Keith and I recorded the second podcast, this time with special guest Amy Hoy. (If you missed the first podcast, see here.) We’re still searching for a format which really works for us, so this is a work in progress. Please share your thoughts with us on what you like/don’t like about it.
This podcast was recorded two months ago, largely because Keith and I got too busy to do the editing and post it. We’ll outsource more of that in the future. Of particular note: the 30×500 class that Amy talks about is already started, so if you’re interested in it, sign up for her email announcement (link waaay down on that page) for when it opens the next time.
Major topics for this podcast included:
- why businesses are not price sensitive and how to price SaaS directed at them
- how bootstrapping product businesses with a side of consulting worked out
- the psychology of happiness
Podcast link (MP3, 23 MB, approximately 80 minutes.)
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Patrick: Okey-dokey. You guys want to get started on the formal talking to people aside from the three of us thing?
Keith: Alright. Sounds good. OK, so we do the intro music [mimics intro music]. We don’t have intro music.
Patrick: We don’t have intro music.
Patrick: This is a third-rate podcast.
Keith: Welcome back to the Kalzumeus podcast and…
Patrick: This is episode two with…
Keith: Episode two, well, 2.5, because we actually recorded an episode two and then trashed it because it sucked.
Patrick: Yeah. This is uh…
Keith: Two alpha? Two Beta.
Patrick: Two Beta. It was an MVP of a podcast and then we shot it in the head because it was not accomplishing customer goals or anything.
Patrick: And we are joined today by special guest Amy Hoy.
Keith: Hello Amy.
Keith: For our people, you want to do the introduction, Patrick?
Patrick: Oh, introduction, yeah. I’m Patrick McKenzie, better known as Pattio11 on the Internet and…
Keith: I’m Keith Perhac, not at all known on the Internet. Joining us today is Amy Hoy, who is the founder of Freckle and the new product 30×500, which seems awesome. We’re going to have Amy talk about that a little more coming up. Amy, do you have anything you want to add?
Amy: There are a couple more products other than those. [laughs]
Keith: Those are the big one’s that I know of, that I’m most familiar with. And, of course, your blog Unicorn Free, which is freaking awesome, by the way.
Keith: I was actually… I listened to the 5×5 podcast where you talked about where you came up with the name for Unicorn Free, and were explaining all that. Ever since then I’ve really enjoyed that.
Amy: Oh, well thank you. Yeah. I figure like, I was drunk and I wrote a note that I forgot and there was a Narwhal horn involved. It was a pretty good story.
Patrick: Ba dum bum.
Keith: Ba dum bum. Alright.
Patrick: So, let’s see. So, the 30×500 classes opening up in the near future [Patrick notes: We didn’t get this episode out on time, so if you want into 30×500, you’ll have to do it the next time Amy opens up the course.] and I feel it’s probably of interest to some people that are listening to this so why don’t you give us the rundown on that for the folks listening at home who don’t know what it is?
Amy: I’d love to, if I can pronounce my own product’s name. Sidebar, don’t name your product with numbers in it. I never can say 30×500 properly unless I do it like that in slow mo. In 2008 I got absolutely sick and tired of consulting, even though our consulting business was doing really well, mine and my husband’s. I knew that I didn’t want to be a consultant forever, I just fell into it because I had these skills.
I knew the way to make money was product. I had been watching 37 Signals from their rise back when they had zero products and were just designers and then they had products and all this stuff and all these people I knew who were starting businesses and were making money not by the hour but by the product.
I knew what I knew by reading business books, which were not tailored to me, a two person company who was starting on the side. They were tailored to larger business but I was able to extrapolate the advice and apply it to myself. I read startup stuff, most of which was totally useless for what I was doing.
I wasn’t trying to get millions of users, I couldn’t spend money to acquire users, I couldn’t use venture capital, I couldn’t hire the best people. My husband and I were pretty great, but it was pretty much us and we were free.
Keith: You were pretty much stuck between the two worlds, weren’t you? What you wanted was a standard business model, but there weren’t any real books or information on standard business models in the Internet age and what information there was, was for startups and startups generally assume venture capital, which of course you weren’t going for, which is a great role to go down.
Just because you’re a startup does not mean you need venture capital and does not mean you need to do the seven billion users in two months for a free medium app, whatever.
Amy: But the hockey stick. The hockey stick. How do you survive without the hockey stick? I don’t know. In fact, I was anti-venture capital, for me. I feel like a lot of venture capital is quite deceptive, but I don’t begrudge anyone for taking it if that’s what they want to do. I’m like go after the dealers, not the users. I really didn’t want anyone else in-between me and my customers and my success.
I didn’t want anyone fiddling with my stuff. Until 2008, I had not been able to ship a project I worked on for years because management kept screwing with it, whether it was Behr Sterns, well they went out of business, or Limewire, where my CEO was a 12-year-old multimillionaire boy scout on crack. I never did anything for years and I was dying. I was like no more intermediation. No more between me and them. I was like no venture capital.
You’re right, there was nothing really to rely on other than old school business books and what I had detected by working around and following 37 Signals and Mail Chimp and these other businesses. I observed them over the years, lurked. They weren’t writing about it at that time. Even 37 Signals was not writing about their Bootstraps and Proud series. That was not in 2008, that was a lot later. So it was really lonely.
Patrick: Yeah. I start Bingo Card Creator in 2006 and, man, the state of the art back then. I was literally unsure it was legal to actually just setup a shingle on the Internet and start selling software. I tried to get advice from people in our community, which has some issues about things like that. They’re like no, God man. What if someone does a refund? You can get sued. You should never, ever, ever try to get away from the day job and, besides, they own your soul.
Keith: Going back to that a little, as much as we are three people on the Internet giving advice, you should never listen to people giving advice on the Internet.
Amy: Yeah, just us.
Keith: Yeah, just the three of us. I think that’s a very safe assumption. I would preface the “don’t take advice from people” with “random people on the Internet.” Find people who are successful and who are practicing what they preach, essentially.
Patrick: I think that’s life advice as to hanging around with the kind of people you want to be with rather than anybody else.
Keith: Rather than people who scream the loudest, yeah.
Patrick: This goes to picking your community, both in real life and in the Internet. If you routinely hang around people who run businesses, your perception of the world is going to get influenced by people who run businesses, and if you’re routinely hanging around people who will perpetually have a business some day you have a risk of that warping your perspective on things.
Amy: Absolutely. My rule of thumb is also that even if someone has what you want and people ask, “What’s the secret of your success?” and they say, “Hard work,” stop listening. Let’s face it, it’s a lot more than that and if they don’t have the insight or the willingness to share beyond the phrase “hard work” then there’s nothing you can learn from them from what they explicitly try to teach you. You can observe and be the learner and analyze.
Yeah, it really sucked and there were a lot of naysayers. Not maybe quite as serious as Patrick: did because we’re a couple of years later. Honestly, I really don’t listen to people.
Keith: Very good advice. Probably the best advice we’ll get out of this podcast is don’t listen to people.
Amy: Don’t listen to people. [laughs] People are like no, no, no, no, no. I’m like whatever. We started making a product business and it sort of was harder than I thought. A lot of it was easier than I thought, but it was all hard because we were alone. We were doing this on the side with consulting and we had these short bursts with super intense consulting contracts, mostly for Fortune 500 companies or Fortune 50 companies.
So we were doing that and trying to build this product (Freckle) and then ship this product and then support the product after we shipped it and add new features and stuff. And it was really chaotic for about a year and a half.
And at the end of 2009, I knew that I could not do that anymore. That’d been nearly a year and a half, 18 months, 24 months almost, of doing this. And I was like, “I cannot consult and do this other stuff anymore. The product’s suffering. I’m suffering. I have to quit. I’m going to quit now.”
We just got this big check from this two-week project that turned into two months of hell. Then I quit, and I thought, “What can I do to help shore up this income?” And I thought, “I know. I can help people who are like me two years ago.” I wasn’t sure if people were into it or not, so I did a three-hour teleconference and invited some people. (Patrick notes: This idea is genius. It’s the MVP of a more involved product.) They paid me, not a lot.
