Your host Dave Erickson and Botond Seres talk with the co-founder of Transistor.fm, a SaaS based Podcasting distribution platform that has millions of users, and that we use to distribute the ScreamingBox Technology and Business Rundown podcast.
Justin Jackson not only is the co-founder of Transistor.fm, but he has also produced for several years now, his own Podcast about bootstrapping a SaaS start-up. We talk with him not only about how he started Transistor.fm, but also a wide range of subjects related to starting and building SaaS based products.
To catch up with all our Podcasts, please go to https://podcast.screamingbox.com/
Join us for interesting conversations about technology and the business of IT.
Hosts = Dave Erickson, Botond Seres
Guest = Justin Jackson
Dave Erickson 00:00
You can use Welcome to the ScreamingBox technology and business rundown Podcast. Today I, Dave Erickson and my co-host, Botond Seres, are interrogating Justin Jackson, who is the co-founder of Transistor.fm, a podcast hosting and distribution platform. They do podcast hosting and analytics for folks like indie hackers, Vegas Golden Knights, and VH1. ScreamingBox also uses Transistor.fm to distribute this podcast to 15 of the most popular podcasting platforms, such as Amazon, Apple, Google, Spotify, and many others. Previously, Justin was Head of Product Marketing for multiple startups and he's been blogging about bootstrapping in business since 2008. And you can see his podcast at justinjackson.ca. Justin also hosts the ‘build your SaaS’ podcast and publishes a companion newsletter, about what it's like to bootstrap a SaaS. He also runs Mega Maker, a community for bootstrappers and wrote marketing for developers, a book and course for programmers who want to learn marketing. We put all the links in the description of this podcast. If you want to connect with any of those. So Justin, how do you find time to do a podcast with everything else you got going on in your life?
Justin Jackson 01:49
That was a great intro. Thank you. It's nice to be here. My schedule is, I mean, today, I had a staff meeting right before this. And then I have this. And then the only other thing I have on my schedule is a haircut. So..
Dave Erickson 02:04
I need one of those too.
Justin Jackson 02:07
So yeah,the, you know, one of the, when John and I started this company in 2008, before we knew it was going to be anything, you know, we had zero revenues, zero customers, all that stuff. We started with a set of principles like this, is what this is, how we want to craft this company around our lives. And one of the things we said is we want an open schedule. So besides the one staff meeting I have every week. The only other thing I usually have scheduled is podcast interviews like this. And that's perfect. I get to, I really enjoy podcasting and I love talking to folks like you. And so yeah, this is, this is one of the things I've wanted to do. It's one of the reasons I started the company. So I could do more of this stuff, do more of what I like doing.
Justin Jackson 03:12
Yeah, and I have. You know, I've done a lot of things like in my early 20s, I was in the snowboard industry. And so I worked on the manufacturing side. And then I opened a retail, a couple retail stores for snowboards and skateboards. And I mean talk about logistics. The logistics of running a small retail store are incredibly complex, much more complex than running a software company. And I think about that quite a bit. You know, there are different industries and different categories, different types of businesses have different layers of complexity, logistics, things you've got to manage all day. And yeah, it's been nice to over time, try a bunch of different things out and to finally land in the software industry. And I mean there's, there's definitely challenging things about the software industry but compared to running a retail store, the burden for managing things, ordering inventory, hiring employees, having a physical space managing lease on that visual physical space, having insurance for the physical space, managing turnover on inventory, pre booking inventory, it's like, it was incredibly complex. Cashflow, like managing cash flow for brick and mortar businesses, is so tough. Yeah, its software is much more simple by comparison.
Dave Erickson 04:56
Well, everyone has different experiences with software so, yeah, I can see compared to retail, it could have real benefits. I mean, that kind of brings us around. I mean, you know, obviously, we're really interested in building digital products like SaaS businesses and Transistor FM technically is such a business. So, you know, how did you kind of come up with that? I mean, you were in retail, and you say, I want to be a software guy, or was it more of I wanted to do podcasting and I don't have a good platform and I want to do that, or how did you come up, or what was the kind of the genesis of your move into software with Transistor.fm?
