Do you want to build a small giant startup? Where do you begin, and what and when is enough? Learn the reasons and mindsets needed to build non-venture track startups. In this episode, I talk with Rob Walling, a serial entrepreneur. Currently, Rob runs TinySeed, the first startup accelerator for SaaS bootstrappers and MicroConf, a conference and community for non-venture track company founders. Rob is also host of Startups for the Rest of Us, a popular podcast for bootstrapping entrepreneurs.
If you’ve ever been interested in starting your own business and thought there must be a 3rd option between a small side project and a billion dollar Silicon Valley VC-fueled unicorn, then you need to hear this.
Please enjoy learning from the master of “startups for the rest of us,” Rob Walling.
And if you have a moment, I’d love it if you could give me a little feedback via this SurveyMonkey link. (It only takes one minute.)
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Find a quiet place and record a question about this episode. If we can, we’ll answer it on the air in a future episode. Thanks for listening.
- Rob Walling – @robwalling / website
- Companies, communities, etc
- Preacher of Influence: Startups podcast reaches 500 episodes, 10-million downloads
- 10-Year Journey: Finding rhythm building audiences, communities, software products
- Chronicling Cadence: Share idea, framework, and theory of blog, podcast, conference
- Forcing Function: Show up and make commitment to doing it despite social anxiety
- The Terror of Firsts: First time you do anything is scary; 50th time you do it, it’s not so scary
- Paradox of Choice: What do I work on today? A challenging decision for entrepreneurs
- Perfectionism/Personal Development: Be efficient, effective to get more done sooner
- Stairstep Approach: Continuity to build and grow audience, community, and connections
- Start a Startup: Love the industry and have expertise to teach via relentless execution
- Start Small, Stay Small: Navigate freedom, purpose, and relationships for biggest impact
- Keys to Success: Combination of hard work, skills, and luck
- First Customer? Know strengths/weaknesses to identify pain points, find others to pay
- Tinyseed: Bootstrapping is very hard to raise money//funding from accredited investors
- Chasing Significance: Difference between ambition and accomplishment
- Achieve, Achieve, Achieve: When is enough enough? Help founders help others
Transcripts may contain some typos. With some episodes lasting ~2 hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!
Andrew 00:01:30 Rob, welcome to the show. How are you today?
Rob 00:01:35 I’m doing good. Thank you so much for having me on.
Andrew 00:01:38 It’s a real pleasure. So as we were saying, right before we hit record, I hadn’t quite realized that, but you’re actually someone who’s been a pretty tremendous influence on my thinking over the last, I’d say five to seven years in a very like you and your partner, Mike, I’ve done the podcast Startups for the Rest Of Us for over 500 episodes now, which as a fellow podcaster, I have to say that is a tremendous accomplishment. And what an accomplishment, what does that feel like?
Rob 00:01:59 It’s surreal. It’s like anything you do for 10 years that you just show up for every week at a certain point, it just becomes what you do and you stop questioning, Oh, am I going to do this? It’s just, Oh, this is on a schedule. And it will not. It’s like the Jerry Seinfeld thing of, of drawing the X every, every day and getting, you know, writing a joke every day and getting a streak at a certain point, you get a year, two years, three years. And we’ve had times where it was, you know, one of us got really sick or whatever. One of us was on a month long vacation and we either record in advance or we just, I mean, I’ve recorded solo episodes that are like 17 minutes long of just me talking through questions like six hours, you know, before it went or 24 hours or whatever, before it went live to ensure that we had something on the feet, it became a, a challenge. So I don’t think about it as, as a decade. I just think about it as checking the box every week. And, um, and yeah, that’s it.
Andrew 00:02:49 Yeah. I was curious when you think about your own journey of the last call it 10 years building audiences, building communities, what are those rhythms for you? You know, what is it about it that, that really to you? Yeah,
Rob 00:03:00 Well, I mean, so I started off as a blogger. I was, I was a software developer and then I started thinking, I don’t want to work for people endlessly. You know, it just got old, not having equity, not having something that was building for the longterm. And so I started launching little software products on the side. And at that time I was like, you know, I’m going to start writing about this cause I don’t see anyone else doing this. And I’m curious if there are other folks who want to do it. And so I built a cadence there and that was probably 15 years ago that I started and I would blog once or twice a week. That was a lot, it was way more work than podcasting, to be honest, because cranking out a blog post, you know, I don’t know if you’ve done it or how long it takes you, but oftentimes it would take me eight or 10 hours to really get a really good idea of framework theory, refine it and push send to that.
