Hey guys ladle out some secret sauce for successfully marketing and selling to software developers. Also discussed is their Facebook ad boycott, why you should never call a developer, Coke vs. Pepsi, and leveraging Princess Bride to weed out sales emails.
Starr: 00:00 That was really good. I didn't know you could recite poetry.
Ben: 00:02 And having perhaps the better claim, because it was grassy and wanted wear. Though as for that, the passing there had warned them really about the same.
Josh: 00:10 Yeah, I honestly, I read that poem right before each Crossfit session to kind of pump myself up.
Announcer: 00:18 You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike. Time to start a fire, crack open a can of Tab, and settle in for FounderQuest.
Ben: 00:31 So the Office Max near my house is closing, and so they had to have this closing sale, like everything's 90% off and stuff.
Starr: 00:40 Yeah?
Ben: 00:41 And we needed some printer paper so I'm like, there's probably nothing left there, but I'll go and just, you know ... So there's gotta be paper. I mean, who buys all the paper, right? There was no paper.
Starr: 00:50 Yeah?
Ben: 00:51 There were some pastels. Like if I wanted pink paper, then I would have been fine. There was plenty of that, but it was bare. Pickings were slim. It was amazing. And it's like post-apocalyptic zombie attack kind of scenario where you're like, "Wow. This place just looks-"
Starr: 01:07 And the zombies eat paper, in this scenario.
Ben: 01:10 Apparently.
Josh: 01:11 Yeah.
Starr: 01:11 Can I show you guys something? Talking about big box stores.
Ben: 01:14 Yes, please.
Starr: 01:14 So I ordered some socks on Amazon. Let me show you, they're very nice socks. They're stripey socks-
Josh: 01:22 Fancy.
Starr: 01:23 I had one pair and I liked them so much, I ordered a variety pack of stripey socks. I'm pretty happy with how they look and everything, but then I looked at the actual box they came in, and look what it has written on it.
Josh: 01:40 What?
Starr: 01:42 It says designed by PetSmart.
Ben: 01:44 Nice.
Starr: 01:45 And I don't know what to think now. Because-
Starr: 01:47 Really? Were they really designed by the PetSmart?
Josh: 01:49 Maybe PetSmart is just like the moniker of the designer.
Starr: 01:53 Maybe. Maybe this is someone in another country who doesn't realize that-
Josh: 01:58 No.
Starr: 01:58 PetSmart's already taken-
Josh: 01:58 It might be like an internet handle or something, @PetSmart. He's PetSmart on IRC, like on Freenode or something.
Ben: 02:07 Now, Starr, aren't you concerned that the horizontal stripes will make your ankles look fat?
Starr: 02:13 Well, you know, Ben, I have very skinny ankles, so, actually, it's the opposite.
Starr: 02:19 Oh, man. So how do you guys want to do this thing? Is this an actual reader question, or listener question?
Ben: 02:25 It is an actual-
Starr: 02:26 Wow.
Ben: 02:26 listener question.
Josh: 02:27 And I think we've got a couple of these lined up, too, so ...
Ben: 02:30 Well, you know, I should qualify that. I don't know that he was an actual listener, listener, because he just sent me an email. He was a listener to The Art of Product podcast-
Starr: 02:38 Oh, okay.
Josh: 02:39 Oh, that you were on a while-
Ben: 02:40 Yeah.
Josh: 02:40 Like two weeks ago. Yeah.
Ben: 02:41 Right, right, and so in my interview with Ben, he asked some questions, and so this individual emailed me, and said, "I hope you don't mind me contacting, but I have some questions about your startup."
Starr: 02:53 Yeah. It's some great questions.
Ben: 02:56 They are great questions.
Starr: 02:56 Yeah, so ... how do you want to handle these? Should we just like ... It's sort of a multi-part question, should we just read it part by part, and then we can jump in and give our thoughts or ...
Ben: 03:06 Oh, why don't you be the narrator.
Starr: 03:08 Okay.
Starr: 03:10 This question comes from Tony Chan, @cloudforecast.io. "From my point of view, of an early stage startup in the DevTool space, and the Bootstraps, there isn't much good in valuable information on customer acquisition. You know how difficult it is with limited runway when you first start. And that, on with marketing to developers, it makes it a little bit harder."
Starr: 03:32 What do you guys think about ... I mean, this is kind of like how we started out, right?
Josh: 03:35 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Starr: 03:35 We marketed to developers, we had very limited runway. I remember like ... I said this before, I totally thought Ben was a baller for paying like 70 dollars a month for our first server.
Ben: 03:45 Well, the thing I like about how Tony starts off his email to us, is that he's talking about marketing to developers specifically, right? So there's a lot of content out there about, you need to do this, you need to do that, when you're building your status as you're marketing, and so on. But, marketing to developers, that's a pretty specific group of people you're trying to target, and there are definitely things that you can do with developers that you can't do with other groups, and vice versa. Like, for example, developers do not like to have their phone ring with sales calls, right? They hate that, so that would not be something you would want to do.
Ben: 04:17 But, one thing that we found was really helpful in the early, early days when we were just starting, was already being a part of the community. We specifically targeted Ruby developers, Ruby on Rails developers, because we are Ruby developers, and so we knew that group of people, we'd been in that group of people for a while. We started Honeybadger in 2012, and I'd been Rails since 2005. So, we already knew the community, we were already a part of it, so people knew who we were and trusted us, and we already had reputation. That was very helpful.
Josh: 04:47 Yeah, as a developer, I know how to ... I know a little bit more about customer acquisition for developers, maybe. But honestly, I've never sold a product to a non-developers, or into a totally different market that I have no idea, you know, like I don't know anything about. So, yeah, I don't know. I think if I was going to start ... you know, if I was going to pick a brand new market that I didn't really know, I would kind of try to just go into that market and try to become as much of one of them as I could. And kind of just spend a lot of time doing research, and reading the books they're reading, maybe going to the conferences that they go to, and just kind of try to see what they're about first, before deciding which direction I'm going to go.
