As you grow your SaaS business you'll need to create and implement process to scale, succeed, optimize as well as train new employees. Processes small and large can save you time, energy and emotions, but it's not easy to do while in the macro process of building your business.
FULL SHOW NOTES
00:11 Aaron Weiche: Episode 12: Building Process in the Process.
00:16 INTRO: Welcome to the SaaS Venture Podcast, sharing the adventure of leading and growing a bootstrap SaaS company. Hear the experiences, challenges, wins and losses, shared in each episode. From Aaron Weiche of GatherUp and Darren Shaw of Whitespark. Let's go.
00:40 AW: Welcome to the SaaS Venture Podcast. I'm Aaron.
00:43 Darren Shaw: And I'm Darren.
00:45 AW: And today, we are going to be tackling all kinds of things related to processes, building processes, why have processes, and how you do all those things while you're extremely over your head in the process of building the business as a whole. So that'll be a fun topic to dive into and one that's absolutely never ending in the business. But before we get to that, Darren, What is new with you since we last talked?
01:19 DS: What is new? What is new? Let's see. So our platform is really coming together now. I've probably mentioned this on previous episodes, where we're trying to integrate our software. We're building a new account system with Stripe and it's starting to really look great. We've had Nick, who's taken on a role as a product manager, putting together designs and thinking about user interface and user flow through the software. So now that the dev team has design-oriented development things are moving so much better. And it's a real wake up call for me actually to make sure we never... We have this problem actually at Whitespark where it's like, "Okay, I want you guys to build this thing." So I'll put together a scope document. I define it pretty well. And then they build it, and then it's a lot of back and forth with trying to fix up the user interface, and the look of it and the feel of it and all that stuff. So I want to never do that again now that I'm seeing the huge success with this design-driven development. And so, the platform has been a really valuable thing to build that way, and so we're pushing towards that. And it looks great, and it feels great to use. I'm just really happy with it.
02:33 AW: Now if I remember this right, this is your process of you're taking your tools from being siloed and one-off and bringing them all together?
02:42 DS: Yeah, and it will happen over a series of phases. So, the first thing is we need a new account system. Account means our users, our authentication, like our sign-up, sign-in, all of this like ordering any of our services and software, so if you sign up for anything it happens through accounts. So we're building all of that, and then same with our citation services, we're changing it. Like right now if you order citations, either audit and clean up or building, you're gonna have to give us a spreadsheet with your location data. So it's totally 1998 janky process. And so speaking of processes, it's terrible. [chuckle] And so, we're building what we call the location manager, where you'll just add your locations to the location manager, it syncs with Google My Business. And so that's phase one, just brand new accounts and a better ordering process for our customers.
03:37 DS: Phase two is pulling in all of the functionality so it just all happens in one platform. And so that's GMB management features, Google posts creation, GMB synching, GMB notifications, a lot of that stuff is happening in the platform, is being developed right now. And then things around listings, things around rankings, all that stuff will be pulled into here.
So rather than our rank tracker being a separate tool, we will still maintain that for people, but we're going to have rank tracking in the platform too. And it'll be location-centric, right? So you'll just be like, "Enable rank tracking for this location? Yes." And so you can just... It's like a new paradigm and slowly everything will be built within the platform and other applications will slowly die. People will move over to our platform, and we'll have incentives for them to do that.
04:32 AW: Nice.
04:33 DS: So yeah, that's coming around great. I had this really great success with Upwork this week. So one of our large enterprise clients wanted to do a big audit across one of the sites. I don't know if I wanna say this publicly. So we built a scraper to scrape the site and pull in all the listings. And I've been working with this developer out of the Ukraine on Upwork and I can't believe how well it's gone. The guy is sharp as a whip. He's got seven years of experience doing web data mining projects. He's been so easy to work with, he's been working lots of hours, and it's just been kind of a dream, and I'm like, "Man, I should do more of this." And so I've always wanted to have a side projects guy. And so I think that I'm gonna start putting more time into scoping up projects and putting them on Upwork and having side project development happen. So I was pretty happy about that.
05:33 DS: That happened this week and we're gonna start building some new stuff that way too. And then I'm just really busy getting ready for these upcoming conferences. I have one in two weeks. I have a series... Over the next four weeks, so starting in two weeks, I have three auto-dealer conferences that I'm speaking at. So fortunately I get to use the same deck and the same presentation, so that's good. But yeah, I'm busy with that. That's what's going on for me. How about you? What's up?
06:00 AW: Yeah. Yeah, I get to start there as well. The same conference season, fall and spring are always heavy there, and just speaking a lot, which is always both... It's fun, it's exciting, it's great to get out there, but as we were talking before we started recording, it's like when these come in one at a time, one request comes in in January, and then the next request is in March. But then, all of a sudden, they all line up 'cause the events are just all right on top of each other that following fall. So it's like the next six weeks, next week, Swivel and Bend, and straight to there to LocalU Advanced, speaking to a bunch of Kubota dealers.
