Arvid Kahl talks about starting and bootstrapping businesses, how to build an audience, and how to build in public.
Arvid Kahl 0:00
Welcome to The Bootstrapped Founder. Today, I'm excited to share my conversation with marketing expert, Corey Haines. We dive deep into some of the biggest challenges that indie hackers face when it comes to product marketing. Corey explains why so many of us struggle with talking about their products effectively and then give some great tips for how to overcome that. We also discuss Corey's new venture, Conversion Factory and how their productized marketing services are tailored specifically for early stage companies. And finally, Corey shares lessons that he's learned about building a sustainable business model through the recurring subscription way of productizing a service. Corey knows how to do product marketing, that's for sure. And he'll share it with you. A quick shout out to our sponsor acquire.com. More on that later. Now, here is Corey.
Hey, Corey, thanks for being on the show. Now, you've been an indie hacker and a marketing expert for a good while now. So please tell me, why do indie hackers struggle so much with product marketing? We love building. We come up with ideas all the time, but talking about our product in an effective way, that's just seems to be problematic. Why do you think that is?
Corey Haines 1:14
All right. Well, I have a theory here, that might be a little bit off the beaten path. But I think that a lot of indie hackers. Indie hackers on traditional sense, I think, are people who classify themselves as like software developers who want to build their own products and apps and make living independently, right? So I wouldn't even call myself like a true indie hacker. I'm more of like a poser. I'm an imposter. I just kind of
Arvid Kahl 1:37
We all are, we all are.
Corey Haines 1:39
But I think you know what? I've had a lot of people tell me why they struggle with marketing, why the indie hackers that just kind of like, ignore it, it's a little bit scary, the things they tell me. But honestly, the more that I talk to people, the more that I read in between the lines. And I think one of the real root issues is that a lot of developers aren't in the practice of really building a product for a specific purpose to solve a problem. So when it comes time to talk about what problem they solve, they don't know because they didn't build the product to solve a problem. They just built it because it was a cool idea. Or they want to experiment with some tech. They had an idea that popped in their head one day. And even if they, oh, this can help make someone's life or job easier, they don't really have like a specific problem or set of problems in mind where they could translate that into a value proposition where they could say, this product can help you solve this problem so that you can unlock X, Y, and Z value. And that is really the crux of why I think people indie hackers in particular struggle with product marketing because product marketing especially is about narrative. It's about copywriting. It's about positioning. It's about how do you make your product a bleeding neck problem or it's an urgent need. And it just makes it a no brainer for people. So they get it and they love it and understand it and they start using it right away. So anyways, that's not a knock on indie hackers whatsoever. You asked me questions so I wanna answer it. But I think the real problem is that a lot of indie hackers just really don't know what problem they're solving. Like there wasn't like a purpose or a mission really, that their product was set out to solve.
Arvid Kahl 3:26
Do you think it's a skill that you can actually learn as a very technical person? Because that's what I always wondered, right? Can I get to this point where I understand like how to approach it right?
Corey Haines 3:35
Yeah, look, I mean, I'm learning to code right now. I'm taking my very first kind of baby steps, going through Ruby on Rails. And I've done some like basic HTML, CSS stuff in the past, which is not even a real programming, right? But if you can learn if you're a good developer and programmer, you're really smart. You have a great IQ. You can learn anything else in the world. I'm convinced because this stuff is hard. And it's not intuitive, either, right? You have to train yourself in order to think like a developer and abstract problems and learn what tools you have in front of you in order to architect a solution the right ways that the program works smoothly and isn't, you know, prone to bugs or errors or dependencies or it would be broken somehow. And the same way, you just have to train yourself to think like, a little bit more like a marketer. You have to train yourself to think and get inside the head and walk in the shoes of your customers or who you think might be your customers. And it's just another habit you have to build and a muscle you have to train.
Arvid Kahl 4:36
Right. Yeah. It's so funny that you're telling me you're learning how to code and you still don't want to call yourself an indie hacker. That's just really wonderful.
Corey Haines 4:45
If you want to introduce my first app, then I'll officially call myself an indie hacker.
Arvid Kahl 4:50
That's funny. Yeah. Thanks for sharing that perspective. I think that mindset, that marketing mindset, that is a hard thing for me personally, as a more technical person to get into and I still struggle with it, even though it is now a much more significant part of my journey being in the more media corner than just the SaaS corner. Right now, I'm moving between these worlds. And it took me a long while. And honestly, I have to say one thing, I think you were one of the first people that introduced the concept of a swipe file to me. I just didn't know that that stuff existed. So I would assume that a lot of people who listen to this right now may not really know what either what it is at all or what the ultimate purpose of a swipe file is. So if you could enlighten me yet again and the people who are listening for the first time for the very first time. So what is a swipe file? Why is it good? What do I need it for?
Corey Haines 5:37
Sure. Yeah, I mean, a swipe file is really just a library or a collection of resources that you can use for inspiration in your own work. So I think a lot of developers actually, there's another indie hacker named Ramy, who built a tool called Page Flows. And it's just a collection of screens and kind of UI patterns that you can use to copy into your own app or like, I don't really know what like a paywall screen should look like or like an upgrade, you know, notification should look like. So let me go to Page Flows and see what other people have done. Alright, it's actually done. So let's see how Spotify does their paywall. But let's see how Call Map does their, you know, their expired trial screen or whatever it is. And then you can just translate those same exact ideas to on the marketing side where we think about what should a landing page look like? What should a competitor comparison page look like? What should a welcome email look like? What should a pricing module look like on a page and swipe file is just inspiration for you to use to, you know, not start from scratch every single time when you have a blank canvas in front of you just like an artist, right? Or a writer. Everyone dreads the blank screen where they're just like, oh, what do I do here? It's easier to work with a template with some inspiration. It's easier to work derivatively off of someone else's work because then it inspires you on what will be your style or take on this certain thing. But it just gives you a little bit more structure to the way you build things.
Arvid Kahl 7:06
You just mentioned, derivative nature of certain things. And that's one of the things in marketing in particular, that has always kind of kept me from trying things out because I felt this has been done before. And I noticed it's such a self defeating idea to think that just because somebody else did it before you couldn't do it. But that kind of makes me think like maybe I'm just not cut out to think like a marketer because I have all these limitations. But is that the case? Like where do these limitations come from? Why do I struggle so much with this?
