It's finally August, and Colleen is coming up on the deadline for Refine to support her working full-time... or is it?
Two indie SaaS founders—one just getting off the ground, and one with an established profitable business—invite you to join their weekly chats.
Michele Hansen 0:00
Oh my god, it has been what, like six weeks since I last talked to you or something like that.
Colleen Schnettler 0:07
Yeah, middle of June. It has been a long time.
Michele Hansen 0:11
And this episode is coming out August 2. So that is quite a gap. But like, summer August, right. I feel like we have to mention that. January 29. No, my gosh, no. July July 29. Software socials to your birthday.
Unknown Speaker 0:35
For real. Wow. Two years. We've been doing using two years. Look at us. That's so cool. I love it. Right.
Colleen Schnettler 0:45
I love it makes me happy.
Michele Hansen 0:48
On the one hand, it's I mean, I feel like people always say this about time. So it's completely unoriginal. But it's gone by in a flash, but also it feels like forever at the same time. Yeah.
Colleen Schnettler 1:01
That's amazing. That's so cool. I mean, you know, it's amazing how something, you just start with an idea. And then you just start. And here we are two years later. It's really awesome.
Michele Hansen 1:11
Here we are. Two years later, you are founder of two companies as companies. I'm still the founder of one but wrote a book, which had its one own one year birth
Colleen Schnettler 1:23
can't believe it's been a year since you raised. I know
Michele Hansen 1:27
God like our I don't know, our businesses or side projects. They're like getting old.
Colleen Schnettler 1:34
That's so amazing, isn't it? Yeah. So cool.
Michele Hansen 1:38
Right? Yeah, like my, my book is not only you know, eating solid foods, it's walking, you know, at this point, right?
Colleen Schnettler 1:47
Yeah, you're old.
Michele Hansen 1:51
So, I have been on pins and needles, waiting to hear how things are going with refine. Now, of course, you've taken some vacation time in there, which you are more than entitled to. But for months, like I feel like since like February or March, we have been talking about how August is your deadline sort of to really get refined up and going and selling so that you don't have to do consulting anymore. Because this is when the consulting contract with your client that you've been building refined with runs out. And so this has kind of been this like sort of Cliff for you that you've been sprinting towards. And now we're here.
Colleen Schnettler 2:42
So about that. So I guess it was a week or two ago, I haven't talked to you.
Michele Hansen 2:53
This is killing me.
Colleen Schnettler 2:58
So I mean, technically, you know, the contract was going to be up in August, but a week or two ago, they reached out my contact over there. And they have a really hard deadline of October 4 to ship this next version of their product. And they really need someone in the app in their app, building out these filters for them in real time in order to hit this deadline. Okay, so that person is me. Okay. It's not it's not. Yeah, this all happened, like a lot happened this last month. It's not bad. It's actually great. Because it gives me an opportunity to really originally the plan was, we were building out refine, we were helping them integrate, refine, but they were going to get an internal person ramped up on filter building, and they just don't have the bandwidth for that right now. And they're just up on such a tight deadline that when they asked me, I said yes, because it's really important that this client loves refine that. They think that we have executed at an extremely high level, they're going to be great for us. You know, we can put their logo on the website. So lots of at me, I don't know, I've mixed feelings about it. Right, like on one hand. I was actually pulling back. So I was pulling back. I was doing more business stuff. I was doing more sales calls. And then this happened like last week where they're like we can't so we kind of tried it right, I pulled back. They were trying to, you know, figure out what they could do. And they pulled me back in because they were like we just need this to be done properly and quickly. And we just don't have time or the engineers to give you someone right now.