One of our customers, I speak at their franchise e-conference, speaking at Content Jam in Chicago in the end of October. So yeah, just a lot of that. And the majority of these based on the structure, a couple of them are workshops. So it's a lot of...
07:01 DS: Oh boy.
07:01 AW: Like new slide deck creation. That's always the hard part as you well know. Presentations don't magically create themselves, and it becomes a job within itself.
07:15 DS: Well, you're a veteran. You've done how many events? I don't know, so many. But, yeah. You won't have a problem pulling it off.
07:20 AW: But it's a catch-22, right? Sometimes that makes me so confident 'cause I've done 100+ where it's like, "Oh yeah, I can wait", like, "Yeah, I'll get that done", and whatever. And then you push it up and then all of a sudden you're like, "Okay, I cannot say that anymore", right?
07:36 DS: Totally. It's hard to make presentations when you're busy running a company. That's the problem. And so, you end up doing all of this presentation work after hours. It's like kids go to bed, and then you spend another two, three hours every night trying to get your decks together so that you can go on and present at these conferences.
07:53 AW: Yeah. No, I pretty much... I'm a lot better, and maybe it's just 'cause I've gotten older, too. I definitely hit a point now where I just can't go any more at it just 'cause how long you've been looking at it. Now that happens closer to 11 o'clock, 12 o'clock at night at the least, where once upon a time, man, if you were in the zone, you kept going till 2:00 or 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning and just went for it. But I can't do that. Lack of sleep kills me now more than anything else in life.
08:21 DS: I know. How much you get? I get about between six and seven on average on a week night.
08:26 AW: Yep, I would probably say I'm close to that. There's times where it sparks and it's higher. I've developed this new thing where if I wake up any time from like 3:30 on...
08:39 DS: Oh, really?
08:40 AW: I'm probably gonna be up for the day.
08:42 DS: That's tough.
08:43 AW: And that's... Yeah, that's really the biggest headache is I can't fall back asleep. So, yeah. And that hasn't worked out well with... I have four kids, and our oldest ones are 15, 13, 10. They're in a pretty easy zone. You rarely will... Maybe sometime the 10-year-old will come up in the middle night for an issue or storm wakes her up or whatever else. But then also, we have our three-year-old and he's still in that phase of getting up. He's in potty training right now though, so I have more than... He does a good job multiple times of week of possibly waking me up before 5:00 AM.
09:23 DS: Oh, great.
09:24 AW: And causing me to be up for the day.
09:27 DS: Yeah. Yep.
09:28 AW: I'm keeping the list. He's gonna know about all those someday when we can...
09:33 DS: Yeah, good, keep that list. You can present it to him.
09:34 AW: Yeah.
09:34 DS: When you want him to mow the lawn, you can just present the list.
09:37 AW: Yes. Oh, I will air those grievances and he will realize he's in a hole he'll never get out of.
09:43 AW: But yeah, it's awesome. But yeah, probably the same... It's amazing when you get an eight plus hour night and, yeah, when you get short-handed it's a little bit of a grind, but you try to get back to a regular schedule.
09:57 DS: Yeah, for sure.
09:58 AW: Putting in a lot of planning for... In two weeks we have our team summit, so we fly all of our North American team into Minneapolis, and then we drive about three hours into Northern Minnesota. We stay at a resort, and just a fully planned out week where we eat every meal together, we have talks and strategy sessions, collaboration, and we do fun things, we play games. It's just really to help bring our remote company together, get FaceTime, focus on bigger company things, building collaboration and teamwork, and getting everybody to have buy-in on that. So, really looking forward to that. It's just a fabulous week. And I know our employees, even though everybody is leaving behind family, busy life, all those other things, I think everybody really loves it and gets great energy off of it. So I'm really looking forward to that.
10:58 DS: What do you do... Okay, so if everyone in the company is doing this, who stays behind and manages support or incoming sales, and that kind of stuff?
11:05 AW: Yeah, we just carve out some times on that. I was just talking with our exec team today, we really ask everyone to plan around it. We say, "This is that one time that we have to do this, and we get business must go on, so if it isn't an emergent have to do thing, get it done the week before or push it the week after. And then we don't start our team stuff till 9:00 AM, so if you need to get stuff, do a little bit before we start in the morning." That always happens. We leave a full hour or so for lunch, and so people can pick up work and reply to stuff during that, and then we knock off earlier in the afternoons, usually around 3:00 PM or 4:00 PM, and then people can catch up, make sure that they keep things moving. So, it's worked well for us so far, but we do ask, "Plan well, be dedicated to it, and just understand the importance of it." And obviously, if something for you is on fire, we have to take care of that, but we try to do our best to be proactive into making it so that we can engage as much with each other as possible.
12:19 DS: Yeah. Well, makes sense. That sounds like it's gonna be awesome. I'd like to do that kind of thing with my company when we get there. I'm not there yet.