And the number-one feedback was “more,” which I wrote down in my notebook as “M-O-A-R-R-R…” I counted the R’s the other day. I was like, wow. [laughs]
Keith: Just love writing those R’s, huh? [laughs]
Amy: I did. Everyone was like, “I want more.” That was the number-one feedback. So I was really excited, I guess, so I put extra R’s.
And that slowly turned into this three-and-a-half-month-long class that it is today, 30×500. I built the first one with my friend Alex Hillman, who’s awesome, who’s bootstrapped a community and a physical office space, for co-working and a whole bunch of other stuff, in Philadelphia. He’s amazing. He’s been a business consultant as well as stuff, and he helped me with the first version, and then he couldn’t do it anymore, time-wise.
And I flipped all the stuff around and created a community to go along with the class. I say, “created a community.” I basically meant open the mailing list and invited people to talk on it. The students have really created the community.
And so now I have this three-and-a-half-long mentorship program, which includes a lot of kind of mind-bending lessons an exercises that will help somebody get away from what I call “idea quicksand,” where you have a fantastic idea and then you either see someone else already did it or you get depressed.
You’re like, “There’s competitors. Is the market saturated? Can I validate this idea? What if I can’t validate this idea? What if I can’t build the whole thing and it won’t be like I thought it was?” Basically, everyone goes… [makes bomb-dropping sound] It ends in death, and never shipping anything, or shipping things no one wants. And so the very first thing we do in 30×500 is turn that around. I say, “No ideas,” [laughs] for the first month almost.
It’s all about learning about business, about how to come up with an infinite number of ideas, valid ideas which are pre-validated. You don’t have to have the idea then validate it. It’s all about turning the process on its head, coming up with as many potential profitable products as possible, learning to do market research, learning to really sell those ideas to people before you build it, and all sorts of good stuff: marketing, productivity, how to trim it down to a tiny thing you can ship, all that stuff.
The class is all about that, and it’s pretty intense. But we’ve had an amazing wave of launches lately, and I’m so happy.
Patrick: Yeah. People will not be surprised, based on my karma score, but I get most of my news through Hacker News and saw multiple of them on the front page in the last couple of days. Let’s see, there was, oh, shoot, projector, the one that does designer stuff and client stuff. (Patrick notes: I was thinking of PlanScope). I’m sorry, I can never…
Amy: It’s like project management and budget and scope management for freelancers and agencies to use with their clients. The client sees where their money is going, which is a huge problem, as you may know.
Patrick: Right. Yeah. I think you’ve mentioned this before, but there’s… so, a piece of received wisdom in the community, which, I will be totally honest, I have said this many times, is, “Don’t make things for people who are like you, because developers/designers, et cetera, don’t pay for software.”
I think you have an opinion on this as somebody who successfully sells time-tracking management and who just had multiple customers, or multiple, I guess, students from the program launch straight into the designer community and totally kill it. But what’s your opinion on that?
Amy: It’s not true.
Amy: My water bottle. That was dramatic! That was my water bottle going, “Pop!”
Amy: It’s simply not true, pop, which is a polite way to put it.
Amy: I mean, if you look around at all these companies that are making so much money off the developer and designer audience like, GitHub, linda.com, Basecamp started exclusively with developers and designers. That was their market. They marketed to people like them, the small agencies and the individuals, and it grew out from there. Massively, it did. But they started with that core audience. That’s how I knew about it. I found out about it on an invite-only design community way back in 2005.
I usually have a whole list. PeepCode, look up PeepCode. Jeff’s does very well. Let’s see, Rueben from Bidsketch. It’s a total one-man operation. He just dramatically increased his prices, and he’s doing fantastically. Bidsketch is all about preparing beautiful, templatized proposals for your clients. There’s so much, FreshBooks, Harvest, all these other time trackers which make way more money than I do. There’s a lot. A lot.
And not all of those are exclusively designer/developer anymore, but a lot of them started that way and they branched out as they grew. But there are a lot of developer-only ones as well. Look at all these apps for server monitoring (Patrick notes: use it, love it) or Rails Screencasts from many different people, not just Jeff. There’s just tons, and tons, and tons of stuff.
So, I don’t know where the idea that they don’t buy comes from because there are products everywhere that are successful.
Patrick: I think it’s partly a projection thing, like, “I don’t buy anything and therefore people like me must not buy stuff.” Which, there are many issues with projecting your behavior onto other people.
Keith: And really, I think there’s also a… so, this is not just the Hacker News crowd, this is not just the Slashdot crowd, this is not just the techie crowd, there are a lot of people. I think the naysayers are the people who have more time than money, is honestly what it comes down to.
Because, honestly, if I had a ton of time, if I was working a nine-to-five job, had a set number of hours a day I worked at a fixed income, at that, and I needed time-tracking software, I would probably write my own on the weekend because I have more time than I have money at that point.
For someone who’s trying to run or start their own business, they suddenly have more money than they have time. Not that they’re making tons of money but because their time is much more valuable because there are so many other things they could be doing.
Patrick: and I have actually talked about this because I need to write my own invoicing software and stuff like that. I finally did not because I thought I could set up an MVP in about a week and take another week to fix any bugs so that’s two weeks of my time that it would take to build just my invoicing software. Or I could pay $20 to $50 a month for someone else’s invoicing software. That’s a no-brainer. Two weeks worth of billable work versus $50 a month. No-brainer at all.
Amy: Absolutely, but how long did you think about buying the podcasting equipment?
Keith: Actually, we just kind of fell into that.
Amy: A lot of people say they don’t buy stuff. They actually buy stuff left and right, they just weren’t paying attention. Not that you bought it mindlessly while you were sleep walking or anything. When you think back in your memory you think when did I buy things? It just doesn’t pop up.
Keith: I’m gradually getting better about it. The podcasting equipment, I was like we need podcasting equipment. OK, done. A couple years ago I started Bingo Card Creator on a $60 budget and when you only have 60 in the budget you get very creative about not spending money, but these days the budget is much more than $60 and I have to sometimes slap myself and say no, implementing this myself is absolutely not the right call.
I was talking to a buddy of mine and asked, “Is there any way I can optimize Redis such that it will use 15 megabytes less of RAM on the server? Then I won’t have to upgrade to the next higher tier of VPS.” He said, “What’s the next higher tier of VPS?” “$20.” “Do we need to have the rest of this conversation?” “OK, OK. I get it, I get it.” Gradually, very gradually I’m starting to get it.
Amy: It takes time. Most people aren’t like you, even developers. That’s fairly unusual. Most of us, especially Americans, we just tend to throw money at stuff.
Keith: I think we’re very much conditioned by living in Japan. It’s weird. Once you get to certain price points, like low price points for some reason people hee and haw over much more than they would decide over something of a large price point. If you’re spending $1,000 it’s easy to spend another $100. If you’re spending $10 or $15 people seem to think about it a lot more.
Amy: It’s true.
Keith: The old president of my company, multi, multi-millionaire (Patrick notes: he is credited with bringing the Internet to Japan, you do the math), he does a lot of donations and stuff to colleges and stuff and he had done this multi-million dollar donation to a college and he had just finished signing the contract and he’s leaving and he goes to a convenience store and picks up a bottle of water and he just goes, “I can’t believe water at a convenience store is 135 yen. That’s just so expensive.”
I’m like you just contributed millions of dollars and you’re complaining about $1.35.
Amy: I think we all fall prey to that one. The other day I was in a convenience store and I realized I needed a toothbrush and I bought a toothbrush and I was like why is this toothbrush $1.75? I’ve been paying like 3.50 each. I caught myself thinking I’m going to buy my toothbrushes there from now on. I was like wait a minute.
Keith: You actually consider should I go to a different store to get the cheaper toothbrush?