Rob 00:03:44 But that taught me the discipline of shipping frequently and regularly. And then the podcast though really became, you know, which we started in 2010, that became a, an amazing weekly rhythm and kind of a chronicling of, of our journeys, everything else. Well, I guess the one other rhythm is, is MicroConf, which is, you know, the conference that we run and that we started doing it once a year. And then we started doing it twice a year and then three times a year. And that’s been a nice rhythm as well of like, Hey, w we just have to show up, this is an in person event. There is no not doing it. There is no not showing up because you sell tickets and you book a venue and you, you it’s a forcing function. And I actually like, as much as I’m averse to no I’m unemployable, I don’t like 40, you know, like a lot of entrepreneurs, but I like forcing functions that kind of it’s like, Hey, I know you, you’re kind of, you’re pretty introverted and you have social anxiety and you don’t necessarily love going to conferences, but you have to show up for this because you’re on stage.
Rob 00:04:42 Um, and so those rhythms it’s same with the podcasts. Like it was really hard to do early on for the first six months. Probably very stressful, very how do I call it not angry, but like I would pair with, to stand up in the back of my neck. And I would painfully listen to every episode, but we just made the commitment that we were going to do it. And then by the time you’re not scared of it anymore. The terror of firsts is what I call it. Right. It’s the first time you do anything, it’s pretty damn scary. And the 50th time you do it, it tends not to be. So those are the reasons I think that, that have pulled me through the, the, everything else in my life and my professional life, like in that 10 or 15 year period, you know, I’ve had more than 20 software products and web products and courses and books. And those really haven’t had a cadence or a, um, a forcing function and that’s been fine, but I I’ve, I’ve been glad to have these in my life, for sure. I think it would be hard. It would be hard to only have stuff that I could totally choose what to do when, because the paradox of choice, right? It’s like, what do I, what do I work on today is actually a pretty challenging thing to ask yourself.
Andrew 00:05:44 Yeah. A hundred percent now. It’s also, it reminds me a lot of a quote by, I think it’s James clear where he says, you know, entrepreneurship is a, it’s like a personal development journey disguised as a business venture. Yeah. And I’m curious, how is Rob different today than Rob of, you know, five years ago, 10 years ago,
Rob 00:06:02 So much, man. There’s like a, a level of efficiency and productivity that I just didn’t even understand. I would perseverate and write these thousand word emails to people. And now my emails are very short, like the tactical things, right. I would manage my to do list and a piece of paper and copy it over every day. And now I use Trello. There were all these, I wasted a ton of time. It’s the bottom line. And as things have effectiveness is picking the right things to do. And that’s the other thing is I just don’t do a bunch of stuff that comes across my plate. Now I get emails, I get requests, I get whatever. And I evaluate and I say no a lot. And that’s a luxury you don’t have when you’re first starting out because you kind of, I think you’d say yes to everything at the start, but I definitely spent a ton of time doing things that really didn’t move the ball forward.
Rob 00:06:47 And I think I spent a lot less time doing that today. I work less and get way more done than I used to. Does that makes sense? There was another thing. I mean, I grew up in a family where I was raised with like a lot of fear and a lot of like, there’s like social anxiety and like fear of strangers, but almost in a, to a degree that like, you know, was unhealthy. Um, and I ha and social confidence of like going into a room of people and just being like, Hey everybody, I’m going to start talking was nowhere in my tool belt at all. And that’s where podcasting became that first thing. Cause I could write, write, I could write essays and I would painstakingly think about them and I’d publish them. And then I’d be all nervous. Someone’s going to criticize it over the years.
Rob 00:07:27 People criticized it and you get better at it. And it didn’t bother me anymore. But then getting on the microphone and being like, mom, I’m not going to be interesting or I’m not, I’m not smart enough. People are going to criticize these points or, you know, you’re just way overly critical of yourself. I was not taught growing up the skills that I learned over the podcast, which is you put your thoughts out there. You do the best you can. Sometimes you’ll be right. Sometimes you won’t be, but it’s better to ship and figure it out later. You know, as long as they’re not shipping, uh, medical devices, you know, an airplane, there are exceptions to this, but I’m talking in, in the broad startup world that we’re doing is to get it out there. And um, so there was a self confidence. I think that built in me over those years,
Andrew 00:08:09 I can really resonate with that. The perfectionism is something I have certainly battled with for years. It seems to be a common thread of many people in our, our sort of corner of the world. People who are out to build something, whether that’s a podcast, a startup, whatever, what advice do you give people around perfectionism?
