Product + Support – Hiten Shaw →

I discovered a new series of interviews with entrepreneurs called Product + Support. It’s created by Ian Landsman founder of UserScape.

The first one is up with Hiten Shah and it’s really good. The interviews talk about running a successful product business, which we can never get enough.

The line up of future interviews looks fantastic as well. I think this series is worth checking out.


Reading List →

Here is a great list of business book from Jonathan Stark. I’ve read many of these but found some I wasn’t aware of:

via Expensive Problem – Business Coaching for Dev Shops.

How Not To Provide Customer Support

I recently had an interesting interaction with a company’s support team and the results were less than spectacular. Originally, I had a much longer post planned that better detailed the problem, brought attention to the company and gave details of how poorly they handled it.  I felt the approach was less than constructive.

The bottom-line is I had a need to contact a well-reputed company and faced several of the hurdles outlined by Ian Landsman of HelpSpot recently in his post about customer support.  I won’t rehash them here, so you should go read his post right now. Scott Watermasysk of KickoffLabs had bit of follow-up to Ian’s post that you should also read.

I came out of my experience with two additional rules that we follow and you should consider reviewing your work as a person who supports “customers”:

1. It works for me, so it must be you

This one really bothers me, and I’m probably guilty of it over the years.  You have a customer who has a problem, you can’t reproduce the problem so you pass it off as not your problem and close the issue.

I have checked the site via a proxy and it’s showing up correctly:

<useless url to proxy removed>

This issue appears to be local. As a troubleshooting measure, I would recommend restarting your computer. If the site is still having connection issues, I also recommend restarting your router as well. Please let us know if you’re still experiencing connection issues after trying those recommendations.

This goes along with #9 on Ian’s post, Listen Carefully. I had provided a trace route to the support team which clearly showed my request was terminating at the host of the company.  Had this tech read my email (I sent the trace route 3 times by the way) and listened, he would have seen proof the problem was not local. 

2. Passing the buck

It’s really easy to look at problem your customer is facing and not know the answer, saying you don’t know is fine.  One response may be to blame the problem on someone else because you don’t want to continue dealing with it and you want it to pass it on.  This is the exactly how my problem was handled.

I use a utility which is a graphical client to interact with another service, the utility was timing out.  I tried to access the endpoint directly and it was also timing out.  A bit of my own sleuthing revealed my requests were being either dropped or blocked.  Support finally realized that in-fact my IP address was being blocked for unknown reasons.

The tech involved on the ticket decided the utility I was using must be the problem, even after repeated attempts at telling them it was no longer running. This was their response:

Good afternoon Rob,

Thank you for contacting us today.

The reasons that ******** state on their front page for using ******** aren’t very sound. Why would you “avoid being connected to the internet” to make a post when you must connect to the internet to make the post? ** isn’t making a bunch of data calls back and forth while you’re sitting on the post editing page so the network bandwidth consumption would be negligible even if you had to “be connected” to the internet.

With that said, anything that hits our server with multiple connections too quickly from the same IP will be blocked for attacker like activity. My suggestion is to contact the developers of your software and have them work to throttle the connections down or at least offer the option to do so. If they are unwilling to work with you I would request a refund from them and potentially find another plugin to duplicate this functionality.

If you have any further questions please let us know and we’ll gladly assist you.

Gladly assist me?  Hmmm….

The result is a lot of frustration trying to solve this issue.  Normally this company provides great service and they have a great reputation in the community but sometimes a company’s growth and not communicating culture can be negative.

Please don’t do this.

SimpleMailr Coming Soon to Make Email Newsletters a Pleasure

SimpleMailr med

I’ve been working on a SaaS application for the past number of months named SimpleMailr. It has gone through several iterations as I try to convey my intentions for the service.  In a one-liner, SimpleMailr is intended to “Get your newsletter in the hands of your readers easier.”

I’ve tried and used several services such as MailChimp, Constant Contact, Campaign Monitor and others but there is a certain amount of barrier to entry.  I want something simple to setup, simple to get that first newsletter to readers and simple to do over and over.  The end goal is getting content to readers and make it easy.