Amy: It only passed a moment, I have to say, to my credit, but it occurred to me. I was like come on, Amy. I’ve occasionally thought I should have kept the exact amount, 20 percent or whatever, and I’m like come on, really? Am I even wasting a cycle of my brain on 50 cents?
I’m not like that with buying software tools for business at all, so I think what you said earlier about selling to businesses is totally true, but I think there’s a lot more people who are just not commenting on things who just quietly buy the things they want or need whether or not they have a business.
Keith: This might not be a new thing for the 30×500, but you’re starting to focus more on building apps and things for businesses than for B2C stuff which, as somebody who knows and loves many B2C customers for his Bingo product, is totally the right way to go.
Amy: I like how you used love in a negative way. [laughs]
Patrick: I do love my customers.
Amy: I understand.
It’s just from a place of I can do my math on what my hourly is on that versus an appointment reminder where I get to charge a car dealership every month. I’ve had car dealerships say is it 200 a day or 200 a month? I’m like it’s 200 a month and they’re like “Whatever. Either would have worked.”
Amy: That’s nice.
Patrick: In other news, I’m re-pricing.
Keith: The correct response to that is not $200 a month. If they ask is it 200 a day or 200 a month you say a day. If they say that’s too expensive you say then a week. [laughs] Start with the expensive one first.
Amy: You’ve got to capture that customer surplus. You want that.
Patrick: We were thinking about talking about pricing grids. One of the things that you can actually learn if you spend too much time hanging out on the Internet and talking to people about this is that a lot of SaaS companies use the four column pricing grid strategy typically.
I’ve talked to a lot of folks about this one. The one that really prints the cash, usually about 50% of sales, is the one to the extreme right that’s priced at businesses at prices that people think no one can will pay. Say, $250 a month for Wufoo.
It’s just that people who are spending essentially other people’s money, it just comes out of a budget so it doesn’t matter to them whether it’s 200 or 250 or 500. As long as it still only requires one signature or zero signatures it’s whatever it is.
Amy: Yeah. I hear the amount per signatures for an employee generating expenses in a large company is usually around $500. I think under $500 it does not require a signature.
Patrick: That’s consistent with my experience. Anybody who’s doing a SaaS pricing grid where the top price tops out at $20 or $30 should really…
Keith: Rethink what they’re doing.
Patrick: …put anything you need to just get an enterprise level, even if you don’t necessarily call it the enterprise level, and price it at $250 or $500. This is free money. And, oh, goodness…
Keith: So, not even looking at this as a huge business. When people think of business, they think of huge corporations. But even for small companies that are making a good amount of money, let’s say that a company has maybe six people working there that are contractors.
And a good contractor will run you about 100 to 200 an hour, depending on what they’re doing. If a product on the Internet costs you the same as one hour of that person’s time and saves them over an hour a month, then it’s a no-brainer to get that, right?
Amy: And that is exactly why, actually… Patrick, you asked this earlier. I’ve always told people, in 30×500 and “Year of Hustle”: do not sell to consumers. And some people will say, “But I have this idea.” I’m like, “No. You can do it, but I’m not going to support you because you’re going exactly against what I told you to do.” For that reason. For that reason.
You can sell on value to businesspeople. You can say, “You spend $80 an hour on this freelancer. I can save you 45 minutes of their time and charge you $60, and that is a win.” It’s certainly not a loss. I think I did the math wrong; I think that’s exactly $60. But let’s say half an hour of their time for 50 bucks or whatever. No, that’s still wrong. [laughs]
Patrick: We get the general idea.
Amy: You know what I’m saying. [laughs]
Keith: So there is really two places that you can really provide enumerable benefits to your customers. One is saving time. Because a consultant takes time. The amount of money that you save is directly related to how much you can charge, right? The other one is anything that increases sales.
Keith: For example, Visual Website Optimizer prints money for customers. Anyone who is using Visual Website Optimizer is literally printing money with every single test that they do.
Patrick: This is the A-B testing software we often recommend to clients.
Keith: It is so amazing. So their largest for enterprise is “call us.” That’s fine. Their second-largest is $250 a month. OK? $250 a month for increases of sales starting at two percent, five percent, 10 percent, 50 percent. As good as your test can be, that’s how much money you are making with their $250-a-month service. It’s amazing.
Amy: It is amazing. They could probably charge more for that.
Keith: They could.
Amy: Ruben Gomez, who does Bidsketch, I mentioned earlier, he tweeted repeatedly and told me personally how much more money he was making when he drastically increased his prices. And I’ve been nagging him to write a blog post. So I’m going to keep nagging him until it happens, but his story is pretty incredible.
I’m not going to release the numbers because he hasn’t done it yet. You would think that he’s looking at private bids instead of people, the freelancers and consultants. And it worked out so well for him, so well. It’s such a big deal.
Patrick: I think he’s coming to MicroConf. We’re going to lock him in a hotel room in Las Vegas and not let him out until the blog post is written. (Patrick notes: Did not actually happen at MicroConf.)
Amy: Yes. Yes!
Amy: I vote yes. Let’s do that. [laughs] He’s a cool guy. I like him a lot. So yeah, you were saying more sales, or saving time. And I also think of, people usually go for cost reduction, I think, when they talk about monetary value. But I don’t see nearly as many products being successful for reducing costs, unless it’s extreme, because penny-pinchers aren’t people who spend money.
Patrick: One thing that’s great for software is if you can tell a story. Ultimately, all sales is about telling stories and painting the right picture in peoples’ minds, but tell a story where it reduces the amount of employee labor required to do something, particularly if that either allows them to switch them to tasks that actually generate money or, I hate sounding like a business, but “decreasing headcount.”
If you can successfully pitch to a business that you are going to “decrease headcount,” that is a total win in 99.95 percent of cases. So, Appointment Reminder, my software that does phone calls to the clients of professional-services businesses. I often say that if you have an office manager who costs you $4,000 month, who half of her time is literally talking to people’s voicemail to attempt to get them into the office at the proper time, then spend $200 a month and save $2,000 on salary costs.
One of my more successful clients is saying that, basically, I saved him enough on that to put his daughter through Harvard.
Amy: So you need to raise your prices. There’s that customer surplus.
Patrick: I need to raise my prices. Yeah, I so do. I did something very stupid when I launched Appointment Reminder, and I’ll just tell it to everybody to have you avoid doing it. I launched with the four-tier pricing structure, like usual, and the bottom plan was $9 for a, quote-unquote, “personal plan.”
So my idea was, “I don’t really care about the $9. I just want people using this.” I should’ve wanted people using it at 30 bucks a month for the cheap plan, because the people who pay $9 are, my word is “pathological customer,” for people who are penny-pinching, and they have every kind of support issue that you could possibly imagine, like, “How do I record telephone calls if I don’t have a telephone? Can I log into the website from my Kindle, which doesn’t really have a web browser in it?” Yadda-yadda-dee-da-da.
And they expect turnaround times of two minutes or less to customer-support issues arising at 3:00 AM in the morning.
Keith: I would really like to see someone. I don’t know if anyone has done a blog post about this, about a breakdown of the number of support calls and support messages you have, broken down by which plan they’re in.
Patrick: I will totally bet that it is the cheap-o Charlies who contribute a vastly, vastly disproportionate…
Keith: Like 80 percent…
Amy: Me too. Heard that over and over again from everybody. Also, this is something that you could absolutely do with our upcoming software-as-a-service product, Charm, which is a customer-support and true customer-relationship management tool. Everyone says CRM, they mean lead tracker, which I find to be terribly dishonest. [laughs] It’s like, one, they’re not customers yet, they’re leads.
And then after they are customers, doesn’t help you at all. The only exception I’ve seen is Intercom, which is pretty neat. But they don’t call themselves a CRM, I don’t think. But Charm will let you filter requests by plans or price points.