Rob 00:08:24 Well, I think perfectionism is really fear of criticism and it’s fear that you’re going to be wrong or that if it’s not perfect, someone’s going to call it out and they’re going to make you look stupid. And so it’s, it’s getting over that hurdle of realizing a, if it’s good enough, most people will say, Hey, that’s pretty cool. Thanks for shipping that podcast episode or that book or that course. And to realize that you’ll pretty much at, at scale, you’ll pretty much always have some negative feedback and to either ignore it or to take it for what it’s worth, you know, cause sometimes it is, sometimes it is truly like, Oh yeah. So this course wasn’t for you, Hey, here’s a refund, you know, or you publish, publish a blog post. And one person says, Oh, this is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. And then you’re like, yeah, but like it’s easy to criticize from the stands.
Rob 00:09:12 I spent eight hours writing a blog post and you spent three minutes writing two sentences. So I’m actually in this case going to disregard it, you know, or if a friend reaches out to me and says, Hey, what you wrote there is really not this. And now it’s like, okay, now I’m going to listen because I have context. So you’re not just trying to attack me on, on the internet, you know, but it’s, it’s learning how to deal with negativity and not bucketing it all into, into one bucket. I think as well as, you know, again, perfectionism, which was the thing you actually asked about it really, it’s getting over the fear of shipping and um, it’s realizing the perfectionism. Unfortunately as much as I like to ship really good stuff and ship fully baked things. It is a huge waste of time because the odds are, it depends on what you’re shipping, but if you’re shipping a startup or you’re shipping it, product odds are no matter how perfect do you think it is.
Rob 00:09:58 You will get it out there. And you’ll only be about 80% of the way there. And you’re that you have to iterate quickly. And I mean, even when we let an example, like we, I run TinySeed, which is a startup accelerator for SaaS bootstrappers. And when we launched, it was a tweet and a landing page and an email to my people and the landing page was pretty hacky. And I had built it in 24 hours and we took applications three months later, I think. And the application process was like a hard-coded Squarespace form that went into a Google spreadsheet that had Zapier trigger to do something else. And it was kind of, it was not kind of, it was a complete kluge and I hacked it together in a couple of days. It was not perfect. It was, it was far from that, but we got almost 900 applicants and we, we funded this first batch of, you know, B2B SaaS companies that we were wanting to and we got it off the ground.
Rob 00:10:50 Now the second batch, we completely redid it with like legitimate software and let you know, cause we, we proved to the market. And so was the first one perfect now and was even our messaging. Perfect. No, and I spent a lot of time writing the copy and within two months it was like, Oh, that isn’t actually on point. Like that’s not the value prop people want from the startup accelerator. So we had to pivot that. And so anything that I spent time perfecting in terms of messaging was kind of thrown out a couple of months later. And so that’s where I think it’s a learned skill, man. I mean, T to your point of personal development learning, not to hang on to things for too long is his personal development that I think entrepreneurship, um, you know, really teaches us
Andrew 00:11:29 Yeah. A hundred percent. The other one that I have to say just from my own experience, that is like, there’s a, there’s a phrase that a mentor of mine, a guy named Brian Norgaard, he’s one of the first entrepreneurs I ever worked with. And he used to say this thing all the time where he’s like, look, no one cares until they do. And I was like, I used to really mess with me, but it was this idea that like, you know, don’t waste so much time in that phase, like obsessing about it, right. It’s like ship it, learn what’s wrong, do it better again. And you know, yes. At some point maybe you have a giant audience or a giant user base or whatever. It’s like, well, you can do it different then, but right now just ship the damn thing.
Rob 00:12:01 Yeah. And that’s the thing. I think there’s a luxury and not having a giant audience when you start out. Because when I look back at early essays, I wrote at early copy that I wrote and these tiny little software niches that I operated in at early podcasts that we recorded, they weren’t very good. They’re objectively, not that good, but I had 20 people reading 50, a hundred, 600, by the time I had a thousand, I was a lot better and it was practice and it was grinding it out. And most people don’t want to hear that, that it’s hard work, you know, and that it’s writing an essay every week for 52 weeks or shipping a podcast every week for 10 years. But when I objectively, and I’m not saying this to be humble or anything, but the podcast was terrible. Like I listened back to the first five episodes and they’re awful.