Using SimpleMailr you will be able to:

1. Easily add an existing list of email addresses.  If you know how to type an email address, copy and paste a list of address or upload an Excel file with email address in it, you will be able to get your list into SimpleMailr.  If you don’t feel comfortable with any means available..simply contact [email protected] and we will do it for you. 

2. Easily add newsletter content to get your first issue out the door.  The content of your newsletter is the heart of what you have to share, even if you are familiar with HTML you can add your text and not worry about the details.

3. Send it.  There’s really nothing more involved once you have something to say.  Once your ready, just press the send button and we will do the rest.

4. If you care about stats, stats you will have.  Know how many subscribers you have, how many were sent your content, how many received it and bounce details.  If you want it, we will have it.

I would really like to get feedback on how you use newsletter marketing today as well as how you would like to use it in the future.  What could be better?  What’s missing with your current solution?  Tell me about your ideal solution.  Feel free to send an email to [email protected] and start the conversation.  No obligation and I promise not to send any sales pitches your way.  You will be helping me build the best and most useful solution I can.

If you’re interested in following along to launch, you can sign-up to be notified right here:


Yep, paid apps are dead « Tapity

Jeremy over at Tapity had a great post yesterday talking about the very same topic I blogged about; paid apps. Tapity makes much of its living on paid applications like Languages, Grades and Hours and they face the reality.

Yep, paid apps are dead « Tapity.

By piecing together a few anecdotes I have heard, the top ten best-selling apps are selling roughly 25% as many copies as they did a year ago. If a #5 app sold 16,000 copies a day a year ago, #5 might only sell 4000 copies a day today. Now, that may still sound like a lot but apps are lucky to be #5 for a few days before dropping back into the abyss of obscurity. I’m not saying those statistics are by any means exact or even accurate but this is the kind of scale we are talking about. It is pretty drastic.

The volume just isn’t there anymore for paid apps. Premium apps that can sell for $5-$20 can probably continue to do well but the days of hit-based $0.99 apps are very much over.

His possible solution:

My thinking has changed quite a bit over the past few months and here is what I have come up with: we need to stop making apps and start making businesses.

Turning an app into a business? He explains it exactly as I have been telling those that will listen:

Hours is a perfect example. The old thinking goes like this: sell Hours for a few bucks, try to have a big launch. Rinse and repeat for updates. Since we’ve learned some things about launching great apps, we can probably do fairly well with this model and make, say, $100k.

That would be considered a successful app. But $100k isn’t enough to support a business like Tapity. It’s not nearly enough.

But what if we think bigger? Yes, release the app and sell a lot of copies but don’t stop there. Use that to prove to big companies that Hours is the absolute best time-tracker out there, hook into the back-ends that those companies use, and sell it to them at the corporate level for big bucks. Build some web and Mac integration. Maybe even hire a small salesforce. Make it a company.

Yes, yes and yes again…thinking out of the app box that has become warm and comfortable to making our apps into a real business with the actual app just being an integral part of it.

Jeremy, how about a nice SaaS app to collect all those entries from Hours for companies to use?  You can charge monthly, nice recurring revenue instead of that terrible one-time app charge.  And just think, you’re adding a ton of value.

Sometimes Great Service and Transparency Have to Be Enough

Yesterday DNSimple, my DNS provider and domain registrar of choice, suffered from a Denial of Service (DoS) attack and as a result their service went down.  This affected my sites and the sites of many people I know.

DNSimple is a bit of a different provider of services for people on the Internet since they are an infrastructure provider.  This means they provide a fundamental service which I and others rely to deliver services to our customers.  This makes a company like DNSimple that much more responsible for being up moire than most. Their outage yesterday, and actually going back a some period of time before yesterday,

They could have handled the outage in several ways.  The way they chose to handle this outage is an example of how any provider of services on the Internet should handle sometimes uncontrolled events.  As a company, DNSimple has provided great service in the limited amount of support I needed from them.  You can distinguish a great company by how they react when faced with a crisis.