Justin Jackson 05:37
I got into the software industry when I was 28 years old. So that was my first software job. I was doing customer support for an email newsletter SaaS in Edmonton, Alberta. And I really kind of, I had always been into computers. So I was, I've been building websites since 1993. I've been on, I had a Vic 20, when I was, you know, in ‘84, or something like that when I was four years old. So I've always been a geek, always into computers. But it wasn't until 2008, that I got my first job in the industry and I really kind of learned the ropes and worked my way up at that company. So I started in customer support, and then eventually worked my way up to product manager and by the time I left, and just yeah, just really fell in love with the software industry. It's, it's, it's very unique in that you can create something, it's like manufacturing, but again, the logistics are different. Like when we were manufacturing snowboards, I was in the shop, I was cutting out shapes and you know, pressing things and gluing things and machines break down and these machines can take off your finger and software is unique in that you can really create one copy. And making good software is difficult. But once you get that, that product done, you can, it's infinitely accessible and infinitely distributable. And so your upside is your upside can be quite good, because it's just, every new customer actually doesn't cost you that much more in variable costs. So what and I, my boss, the first week I was on the job, he was like, he gave me a copy of 37 signals book, ‘Getting Real', which is still available, it's available for free if you Google it. And it just kind of went through their philosophy for building software products for running a company. And I just really kind of fell in love with the vision that they kind of put forth the idea of a distributed company, remote company, a simple company, building simple software that people want, crafting the things that matter, like really shaping ideas, and you know, making bets on the best ideas for your product. And so yeah, basically after I got that first job, I knew I wanted to be in software for a long time. And then eventually, I wanted to build my own thing so I worked with them until 2014 started my first podcast in 2012. A podcast called Product People and that podcast led to a series of jobs for software companies, SaaS companies, startups in Portland, San Francisco and other places. And then I released that course marketing for developers. I did that independently for a few years. And then John and I had met previously, he's my co-founder at Transistor. And one day we were just talking and he's, we had built a few projects together just for fun. And he said, Hey, I'm going to build another podcast hosting platform. He built the first version of Simple Cast and I was looking for a new project and I just thought, oh, man, you know what, I think we would work really well together, because I had a background in podcasting, and software and product marketing. And he was just an incredible full stack developer. Again, I'd worked with him in the past, and he was working at Cards Against Humanity. He and he had already said that they would be our first customer. So I knew we had one customer. I knew John was really awesome at building products and I just felt like if we put both of us together that maybe we could make something work. And yeah, that was it. We started talking about it in late 2017, and then signed some partnership agreements and formed a corporation, early 2018, and then started, just went from there.
Dave Erickson 10:39
When you started Transistor, were you looking to like, fix some problems that you were really struggling with in podcasting? Or were you looking at it from Hey, we have this, I think I know a better way to do it, we're going to approach the market differently. And then, at that point, you then had to figure out okay, what is our feature stack? What are we trying to do? What's our build, our creation journey? How did that process happen? Or what, what was kind of behind that?
Justin Jackson 11:10
I mean, there's a few things in terms of the market itself. You know, I'd been doing this podcast since 2012 and I had developers approaching me all the time, who wanted to build something for podcasters. And for years, I said, it's not a good market. It's mostly hobbyists, and, and kind of DIY errs. And it wasn't that big of a market, you know, back in 2012. This isn't exactly right. But it's roughly right. There may have been like 50,000, or 100,000 podcasts in Apple podcasts. So there wasn't that many people doing it. And, but as the years went on, I noticed that the market changed. So we had the release of Serial, which became this massive hit. The percentage of Americans who had listened to a podcast in the past month, in 2017, flipped over to 51%. So now the majority of Americans had listened to a podcast at one point in their, you know, in their month, and I started hearing people in coffee shops talking about podcasts. That had never happened before. I call that the coffee coffee shop test. You know, when you're sitting in line, what are people discussing? So I was like, okay, the market is changing. The other thing that changed, that made me more interested in it was the number of what I'll call branded podcasts, but companies, organizations, small businesses, starting podcasts, it became another outlet, another channel for these organizations or companies. And that, that changes the dynamics a little bit, you know, if you're doing it for business or for work, you know, there's, there's a lot of those types of customers out there. And I also interviewed for product people, I had interviewed a few people that started building things for podcasters. Josh, who started Zen Caster, which is a Riverside competitor. I interviewed him and he was just super transparent about it. Here's our numbers, here's the, you know, here's the type of customer we're attracting. And I was like, how are you making this work? Like, in my mind, podcasting is for hobbyists and prosumers, and all these things. And he was like, there's a lot of lawyers with podcasts and they're, you know, they sign up and use it. So there was a lot of, kind of touchstones on the market side. And my experience with Transistor has actually shown me how much the market matters. You could have the best idea, you could have the most innovative solution, you could have the best built software, but it's actually the market that provides most of the momentum for a business's success. It's like, it's like riding a wave when you're surfing. The wave provides all of the energy for the surfer. The surfer has to have some talent. The surfer has to have reasonable equipment. But most of the energy is in the wave of the market. And market demand, how much, how many people are actively seeking this out? And we've seen that with podcasting, how many people wake up every day and search for How do I start a podcast? Best podcast hosting platform? How do I distribute my podcast to Spotify and Apple and when you have that many people searching for a solution with intent, you know, it's reasonable to assume that with a good product and good marketing, you can capture some of that attention and build a reasonable business on it. So we had ideas for product. We, you know, Simple Cast had been acquired and had gone through this kind of rebrand, and they changed the user interface. And, you know, I was still using it, and I didn't like it. And a lot of our friends didn't like it. So we thought, well, at the very least, we can fix those problems, right, we can go back to a simpler user interface. We had ideas about business models. I was starting lots of podcasts. And every time I started a new show, I had to pay more money to start a new show, and I said, this just doesn't make sense. We should allow people to start unlimited podcasts on their account and just open it up, allow people to be as creative as they want. So we had some, I think, innovative ideas around the business model, we had some innovative ideas around the product. But really, the, the main thing was the market, the market just had this energy and momentum, that for the first time, since I'd started podcasting, I was like, this is, this is a good time for us to catch this wave and see where it leads us.