Rob 00:12:42 We are two software developers on the mic. We were bloggers software developers. So we almost wrote out word for word everything we said almost. So we’re almost reading the podcast episodes. So they’re stilted, they’re stiff. There’s no conversation, you know, they’re bad, but it got us on the mic and it got us shipping and it wasn’t new. It got us in the game, same thing, public speaking. I, I wrote my book, my first book start small, stay small. And I self published that. And I was like, Oh, this was sell a few thousand copies. And it’s like done really well since then. And it got me a bunch of speaking gigs and I was like, sure, I’ll do that. That was tough. Cause I was not a good speaker at the start. And I spoke in front of some large audiences and kind of tanked out one in particular that I remember. And I remember thinking, I need to be better at this before I do that again in front of 400 people. You know, speaking of having that large audience is almost, it’s, it’s tough at the, at the start before you have the practice of, of learning your message and learning your voice and you know, just getting better at communicating these things.
Andrew 00:13:44 Yeah. And I’d actually, I’d love to get a little bit deeper on that. So just, just as a bit of context for this. So many of the people listening to this are in the early stages of building something, right? One of the common things that I think that they’re all trying to do that I think you’re a pro at, at this point is community building. And as that relates to audience building. And so I’d love to actually talk a little bit more about that. You know, when I, when I was looking, when I was getting ready for this conversation, I went back through a bunch of material from microcuff, which is a phenomenal conference for self funded startups. And bootstrappers everyone, please go check it out. We’ll link to all this stuff in the show notes in particular, there’s a really great YouTube playlist. That’s like the best starting point for building a, I can’t remember exactly the title, but it’s basically like if you’re thinking about doing this, like watch this playlist first, there’s a couple of different talks in that playlist about basically how to build this over time.
Andrew 00:14:31 And I, and I love you to talk a little bit about, um, the stairstep approach, because I think a lot of people in this audience are not going to be familiar with that. Uh, but also for someone who’s at the early phases of the journey, how do they find and connect with and cultivate an audience? Because there seem to be such advantages to continuity, I’ll call it that, right? Like building something for the building and growing with the same audience or the same market over years. And I mean, there’s a lot of great examples, but it seems like you accrue these advantages over time. So I’d love for you to talk a little bit about all that.
Rob 00:15:01 Yeah. For sure that there are huge advantages to it and I’m not sure I realized them at the start. I think I’ll start by saying, building an audience and building a community are two different things because you can have a blog or a podcast or read a series of books. And like Seth Godin might be a good example of that, where he has a huge audience. But I don’t, I wouldn’t say he’s built a community to me. Community is interconnecting other people, you know, it’s that network effect. And I built an audience on purpose and built a community on act by accident. And I didn’t set out when I started blogging to connect other people. I didn’t realize the value of it. And in fact, I just like so many of my jobs and it was typically because I was in Dilbert work environments, you know, but I was like, I was at, you can imagine me.
Rob 00:15:44 I’m the same vicious, like developer. I’m teaching myself coding on the side and learning new languages and I’m building products on the side. And then I go into a Dilbert office where it’s like, what are you people doing? You know? And it wasn’t everybody, but it was just that it was so soul sucking that I made the decision. I was like, look, I’m going to build my whole thing was, I’m going to build software companies that are solo. Uh, I’m going to be a solopreneur, single founder, no employees. I just don’t want to work with people. Cause I thought people were the problem. It turns out it’s the wrong people. You know, it’s, it’s being around people you don’t want to work with. When you can hand pick the people you work with it’s they make the journey, right? So start blogging, build up an audience, RSS feed and then, you know, email.
Rob 00:16:22 And then when we start the podcast, we built the audience and what we realized, we launched a little online community. It’s now called FounderCafe that, um, people were hanging out in forums and there was, they would answer each other’s questions. That was the moment where like, when I didn’t have, when I wasn’t the expert anymore and where other people were helping one another, it was a huge epiphany. And then when we said, all right, let’s get everybody together in a room and we’re going to start this conference. And it’s for small software companies. So micro comp and we show up and there’s, you know, a hundred of us in a room that was amazing, but they still came to see me and Mike who were the, at the time, the cost of the podcast and had built that up within two years, I would meet people at MicroConf and they’d say, Hey, Rob, it’s pleasure to meet you.