Starr: 05:28 You guys mentioned that a lot of techniques don't work for developers, and I sort of get this impression that a lot of the marketing techniques that people talk about and stuff, are meant for people other than developers. Like, man, I was going to start a custom cabinetry shop, I could out-market the hell out of all the other cabinetry shops in Seattle. I'm positive about that.
Josh: 05:51 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Starr: 05:51 But yeah, with developers, it's a little bit tricky isn't it?
Ben: 05:54 Yeah, like one tactic that's popular these days is this whole email sequence where, "Hey, I just want to get on your radar." And then you get like five more emails from the person, and they're like, "You know, you must be trapped under bus because you haven't responded to me."
Starr: 06:07 I know.
Josh: 06:08 Do people actually respond to those?
Ben: 06:10 They must, because they keep on doing it. But like, developers don't-
Josh: 06:13 Yeah.
Ben: 06:13 Respond to that, unless ... not in a positive way.
Josh: 06:15 I don't even answer my phone for most people.
Starr: 06:17 Yeah, I hate those, because it's this cold email sequence. People pull your name off of some sort of domain registry ... Pro tip, don't put your real name and phone number and whatever on your domain. I don't know if it's illegal to do that anymore, but you shouldn't do it, because you'll get all sorts of spam calls.
Josh: 06:35 Yeah, well, I think the-
Starr: 06:36 Yeah.
Josh: 06:36 Whois registries aren't allowed to show that anymore, anyway, like it's a big ... yeah, it's a big thing. Yeah, I'm pretty sure-
Ben: 06:43 Oh, yeah?
Josh: 06:43 There was like a law ... like a privacy regulation or something that passed, at least.
Starr: 06:47 Yeah.
Starr: 06:48 So ... Oh, here's a couple other things you shouldn't do. Register a podcast with your actual email address, because, man, you get some podcast spam. People really want to get into that podcast of yours and sell you stuff for it.
Ben: 07:02 Here's another thing not to do. Don't be scraping websites for email addresses and then email them-
Josh: 07:06 Yeah.
Ben: 07:06 Your cold emails. That happens all the time, still, and so on Honeybadger and our documentation, I always use character names from The Princess Bride. So it's really clear when we get an email to Inigo at Honeybadger.io, how someone acquired that email address.
Josh: 07:22 Yeah. We've had a few of those.
Starr: 07:22 You do that?
Ben: 07:22 Yeah. Oh, yeah.
Starr: 07:24 Oh my god, so we get emails to Inigo Montoya.
Ben: 07:28 Yes. Yes, we do.
Starr: 07:29 That's amazing.
Josh: 07:30 I saw ... I haven't like ... The other day, I saw the first really brilliant email scraping kind of, I guess, scheme, you'd call it. So you guys remember RequestBin, that it was, you know-
Ben: 07:44 Yeah.
Josh: 07:45 It was a service that let you record inbound requests, and it would record them and then show them to you.
Starr: 07:50 Yeah, like API requests.
Josh: 07:51 Yeah, exactly, yeah. So you could use it for testing ... yeah, testing webhooks or any kind of HTTP request. Well, the company that had originally had that website, had discontinued it because I think of stealing ... like, it was getting too much traffic and it was becoming too much overhead for them to manage. But the software's opensource, and there are links to RequestBin all over the web that are now dead. So, I got an email from a guy who had set up his own RequestBin, and he was scraping websites for dead links to the old RequestBin, and asking the owners to change the links to his new RequestBin, basically.
Starr: 08:34 Oh, and another thing, I'm sure you can't do this anymore. I haven't checked, I'm sure you can't do it, though, because it's too big of a hole. But, you used to be able to get pretty much anybody's email address from GitHub-
Josh: 08:44 Yeah.
Starr: 08:44 From their commits. Like you could go in and do some API thing and it would just pop you up their email address. I think people were using that for ... like recruiters were using that.
Josh: 08:54 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Josh: 08:55 I think mine's public on Github-
Josh: 08:57 Like, I occasionally get recruiter emails, but it's not like a flood.
Starr: 09:00 So I'm noticing something where like ... so people are like, "How do you approach marketing for developers?" And we're like, we just immediately hone in on these growth hacking, like scraping ... We don't really do that.
Josh: 09:12 We haven't done any of that, for the record.
Ben: 09:14 Yeah.
Starr: 09:15 No.
Josh: 09:15 Yeah.
Ben: 09:16 Yeah, I think the key is ... And we were just talking about all the stuff not to do, but I think the key is, if you're a developer and you want to know how to market developers, just look at yourself. Look at the things that you like and things you don't like, and behave accordingly. Developers like to have quality stuff out there, right? So, if I'm producing opensource software, then that builds up some sort of reputation, right? If I'm out there participating in Reddit, or whatever, and I'm commenting and helping people out, that builds up reputation. And then, when I have something that I want to offer to developers, now I'm a known quantity in the community, and people are more willing to listen to what I have to say.
Josh: 09:54 Yeah.
Starr: 09:55 Yeah, I think that ... The main thing about developers is that we are all very suspicious, un-trusting people.
Ben: 10:05 No.
Josh: 10:06 Well, I am.
Starr: 10:07 Well, I guess ... It's-
Ben: 10:07 Yeah, I can get you. That's fair.
Starr: 10:07 Kind of true, right?
Josh: 10:07 Yeah.
Starr: 10:08 It's kind of true.
Ben: 10:09 We're skeptical, yeah.
Starr: 10:11 Yeah, people are skeptical.
Josh: 10:13 Earlier, when I said I don't even answer my phone, I meant, to qualify, I meant for family members.
Ben: 10:18 Oh.