Botond Seres 16:24
So, Justin, you mentioned earlier that one of the things you love about software, as an industry, essentially, the prototype is created that is infinitely redistributable, and infinitely profitable in the right hands. And I do tend to agree with that. However, it is relatively recent, I think, because in the early days of software, this, this was very much not the case. So I was wondering what your thoughts are on the rise of software as a service in general, which I believe Transistor FM, falls into that category by design. And it is one of the most popular design these days,
Justin Jackson 17:12
There's a few kinds of coalescing trends that make software and software as a service, just really one of the best business models on the planet. So I remember, as a kid, you know, in the 90s, I remember sending a check in the mail to get a license key for a game called Commander Keen. So there was the shareware model where you could download a binary off Usenet or a bulletin board service. But then to play the whole game, you had to send a check to wherever that developer was and then they would, they would send you back in the mail a license key that you could input into the software and then get the whole thing. Even if you think about that, like, there's so many things that have changed since then. So Commander Keen the binary was, you could copy that as many times as you want. They're just uploading at once to, you know, that binaries on Usenet, or popular bulletin board services, and then it's getting distributed along their popular FTP servers. So it was infinitely reproducible, but there's a few problems, right? We have really slow modem speeds, it's all dial up and there was no easy way to pay with a credit card. And the idea of paying with a credit card online like as a kid, if I'd asked my parents, Mom, can I use the credit card, but like it would have been no go like it like that was like we don't we don't just insert our credit card on the online. And so the evolution of all that has really led us to where we are today. We went from, you know, 2400 Baud modems to now, broadband cable is kind of almost everywhere. Most Americans or North Americans anyway have access to high speed internet. And that has had a huge impact on what you can do. The web got introduced in ‘93, and has continued to kind of evolve since then. And the web as a delivery mechanism for software is just perfect. It's like you don't have to worry about if they're on Windows or Linux or Mac. It's just you just deliver it in one place. And the browser's figure it out. And then you've got the whole credit card thing, like the ability to pay with a credit card online and even when I started in SaaS in 2008, we still had to convince people that it was safe to put a credit card in on the Internet. In fact, we had a phone number people could call because more People were comfortable giving us their credit card over the phone. Which is ironic because it's not secure. But, you know, that just made them feel better. And so SaaS has kind of evolved. And then this idea, this is why it's hard to like, fight the market because markets evolved for all sorts of reasons. It's like, you know, everything can affect a market. COVID affects markets, government legislation affects markets, technology affects markets, credit card companies affect markets. But when it became commonplace to put your credit card in on the, on the internet, and to pay for software on a monthly or annual basis, that was a huge hurdle to get over, because it used to be, I just buy photoshop once. And then I decide every year if I want to upgrade, right? It was a lot of money at the beginning, you know, you're paying hundreds or 1000s of dollars for that license, but then you got to keep hold on to it for as long as you wanted. But eventually, customers realized, especially businesses, because if you've, if you've ever had to acquire software licenses for a business, you know how difficult that is, you’ve got to negotiate with Microsoft, how many licenses do you want, it's really expensive. For a business, it is just better to be able to go, you know what I'm gonna pay for this monthly or annually. And SaaS also was quite a bit more liberal with the cost per seat, you know, like Transistor’s case, you can invite as many people as you want to use your Transistor account. They, they can get there, they get their own login, their own two factor authentication, it doesn't cost you any more. Right? Sounds like Netflix? And then yeah, well, Netflix is now you know, modifying things. So, you know, the, the evolution of all these different factors made this possible. And it just turns out that SaaS is often the best solution for a customer. And it's also just a great business model for companies because now, you know, every month what your cash flow is going to be. So it makes, you know, decision making a lot easier. Who are we going to hire? We're entering a recession, are we going to be okay? All this kind of stuff. Every month, you roughly know that it's going to be about the same as it was the previous month. Even if you have churn and people are canceling. It's, it's never I mean, it's not never, but it's highly unlikely you're gonna lose 50% of your customers overnight. You might lose a small percentage of customers overnight. Netflix. Yes. Yeah. And actually I people are people are, are bearish on Netflix, I think they're actually I think they're not going to have as much churn as people think they will. And I think that the new ad supported model that they're introducing is actually going to be gangbusters. I think it's gonna go really well for them. We've seen it with Spotify, Spotify is an ad supported model; it destroyed Apple, Apple music. And I think it's going to go really well for Netflix, you'll be able to, you know, my daughter's in college; she uses our Netflix account right now, but if she ever had to have her own, you know, she would just use it the way she uses Spotify.
Botond Seres 23:32
Apple Music was a thing back when Spotify already had their ad supported model.
Justin Jackson 23:37
No, no. But Apple could have introduced an ad supported model, but it's not a part of their culture, whatever. But I think it's, I think it's, one reason Spotify was so popular was that kids could sign up and not pay, you just had ads.
Botond Seres 23:59
It's yeah, that's clear. That's from the business side. It's awesome that we can get revenue month to month. And it's unlikely that there are going to be huge swings. But there's a customer. Honestly, one of the things I love most about one of my favorite companies is that they still in 2020 to offer a perpetual lifetime license and that's, that has become a rarity. And it used to be a norm. So definitely there is a huge shift in the market.
Justin Jackson 24:31
Yeah, I do think there's a lot of it depends on the software, right. So with something like Transistor, because we're hosting, we have to pay for hosting and we have to pay for bandwidth. It makes sense. You know, hosting has always been basically a subscription. But, you know, like sketch or Photoshop. It would be nice if you could just buy a one time license and decide, you know, when you want to upgrade,
Dave Erickson 25:02
SaaS products are similar in a way to certain markets like the podcast market. If the barrier of entry is relatively low, then you're gonna have millions of podcasts. And with SaaS products, there's lots of SaaS products, and the easier it gets to build SaaS products, whether you're using low code technology, or no code technology, or all you're really paying for, is a developer, and you happen to be a developer; you get to that point where I call, there's the product, and then there's the distribution. So building a SaaS product can be quite complex, or it can be quite simple, but once you kind of have a product, then the real, I guess, challenge for people, and especially those who are bootstrapping, but anybody in that sense, how do you get people to use it or even find it or even see it?
