Arvid Kahl talks about starting and bootstrapping businesses, how to build an audience, and how to build in public.
Welcome to the 251st episode of The Bootstrapped Founder.
I'm Arvid Kahl and for over three years now,
I've been talking about bootstrapping and entrepreneurship
and building in public and I will never stop.
In fact, that's what I wanna talk about today.
What I have learned in now almost four years
of running this media business, The Bootstrap Founder,
how it all came to be and where it is going.
And usually, this would be the place
where I'd mention the sponsor of the show.
But instead of the regular segment,
I wanna just give acquire.com a huge shout out
on this day of celebration.
That's because they've been just part of this
for a long time.
Been supporting this podcast and many, many other places,
people and things in the founder community
for many years now.
And dozens of episodes of the show
were made possible by Acquire.
And I even had Andrew Gosteki, the founder of Acquire,
on the show before they became a sponsor in the past.
It was really cool, had a wonderful conversation.
I go way back with Andrew.
And he's one of the people who was reading my work
from the day I started blogging really,
and he encouraged me to write my first book.
I have a little story here.
Andrew wrote a tweet at some point
about the things that I was writing.
I was blogging at the time
and I was sharing all these articles and he said,
"Hey, if you ever turn this into a book,
"I'm gonna be the first one to buy it."
And he has, and that tweet alone is incredibly valuable to me
because somebody that I looked up to
told me that I could do something.
And that was a special feeling.
It gave me a lot of motivation.
It pushed me towards writing
and it pushed me towards actually publishing.
And now that book has sold over, I think,
15,000 copies or something.
I never would have expected that to happen.
I also wouldn't have expected any of this to happen
for you to listen to me right now, for example,
but it's happening.
And that is because Andrew and many other people
have helped me along the way.
And Andrew in particular has built something really special
with acquire.com because they are helping founders
like I was back then and kind of am right now still
selling their businesses on their own terms,
which is a big deal in this industry
that has a lot of power dynamics, right?
A lot of people trying to sell businesses
to much bigger players.
And that tends to be problematic,
but I think acquire.com helps people in this.
In this particular way, and it's right up my alley too, right?
Entrepreneurship should be liberating and empowering.
And that's what Andrew did with acquire.com,
having founded that business.
And he's been doing this for me and the founder community.
So thank you so much for that, Andrew,
and the fine folks at acquire.com.
But let's raise a toast and reflect a little
on the Bootswap founder today.
So this week I celebrated the podcast reaching 250 episodes
with my most recent interview with Amanda Gertz,
which was wonderful.
And just last week, the podcast hit 250,000 overall downloads.
And these are numbers that I never expected to reach.
And yet here I am, still enjoying creating new episodes
and interviewing people every single week.
Today, I want to reflect on the podcast's history
and its importance in building my media business.
My newsletter and my podcast and my blog,
they're pretty much three different aspects of the same goal.
Everything I do involves writing.
And writing is kind of where it started for me.
And it wasn't a conscious choice against podcasting
or making videos.
And for writing, it was just the only thing
that I could think of doing after selling my SaaS business.
I was a developer, right?
So writing things, typing, was the thing I was already doing.
And I thought writing would be the next logical step.
So I drafted a few articles.
I started the blog, the Bootstrap Founder.
And I shared my stories with the fledgling Twitter audience
that I was starting to build.
I had 400 people that were already
following me at that time.
It was not much going on there.
But over the past 2 and 1/2 years,
that content creation effort has taken various forms,
like making YouTube videos and recording podcast episodes
and writing this weekly newsletter.
And since I am a naturally lazy person,
I felt the need to establish a highly effective process,
to just be able to keep doing these things for more
than just a few weeks and get bored with them.
And after a few blog posts, I set up the newsletter.
That's the first step I took for accountability
so that I had this weekly deadline for the next article.
I needed to write one because somebody needed to read it.
At least they told me to give me the email address.
So I really put a little deadline
into every single week.
And that keeps me going.
It kept me going back then.
And now it's just, yeah, of course I'm going to write a thing.
Back then, I was like, should I write?
Should I not?
Having people wanting to read my stuff, that made it very easy.
And then when a reader told me that they were dyslexic
and had trouble reading, I started the podcast.
And eventually, I turned the camera on
just while I recorded the pod.
And that's a lot of stuff, but it all works together.
And I think that's the important part.
I made the process fun for myself.
Setting up the structure for my work
helped me find these relevant ideas and formulate my thoughts
and presenting them cohesively for my readers,
viewers, and listeners.
But the important part is that all of these steps
have a fun component for me.
I couldn't do this just because I have to.
I'm not that kind of person.
I do this because it's enjoyable and I get feedback from people.
And after 250 episodes, or 251, including this one,
I've learned some important lessons.
So let's just dive into a few of them here today.
The biggest one is about validation.
And that's something that is not just for SaaS businesses.
