The Bootstrapped Founder

Evelyn J. Starr is a brand-building expert. We talk about finding the right niche, having a community-centric long-term perspective, and how brands evolve —you might call it “grow up”— over time. Here’s Evelyn.

My new podcast project: Arvid & Tyler Catch Up /

Evelyn's Twitter:

The blog post:
The podcast episode:
The video:

You'll find my weekly article on my blog:

My book Zero to Sold:
My book The Embedded Entrepreneur:
My course Find Your Following:

  • (00:00) - What’s the biggest misconception about building brands?
  • (01:44) - Do other brands influence the perception of your brand?
  • (06:26) - What is the core of your business’s brand?
  • (10:11) - How to pick a niche that is just right.
  • (16:34) - What is too big of a niche to start a business?
  • (21:46) - The evolution of a brand over time.
  • (27:53) - What’s the difference between a serious brand and an adult brand?
  • (33:19) - Tips on how to find your fans.
  • (37:30) - The importance of having a differentiator in the space.
  • (40:26) - Most people want to help. Most of the time you’re going to get a yes.
  • (47:13) - The importance of being relatable to your audience.

Creators & Guests

Arvid Kahl
Empowering founders with kindness. Building in Public. Sold my SaaS FeedbackPanda for life-changing $ in 2019, now sharing my journey & what I learned.
Evelyn J. Starr
Author, marketing strategist with great brand stories and marketing tips, writer noting helpful resources for the writing community, human here to cheer you on

What is The Bootstrapped Founder?

Arvid Kahl talks about starting and bootstrapping businesses, how to build an audience, and how to build in public.

Arvid Kahl: Welcome to The
Bootstrapped Founder. Today, I'm

talking to Evelyn J. Starr.
Evelyn is a brand building

expert. And we'll talk about
finding the right niche, having

a community centric, long term
perspective and how brands

change over time. Here's Evelyn.
What is the biggest

misconception about building
brands that you have run into

with solopreneurs or indie
entrepreneurs? What have you

found with, yeah, being the
biggest problem there?

Evelyn J Starr: The biggest
misperception I've seen is that

there's a belief that a brand is
just a logo and it's just

something that marketing creates
and maybe they'll get to it,

maybe they won't get to it and
don't realize that the brand is

really the whole business. So,
you know, the reason that you're

in business is part of your
brand. You, as the founder are a

big part of the brand,
especially in the beginning when

it's just you. So you bring your
personal values, you bring your

personality, and all of these
things color, the brand and

people's mind, you know. My
definition of a brand is that

it's the expectation of what you
get when you deal with any

entity based on all your prior
experiences and impressions of

that entity. And so you know,
how I feel about the

Bootstrapped Founder is very
much how I feel about our

interactions, Arvid because that
has built the brand in my mind.

It's what I expect next time I
talk to you. I know oh, Arvid,

he's friendly, he's really
helpful. He's very interested in

brand issues and also building
in public, all of those things

factor into what the
Bootstrapped Founder is in my


Arvid Kahl: Do you think like
the other brands in the space,

you would probably call them
competitors? Although for me,

it's just like other people
doing similar things that we can

empower each other in our
community, at least. It's not

that much of a competition. Do
you think these other brands

influence what perception people
might have of my brand as well?

Evelyn J Starr: Not really, not
really. And that's the thing

that the message I would send to
a lot of entrepreneurs starting

out is, it's good to be aware of
what the competition is doing.

But you don't define yourself by
what the competition is doing.

You are your own brand.
Hopefully, you've come to your

business because you've noticed
a gap in the marketplace that

your competitors aren't filling.
And so you're going to define

your brand and your niche along
those lines. And so it's, like I

said, it's good to keep an eye
out to see what changes happen

in the marketplace if they
invade your space. If you see

something they're doing you
think, aha, I can do this

better. You know, those ideas
can come to you but you don't

define yourself by your

Arvid Kahl: Yeah, generally a
good idea is not to compare

yourself to other people anyway
because you only see their

highlight reel while you see
your full picture. And it's kind

of an unfair comparison to
yourself, I guess. Yeah

Evelyn J Starr: Right, right.

Arvid Kahl: I do wonder in that
regard because with competitors

around, you kind of that's why
you do a lot of marketing is to

be able to differentiate
yourself from your competitors.