Justin Jackson 26:01
If there was a simple formula of course, everyone would do it, and there'd be no competition. I think the year Transistor launched, I think within 12 months of our launch, there were probably 10 other podcasts hosting platforms that I knew of that launched. I think 80% of those are gone now. But it is a challenge. How do you launch something and stand out from the crowd, both the incumbents, and then also all of the other rookies that you're competing against. And it's just kind of like anything. I think that the tricky part is, and I've seen this happen, so some of those people that started podcast hosting platforms, they had no background in technology, they had no background in the podcast community, or industry. They weren't product people. They didn't know how to hire good developers or good product people. And they were just hoping that the wave in of itself would be enough that they could just paddle out, catch the wave and ride it. But it doesn't work that way. The difference between me and a professional surfer like Kelly Slater is Kelly has been doing it forever. He has years and years of practice. He has years and years of built in advantages. He has spent a lot of time in the water and in specifically, those waters. And he knows how to observe the waves, he knows which waves to swim out for. He knows what, how to approach a wave. He has friends that will, you know, message him if there's a good break somewhere. There's just a stack of advantages that have helped him become one of the best surfers in the world. And for sure, if I show up at the same beach as Kelly Slater on any day, he's going to destroy me when it comes to surfing. And business is really the same way. So whatever built in advantages you come to the table with, those are going to help and history, your personal history and the history of the other people you're starting the company with matters a lot. It's layers on layers, on layers, on layers of experience, and network and skills and advantages that you bring to the table. And so, you know, why did Transistor succeed when all those other companies didn't? Why were we able to carve out a piece of the market when there's already big incumbents that have been doing it for decades? Well, it's just stacking every advantage. And this, this applies to distribution as well. So I spent years building an audience on Twitter, years building an audience on my newsletter on my blog and we definitely tapped into that when we launched, even building a reputation and a following on platforms like Product Hunt, you know, I've been, I was one of the first users. I think I'm user 58. So certainly, when I launch something on Product Hunt, it gets a lot more attention than someone who hasn't been on the platform that long and just uses it when they have to launch their product. Certainly John, John's network and my network, you know him working at Cards Against Humanity. They've got three or four podcast studios in the office and basically the entire Chicago podcast scene records their podcasts at Cards Against Humanity. So we need tons of people with shows and getting them to transfer over to Transistor and do us a favor was an advantage. And then we could put their names as testimonials. Who else is using this product? While Cards Against Humanity, Mike Vardi is using it, you know, we could just go through the list. And then we have some social proof. So people go, Oh, well, if it's good enough for Cards Against Humanity, then it's good enough for us. Right? So yeah, all of the, there's not like a simple solution here with distribution. It's in the same way that it's like, dude, how can you ride that wave? Like, how did you even see it? It's like, well, I've just been spending every single day for years, coming to this beach, watching the water; I know when there's a good wave coming, and I know how to swim out and catch it. If you're not in the water, it's gonna be a lot harder and I think people discount that, like, all of those years of me contributing to podcasting forums and building relationships with people with podcasts, newsletters, and going to conferences, and, you know, building relationships and a network of people. It helped us so much like, when we launched Transistor, you had to. Spotify was only allowing a certain number of podcast hosting platforms to, to submit directly to them and it was the big guys, it was Lipson and Buzzsprout. And I was like, man, how are we gonna get in there? And I was like, Hey, wait, Bill works at Spotify. So I DM’d Bill. And the next thing, you know, our tiny little company is getting in when other companies weren't able to get in yet. Well, that was relationship, network, who you know, and who knows, you is such an important piece. And it's that stack of advantages that gives you an edge in product, and marketing, distribution, all of it. And we're just adding all those elements, you know, whatever we've got in our stack, that's what we're doing. We're putting all those together and that informs our, our whole approach.
Dave Erickson 32:00
Yeah, I've worked with a bunch of businesses, I'm on board of advisors and a lot of these companies, you know, they're software related. And I meet the team, by coincidence or by whatever process. Yeah, and you know, it's a bunch of developers, and they're developing and they're, they're asking the question, Well, okay, we got the development side, we know how to make the product. Yeah. What do we do with it after that right and that's usually the area where they really need the most help, but also in partnering, who do we partner with whether it's a corporation or a person to help meet our goals? You know, you're absolutely right. A partnership is like a marriage in some ways it's harder than a marriage, because the commitment is different. Right. And the perceived commitment is different. And sometimes partnerships, even worse than a marriage in a sense, is, you don't have one partner, you may have three or four partners. Right. And I've been in businesses that, you know, and even with ScreamingBox, there's four or five partners, right, and balancing everybody's needs and desires, that's a real aspect. But it can have some real power. Like you said, yeah, you can bring in, someone can have something in the network that takes the business from maybe, might survive to doing great. Right. And so it really is something worth looking at.