Corey Haines 7:40
Well, I think one of the other big issues for people is that, again, programming, we were just talking about traditional indie hackers. Everything is very logical. And it's a closed box. It's a closed loop, right? Where it's just whatever I put into this script and program, something's going to come out of it. And it's going to come out exactly like I wanted to every single time. Whereas marketing, there's not such a one to one relationship where if I put in an input, like write a blog post, I get an output of get X number of customers every single time. One blog post might result in 10 customers and another blog posts might result in zero customers. And sometimes you don't know exactly why. And it's like that for every single marketing activity that you do for every piece of copy that you write every landing page, every social media post, every ad that you promote, right? It's just, it's different every single time. And there isn't that linear relationship where it's just input is output, which is scary. And it's feels like you're taking a bet every single time. And to be honest, I mean, you just have to get used to that feeling because you don't know what's going to happen. I don't know what's gonna happen even after six years of being a first marketing hire for multiple startups. And I think that I have the playbook nailed down and, you know, things are pretty much guaranteed. They're not guaranteed. So the answer is you just have to keep trying, you just have to keep shipping, you have to keep doing things. You have to keep marketing even when it doesn't work, which again, is really, really crappy. Because it'd be the equivalent of like, working on an app that isn't functional for a year. Like you just have to keep working on marketing, even though it's not functional for a year until it is functional one day and then all the things that you've done in the past help you get to that end result, right? It's like the thing, who is it? Thomas Edison who said, you know, I didn't fail 10,000 times. I found 10,000 ways not to do or not to make light bulb work. So marketing is a lot like that where you just constantly churning through ideas that don't really work, don't really pan out. It's the gray areas that are the hardest because some times it'll work a little bit. You're like, oh, my blog post got 100 views. That's cool. Did that turn to customers? No, like, it wasn't no one. But it also wasn't like an amazing thing. So do I do it again? Do I not? Those are the hard parts really with marketing. It's not really the do I do it or not? You always have to keep trying. What else is there to do? You have to keep trying. You have to keep doing things. It's just figuring out what to double down on. That's the hardest part.
Arvid Kahl 10:26
Yeah, I think the lack of a deterministic outcome, that's my problem. I'm just figuring this out as you explain this. It's just yeah, for code, you write a line. And if it works, it will always work. You know, always in quotation marks, but it will have a high chance of working because it's supposed to. But with a campaign with an email with a send with a tweet, for that matter, right? It depends so much more on what other people do than what your compiler is structured to be if you compile some code into a binary. That makes perfect sense. I guess that's the switch, the switch is my input doesn't guarantee an output, but the continuation of my input is required for any output to ever show up. So if that helps anybody listening to this or watching this to just translate that little problem in their mind into something else? Well, I hope it does. But personally, I would rather hire somebody to do this, knowing that their inputs still have a higher chance of getting to an output faster than I do, right? As you said, you're the first marketing hire for a couple of startups. That kind of raises the question for me. When does a start up first hire a marketer? When should they? Well, it was a good point because indie hackers, you know, everybody wants to just keep the thing to themselves, lifestyle business, never ever hire anybody, but kind of feels to me like, if you're not meant to do this or if you don't feel like you're up to it, you should hire somebody. Do you have a good timeframe for this having done this multiple times for people already?
Corey Haines 11:33
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And if I can just jump in with one last thought on the last point
Arvid Kahl 11:55
Corey Haines 11:56
Sort of like the deterministic nature of programming versus marketing. You know, one more analogy I'll give now that I'm into code and I'm learning all the different paradigms. I just learned, you know, a couple of weeks ago, like when a programmer's script throws an error, it's not that it didn't work. It's just that it didn't give you the output that you expected or that you wanted. And there's all sorts of different types of errors. And an error is a result. It's just not the result that you want it.
Arvid Kahl 12:25
Corey Haines 12:26
Oh, interesting. I think marketing is exactly like that, where like, my blog posts threw an error. That doesn't mean that it didn't work, it just means I didn't give you the output that you thought that it would have. And you have to keep debugging, you have to keep trying, you have to keep fiddling with the program with the script.
Arvid Kahl 12:43
Corey Haines 12:44
I love this little like, now that I'm in it. I'm like, yeah, okay, I'm getting it. I'm understanding it. So just tie that back into how do you know when to hire a marketer? And when does that happen? Normally, for a company, there's two different approaches you can take. One, which I think is the better approach, if you can, especially if you're bootstrapping is that you just have to embrace the role of the first marketing hire yourself. Because you're probably going to find it a lot easier to delegate the dev and design side of things since that's your area of expertise. And it is a little bit more deterministic in the sense where you can say, I want this thing, I want this feature built, I want this bug squashed, I will pay you to do that. Whereas marketing, it's harder to hire that out. Because you might say, I'm going to hire you to get me 100 customers, but it's not guaranteed that they're going to get you 100 customers. Now you might have paid for something that isn't guaranteed, right? And so it's hard to know if you're doing it right. Or if it's your fault or it's their fault, what to try. There's a lot of different ways to get the result that you want. So the best thing is just to embrace it yourself, learn to be a marketer, try things, just get back to that kind of student mindset and first principles and just kind of dig in and learn from others. And this is again, where I think the idea of like a swipe file really comes in handy because you don't have to reinvent the wheel. There are lots of the people who have been there and fortunate to have before you. This is always why I'd like talking to indie hackers because they'll talk to me about their products. And I'll be like, oh, have you tried this? Like, no, I've never even thought of that. Like, oh, well, all your competitors are doing that. Like I can easily see that, oh, they've grown all this way. And for them, it's like this huge unlock, like, oh my gosh, I never thought of that before. But again, it's just been able to train your mind to uncover those opportunities. And then once that's working well enough, then you can also delegate the marketing role to someone else. And you can do that as soon as you want to put the money towards it, really. Now there's a second approach, which is you hire someone out of the gate or you partner with someone. I've always considered myself to be like a great, non technical co founder type of person because I am happy leaving all the design and development to someone else to make that their job. And then I will do the job of selling software. There's two really big jobs in SaaS: build the software, sell the software, so I will sell the software. So if you just want to focus on development, like this is the relationship that I had with Derrick in SavvyCal. You know, I came on board freelancing with him as one of his first customers like just right after kind of like an early access launch. And you know, Derrick's actually a very capable marketer more than he likes to give himself credit for. And he's a pretty good copywriter. And he knows the things to look for. But he didn't want to do it. He wanted to focus on the design and development and company building and delegate that to me. So then he hired me on as a freelancer to do all the marketing for them. Some other people will bring on an agency, some other people will bring on a technical co founder. And since really your job as the founder is to hire the right person and then nothing else matters. That is literally the only thing that matters. The directions that you give won't matter if it's not the right person. The things you tell them to do, it won't matter if it's not the right person. If it's the right person, they will know what to do and or they will figure out the right things to do in order to make it work because it just takes time. And you need to have someone with the patience and the autonomy to go and take that and run with it. So again, two different approaches. You can do it as soon as you want to or you can do it as late as you want to. I've seen companies hire you know, working with SavvyCal when he was just a couple $100 in MRR. I think companies wait until they're at, you know, mid seven figures ARR to hire their first marketer. I think earlier, the better because it's a compounding growth lever where the earlier you start, the more you invest into it, the more results you're gonna get later on that just keep adding on top of each other. But you don't have to do it at any certain point. And you shouldn't feel obligated to delegate it away right away if you don't want to either.