Starr: 10:19 So personally, I think that ... like, the thing I've seen work best for developers, for marketing, has been to just like ... you focus on creating value for people, not worrying about getting paid for it right away. You see this in these products that are say, OpenCore, or like, GitLab. You can go and install GitLab, you get a lot of value from it. And then, eventually, they can capture some of that value monetarily when people need to upgrade, or maybe they want a hosted version of the same thing. It's similar thing with blog posts, tutorials, stuff like that, which is one of the things we've done a lot.
Josh: 10:54 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Starr: 10:55 Which is you basically create this value upfront, you give it out, and that's kind of the-
Josh: 10:59 Yeah.
Starr: 10:59 Ethos of opensource and the community we have ... the developers-
Josh: 11:03 I'm not so sure that this is limited just to developers, though, even, and I think like ... I don't know. I feel like more people in the non-developer world are also coming around to this like ... Marketing has gotten a lot shadier over the years, and it feels to me a little bit like if you're not providing some sort of real, good, upfront value to people ... Marketing, to me, like modern marketing, is all about providing that value, basically, for free. And actually giving your audience something, so ... I don't know. I know it works-
Starr: 11:35 Yeah.
Josh: 11:35 It works, but I wonder how long it's going to work.
Starr: 11:38 What, giving people value?
Josh: 11:39 No, no, doing it the other way. Using the shady marketing tactics that people ...
Starr: 11:44 So what's an example of a non-developer-y, giving value upfront thing? Are we talking about whitepapers? Are we talking about ...
Ben: 11:51 I think if you look at people who are doing e-books, there's a lot of value ... If you look at what like Nathan Barry does with ConvertKit, like he teaches about what he's learning, and he offers a lot of value to people who aren't customers. I think Brennan Dunn, done the same thing around his info products.
Josh: 12:09 It doesn't necessarily have to be a physical thing, either. It could be like membership ... from a branding perspective even, it could be like membership in a community or a member ... you know, like, a feeling that people get when they interact with your brand or something. It doesn't have to be like a book that you spent months writing or something that you just have to give away for free, I feel like.
Starr: 12:29 Yeah, so the ... It's like those Coca-Cola ads they play before the movies, you know, because they get a bunch of people, they're all happy looking, they're together singing, and it just makes you happy-
Josh: 12:42 Yeah.
Starr: 12:42 You know? And that's the value they're providing-
Josh: 12:45 Except it's Coke, but, yeah. I mean, Pepsi is better.
Starr: 12:47 Oh, dang, boy. We're going to have to fight about this.
Ben: 12:53 So, amusing aside, so of course my kids grew up in the northwest, right? Because that's where we've lived for the past 20 years. But I grew up in the south, the deep south. And, you know, so it's something-
Josh: 13:02 That's Coke territory.
Ben: 13:04 Exactly. I mean-
Josh: 13:05 Yeah.
Ben: 13:06 You don't ask for a soda, in the south. You ask for a Coke. And, so my kids are like-
Starr: 13:10 What kind of Coke do you want, Ben?
Ben: 13:11 Exactly. I'm going to ask you what kind of Coke do you want-
Starr: 13:14 Yeah.
Ben: 13:14 Or you have to specify, like, "I want a Coke, and give me a Sprite," right? And so my son's asking me, we're talking about this, the other night, at dinner, and my son asked, "Well, what if you want a Pepsi?" And I'm like, "No, you don't want a Pepsi."
Josh: 13:28 You're raising him up right.
Ben: 13:31 But, I'm like, "Do you know where Coke is headquartered? Like in the south, you don't get Pepsi."
Starr: 13:37 Can I have a Pepsi, pa?
Josh: 13:38 What's the matter with you, boy? Like, an example I ... Here's an example of like ... I guess of providing value ... because like in both cases, you're going to be giving something away for free. So like, we talked about this last week in the marketing episode, where we talked about like, sponsoring conferences. And there's the traditional way you can do it, which is like, you can get a booth, and you could give away pens or something, or whatever ... shirts or ... mugs, and talk to people. That's nice, traditional marketing. People are coming up and talking to you, and they're probably having a good interaction. But, you could also do what we do, which is like, go get a bus and take everyone somewhere cool, and just hang out with them. And there's no real like-
Starr: 14:26 Yeah.
Josh: 14:27 There's no real hard agenda to it, but it's giving them an experience where they're hanging out with their friends, they're making new friends, and they associate that all back with Honeybadger. And it kind of helps build our community, so, that's kind of how I look at it.
Starr: 14:41 I mean, you don't even have to have a bus-
Josh: 14:43 Yeah, it could be anything.
Starr: 14:43 You could just make reservations. People could pay for their own dinner.
Ben: 14:46 The value that you provide people doesn't have to be costly-
Josh: 14:49 Right.
Ben: 14:49 Right, and it definitely doesn't have to be about you-
Josh: 14:51 No.
Ben: 14:51 Right?
Josh: 14:52 Yeah.
Ben: 14:52 So, the value you provide can be just a space where people get together and meet each other, and have a good time-
Josh: 14:56 You could just take them on a scavenger hunt throughout the city, or something, where you're like-
Starr: 15:00 This is sounding shady, Josh.
Ben: 15:02 Or, you know, if you're a developer and you're building a developer-focused tool, then obviously, you are learning things as you build your tool, right? So, share those things that you you learn, and that's great value that you're providing for basically free, right? You've already got the experience, might as well just write about it.
Starr: 15:18 Should we move on to our next segment of the question?
Ben: 15:21 Yes.
Starr: 15:22 All right. I'm still going to be the narrator.
Ben: 15:25 Okay.
Starr: 15:26 "It will be super helpful to break it down with how you guys acquired your first 10 customers, first 50 customers, first 100 customers, et cetera, and this makes it more tangible and practical." This is-
Starr: 15:39 We're getting serious, now.
Ben: 15:41 Yeah, this is the real deal.
Starr: 15:42 Yeah.