Justin Jackson 33:31
Yeah, it's, it's kind of like Voltron, you know, like the, the sum of all those parts is bigger and stronger than the individuals. And it's, the other incredible thing to me about bootstrapping and bootstrapping SaaS is that we’re like, Transistor is a tiny company. We have four employees, including founders, so four people total. And we're competing with companies, with companies on the stock exchange, we're competing, and they have hundreds of employees. We're partnering and having to work with behemoths like Spotify, and Apple, and Amazon and Google. And the idea, this is what I, that the idea that drew me to computers and the Internet in in the first place, is that you can be a kid growing up in Stony Plain Alberta, this little farming town of 5000 people, and you can have an outsized impact on the world because I could publish something on my little geo city site as a kid, and people around the world could interact with it and see it and that was never possible before. And the same is true with these independent software companies. We are competing with these bigger companies. We're partnering with these bigger companies. And in many ways if you have the right people, you can build better software than these companies, you can offer better service than these companies, you can do better marketing than these companies, you're so much more agile and that's really impressive to me. It's inspiring that we can have small independent businesses that can compete on this world stage. And even like, you think about Google search results, it's like, the idea that just a tiny little company could be on that first page of results and getting clicks and getting people. That just blows my mind. It's amazing. And I think it's one of the reasons I'm such an advocate for open protocols like RSS and SMTP, and TCP IP, and all these things, because they, they give independent small players superpowers. There's a reason that some of the most successful bootstrapped SaaS companies of all time are built on top of email, MailChimp, ConvertKit, Campaign Monitor, you know, these are companies that have grown really, really big. But without SMTP being an open protocol, they would not be possible. And so you're enabling all of these independent companies to thrive, really and compete with mega corporations, right? And I'm sure you've seen this on the inside too.
Dave Erickson 36:36
It's kind of like a self fulfilling prophecy, in a sense, because the way that these small companies, even a company like ourselves, can operate efficiently is because we have a bunch of SaaS products that are helping, because they control the cost. They keep the overhead down, and they allow us to do a lot with one person.
Justin Jackson 36:57
Yeah, right. I mean, this what we're doing right now, we're using this Riverside thing to record this call, it's basically a production studio in a box. Five years ago, 10 years ago, 20 years ago. 20 years ago, this setup would have been millions of dollars. And, you know, I've got a little camera here, I've got a little microphone, maybe my equipment total was like, I don't know, maybe it's under 1000, for sure for the camera and this microphone. This software is, you know, probably 100 bucks a month or something. Like you can have a broadcast studio, we could, in your settings on Riverside, you can publish this live to YouTube, if you wanted to, you could livestream it. 5, 10, 20, 30 years ago, that was only accessible to massive broadcast corporations, and it cost them millions of dollars. And this is like, another thing in my stack is I was always a fan of radio, love talk radio growing up, you know, driving around with my dad in the pickup truck and listening to talk radio and I always wanted to be on the radio. And I remember a guy, a friend of my dad's, bought a radio station once he was a wealthy guy. And I remember talking to him as a kid going, man, like how much did that cost? Like, I want to get into radio sometime. It was like, well, millions of dollars to buy a radio station. And then when I saw podcasting, I was like, You mean like, for $19 a month, I can get podcast hosting? I can buy a really decent microphone for 100 bucks and then a computer and I have my own radio station. Like, that's incredible, like the democratization of all of that is amazing. And in some of these small radio markets, you know, some of these small radio markets, you might only have 200 people listening live. Well, a lot of podcasts have a couple of 100 listeners. That's incredible. You know, if I could get, you know, if I could put on a meet up or do a conference talk and there was 100 people in the audience, I would be ecstatic. You know, the idea that 100 people showed up and listened to what I had to say, well, that's like, completely possible with a podcast, you can publish an episode and 100 people might show up and listen to what you have to say. Wow, like, that still gets me fired up that, the idea that anybody could do this. And we have customers all around the world and some of these, you know, some places, you know, the local economics are challenging or whatever, but it's still accessible to them. Yeah, get a microphone, have a computer, you know, and get some podcasting and now you're up. You've got a way to broadcast to anybody that wants to show up and listen. It's incredible.
Dave Erickson 40:00
In some ways, I look at it a little bit like it's a slightly better version than of social media. The issue with social media is that the amount of effort it takes to type in a crude sentence and publish it somewhere is minimum, whereas with podcasting, there's a real effort for quality and you can't, you can't just have a garbage podcast. So yeah, the people who do podcasting in a sense, it's a higher form of content. So it's easy and cost effective to get in. But just the format of it, I think, allows for a slightly higher quality of content versus say social media, which kind of syncs to the lowest common denominator.