And that's why I'm asking this
question. Because if you have a

brand and this might be a very
limited perspective on brands

that is similar to others, how
do you give some kind of

substantial difference through
your marketing to the people in

your field so they can see,
okay, yeah, this is not just a

slightly different product, but
the people behind it, the

mission, the vision behind it is
different too? How do you do


Evelyn J Starr: Well, you know,
when you're first starting out,

sometimes you don't know the
full nature of your brand,

right? Maybe you've seen a gap
in the marketplace. And you

thought I can program that. I
can fix that sort of like what

you did with permalink. And so
you start very focused on a

product. But ultimately, if
you're going to have a fully

realized brand, your brand is
going to have a purpose that

surmounts a product. You know,
maybe for permalink, it's to

help Amazon publishing authors
make sure their books don't get

booted off, right? And so there
may be other products or other

things you devise in the future,
I'm making this up. But most

brands that are going to survive
long term have a purpose that's

not product related. It's a
bigger world vision. And I'll

give you a couple examples.
Although these are not tech

examples, but well, actually, I
can read you Google. Google's

purpose is to organize the
world's information and make it

universally accessible and
useful, okay? So there's the

word search is in there
anywhere, right? There's no

maps, there's, you know, and
it's what made them it's what's

guided them to develop a whole
lot of products and then also to

ditch a whole lot of products.
And when I wrote my book, they

had already killed off around
240 somewhat products that just

didn't adhere or fly. But that
they thought might be a good

idea based on that purpose. So
you differentiate yourself by

your purpose. You differentiate
yourself by the values that you

bring to your business, you
know, how you go about doing

your business and the values
that you set for your business

guide how you want your
employees to behave on your

behalf, if you're fortunate
enough to grow your business to

the point where you have
employees at your niche also is

a differentiator. You know,
going after exactly the same

thing as another competitor, if
you have a different method of

doing it or some sort of
improvement might be a good

idea. But usually, it's better
to find some space that very few

or no one occupies and use that
to differentiate yourself. So

these are some of the brand
components that help you stand

out. And the one last thing I
want to say and tell the

conversation a little bit is
that I want your listeners to

know that marketing is about
relationship building. It's not

just about differentiation,
that's part of how you do it.

But it's really what is your
brand in relation to these

people and they relate to other
people, so it's gonna be the

founder and your employees.

Arvid Kahl: That is very
important. I've been very

focused on telling people the
exact same message that anything

you want to do for your business
that has any long term,

positive, beneficial effect has
to be relationship based. It

can't just be like projecting
something, it has to be building

an actual connection with human
beings. I really enjoy the fact

that you say this because it's
core to the message that I'm

trying to communicate as well.
And in that regard, I'm thinking

of personal brand and
professional brand. That's kind

of my distinction that I use,
right? Personal brand is around

the founder. Professional brand
is around the purpose that you

just described. Those kinds of
terms are what I use for this

because a lot of founders in my
space, who want to build

relationships, who want to
become part of a community and

from within that community build
products that people actually

need and have a budget for and
all that kind of stuff they

struggle with, well, what is the
core of what I'm supposed to be

a brand about? Like is it me as
the founder? Or is it the

product? And the mission that I
have? What would you suggest for

somebody who's a solopreneur,
who doesn't have a team and

doesn't really want to build a
big company out of it but does

want to build a business? What
is the core of their brand? Is

it the person or the business?
Or both? How do they go about


Evelyn J Starr: Well, they
overlap so much. They meld so

much that I don't really make a
distinction between them.

Because if you're the founder
and you're solopreneur and

you're interacting with
everybody, you are the brand.

You really are. And so one of
the things that I found really

helpful in my journey in the
book that I sent you was to

scope out to actually set for
myself what is my purpose,

right? As my brand as you start
to see it, the name I came up

with in 1999 in a hurry when
someone asked me to interview

for something when I decided to
go out on my own, like ahhh, I

gotta find something. But so,
you know, I sat down and

actually, I went through at one
point, Simon's next, you know,

determine your why. And I did
that first. And then I

determined my company's purpose.
So my personal why and my

company's purpose are not the
same, but they dovetail you

know. My personal why is to help
someone find the aha moment so

they can move forward. Because
I'm very analytical, and I'm

very big picture. And I can
usually help somebody who's

stuck, find a way through that.
But my business purpose is that

I help business owners make
confident marketing decisions.

So that's a slice of the aha
moment. So maybe that's a way to

look at the personal brand and
the professional brand a little

bit. The other thing

Arvid Kahl: That's awesome! This
is just intriguing to have this

kind of this is my whole purpose
and the business is just a slice

of it. For me, I've always found
like we all have these

overlapping identities as
people, right? We're parents,

we're children, we're neighbors
and all of that and this kind of

plays into the same overlap of
purposes, right? We have the

full purpose as a person and the
business is just one way of

fulfilling that purpose and
maybe being a parent is another

purpose or being a woodworker in
your spare time is the other

version. It's nice to see that
you found this big purpose and

you have this specific purpose
for your business, that is

really cool. Sorry for
interrupting but that's

something that I find really

Evelyn J Starr: That's great.
And you know and for your

listeners, I really, you know,
sometimes people like oh, I

don't have time to do this. I
have to tell you, when you find

your purpose when you figure
that out and notice how simple

it is, I help business owners
make confident marketing

decisions, like eight or nine
words, right? And but it's

talking about who I serve and
what I do. And it's not product

specific. If your audience if
you take the time to do this,

then you have something to run
all of your opportunities by. It

becomes a litmus test and it
becomes so much easier to make

decisions. Someone approaches
you for a partnership or if

someone says, hey, can you add
these three benefits to what

you're building? You know and
you want to think, hmm, should I

bother? Or should I not? If you
have your purpose, you have sort

of a lens to look at that and
say, yeah, this fits or no, it

doesn't. It makes life so much
easier in the long run.

Arvid Kahl: Yeah, you talked
about the niche that you picked

very, very early in our
conversation. And I think niche

picking or picking your future
audience or your market or

whatever you call it, right?
That being specific about who

you want to serve and empower
that conversation cannot come

early enough in a business
journey. If you do this, when

you start selling things, you're
already way too deep into it. So

let's maybe talk about the niche
now, at the beginning of this

conversation as well because
it's just a really extremely

important thing for any founder
to consider. What's too big?