Ben: 15:43 Well, customer zero is us, right? So, I think that's important to remember. It's a lot easier to get customers one through 10 if you can satisfy a need for yourself. If you happen to be part of a group that's interesting, as marketing purposes go. But I think our first 10 customers were all friends. People that we knew. People that we'd met at Microsoft, or people that we had met through our freelancing work, people who were in the community. And we didn't just give it away, though. We asked them to pay us a dollar a month so that we could test out our billing system, right? And so they had some skin in the game. But the first 10 customers, even though they're paying us very, very little, still gave us great feedback and helped us at a time when, frankly, there wasn't much product there, right? They were giving us the benefit of the doubt.
Starr: 16:30 Okay, so that's the first 10. Then what about the first 50? I'm not sure we're going to be able to give super accurate descriptions, because it all kind of blurs together, right?
Josh: 16:40 Yeah.
Starr: 16:41 I would say like, the first 10 are one thing, and then sort of the first 50 and 100 are sort of the same group of people, right? So didn't you ... After we did the friends and family sort of group of people, didn't you do a mailing or something? Like, didn't you have a list? Like you were doing RailsKits, at the time-
Ben: 17:00 Yeah, I forgot about that. Yeah, I was doing a RailsKits, and, so I had an audience of people that I was talking to on a somewhat regular basis, and so I emailed them, and I said, "Hey, you've liked my RailsKits thing. Check out this other thing that I'm doing, and you might like it." And it helped that it was an overlapping audience.
Starr: 17:18 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ben: 17:18 And that it was relevant to those same customers.
Starr: 17:21 Yeah, RailsKits was a ... You don't do it anymore, right?
Ben: 17:25 Right, I sold that business a few years ago.
Starr: 17:27 Okay, so it was a, correct me if I'm wrong, it was a ... basically, you sold these sort of pre-made Rails apps for like Help Desk ... what were some of the other ones? Like a payment processor-
Ben: 17:39 Yeah.
Josh: 17:39 Software as a service kit.
Ben: 17:41 Yep. A SaaS kit.
Starr: 17:43 Yeah, so, people had something to start with when they built their own application. And that was, you know, we obviously targeted Rails people when we started out, and so did RailsKits. So how many people were on that list? Do you remember? Like ...
Ben: 17:56 It's a couple hundred, I think.
Starr: 17:57 Okay.
Ben: 17:57 It wasn't huge. Yeah. I think another thing that we did early on, like those first 10 customers, those friends and family customers, they also told their friends-
Josh: 18:07 Yeah.
Ben: 18:07 Right? When they saw that this was actually a good thing. And, of course, they were rooting for us, because they're our friends, they went and tweeted to their people, and that helped spread it-
Starr: 18:16 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ben: 18:17 Right?
Starr: 18:17 Basically, as far as I remember, our first 50, our first 100 customers, just came from word of mouth. It seemed like we kind of launched this thing, right? We got the friends and families in, we got our initial sort of customers from your mailing, maybe ... it wasn't that many. But then, after that, it kind of just sort of fanned out and grew on its own. We weren't doing any sort of paid acquisition. We weren't doing any sort of direct sales. It just kind of started.
Josh: 18:46 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ben: 18:47 Yeah, we spent zero dollars on marketing for a very long time. Yeah.
Josh: 18:50 When did we-
Ben: 18:50 And we also-
Josh: 18:51 When did we do Ruby Weekly?
Ben: 18:52 It might've been in the first year-
Josh: 18:54 Uh-huh (affirmative)?
Ben: 18:54 Or two. Yeah. But it wasn't-
Josh: 18:56 Yeah.
Ben: 18:56 That's not the first six months, that's for sure.
Starr: 18:58 Yeah, so Ruby Weekly is a ... it's one of Peter Cooper's weekly sort of newsletters. He does a lot of them for a lot of different languages, but Ruby Weekly was a first one, and it just is a list of links, things that are going on this week in the Ruby community. At least back then, it was like the central place to figure out what was going on in Ruby and Rails, and it still plays a very central role, I think. Right?
Ben: 19:25 Yeah, I still read it every week. Another thing that we did, is we designed the app, the user system in a way that it was easy to spread via word of mouth, right? I wouldn't say it was necessarily designed with the viral loop, because that's not accurate. But, we recognized, early on, that a big segment of our customers would be freelancers who are moving a lot of from client to client, right? And, also, small agencies where it's a small group of developers, and we found that a developer, once he falls in love with a tool, he wants to bring it to his next shop, right?
Josh: 20:01 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Starr: 20:01 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ben: 20:01 Or the client that developer had, when that client gets another developer, then that developer gets introduced to the product that the first developer had already set up, right? So it spread a lot that way, as well.
Starr: 20:12 Yeah, that's a really good point. Like, we don't have a viral product, but it's definitely something that people take with them, they learn about it when they come to a new job-
Josh: 20:21 Yeah.
Starr: 20:21 And stuff like that.
Josh: 20:21 A collaborative product can kind of be viral in and of itself, right?
Ben: 20:26 Yeah.
Starr: 20:26 Exactly.
Josh: 20:26 Yeah.
Starr: 20:27 Exactly.
Josh: 20:28 I was looking at our emails, our old emails, by the way, and I've got emails from Starr about Ruby Weekly as early as mid-2013, so, there you go. Yeah.
Ben: 20:39 That sounds about right.
Josh: 20:39 Yeah.
Ben: 20:40 Yeah. So about a year in, right?
Starr: 20:41 Aw, man, you've got all my old emails?
Josh: 20:44 I know, I haven't gone-
Josh: 20:45 Through the old-
Starr: 20:46 This is-
Josh: 20:46 Emails yet from the early days, and I was just thinking about that, the other day, like, that'll be a blast from the past.
Starr: 20:51 Dang. I'm ... I always feel like I can never run for political office, now.
Josh: 20:56 I know. You've said some pretty inflammatory things over the years, Starr. To me via email, especially.
Josh: 21:07 He hasn't. I'm joking.