Great Service

Respond to your customers in a calm fashion, letting them know how important your issue is to them.  If support issues come in via email or Twitter, respond to them, even to let them know you received their email or tweet and will get back as soon as you have something to tell them.  It only takes a second and it keeps your customer calm.  How many times have you sent a support request and heard crickets for a day or two?  Me too, it’s annoying.

Treat your customers just the way you want to be treated.


Probably the #1 failure of a company under pressure is their lack of transparency.  What is transparency?  Simply being open about what’s going on, the issues and how you are dealing with them.  Most customers are reasonable and probably have been in a crisis themselves and being open with them, communicating what you’re finding takes very little time and is a huge plus.

Be proactive, if you recognize a problem let your customers know before they find it themselves.  Be genuine, let people know you understand how important this to them.

DNSimple did a great job in their Twitter stream, responding to customers as well as general updates on what was going on and chronicling the ups and downs.

June 1st at 12:05am being proactive:

— DNSimple (@dnsimple) June 1, 2013From first thing in the morning:

— DNSimple (@dnsimple) June 3, 2013  

Setting expectations:

— DNSimple (@dnsimple) June 3, 2013  

Keeping your word:

— DNSimple (@dnsimple) June 3, 2013  

Thanking those who are most important:

— DNSimple (@dnsimple) June 3, 2013  

We are in the processing of fixing this issue for good:

— DNSimple (@dnsimple) June 3, 2013  

I feel good using these folks as a vendor.  The openness and the continued updates makes me feel like I can count on them to be there and doing all they can to fix this problem and any other problem that might arise in the future.

Offering details to an audience that would otherwise be in the dark cost them very little in the way of time but wins them big in the eyes of the people who rely on this service.

Running a business where you have customers who rely on the product or service you provide is a very rewarding experience, but it doesn’t always go smoothly.  Customers will remember how you reacted when things got tough.  What image do you want them to have of you?

UPDATE (6/4/2013 @ 5:00pm EST): Anthony Eden of DNSimple posted a great overview of the problem and the actions taken to resolve and prevent future attacks.  A really nice way for anyone not following the drama as it occurred.

7 Great Bootstrapping Podcasts to Jumpstart Your Business Today


I love podcasts.  I listen to them in the car, walking or sometimes even when working.  I can’t get enough of the good ones and you probably can’t either.

Since attending MicroConf last week I can’t stop thinking about creating products, recurring revenue and talking about all the facets of running a product business.

I thought I would pull together my short list of the podcasts for boots trappers, entrepreneurs, startups or whatever you might call yourself, that I listen to and gain value. Some of these I have just recently discovered, while others, I have been a fan since their inception.  

If there are some podcasts that should be on this list, please feel free to point them out in the comments.

I hope you find as much value in these as I do:

Startups for the Rest of Us

Rob Walling and Mike Taber, creators of MicroConf have been producing this podcast for a long time.  Startups for the Rest of Us is exactly what it sounds like, a podcast for regular people trying to startup a business.  

The format of the show begins with Rob and Mike talking about what’s going on with their own businesses and related products.  Each show follows a theme where the duo discusses the focused topic.   


Ian Landsman of HelpSpot fame and Andrey Butov recently started Bootstrapped.fm and after listening to a few episodes I find myself looking for new episodes in iTunes.  

The format of each episode is similar to Startups for the Rest of Us, where Ian and Andrey discuss their bootstrapping adventures.  It’s nice to hear different aspects of different types of bootstrapped software businesses, Ian with his SaaS application and Andrey with mobile applications.  

Lots of topics crossover, whether doing SaaS or mobile applications but there’s always valuable lessons to learn.

Bootstrapped with Kids

Bootstrapped with Kids  is also a recent addition to my podcast collection.  Brecht Palombo is the host and who also gave a great attendee talk at MicroConf. 

The topics are dear to the hearts of boostrappers and include product ideas and other aspects of the trade.

Product People

Kyle Fox and Justin Jackson are the hosts of Product People, a podcast I only recently discovered.  It is quickly becoming one of my favorites.  