12:28 AW: And then the last thing, just more and more with our sales team. It's challenging, it's rewarding, it's fun, but between progressing the things that they're doing. Each of them has landed a couple of small sales which is awesome to ink their first deals and be able to get through a process end to end, which builds confidence and gives insight. Also un-earths to me... And we'll probably hit a great segue here to our topic. But it un-earths to me where I have to build more process for them, and some of those things. But it's going well. It's been a lot of work but it's very rewarding work, and I really have enjoyed it. And I've also managed to take some steps outside of it to look at it from the 10,000 foot view to understand what have we done right in this, what could be better, what else should we be thinking about that we need to shore up, what should we repeat, all those kind of things. So it's been a very interesting and fulfilling process, for sure.
13:41 DS: Has it taken longer than you're expected? So in terms of, "Okay we're gonna hire this salesperson, give them some training, after a couple weeks they should be closing out sales like crazy." Are your expectations being met or not quite? Did you need to temper your expectations, is what I'm wondering.
14:00 AW: Yeah, I think my expectations are pretty on point. I feel pretty good in that. What I've had to see with probably our sales hires is, it's like with anything, when you look at it from the outside you always form your own opinion on, "Alright, this part will be easy, this part will be hard." Things like that, and just kinda understanding it. And then when you get into it, then a lot of times you're getting a more accurate view 'cause you're actually in it and part of it. And so I think for them it's probably been some of their expectations, even though in the interview process I'm a very frontal, as far as expectations, this is what's gonna be really hard.
We put a huge focus on how much you have to know and understand the product. We gave them a lot of homework on making that happen, and all those pieces. But I think we're getting... Now it's like we have a few inbound leads and that's been the majority of what they've been closing, which is great. There are smaller ones that would be really hard for me to have as much time on and to follow up and... They can be very on point in working through those, which has been great.
15:12 AW: And I think this next stage is probably gonna be the hardest because they're working on getting their pipelines built up, they're developing their own talk track and story to what they're doing, and all of those elements. And I see that's that gray area where there's not gonna be as many deals closed in wins like that because it's more of building, getting things in motion, getting your confidence, getting more the details. I think that's the next... From now to the end of the year is gonna be the hardest part, I think, for them. And then I think they'll cross over to having those things in gear further down the line, more confidence, etcetera.
15:51 DS: Yeah, I wanna get to talking about process, but just quickly since we're on sales, I have been using this CRM called Copper, and I don't know if I mentioned this on previous podcasts, but I am in love with that application. It is awesome. For a really simple, inexpensive CRM for sales process, gosh, it's amazing. It's really revolutionized my ability to stay on top of sales, and so I've been really happy with it. That's all.
16:18 AW: Nice. Is it just Copper.com, or CopperCRM.com?
16:24 DS: Yeah. I think if you just go CopperCRM in Google, you'll find it.
16:27 AW: Okay, nice. Yeah, on the sales side, we use PipeDrive. It mirrors to our sales process, we have five stages in our sales process, and that gives a really great visual mirror to what we're doing and what stage that that prospect is falling into. So...
16:46 DS: That's exactly what Copper does too. And you can define those steps, and you can make more steps and all that kinda stuff.
16:51 AW: Awesome. Totally Awesome. Cool. Yeah, alright. The topic of the day, let's talk process. And always an interesting thing, right? Because when you zoom out on this, building your company is a process all within itself. And then what we're probably gonna talk moreso about today is all these micro-processes that contribute to the macro-process of building the company. One area where I did wanna start at just a thought level of the why to build the process, and let's maybe talk a little bit about what stage or time in the company do you start thinking about that process. 'Cause especially in the early days, you're just scrambling, or the buzzword all the time, hustle. You're just working every angle you can, and process isn't easy to build, 'cause it's not just doing something, it's documenting what you're doing so you can repeat it. So how have you always... Do you have a philosophy around it? How do you look at it? What's part of some of your why with process?
18:05 DS: So yeah, I think for the longest time Whitespark operated with very little process in place. And so the question about when would you start implementing process, how big do you have to be, how many employees, when is it necessary. As we have started implementing some processes, I think immediately. Let's say you are a sole proprietor, single person company, I think defining your process is extremely valuable, whether that's a sales process, how you do your client work, processes around everything are super valuable. So I would say the sooner the better you get into defining your processes the more organized you'll be, the easier it will be to do your work. I find that... Well, a great example is our new GMB management service, where we designed that thing, fully processitized it before we even took on a customer. So, there's huge value in doing that. And now, the thing is just running really smoothly. I'm lucky to have good people working in that department, really great people. Ally and Sydney are doing a great job over there. And then, our team that has helped design the processes around that, Jesse and Nick and myself. I just feel like by doing it process first, we've had huge success with it. And I think that any other way, we just would have been scrambling.