Arvid Kahl 12:46
Yeah, it always feels hard for me to determine who a good hire is, like what a good hire looks like in that regard, coming from a kind of opposing view. But that's kind of a trust based recommendation. Well you just go to places that have already done it well for others, which is kind of where you come from. And I kind of want to segue into what you're currently doing. Because the reason why we're talking is because I saw you doing something really cool in public, which has very much to do with what we were talking about, which was launching Conversion Factory, which is a product marketing and design agency. And I love the idea of this. I just want you to kind of explain what it is and what it's supposed to be and how it differs from the traditional agency model and how it's kind of more of an indie hackers SaaS like approach and like all of this together. So yeah, just explain the whole thing, please.
Corey Haines 17:55
Yeah, sure. So a little bit of actually leading out to it. So I've been doing a lot of freelancing and consulting with SaaS companies on their marketing growth since my last full time gigs. It's been about three years ish. That's been going great, but I can only do so much. And honestly, it's a bit of a grind. Freelancing is difficult because it's kind of a juggling act. And we have multiple clients. It's like having multiple jobs. So anyways, we started to figure this something out with two of my good friends who, with timing and just like the opportunity, we just decided, you know what? Let's do an agency together. We all were in a spot where we're like, I think it'd be better to work together. We want to work with other people. We think they're very complementary skill sets. And so what can we do? So my thesis was having worked with a lot of early stage SaaS companies and being the first marketing hire, one of the first things that I look to do working with a kind of shoestring budget is product marketing. Because without it, nothing else really matters. The traffic that you run to your website, it's just not going to land. It's not going to convert. And so you have to lay that foundation of product marketing, which is brand, copywriting, positioning, narrative. It's how do you talk about your features? How do you make your products look and feel like a must have bleeding neck solution rather than a, oh maybe one day or that's kind of nice to have. It's the whole vitamin versus a painkiller type of discussion. So Conversion Factory is how do we help people turn their product from a nice to have from a vitamin into a solution into a painkiller. Now, the way that we do that is through this kind of agency as a subscription/productized service model. I think everyone is familiar with productizes service model in the indie hacker world. Thanks to Brett from Design Joy. So you can think of us as Design Joy, but for product marketing. So we actually we do a lot of design, we do brand, we do website development. But we also do all the other things in marketing that aren't top funnel related, like copywriting, sales enablement, onboarding, email marketing, retention and activation, those areas of responsibility. And that was a gap that I saw in the market where I was just like, there's kinds of marketing agencies, there's advertising agencies, there's no product marketing agencies. And yet, that's where I always start with companies. And it's always the hardest to find someone to fill that gap because you either have to make a full time hire. Or you have to do it yourself. And neither of those are really good options for early stage companies. So anyways, that's kind of the backstory to Conversion Factory.
Arvid Kahl 20:47
Very cool. Yeah, I guess there are so many design agencies because design is tangible. If you want a logo or something, well, here, you got it. Immediate results, right? It doesn't do anything for you, really, but you have it. Now, that's very interesting. I love this. And I love your, the subscription model approach is always interesting to me. I mean, there is a kind of movement in the indie hacker world right now. Not necessarily away from subscription, but kind of being more skeptical of subscription altogether. And it's nice to see you actually taking subscription to a different model, a more traditional model, like the agency and implementing it there. Because you know, SaaS is just, everybody is running a SaaS. Everybody wants MRR and that kind of stuff, even for things that probably shouldn't have MRR because they have no monthly expenses, right? So I see a lot of indie hackers going to, you know, either full purchases, one time purchases, that kind of stuff or yearly plans, credit based things. There's a lot of experimentation now, where a couple years ago, everybody was doing subscription. It's nice to see it flipped around and done in another agency. It reminds me of a book by John Warrillow, who wrote Built to Sell. He also wrote The Automatic Customer. And I think in that book, he just talks about nine different ways of how you can have recurring revenue in any business. And what he announces in there as one of the models is what he calls the insurance model. And I kind of have the feeling that what you are doing is very similar to what a freelancer on retainer is, but not the same. Is that right?
Corey Haines 22:15
Arvid Kahl 22:15
Like do you consider it similar?
