind generated from PureCSS.

PureCSS lets you design buttons using CSS and gives you the code to copy and paste

Error Messages

How do error messages factor into the user experience? We’ve been taught as good little conversion optimizers that friendly error messages are the way to go. But why include error messages at all, when you can make your site more forgiving of errors in the first place? How many times have you seen messages like these?


Phrases to avoid when designing your forms

Now, what do I mean by “forgiving of errors”? For example, if you’re testing out a flippable interface that allows the user to swipe to read pages similar to a book, and they’re clicking or pressing arrow keys instead, why not take the extra steps to make those actions do-able within the context of your interface as well?


Clicking or pressing to navigate is second-nature to us as an internet-browsing species. User interfaces shouldn’t punish us for trying to learn them.

Why assume that an error message makes it okay for the user to mess up when you can eliminate the possibility of messing up to begin with?

Build Around Results, Not Wants or Needs

A common focus in the user interface designing process is asking yourself “What does the user want?” or “What does the user need?” and then constructing around those wants or needs. However admirable the objective, it’s misdirected.

People want results, and they want to know they’re on the right track to achieving those results.  Including things like forward-focused step-by-step navigation can help them get in, get out, and get on with their lives.


Unfortunately, design prowess doesn’t matter much do the end user (if it matters at all). They’re only interested in getting things done with as little frustration as possible. The easier you can make the process, the more appreciative the end user will be and the more likely they’ll come back and tell their friends about their positive shopping experience.

Use Icons (But Only This Kind!)

Icons help give users a point of reference – particularly when navigating a site or when scrolling and scanning over a page. Small, identifiable tidbits like these are meant to inform the reader at a glance, but sometimes they can do more harm than good.

what is this icon

Icon for a sauna…or what to click when you’re trapped in a freezing stairwell

It might sound boring, but those common, everyday icons might be the best choice – especially if you’re serving an international audience where more creative icons might not be immediately clear, like these:


What do you think these might mean? Security? Awards? Power? Favorites? Jewelry?

Not quite.


Source: CarbonMade

If you’re going to use esoteric icons, make sure to label them clearly so that there’s no misunderstanding exactly where clicking them will take you. Remember, icons should be used to supplement your navigation, not replace it.

And speaking of images…

Use Sliders Sparingly

Sliders (also known as image carousels) are hugely popular with many modern websites for several reasons. They’re trendy. They let you pack a lot of information above the fold and let you highlight key areas of focus such as specials or sales.

But many times they scroll so fast and try so hard to fit everything in that they end up defeating the original purpose of sharing information that’s meant to get attention. Sometimes users find it difficult to keep up with them, much less navigate through them.


Find the slider navigation

Instead, make it simple to navigate. Decrease the number of slides and use text concisely to communicate your ideas clearly with fewer words.


Finally, consider if you actually need to use a slider or if a static image would be better suited to your target audience. As with all our suggestions, you’ll want to run a split test between both ideas to determine what works best for you.

Don’t Forget the White Space

White space is often an afterthought in user interface design. After all, for many designers, it’s just screen space that needs to be filled. And when you’re working with limited screen space (such as designing for mobile), it can be tempting to fit as much as possible into that small space.


White space combined with clear images and short, to-the-point text gets your point across far better than trying to pack everything into a tight, closed space

But proper use of white space increases focus and leads the eye to key visual elements, headlines and other areas of your site that you want visitors to focus on. It presents your site as more welcoming, open and accessible – all perceptions that you want to encourage.

What are Your Thoughts?

What are some user interface tweaks that you’ve made to improve your own conversion rates? Got something we missed here? Share your thoughts with us below in the comments!

About the Author: Sherice Jacob helps businesses improve website design and increase conversions with user-focused design, compelling copywriting and smart analytics. Learn more at iElectrify and get your free conversion checklist and web copy tune-up. Follow @sherice on Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+ for more articles like this!

You’re a company when…

2,700 days ago, and 40,000 subscribers ago, I published my 13th blog post. Feedburner said there were 50 RSS subscribers, but at least 40 of them were directories or scrapers.

It was: “You’re a real company when….” An existential question of when a startup becomes “real.”  At that time, I had decided it was when our sign went up on the building:


By “the building” I mean a windowless loft of 1/14th of a small strip-mall in a cheap area of town, where rats ate through our Ethernet cables and a tin roof made a light drizzle sound like hail and hail sound like the End of Days.

But it was ours, and from the earliest days of human enterprise it’s always meant something to hang out your shingle. (Let’s not get into exactly what sort of “shingle” is hanging out with the oldest profession…)

This past weekend, WP Engine hung its shingle as well, but this time it’s so much more meaningful, and not just because this building doesn’t have rats:


I grew up in Austin. I’ve traveled the world but there’ve always been reasons for me to stay.