And so you’ll be able to profile feature requests and issues, specific ones, like, “Please add invoicing feature,” that kind of thing, by which plan or how much your customers are paying you. But also, you will be able to see how many incidents you get from which type of customer. But everyone I’ve…
Patrick: That would be great blog-post fodder if you can get anonymized data for that. Well, it’s not a great idea, but yeah.
Keith: No. I mean, that’s easy to get anonymized data from. You say, “My support numbers are X, and they belong to the lowest tier.” You can use even general numbers for that, I would think.
Amy: Do you mean if you blog about it, Patrick, anonymized?
Patrick: Well. So, I’ve already retracted this idea, but the idea I have now retracted was, oh, you could aggregate across all Charm customers, whether it was the cheap-o plan or whatever that generated the most customer support inquiries. I’m like, “No, that’s a wee bit aggressive.” [laughs]
Amy: Do you think that’s like a cats.jpg moment? Because I don’t really think so. I don’t think it’s a cats.jpg moment.
Patrick: The rational part of me thinks that it’s not a cats.jpg moment, but I think that loud people will perceive it as a cats.jpg moment. Really, this is inside baseball here, so let me tell everyone what a cats.jpg is.
Keith: First of all, yeah, I have no idea… [laughs]
Amy: Sorry. [laughs]
Patrick: So, 37signals said, “Oh, the 100 millionth file has just been uploaded to Basecamp, and it was called cats.jpg.” And they tweeted that out or put it in a blog post or something. And the folks who were worried about the Facebookization of all services were like, “Oh my God! 37signals can view all this data that we’re uploading to their servers, and they’re not treating it in a privacy-conscious manner! Brar!”
Patrick: So, OK, yes, A, it is totally technically possible for people to view data that you upload to your servers. That’s kind of how it works. And if you don’t trust them on that, you definitely should not be using Basecamp. But it was kind of a tempest-in-a-teapot kind of thing about whether it’s OK to publish that even if it’s a trivial amount of customer data. No one’s business is going to collapse over the words “cats.jpg” getting out, where if it was “letter of intent to dismiss Mary Smith for sexual misconduct.doc…”
Keith: They might’ve anonymized that. [laughs]
Amy: I don’t think they would’ve put that up there. I think people were more upset over the idea that they were looking at individuals’ accounts. But there’s a lot of apps out there which say how many bookmarks or how many dollars have been invoiced or how many hours have been tracked. I’ve never seen anyone ever complain.
Keith: Complain about that, right.
Amy: I think FreshBooks and Hunch, they all do these infographic-style breakdowns of the data. But it’s totally anonymized, like you said, so it’s totally in aggregate. I can’t imagine. Well, you know what? I’m going to do it with Freckle anyway, so we’ll find out. [laughs]
Keith: The noisy people, the people who are complaining, I think, about the cats.jpg, I mean, aggre-data… [sputters] Aggregate data.
Keith: Aggre-data. There we go, aggre-data.
Amy: That’s great.
Keith: Aggre-data is brought from individual data, right? So if you have source to create the aggregate data, you have the original source data. So there’s really no difference in the privacy, right? It’s not like they purposely were looking at anyone’s single Basecamp to find cats.jpg. They just did, “Query, item number one million. What is name of that item?” Right? I don’t know, like Patrick said, tempest in a teapot.
Amy: How different would it feel if I wrote a blog post on Freckle, which is a time-tracking productivity tool, that said that 30 percent of all hours logged yesterday were overhead hours that are non-billable, versus I said the 100 millionth hour was logged to a project called “Cat.” You know what I’m saying? I don’t think people would care.
Keith: They didn’t even mention the project name, right?
Keith: See, I think it would be different if you said that. But if you said, “The millionth task that was logged was overhead,” I don’t know how interesting that is. [laughs] See, me personally, that’s perfectly fine.
Patrick: See, this is the reason why it’s a tempest in a teapot. The only reason that anecdote was put into the post anyhow is because it’s harmless and silly and trivial.
Amy: Hilarious. [laughs]
Patrick: And if the 100 millionth item had been a business document, it just wouldn’t have been mentioned, because, A, privacy issues, but B, it isn’t funny. But because it’s stupid cat photos, it’s funny. And, brar, tempest in teapot. I avoided commenting on those threads because I thought commenting would make me dumber.
Keith: [laughing] We’re doing a whole podcast about it.
Amy: It’s true. I’m sorry I brought it up. [laughs]
Patrick: I feel myself getting more stupid with every sentence that comes out of my mouth.
Amy: Oh, no! I killed Patrick: McKenzie’s brain cells.
Patrick: What were our value-creating topics we were going to talk about…?
Keith: OK, so value-creating topics. Number one was the cat picture that Basecamp…
Patrick: No, that was not on the list.
Keith: Oh, that was not on the list. OK. [laughs]
Patrick: We were going to talk about…so, Amy, your business trajectory has been from one where you were consulting and not really loving it, to put it mildly. Now you’re 100 percent on the products. I started with the product/day job and got quit of the day job as of two years ago this week, which was the second-best decision ever.
Amy: Happy anniversary!
Patrick: Thank you.
Keith: Oh yeah, that’s right.
Patrick: But I kind of got sucked into consulting, starting about the same time I quit the day job, because people threw motivation on my company at me. And it was just hard to say no to the checks. And they generally come from people who are not Fortune 500 companies and have a little less BS associated with it, like the minimum BS that you can possibly have while still taking money from other people, I think.
So I’m pretty happy with that. But in the future, I would love to transition back into 100 percent product. And Keith is kind of at the end of the totem pole. Keith also quit. Like we talked about on the podcast last time, he quit his crazy Japanese day job and now works for consulting clients who are much better. But he also nurses dreams of having a…
Keith: A product and actually creating something of my own, right?
Amy: Yeah. That’s an awesome feeling.
Keith: It is.
Amy: I can tell you, from over here, it’s great.
Amy: Why didn’t I do this three years earlier? Keep at it. It’s worth it.
Patrick: So people have told me that they’re actually interested in how the lifestyle works out. Everyone grows up knowing lots of examples of people who work day jobs, and everyone kind of knows, “OK, you work for about 40 hours a week. You go commute to an office.” You know what the packaged lifestyle deal of working for a day job is, whereas they don’t know what it is to run a product. So, can we just spill the beans and say it’s F’ing awesome all the time?
Amy: Yeah. [laughs]
Keith: Except for customer support.
Patrick: Even for customer support…
Amy: Whenever I have to touch any other institution, like government or healthcare or banking, I kind of want to kill myself.
Patrick: Yeah, that’s true.
Amy: But it’s no worse than working with marketing people, [laughs] which is what I was doing as a consultant.
Patrick: And we never have to talk to an HR department, which is worth its weight in gold.
Amy: I haven’t worked at company big enough to do that, so I’ve avoided a special kind of hell. I feel very lucky for that.
Patrick: One of the things that I’m really appreciating this year is I’m getting married in June — yay — and pretty much taking off. I just told my consulting clients that, basically, either get themselves in by the end of May or it’s not happening till September, and just took off the entire stretch in there and will just not be working.
Amy: That’s awesome.
Patrick: I get a lot of people asking me, “How can you do that? The servers are going to burn down in a fiery badness.”
Patrick: Just verify for me that I’m not insane here. That’s not really how things work, right? These businesses…
Amy: Of course it’s how it works. The moment you turn your head, everything explodes in a fireball, then Godzilla comes out of the ocean. [laughs] Come on.
Keith: This is half-true, especially with Patrick’s track record.
Patrick: That’s not actually true.
Keith: OK, let me put it this way. [laughs]
Amy: Uh-oh. Is there dirt here? Is there dirt to dish? Do we get to dish dirt? [laughs]
Keith: No, no, there’s no dirt. He’s actually blogged about this. Whenever he is fully available, he generally has no support costs on his products, right? I think like, what, an hour of support a day or something like that?
Patrick: Way less than that, dude.
Keith: Way less than that. OK. Maybe 10 minutes…
Patrick: 20 minutes a week.