Justin Jackson 40:48
Yeah, I think this is one thing about open protocols that drives venture capitalists crazy, is venture capitalists want to invest in proprietary technology, where they control the whole stack, they love YouTube, they've been trying to get another YouTube for years. And they would love for podcasting to be that they want to own the whole thing. And the reason it's okay to have a little friction, and a little mess, you know, RSS, SMTP, all of these things are a little bit messier, a little bit higher friction, they grow slower, podcasting has been, in terms of listenership, it's been growing 10, 15% a year for over a decade. Nice, slow, steady growth. Venture capitalists hate it., because they want a 300x 1,000x growth in the year. But, that stuff that they're investing in is not healthy for human beings and for society. And having a higher friction technology, a slow technology, mindful technology, no podcasting. It doesn't demand your eyeballs. It's not like you got, you know, like the BuzzFeed effect where, if we can or Facebook effect or Twitter effect, if we can just get you on the platform or Tik-Tok and keep you for three hours, just scrolling, scrolling, scrolling. Podcasting is slow and mindful in that it's in your ears. And you can listen for 30, 40 minutes while you walk the dog and then you turn it off. Yep, it doesn't, it doesn't care. If you're on it for 30 minutes, or, you know, it doesn't demand this like nonstop addiction, or, you know what, it's easier to turn off. And I think society needs more technology like that on the consumption side. And like you just said, on the creation side, if you lower the bar for creation, which is what, again, venture capitalists love this, let's look lower the bar, lower the bar, lower the bar, so anybody can publish anything they want, whatever. Well, anybody can publish a podcast, but it's harder. And there's something about that friction that I think is ultimately healthier for society. You’ve got to think through even this podcast here, if I ended up being completely disrespectful, or whatever, you can choose not to publish, you could choose to edit out whatever I said that was inappropriate. You know, it's mindful in the sense that you've got to do some editing, but when you've got a platform that encourages people to not self edit, to have no sober, second thought or judgment and when people get rewarded for being toxic, I think there's some damaging things that we're not, we're not thinking about. And as a society, I'd like to see more slow tech, more open protocols, that, that again, add a little bit more mess, but I think ultimately are healthier for humans and society.
Dave Erickson 44:05
So SaaS is a very interesting business model, because it allows, I think, for both, meaning large corporations can develop SaaS in a way that supports large business and they can drive a lot of business to it, right? But you also have SaaS that can be started small and those businesses are happy that it's growing at 10% each year, because they're able to make money because they can be efficient, and they have other SaaS products that are helping them do business and be efficient. And so they're perfectly happy that they're just maintaining a quality SaaS product and it's growing naturally. Yeah. And then you get these kinds of situations like say Figma or Canva right, where it started small is kind of just solving a problem, but they actually made something so good that everybody just gravitated to it and it just grew, actually, because people talked about it, right? Just like, if you make a podcast and everybody just becomes interested in it and they just start talking about the coffee shop situation you're describing, it works with SaaS as well. But I think at that point, it also asks the question, or people who are developing SaaS or even a podcast for that matter, or whatever. How do we start that kind of initial, people are talking about me? What ,what is that kind of spark that is needed to get something moving a little bit? Do you have experience in dealing with SaaS that you could kind of relay upon us?
Justin Jackson 45:46
Yeah, I mean, again, part of this is going to be dependent on who you are. But for us, I kind of divide our marketing into maybe three or four pillars. So one, we have brand and under brand, I include things like my social media staff, our story, building in public, and the actual, just reputation, how people think of us and I think that as an independent, you have some advantages there. You can share your story, Hey, you know, a big, big part of the Transistor brand was, Hey, this is John Buddha and Justin Jackson, we're at a time we're both in our late 30s, been in the software industry for a long time and we're kind of like, this is kind of it’s like, this is our last big thing. We're going to try to build for a while and we'll see how this goes. And if you want to join us on this journey, we're going to share everything we learned along the way. And that story, you know, IBM isn't going to share what their chief executives are doing. They're not going to be truthful about that, right. But we were just completely transparent about the struggles, about our arguments about our anxiety. You know, there was a time where John was going to work every day at Cards and coming home and coding all night and he was just tired and stressed out. There was times where I was like, man, like this thing's making, you know, at the beginning, it's like, we're making 500 bucks a month, which is great, but not great in terms of like, paying the bills and feeding the kids and all that stuff and sharing those things, honestly and openly. Not everyone wants to do that. But for us, it became a big advantage. And I still get emails every time somebody signs up. And I think this is a trick everybody should do. I just send them an automatic email. That's from me that says, Hey, Justin, so glad you signed up. I'm really curious what brought you here today? Like How'd you find out about us? You know, what's going on in your life that got you here. And still to this day, lots of people say, Oh, I listened to your guys' podcast, or Justin, I've been following your blog since 2010 or, you know, I really resonate with what you say on Twitter and when I had choices to make, I just chose you because I like you guys. So I think that is an opportunity for independence that a lot of folks don't have. We even went so far in the beginning for the first up until I think we hit $100,000. No, up till we hit up maybe 30 or $40,000 a month, we were sharing our revenue publicly. So people could go in and look at all of our revenue dashboards, monthly recurring revenue, growth, churn, you know, everything. And that was useful and helpful and interesting at the beginning, because nobody else was doing that. There were disadvantages too, our competitors were looking at it as well. So eventually, we stopped. But sure, for a time, you know, nobody else is doing that. No one's being that transparent and open and sharing the journey in such an interesting way. So I think actually, everybody who starts a SaaS should start a podcast, not just for the potential for it to build an audience. But the fact that you're chronicling your journey as you go along. It forced John and I to talk every week, and it was like, Okay, what are we going to talk about? Well, let's talk about this issue, are we sure we want to talk about that publicly? Yeah, let's just do it. Let's get it out there. Let's get it on record. And now we have this beautiful archive of, you know, years of us building this product together and it's like also a testament to Transistor. It's like the Transistor story.