Michele Hansen 4:51
So I guess I'm like one hand you've got another two months of sort of like salary Runway Right? Like you don't have that pressure for another right, that's good. I'm gonna keep getting paid. Yeah, yeah. Two months, right. Yeah, money. Like that's helpful. But on the other hand, like you've, I mean, you've actually kind of shifted away from working on refining itself, from a technical perspective, the last couple of months. And, yep, really gotten into sales mode. And so now you're going to go back to focusing on on coding, and so are you going to be working on this like, full time,
Colleen Schnettler 5:31
I don't think it'll be full time, I think we are still I mean, the, the thing that's great about this is they're using our product in a lot of ways, it wasn't really designed to be used not in a bad way, they're just, they're really stretching the bounds of what this product can do. So that has been really instructive for us to kind of see those rough edges and see how we can improve them. So the product is in this constant cycle of being improved. And that's really good. And they're going to use refine, and all these different parts of their apps. I mean, they use it for segmentation and triggering events and all kinds of stuff. So I don't think it'll be full time, but it's gonna be a lot of time. I mean, I think it'll be a 20 to 30 hour a week deal, supporting them working on the product. What I'm coming up to, though, Michelle, is I mean, and also, like, it's great that they want me right, feels nice, feels nice to be wanted. But I think they're the kind of company developers are scarce right now. And I think it's going to be really what I'm not worried about this, this supporting them till October, I'm super, I'm actually kind of pumped about it, because like, it gives me a little more time, it lets us get the product a little bit better. Like it's a lot of good things. But I think the problem is going to be extricating myself after October. So I have a plan. Yeah. Do you wanna hear? Okay, so here's my plan. The thing is this company. They're, they're wonderful to work for. But I think it's just so easy as a consultant trying to make the break. It's really seductive to keep consulting, because you make a lot of money. And it's, you know, something you know how to do. It's very comfortable. And so some people are able to do this comfortable consulting thing 1020 hours a week and build a product on the side. I really struggle with that I struggle with the context switching I struggle with, with just, I don't know, it's not my preferred way to do something. And what I'm trying to say is I think this company is going to need support past October. There's not there's no cliff in October, like there was supposed to be a cliff in August, there's clearly no cliff. They're like, No, just keep showing up. Like we want you to stay. I think this will continue in perpetuity. So I think I should hire someone right now. Part time developer right now get him or her trained up while I'm kind of sprinting to help them meet this deadline? And then leave have them available to support the client after October?
Michele Hansen 8:04
Yeah, I mean, there's a lot of SaaS companies that have a professional services business component like and it's often a significant chunk of their revenue. Think about, you know, companies like Salesforce and whatnot, right? Like they have huge services businesses that just to deal with being you know, sort of custom contacts and whatnot for clients. And so if you could somehow have them switch over to just simply paying refine a monthly retainer or hourly rate or what it like, yeah, like, if you can get them into like an annual service contract for something that goes from, you know, custom features support to eventually just like, it's their support contract on top of whatever they might be paying you for access to the product like that could be really valuable. I
Colleen Schnettler 8:55
think that's the move, I think. So what we do now we have, I have another contractor who's doing like some upstream work for me. And so we bill them through to the client, kind of like an consultancy. But this concept of like a service contract is really enticing, because it gives me I really need to find my off ramp here, or else I will never get off, right? Like I need to be very deliberate. I kind of knew August was not really a thing, like I could, I could see that wasn't really happening. And this should I don't want this to just continue in perpetuity. Like I want to work on the business. I love working on the business. And if we're going to make refine a real business, like we have to build the business. So I liked the service contract idea. I was just going to hire a contractor and you know, build them through as a normal contractor. But service contract works too. But I think I need some mechanism. This is a big company. And there's a lot of things they want to do. And there's a lot of changes they want. I need someone embedded in them their company to like with refines best interests at heart, if you will.
Michele Hansen 9:56
Yeah. And of course, I mean, charge a markup on that right And I mean, see if you can get that locked in, right for six months or a year.
Colleen Schnettler 10:07
And so the locking in is an interesting idea. I like that idea. I hadn't thought about that. But that's like an interesting idea to lock it in. For me,
Michele Hansen 10:15
that's kind of what you've had so far, right? Like it was basically locked in for a year. Yes. And that was really valuable for you, because it really gave you that extra time to focus on it. And I think just with this contractor, it's not just, you know, charging for whatever their hourly rate is, but like, you're still going to have to be available to that person. So like, you're gonna have to have, you know, some markup right on whatever their that rate is. Now, we don't do services contracts. That's something we've like we've decided not to do, you know, sort of a consulting arm, right. But there are a lot of companies that do this. And I bet if, you know, you start Googling for stuff, you'll find examples of how companies structure this and, and, and whatnot.