Corey Haines 22:17
Yeah, it is close. So one of the main distinctions when people ask us like, oh, how are you different from other marketing agencies? And like, how does the model actually work? It's like a retainer, but we're only going to work on a certain scope of projects. And we're only going to work on one request at a time. So it's the whole, you know, unlimited requests. You can work on one request at a time, unlimited revisions, etc, yada, yada. But the point is that we're only ever working on one task at a time. And we aim to turn that task back around to you, get you a deliverable within 24 to 72 hours. Sometimes it's literally in 10 minutes. In fact, the very first request that came in was like conference signage. And they put in the request and Zach, our like main designer, literally gave it to him like 20 minutes later and he was like, blown away, like, oh, my God. So there's cool opportunities like that. And sometimes the request, you know, there are some where it's like, okay, you need internal feedback, going back and forth, needs to get reviewed or this person's out of town. And it's a week later, for example. But a retainer normally is sort of like a, sort of a way to stop doing billable hours where everything is tracked. But you're still juggling multiple projects at once. And an agency is still tracking those hours because they want to know if the retainer is profitable or not. And there is like an upper threshold and limit to the amount of work that someone will do. So we essentially take away all the obscurity of what's happening on our side of how many tasks we can handle, what we're working on at any given time. And we say, okay, it's one request, one task at a time. You choose what goes in and out of that queue, we will turn it around as fast as possible. And then we will knock out as many of those per month as we can. But we're not going to guarantee deliverables. We're not going to work on these, like ginormous projects where the deliverable isn't delivered for three months or six months down the line especially for websites. This is one of the things that I see all the time. In fact, the first startup that I worked for, I remember because it was so baffling to me being new to the industry. We spent 100 and I think was $134,000 on a new website, which included copywriting, graphics, web development, etc, etc. And it took us 14 months, so 134 grand over 14 months just for a new website. It should not take that long. It should not be that expensive. And you should not have to wait 14 months to get value out of the thing that you're paying before. So that also helps us with one request at a time, deliver things back to people so fast that they're getting value immediately, instead of three months down the line six months, 14 months down the line because we're incentivized to ship it back to you in a way where you start getting value. So that you keep us on board and we can keep working together.
Arvid Kahl 25:20
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Well, 14 months for website, that is horrible. But yeah, I can see. A lot of stakeholders and everybody has opinions and things need to be done, right? Yeah, if you don't outsource it to somebody who makes these stresses for you. Interesting! One thing that I found very interested in looking into your offering there was that you have two modes, really. You have the sync and the async mode. That's interesting. How does that work? And like the price difference, can you talk something about that too? Say something about the price range?
Corey Haines 25:49
Sure, yeah. And the plans are also derived from our theory about what people want out of us. So going back to your Warlow example about like, what do people pay for and automatic customer. You know, there's sort of like all these pricing theories and strategies about how do you choose what to charge someone, right? And what terms and how often etc, etc. And the baseline where everyone kind of defaults to is like more cost based pricing, where it's like, well, I bought it for this much. I'm going to resell it to you at 100% markup. And that way, I have a 50% profit margin. And the customer understands that it's simple. But what happens when you get to something that's not as easily deliverable like a service, for example and especially on something like a retainer, where everything that you're delivering back to them might have a different value attached to it. And this is also where I feel like the retainer and the project based pricing agencies fall short because it's a lose-lose in the sense where agencies are incentivized to drag on work because they're billing by the hour, right? And companies, on the other hand, are incentivized to try to like squeeze everything into a short amount of time span as possible because they want to get value as quickly as possible and they don't want to pay that much. And then we get to things like subscription. And this is why software as a service is so powerful and awesome because flat price and rolls out to everyone. But really like one step above that, in the kind of hierarchy of needs and just getting to like a premium price point, is more paying for access. And I think this kind of what you're pointing out with this whole like insurance model, is you're not just paying for the work that we're delivering. You're paying for us delivering that work to you in our way with our opinions and with our secret sauce mixed into it in a sense, right? That really gets down to like brand things. You don't want a painting from anyone. You want a painting from Andy Warhol or you know, Michelangelo or whoever other famous painters there are, right? You don't want just any value on a Gucci bag. Well, you don't just want any service. You want a service from Corey Haines, from Zach Stevens, from Nick Loudon and so that paying for access is our way of saying, well, you can work with us under these terms. These are the types of things you're going to get from us. And we're going to charge you on a flat rate on a subscription because honestly, that is part of what you're paying for it, is you're paying just for us because otherwise we're just a commodity, another service. Another thing that just kind of crank things out. We might as well be competing with, you know, Design Pickle or some of those like copywriting subscription services that are completely undifferentiated, right? Okay, now to answer your question about the plans, how we decided on the plans was we decided to a base rate. Like if we want people to throw things over the fence to us, we're completely asynchronously. Where again, our time is not attached to the deliverable, which is very important to us, then this is the base price. But if people do want FaceTime with us and if they do want our strategic input, where we say, we help them plan out their requests and we even give them a roadmap and we tell them like they think they should give us to work on, then that is going to require some FaceTime. So what do we charge for our time and in the form of hybrid calls? And in our input, what's in our heads? What is our secret sauce? Well, we just sort of decided on like a 50% premium, to be honest. There wasn't like a lot of magical math involved in it. We just knew that it was more expensive than the async plan. And so 50% is a pretty standard markup for a premium tier.
Arvid Kahl 29:48
Yeah, that makes sense. Also, yes, surprised this just 50% because of just my own personal perspective for now somebody, right? The moment somebody wants my time, it immediately like access to my calendar, it immediately gets more, I don't know, expensive in my mind because it's something that keeps me from doing whatever comes to mind. And as a writer, I need to be present in front of my keyboard when the idea strikes, not the other way around, right? So that makes sense. But yeah, that explains why synchronous is much more expensive. That makes perfect sense. And you do price it. Let's just say it's not early stage indie hacker pricing, right? It's $6000, $9,000 a month, that is a substantial amount of money. And I do wonder, because you mentioned Brad Williams earlier and I remember him talking about when everybody on Hacker News was kind of bashing the idea of the kind of one person studio and stuff. And he was saying that he has this kind of correlation between the size of a company and the quantity of their needs. That's the phrase that I heard him say and the smaller they are, the more needs they have. And the opposite is true as well. And having these big clients per month actually, they use it much, much less like once or twice a month, equating to like under an hour's worth of work. Have you seen similar things in your own experience?