Rob 00:17:05 You know, what, what brings you here? And I was like, that’s the moment. That’s the moment where this has become, you know, MicroConf itself became the community became bigger in my mind, like bigger, more powerful. There were more connections. They didn’t need to know who I was to come to the event. The event itself was a draw. The community itself was a draw. And I mean to, to build that, it was, I’ll say it was accidental, but it was, there was a little bit on purpose, right? Because what happened is we saw as we connected people, there’s this exponential value of you get, you know, 10, 10 people in a group is not 10 connections. It’s 10 factorial connections, right? It’s 10 times, 10 times eight, 10, seven, 10, six times five, because everyone’s connected to everyone. And that just go on when you have a hundred or you have a thousand, it is exponentially more valuable.
Rob 00:17:55 And, um, building that was, it was two things. One, it was, you have to have the audience first. I think like I would be really hard to build a community without a bunch of people that you can kind of get together all at once because building it from scratch, it’s a two sided marketplace, right? You need a bunch of people in a room and having the audience allows you to just email 10,000 people and be like, by the way, I’m starting a Slack channel, which, you know, we did two months ago called MicroConf Connect for me. It’s I use this phrase, relentless execution, and that’s a little, it turns some people off. Cause it sounds like this aggressive thing, which I’m not all, I mean is yet, yet fucking show up every day or every week. But I don’t, I don’t know how many parallels there are to community building. I see community building less as a stair-step thing and more as showing up engaging people and realizing that there’s more value in them connecting to one another. Then there is, even though they show up for you or they show up for your speakers at your event, the real value that they stay for is the community.
Andrew 00:18:52 Hmm. Yeah. The thing that made all of that possible was the way you dialed into a particular audience that you wanted to serve over the long haul. Right. I think I’ve heard you say that the moment you saw it in inflection point when you started shifting from just sort of talking about all kinds of things, generally, to really focusing on bootstrapped and self funded startups. And so the thing I’d love to hear your thoughts on, as it relates to that is for someone who wants to go on that journey, someone who’s like, okay, I get it Rob. Like I’m on board for the, for the, I’ll push that Boulder up the Hill, I’ll do it, but they’re not sure exactly where to start in terms of choosing that audience. How do you, how would you guide someone through that?
Rob 00:19:26 I mean the only if you’re going to be in an audience for, or, you know, building an audience and be in a community for five or 10 or 15 years, you have to love it. Right. I can’t imagine recommending some people say, Hey, I’m going to start a startup. Do I need to love the industry? Like I’ve I personally acquired like, you know, a wedding website builder that was software product. And I acquired eBooks on like bonsai trees and this and that. And I marketed them and sold them and they were good products. I don’t particularly love the wedding industry nor the bonsai tree. So can, can you build products and sell them? Can you build a startup in an industry you don’t care about? Yeah, I do think you can. Can you build a community in an industry you are in a niche or whatever you don’t care about?
Rob 00:20:03 I don’t think he can. I think you have to have the love for it. And so that’d be the first thing I’d start with is like, you’ve got, you need to have some interest in it. And then the second piece is I think he had to need expertise to be just ahead, just enough ahead of other people that you can help teach them. And you can share thoughts and frameworks and ideas that other, that are original and other people aren’t, or you need there’s the interview, there’s a journalist approach to it. You know, you think of like perhaps the Andrew Warner approach with Mixergy or Chris Gates with rhodium weekend where they’ve had successes, but they’re not, it’s not as if they had massive startups and can point to like, this is why you should listen to me, but it is like, Hey, I’m the one here. And I’m asking the questions and I’m creating interesting content around this topic, even though I’m not the expert, I am, you know, the journalist or the person who’s covering it. And those are the two models that I’ve seen work and then you go for it and then you plug and your crank and you, you know, and then five years later, there’s 500 people listening to you, you know?