What's too small? That's one of
the questions that I always get

from founders that I try to help
as well. Like, when I pick a

niche, can I go too deep? Or am
I too broad? Do you have any

kind of framework for this, how
to pick a niche that is just

right, the Goldilocks kind of

Evelyn J Starr: I do, I do. And
I'm going to mention to your

listeners that I wrote a book
called Teenage Wastebrand, How

Your Brand Can Stop Struggling
and Start Scaling. And I

actually have step by step
instructions on how to look at

niches in there. So if they're
interested, they can check out

that book. But what I would say
to you here is that what you

want in a niche is to be very
specific, so you can talk to a

particular customer or a
particular customers a

particular problem, okay? And it
can be pretty narrow. You just

want to have some running room,
so your brand can grow for

several years, okay? You know,
if there are five people in the

world who need what you have,
you're going to run out of that

audience or pitching to that
audience really fast. But you

don't need hundreds and hundreds
of 1000s of people. You just

need the right people and enough
of them so that your brand can

continue to grow for a while and
you can make a name for

yourself. And that is what's
most important about a niche.

And what people get wrong, is
that the biggest fear founders

have is that they're gonna go
too narrow, they're gonna leave

money on the table. If they're
gonna say no to somebody,

they're purposely limiting their
business. And that feels very

scary. You know, I call it in my
book that my book, Teenage

Wastebrand talks about how there
are sort of adolescence symptoms

to brands and I call it
suffering from FOMO fear of

missing out, right? If I don't
serve that person, you know, I

have this major, I'm missing the
party kind of feeling. But

what's really the case is that
when you target some specific

audience, whether it's by an
attitude or a group of people

you're serving, you make a name
for yourself in that arena. You

have to have something and this
goes back to differentiation,

right? You know, permalink is
one of the only services I know,

I think the only service I know
that does what it does. And so

that was amazing to me, that was
exactly what I needed. I saw it

on Jane Friedman's newsletter
and I was like, yeah, I'm there.

So that was speaking directly to
me and my problem. And I don't

know how many authors are
worried about their books

getting kicked off of Amazon
because the link goes bad. But I

think there are probably enough
of them that your business is

growing because it's a big
problem. So I would encourage

your listeners to choose an
audience narrow enough that when

someone sees the brand and sees
what it's about, they say, ah

that's exactly what I needed or
oh, yes, they're talking to me.

You can't be that specific if
you're trying to target


Arvid Kahl: Have you found a
good way of finding the places

where you can do this research?
Like where do you go to look for

information on the size of the
niche? Or if people are actually

having problems that you're
interested in solving, how would

you approach that?

Evelyn J Starr: You know, it's
an industry by industry

situation. You know, I'm a big
secondary research person. So I

will put in my browser, all
sorts of terms that come at that

this is where I would start with
any of them all sorts of terms

that come out the problem I'm
trying to solve, to see who the

players are. I would, you know,
go to each of the players

websites. I would look at any
public information or ask about,

look for reviews, look for
statistics. And really what I'm

looking for in that case,
especially I think I'll probably

a lot of your listeners are
going after something that

either hasn't existed before or
is fairly new. So you don't have

to have buttoned down numbers to
justify what you're doing. You

just have to ascertain that
there's enough interest and

enough of a market there that
you could build your brand for a

few several years, right? That's
all you're looking for, you

know, so you don't need to know
specifically how many there are.

You just need to know that there
are enough.

Arvid Kahl: Now you kind of
validating a trajectory, right?

You don't necessarily have the
precise numbers, but you know

that the vector of it is
pointing somewhere upwards in

some capacity. I think that's
great advice. I feel like

understanding that there are
already players in a particular

field, but people are not too
happy with them. That's probably

one of the best kinds of
situations that particularly a

bootstrap founder can find
themselves in, right? Because

you know that there's budget
because people are already

paying for these other things.
You know that there is interest

because otherwise they wouldn't
even have attempted to build the

thing that they now are being
paid for those businesses. And

you know, that there's a
misalignment between the

products that exist, the
solutions and the problems that

people still have. That is
great. So yeah, I love that kind

of research. Like it's kind of
free build competitive analysis

that is happening there. That
makes a lot of sense. Are there

any other ways of figuring out
this information?

Evelyn J Starr: Well, I wanna
address something you said

before and maybe respectfully
disagree a little bit. It is

optimal if you can figure out
your niche ahead of time and

before you're selling, that is
true. But if any of your

listeners are in a position,
saying, oh, no, I'm already

selling and I'm keeping my
language calm because no is not

the word that I would go to if I
was listening and thinking, you

know, how did I do this wrong?
You know, brands are

evolutionary. And sometimes you
have to get into it to find

where you need to go. So let me
give you an example. A lot of

people know Airbnb, right? That
company, what a lot of people

might not know is they started
with a niche that was too small.

They were targeting cities,
areas that had conferences,

where the conference attendance
exceeded the hotel capacity.