Starr: 21:10 I've got a little bit of a different take on this question, and my take is that, we've been discussing what happened for us, and this may or may not be useful for you starting your small business. I think the most important thing, when you're starting a small business or launching a product, et cetera, is that, from the very beginning, you need to know who your market is, you need to know how you can approach that market and how to talk to them. So, basically, if you don't know how to get in touch with 10 or 20 potential customers, starting out, you need to like just, you know, record scratch, stop the presses, stop building, and figure that out.
Starr: 21:46 Because that's a problem that you're going to have to deal with ... the minute you have your product done, you have to deal with this problem. And it would really suck to build a product, I know a lot of people do this, build a product and find out that, hey, there's really no way for me to get in touch with my target market, because either it doesn't exist, or the normal channels involve these lengthy enterprise sales processes that we can't afford-
Josh: 22:12 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Starr: 22:12 So, yeah. So I think like, as a business founder and as a person on an early product team, yeah, that's your job. You've got to figure out a product that you can give to a market. Like, the market is the thing that you have to figure out first.
Ben: 22:30 Yeah, and I've seen people who, like on Reddit, and they're like, "How do you find out what your customers want?" It's like, talk to them. Right? And they're like, "Well, how do I find 10 people to talk to?" And it's like, whoa, whoa, right? If you don't have 10 people you can talk to, then you need to fix that problem first.
Starr: 22:45 Yeah, because if you are that out of touch with your target market, then chances are, you're going to build something that isn't quite aligned with what they want, and ... What was this book that talked all about this? Like the whole, you've got to have your first customers, and you should have them write you checks and stuff. Is that Lean Startup?
Josh: 23:03 Might've been. I think it's been in a lot of books. And I know like, Rob Walling has talked a lot about that sort of thing, like validating your market and stuff upfront.
Starr: 23:13 I'm not sure like, any of those books is entirely right, but this idea that, yeah, you've got to know your freaking market ahead of time. And you've got to know how you can talk to them-
Josh: 23:21 Yeah.
Starr: 23:21 That's a very important-
Josh: 23:22 I don't think any business or marketing book is entirely right because it's different for everyone, and so I think everyone is like ... it's just like, what worked for them, and it all is just a way to gain experience and kind of figuring out what's going to work for you.
Ben: 23:36 I think if you're in a boat where you have this idea, and you have a market in mind, and you have people that you have an idea you could talk to, but you don't know them yet, I think it's fine to reach out to people via email and say, "Hey. I appreciate your work in X, Y, or Z." You should know something about them, right? And say, "I'm thinking about doing this thing. Would that be something that you would find interesting?" Right? And, people respond well to that. I mean, if you sent me that email, I would give you a couple minutes to think about it, and I would respond to that email. Start building those relationships, I guess, is the point that I'm trying to make.
Josh: 24:16 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ben: 24:17 It's okay to reach out and say, "I'm just thinking about this thing," or "I'd like some ... your suggestion on this thing." Make it a low effort kind of response, but find those five or 10 people who will respond, and then, work from there.
Starr: 24:31 Yeah, that's a good point. Like, what else can people do to really get in touch with their markets? We kind of just fell into it, right?
Josh: 24:37 yeah.
Starr: 24:37 Because we were building something for ourselves, and there was already lots of conferences we can go to, and stuff like that. But how else can people really get in touch with those people?
Josh: 24:46 You can ... I mean, if they have events, you can go to the events, like you just said. But, if it's a specific ... if it's a niche that people are kind of like, either writing about, or talking about a lot, go to the places or read the things where they're actually, you know, where they're developing whatever the industry or, you know, whatever it is that you're going into. I find like, if I don't know anything about a certain topic or a certain market, I like to figure out how to get into their head space. Like, learn to think like they think. What are they thinking about? What are they talking about? I mean, usually, you can find at least a few places where that's happening.
Ben: 25:37 I think that's right. I mean, as we went into other languages and frameworks. Like, when you wanted to get into Laravel.
Josh: 25:46 Yeah, I did that for Laravel, yeah.
Ben: 25:49 Yeah, exactly. And you went to the conferences. You read up on the community. Find out-
Josh: 25:54 Yeah.
Ben: 25:55 What they need, and try to serve that need, verses like, "Hey, I know everything-"
Josh: 25:58 Yeah.
Ben: 25:58 "I'm just going to come in and do the same thing I did before."
Josh: 26:00 I mean, I made friends in the Laravel community, now, that I talk to even just ... yeah. We're Twitter friends and stuff, now. And it's not just about Laravel, it's become about everything, you know, Honeybadger business, and just knowing them, so ... Yeah, I understand how they think better, now that I know who they are and I've been in their world.
Ben: 26:22 Yeah, it really bugs me when people have this notion that business is not an interaction between people. Like it's just some, I don't know, anonymous interaction of money and goods and stuff like that. It's really about the people.
Josh: 26:32 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ben: 26:33 Right? You make good connections with people, and they respond to that. Like you make a friend in the Laravel community, and you're not being deceitful and like, "Oh, I'm just doing some market research." Like, you're actually interested in these people-
Josh: 26:44 Yeah.
Ben: 26:45 You're interested in learning about their scene, right? And getting to know them, and that's how you build those connections, and that's how you find customers.
Josh: 26:53 Well, and like ... Yeah, it's a lot of them are there for the same reason, too, so it's, yeah, you're meeting other people who are-
Ben: 26:59 Yeah.
Josh: 27:00 You know, potentially, even interested in where you're coming from, just as much as you're interested in where they're coming from. And so ...
Starr: 27:08 I can see how this might seem a little bit overwhelming to a lot of people, you know, especially if you're a typical engineer, you focus on building things. You're not really focused that much on networking-
Josh: 27:19 Yeah.