Justin Jackson 50:00
Yeah, yeah, I think product has been a good, is another pillar, like, you know, that's my friend Peled, he runs Balsamic Wireframes and he says, you know, promoting your product’s a lot easier if you've built something great that people want. You know, it's just like, if the product is good, and people will talk about it. Customer service is another thing that people talk about and then there's opportunities in terms of business model, like create a business model, like for us multiple podcasts on one account, one price, how it was just a differentiator that had nothing to do with the software but the business model innovation in the business model that people hadn't seen. And I could tell that there was this latent demand for it. I knew lots of people with multiple podcasts, and it can get quite expensive. I thought, Wow, man, like you could switch your podcast to Transistor and instantly save 40, 50 bucks a month. And then I like products that people are already searching for subcategories that people are already searching for. If you're doing something so innovative, that no one's already searching for it. It's challenging, but if people are looking for something, right, software that helps me manage my tasks, software that helps me manage my invoices, software that helps me manage my podcast, software that helps me listen to podcasts. People, every day they wake up, have things that they want to do, and they search Google for those things. And search engine optimization, and search engine optimization starts by having something that people are already searching for. And so what's been huge for us is, you know, having those kinds of back that kind of built in intent. And then partners, we've, we have affiliate partners that get a share of revenue, every time they share Transistor with their audience. We, this was another innovation in the sense that we were quite generous, we share 25% of revenue ongoing. And, you know, a lot of people are like, Whoa, you're sharing that much with these partners? And to us, it's just been an amazing partnership that these folks are.
Dave Erickson 53:08
Right, because they're really motivated to do something.
Justin Jackson 53:11
Yeah. Yeah. They're, they're, they're motivated. And it helps that, you know, a lot of these people were users first. They tried the product and then they emailed us and said, Hey, like, I've got, I've been building this audience for 10 years. Can I partner with you guys and share Transistor with my audience? I already love the product. And it goes, Yeah, sure. And we'll reward you for that. We'll share 25% of our revenue going forward. So yeah, I think and also just being involved in communities. You know, I, I'm on Reddit every day in the podcasting subreddits helping people out, offering suggestions, doing, I did an Ask me anything on the podcasting subreddit and the next week, we had people go, Hey, I heard about you on that Ama, and I signed up because I, I loved your answers. So there's all sorts of ways to stand out from the crowd. And that's kind of what you're trying to do. Every possible way we stand out in product, we stand out in customer service, we stand up, stand out in terms of our story and our brand, we stand out in terms of the way we partner with people and we stand out in terms of the way people are gonna find us naturally. You know, we're going to try to be, we've decided not to invest a lot of time in Tik Tok, but I've always liked being on Twitter makes sense for me. So I'm going to invest time on Twitter and yeah, we get customers from Twitter all the time. I think, you know, investing in the things that make sense for you personally, and just trying to stand out every way you can. is a good way of doing that.
Botond Seres 54:51
I as a software dev usually get a lot of offers to work with people, but without fail, every single one of those offers is project based. So Justin as an accomplished SaaS founder, what would your recommendation be for people who are in a position similar to mine?
Justin Jackson 55:20
Yeah, that's a great question. I mean, so there's the, there's the employer side and the employee side and it really depends on what you want. So often you have to like work backwards. You know, if you want to work for a small company like Transistor, we only hire people that, so far, we've only hired people that we've had a pre existing relationship with. So building a network, yeah, going to events, working on projects, even projects that might not be like paid projects, but just collaborating with other people and building stuff together is a is a, I mean, most hiring in the software industry is that's, how it works is, oh, hey, I know a great person, or this person would be great. Oh, you should check out this person's work. So building relationships, and cultivating a lifestyle, where you just do that as a part of your life, where I go to meetups, I contribute in these forums, where I collaborate on things, I'm helpful in these ways. John, and I built a bunch of stuff, just helping each other out at different times. When John launched his first software company, I launched it on Product Hunt for him and that built our relationship. John, and I met at a conference and hung out a bunch there and then hung out every year after that. We hired Helen, because she was a member of this slack group, I started and she’s just always been such a helpful person. And then she became a volunteer moderator. And had she I think she'd volunteered with me for like, five or six years. And so when it came to making our first hire, I said, we need to get Helen, she's amazing for customer support and service. And she was. We made an offer to her and she came on as a part time contractor to start and then full time in 2021. So, yeah, I think a lot of it has to do with relationship building. And, you know, when we do, you know, I've worked for other companies, too, when you're evaluating people, often, especially for remote jobs, you're getting 700 applications. So you’ve got to figure out a way that my number one question is like, okay, like, what, how can I see this person's work. And so you might have given somebody a resume or an application or whatever, but I'm going to Twitter, I'm going to GitHub, I'm going to their personal website. And I have to say, like, often those websites are really kind of disappointing. Like, if you have a personal website, it's like you're, you're promoting yourself. And folks have like, nothing to do with software development on there, or no examples, no, like passion. Show me that you are involved in the community. If you're a Ruby on Rails developer, write Ruby on Rails stuff, show me what you're learning, work in public, build in public, you know, you've got to. There has to be something I can hold on to that I can say, Okay, the other day, I asked for recommendations or I shouldn't have done this sooner as recommendations for people who build Shopify themes, because I have a friend in a band that wants to rebuild their Shopify site. And of course, I got a million responses. And you can look at these responses and look, just click on their Twitter profile, and ask yourself, would I hire this person? And it's like, 9.9% of the time, 99.9% of the time, you would not hire that person. Their profile has nothing to do with Shopify themes. They're like, a graphic designer, an NFT artist. And, you know, it's like, if you're trying to get hired as a Ruby on Rails developer, put Ruby on Rails developer, in your Twitter profile, put, have a pinned tweet that says, here's a project I built that I'm really excited about, have a link to your website that's built on Ruby on Rails and as a way of showing your work, you know, it is hard. Yeah, it's competitive. I know, I have a lot of empathy for people who are applying for jobs because it is debilitating to get constant, you know, put effort into an application and get constant rejection. I think it's, it's a similar approach. you cultivate a life where you're just stacking as many advantages as you can, but there's definitely some low hanging fruit on your Twitter profile and your GitHub profile and your personal website and everything else, like just and even, like, publish a YouTube video, like you figure something out, publish a YouTube video on that thing. So I'm a junior developer at best, but I figured out how to create a simple landing page with Tailwind and publish it to a static site generator site and I just like learned it, I researched it, I did a video on it and I published it to my YouTube channel. Well, that YouTube video has 1000s of views and if I was applying to be a junior developer I would, I would show them that video like, Hey, here's somebody that can do the work that can figure things out, and can then talk about it in a way that people can understand. So tutorial videos, tutorial blog posts are all super underrated. But yeah, it's kind of the same principle.