19:32 AW: Yeah, totally agree. And I feel like this is one that has taken me a long time to learn it, because I'm kinda wired as like a doer instead of a documenter, and some of those other pieces to realize that you should format it that way and be able to teach, and repetition, and all of those kind of things. In the past for me, especially when running digital marketing agencies, so much of our process almost always came out of some disaster of some sort happening. Not a true disaster, but something where a fire, a client issue, whatever else... And as soon as you're done calming it and bringing order back to it, then you'd usually be like, "How do we never have that happen again?" That was...
20:24 DS: We need a process.
20:25 AW: Yes. Yes. That was painful, it sucked, people weren't happy, customer wasn't happy, our team wasn't happy, whatever else. And it really gets you in the mind of thinking through things and being, to me, just a key to so many elements in businesses as spending the amount of time being proactive so you don't have to spend the amount of time being reactive. 'Cause I'm totally the ilk that reactive work is twice as costly, it's twice as damaging, 'cause it's usually... Yeah, under pressure, under timelines, your team gets burnt out, it crushes their confidence in things. It's just, it's hard all the way around.
21:02 DS: Yeah. If I think about that, and we just decided we're gonna put up a landing page and start selling our GMB management service and we'll figure out as we go without any processes in place, then we'd probably have a lot of churn. People would sign up for it, they would be using it, they would be unhappy for some reason, and we would fix it as we go, and over time, we would eventually develop processes. But there's damage there, because some of the early customers might talk to other people and be like, "Yeah, I tried that. It really sucked." And then, we have people not staying on. So far, our retention rate has been 97%. It's been really fantastic since we launched the service. And so...
21:44 AW: Nice.
21:45 DS: Being proactive with that versus reactive, it makes a lot of sense.
21:49 AW: Yeah. And then, as we were talking about the emotional cost that can go into when you do things without a process and wild west, just trying to get it done and everything else, that's one area that where I really realized is one of the biggest benefits is your internal team. Employees have frameworks that help guide them, so they don't have to make one-off decisions or be paralyzed or traumatized by them, or anything else. There's a path to follow that can take a lot of that hard work out of it.
22:24 DS: Absolutely, yeah. We have that really well with our citation services and our new GMB management service. And so, there's very specific workflow that you have to go through. And so, that's really helpful for the employees. In other areas, it's harder to do. And so, I think you're probably working on this. We're working on this in terms of processes around sales, processes around maybe marketing, processes around support, even development processes, that's where it's Whitespark has weaknesses. And this whole thing that you're talking about where employees really benefit from the frameworks, we do a good job in some areas, but we have a lot of employees that aren't gonna have benefits. That's where I'm looking to develop new processes.
23:06 AW: Yeah, totally. So, with that, that covered some of the why and probably a lot of our listeners are like, "The why does not need to be answered." But timing right from the start, as early as possible, just realizing all you're gonna do is cash in benefits at every step down the line. The next part in the how, what does that look like for you guys? Are you creating most of these processes? Is it tasked to certain people in certain areas? Is everyone free to create a process? What does that look like for you guys?
23:44 DS: So, at Whitespark, where we've been successful with process is when I'm not doing it. So, if I'm completely out of the picture, that's probably the best thing. So, on the citation side, Yagoslav is our guy there, and he does a great job of directing that whole service and the team and developing processes within that service. And on the GMB management side, it's quite collaborative, but Ally is certainly the frontrunner there, and she's really done a good job of setting up our tasks. And Nick has also really played a role there in getting us set up with a task management system. We use this ClickUp, which we also love that software. So, ClickUp has been very good for us in terms of defining our processes, making templates around the processes. And then... A new client comes on board, it's like, "Boom," you just go through the process in ClickUp, and we make a new client in ClickUp, copy over the template and work through it. It's been really nice that way. So, generally, the way we've been building them... It's nice to actually have a software system like ClickUp, that can help you define what are the steps, what is the process, it's kind of a series of steps you go through. And so, ClickUp has been great to provide a software that structures that for us.
25:06 AW: Yeah, we do the same with Asana. Create those process flows and checklists.
25:13 DS: Right. Yep.
25:14 AW: I agree with you, the same way. Probably all of our great processes are not created by me. I usually... I'm gonna weigh in and really make sure that the right business case is presented for us, and just try to have as much peripheral vision in how it folds into other things going on. But the same words, like I look who's in charge of that specific area or that line of work, or whatever else, and that's the person I wanna empower, work with to do those things. And then, as a leader, it's such a... You feel like you get this gift when they're like, "Hey, I'm gonna share with you the process that we've built to do this." And then, you just get to be like...
25:57 DS: That's a huge gift.
25:58 AW: Yeah, awesome. This is a success map, and now you're showing me and what the journey is gonna look like, and what we get at the end of it, and it's definitely a very rewarding thing. But yeah, I think the team is really key inside of that, and even back to your earlier comment, even if you're just solo, it's thinking through, "Alright, what are the things I should be building on process myself?" So, when I do need to make that jump from one person to two, it's not just conversation. These are these documented things, and then hopefully, they build on top of that, so when you go from two to four, you have a head start on that. It continues to multiply and get better as you grow.