Okay, very specific. So like the
national conventions in the US,

right? The Democratic National
Convention, the Republican

National Convention, may be
South by Southwest two really

huge conferences, where there
was going to be a greater need

for accommodations than the
supply the hotels had. And so

those were the situations they
were serving. And there weren't

enough of them to keep the
company afloat. But in the

meantime, people were pinging
them saying, hey, I had a great

time staying in Austin at this,
you know, I'm gonna go to

vacation in Austin. Do you have
another location? And initially,

they were declining those and
then a bell went off, you know,

maybe it doesn't have to be just
for conferences. And so they

adjusted and widened their niche
in the process of building their

brand. And that's how they came
to grow so large.

Arvid Kahl: Yeah, large and
highly precarious in many ways,

too, right? Like when you look
at these unicorns, I feel

particularly from the
perspective of a bootstrapped

founder does not have access to
that kind of capital, the

venture capital that's put into
it. It feels like they over

expanded their niche. That's
also something interesting

because we already talked about
picking too smaller niche but

let's maybe talk about picking
too big a niche because Airbnb

is essentially trying to take
all of the hotel market and all

the vacation home markets and
you know, all these markets at

the same time. And obviously, if
you have like billions in

funding, that's fine. But if you
have your savings, you know,

you're a couple of months of
life savings. That's probably

not a good idea to invest that
into trying to revolutionize the

hotel market either. So what is
too big of a niche to start it?

Like where is the niche so big
that you can find your footing?

Evelyn J Starr: Well, so let me
just on an Airbnb basis because

I think this brings up a really
interesting point about niches

that your listeners might find
interest in or get some benefit

from. So what Airbnb is doing
now is they shifted from this

very specific, very narrow
personal interest and through

their evolution several years
in, did a whole bunch of

research and they changed their
niche to or their purpose to

help people belong anywhere,
right? To help anyone belong

anywhere. And so their niche is
this market of people who travel

who want to feel less alien,
less strange to a new place,

right? And they do that by going
into someone's home instead of

going into a hotel room. And now
that they've launched all their

experiences, they do that by
signing up for something that

people in the know would have
access to, right? So their news

is attitudinal, right? I want to
belong in San Francisco even

though I've only ever been there
twice in my life. And I want to

feel comfortable there and so
I'm using their brand to help me

do that. So attitude is also an
interesting niche to address.

But in terms of being too big,
when are you being too big? If

your brand's not resonating with
the people that you really want

to serve, if you're not being
specific enough, you know, so

like my target market, I work
with lots of people and some of

my clients are men, some are
women, some may be non binary.

You know, I don't know all the
time, I don't ask. But, you

know, for a long time, I noticed
a pattern that there were, most

of my clients were men in their
40s and 50s who had started a

company who had come to it
without a business education.

Generally, there were sports
fans, they were married. And

they enjoyed American culture.
And so if you read my

newsletter, which I publish,
once a month, I write with that

person in mind. You know, I will
make sports references once in a

while. I will make American
cultural references. I think in

my next newsletter, I'm talking
about Star Trek, but

Arvid Kahl: Very good!

Evelyn J Starr: Thank you. But
so you know, when you can do

insider stuff like that, so that
person doesn't feel like you're

talking, you're up making a
general speech to hundreds of

1000s of people. But instead,
you're talking to me, then you

know you're doing well with your

Arvid Kahl: That's great. That
is such a yeah, that is so

visceral to me because if I read
a text that is written not for

me, I notice because it doesn't
resonate with me and those

little things. But if there's a
Star Trek reference in there,

you have my attention, right?
And I know you did that on

purpose too like you did that
because you wanna talk to me.

That's what I see in that kind
of newsletter. That's very

interesting. And I feel let's
talk about the evolution of the

brand that allows you to do this
because we just talked about

Airbnb going from tiny niche to
becoming this kind of

experiential, attitudinal thing,
which is a great observation. I

think this is what many tech
companies have figured out that

it's not about like being in
that tech space. But being

something that aspirational for
people, right? We want people to

allow themselves to become a
better version of themselves.

And that is our purpose. But
that takes a while to come to

that point, right? It takes an
evolutionary process. So how

does that work for a brand? Like
how do brands grow up? What are

the signs? Are they getting
rowdy when they come into the

teenage years? Like how does it work?

Evelyn J Starr: Well, so what I
noticed and the reason I came to

this as when I was serving all
of those guys who were in

businesses, you know and I
talked to them about their

business and marketing. And they
really were very sheepish and

said, you know, I don't like
marketing, I don't do marketing

because they really didn't
understand it. And they were

afraid they were going to sink
money into it and time into it

and not see any return for it.
But the common trajectory of a

lot of their brands was that
they would start off and they'd

find a lot of takers and it
would go really well for several

years and then they hit a
plateau. And when they hit this

plateau, it was mind boggling
because they said, I'm saying

all the same things I was saying
before. I'm talking to the same

people I was talking to before
and all of a sudden, I can't

seem to get above this level,
you know or I'm tapering off a

little bit. And what I
discovered and the reason I call

it a brand adolescence is that
brands evolve over time, right?