You hear me a lot talk about validation a lot
in the context of finding problems and building solutions
and finding customers and that kind of stuff.
But validation is also a pretty massive part
of what I'm doing here with this media approach.
And one key aspect to my work is finding pre-validated topic
ideas within myself and my community.
Most of my solo episodes, like this one,
the articles that I write come from topics
that I've recently discussed or read about on social media.
I never really start with a blank slate.
Instead, I focus on what's already
being talked about in the community
and then add my unique perspective
to that conversation through that article.
This doesn't mean that I'm always chasing the latest hype
Many of the topics that I find interesting,
they just end up in this massive backlog of title ideas
and early draft articles that I have.
But for every major topic that I talk about,
I kind of know where it's coming from.
Because I literally know where it's coming from,
because I saved the tweet URL or that Hacker News discussion
link or some forum somewhere for that particular idea,
where it came from, so that I can reference and then use it
for research later when I choose to dive
into that topic for my article of the week.
And I learned this from my own early stage software business
That's what I mostly talk about when it comes to validation.
The best way to find a critical problem in the wild
is to listen to people complain and help each other
and give each other recommendations out
in their communities.
And not every complaint is a reason
to start a business trying to solve it.
And not every conversation is a good topic for an article.
But looking at any such exchange as an opportunity
to contribute something, something helpful,
that will quickly surface amazing themes for me
to dive into and then share the insights that I have back
into the community.
It's a community centric and a community revolving effort
that I have when it comes to finding topics.
Another important lesson is, for me at least from all this,
that this only works when I focus on what I enjoy the most.
I talked about fun, right?
But it's also about what part of the work
is the thing that I really like.
That for me is thinking and writing.
There are parts of this whole content creation process
that just aren't as enjoyable,
like creating thumbnails for videos
or checking transcriptions for errors,
this kind of operational stuff.
So to save time and energy, I found tools and people
to help with these particular tasks.
In the content creation process,
I think there are three distinct parts.
There's ideation, contemplation, and creation.
I prefer the contemplation, the middle part.
So I use tools to speed up ideation and the creation part.
For example, AI-based tools help me draft ideas
and identify relevant community conversations.
A lot, I use them quite a bit.
There are tools like SIFT,
and that give me insights into topics that interest me
or are about the work that I'm doing.
And then there's ChatGPT
that helps me explore potential topics.
I've made a video about this,
like how I write, how my process is influenced by ChatGPT,
how I use it to effectively ask the internet questions
about a topic and kind of source different angles,
and how I use it to write in an adversarial fashion,
like how I tell ChatGPT to look at the thing
that I'm writing and see if something is missing
that somebody else would complain about.
It's really helpful.
Like tools like ChatGPT in particular
can be writing and research assistants,
and that's the important part.
They can really help you with the process.
And I use them a lot during the ideation part of my writing.
Now, for the contemplation stage, the middle part,
I also use tools, even though not as many.
I use AudioPen to record my thoughts
on that particular topic,
kind of brainstorming it into an audio form,
and the tool then condenses them into something manageable,
like an outline for drafting later.
And once I have this draft outline or an episode outline,
I turn it into a fully-fledged piece of content
for the week that I'm writing it in
by expanding my sketch of a draft
that I have there as an AI-generated list
into an actual piece of text written by me, a human.
So I still write, right?
I don't let ChatGPT write.
I just let it outline stuff for me
because I hate the results of ChatGPT's writing,
and I want to write.
That's the fun part for me.
So I leave that to myself.
And I mentioned earlier that I'm kind of somewhat lazy
when it comes to doing repetitive stuff,
but still, I'm not trying to outsource everything
at the same time.
And I've learned that I shouldn't chase that either.
I don't want to outsource certain parts,
even though other people could do it for me.
But particularly the parts of the post-production process
that themselves are potential idea generators,
I want to keep doing this.
And here's the example.
For my interviews, I still edit them myself
because the whole process of editing
can spark new ideas for me.
And even though one person of the two
in this conversation is me already,
I still find that listening to the chat
again after it happened,
during the editing process, I guess,
brings up thoughts that didn't occur during the recording.
These are thoughts that are yet again,
founded in an existing conversation
that already matters to people, the two people involved,
and hopefully the larger audience of the actual conversation.
And that is great topic validation as well,
because it comes up not just in my own mind,
it comes up in an interaction with another mind,
which lends it some kind of credibility
as a thought that is worth exploring further.
And once the interview is finally edited
and the video file is rendered
and the podcast audio is created,
I then use AI-based tools again
for writing descriptions
and highlighting parts of the interview.
To get an accurate transcript,
I use various tools, really a lot of them.
And I have people actually check them for accuracy.
And this is all cleanup after the fact, right?
We have ideation, contemplation, and creation.
This is the creation plus cleanup part.