Starr: 27:19 And sales, and all that stuff. It's not even really my cup of tea, personally. But, frankly, if you can't go and make friends with somebody at a conference before you have a product that you're trying to sell them, it's going to be even harder later when you're trying to sell them something, because then like ... In the first case, you're just interested in them. You're just trying to make a connection. In the second case, you're trying to get them to do something, which is always harder.
Ben: 27:44 Yeah, I think if you have no interest in developing those kind of skills or talents, or no interest in people, then, starting a business is not for you-
Josh: 27:53 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ben: 27:53 Right? Go work at the bank. Go work, you know, some big company. It doesn't matter. Because there are a lot of places you could work where it doesn't matter, right? You just-
Josh: 28:00 Yeah.
Ben: 28:01 Do your work. You type in the keyboard all day long. But yeah, if you're going to be going out there and trying to hustle, yeah, you have to be able to talk to people and be interested in people and be interesting-
Josh: 28:13 Yeah.
Ben: 28:13 As well.
Josh: 28:14 I mean, yeah, those kind of skills are probably going to help you anywhere you go. I mean, there are the basement jobs, but ...
Starr: 28:22 Well, there are ... I mean, there's some places where you can make money, like online and stuff, without having a huge like-
Josh: 28:29 Oh, yeah.
Starr: 28:29 High-touch type thing.
Ben: 28:31 Like drop shipping.
Starr: 28:33 Yeah, drop shipping. I don't know, man. Maybe you can make WordPress plug-ins or something, and sell them on a WordPress plug-in site. Or maybe you make apps and sell them on some sort of app store. There's lots of things that aren't really high-touch job ... Or, actually, we're not even talking about high-touch. We're talking about just, that don't involve networking and stuff like that. But, I think, if you want to sort of like, reach the next level, then you're going to have to ... you've got to sort of step out of the office and sort of go and meet people and understand their needs and stuff like that.
Josh: 29:03 Yeah, for me, it still just, it all comes back to understanding the audience, and I just personally don't know how you really do that without going and meeting them or ... yeah, spending a large amount of time, at least, in their world, wherever that is.
Ben: 29:19 Yeah. Well, and if you're doing a startup, if you're doing a small, self-funded, or, you know, very small funding kind of startup, that's your advantage, right? Being able to get out there and connect with people. And that was a lot of what brought us the success at conferences in the early days, like we talked about in our previous episode. Just spending time connecting with people and letting them know that Honeybadger wasn't some amorphous blob of a company, it was three guys who were building a thing, right? And that resonated with people. They were interested in that. And they rooted for our success, because they connected with it.
Josh: 29:53 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ben: 29:53 And that's the advantage you have when you are the bootstrapped, scrappy startup that ... like, IBM doesn't have.
Starr: 30:00 Okay, so we've got one more part to this question. This one's a doozy. "Are there any channels that you felt reson-" I had to start reading this because I felt you going in that direction, Ben, so I felt like I just really needed to-
Ben: 30:12 Oh.
Starr: 30:12 Read this.
Ben: 30:12 All right.
Starr: 30:13 So we didn't answer the question, and then just be like, "And, there was another part." So, "Are there any channels that you felt resonated well with the engineering audience? Maybe channels that did not work so well. Channels that are worth trying, what are your customers coming from now? What channels would you spend the majority of time on with each growth phase?" So, yeah, just keep on saying what you were saying, Ben. Conferences and ... Just, start right up. Press play.
Josh: 30:38 Well, we didn't start with conferences. I don't think, because we couldn't-
Ben: 30:44 No.
Josh: 30:44 Afford them, really. No.
Ben: 30:46 So yeah, we started word of mouth, exclusively-
Josh: 30:49 Yeah.
Ben: 30:50 Right, friends and family. Twitter, we did promoted tweets, right? That worked out pretty well.
Josh: 30:53 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Starr: 30:54 Lot's of blog posts.
Ben: 30:55 Lots of blog posts. Starr was cranking them out all the time. And I guess, after we got to the point where we were making enough money to travel to conferences on Honeybadger's dime, then we started going to conferences.
Josh: 31:06 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ben: 31:07 Right. But, I think, over ... like, so the last ... I'm looking at that question, and like growth phase is really sticking out to me. What channels should we spend the majority of our time with each growth phase? And-
Starr: 31:19 I know, and that's the part that just makes this question a thousand times more complicated, right?
Ben: 31:22 Yeah.
Josh: 31:23 Yeah.
Ben: 31:23 Because word of mouth always works, right? Or at least it has for us, the whole time. People telling people about us, has always been a great growth ... So I don't think we've ever outgrown that growth phase.
Josh: 31:35 This-
Starr: 31:35 But you know, maybe that ... maybe the thing is we haven't accessed the growth phase beyond that, right?
Josh: 31:38 Well, this reminds me of the book ... you guys remember the book, Traction, that we read a while back?
Starr: 31:44 Yeah.
Ben: 31:45 Yeah.
Josh: 31:45 I can't remember the author, but it's a popular marketing book. I think the idea in that book was that there's these channels that work ... they work for a certain period of time, and then they might not work. Some might not work. Some might work longterm. But the advice of the book was to pick one of ... you know, find the channel that's working now, and then work that channel until it stops working. So, it didn't really put them into specific phases of growth, necessarily. It's like, the channels kind of drive the phases of growth, and if you outgrow one, it might not be the same time for everyone. So ... you kind of just use ... If it stops working, it's maybe time to move on and start trying all the other channels until you find one that is actually getting you growth again. And it's kind of just this never ending process of trying something until it works, and then working that until it doesn't, and then, doing it over again.
Ben: 32:44 I may not be remembering this correctly, but I thought that in that Traction book, which is fantastic, it talked about also the notion of trying channels that you enjoy. If you don't like the idea of billboard advertising, don't try that channel, right? It's okay to not try all the channels-
Josh: 33:03 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ben: 33:03 That you have available to you. I would totally recommend, someone who is just starting out, and has no idea, grab that Traction book, because it breaks it down, the things, like nineteen categories-
Josh: 33:13 Yeah, it was a lot.