Colleen Schnettler 11:00
Yeah, I love I don't know if love is the right word. I'm intrigued by the idea of a service contract. Because I love
Michele Hansen 11:09
service contracts. I mean, honestly, though, like from a from business perspective, though, like, service contracts drive a lot of value, like think about like a pest control company, or landscaping or like, like recurring contracts like that are very, very valuable.
Colleen Schnettler 11:25
I feel like for this client, it's something I want to explore. I don't know if we want it to be part of our core business, because we don't want to be we're already a consultancy, right? We already have a bunch of contractors, and we make money. So we do not want to be a consultancy. Now a service contracts a little bit different. And I understand that it could be lucrative, but it still requires us to hire people. And hiring people is hard. So I don't know, I'm open to the idea, I think for now, for this client, trying to get something like that as the right move. Because they need support, and we need a refined champion in their company.
Michele Hansen 12:05
And the priority for you at this point is to to not be coding right, and to get to focus on the sales side.
Colleen Schnettler 12:14
Yeah. So can I talk about how I'm super excited about the fact that I love that other stuff? Yeah. Like you, you hear so many, this is such a problem. It was actually in my mastermind the other day, and someone was joking about how like developers who like marketing are like unicorns. I think I like it, like I like our product is very technical. So we couldn't, Aaron and I could not sub out marketing, because the marketing, even the marketing, the sales are so technical. And I'm I'm really enjoying it. I'm really enjoying talking to people and seeing what their problems are. And so far, it's been a great experience. So I think that's really good to hear that. I like that. You know, as I said, for the next couple of months, I'm happy to go deep, deep back in the technical stuff, which is fine. But I feel like if I could hire someone, get him or her ramped up in the next couple months, and then do a service contract kind of deal. For the foreseeable future, that would be ideal. So if you're a Rails developer who wants to work 10 to 20 hours a week for me, please let me know.
Michele Hansen 13:19
You know, I think it's, it's interesting, right? Because we've talked about this a little bit in the past the difference between sales and marketing. Yeah. And I remember how much mental overhead and like just exhausting it was for you to work on marketing for simple file upload. Now, these are two very different products, kind of different trajectories, you have a co founder with this one. But I think it's sort of worth noticing how doing marketing SEO? Did you run some ads at one point, like, that kind of work was not really getting, you know, your energy going? Right. But you're actually enjoying sales too. And I feel like sales and marketing people often lump them together, I guess, especially developers who have never done either. Yeah, but they are very different. And they require different skills. And there are different things that you're doing as part of them. And like yes, at the end of the day, the goal is for somebody to buy something. But they're very different. And I think for some people, sales is a better fit. And for some people marketing might be a better fit. And yes, you kind of need both in a company, but especially if you're a small company, you don't necessarily have to be like spending 5050 on sales and not and marketing right? Like if you're really energized by spending 80% of your time on sales and you're hitting the goals you have and then you just use what you're learning from sales in the marketing directly and that's enough, then I think that's fine.