So I enjoy the thinking, the structuring,
and the drafting parts of my work.
And I don't really use many tools for executing these tasks.
And the act of writing is probably the most important to me
because after all, it's at the core of everything I do.
Every week I spend at least one full day doing this,
most of the time, way more than just a day.
And consistently enjoying this part of my work
is one of the reasons why I continue doing it.
Now, almost four years every single week.
That is the consistency that comes from things
that you enjoy, or that I enjoy at least.
And finally, learning that I can see very clearly
in my metrics, one significant change in my podcast,
the history of the podcast, was starting to interview people
from my audience and from the group of people
that I look up to.
And it took me a while.
After 160, 161 episodes or so, this shift
brought so many new perspectives into the podcast itself
and just helped grow it in terms of viewers
and monetization opportunities.
If you look at the actual chart, it is fairly flat,
still growing, and then I add people to the mix,
and then it just explodes.
And I still liked the 160 episodes I did before.
Solo shows are great, and they allow creators like myself
to leave traces of our ambition in the world
for other people to find.
But as a solo creator, all the audience growth is driven by you.
But when guests share your episodes with their audiences,
it introduces new people to me, the conversation,
and my prior work every single week,
just by the mere fact that other people are involved.
And this effect was immediate.
I immediately saw that in my metrics.
And I immediately also saw this in how people interacted
with my work in public.
So yeah, involving others in conversations
makes it easier to grow an audience over time,
because new guests bring new listeners with them.
I mean, this is pretty obvious, but I
thought I could just do a solo show, and that's fine.
And it probably would have been.
But the moment I talked to other people,
not just because I wanted to increase my metrics,
by the way, I was not a growth effort.
It was just really me being kind of lonely in my office,
and I wanted to chat with people.
Well, and I did.
And it has really impacted the podcast.
And it spices up the variety of topics that the show is about,
and then I get to think about too, right?
New people, new ideas, new angles.
And when you do that every week for a few years,
you find ways to make it interesting every time.
You become better at having conversations.
And I certainly started feeling more confident
after a few episodes, and I know that I
can go into a conversation like this feeling relaxed
And yeah, let's talk about preparation a little bit.
Having a consistent pace and release schedule,
which is a framework, allows me to prepare for weeks
when I don't feel like working by pre-recording interviews
There are weeks when I'm like, I can't really do it this week,
or I have something to do.
And by preparing for that, by doing stuff ahead of time,
it really makes a dent.
Sometimes there's also a week where
I have to kind of quickly act on something,
and then having the preparation, the experience
of being prepared in that moment makes it much easier too.
I can go to an ad hoc interview in like 15 minutes from now,
and I would still be able to have a really nice conversation
with that person, because I know how to talk to people,
because I've done it many, many times at this point.
And it's not just about the interview parts.
It's also about the things that I mentioned earlier, right?
I have this backlog of ideas.
The fact that I have over 50 articles pre-drafted somewhere
in a database, ready to go when I need one, that just
makes me sleep very calmly at night.
And I know I can record an interview in an hour
and edit it in two, and then I'm done.
I'll never run out of interesting people to talk to,
or interesting ideas to talk about.
So I feel that experience of having done it for four years
now makes it very easy to do it again tomorrow.
And that's what a consistent process
and the experience of doing it a few hundred times
can do for you.
So yeah, let's talk about where all of this is going to go.
Because 250 episodes is a lot.
And with 250 podcast episodes in particular under my belt,
well, I hope to continue for at least another 250 episodes,
and maybe more.
There are people out there, like Rob Walling
with Startups for the Rest of Us is a great example.
Now at episode 600 something, that's substantial.
And that's where I want to go as well.
Rob is a big name in the community.
He's been present for decades at this point.
And that's what I want to be too.
I want to be somebody that people can reliably
find new and interesting things from.
There's so many more things to share,
and so many more people to empower.
I think I have a pretty full couple of years,
at least till the end of the decade.
And I want to say thank you to everyone who's really
read or viewed or listened to anything I've said.
Obviously to the sponsors who supported my podcast,
and the guests who shared their expertise,
and every single one who's interacted with me
along the way.
Your support is greatly appreciated.
I never thought this would ever happen to me.
And now that it has, I am extremely grateful
for everyone supporting me.
It's really, really nice.
So here's to reaching the next milestone
of 500 episodes together.
And that's it for today.
Thank you so much for listening
to the Bootstrapped Founder podcast.
You can find me on Twitter at @arvidkahl,
You find my books on my Twitter course there too.
And if you want to support me and this show,
now that we are 250 episodes in,
please subscribe to my YouTube channel,
get the podcast and the player of choice.
And most importantly, please leave a five star rating
and a review by going to ratethispodcast.com/founder.
This will really, really help the show.
It will put it in front of more people
because the algorithm puts it there.
And I would really appreciate that.
So thank you very much for listening
and have a wonderful day.