So that definition of a brand
that I talked to you about

earlier, about being the sum of
all your experiences and all

your impressions. You know, when
you first launch a brand, when

on day one, if you're a founder,
you get to tell the world what

your brand is, what you intend
it to be. But once your audience

has a chance to experience it
for a year or two years, they're

gonna have all these different
interactions. Maybe it's still

all with you if you're a
solopreneur. But maybe you're

lucky enough to be growing and
they're having interactions with

your employees or they're seeing
reviews online or they're

talking to other people who are
using this totally away from

your earshot. You can't hear
what's going on. And all those

activities factor into their
impression of the brand. And if

they're finding that your brand
is better for one thing that's

not what you launched it for,
over time, you know, the

difference between what you said
your brand was on day one and

what it is in their mind starts
to separate, it grows further

and further apart. And when the
gap gets big enough, your

initial marketing messages no
longer resonate because they're

not speaking to the way that
people think of your brand. And

so the way to deal with that is
to stay in touch with your

customers, listen to how they're
using your brand, listen to what

it means to them, you know,
listen to their thoughts about

it so that you can stay on track
with the way that it is

appearing in the world.

Arvid Kahl: Hmm, interesting. I
think a lot of that is also word

of mouth, right? Where people
just talk to their peers about

your business and what you
offer. And I know that a lot of

founders at some point, they
feel they lose control of word

of mouth, obviously, because
it's other people doing the

work. What is your opinion on
that? Like, should people try to

cling to that or should they
just embrace what people are

saying and kind of guided like,
in a different way?

Evelyn J Starr: So there was a
McKinsey study, McKinsey

consulting study back in 2009
that showed that two thirds of

marketing is happening outside
the company. And it's because of

all the internet related, right?
Because of reviews, because of

ratings because of social media,
because of conversations people

are happening or having. So what
I'd say to your founders is take

a big exhale and realize that a
lot of the marketing of your

brand, a lot of the conversation
is going to happen away from you

and you cannot control it, but
you can influence it, okay? And

the way you influence it is by
being consistent in the way that

you put it out in the world. And
so, if you're a solo and you're

continuing to lead the brand
yourself, then you need to find

out how the world perceives you
and how the world perceives your

brand and be consistent with
those. And that's another thing

I talk about in the book. Those
are called brand attributes, you

know, so, you know, one
attribute you might have, Arvid

is kind of technical because
people know you from that's sort

of a common thread through your
businesses. And so, when you

talk, you're talking to an
audience who's coming to you for

things that are technical and
you, you know, you're not

talking to me about, you know,
how to bake doughnuts or

something. This is out of the
wheelhouse. You're serving that

expectation and the voice and
the language you use also

acknowledges, you know, that
kind of technical bent. So

people need to find out how
they're perceived, how their

brand is perceived and kind of
stay consistent about that. And

when they do that, that will
help the way that people outside

talk about them and think about

Arvid Kahl: Yeah, I'm thinking
about like, the difference

between a serious brand and an
adult brand. I don't know like

if that makes sense to you, but
I'm hearing you tell me like you

want to stay consistent, you
should stay consistent in the

messaging and that kind of
communication that you give to

allow people to have the
opportunity to use that and talk

to their peers in the same way
and have this kind of cohesive

narrative going on in the world
outside of your marketing

activities because other people
are doing it and inside of them

because that's just keeps it
going. Now, over time, I think

many particularly in the tech
field, people have this

expectation of things becoming
more serious, more enterprise,

right? More business

Evelyn J Starr: Oh, yeah

Arvid Kahl: And that's kind of
what I mean, the difference

between like a serious brand and
a grown up brand, like where one

is just a little bit older
because it's been around for a

couple years. And then there's
the serious version, the one

that uses fancy words and jargon
to communicate something. It

loses it's kind of personal
touch. So should we aim for


Evelyn J Starr: No

Arvid Kahl: Obviously, you know,
can we be serious without that?

Evelyn J Starr: Oh, yeah, not
only can you be serious, but you

know, that the problem with
thinking, oh, my business is now

six or seven years old. I have
to get very formal about it. Is

that the reason people came to
you and the reason you are where

you are is the way you've been
all the way along, right? The

voice you use, like, you know,
Wendy's is a, you know, fast

food chain and they're really
kind of snarky on Twitter and

they're known for that. They
kind of have an attitude. They

go after McDonald's every once
in a while. They tease them and

they're a huge, large, well
established brand. And people

love the snark. They love the
rebellious attitude. That's how

they're known. And so getting
larger isn't a time to bail on

the way that your brand has
been. I would say on the other

hand, it's a time to lean in.
You know if you're talking to

your customers and they love you
know, the casualness of your

blog posts and the ease of your
manuals of use and all that

stuff. Don't ditch that, you
know, lean into that. So that if

you're growing and you need to
hire employees, you need to kind

of codify what your values are
and how you want the employees

to represent your brand so it
can be consistent. So you can

continue that not so you can
become stodgy. Nobody wants

Arvid Kahl: Yeah, company
culture doesn't have to be like


casual Friday, right? That's not
what the culture is about. It

could just be, be kind, be
friendly, be easy, be playful,

right? These kinds of things.
And other companies might not do

that because I don't know they
targeted the front market or

they just want to appear at the
front in front of their

customers also fine. Just making
a choice and sticking with it. I

like it. I like consistency.
Generally, I'm a big fan of

that. Otherwise, we wouldn't be
in episode 200 something of this

podcast at this point, right? So
consistency is central for me to

build for building a business or
immediate business or a brand to

begin with. And it's nice to
hear that that is something that

will keep attracting people. I
think that's the fear that so

many founders have, right? Oh, I
am going for bigger businesses.