Colleen Schnettler 14:55
Yeah, I really liked the high touch sales. I really like talking to I knew I knew that I would like that. As part, right, like, because I like people, and I think with simple file upload, there's no, there's no people, like people just buy it, which is great. Like, I'm not mad about that. Thank you everyone. But like, almost no one, no one has ever booked a call to talk about file uploading, and no one has. I mean, very, very few people email me, and which is great, right? I understand that that's a good thing. But I feel like higher price point product, high touch sales is gonna be my wheelhouse. I really enjoy it, Aaron and I and it's really nice to have a co founder like, it's nice to have have a friend, Aaron and I were on this call with some people that were interested in the Laravel version of refine. And I thought he and I work really well together. Because he was kind of we kind of went through the whole thing. But I think I did a really good job at the end of like asking the this. I'm gonna call them salesy questions. They're not, but like the questions like, Is there a reason you don't want to buy this right now? Like I did that in the call? You did? Yeah. I said is there, I'm not gonna say the guy's name. He was very nice. But you know, and I'm very so it's funny, because I work in this little co working space. So I had told my co workers, their fake co workers, but you know, at lunch, I was like, Okay, we're doing a sales call. And I'm going to ask these hard questions, because this is how you grow. And so anyway, afterwards, they were like, You did a great job. And they're like, you're very disarming, we would want what did the person say? That you asked them. But it was so useful. So I said, Is there any reason you want to buy this right now? And he said, Yeah, because I don't know if it's going to work with this particular thing. And I really want to talk I mean, so he, we got a lot of useful information out of him, which was, they're using some that I forget, oh, they're using something in Laravel. That's not we don't like have a package for it specifically. So he would have to do some kind of glue to get it to work with his package. And where they are like in terms of what they need wasn't what we were provided, he just really wanted to play with it is kind of what it came down to is he's like, I really am not sure what we're hearing from this guy. What we learned, which was huge, was that we're really pushing the filtering on like an index page, where it's really powerful is you can use it like as a trigger, or you can use it as you could make custom dashboards for every single one of your users using refine, you can send emails in a background job to like you can segment your users and send emails in a background job. Like there's all these other things we do with it. And we do this with the client that we don't ever ever talk about and talking to this particular person. Like that was way more interesting to him than filtering on an index view.
Michele Hansen 17:43
So it sounds like you need to spend some time like speaking of marketing, like on documentation.
Colleen Schnettler 17:47
Well, I feel like positioning is what I need to reread, obviously awesome. I read it a while back. I feel like here what we need to do, I think we know what we need to do. I mean, I feel like we know what we need to do, we need to get a demo site up. We need to maybe you know, there's so much so I just retraction, which I've been meaning to read for a while. And he talks about these 19 traction channels. And how you should pick three is like your Have you read it? traction, no surprise, okay. So basically says there's 19 traction channels, pick three, and kind of do like little experiments and each one and then pick one, the one that you think works, and lean all in. And so for us our traction channel going forward is engineering as marketing. There's so much we can build pretty easily with refined to show it off, that I think is going to finally like people don't. It's interesting because Aaron and I know this product so well. And people aren't having that aha moment. And then we're on the phone with this guy. And when Aaron starts talking about all this stuff, he uses it for you know what his property tax company that I used to work for. This guy was like, oh, like now I get it. He's like, you never ever talk about that. So, to me, we can come up with so many engineering as marketing products, essentially, to show people what it can do. Like I really liked the cost. He was really excited with the custom dashboards. And I thought that was a really cool idea. So that might be what we do. But it was really a great call. I mean, this was, like I said, I asked some hard questions. And we because you asked that question. Like you learn, you learn a lot. Like why won't you buy it right now? Right? I mean, that's great to know.
Michele Hansen 19:32
Yeah, I mean, and what you've said about it's great having a partner in this like, it sounds like you're good at asking those questions and getting answers back from them. And then as it turns out, Aaron is like really really good at like engineering as marketing and like developer marketing and yep, I feel like Aaron could like create some, you know, a video of like, hey, like, I built this custom dashboard for a client and like, Here's how I did it and like, you know, he's just he's so personable with that kind of thing. Like, I mean, yeah, he managed to make SQL interesting enough that my eight year old daughter was like, glued to the screen when he was giving his aircon talk. Right. So like, I mean, that's a really good combination of skills like really complementary skills right there.
Colleen Schnettler 20:18
Yeah, I think we're a good team I felt really good about usually we do the call separately. So he does Laravel calls, I do the rails calls. But we're going to try and do more of them together. Because I think together, we're stronger. Yeah, it feels like we're a good team. And the call felt real. I mean, the guy didn't buy it. But he's very interested. And it felt like a really productive call.