Corey Haines 30:00
Well, to be honest, were to like early on to really be able to draw some strong conclusions. But I will say just based on a lot of the sales calls that we've had and the customers that we have close that I can definitely see that being true. And I think it's mainly due to the fact that they have to make the budget go farther. A big company with a big budget doesn't need to get as much value out of the thing that they're spending because they just have more to work with. Whereas if you're an indie hacker and literally all of your budget, maybe all of your revenue is going towards a service like us, then yeah, you want to get a lot of value as much as you can. So of course, you're going to be constantly keeping the queue filled and up to date, you're going to be making requests all the time, you're going to be picky, and you're going to be maximizing the service opportunity, right? But yeah, there's something to that also, you know, just planning on like the pricing itself. The reason why we chose six grand as like our starting point is because it's still about half the price of hiring a full time product marketing manager. And what we do isn't just the cost of a product marketing manager. It's also the cost of a part time graphic designer or part time product designer, part time copywriter. So 6 to 9 grand is still about a third of the cost of hiring us as a team even if we were like junior level to fill those same needs. Now, that's where it comes in. Because early stage company probably doesn't need a full time marketer, designer and copywriter. They just need a part time. So that's where we come because we can do those things part time. So in that sense, we are for indie hackers in the sense that we're going to be a lot more affordable than any other option, if you wanted to delegate it out to someone else.
Arvid Kahl 31:05
Yeah, you're definitely for indie hackers, just not the ones that have like $200 value MRR. It's reasonable, I guess, to go up market with this because like you said earlier, it becomes more of an insurance for the bigger ones because they spend it. They know you're there. They know you're gonna be having a 24-72 hour delivery window and you're gonna hit it because you can because you smartly diversified your clientele. That's one of the things I really like about this model because it's kind of a small bets approach, right? You have many small bets, you have many customers, many clients. I don't know. Do you call them customers? Do you call them clients? What is it?
Corey Haines 33:20
I call them clients
Arvid Kahl 33:33
Okay, so you are an agency. It's just you know, with a subscription model, it becomes weird because a client is usually project bound, but the subscription makes them more into turns into a customer. It's just an interesting way of how we even think about what to call them. But that's an aside, I guess. What I wonder is or not what I wonder, what I see here is that you have through this subscription model many, many different clients or customers and not just a one big project that your whole agency's life depends on. It's kind of a nice way of diversifying just your risk, just spreading out the risk in the community, right? And was that an intentional choice? Like, was it a necessity for you to start this because you could have just started regular agency, right?
Corey Haines 34:22
Yeah, I think so. The reason why we decided to go this route with us, again, me deciding like, I've been asked a bunch before I got here. Oh, we want you to do some consulting with us. Can you do this? Can you do that? Like I can. I'm not trying to like brag or anything but like I can do anything across the board from advertising and content production and product marketing, etc, etc. What do I feel like my superpower is though and what do I feel like I can deliver back to people on a repeatable basis that I feel confident about? Well, yeah, it's gonna be more on the product marketing side. That's the side that I love the most and where there are the most clear deliverables as well. Now, one of the problems being a marketer, this is always one of the bottlenecks at any company that I've worked for and worked with in consulting, is that there's usually always another side of what I'm doing, where it's, hey, here's the thing that I'm making and building. Now I needed someone else to help me implement this thing. So from a copywriter, I had the copy for the page. Now I need someone to go design it and build it into a website. And that would always take forever and I hated it because it was always like, I feel bad. Like, I'm not doing a good job when this is completely out of my hands. And so my buddy Zach told me the same thing. And Nick, where we were like, yeah, like, we're working with bad copywriters who take forever or customer clients who don't even have a copywriter and they want us to do the copy and we can't, so we have to then refer it out to someone else. And then that slows down the whole process. So our theory was everything that we can do together. Or maybe I should say, like, anything that we do is not dependent on anyone else. We can deliver all the things that any one of us is working with a client on. So if I'm covering for a page then Zach can design it and Nick and build it in web flow. If someone else has any other problem, we're not dependent on anyone else. And that was a very intentional thing because that way, our kind of destiny was in our own hands. And we didn't have to, you know, depend on someone else. And frankly, this is why I stopped doing a lot of the like, advisory coaching stuff that I experimented with for about a year was because it was fun. It was nice. And it felt like really easy money just telling people what to do and just kind of hopping on a call and brainstorm with them. But then they always had a really hard time implementing it. And again, I hate that feeling of feeling out of control, like, I am telling you the right things, but you're just not doing them. So they're gonna stop paying me. I hate that. So, yeah, we want multiple clients to diversify. But then the clients that we work with, we want to do things for them that are completely in our control. And that to me is like the ultimate kind of freedom in a sense, where we're not dependent on anyone else. We don't need anything from anyone else. We can do it all.
Arvid Kahl 37:16
That was great. And it is another layer of de risking. I mean, having multiple clients already great de risking because you don't have the whale that you need to constantly feed and keep the business to stay in business. But also that you kind of, you're off the grid with your team. Nice! You don't need the external services anymore. That is a big deal. And that is a big deal for indie hackers, in particular, because I've been talking to so many people, right? Who are building on top of some platform, a Shopify app or a Twitter API integration or whatever. And both Shopify recently had this thing where this company that bootstrapped to millions of revenue was just cut off because it competed with a core function with Checkout. And indie hackers, I mean, the whole Twitter debacle of a couple of months ago when the $42,000 API access pricing was introduced, which is one of the most bizarre things I ever witnessed. You know, that destroyed a lot of cool businesses. And it caused a lot of businesses to either falter or have to sell like what Tony Dinh did with like Black Magic, that kind of stuff. And you needed to find a home for your business. And it's bizarre, but that's what happens when you build on top of the necessity of somebody else's work, which is a platform, tends to be. So that is very smart of you guys to have both in who you serve and in what you can do the capacity to do all of this by yourself without needing like external force. That's really cool.