26:40 DS: Absolutely. Imagine that you're just a solo freelancer, you've developed your own process, you grow to this point where you hire somebody and you're like, "Here you go, we got it all ready for you. You don't have to get it all out of your head". So, it's smart to just process at times everything [26:58] ____.
26:58 AW: What are some of the key things that you look at that are just key processes for you guys over the years, that you've developed, that you're like, "Oh, we couldn't live without this one now. This is really helps guide some of the things that we do"?
27:15 DS: I would say... Yeah, so I've touched on them before. The citation ones, we've been doing that for a long time, so we have a very clear process for how we do a citation audit, we have a very clear process for how we do citation clean up. Every single site that we do clean up, there's a process, you step through the steps. And so, we have documentation on all of that. And so, that's been really successful for us, for sure. And we've done the same thing around our GMB management service, where it's just a series of steps, and then you break it down into smaller tasks, and then you define the tasks, and this is what you have to do to do the task. I don't know, is that what a process is? Is that kind of what yours look like too?
28:00 AW: Yeah, yeah, really, for the most part, it's just defining and creating a playbook on what it is and putting the rules of the game together that everybody is gonna play by follow and go through in that same manner so that you can repeat it over and over again, the same method to achieve the same results.
28:22 DS: Yeah, and it becomes your training guide, too. When you've got that process, training is much easier.
28:27 AW: Yeah, for sure. For us, and this goes all the way back to one of our early episodes, when we were talking about sprints and things like that, that was something that I really saw evolve over my first couple of years with GatherUp and that was our development process, where it was something that was really, really loose, then we ended up figuring out all the right pieces of it, from where ideas collected, then how are they turned into a feature spec, how are they socialized to get buy-in and make people aware and contribute to it that way, then how do we create low-fidelity mockups that we can click through and see it in action, and then how do we socialize that so our team can poke some holes and see what's wrong, and then it gets to design. Then, once it's in design and we poke holes in it there, then it goes to front-end development. And then, finally, at the end is the engineering team to get their hands on it to make it living and breathing. And then, once that happens, it's dev servers and then internal testing.
29:35 AW: Then we almost always know if it's a bigger feature it'll go into beta with us and we'll invite beta users and we're able to flag it and just turn that feature on or off per account or per location in our system. And then, once we feel like, "Alright, it's solid," we have some user feedback, we don't have any big holes or issues, then we're able to roll it out. And even then, content has already been riding alongside of it, and so they have blog posts ready to go and the user guide and an update to our changes log and all those areas. So, it's been really fun to watch something that once upon a time was just an idea, and then you just built it, and didn't think about any of the 20 other steps we have in our process, now, to this just well-oiled machine on how it goes down the track and what happens with it. And it's still not to say we don't have bumps with certain areas of the process. One thing we continue to have to get better on is that future spec should be living and breathing throughout the cycle, and sometimes people don't read enough into it, they don't continue to update it, they don't use it as the guide that it should be in the process.
30:47 DS: And by the time you get to the end of it, what you've developed is completely different from the feature spec.
30:51 AW: Yeah, it can be a little bit. Or you just end up missing something. Sometimes it was like, "This was a very core piece of the feature spec, so how did we miss this?" Sp yeah, both sides of that can happen a little bit. But it's using all those things. It's like anything, you still... You have to... A process is only as good if you're gonna adhere to it and you're gonna do check-ins and check-points on it to make sure it's staying in line with what you're doing.
31:20 DS: So, all of that sounds so great. We've done a pretty good job with processes on the service side, but we are quite loose in terms of processes on the development side. Our software... I don't know, our teams are operating in silos on different projects, and it all comes together, but I do think we have problems there, and that's an opportunity for us to tighten up and when we tighten up there, I think we'll be able to develop faster. 'Cause right now, we end up with roadblocks or problems or reversions. So, you build something and then we will then come in with designs after, and you've gotta step back for a few days and rework it to match with the actual vision of the product. So, by not going through the proper steps of a process, we waste time. And so, this is an area that I really wanna work on and improve processes in. And so, actually I had a meeting with one of my developers yesterday and we started talking about some of this stuff and processes we could put in place. And so, it's coming, but it's certainly an area that we need to work on.
32:30 AW: Yeah, and just to share from my experience with it, I would say if anything... What ended up happening for us and where we place more of our value is much less on speed and just more so in reliability of: It's built right, it has the right aspects to it, it performs right, it meets the needs of the user and it allows you to pull... To some extent, nothing is ever fast enough in software, From the minute you have the idea, you would love if it was already in play. Yesterday, I was just doing... I was writing a feature spec for something, and it's something that I could completely do manually, so I started doing it manually and making it happen, and it's something related to social, so I was putting it out on social, and it definitely got me excited, it allowed me to see pieces in the process and decisions I need to make, what kind of settings and things need to be part of it. But then, at the same time, I also realized, "Alright, all of this excitement, this is gonna probably be three months to build this. So now, I gotta put all that excitement on the shelf so that... "
33:44 DS: I know. Painful.