As a kid, “downtown” was a weird, mysterious place. Unlike today, no one lived there, there were no family-friendly attractions, and the buildings housed organizations that a kid would never have occasion to visit: the workplaces of lawyers and government officials and bankers.

However, on Sundays we’d drive down 5th street towards those uncharted one-way streets, stopping just short of downtown proper. There was a grey building I could see out the left side of the car, where my carseat was, with a long, sloping ramp leading to a parking garage; this marked the caddy-corner of our destination — the bagel shop. (“Hot Jumbo,” which, like almost everything that was downtown 30 years ago, is no longer there.)

We’d scoot in, grab a baker’s dozen of bagels still piping hot from the oven, jump back in the car, U-turn away from the unknowable center of the city, and get home fast, hoping to eat one with its warmth intact.

This image of the building’s garage-entry is etched into my childhood memory, associated with “whatever adults do” and doughty 5th street, a one-way corridor into a world that maybe I’ll be admitted into, someday, when I’m a big boy. It’s a magical building, even if only for me.

That sign in the photo above, is mounted on that very building. “The WP Engine Building.”

I drive up that ramp every weekday, joining almost 200 people on this journey we created together.


Like a big boy.


My hope is that being an essential part of this unique journey is your dream too, not just mine, and that you’ll point up to that sign five years from now and explain to the children in your back seat that it’s there because of you, not because you were “there for the ride,” but because you actually helped create it, one customer at a time, whether you thrilled them with customer service so deeply that they convinced a friend to sign up too, or helped them find us through the fog of “web hosting” propaganda, or helped them decide whether we’re the right partner for their business, or got them excited and saved them hours of drudgery through platform features, or helped all of us run the company smarter through finance and metrics, or made our office a lovely place to come to, or ensured that everyone we hire shares our values, or if you’re the silent hero who put out fires at 3:15am while everyone else slumbered in bliss. 

Our building sign that a million Austinites will see is there because of you as much as me or Heather or anyone else. This company is ours

There’s much more hard work ahead. This will never be easy. But it’s worth it. You and I may never again get a chance to be a part of something this special. 

These are the “good old days.” It’s wonderful to share them with you. 

Episode 72: Building a Training Business

There are lots of ways to make money online, Advertising revenue, design and development services, SaaS products, ... In this episode, Brecht takes a deep dive in to a listener question about how to start up a training business. We cover topics like, how to gauge interest, where to go to drive awareness, how to figure out what to teach, and even what tools to use to set up a money making training site.

Stuff mentioned:

Bootstrapped, Episode 50, “50”

Download this episode. This week we fail to discuss that it’s our 50th episode, family impact on development, Andrey might be hiring a helper so contact him, crazy contract work, Servers for Hackers, UTF–8, Bootstrapped app we don’t have time for, Markdown, Moto X review, a plumber will run UserScape for a day.

Discuss this episode on our forums.

How to Methodically Build a Growth Machine

Brian Balfour, VP of Growth at HubSpot and author of the Coelevate blog, talks with us in-depth about his process for building a growth machine. He walks us through each step of their experiments and how they determine what to focus on. He talks about the key differences between being iterative vs. incremental. This was an incredibly enlightening interview.

Show Notes:

  • Brian Balfour
  • HubSpot
  • Sidekick
  • Coelevate
  • The Innovator's Solution (book)
  • Intro Song by Alex Koch of Digital Dust Studios
  • Outro Song: Young the Giant - "Mind Over Matter (Stint Remix)"
  • 31 things I learned the hard way about growing a SaaS business. GBP from Duane ‘Startup’ Jackson, Kashflow

    A guest blog post – a quick read with 31 real life lessons learned building a SaaS business. Introducing Duane L Jackson, he’s like ‘Startup Jackson‘, but real.

    Not Real

    Startup Jackson – Not Real


    There is so much well meant ‘advice’ out there on blog posts about entrepreneurship and how to do this our that it is sometimes hard to find things that add genuine value. We get pitched some ‘valuable insight’ every day for a guest blog post and the overwhelming majority of it is awful, derivative nonsense from people that write about, or write about other people writing about, being an entrepreneur.

    Duane is different.

    Any successful entrepreneur with a bio that includes the words, ‘which culminated in my arrest at Atlanta Airport with 6,500 ecstacy tablets‘ is not your usual sort of guy.