Ben: 33:14 And, yeah, you can definitely pick and choose from the list, and just say, "Hey, I think I would like-"
Josh: 33:17 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ben: 33:17 "To try that," or, "I think I can do that." And at first it's, "I can't do this other thing because it takes a lot of money." And then go from-
Josh: 33:23 Yeah, I think for us, it really has been content marketing, longterm, and obviously word of mouth. But content marketing is something I think that we're still growing and that we ... I don't see the end in sight for that, so ... Yeah, I guess that's good news for us. We've got room to grow there.
Starr: 33:42 Yeah, so I'm going to say for that other part of the question, what hasn't worked, I'm going to say that, and correct me if I'm wrong, I'm going to say like, except for Ruby Weekly, I'm going to say advertising hasn't really done a ton for us. Do you think that's true?
Ben: 33:58 Yeah, we've tried some direct advertising-
Josh: 34:00 Yeah.
Ben: 34:01 And that just hasn't really shown much in the way of results.
Josh: 34:03 I'm not sure we're very good at it, just to clarify.
Starr: 34:09 Yeah.
Josh: 34:09 It's definitely not-
Starr: 34:10 That's a good point.
Josh: 34:10 Our ... I think we might ... I see us trying a little bit more, now that we have Ben Findley on our side, who, you know, our marketing director, who is more ... that's more his, I think, skill set, so, we might circle back on that and see if we can make it work again, but, yeah. I never ... I don't think we actually tried it to the extent where we could say that it really didn't work.
Starr: 34:34 But even though it may be difficult to ever know if it would work, just because exception monitoring isn't something that people impulse buy-
Josh: 34:43 Yeah.
Starr: 34:43 When they're browsing Facebook, right? They see it, then maybe six months later, when they need it, they think of the people that they've seen before and maybe you're in that list, now. But that was pretty much-
Josh: 34:55 Yeah.
Starr: 34:55 Impossible to track, so, I don't know.
Ben: 34:59 You brought up an interesting point, in like we have avoided Facebook ads-
Josh: 35:03 Yeah.
Ben: 35:03 Right? Because people just, like you say, they're not looking to impulse buy an exception tracking system when they're browsing their Facebook feed, right? It's not a good fit for what we're doing-
Josh: 35:15 Yeah, but, I mean, like that doesn't work for anyone, really. Well, I guess it does work for some direct, maybe products, or you know, impulse buy type things. But, a lot of the people that I've heard talk about those types of ads, like social ads, basically, is that you need to have more complex funnels, where you're advertising some sort of content, or like I said, like info product or some sort of content thing, even just a free blog post. But then, you click through the blog post, and then, there's some sort of additional call to action or something that moves them along in the direction that you want them to go. Just because like, people reading Facebook just aren't interest ... they're not looking to buy something right now. They're looking to consume content. So, give them what they want, and then ...
Josh: 36:00 Yeah, but I think we've just been too lazy to set up those kind of complex funnels and ... It feels to me that our content, most of our efforts have, I guess in advertising and the things that we've done have also been still centered around word of mouth, because it's not necessarily like we have this grand flowchart of things people have to do to buy ... We haven't been very scientific with it. But it's been very much about showing up and trying to interact with people and get some sort of reaction or make some sort of impression, and get them to like us. And then, hopefully, I think we just hope that they like us enough to try us, or to tell someone else about us, and-
Starr: 36:48 So, I have to take issue with this idea that people don't buy anything from social media-
Josh: 36:53 Yeah, well, I-
Josh: 36:54 Didn't say they don't.
Starr: 36:55 They have it-
Josh: 36:56 To clarify. I said they don't buy SaaS. I said they don't buy developer ... software as a service developer tools-
Starr: 37:04 Oh, okay.
Josh: 37:04 They ... yeah.
Ben: 37:04 What did you buy from Facebook, Starr?
Josh: 37:06 There it is.
Starr: 37:10 I didn't buy anything from Facebook, but, at a conference, maybe four years ago, five years ago, I talked to a guy who worked for Teespring. I think it's Teespring. They do ... They have like an API where you can design T-shirts, one off, have them mailed out. And this guy was telling me how people were making millions of dollars by doing Facebook ads where they're advertising a custom T-shirt, with, I'm sure you've seen these ads, where it's like, "Nobody loves wine like ..."
Josh: 37:45 Yeah.
Starr: 37:46 "Joanna." Because it matches their name.
Josh: 37:48 So it's like long tail ... highly targeted long tail type stuff. Yeah.
Starr: 37:53 Exactly. So like, "Nobody is as beautiful as-"
Josh: 38:00 Yeah.
Starr: 38:00 "thirty-seven year olds." That sort of thing.
Josh: 38:02 Right. Yeah, or like their college or something ... You could target campuses or something, people, alumni of colleges and stuff. Yeah.
Josh: 38:10 So, but yeah.
Starr: 38:11 I'm sure that's not working.
Josh: 38:13 Those are like ... I mean, that's like impulse buy ... I think that stuff, yeah. That stuff is probably the better ... that's the sweet spot for social advertising. Yeah.
Ben: 38:22 Yeah. Like, about 15-
Josh: 38:23 Like yeah, 15-
Ben: 38:24 Dollar one time purchase-
Josh: 38:25 Yeah. It's like-
Ben: 38:26 Different story than an ongoing, recurring revenue kind of-
Starr: 38:28 See, now I think that is a sort of thing that people imagine is this ultimate sort of, you never have to talk to a person, type of online business. And I have to say that, that's always ... that sort of thing has always kind of fascinated me and appealed to me, but then also, at the same time, I'm like, "Oh, this is really yucky. I don't really want to do this."
Josh: 38:48 Yeah.
Starr: 38:50 It's like, this is my mark I want to make on the world?
Josh: 38:51 Well, we hate Facebook. Just to throw that out there. I don't have a Facebook account, and I haven't since 2014.