Keith: 20 minutes a week. OK. Anytime he gets on an airplane, or anything where he has no Internet connectivity, the server goes down. [laughs]
Patrick: This is not actually true. It just happened…
Keith: One out of 10 times. [laughs]
Amy: Just seems like it.
Patrick: It happened when I was doing an intercontinental flight back at Halloween, which is unfortunately the busy season for bingo cards.
Keith: You had another one when you were moving. You were moving and didn’t have phone access for one day, and the server crashed.
Patrick: Oh, God. [laughs] So this is two events in six years.
Patrick: The key that we were trying to emphasize to impressionable youngsters who are listening to this podcast is that you can step away from the business and it will not consume your life.
Keith: You can.
Patrick: People will happily pay you money, even if you’re not working on the product every day, because people don’t care if you’re working on the product every day, they only care what they’re getting out of it.
Keith: The point I’m trying to make is, and what you say is true. 20 hours a week, you can go off and do what you want. People don’t care if you are working eight hours a day on your product, and you really shouldn’t be after you’ve launched to any certain degree. But keep your phone on. [laughs]
Amy: I’m sorry, I couldn’t parse that sentence. You can only not work 20 hours a week and people don’t care? I’m confused. [laughs]
Keith: Sorry, sorry. Did I really say that?
Patrick: The English…
Keith: English? OK. So, as I’m sure everyone knows, we’ve been in Japan way, way, way too long.
Keith: So your customers do not care that you’re only working 20 minutes a week, or they don’t expect you to be working eight hours a day, because as long as the service works, they don’t care.
Amy: That’s right.
Keith: And you should not be working that much once your product is launched. However, you should always have your cell phone or some sort of Internet connection on in case things do explode, or someone to watch it for you.
Amy: So, we just took a month off in New Zealand. And then we came back for a week and a half. We’re doing city hopping in the US, San Francisco and Atlanta. And I actually did do email every two to four days, because I wanted to keep up with my class. We had somebody handling front-line support for the two apps.
We did have a server problem with Charm, but we haven’t launched that product publicly yet because we’re still ironing out those infrastructure kinks, right? And so I think my husband actually worked like two hours the entire trip, because he doesn’t have his class that he’s running. And nothing bad happened.
So here’s the thing, right? When you have a lot of customers, something bad can happen, and you can lose a few and you can be like, “You know what? I lost $200 a month of business and I took a month off. Who cares? Who cares?” And you can just gain those back. You come back, you’re like, “I’ll get new customers.” It’s not a big deal.
Someone will always cancel for some reason. It doesn’t really matter. In Freckle, we’ve gone down quite a few times. But it’s a product where you’re not in it all day, and something goes down once in a while. People don’t even get mad as long as you try to get back on and apologize. If it happens in the middle of the night, so be it. I’m not getting up in the middle of the night. No way.
Keith: And this is one thing. I think a lot of people on the Internet think that there is a limit to the number of customers you can have. They always talk about market shares and stuff like that. And talking about market shares when you’re going after big companies or products that need millions and millions of users is one thing.
So Bingo Card Creator is a very good one, because people always say, “How much of a market is there for teachers that need bingo cards?” Right? And there’s, compared to the number of programmers in the world, probably not many. But there are a f-ton, right?
Patrick: “More than I could ever hope to get to my website” is the short version.
Keith: If you were to even get one percent, you would never have to work again.
Patrick: I hate the one-percent math…
Amy: Oh, me too.
Patrick: Just as a comparable for folks, Bingo Card Creator, which is almost like the canonical example of, “Oh, God, that was a poor choice in niche selection, Patrick. Why did you do that?” has over 200,000 users and 6,000 paying customers. So if you think your thing for programmers is going to be more niche than that, you probably need to recalibrate expectations.
Amy: You’re probably wrong, also.
Patrick: And if I only had recurring revenue. That’s another thing.
Patrick: Recurring revenue, man, that’s the best kind of revenue, isn’t it?
Amy: It is crack, in a good way. It’s crack that doesn’t make you sick. [laughs]
Amy: And it’s legal and stuff. And you don’t have to inject it. I don’t know. How do you take crack? Stop me now… [laughs]
Keith: [laughs] Our street cred is going down the toilet right now. [laughs]
Patrick: So, definitely, if you have the opportunity to make a SaaS business, do the monthly charge thing that all the cool kids are doing, because it does wonderful, wonderful things for your cash flow. It helps you absorb advertising costs better. It will allows you to have high customer lifetime values without your customers perceiving the service as being expensive at all.
Amy: It’s true, that is a very good point! Recurring revenue is the Holy Grail and I love it. And back to your market share comment, recently, I mean it seems recently but it was like six or eight weeks ago, people were like…someone on Hacker News like, ‘Do people still pay for porn or these other things?’
And you were trying to be like, ‘I don’t know about that but I know people pay for a lot of these other tools, among which what you deem time tracking.’ And then the same or different person, very skeptical is like, ‘People don’t pay for time tracking!’
Keith: All people pay for time tracking! [laughs]
Amy: That’s how I read Hacker News, by the way. And then mentioned me and that’s just one example. In any industry there can be one example which makes money and I had to try them and then go, ‘You know what? There’s at least six to eight companies which make geometrically more money than I do!’ [laughs]
Amy: And then it went silent, surprisingly. [laughs]
Keith: [laughs] Always does!
Amy: I think a lot of people don’t, they don’t have any clue but they think that they do, about market share. What I hear a lot is, ‘Oh, but that market is saturated.’ You don’t even know what that means. That’s not what you think it means. Saturated means people don’t buy stuff anymore but they do.
If you have a pool that is very popular, has a lot of customers, there’s got to be a significant portion of those customers who are being ill served by that product.
Keith: Right, right.
Amy: It cannot be all things to all people. So someone like us who just needs a few thousand customers to live like a king, can swoop in and serve a segment of those customers, which were created for you by…
Keith: By someone else.
Amy: …this competitor which is allegedly saturating the market.
Patrick: That’s something I’ve been telling people for a while, it’s that competitors are a wonderful thing because it’s an engraved invitation from God that tells you that there’s money to be made in a particular place.
Keith: And there are always going to be people using your competitor’s products that are not happy with them that might want to go somewhere else. If you have a feature that other places don’t have, and even if you have a combination of features, so everyone else in this space might have the exact same features but they don’t have them in the same combination, you then have a niche of an already proven market share that want the features that you’re offering.
Patrick: We shouldn’t be the engineers here, either . We start talking about feature, feature, feature but we can honestly take something which is feature equivalent or even at less than the feature parity and just market it in such a way that, you know, it actually worked for people who it isn’t working for right now.
And that would itself justify a different business. Like, you know, there must be 500,000 big freaking enterprise project management/time tracking/Sa* , yada-yada things. Freckle doesn’t have to compete with them because you’re addressing just a different market than the kind of folks who want to buy consulting ware from IBM. So even with just a fraction of the “feature set,” you can just say, “Look, it will do what you need to do and get you back to charging your customers money.” Then that makes it a viable option for them, whereas the IBM consultingware wouldn’t be. Who would you consider to be Freckle’s big competitors?
Amy: “No Tool At All” I think is our biggest competitor.
Patrick: That is a big one.
Keith: That is a big one, that is a big one.
Amy: It’s huge! [laughs]
Patrick: Folks ask me how I convince people to stop using whatever their business’ scheduling software is and start using Appointment Reminder because you have to have the appointment schedule to send out the appointments reminders at the right time. And the easiest answer to that is, all you have to do is out-compete paper. It’s not very hard.
Keith: Moves people, especially techies, think that there is a solution out there already that people are using in the space that they don’t understand. And one of the things that I’ve seen with my clients especially is, they don’t have a solution other than Excel and a piece of paper.
Amy: Oh, it’s so true.
Keith: If you can beat down Excel you’re winning.
Keith: The sad thing is how many don’t beat out Excel, right? [laughs]
Amy: Be careful about that because a lot of… so, I teach my students a lot of different things, one of which is a list of failure archetypes. Type one failures, failures that cannot be resuscitated by more work and marketing and repositioning and all that stuff.