Their expectations are
different, I need to change

that. And then they have this
weird dichotomy where they now

want to change who they are for
the people that they want to

attract. But in that lose the
connection with the people that

they have already attracted.
That feels like such a hard

balance to strike.

Evelyn J Starr: Well, it's a
hard balance to strike. And

also, I mean, it's sort of, you
know, your brand, it's an asset

that you've built, right? You've
worked so hard in the beginning,

in the first whatever it is. I
mean, the tech world, your tech

world, it's like dog years,
right? You know, a brand could

be, you know, an adolescent at
two years old because it gets

adopted so fast and there's so
many things that it goes

through. But you've worked
really hard to differentiate

yourself with a brand
personality, with the values you

bring to the culture, whether
it's you personally or whether

you have a team, you know, so
that becomes an asset that's

valuable. You don't want to
throw that away, right? You want

to build on that. I mean, think
of the early days of your brand

and the culture that you're
building in the company as a

foundation, right? So you're not
going to build stories upon that

by ditching the foundation, you
know, by ruining it or putting

cracks in it. You're gonna need
to make sure it's solid and then

just go up from there.

Arvid Kahl: I've also had the
experience that your initial

customers, like the people who
are your first believers, they

can play a pretty big role in
you establishing that foundation

and then going from there,

Evelyn J Starr: Yes. Oh,
absolutely. Absolutely. They can

be your biggest fans, they are
word of mouth and their

influence bringing you, you
know, the first that like sort

of that second round of users is
critical. And if you can make

them love you, you know, there
are books that talk about them,

like raving fans make raving
fans. And I think Kevin Kelly

the Technium had that a post
years ago called you know, 1000

Raving Fans and basically
saying, if you can get 1000

raving fans, you have a
business. You know you're good

because they're gonna buy
whatever you sell. So those

initial customers are really

Arvid Kahl: Yeah, that Kevin
Kelly quote came to my mind as

well because that's kind of how
I personally approach this. I

mean, I have a couple more than
1000 followers at this point.

But I know that a true fan is
still not just a follower,

right? Or a customer is not
necessarily a true fan. They

could just be a user of the
product that you offer. Do you

have any tips on how to find
these fans like how to kind of

sift through the hopeful masses
of people who you know, are

involved in using a product or
hanging out with you on social

media and find the ones that
really, really care about you

and then cater to their needs?

Evelyn J Starr: So what I would
say is, sometimes when you're

starting a business, you're
moving so fast and juggling so

much that you kind of put off
responding to anybody who

connects with you, you know and
I would say that the way to find

those raving fans is to keep
your eyes and ears open for

someone who's engaging with you
because the person who's taking

the time to engage, whether it's
a Twitter direct message or an

email or however they're doing
it, has gone through a lot to

sort of raise their hand and
make that effort. And that is

the sign that this person could
be very, very, you know,

important to your brand and has
a lot of thoughts about that.

And those are the people you
want to pay attention to. So,

you know, when I get comments on
posts on social media or when I

get responses to my newsletter,
I try to respond as fast as

possible and keep the
conversation going. And that's

how I learn about, you know, the
most engaged, you know, the

audience that I have because,
you know, they're willing to

share their thoughts, they're
happy to share their thoughts,

they'll also tell you where
you're wrong. And there's a lot

of learning that can happen
there. But also a lot of people

who, even if they say to you,
I'm writing to you because you

messed up x, if you engage in
the right way, not only do they

become a raving fan because
you're willing to listen to them

and you're willing to learn from
them. But they feel a connection

to you now, right? That goes
back to the relationship

building, right? You want to
build these connections and the

people who feel most strongly
connected to your brand, are the

people who are gonna raise their
hand and try to reach out.

Arvid Kahl: Yeah, people who
care enough to even reach out,

right? Like that's already quite
the indicator. I think many

founders, they think they can
get people to talk about the

product, but just like working
on the product and making it

better, like making it more
exciting and more usable, which

is somewhat true, right? Like
better product is something that

people will talk about more just
because they have more reason to

talk about the product. But the
product really doesn't matter as

much as you just helping
somebody with their problem. I

had this experience building
Feedback Panda with my

girlfriend. The people who
reached out to us in the

beginning, our first couple of
customers, again, initial

customers that reached out that
had a problem, but one in itself

because they saw potential in
the platform, I spent sometimes

half an hour chatting with them
through the chat system on our

website. And those almost all of
them became evangelists for the

product, right? They were just
regular online teachers doing

the job. But they took the time
out of the day to whenever they

saw somebody talking about a
similar problem to one that we

solve, to kind of pitch us as a
solution to that problem.

Because they were often saying,
hey, these people, they will

actually help you when you have
a problem. Because for some

reason, it is an outstanding
capability of a business to

actually help people through
their customer service at this


Evelyn J Starr: Yes! Yes, it is.
And it's the most important

thing because again, the
definition of a brand is the sum

of all the experiences they had.
And if they hadn't experienced

where, wow, I can't believe
Arvid took a half an hour out of

his day to chat with me. And
he's now considering the

suggestion I had for software.
Now I'm invested in that. Right

now, I feel like I've
contributed and I'm a part of

it. And I'm connected to you.
And I want other people to know

how wonderful this is.