33:46 AW: Yeah, the speed part can be hard, but when it comes to getting enough sleep at night, not making customers mad, not rolling out something that affects other dependencies. That, to me, is really the biggest win in all the process is, it just can put your mind and your emotions and the product at ease and not have to worry about some of those other things.
34:12 DS: Right. It's funny, I think about how small my company is. I have a friend, a fellow developer I went through Computing Science with, he works at Salesforce now, he's one of the team leads over at Salesforce. And the amount of process they have over there is mind-blowing. And so, for an organization of that size, every piece of code they write goes through a massive series of unit testing, then it goes through an integration process, which has its own series of testing, then it goes on to a code server thing that they run against it for a month, it goes through all this process. A feature never makes it into the actual public-facing system until... It takes months and months for that stuff to hit production. And it's because they have all of these processes in place with their development. In one sense, you have to do it that way when you're as big as Salesforce, because you can't release broken stuff, 'cause it's gonna affect millions of customers.
It can really bog you down. Do you ever feel bogged down by this, the processes you've put in place?
35:21 DS: 'Cause sometimes it's nice for us at Whitespark to be like, "Wow, this is gonna be great, it's super valuable. Developers, stop what you're doing. [chuckle] We're gonna pound this out in the next few days and put it in the software." And we've done that many times, and it's been great, it's been successful. And then, they get back to the regular flow. But when you have a strict process, you're not allowed to do that. You're like, "Okay, well, you got an idea. Cool, we'll put it on the queue." So, do you ever feel bogged down by your current process?
35:52 AW: I don't think I feel bogged down. I guess I always realized the trade-off. We can re-shuffle priorities or bring something to the front. We definitely have something like that that we're doing right now that we wanna get done by our customer webinar in two weeks from now.
36:13 DS: Right, exactly.
36:14 AW: And that causes some shuffling. But even when we do that, it still follows a process. I have enough personal experiences of, when you go outside the process, it eventually, almost every time has bit me in the rear end. And it might not be immediate, it's just later on when it's like, "Oh yeah, well, we built that really quick and we didn't really do much with the interface or we didn't even put it here and now it's been drifting in this no-man's land even though we got a quick win for a handful of clients that know where it's hidden in the product. We didn't build it right. We didn't roll it out right. And now, we're gonna have to go back and do that work."
36:52 DS: Yeah, my development team would ask me to re-listen to this podcast and hear you say that five times.
36:58 DS: So that I stopped doing exactly that. I love to derail them, and be like, "Oh my god, guys, great idea," 'cause one customer asked for it. So, one customer asks for something, and I'm like, "That's gonna be amazing." And so, then we roll it out and then it's like, "Yeah, that one customer thinks it's kinda cool," but it doesn't really improve the business. And so, that's the thing about taking the time to think about, what is the actual customer adoption of this feature and will it move forward or should we stay the course on what we're currently building?
37:31 AW: Yeah, no, totally. I mean, those are always... I think the hardest thing in running a software company is prioritization. I think it is the bottom line hardest thing 'cause it's like we are not short between myself and my Blumenthal and people on our team. We are not short of ideas, our customers have ideas.
37:54 DS: Yeah. Totally.
37:55 AW: But you only have so much time to execute and it really comes down to how do you prioritize them to get the maximum value out of how you prioritize it, right? So...
38:06 DS: Yeah.
38:06 AW: That's the tricky part. And I'm like, emotionally, I'm right with you. When I'm excited about something like the test I was doing, I want it built already because I know it'll unlock emotional value for our customers, and so that's gonna be a really big win. And it's like, "Oh, I want that win. I wanna play the game right now. I don't wanna have to go through the practices, training camp, whatever else." But then I'm reminded and when I'm writing that feature spec, I'm reminded like, wow, there's a lot to think about with this.
38:39 DS: Every time. I know, you're always seems like, "Okay, cool, we could definitely build that." But then once you start speccing it out, you're like, "Oh, this is growing," as we've got a lot of things you got to consider, right? It's like, well, there's all the edge cases, If this then that. There's a lot of stuff to figure out in the spec process.
38:56 AW: Yeah, no, there definitely is. But I would say, for the couple of drawbacks in process and whatever else, just as you point out, you have to understand your time and place with process and we couldn't run gather up like Salesforce, right? Like that would, it would be over overdoing it, but you can definitely take the core concepts and look at like, "Well, why do they do it?" Right? Well, it's for protection of this, right?
39:24 DS: Exactly.
39:25 AW: It's protection of the product, or it's protection of the customer, or protection of your internal team and your employees. And so when you see that, that's where you can look like, "Okay, we can build a little bit of process around that, and then as we grow, then we can grow the process more."