Andrew 00:21:01 Yeah. A hundred percent. So, no, I really love that. And I think that’s a great pivot point into talking a little bit about some of the more, the mindsets that really shaped this type of entrepreneurship. So I guess one of the things I have a question for you about is a lot of the people I speak to in this audience feel torn and I feel this, this tension as well, right on the one hand, I feel this pull to like go big and you know, do all the things and, and have the biggest impact you possibly can. Right. And then on the other hand, I feel this pole, like all the things that you like to talk about, or that I hear in the Microsoft community around like, Hey, build a great company. It just doesn’t have to be the biggest thing ever, but have freedom and purpose and relationships. Like those things resonate with me very strongly as well. Is this a tension you come across? And if so, how do you help people navigate that? Because I find myself certainly feeling that pull from both directions that I’m not sure what to do about it.
Rob 00:21:51 Yeah. I definitely encounter it. And you know, I, myself came up thinking 20 years ago thinking, well, the only way to start a software company is to, you know, software startup is to raise a bunch of money. Cause that’s what everyone does in quotes. And the moment I had the realization of, Oh, I have this little software product, that’s doing two grand a month or three grand a month. I just need a few more of these and I can quit my job. And that’s really ultimately what I wanted to do at that point in my life was to have to own my time. It was less about impacting the world dent in the universe. It was truly like, I want to make myself a better life for now. That was my step one. Right. Of getting freedom and then moving on to how can I impact others around me?
Rob 00:22:30 So I’ve absolutely experienced that same kind of same thought process. And in fact, when I started blogging and podcasting, I think I went really far. I was never antifungal. Even like the first page of my book from 2010 is like, I’m not anti funding. I’m just anti everyone thinking. The only way to start a software company is to raise funding. Right. But I did go pretty hard in the direction of just build a lifestyle business. Like all you need is eight grand a month and you’ll have freedom and that’ll be amazing. And cause that was my goal for several years. And I think that appeals, I think that appeals to a lot of people, but I do think that that is not the end goal. As much as I thought it was 15 years ago. And over time, my thinking that the beauty of it is it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
Rob 00:23:14 You can start the pattern that I’m seeing with myself and with a lot of other people is that they kind of, they kind of stair-step their way. And you’ll look, you look at me, you mentioned Patrick McKenzie earlier on there’s. I mean, I can name a bunch of people whose names your audience doesn’t know. But I wrote about this in a blog post called the stairstep approach to bootstrapping. And it’s the idea is that you do start small and you do just focus on one thing. And that one thing is probably to get to your first thousand dollars in revenue. And don’t think about boy, I need to go and start the next Facebook or impact the whole world. It’s like, there’s plenty of time for that. You’ll get there, but don’t try to play in the major leagues when you’ve never played baseball before, because you don’t know how to hire, how to manage, how to, you know, write code, manage a product, just do whatever these things are really hard to do.
Rob 00:24:04 As, as much as Silicon Valley makes it look easy or makes it sound easy. There’s a lot of luck involved. I talk about successes, like hard work luck and skill it’s combination of those three. And when you start off, you don’t really have many skills. Maybe you have one that you do at your day job, but you don’t. If you’re a developer, you don’t tend to know how to write, copy, run ads, do sales and actually do really good UX, right. Or if you’re a, you know, whatever you get, the idea is that you have one skill, a hard work, I think is just going to be a prerequisite for most. And that luck factor, the smaller you aim and the more niche you are, I think you need less luck to have some success. And I think if you try to build Uber, you need a lot of luck involved.
Rob 00:24:43 And again, Travis had a bunch of skills. Travis had a huge network. Travis had a lot of hard work, the founder of Uber, but he needed a ton of luck for that to work. And so the idea that that I come from is this idea of let’s have a much higher chance of success, right? Let’s start smaller, but have like an 80 or 90% chance of building an app that does two grand a month or a software or a, you know, an info product or a course that gets you to a few thousand a month. And a lot of that involves building an audience and building community. And then you just leverage that up. You know, you expand that and you keep pushing the Boulder and you, you do this enough times that whether you start one course and then have a second or third or fourth, or whether you have a small software product, second, third or fourth, small eCommerce site in a tight niche.
Rob 00:25:25 So you’re not competing with Amazon second, third or fourth. So you get to the point that you can buy out your own time. And now you own all your own time. And it’s like, okay, I have 40, 50, 60 hours a week that I can then leverage up. Then I can start thinking about NF skills, right? So I’ve made some money. I own my time and I’ve built confidence and I’ve built these skills of now I know some copywriting, I built the tool belt of maybe I know Google ad words or PaperClick and Facebook or community building or content or SEO or whatever the tools are. And then you start leveraging up and getting more ambitious with each one. And so perfect example of this. And again, I could probably have 30 or 40 examples of people in the Microsoft community who have done this, but my road was doing a bunch of small little niche businesses.