And one of them is a “Cure for Religion:” trying to solve something that people don’t see as a problem.
Keith: Don’t want to see, right.
Amy: Lots of people love Excel and you will never pry it from their cold, dead fingers. Because they friggin love it. So you can be better than Excel and they’ll be like, ‘I don’t care, I’m not interested. I love Excel.’ And a lot of people cannot be reformed by software! [laughs]
Keith: It’s actually funny. My old company, they were having, not cash flow issues but reporting issues on their invoices and monies received and everything. It was taking so long because they were doing it over seven or eight Excel files and nothing was tied together and the sales guys were not reporting right.
So they commissioned me as an employee to spend a month or two creating an invoicing system that would tie back to all their sales and everything and just make it really easy to use.
I got all the requirements, made it all. I thought it was probably the easiest thing to use ever. Everyone said, ‘Oh, this is so easy to use.’ No one used it. [laughs] Like what they would do …
Amy: I think that was worth where that was going! [laughs]
Keith: Yeah, actually the sales guys really like it. The sales guys would put it the data, copy it into Excel and send it to the accounting firm. [laughs]
Keith: I mean, the saddest thing ever, to have your software simply be a copy paste solution for Excel. [laughs]
Amy: Yeah, that sounds really terrible.
Patrick: I don’t know if that’s sad or opportunity because I have definitely created things where for, largely not in publicly accessible parts of the product but if people say “the workflow requires X at the end of it”. If that is the issue that’s preventing you from paying me a motivational amount of money every month then wham! There’s a button on your dashboard now that exports CSV files. Go to town!
Although that’s an issue I think we’ve all talked about before. Customers, the things they tell you are they reasons they’re not buying the software are generally not the reasons they’re actually not buying the software!
Amy: They’re usually, yes. I find it is a mistake to listen to people. Not just in like, I don’t take their advice, this is different. I watch they do, so the whole ‘programmers don’t buy things’, I see people saying that, meanwhile they pay for like Apple products and GitHub and PeepCode.
And they say it with a straight face when they say it, “I would sign up for your service if XYZ.” And I’m like, “What would that look like? Why do you need that?” And they come up with something that’s so bizarre. I’m like, “Why don’t you do it this way?” And they’re like, “Oh…”
Because when people ask for features, like a client, most of us who are experienced consultants know that you can’t take anything they say at face value. You’ll be like, “What is your purpose?” They’re like, “I need this animated Flash widget, blah blah blah.”
And then you find out they need something really simple, and they just came up with that because it looked likely and they like to sound like they know what they’re doing. But they don’t. [laughs] It’s our job to figure that out and look at what they actually do.
Keith: Customers, businesses, clients, all of them together, most of them have really no idea how their business runs, I think. Patrick: always says that there’s a key number to any business that directly influences the bottom line of sales. And the number of companies that actually know that key number are few and far between, I think.
Amy: What kind of number are we talking about?
Keith: I did a recent re-jiggering of an online registration service (Patrick notes: more natural English might be “a hotel booking website”), and I did some consulting for them, and they were under the impression that 90 percent of their reservations came from the website instead of phone or walk-ins. And they were under the impression that they were having about a 60-percent, or a really high, conversion rate from people who came into the system.
And once we brought out the actual numbers, they saw that there was only 20 percent actually using the website. And of those 20 percent, only, I think, like nine percent actually completed a reservation on the website. And so it’s not that those numbers were necessarily bad, but they had a completely opposite view of the reality of their business, right?
And they had been doing that for five, six years. If they had noticed that five, six years earlier, they could’ve completely changed their strategy, but instead they were poking along because they were under a misconception.
Amy: Right. That’s a pretty big misconception.
Keith: That’s a pretty big [laughs] misconception, I know.
Patrick: That happens over and over again in my consulting career. I’m lucky I get to work with savvy, intelligent people. I mean, hey, they pay me.
Patrick: They’re all good companies run by smart people, and yet many of them don’t have the infrastructure in place to tell them material facts about the business that you can’t get just by looking at a screen in Google Analytics. That directly influences decision-making about those material facts.
Amy: Right. We tend not to notice what isn’t there. We just work on whatever’s in front of us. We don’t look for the thing that’s missing.
Patrick: That’s an interesting topic. As one business operator to another, what kind of things do you track for your business?
Amy: So, since we last talked, it hasn’t really changed that much. [laughs] We have a lot more… Actually, that’s not true. We set up KISSmetrics, since we track a lot of things now. But we do not have a very good sales funnel tracking, and that’s because we plan to redo the sales page completely. This is my white whale, perhaps, or some other thing that will never get finished…
Amy: …and I should give up on before I become a horrible novel, or something. Because that’s going to happen. But we track a lot of revenue, we track churn rate, we track feature adoption now. But, I’ll be honest, I haven’t looked at it lately. And by lately, I mean the last three months.
We’ve been totally occupied with other stuff. In fact, we haven’t developed, or even deployed finished features, for Freckle for months because of the international move, all the other drama we had in our personal lives, travel, and Thomas getting his immigration stuff sorted out. It’s kind of like your three month vacation, only we weren’t really having fun but for one month of it.
Patrick: Back to a previous topic, because you charge customers monthly, the revenue went up every month anyhow.
Amy: Yes. It did. It did. It went up no matter what. What’s really awesome is that I, a few years ago, got sick with mono for the second time.
Keith: Oh my God.
Amy: I developed chronic fatigue syndrome, which kind of blew. For a while I was so sick I couldn’t do anything. The best thing I could do in the day was to get up out of bed and go to the sofa and watch stupid TV. I couldn’t even watch smart TV because it felt like I was having an agoraphobic attack in a crowd with all the facts.
Literally, I was averse to facts. I couldn’t cope. It turns out that was low cortisol, believe it or not. I couldn’t make any decisions or do anything at all for three months, work wise. Zip. Thomas manned the support, he talked to the one developer who was doing work for us, and it was fine.
Our business grew even when I was on practically bed rest, and that was a really transformative moment for me. I knew we could take these vacations. I knew we could do this stuff. But that was like a, “Holy shit!” moment. Am I allowed to say that? [laughs]
Amy: Awesome. It was. I was just like, “Oh my…”
Keith: [laughs] We’ve been cursing like sailors the whole time, so…
Amy: Oh, OK. [laughs]
Patrick: You have, I haven’t.
Keith: Patrick: doesn’t.
Patrick: My half of the podcast is PG, his is PG-13.
Amy: Once I felt better and actually had the cortisol to think about it…
Amy: …it was like a sky has opened up, ray of light, choir of angels singing and throwing cash.
Patrick: I love that image.
Amy: It was the best. I was like, “You know what? I can’t be fired. I cannot be laid off. I do not have to worry about unpaid sick leave. I have it made.” I think that’s one of the big reasons that I’m such a tireless promoter of what I call Bacon Business. Products that bring home the bacon, that make money that you sell directly to people who buy them. Not advertising, not marketplaces, not venture backed, because they can change lives.
To get all philosophical for a moment, it’s epic to be able to live this kind of lifestyle. Isn’t it? It’s amazing. I think not enough people promote it in a way that isn’t like, “Oh, well, they’re just super successful. That’s not standard and I could never live like that.” The examples out there are just too lofty. And then there are people like us.
Patrick: Yeah. I know, so I’ve been hanging around with the small software developer crowd for a while and there’s a lot of businesses that might be like Bingo Card Creator in terms of scope, but maybe up to an order of magnitude and more in terms of revenue, just by doing things that you wouldn’t expect that people could do as a full time thing that they’re doing as a full time thing. They get all the benefits of the lifestyle.
It’s like being a rock star minus the groupies. You never have to show up anywhere at any time. Money just appears magically in the bank account. Seriously, guys. For any of you who are on the fence try it. It’s awesome.
Amy: It is.