    Duane says he became an entrepreneur after the subsequent, almost inevitable, prison sentence because he was left with no alternative given the ‘large black hole in my CV’. He set up a web design business with the help of a grant from The Prince’s Trust a UK based organisation to help give people a second chance.

    Almost immediately, he hit a problem. He couldn’t understand why accounts programmes were so complicated. This became the realisation that was the inspiration for KashFlow, a SaaS based simple web accounting package for small business.

    I should declare two interests – 1 Duane has become a good friend over the years. 2 Our business uses KashFlow. We are a very happy, fully paid (we might be friends but he is too mean to give a discount :-)), KashFlow customer.


    Here, he has shared some of the things that he has learned building his business over the years. Don’t expect some clever unified theory of entrepreneurship – though he has some great ideas there too – here are 31 gems of learning learned by building a SaaS business from scratch. Mistakes and all. Hope you enjoy.

    Duane Jackson, Founder, Former CEO, KashFlow:

    “It’s been nearly a year since I sold KashFkow. It’s taken most of that year to ‘decompress’ after the years of hard graft.

    One of the things I’ve enjoyed doing in the past few months is giving advice and feedback (mostly solicited) to other SaaS startups. I thought it might make sense to compile and publish some of the recurring themes, so here they are:

    I hope at least one point here gets you to think about something you might be able to do better.”


    • Your early customer acquisition process shouldn’t be scalable. When I started KashFlow I got our first customers by going to networking events and selling in-person. Not really practical long-term for a service that costs £15 a month. But it got those early customers in and ensured a personal connection between them and me meaning I could call them up and get honest feedback.
    • Stay on top of your cost of acquisition of new customers. Make sure you know how to work it out. It’s an important number that should inform a lot of your decisions. But be aware it’ll be a long time before you have any clue about the life time value of a customer in a subscription business.
    • Work out who your customer is. I don’t think that we  ever decided whether we were best suited for ‘greenfield’ sites (companies that had never used accounting software) or people migrating from other products. If we worked that one out, or at least who we were primarily targeting, I think we’d have grown more quickly.
    • Get close to your early customers and bend over backwards to help them. You can add new features very quickly to delight them. Your larger competitors  can’t do this. You can also be much more responsive and personal on the support front. Make the most of those advantages. It’s fine to do stuff to get and please your early customers that won’t scale when you have tens of thousands of customers. It’ll be a nice problem to have when you get there.

    Product and website

    • Remove all friction from your sign-up process. Watch someone to go through it – how many times did they need to think about what to put in a form field (not just about what to enter, but whether they want to even share that info with you)? How many choice did they have to make (Do I want the small, medium or large package?) Don’t give them a chance to change their mind once they’ve clicked the button to register. You want their email address in your database as soon as possible.
    • Show personality in your product. Software is bloody boring, don’t be boring. We were accounting software – it doesn’t get much more boring than that. But by being a little light-hearted and informal we managed to lift some of that tedium. Sure, some people will tell you it’s ‘unprofessional’. Whatever. You can take it further and have an actual persona representing your product. We all know Aleksandr the meerkat.  It’s memorable. Mailchimp does the same in software with Freddie the Chimp.
    • If you don’t have an API then you might as as well not exist. Ideally RESTful.
    • You should be constantly split testing, but don’t make this mistake.
    • Don’t re-invent the wheel. The beauty of building a SaaS product now in comparison to ten years ago is the availability of off-the-shelf components. From affiliate management to billing to email delivery – the less code you have to write, the less code you have to maintain.
    • Once the potential customer has registered for a trial, the race is on to show them some value as soon as possible What this means will depend on what your app does. For us we needed to get them to create invoices or view reports (based on imported data). So guide the user through this process.