Arvid Kahl: That's right. I
often would actually build the

features that people were asking
about or suggesting while I was

talking to them and then kind of
secretly pushing it to

production because it was very
lean, very flexible approach.

And then it would tell me just
refresh the page, check it out.

And their minds were blown,
right? That's just that moment

of actually mattering as a
customer in the lifetime of a

product that was so novel to all
these people who were just using

these gigantic like Google
products, right? If you go to

Google Drive or use Google
Sheets or whatever, you probably

won't impact the business
direction of that particular

product with their customer
service. But if you do that to a

SaaS product built by an indie
hacker somewhere, it's quite

likely that your suggestion is
going to make the feature list,

right? So that is something that
most people that we served did

not know before because they
only ever use these gigantic

products or
really care about you. But

here's feedback Panda, they seem
to really care. That was super

strong of a differentiator that
we used. We wrote that wave like

most of our marketing, if not
all, was word of mouth with that

business. We did try paid
customer acquisition at some

point, didn't really work.
Didn't need to because people

were already talking about our
product and we just amplify

their voices.

Evelyn J Starr: Yeah, yeah. I
mean, there's a long standing

comment in marketing, which is a
truism, which is that people

have to know like and trust you
before they'll buy from you. And

so anything you can do to get
along that continuum, where

people get to know you, they
like what you're doing, where

they like who you are, they like
the way you're treating them.

And then they trust you to do
things in a manner that warrant

their money and their attention.
That's the precursor to you

having a customer.

Arvid Kahl: I think liking is an
interesting verb here like to be

liked. I think most people in
the indie hacker space and I

might be overgeneralizing, but a
lot of them they're introverted.

They're trying to you know, just
do a thing, be technical, built

a product and, you know, not to
do too much with people. And I

think particularly because I'm
such a person myself. I always

felt ugh, if I reach out to
them, If I talk to them, they

might not like me and by
extension, the brand, the

business, the product that I
represent. So I always felt the

kind of hinderance that I put in
myself so it was just a mental

blockage. But you know how
people are, right? Our brain

often fights itself in many ways
and trying to encourage people

to talk about my product felt
desperate or needy on my end. I

know now having done it and
having understood that it's not

that, that that was just, you
know, a construction that my

mind put in there to, I don't
know, protect itself from change

or whatever. But for an
introverted founder who's having

trouble understanding that
marketing or encourage word of

mouth is not desperate or needy,
how would you help them overcome

this particular blockade in
their mind?

Evelyn J Starr: Well, I would
say most people wanna help,

especially if they've reached
out to you, but most people

wanna help. And so for me, you
know, because I come across as

an extroverted personality, but
I definitely have an introverted

part to me, also. And what helps
me and what I would suggest to

you is, think of it as just a
one to one interaction. Don't

think of it as you are
broadcasting to the world. If

you're reaching out to someone,
it's just two people having

conversation, you know, and the
worst that they could say is no,

right? And so, but you know, my
dad has a wonderful saying. He's

like, give yourself the option,
you know, because you don't know

if you don't ask and so I would
think about that is, you know,

maybe no doesn't feel good. But
most of the time, you're gonna

get a yes and most of the time,
you're gonna get an answer. And

that feels so good. And so far
outweighs the shyness, you know,

the the aversion to being in
contact. So that's what I would

say focus on to one to one
conversation. And that's all

that's at stake right now.

Arvid Kahl: That's great. I
also, I think, people saying,

no, that's just a regular part
of life. And if you can separate

this kind of this identity of
the business from yourself as a

human being, right? Like, even
though you might be the person

behind the business, the only
person behind the business, you

start conflating the business
with yourself, but a no to the

business is not a no to you.
They don't hate you as a person

because they don't want to use
your software. Like to tear that

apart and see the no as a
business decision on this side

of a potential customer that
still thinks you're a great

human being that could probably
help you with approaching them,

right? In a conversation to
deconflict deflate, I don't know

the word for that. But you know,
like taking these things apart,

that certainly helps me. Because
if somebody doesn't want to, I

don't know, sponsor this podcast
or you know, my newsletter or

you know, buy my book or
whatever it is, I don't see this

as an attack on myself. I see
this as somebody's budgeting

choice. All right. And it's all
about what they think is good

for their business as a tool at
this point. It's not about my

personal likability.

Evelyn J Starr: That's entirely
true. And you know, I'm a

writer. And so writers are
really used to a lot of

rejection because more often
than not, we get a no. And what

you learn over time, is that the
no rarely has to do with you. It

often has to do with what's
going on in the person's life,

you know, to whom you're making
the request. It has to do with

budget strings that are beyond
their control, it has to do with

so many things. And I will tell
you, there's this great, I'm

gonna I don't know how to
pronounce his name, I'm gonna

say Jia Jang. But he did this
experiment called 100 Days of

Rejection. And so he tried, he
said, I'm going to try and get

rejected 100 days in a row to
thicken my skin. And if you

Google or you know, search for
100 Days of Rejection, you'll

find his videos, they're
hilarious. And what you see is

he learned, it wasn't about him,
it was often about the people.

And a lot of times when he tried
to get rejected, he actually got

a yes. And so it's just very
entertaining. And it also kind

of helps you get out of the
mindset. It's not about you. It

has to do with the circumstances
in the moment.