Starr: 38:59 I don't think any of us have Facebook accounts-
Josh: 39:01 Yeah.
Ben: 39:01 No. Anymore.
Josh: 39:02 And we're ... yeah. I think we're semi ethically opposed to using Facebook for advertising, so, at least I am, so ... Yeah, that's another reason we haven't done Facebook.
Ben: 39:14 I'm just going to double down on my belief about you do the marketing channel that you like-
Josh: 39:19 Yeah.
Ben: 39:19 Right? Just do the things that you enjoy. If you don't like talking to people, find another way, and maybe hire someone to talk to them, I don't know. But ... like, we don't like Facebook so we're not going to advertise there, period-
Josh: 39:30 Yeah.
Ben: 39:30 The end.
Starr: 39:33 That was very definite.
Ben: 39:35 Yes. Putting the lawn down.
Starr: 39:38 Never say never, Ben.
Josh: 39:39 But I think you have bought or sold something to Facebook, Starr. You've sold your attention and your data. There's always an exchange with using Facebook.
Starr: 39:50 Oh, man. What a mercenary world you view, Josh. How do you sleep at night?
Starr: 39:56 Well, I think we've put this question in the ground. I think we've done a great job, so-
Ben: 39:59 We nailed it. Thank you, Tony. Thank you for-
Josh: 40:01 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ben: 40:01 Asking-
Starr: 40:01 Hey, you know what, Tony? You're welcome.
Ben: 40:04 We should send him a shirt. I will email him and tell him that we're going to do this episode and he gets a free shirt from Honeybadger-
Starr: 40:11 That is awesome. You know what that shirt is? You know what that shirt is, Ben?
Starr: 40:14 That shirt is value. It's value.
Starr: 40:17 Just giving it away.
Josh: 40:18 I thought the shirt was going-
Ben: 40:19 You're going to-
Josh: 40:19 To say something like, "You rock, Tony." Like the shirts on Facebook that you were talking about.
Starr: 40:25 Oh, we could do that-
Josh: 40:25 It's like-
Ben: 40:26 It says, "Honeybadger," because it's also word of mouth.
Josh: 40:29 Oh. Yeah.
Starr: 40:29 Yeah, "Nobody asks great questions like ..."
Josh: 40:31 Right.
Ben: 40:35 Yeah. I guess we have to get Kyle to make us a FounderQuest shirt.
Josh: 40:37 Yeah, that would be cool.
Starr: 40:38 Yeah, I bet people would actually be ... I was going to say people would actually wear those, but that's pretty shady. Like, people wear all of our shirts.
Josh: 40:46 Oh, people love our shirts. Yeah.
Starr: 40:48 Yeah.
Ben: 40:50 This is the part where we invite people, please send in your questions to FounderQuest.
Starr: 40:52 Please send them in, questions, to FounderQuest.
Josh: 40:56 We should work in asking people to rate us at some point.
Starr: 40:58 Oh, yeah.
Josh: 40:58 Because I did that on Twitter, and it got us another five ratings.
Starr: 41:02 Yeah, and I should give our Twitter login information for the FounderQuest Twitter account to Ben Findley-
Josh: 41:08 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Starr: 41:08 Because right now it's just getting automated for updates. And I'm sure there's no subscribers, because we haven't even promoted it.
Josh: 41:16 There's a ... Transistor.fm estimates there's 150 ... Oh, you mean of the Twitter account?
Starr: 41:22 Yeah, there's no subscribers-
Josh: 41:23 Yeah, there's like 13 subscribers or something.
Starr: 41:25 Oh, there are? Wow.
Josh: 41:26 There are, yeah.
Josh: 41:27 There's a few. ... Yeah.
Starr: 41:29 Okay.
Josh: 41:29 No, we've got a couple fans out there-
Starr: 41:31 Or some trolls.
Josh: 41:32 And Transistor says there's like a hundred ... estimates 150 subscribers to the podcast.
Starr: 41:36 That's pretty good.
Josh: 41:37 So-
Starr: 41:38 Well, thank all of y'all.
Josh: 41:38 Yeah.
Starr: 41:39 Thank y'all.
Josh: 41:40 Yeah. Thanks, guys.
Starr: 41:42 You're awesome. Yeah, so please rate us, and tell your friends about us, so ... I guess we've answered this question, so should we head out? Should we sign out?
Ben: 41:49 We should.
Starr: 41:50 Okay. Let's see. What's a good tagline?
Ben: 41:57 Something like Rick Steves-
Josh: 41:58 Like a sign off, you mean?
Ben: 41:59 Like Rick Steves, like, "Keep on marketing." You know.
Josh: 42:03 Keep on ... Keep ... Yeah, I don't know. Keep on 'badgering.
Starr: 42:05 Yeah, this has been the 'Badger Guys, and just remember, keep on trucking.
Starr: 42:13 I think that's good. I think that's a wrap.
Josh: 42:14 Is that it? That's ... yeah, nailed it.
Starr: 42:16 Right, we'll talk to y'all later, boys.
Ben: 42:18 All right.
Announcer: 42:19 FounderQuest is a weekly podcast by the founders of Honeybadger. Zero instrumentation. 360 degree coverage of errors. Outages and service degradations for your web apps. If you have web app, you need it. Available at https://www.honeybadger.io/. Want more from the founders? Go to https://www.founderquestpodcast.com/. That's one word. You can access our huge back catalog, or sign up for our newsletter to get exclusive, VIP content. FounderQuest is available on iTunes, Spotify, and other purveyors of fine podcasts. We'll see you next week.
Links and resources:
Art of Product Podcast website
Ben Orenstein on Twitter
Nathan Barry on Twitter
Brennan Dunn on Twitter
Ruby Weekly website
Peter Cooper on Twitter
Rob Walling on Twitter
Traction website (not an affiliate)
What is FounderQuest?
Three developers building a software business on our own terms.