Michele Hansen 20:40
Yeah, you got you got something out of that. I you know, and I think at this point, too, in terms of like, the phase of the company like you are definitely at that do things that don't scale so that you learn from them phase, right. So like, you know, doing a phone call with both founders on it for an $1,000 is at one time or subscription annual. But yeah, it was $1 annual subscription, right? Like, that's not sustainable long term. But you are learning a ton from it. Yeah, it's maybe not long term sustainable for definitely not long term sustainable for you to be doing custom work for clients or for customers on a service contract basis, right? Like you personally doing that. And maybe it's not even long term sustainable for you, for your company to be doing that as a service. If you decide you want to go in a different direction. But like, right now, if these things are getting you the money you need and the answers, you need to get you to that point where you have a thing that scales and sells that, that seems like the way to go.
Colleen Schnettler 21:45
Yeah, I love like, so this whole founding customer thing I'm doing I'm totally digging it. Because I've got a small group of people who are one I had a call with with are actually the very first guy who bought it yesterday. And it was just so great talking to him, because he was able to give me so much information about what he's doing now, where he'd like to go, what he's trying to do. I really love it. Like, I'm just learning so much about the depth and complexity of these problems people are having, and how we can help.
Michele Hansen 22:20
And you know, what I just heard in there, and I don't know if you realize it, but like, you just recited three of the core questions you try to answer when you're interviewing someone have, what are they trying to do? Where are they now? What have they already tried? Where are they struggling? Right? Like you just rattle those off to me without even thinking about it. And I think I remember talking about this, like dude, you know, two or three years ago, and you're like, come again now. And first is like, you've just internalized it and you're using it in sales and talking to these founding customers. Like, without even thinking about it.
Colleen Schnettler 22:54
You're in my brain, Michelle? Yeah, it's awesome. I love it. I think a pieces are coming together, the pieces are coming together. That's what it feels like. And it feels great. I mean, listen, no, I mean, our doors are not being beaten down, right. It's not like, you know, I have friends who launch products, and then they just, everyone just buys their thing. And they don't have to work very hard, good for them. This is, you know, this is a really interesting learning experience. But it just feels it's like, man, you can just feel I just know, I feel like it's gonna work. Like my gut is telling me that this is it, this is gonna happen. And it's not gonna happen tomorrow. Like we have a lot of work we have to put in. But it just feels right. I don't know, talking to people and hearing their struggles and like, where I am and where Aaron is like, it's just it feels right.
Michele Hansen 23:51
Feels like you've got a wind in your sails that you maybe didn't have with simple file upload. And I wonder if that's because you've kind of figured out some of those like more like, basic like setting up a SaaS business things that were extremely new to you. Like, everything was new, basically that first time. And like, that did not end up being your I don't know, like, rocket ship is the wrong word. But also like, long term boat. I don't know, there's I'm not I'm not really good with the analogy for this right here. But I think you know what I mean, right? Like, that was good. It got a got you to a place but more so than the money. It gave you so much learning. And quite frankly, I mean, I look back at the first business I ever started. And I got way more learning out of that than I did money. But it meant the second time around there all these things that I had tried to figure out the first time and it taken me tons of time that are very basic things about product or operations and like whatnot, that I already knew those things and so I could spend my time. More on. Okay, what is it we're trying to do? And how do we sell this? And like, what exactly are we making? And like all those kind of bigger questions that moreso determine the success then how is it that we process payments? Like, like, how do you even do right like, right, like you were able to jump? I think so much faster. Yeah, this?
Colleen Schnettler 25:25
Yeah, I think so. So yeah. So that's, that's the update. So a lot going on. We're, you know, we're learning and we're working, and we're building a great product. So
Michele Hansen 25:36
sounds like it. I've heard a lot going on to tell me, but I don't think we have time to get into it. I know. I'm sorry. I will. I will catch you up on my conference talks and all that kind of stuff. Next week. Okay. Sorry.
Colleen Schnettler 25:56
Come back next week.
Michele Hansen 26:00
You know, I'll be here. I've been here for two years. Well, you know, there's been vacations but for the most part, for the most part. All right. Talk to you next week.
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