Arvid Kahl: That's probably one
of the biggest reasons why

people fear marketing is the
moment you talk to other people,

you don't have this kind of
clearly defined, I don't know,

programming API that will either
tell you a yes or no reliably on

the input that you put there,
right? You don't know what's

going to happen. And I think
lots of people are afraid of

that moment. So I'm glad that
you're kind of teaching people

with this, that it's fine to be
rejected or to feel rejection

and it's actually a
strengthening moves. It's kind

of what doesn't kill you makes
you stronger, but put into you

know, interpersonal

Evelyn J Starr: Well, and then
also, you know, if someone says

no, instead of risking that
you're gonna go and feel, you

know, like you've shrunk into a
tiny, tiny thing. You could also

muster your courage and say,
okay, I understand. Could you

tell me why? And when you hear
the reasons that will often

defuse your chances of feeling
awful because then you see that

it's not you. You know, I don't
have the money or corporate just

asked us to cut our budget by
10%. And I can't add anything

new or you know, this doesn't
exactly fit my need, but I think

what you're doing is really
great, get messages like that.

And it kind of saves you. So if
you can muster the courage to

ask why could save yourself a
lot of angst.

Arvid Kahl: I like that because
when I'm thinking about

validation and all varieties of
product validation, market

validation, solution validation,
whatever problem validation too,

I'm always reminded of the fact
that no theory can ever be

proved. You can only just prove
it, right? You can add more

evidence for it to maybe be
true, but the counter example

might just be right around the
corner. And you never know

because it could always happen.
So the only thing you can do to

any theory is to invalidate it.
And getting a no and the why

leads to so much closer to a
potential invalidation than a

yes. Even though the yes is
great for your business. But you

haven't learned anything. The
only thing that we've learned is

okay, this is yet another kind
of argument for what I'm

currently doing. But the no and
the why will give you much

clearer insight into why what
you're currently doing may not

be the perfect version of itself
just yet. So there is value in

the no maybe even more than in
the yes.

Evelyn J Starr: You do learn a
lot from those.

Arvid Kahl: Well, yeah, think
I'm what I'm glad about in the

indie hacker founder community
is that failure isn't demonized.

I think like failing or making
mistakes, that's just accepted

as a regular part of doing
something that nobody else has

ever done before, right? That's
just what entrepreneurship is.

It's like building something
that did not exist in this

particular kind of state ever
before. Of course, you're gonna

make mistakes might just as well
embrace them.

Evelyn J Starr: Yeah,
absolutely, absolutely. And you

need to give yourself the space
for that because it's gonna

happen over and over again. And
the more resilient you become,

the quicker you can recover and
just keep moving forward.

Arvid Kahl: And in terms of
personal brands, that is part of

your journey, that's part of the
whole that you then present to

the world, right? You trying
stuff not working out, but you

persevering, and still building
more things that do eventually

work out. Now, that's quite the
story, which is why building in

public is such a great thing. I
love that. I love watching

people making little mistakes
recovering and then coming out

on top, that's just the most
enjoyable thing that you could

possibly see.

Evelyn J Starr: And there's a
lot of compassion out there, you

know, people relate to because
it's so human to fail. Everybody

can relate to it. And so when
you share that in public, like,

okay, I put all my resources
into this avenue and I hit a

dead end. And so now I'm going
to try the other way. People,

you know, feel for you. There's
an emotional reaction of

compassion there.

Arvid Kahl: And compassion and
just being relatable. That's

just built this relationship,
right? That's what connection

needs. I really enjoy them.
Well, thank you so much Evelyn,

for sharing all these things.
Like that was a wonderful, brand

building masterclass today and I
love the fact that it's so

relationship centric because I
think we can all just improve

everything around what we do by
making it more about building

long term, positive win-win
relationships with other people.

So thank you so much for sharing
everything you shared. Where can

people find you, find more about
you and your work?

Evelyn J Starr: So my website is and starr

is spelled with two R's like
Ringo. So they can go to my

website to find out more about
me, to find out about my book,

Teenage Wastebrand, How Your
Brand Can Stop Struggling and

Start Scaling. They can also
find that on Amazon or or anywhere you buy
books, you can find it. And then

the other thing is, you know, if
you kind of like what I have to

say, but you you know, I'm not
ready or to share any funds or

you're building in public and
need every penny for what you're

doing. Penny because I'm in the
US. I would say you could also

at my websites sign up for my
Varsity Marketing Newsletter,

which is only once a month. I
don't stuff mailboxes and

includes a brand story every
single month.

Arvid Kahl: That's awesome.
Yeah, very, very highly

recommended all of this. Thank
you so much for being on today.

And I would like to close this
with, live long and prosper.

Evelyn J Starr: Live long and

Arvid Kahl: And that's it for
today. Thank you for listening

to The Bootstrapped Founder. You
can find me on Twitter

@arvidkahl. You will also find
my books and my Twitter course

there. And if you wanna support
me and the show, please

subscribe to my YouTube channel,
get the podcast in your podcast

player of choice, tell your
friends about it. That'd be nice

and leave a rating and review by
going to

Any of this will truly help the

show. So thank you very much for
listening and have a wonderful

day. Bye bye