Patrick: I’ve got a lot of respect for the Silicon Valley startup types and I’ve kicked around doing that myself a couple of times and have been offered motivational amounts of money to do that. “This is awesome!” is something that you will not hear from lots of the folks over there.
Amy: I wonder why.
Patrick: It’s like being a lawyer or consulting like management consulting. There are people the lifestyle works for and there’s people that the lifestyle just does not work for. I don’t know if I could think of anyone off the top of my head who has started their own software business and went full time at it and was like “no.”
Keith: “I want to go back to my nine to five.”
Patrick: “I really want more challenges in life.” That’s something I hear from a lot of people. “Don’t you feel bored like you don’t have enough challenges?” No, I can spin up challenges any time I want.
Amy: No one has ever said that to me. I think most people assume it’s way harder and more stressful than it is, and I understand why. I actually had a short Twitter conversation with Jason Cohen who I absolutely adore. He writes a fantastic blog, A Smart Bear. Before I say this, I want to say that I just think he’s great. I wanted him to speak at Schnitzelconf, but it was just too far for him to go.
He tweeted why do startup founders beat themselves up? It’s like why do hamsters eat their young? They just have to. I was like no. For starters, I didn’t say this in the Twitter conversation, but I used to breed gerbils and none of them ever ate their young because I took good care of them so I feel like I’m sort of an expert on both parts of this equation. I was like that’s not true.
My gist was that people do it to themselves. He said it was easier to be lenient after you’ve had objective success. I said I wouldn’t call it lenient, I call it self-respect. The truth is it doesn’t get easier after you’ve had objective success. I think a lot of people, they actually are worse to themselves after they’ve had objective success because they feel like they have something important to lose.
I know a few people who run businesses like ours, they may be more involved, some less involved, and they feel like they can’t go on vacation, they feel like they have to answer email in the middle of the night, and they do it to themselves. It’s not external. It’s all internal and I don’t think Jason believes me. [laughs]
Patrick: I’m constrained at how much I can say because he’s one of my wonderful, lovely clients, but I’ve heard that feedback from other people who, again, much like Jason I respect.
It is a psychological thing that this is a meme we really need to kill, but I think there’s a deep seeded… zeitgeist. Is that the right word? People are afraid to allow themselves to be happy and believe that success must require a certain quantum of suffering and if you’re not suffering you’re clearly not on the successful route.
Even people who are clearly by any objective measurement successful. It’s kind of a personality thing, too. Jason is a very hard-charging, type A kind of guy. He’s got a ridiculously successful company right now, he’s sold one successful company previously. If you want to look at somebody who’s got it made, Jason has it made.
There’s no external feature that would necessarily need to make Jason feel the need to beat himself up. Actually, something you said to me was very profound, that if there’s ever an issue between you and another person it’s not about you, it’s about them.
Amy: Absolutely. So true.
Patrick: I think that recompiled part of my source code when I heard it because it was just so f’ing true. I find myself quoting that to people a lot.
People have asked me, “You didn’t answer my email. Was it something I said?” I’m like, “Nope. Just an FYI, any time someone does something it’s probably because something that was just going on in their life because they’re in their life 24 hours a day and they’re in their relationship with you for like 36 seconds a day. Just don’t worry about it.”
Similarly, don’t worry about what other people are thinking of you because they’re probably thinking of you a lot less than you think they’re thinking of you. They’ve got better things to do by their perspective. Same with software, by the way. We see our own software eight+ hours a day. We know where all the skeletons are buried. We see every little imperfection. Customers, by and large, don’t care about the little things.
Amy: They don’t.
Patrick: If it makes their life better, great. You’ll have complainers who largely won’t buy it anyhow.
Keith: Especially on the backend.
Patrick: 90 percent of the customers if it accomplishes the big 48 point font promise that’s on the front page of the website they’re good. If it gets better over time, that’s great, but fundamentally they’re good. If it has a bug, no problem. Computers eat things all the time. Whatever. They will say “I’ve got better things to do than worry about it.”
Amy: All those things come from the same route, if you ask me. What Terry Pratchett called being trapped in the dark behind the eyes. It’s just that we go through our lives 100 percent privy to everything that goes on inside us, even if we don’t understand it, which most of us don’t. This has been proven by research.
When we make a mistake or we choose something we have an elaborate reason why. When someone else does the same thing we get really glib and superficial like well, I did this because I made a mistake but he did that because he’s a jerk. It all comes from being self-involved, which is the default nature of humanity.
I think you were saying it’s like a zeitgeist. That was the right word. I think it’s just human. I think a lot of us, especially in Western cultures, we tend to self-flagellate for no good reason. People call it the Puritan work ethic or whatever.
Keith: Well, it’s not just Western. I was going to say…
Patrick: Japan could teach everybody about self-flagellation. (Patrick notes: If I were not talking in real time I’d say “I could have a very long discussion on the degree to which Japan counts as ‘non-Western’ here if you wanted me to.” Side effect of getting a degree regarding that subject.)
Amy: [laughs] Fair enough.
Keith: Looking at it from the Japanese perspective, I wonder how much of it is almost like an arms race. So one of the things that happens in Japanese companies…
Patrick: Oh, God, yes. Oh.
Keith: So, going back to the startup, where people have to suffer. So they have to work the 20 hours a day kind of thing, only four hours of sleep, constantly working, not taking care of their health and stuff like that. There are people out there who only need eight hours of sleep, who enjoy working 15, 18, 20 hours a day.
I’m actually close to that. I love working. And I work much more than I probably should, because I enjoy it. It’s my hobby to be creating things. And I think people see, especially people like that who have become successful and think, “Oh, this person is successful because he only sleeps four hours a day. In order for myself to be successful, I have to only sleep four hours a day as well.” And I think it becomes an arms race for trying to be successful.
And in Japan, there’s a very similar thing with the amount of hours people work. So people think that people in Japan work long hours and they are productive for all those hours. That is the furthest thing from the truth on the planet. They sleep. They clean their ears. I had my coworker assemble a bicycle in his cubicle [laughs] during work hours, for no apparent reason whatsoever.
It’s assumed that, just like in the startup business, there are people who work long hours because they are really good and they are successful. There are people who work long hours because they are idiots and not successful, and it takes them time to do everything. But the longer the people are there, if everyone is there, it’s so much harder for you to go home, right?
Keith: If successful guy number one is working 12, 14 hours a day, you think, “Oh, I have to be there as long as he’s there. Otherwise I’m not going to be seen as being as productive as him.” So what it comes down to is a bunch of people sitting in an office for 14, 16 hours a day, only doing about four to five hours of actual work.
Amy: So it’s cargo-culting mixed with social contagion. (Patrick notes:Great line!)
Patrick: And like a massive game of chicken…
Amy: Yeah. [laughs]
Patrick: Chicken or prisoner’s dilemma, I guess, one of them. The first person to decide to go home gets the evil eye. I think that’s part of the startup culture, too, in that, “Oh, you quit after only 10 hours today. You must not want success enough.” We construct our own cultural pathologies, because people don’t have enough exemplars of folks in companies that said, “We worked four, six, eight hours today, and we go home to the kids, and things are fine.” The cultural pathology of overwork ends up getting celebrated.
Keith: We need more Fog Creeks of the world.
Patrick: Fog Creek, the office is a ghost town after five o’clock.
Amy: As well it should be.
Keith: Except on game night.
Patrick: Except on game night. (Patrick notes:Every Thursday. Third-best reason to work there. They’re hiring, go work for them.)
Amy: So you were saying, Keith, the examples you had were the guy who works 12 to 14 hours and is successful and then the guy who works, I think you said 12 to 14 hours and was not successful.
Amy: I thought you said lower numbers for the second guy. But anyway, when you said that I was thinking that what you don’t have room for in Japan, apparently, but also not in Silicon Valley, is the person who works five hours a day and actually outperforms the person who works 12 hours a day. And that’s not uncommon.