39:40 DS: And I think that's exactly how it happens. Like, obviously look at the size of Salesforce, right? So their process wasn't always like that. It's evolved and developed into that as their team has grown and the complication of their product has grown. So then your processes have to grow along with it, makes sense.
39:57 AW: Yeah. Have you seen anything with your employees over time when you introduce a new process where either non-existed or you're revamping a process where they're a little resistant to that change? Or it's a little harder for it to catch gear?
40:12 DS: I don't think I can speak to that question very well because on the citation side, I don't get direct feedback from the citation team, really. I just interface mostly with Nyagoslav over there. And so he would get that feedback and he could probably answer that question better than me. On the GMB management service side of things, we've always developed from process. But I'll be able to answer that question in a few weeks because we'll be rolling out a development process pretty soon. So it'll be interesting to see how that gets picked up. How about you? Have you implemented new processes that didn't exist before? And how has that been received by your employees?
40:49 AW: Yeah, there are definitely can be ones where there is a little bit of tension, especially with things like when we started implementing more financial controls, so like expense reports, and things like that. There's more than a few people that were little up in arms about it. And in some cases, it's like, all right, do the process a few times and then let's talk about it. If you feel like it's too cumbersome or whatever else but it can be hard when people look at like, "Oh, well, that's a little bit of busy work," and they don't understand, "Okay, well, this is what it's for protection or structure with." They don't always see those part.
41:26 DS: Yeah, definitely.
41:28 AW: And yeah, with certain processes there can be things. If there's a process that exists and they're comfortable and used to doing it. And it's easy for someone to look at and be like, "Well, there's nothing wrong with what we're doing right now. It's not failing." But they don't understand, Well, here's why we're adding on to it, or making it further, or whatever outright the business reasons. And that's where I look at like, that should probably be my job then to help connect those dots and explain it, support the person who's putting the process into place to say like, "This was created out of a conversation we have with here's we're expanding the scope of what we need to address, protect, ensure, and that's why there's a change since. It's not that the current one is wrong, or you're doing the current one wrong, or we wanna... It's not because we wanna add more stuff to your plate, it's just we have to assure bigger things in a bigger way."
42:22 DS: Yeah, absolutely. Alright, that's a good note there is that when you roll out a process, it's pretty valuable and important to make sure you communicate the whys and the hows, you ask the team when you do that. So if you're gonna roll out a process, make sure that everybody understands it's bigger than just you doing the process, this is the overall value to the company.
42:48 AW: Yeah, I think explaining wise in anything is important. If you ever even look at like our monthly customer webinars, anytime we roll out a new feature, we start with a, "Why are we building this feature?" And it's not the tactical reasons, it's more the strategic. We created this because these are benefits that people have asked for or that we see is important to the strategy that we're trying to align our tool with. And I think that helps, really helps people understand more and wrap their mind around the feature and the things that are part of it when you lead with the why.
43:26 DS: Sweet, I'm taking that one and will be using it this week 'cause we have a big update to our Rank Tracker about to launch. It's done. It's just waiting for me to communicate it properly to our customer base. So I'm gonna be doing some videos, and I'm gonna do a blog post on what we've changed and why. And so, I'll lead with why, I think that's a great tip.
43:49 AW: There you go. Check out our... We post all of our webinars on our blog, just click on the webinar category and we post the recordings in the slides so you can see how we presented if you need a little guide for yourself there.
44:01 DS: Gonna do it. Thanks for the tip.
44:02 AW: Right, yeah, so let's wrap up. What's one area where, and talking about this are we looking at, what's one area where you feel like I really, I wanna develop more process. This is on my short to mid-term radar to build out the first process, or to edit and mature an existing process even further.
44:27 DS: Yeah, so 100% for me is on the development side. So we need processes around how we develop, how we communicate. We have problems like sometimes staying on track where someone can start working on a feature and then they realize, "Oh, all this code is total crap." And so they start rewriting everything but then that rewrite affects other things and so we're building processes around that to try and keep focused on the task at hand and trying to make sure everyone's on the same page. Code review, I have some processes around that on my mind, and something that I want to build out there and really getting into a real flow of like, "These are the steps that we go through for software development and these are the checks and balances we have in there." So that's a process that we're really working on and need to get ironed out. And then we're also going into a great place with that... You know, a lot of our legacy code is being mostly phased out, we rebuilt everything, and so we're in a good spot now to really define those processes where we don't have to deal with old crap that can't even fit to our processes. That's a big one for me. Development. How about you?
45:37 AW: Yeah. Yeah. I think that'll make a big impact for you.
45:41 DS: I think so too.
45:43 AW: Yeah, for me, it's one where I probably need to be the most critical of myself and that's just to employ development within our team. In growing, our employee size has doubled in the last 18 months from sub-10 to... I think we're about at 22 now.
46:02 DS: Wow.