Dave Erickson 1:00:59
It's all, it's all part of the new resume. Yeah, right. It's all part. And there's other things too, like for us, we do a lot of personality testing, we personality test our clients, we personality tests our developers. Yeah. But a lot of our developers have asked for the personality test and they, you know, they're looking for other work and other relationships where they want to decide they don't want to do contracting anymore. They want to do a full time job. They'll show people the personality tests that we've devised and the results of it. Yeah. Because that's one of the biggest aspects for a successful developer or a successful business partner or something is, do our personalities match enough to make it? You know, if you have two partners, and one of them is super detail oriented, and one of them is like one of these musi creative guys who doesn't care about details at all, it's just about the idea. There's gonna be some conflict there. Right? And if there's not a close, and if they don't have to be exact, but they have to have enough closeness, that they can, you know, have a smooth relationship, and finding that stuff out in the beginning of the relationship really makes things happen. Yeah. So kind of going back or circling back a little bit to Botond’s question, you know, he's gets approached by people who need a developer and I'll partner with you be my partner in the in this SaaS project. You know, there's a, it's like getting married or going on dates, you know, you have to spend some time and really analyze, are these people I want to work with? Or when I work with them on little things does it work? Like I said, I do a lot of board of advisors. I mostly do that to get to know the people in that company. Yeah. If they appreciate what I'm bringing to the table. And I like the way that they are and the way we work together. At some point, they'll say, Hey, do you want to join our team? Do you want to be you know, you want to put in an equity, do you want to be a member, you know, we'll give you this much equity if you commit this much time and stuff like that. But never just jump into it. Because again, it's kind of like getting married. And if you don't know the people you're partnering with, you may find yourself in not a great situation, those can be quite painful.
Justin Jackson 1:03:11
Well, and the other secret hack, the Trojan horse approach Botond, is to do exactly what you're doing, which is to start a podcast and invite people to be on your podcast. So it's such a great hack, because it's, it gives you an excuse to reach out to the CEO or the CTO, or whoever might hire you and then you get a first date with that person, they get to see your personality, they get to see you asking good questions, they get to see if you have any chemistry. And that's how I got my next job. I did this podcast called product people. I interviewed the CEO twice. Then he was like, I love the show, I'm going to sponsor it. So you became an advertiser. And eventually he was like, Dude, you got to come work for us. You know, it was enough exposure that when they're in their office, and they're like, Okay, we gotta hire someone for this role, who we're gonna hire. And Joe goes, Oh, well, why don't we hire Justin? Like, we already know him. We've already got a rapport with him. He clearly knows what he's talking about. Like it just a podcast is such a good hack for if you want to get hired at like your dream companies, make a list of 10 companies that you want to work at, reach out to their CEO, CTO, people that work there, or stop, start just on a lower level and talk to just an employee and have a bunch of those interviews. Well, you're going to be on their radar as somebody that maybe they should think about hiring in the future. Or if there's a job application, it's pretty easy to then put that in your application like Hey, I know I am going to like working for this company, because I really resonated with this person. Right? So podcasting is underrated, as like a Trojan horse to get it into a company and really rise to the top of an applicant pool.
Dave Erickson 1:05:05
Yeah it, definitely for us, we always have relationships with all the guests that have been on our podcast and several of them I continue to do business with, right.
Justin Jackson 1:05:13
Yeah. It's, it's a great way to build relationships. Yeah.
Dave Erickson 1:05:19
Well, Justin, thank you so much for your time and the great conversation we had about SaaS products and podcasting. It's been really good and we love having you on the podcast and look forward to the next time that we can also meet or be on the podcast.
Justin Jackson 1:05:40
Yeah, this was super fun. Certainly stay in touch. Yeah, this is great. This is great. I got so excited. I lost my voice three times.
Dave Erickson 1:05:50
Thank you very much for taking this journey with us. Join us for our next exciting exploration of technology and business in the first week of every month. Please help us by subscribing, liking and following us on whichever platform you're listening to or watching us on. We hope you enjoyed this podcast and please let us know any subjects or topics you'd like us to discuss in our next podcast by leaving a message for us in the comment sections or sending us a Twitter DM. Till next month. Please stay happy and healthy.
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