The interviews are with, you guessed it, people who are successful product builders.  The interview style is very dynamic and doesn’t follow a script as you might have heard in other interview format podcasts.  I continually find myself thinking of the questions I would ask the guests and as it happens, these guys are asking those questions.  I’m sure the people who see me walking each day and nodding my head in agreement think I’m crazy.

Some recent interviewees include:

  • Amy Hoy
  • Nathan Barry (two parts and fantastic)
  • Hiten Shah
  • Jason Fried
  • Brennan Dunn
  • Rob Walling
  • Patrick McKenzie


Mixergy is actually an old favorite I have mentioned here before.  Andrew Warner does a fantastic job of interviewing entrepreneurs from all different industries and all different stories.  

Andrew is the marathon man of podcasting with tons of episodes and counting.  Plenty of backlog to go through and enjoy.

If you prefer the episodes are online and can watch the videos of Andrew interviewing his guests.  The benefit is see the guests facial expressions, small but nice sometimes.

Kalzumeus Podcast

Patrick McKenzie is a highly respected bootstrapped entrepreneur in the software industry who speaks at a few conferences and draws a crowd.  Patrick has discussions with various entrepreneurs ranging from angel investing to sales and marketing.  The episodes are not very frequent but they are solid and very much worth the wait.  Patrick includes transcripts in the podcast page so if you would rather digest the great material at a slower pace, it’s there.

Entrepreneur on Fire

This is another relatively new discovery for me.  The format is a series of interviews with entrepreneurs who have a wide range of skills, backgrounds and business types.  Entrepreneur on Fire is a very active podcast and publishing episodes at a feverish pace (5 days a  week), not sure I can keep up.

MicroConf 2013 was Freakin’ Awesome

250px Welcome to fabulous las vegas sign

I had the opportunity to attend this years rendition of MicroConf in Las Vegas, NV, run by Rob Walling and Mike Tabor and attended by many great people. All I can say, I will be back next year.

MicroConf is a conference not for startups who took venture funding but rather those of us shoestring it and bootstrapping everything we do.

There is an overwhelming theme I noticed after talking to attendees; virtually everyone is doing some form of freelance consulting and wants to get out of it and move on to a product business. One speaker asked how many were on this path I would say 90% raised their hands. I think that says a lot.

Much of the move to a product based business from consulting almost always raises the question of how to begin the transition and how to replace the lucrative consulting work with paid products. Some demonstrated success with writing ebooks and using that revenue to replace consulting or as a launchpad for their SaaS offering.

Brennan Dunn exemplifies taking this path.

For those who have never written a book it can be hard to imagine you have enough knowledge and experience to produce something of value. Patrick McKenzie was asked about this and his reply was “you know more than you think you know”. Solid advice for sure and provides encouragement for developers to consider this avenue of starting the product business.

Rob Walling started the first day with a challenge, where he asked attendees to create 3 actionable items from the event. I think I can boldly share mine:

  1. Stop consulting and be 100% products by MicroConf 2014
  2. Create and market and ebook…topic to come.
  3. Finish and launch SimpleMailr.

As part of these goals I plan to generally improve my business skills in several areas:

  • Marketing – this such a broad area but includes driving traffic to my business, by SEO understanding and implementation as well as better use of advertising (Google, Facebook and LinkedIn).
  • Copywriting – honing skills of creating eye popping copy to pull people in.
  • Design – this has always seemed like a black art to me. I plan to not become a designer but rather be more aware of design and the process to effectively create good design. It’s important to have enough skills to communicate the business needs to a qualified designer. It would be helpful to better understand design to take what a designer has to say to then relate to the business.
There are a good number of other accounts of the event from attendees so I won’t rehash everyone else’s thoughts.  One site in particular by Christoph Engelhardt is worth reviewing.  He took great notes on every talk:

Notes on the talks

  1. Jason Cohen’s Opening Talk: “Designing the perfect bootstrapped startup”
  2. Josh Kaufman: “Shut up and take my money” (still needs a lot of editing)
  3. Joanna Wiebe: “Copywriting that converts”
  4. Ben Yoskovitz: “Measuring What Matters”
  5. Guest Speaker – Patrick Thompson: “Bootstraping an App Business”
  6. Guest Speaker – Sherry Walling: “Don’t Burn up in the Launch”
  7. Guest Speaker – Jody Burgess: “Dude. Marketing is not your thing.”
  8. Guest Speaker – Josh Ledgard: “Getting your first 989 Customers”
  9. Rob Walling: “How to 10x in 15 months”
  10. Erica Douglass: “How to Measurably Move the Needle With Your Software Company”
  11. Dave Collins: “SEO Demystified”
  12. Hiten Shah: “Killer Content Marketing”
  13. Mike Taber: “Enterprise Sales Tactics”
  14. Guest Speaker – Nathan Barry: “Zero to $5,000 / month”
  15. Guest Speaker – Brennan Dunn: “The Long-Tail Sale”
  16. Guest Speaker – Brecht Palomo: “How a Non-Technical Founder Built a 6 Figure SaaS App Using Only Free Public Data Sources”
  17. Guest Speaker – Cameron Keng: “Taxes for SaaS”
  18. Patrick McKenzie – “Building Things To Help Sell The Things You Build”

Christoph followed up with What You Can Learn From MicroConf 2013 – Even If You Did Not Attend (great use of copy hack from Joanna Wiebe‘s talk)

Some attendees wrote up their take or takeaways from the conference as well: 

I’m sure this list is far from exhaustive, but you get the idea.   

The bottom line for me is this was a great conference that I will be back for next year.  I walked away from this event with more excitement and to-dos for my business than ever before.  If you didn’t attend this year, you should next year…*after* I have my ticket in hand.

Free Ultimately Always Has a Price

Gr logo

I bet by now you have heard the news Google Reader will be shutting down on July 1, 2013:

We have just announced on the Official Google Blog that we will soon retire Google Reader (the actual date is July 1, 2013). We know Reader has a devoted following who will be very sad to see it go. We’re sad too.

There are two simple reasons for this: usage of Google Reader has declined, and as a company we’re pouring all of our energy into fewer products. We think that kind of focus will make for a better user experience.

To ensure a smooth transition, we’re providing a three-month sunset period so you have sufficient time to find an alternative feed-reading solution. If you want to retain your Reader data, including subscriptions, you can do so through Google Takeout.

Thank you again for using Reader as your RSS platform.

That’s it..thank all of you for signing up for our service, relying on it but we have to go now.  Virtually everyone I know jumped at the chance to use Google Reader to keep track of their RSS feeds and synchronize them with a supporting client application on your Mac, Windows PC and any iOS and Android device. The ease of use and integration with the platform almost eliminated the market for desktop (Mac and Windows) RSS reader clients.  

What happens now when Google Reader has its plugged pulled this summer?  We lose all of the conveniences afforded to us by Google Reader and we have no where to turn to at this point.

Marco Arment points out this may not be a bad thing:

Now, we’ll be forced to fill the hole that Reader will leave behind, and there’s no immediately obvious alternative. We’re finally likely to see substantial innovation and competition in RSS desktop apps and sync platforms for the first time in almost a decade. 

I think he’s right but at a cost.  All the RSS reader applications who use Google Reader will now need to scramble and retool with their own sync platform or work with others to create one that many can use.  It won’t be free to build, support and maintain.

Possible solutions do exist today but not really 100% replacements for Reader; both NewsBlur and Feedly have been mentioned but they seem to be having some scaling issues at the moment. 

It seems others, such as David Smith, envisioned something should be available that is not run by Google.  David announced last night that he is working on such a platform and has for months:

Feed Wrangler will be a paid, subscription based service. I believe the reason that Google turned its back on Reader and left its users hanging is that they were users not customers. I’m not interested in building a platform designed to attract as many users as possible and then work out how to sustain it later. I want to instead build something that is sustainable from Day 1. I want my customers to feel confident that they can expect this to be around long into the future. I want to build a relationship with them and make something they really, really love. 