    PR & Marketing

    • Consider an Invite-Only Private Beta. It doesn’t have to be as exclusive as it sounds, but making it seem exclusive can make it more appealing. Who wouldn’t want to get in to a club where you need to be on a guest list to get in? But make it easy for your existing Beta Users to invite others. This encourages social media posts about your service – “anyone got an invite code for Flinkywinks?”
    • You’re a tiny mouse. If you want to be seen then find an elephant and jump on its back waving a flag. We climbed on the back of Sage and shouted about how we were doing things that they couldn’t/wouldn’t. Be sure you have a valid case though, if you’re bluffing people will see through it. And be careful who you choose. Some established companies have a lot of love.
    • If your elephant is a public company then make sure you court analysts just like you would journalists. Analysts want to understand what it is that BigCo PLC isn’t doing so well (the stuff you are doing well). Help them understand, but do be honest and as impartial as you can. I spent a lot of time explaining to analysts what SaaS is and why I thought Sage couldn’t/wouldn’t do it properly. Getting cited in research papers not only pissed them off but also raised our profile among investors and potential acquirers. And did a lot to increase our credibility.
    • Be a human on Twitter and other social media, not just a company. Who want’s to “engage with a corporate identity”? BigCo PLC rarely has an individual that can be a figurehead for the business (there are exceptions). You ARE your business, you’re living and breathing it, right? By all means have a company Twitter account, but promote your own too and engage with your customers on all topics, not just about business. It’s called social media for a reason.
    • Re-target like crazy. If you’re paying per-click and not per-impression, what’s not to like? Your adverts will follow existing customers/users around the web. This is a Good Thing. You’re everywhere! You must be doing really well. They were very clever to have chosen to use your service. I suspect (but can’t prove) this effect improves retention and maybe increases word-of-mouth.
    • Why are you using a PR firm, what are they doing for you? If you haven’t got a good answer for this then stop using them! This seems to be one of those things lots of businesses do just because they think they should.
    • Master the sound bite. Get to know some journalists and be available to them to comment on stories. If you learn to phrase things well for them you’re more likely to be quoted in a story and be approached again. If you can say nice things about your suppliers, then there’s free PR to be had.

    Targets and KPIs

    • Make sure you measure the right things, and log the metrics. Can you look back exactly 30 days and tell not just how many sign ups you had that day, but how many people logged in that day? If you’re not logging this stuff as snapshots then it’s a real bitch to try and calculate it later on from various pieces of related data (and your DBA will have a fit every time you run a management report)
    • Have targets, even if they’re arbitrary at first. How many new customers are you aiming to get this year? “As many as possible!” is the wrong answer that I used for a long time. Pick a number that sounds about right, then work out roughly how you’ll get there (how many each month from each channel). Then track your performance. Adjust your target if it seems way off. If you don’t have a target then at the end of the year you’ll have nod idea whether the number you achieved was good or bad.
    • Reporting to your board every month shouldn’t be a pain in the arse. If preparing data and updates for your investors/board every month is time consuming and frustrating then you’re doing something very wrong. What you present should naturally come from the KPIs you’re measuring regularly anyway, along with explanatory notes about why you’re under target (again). This topic probably deserves it’s own blog post. It changed my world when I finally got the hang of this.


    • Keep an eye on them, but don’t become obsessed by them.
    • Become friends with them. We never bashed our real competitors – Xero and FreeAgent – and they never bashed us. In the earlier days the founders of all three firms (and others) could be found in a pub together. Sure, there was some dis-information being spread but it was also very useful having a direct connection.
    • Don’t advertise them! We’d show price comparisons against the names everyone knew – Sage, Quickbooks – but not our SaaS competitors. I’d paid good money to get this potential customer to my site. I wasn’t going to tell them about a competing service they may not have heard of.
    • Be skeptical about their outward appearance. Everything might appear to be rosy whilst you’re having a hard time, but trust me – they’re having their own pains.
    • Don’t be afraid to copy them. If they add a great feature, you add it too. There’s no shame in it.


    • Make sure you charge enough to make a profit AND pay a cut to partners. There will always be unforeseen routes to market that require you to sacrifice some of your margin. Make sure you’re able to sacrifice enough to make it worthwhile for everyone involved
    • Be wary of “big” opportunities, especially if they’re not directly aligned with your main objectives. A lot of time can be wasted because you were approached by a household name for some special project. The length of a partnership agreement document is inversely proportionate to it’s likelihood of being a success.
    • Be as transparent and honest as you can, especially when it comes to any problems. Never try to blag your customers with fudged versions of the truth. Weren’t testing your backup processes so lost a load of data? Admit it, say sorry, tell them what you’re now doing differently. We all cock up occasionally, it’s how we deal with it that matters. You’ll be surprised how much loyalty, respect and understanding this approach buys from your customers.
    • Be decisive. It’s better to make 3 decisions a day and one of them was wrong than it is to make one perfect decision a day. You can always change your mind if it doesn’t work out.
    • Don’t get caught up in ‘the scene’. You could go to a conference or dinner or meet-up every night of the week if you wanted to. And if you’re that type of personality you could easily mistake being seen for doing real work. There are a lot of people out there that are well known but have achieved sod all besides being well known! Get your head down and crack on, there’s work to be done!

    If you found any of this useful, please do share it with others. And let me know via twitter: @duanejackson

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    If this was interesting, you might also like Gail Goodman’s talk, ‘The Long SaaS Ramp of Death’ telling the story of building Constant Contact to a 1,000 employee, $ 1 billion market cap public company.

    Spoiler alert: there are no silver bullets.