Amy: I have a lot of people who use Freckle who’ve written in to me and said, “You know what I discovered, which is really freeing, is that I actually only get two to four hours of work done at my computer done every day. The rest is dicking around. And so I’m going to spend all the rest of the time that I would waste on the computer going out and playing music or walking around or reading, and then I’ll get more work done in the two to four hours I actually work.” And I think that’s true. It’s backed up by a lot of research.
Keith: Oh, definitely, definitely. And going back to the Japanese side of it, the problem is that when everyone is forced to work 12 to 14 hours a day, you then have the problem of, why would I work smarter? Why would I try to automate my process so that I can work more during those 12 to 14 hours instead of dicking around?
So it’s actually, because you’re in a trapped system here, then there’s no reason to better yourself. But using a product like Freckle, and especially for consultants and people who define their own time, it’s the biggest win you can possibly have. If you find out that you are dicking around on the Internet for two, three hours a day while you’re working, and a time-tracking software like Freckle actually makes you realize that, and then you gain two to three hours a day…
Amy: That’s true.
Keith: Because, as soon as you realize that you’re dicking around, you go, OK, I’m just going to leave the computer. I’m going to de-screen. I’m going to go off, play with my child, play with my friends, go out drinking, get slammed, or whatever you want to do, right?
Patrick: This is one of the benefits of doing your own thing. You have social pressure coming from yourself, which always happens, but you don’t have social pressure from other people who can tell when you leave the office. The vast majority of days, I have a two to four-hour peak of productivity, and after that I’m pretty much shot. And since I know this about myself now, I just don’t work the rest of it.
Keith: You probably shouldn’t say that. Your financier probably… [laughs]
Patrick: I will tell this to any client. (Patrick notes: Any clients in the audience? You presumably know I have a sense of humor and can judge my pace of working, having sat next to me for a while. Any prospective clients? Productivity for me tends to be bursty, interspersed with periods of introspection, much like your engineers.)
Keith: That you only work two hours a day? [laughs]
Patrick: This is why I have you pay the week rate, guys, because work gets done, but assuming 480 minutes of equally productive time is not a good assumption for working with me, which you will probably notice as I check Hacker News in the middle of the day.
Patrick: But, no. It’s funny, though. There’s people who I respect enormously who have found out the same thing about themselves. Four hours a day is kind of the productivity limit, and after that it suffers. I know one friend in particular, and I won’t mention his name because he asked me not to mention it publicly, but the point is that he asked me not to mention it publicly.
He thought people would think less of him if they thought that his business, which is wildly successful, was just a part-time gig. Which, that breaks my brain. Half the reason I do the blog and the podcast and whatnot is to give people examples of there being multiple paths to the cheese of success in life.
Amy: Hear, hear.
Patrick: I wish everybody happiness. That’s kind of like a foundational philosophical thing for me, but once you introduce people to other ways to getting to happiness, which can include not working all the time.
Amy: Or much at all. [laughs]
Patrick: Or much at all.
Amy: That was not a slam on you or anything. I was actually thinking about myself when I said that.
Patrick: It’s no problem.
Amy: Not that I thought you would think it was an insult.
Patrick: I’m lazy like a fox.
Keith: He’s very proud of that. He’s very proud of that. He gets on my case all the time for working too much.
Amy: I thought foxes were pretty brown.
Patrick: I’m going to convert Keith.
Keith: You converted me to quitting my day job, so you might be successful yet.
Patrick: I’m only saying I’m going to convert Keith because Keith is my best friend so the less he works the more time I have to play League of Legends with him.
Keith: And the more time he has to exploit me for his own product development and stuff.
Patrick: Keith, in addition to being my best friend, is also the designer, but I can’t get any of his time because it’s been filled up with client work. Anyhow, what was I saying? If other people are sincerely happy working 16 hours a day in the coding salt mines then bully for them.
But I know because I’ve talked to and met a lot of people who are doing the 16 hour days in the coding salt mines because they think either that’s required to be successful or because they are strongly socially pressured by people that that is the behavior you should emulate.
If you are folks out there like that, if it makes you happy, thumbs up, go for it, but if you’re not truly happy by that then start doing something that will make you happy because there are so many ways to succeed in this. In business, in life, in general.
Amy: Absolutely. You’re not talking about runners up, either. We did not quite hit my revenue estimates for 2011, but we did have $550,000 of revenue and in 2008 we had zero.
Keith: Not too shabby, right?
Patrick: High five.
Amy: I’m sorry, what?
Keith: Not too shabby, right?
Amy: Not too shabby, right. Exactly. I was hoping for 600 grand and we didn’t quite make it, but that was with a lot of drama where we didn’t work for a lot of that year. I had surgery, I was really sick. That was the three months. That was last year. I had surgery. I was out of commission for six weeks then. We had this hiring and firing drama. That year was screwed and we made $550,000. I’m basically retired and I don’t want to be this way forever.
I really enjoy working and I enjoy having impact and I enjoy touching people’s lives with my software and my course, and I do spend a lot of time on my course. 30×500, that is. We could sit on our asses and rake in $550,000 a year and really work just a couple hours a day on average and we could really cut our overhead.
Most of our overhead we spend on developing new features and our new app, Charm. We spent a lot of money on that the last year. That’s because I had bigger ambitions, but I’m never going to work a 40 hour work week. I had this near death experience, basically, with chronic fatigue. I had this priority change. I was a workaholic. No, no more. Now I’m a hippy, but you can be a hippy and earn $550,000 a year if you pick the right product and if you keep at it.
The first year and a half kind of really sucked, but we got over that and now we’re making really good money and it’s not that hard. Patrick, I found out about you because you blog about this stuff because you’re trying to be a positive example and I also don’t understand why the person you know refuses to be named because he’s afraid of being shamed and that’s just really sad, I think, that by telling people you make the world a better place.
I understand why he’s afraid, but I would rather put it all out there and be a positive example because there are so few of them.
Patrick: I think that is one reason, too. Going back to a topic we were just talking about, like you said, we’re not runners up here. How do I want to phrase this? I like celebrating other people’s successes. You guys make more money for me, bully for you. 37signals can buy everybody in Chicago a sports car these days, bully for them. It makes me happy to hear that other people are doing well.
Where is this topic going? Just a life tip for everybody listening, if you compare yourself to other people and think you’re not successful unless you’re beating them by some metric you will generally be less happy than you are if you’re comparing yourself against either where you were previously or what your goals are.
Success, for me, is either beating where I was last year or beating where I thought I was going to be this year. That generates happy points for me, whereas I never really cared about comparing with other folks. I think folks like the friend of mine who success is partly defined as being seen as successful, that kind of screws up your priorities a little bit, although I’m not totally immune to that myself.
That was rambling. I’m sorry.
Amy: Not as much as me.
Keith: I think we’re going to have to close this down because we’ve gotten complaints in the past about us talking too much.
Patrick: This one is only an hour and a half or so.
Keith: We also shot the shit for about 15 minutes so after editing it’ll be about an hour. That’s pretty good.
Patrick: OK. Only an hour. Thanks very much, Amy. Let’s give folks the actionable information with the call to action at the end. If they want to sign up for 30×500 how would they do that? (Patrick notes: Again, you can’t, because it took a while to get this posted. Sorry about that.)
Amy: First you actually have to apply. We’ve been creating more and more successes each time I run the class and I want to keep that turned up, so I want to basically help decide with you if 30×500 is right for you at this time. That application is launching on April 13. That’s Friday the 13th. All the information is on my blog at unicornfree.com.
Patrick: Sounds great. Thanks very much for doing the podcast with us, Amy. It was insightful as always.
Amy: Thank you for having me.
Keith: It was great to meet you and looking forward to seeing more about 30×500 and more Freckle stuff, too.
Patrick: For all you folks in the audience, we’ll probably be doing this again in a month or two. See you next time.
Keith: Depending on when we can all get together with the microphone. All right. Thanks for joining us, Amy. You take care.
Amy: Thank you for having me.
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