Corey Haines 38:38
And all the clients that we work with, no one is going to be an exorbitantly large client because our pricing is so standard, right? So no one's going to be paying us way more. You know, one of our mentors for this business is a guy who ran like one of the first integrated marketing agencies all the way through, like the .com boom to just a couple of years ago and took it in public and it was like ginormously successful. And he was just telling us a story the other day about how I think it was in like, right after the financial crisis, they lost a client that was paying them, it was their biggest client. His paying them $7 million a year. And it almost completely destroyed their business because they had to lay off about half of their team at the time. And then it just changed everything. It was like who's working on what and how and when. And one of the things that scared me the most about doing an agency was having to hire based on the work that was coming in. And it can be so variable, right? Like one month you're scoping out a project for X amount over X amount of months. What if, you know, one month there's three of those and then after that there's nothing? Well, it's really hard to have like full time people unless you're just really confident and constantly be able to replace churned clients and always have a consistent amount. And so this model gives me a lot more peace of mind knowing that there isn't a lot of client risk and that they're all going to be paying about the same. And that we can kind of throttle it up and down. We're not looking to build a billion dollar business because we can handle a lot of the work ourselves. And even when we do need to bring on some help, we can bring on contractors and they'll have a very specific role. And it won't be tied to one client in particular, who we just need them to do this one thing for this one client. Again, that's one of the pitfalls of running like a full service marketing agency compared to what we're doing. And it's why a lot of the agencies you see out there are content marketing agencies or demand generation agencies, is because you know, what happens when your first two clients wants a demand generation and then your third client wants content creation and your third client wants product marketing? Well, they have to hire all these different people to do things for different clients. And so you lose the profitability of being able to spread the team's resources across all the clients at once. And then scaling up down. Yeah, it's just, it becomes a mess. So this felt like a very safe bet, in that sense, where we wouldn't have to worry about the variability of clients and what those clients want from us.
Arvid Kahl 41:21
Okay, yeah. Since you said safe bet, since that's the phrase I just heard. Do you consider it a small bet still? Because I know you've a couple other things going on personally for yourself, right? As a founder, you have swipe well and the swipe files thing and your book is still out there somewhere, right? And you're active on Twitter. You're active on social media. You're active on the podcast world and all that. Do you consider the Conversion Factory a small thing? Or is it going to be a main thing?
Corey Haines 41:53
I think it's more of a main thing, at least for right now. The reality, I mean, it's just it's awesome seeing it play out. But like people like hiring people. And it's hard to get people to hire software to do a job. That's the thing that I love about software and SaaS is it's very utilitarian. And it solves a problem and it does it well. But you have to be able to do it at scale. And also, you have to make sure that your software solves a problem really well in the first place. And sometimes it's hard to even get to that place. And so number one for me, I just, I never want to be in a place where I have to feel like I have to force something to work in order for me to be able to put food on my table and sleep at night. And so people like hiring people. This is something I know that people will always want and need. And it's a lot easier to find product market fit than it is software, I'll tell you that. Number two is I consider myself more like a kind of an entrepreneur, Tinker creator in that sense, where like, I love starting things. I just like making stuff happen and like creating stuff that was in my imagination that I want to see in the world. And I think for people like me, based on a lot of other people I've talked to and mentors, just reading stories, and a lot of those people have kind of like a cash cow that they use to do all the other things that they want to. But you need to have at least one thing that works in order to allow you to put the time and our resources on other projects. And maybe some of those projects will pan out, maybe they won't. But again, those things don't need to pan out in order for you to be financially stable. And so this is like, this is kind of my life ethos of like, this is just the way that I want to go about things. And again, it's not the Conversion Factory is like a means to an end by any means. But it's that I think the role that it plays in my life is that it is sort of like a job. But it's a job that allows me to be free to explore other things as well.
Arvid Kahl 44:05
And it's a job where you can talk about the job and do the job at the same time. That's one of the things I love about your work there. Because you're doing product marketing around the product marketing business by building in public on Twitter. And I love that first off because I learned something but also because it just shows how much you care about this stuff. And that's kind of what I want to talk to you about. And by the way, the whole small bets thing. I think I had Daniel Vassallo on the show, the guy who is behind a lot of explanations around the small bets methodology. And the idea is not to keep that small. The idea is to have small bets and then see which ones grow, right? So that would be where Conversion Factory hopefully, but from the looks of it already is heading because if I look on your website and I want to buy a subscription. I see a waitlist. And
Corey Haines 44:50
Arvid Kahl 44:51
You know that looks good. That looks like an interesting development. Can you tell me more about that?
Corey Haines 44:57
Sure. Yeah, we again, because it's just new and we've never done a product or service like this before. We want to make sure that the quality didn't go down as we scaled and when it just didn't know how much work we could take on. So we kind of figured, like, look, if we have the good problem of having too many clients, that would be a good problem to have. But we don't want to have to be like a hair on fire type of situation where we just are running around like crazy and it's not fun. Why don't we try to figure out like a cap and then throttle the demand up and kind of ratchet our capacity up as we figure out what the benchmark is. What's the baseline of how much work can we really handle? So we decided, like, I think like five clients is probably around like, we'd be profitable at that point. We can totally see how having like five recurring requests or five concurrent requests any given time was, like, pretty manageable. Let's just start there. So we hit that limit. And now we're trying to see and kind of establish like, okay, how much more room do we think that we have, before we let those people off the waitlist and just kind of like, open it up to the rest of the world.
Arvid Kahl 46:04
That's so cool. Thanks for sharing this. And thanks for not just sharing it here, but sharing it on Twitter, hopefully in the future as well what the experiments and the learnings are because that feels like such a helpful thing for the community to understand because you kind of I mean, you're not the first person to ever come up with a productized service. But I feel you are one of the few people that actually understands our little indie hacker community and how we think and how we perceive things. So you can phrase it in a way that is accessible for other people, like you did earlier with you're now learning how to code. You're finding these little translatables, right? Where you can take one concept from one world and translate it into the other, you have a great skill of doing this. And I love the fact that in sharing this on Twitter as a build in public method, you are helping people understand maybe that's something for them and their specific area of expertise and expertise it is because the more I look at your website and I really like it. It's a really well designed website with great copy. It's just one thing that really stood out to me. And that is, I guess, a testament to your ability to do high quality product marketing is I was thinking, all I care about right now is to see the price of this because I wanted that's the first thought that came to my mind. Because I kind of knew from you launching it, what it was, what it was about, what it was going to be. And I wanted to see the price and the only button the only link that is on that page for me right now up there in the header is See Plans, like it's like you know what I want. It's like you know what I need. I just want to tell you that was my experience in looking at the website. So that really worked well for me. Of course, there's more if you go to the hamburger menu and stuff, but you just understand what's necessary to get somebody to get to the information that they want. So good job on showing publicly how good you are at this, just wanted to tell you that.