46:04 AW: So, yeah, just... And we've cleaned up some things like our interview process and offer job descriptions. Some of those things have definitely improved but it's at next step on really solidifying a clear review schedule and those check points and expectations within those, and then when you get further out, just laying out like, I wanna get to the point where we can lay out some career path expectations, right? It's not just...
46:31 DS: For sure. Yeah.
46:31 AW: Here's a six-month review and what you did well, here's challenges and areas to work on, here's looking forward but really being able to help people understand, here's where you are and here are some possible paths. And that's one where I look at mature companies really have that nailed really well now. Do they move people through those paths? Well, that can be debatable here and there but I think it's really important for people to have a clear line of sight because when we have a great team and everybody works so hard... I never really have to... I never have to coach anyone on our team to work harder, I have to help coach on priorities, efficiencies, and things like that so to me that's one thing that I need to champion a little bit harder and we need to get better at, like, we're implementing some of those things but probably not fast enough. And we need to get that long-term vision, we need that career path piece and phased to be in there, not just a review cycle to be there.
47:40 DS: Yeah, totally. Do you find, as the company grows, that this sort of employee development stuff becomes hard for you to personally manage? Like, it finds quite a bit of time and it's the kind of thing that I don't do a good enough job of staying on top of and one day, I would hope to have an HR manager of some sort, like an HR person that work through all this stuff or managers of specific teams, they do the check points and stuff, right?
48:10 AW: Yeah. And your second comment there is what I think is really key. Even though we've had this growth and explosion, I still have way too many people that are direct reports with me.
48:21 DS: Yeah.
48:22 AW: So it's finding someone to lead each of those areas where I can only have two or three or four direct reports and then they have teams underneath them and...
48:33 DS: That's the way to go, I think. For sure.
48:35 AW: Yeah, we've got half that structure built in. I have a couple areas where that happens but then we still have a couple that don't. And then if you have... You know, right? Like, the sales team all falls under me. So there's basically three people on the sales team that all become direct reports. I think that's the challenging part in that growth is like you have the growth, you can't always afford to or you don't even... It's really important to find the right person to be that manager, director, VP, whatever you wanna look at. So you're very cautious about those or you're specific with a lot of intent to recruit them or whatever else that might be.
So you have to eat up a lot of gap in that time and it becomes tricky. You're already taxed for time and it's more time and then it's also not fair to those that are underneath it. I mean, any time we've plugged someone into a leadership position in a department or on a team, that's the first thing I tell them, I'm like, "You are gonna benefit from having someone focused on you instead of 5% of my time." Right?
49:38 DS: Yeah.
49:39 AW: That's the biggest win right upfront amongst all the other things that will come with it.
49:43 DS: Yeah, totally. That's a great point.
49:44 AW: Yeah. Alright. Well, hey, great topic. I think I picked up a few things, reminded me of a few more things I need to work on.
49:55 DS: Same.
49:56 AW: Process is never ending. That's for sure.
50:00 DS: Yeah. And then the more you can... Everything could be process-itized. If you put in the time to do it, I think there's benefit there so I don't know, it's a note to self to start working on some of that. I'm definitely thinking about sales processes, I'm thinking about processes with the support team, how we handle incoming tickets, how you divide them up based on what the subject matter is, there's so many things that we could do better at adding process to and we're gonna work on it.
50:26 AW: There you go. Let's make sure from time to time we sneak in some of our process wins or challenges into our periodic updates when we start our episodes. I think that's good and allows you and I to hear what's going on as we continue to evolve our processes.
50:42 DS: Great idea. Let's do that.
50:44 AW: Alright. Perfect. Thanks, Darren. Another productive show. Episode 12 is in the books.
50:51 DS: Yep.
50:51 AW: As always, it's been great getting feedback from some of you guys. I thank, shout out to Will Scott. He sent me an email that he had binged all of our episodes and the number of other people always touching base with us. Take the time, write us an iTunes review, or hit Darren and I up on Twitter and we'd love to hear if you have episode ideas or specific questions that you would like us to touch on, cover, or just say we have no idea and try to go from there on it. So with that we'll hopefully talk to you in a couple of weeks. Good luck with your upcoming speaking gigs and we'll talk soon, Darren.
51:29 DS: Thanks. Yeah, same to you. You got a lot coming up there so good luck with all of that and good luck with the retreat and we'll talk to you in a couple of weeks, maybe three, I don't know. We both have a busy upcoming schedule so talk to you soon.
51:42 AW: Alright, sounds good. Thanks Darren and thanks everybody for listening.
51:44 DS: Thanks everybody. Bye.
What is The SaaS Venture?
Sharing the adventure to lead and grow bootstrapped SaaS companies through experiences, challenges, wins and losses. Hosted by Aaron Weiche of GatherUp and Darren Shaw of Whitespark. In this current world of "unicorn" , VC funded software companies that have to IPO or get acquired for $1B, we'll spend our time on the bootstrapped, profitable, growing SaaS sector we operate in and share our insights and experiences.