I agree and this sums up my thoughts on free.  Free services are not good for its users in the long run, they’re not sustainable and the company operating the services has no real obligation to keep it going.  I like to give money to the services I use, it makes me feel good that the service I rely on will be there tomorrow.  I would have gladly given Google money for my Reader account, but they never asked.  It gives them an out.

I don’t trust Google will not shutdown other free services, such as Feedburner.  Those of you consuming free services probably should take this opportunity to take a look and reflect on what would happen if they went away.  How would you replace them?  Are there comparable services you could pay for that may be a more sustainable business model?  Entrepreneurs creating free services…do you think that’s the best way to go?  Me either.

Mixergy and Jason Cohen – Best Business Advice Ever

I have been a long-time listener and viewer of Mixergy content and have to say it’s always top-notch.  Each interview I listen to always has a takeaway for me, always a useful nugget to try.  Andrew Warner, host and founder of Mixergy, recently talked with Jason Cohen of WP Engine.  This interview was over-the-top for me with all the goodness Jason shared.

For me, this interview had it all.  Jason discussed how he and his time started WP Engine but more importantly how they found customers before actually creating the product.  This is so important and seems to be to most difficult part of starting a business.  We developers tend to have an idea for a product, go out and create it and then sit back and wait for customers..who never come because you created something no one wanted.  Jason discusses and idea he had which potential customers did not want to pay for and he dropped it.  WP Engine was customer tested before it was conceived.

Jason found potential customers via LinkedIn:

The first one is, I’ll tell you how we did some tools for consultants, and I’ll tell you how I got a hold of those consultants and how I got them on the phone. It’s exactly what I did, and anyone can do this. You go to LinkedIn, and you search for the type of person that you want to interview. In this case it was WordPress Consultants, but you could say just people who have WordPress in their blog, you could say designers, you could say anything obviously, there’s something you can do on LinkedIn to roughly find them.

Then I simply went through anyone that I could find, and, of course, looked through their information a little to see if it would make sense. And I found people who were professionals, that is, they charge money for their time. Then, I contacted every one of them, which is easy, since, as they are consultants you can find them and their e-mail addresses and they answer it because that’s their sales line. So, it’s very easy to contact people who are professionals in the field. So, I would send an e-mail to each one, and this is what I’d say exactly. I’d say, “Hey, we’re thinking of building these new tools for WordPress.

You are exactly the kind of person who we’d want to use these tools. I would love to get your opinion on what you’re doing because it seems like you’re someone who’s doing something nice in the world and I care what you think. I also know that you’re a consultant and you have an hourly rate, and I’m happy to pay for your time, in fact, you can quote any rate you want since this is just a one off. If you want to charge $200 an hour for the one call, I’m okay with that because I’m not just trying to “pick your brain”, I will compensate you for your valuable time but I really want to know what you think.”

Here’s the result, I had 30 hours of interviews, because I literally logged them so I know. One hundred percent of them agreed to the interview, and one hundred percent of them said “Oh, you don’t have to pay me. This would be fine.” OK? This is why I’m saying anyone could do it. And, by the way, they didn’t really know who I was per se, because I didn’t come through a blog.

Discussion of the growing pains associated with WP Engine are discussed in detail, what worked and what didn’t.  If every business did this we would all learn so much.

This blog is hosted on WP Engine and I have seen those growing pains first hand.  During the early months it seemed this blog was down more than it was up.  Support at the company was what kept me from pulling the plug, fast response and even when they didn’t have an answer they were transparent and explained the issues were not resolved.  I’m sure I have needed more support than most others but each time WP Engine support is there, willing to help and solve the problem. This kept me as a customer.

Other areas which hit home that Jason discussed:

  • Partners
  • Transparency
  • Marketing
  • Contracting
  • Assistants
  • Giving Up

Anyone who has an idea or is struggling getting to the next level should take the time to listen to this interview, maybe even twice.  Take notes and try some things out.  I would call this episode a blueprint for business.