Corey Haines 47:50
Oh, yeah! I mean, it's very important for us to dog food our own expertise and process. And whatever we put out there is going to be anything that someone would use to make a buy in decision off of, right? Do these guys really know what they're talking about? Do I want something like that for myself? That is really how a lot of people decide on service partners especially is do I want something like something they've already created and done. So everything that we create and have done has to be something that we want someone else to look at and say I want to be like that, including ourselves primarily, right? And it is funny because I've seen a lot of marketing agencies and design agencies outsource it to someone else to a freelancer or to another agency, which to me is just like totally baffling. Like, that's like being, you know, email marketing software and then using a competitor for your own automated, you know, like it will just never even fly with any software company, so why would you know, agencies do that as well. But, yeah, I think that we know what we're doing. I hope it comes across that way.
Arvid Kahl 48:55
Oh, it certainly does. Yeah, it's kind of weird that people would hire this out. But that's just maybe they don't trust their own skills. That's what it communicates, right? Which is just such a bizarre thing. Well, one question though, how long did it take you to build that website? 14 months? Was that the website that customer?
Corey Haines 49:12
Arvid Kahl 49:13
Okay, well, that's much faster. Yeah, that's kind of what you want to be able to do. Right? You want to be quick. You want to have a look well and still do it fast. Yeah, man!
Corey Haines 49:26
Yeah, I mean, it's easier and it's faster because you know, we're the deciders so we know what we want. We've already talked about things for a long time and we don't have to, like, get feedback from internal stakeholders or whoever people they have to get approval from. So you know, it took me about a day to write like the first draft of the copy and it's ran by Zach and Nick. I made a couple of tweaks . We're like, cool. Zach went to mock something within figma was done in figma. Again, like start to finish took literally like a week. In fact, the longest part and the reason why we delayed the launch didn't buy about a week was just waiting for, like our Mercury bank account and Stripe account to be live because we had, like, incorporated the week before and then took a little bit longer. So like the website was not the bottleneck for us.
Arvid Kahl 50:15
That's good to know. Yeah. Wow. That's interesting. I wonder how much time do you still have for your other projects? You have in SwipeWell, you have a tool that is kind of a SaaS product project, right? There's a browser integration that needs to be taken care of. And then Swipe Files, you have a community of people, like, do you set time aside for this even though this thing is, you know, big and growing?
Corey Haines 50:41
Yeah, that's a good question. I'll probably have better answers for that in a couple of months. For right now, it was sort of like, well, I've always worked in seasons a little bit where I'll kind of just sprint and then like, go heads down on something and then kind of come back up and find a more normal way to incorporate into my work week. But yeah, I've kind of just blocked out like July and August are going to be 100% Conversion Factory because I don't want there to be anything sticking my attention away from this as we get up off the ground. And especially because as we grow clients, I don't want there to be anything that would give them a reason to not trust in us or to want to cancel. And also just nailing down the processes for the first time has been a really big thing or like this is the first time we're doing it. So we need to give ourselves room in time in order to stop for a second and say, okay, we're seeing a pattern here. What should we do about this? Okay, let's create an SOP for it. Let's create a little Notion board for this over here. Let's templatized this as adding some zaps, you know, just being able to create the machine, right? Rather than just always flintstoning it and making it work haphazardly all the time. But what's happening with Swipe Well is sort of just like on autopilot, carnamah co founder is taking care of that right now. And then we'll get back to it in September and kind of do you know start to work in some more hours into where we go next with it. With Swipe Files, I also rejiggered it where I've kind of I haven't gotten rid of the community. But it really stripped it down and pared it down to just the bare essentials. So it's not really like the main draw of where people come to get an expect. One because honestly, I don't know how you felt about this and I'd be curious to hear, actually. But I felt like the last couple of years since like COVID, there's been all these waves of trends for businesses and technology and just like what people are doing and there was this pretty rapid cycle of like, okay, first it was creator economy. And then it was like everyone has a newsletter business. And then it was like communities were all the rage for a second pair. Podcasting had its moment as well. And so I kind of felt like, people aren't really stoked about online communities as much as I've seen. And I've definitely seen a big drop off. And like, why force it when at the end of the day, I want to know what's valuable to people? And if that changes, then I should change with them as well. So instead, I relaunched a new or I didn't realize it. I created a new course. And then I relaunched sort of like a pared down version of the community with more of an emphasis on the courses. So that I don't have to work on it as synchronously. It is more of an async work schedule for me.
Arvid Kahl 53:25
That's the big difference. And that's what I've seen too. Like the moment you can establish asynchronous things, everything is fine. And the moment maybe more importantly, the moment your customers expect async or are fine with async, that's good to go. But if people think of that community to be the same thing as a chat room, as a constantly on kind of university, where you go to things and they happen at a certain time and then you have a little break and then you do another thing. That's fine if you want to organize that or if you can pay people to organize it for you or if you have volunteers, whatever. But that requires you to build the infrastructure of nota community, a village. You need a village, you need people with different jobs doing them at the same time. Like and then global village, too. You need people in different time zones dealing with all of this. That feels complicated. And similarly, like you I found that community is maybe not the most important thing I can do because it is synchronous and that makes it hard to scale. And I want my things that I do to be at least available at scale, which is why I have books and courses and my newsletter and my podcasts and all these things that I just kind of want to end, right? One person doing it and people consuming it. It's not a one on one or end to end situation. So I have equally pared down my community around the following course. And people just interact with me on Twitter anyway. So if they need me, if they need access to me, they have it there and they don't really do much with each other because there's also a lot of weird stuff going on with people when it comes to engagement farming or whatnot. I don't want to invite any of this so I just want people to learn from each other and for me, which is why Twitter still or do we call it X now? I don't know. It's still a community. I'm not gonna I'm gonna be one of these old people yells at cloud thing. Pepperidge Farm remembers situation where I'm just gonna call it Twitter for the rest of my life. But you know, that's where I'm at too. And you're right. There are trends all the time. It just turns out for me, I think I've hooked onto most of them, particularly podcasting and newsletter. And I found that it is fun and enjoyable and doable because they are not things I do all by themselves. They are kind of channels for the thing I already do, which is right.
Corey Haines 55:39
Arvid Kahl 55:39
Right? So my podcast is my writing read into a camera or into a microphone. My YouTube channel is that exact same thing but with video and my newsletter is that article that I write anyway, as a newsletter. So if it's just like synergetic so the word, then it works for me. But if it's one thing that I need to devote so much time to all in itself, I'm probably not going to do it. That's how I deal with trends like this.
Corey Haines 56:04
Yeah, I've learned that too, just trying to really embrace what do I want to do? What do I like doing? What fits in with my, the things that I like creating? I think, you know, if you call yourself a creator, you don't have to do all the things, what are the things and the mediums the actually like creating on. And I think having synergies between a lot of your products and just what you're doing. Also, it makes a big difference. One of the other reasons why I felt really good about launching Conversion Factory because I knew that I could promote it. And it could really be like a informal sponsor, the Swipe Files newsletter as well.
Arvid Kahl 56:39
Yeah, that's right.
Corey Haines 56:39
Like a lot of people know me from there, that I'm not launching, like, I don't know, like a TikTok shorts agency, where it's like, there's no overlap with my existing audience. Like all of my audience and my network is B2B SaaS. So this is right in line with a lot of synergies. And speaking of that, like one of the other things we want to do with Conversion Factory, is we want to add in some products and we want to build some website templates on Webflow and maybe some other platforms as well in the future. But that's one other things that kind of has me excited where I'm like, again, we don't need this to work. That'd be nice. And we can like, that's another small bet we can add to the portfolio and just see kind of what happens and where it goes. But that's another like thing in line with what we do well, what people know us for, what people want from us, where we think we can fill a gap in the market.
Arvid Kahl 57:28
That's really cool. Man, you seem to have an interesting couple years ahead of you. That sounds like a lot of fun projects all under the umbrella of something that is nice and stable and well thought out. I really appreciate that.
Corey Haines 57:40
I hope so. Yeah. Should be really interesting couple of years, hopefully very fruitful. And hopefully a lot more new, interesting things to talk about.
Arvid Kahl 57:47
Yeah, that's right. Well, since I'm already following you on Twitter. I know where to go to find out more about you. But if somebody for some reason that hasn't heard of you and your work over the last couple of years that you've been very active on Twitter on or anywhere else, where do you want people to go to be able to follow you on this amazing journey that you're on right now?
Corey Haines 58:07
Yeah. I'm also a huge Twitter fan. I'm gonna still pick on Twitter. I know that I'm like, like, I don't know. It'll be difficult to say X for the first time. I don't even know what to call it. Is it the X platform? Is it just X and that X feel so weird? Like, X, Y, Z, you know? Anyways, I'm on Twitter @coreyhaynesco. My personal site, corey.co has a list of like all my projects and just links to everything on every social media platform or whatnot. And then, of course, if you're interested in checking out Conversion Factory, it's conversionfactory.co. So any and all of those things will work and happy to deal with people anytime.
Arvid Kahl 58:48
A lot of that .co. I like it.
Corey Haines 58:51
Yeah, not a lot of dot coms. I got the dot com for Swipe Files. And I've looked at the dot com for Corey and for Corey Haines. But both of them, well corey.com has, I don't know who owns. It's probably some big conglomerate. But coreyhaines.com is owned by a like pretty, like famous developer actually so like I'm never getting that one. I'll find the next best thing, which may be just like my first name dot co.
Arvid Kahl 59:18
Hey, good job for that. Like, I think I have Arvid.fm or something too for these particular purpose. It's always nice to have a sure point. It's really, really cool to hear that development and good domain with .com or .co. It doesn't really matter. You have the projects and products are spectacular. And the journey that you're on and the way you're sharing it is really nice. So thank you so much for sharing your insights here today into product marketing and building a wonderful productized service subscription as an insurance business. Let's make it as complicated as it gets. Thanks for all of that. It's always really nice to chat with you and I cannot wait to see where this is going and I'm going to be there watching you.
Corey Haines 1:00:00
Awesome, thanks Arvid. Thanks for having me. And I'll be doing more building in public, in public on all public places like Twitter slash x and my personal site and everywhere else
Arvid Kahl 1:00:11
Cannot wait. Thanks so much for being on.
Corey Haines 1:00:13
Arvid Kahl 1:00:15
And that's it for today. Now, most technical founders, they shy away from the productized service approach. They'd rather build a SaaS software as a service business. And that's something that's just more easily automated. And it comes more easy to people that build software. And that often is a good idea. Still, they run into challenges that they might not have expected. And this is where I want to talk about our sponsor, acquire.com. Imagine this, you're a technical founder who's built this really great SaaS product and you acquired customers. And all of that is just generating consistent monthly recurring revenue. The problem is, you're not growing for whatever reason, lack of focus, lack of skill or just plain lack of interest and you feel stuck. What should you do in that moment? The story that I and everybody else would love to hear is that you just buckled down reignited the fire, got past yourself and the cliches, started working on the business rather than just in the business. And then you build this audience and move out of your comfort zone to do sales and marketing something you hate doing, but you do it. And six months down the road, you've tripled your revenue. Reality is not as simple. Situations like this may be different for every founder who's facing this crossroad. But too many times the story ends up being one of inaction and stagnation until that business becomes less valuable or at worst, completely worthless. So if you find yourself here, well, your story is likely headed down a similar road. I offer you a third option: consider selling your business on acquire.com. Capitalizing on the value of your time as an entrepreneur is a smart move. Acquire.com is free to list and they've already helped hundreds of founders out there. So go to try.acquire.com/arvid and see for yourself if this is the right option for you and your business right now.
Thanks for listening to The Bootstrapped Founder today. You can find me on Twitter @arvidkahl. You'll find my books and my Twitter course there too. And if you want to support me and the show, please subscribe to my YouTube channel, get the podcast in your podcast player of choice and leave a rating and a review by going to (http://ratethispodcast.com/founder). Any of this will help the show so thank you so much for listening. Have a wonderful day. Bye bye