Rob 00:26:09 Like I talked about earlier with the bonsai trees and the, uh, you know, the ebook and these kind of random things. And then I saved up enough money from there, from those products to buy this small little SaaSs app called Haydale, which was an SEO tool. I grew that from $1,500 a month when I bought it up to about 30,000 a month with almost no expenses. And that was most money. I mean, I grew up making $5 an hour. And my first job out of college with an engineering degree was $17 an hour. You know, I mean, I, I did not. My dad was an electrician, it was solidly working class. So to build something to 30 grand a month, it’s like, what is what just absolutely life changing? You know, you know, it took me 11 years, but I like to throw numbers at things. I mean, just putting in the work 70, 80% chance at each step, that the next step was going to work compounds versus I am the reason there are Silicon Valley successes is because there’s a thousand darts thrown at a dark board and 10 of them land. And we, again, survivor bias. Do any of us here are the other 990, usually not, you know, unless TechCrunch says, you know, or raft company, you know, it says, Oh, Hey, there, everybody got laid off.
Andrew 00:27:15 Yeah. There’s a stat that I saw the other day that I think is very relevant to what you’re saying that most people probably don’t know, which is that in Silicon Valley and the world of high tech entrepreneurship, as, as it’s represented there, everything there is driven by what’s called the power law. And basically what that says isn’t given year, if let’s say 10,000 startups start in a given year, less than 10 will have, I believe it’s 90, roughly 98% of all the value in all the returns, which means like that’s 0.1%, those are bad odds.
Rob 00:27:43 Yeah. And that they’re better odds for venture capitalists who build a portfolio of companies. They’re really bad odds for the individual founder, because like you said, it’s one in a thousand in essence, right? If it’s 10 out of 10,001 in a thousand pounds and that’s, so yes, I feel the appeal and the glamour and I watch the social network, you know, the movie story Facebook, I watch all the Silicon Valley stuff. I do read Silicon Valley press and it’s so appealing. And they figured out a way to like bras in, but there’s this whole other real world, real world that is like 98% of the, even the, I’ll say tech because I’m involved with like 98% of the software companies that are launched. It’s like an iceberg where they are not in the tech press. And we actually, my cofounder of, of TinySeed in our full set.
Rob 00:28:25 He just did some research where he went through 3000 software companies that had exited. And he looked at how many of them got mainstream press like tech press. And it was some ridiculously small amount. I was like less than a third. And like, most of them had not raised any funding, you know, and he wrote an article it’s called like patio Eleven’s law, the software iceberg or something, you can Google it, or you can, it’s a TinySeed.com/latest. But that’s a perfect example of like that whole, that’s something that I am like MicroConf and TinySeed and started for the rest of us is actually trying to actively encourage people to go, do you don’t need permission to go do this? You can build up skills over time and you can build real businesses for real customers to pay real money in a way that, you know, involve to me. It just involves a lot less luck. I don’t like, I like repeatable things that I think have a pretty high chance of success because I think that serves the more people well versus, Hey, come one in a thousand, we’re just going to turn you through. And everybody’s really interested in this startup lottery ticket, you know, and, and one personal hit it out of a thousand, but that has always felt not, I have not loved that approach.
Andrew 00:29:38 I really resonate strongly with what you’re saying. I think that a lot of the shift in my own career of, you know, I’d been purely in the venture backed world. And then at the end of God, what was it? 2014. I want to say I did my first self funded startup, uh, with a friend and, and, uh, did that for a couple of years. And then I sold my part of the business to him. And we went our separate ways. And you know, I I’ve been doing other things since then. I feel like I’m just coming back around to this for, you know, sort of my round two or whatever, whatever round it is, depending on how many, how many failed little experiments on the side you want to count. So I guess one of the questions I have for you is let’s just take me as a case study, right?
Andrew 00:30:12 As, as someone who’s coming back to this, who’s got a lot of experience in the, in the tech product world. You know, I was an engineer and then I met up in a product manager and have built all sorts of things for the last, whatever, 10, 11 years. So it’s not like a cold start for me, but I’m trying to figure out, okay, where does somebody who does have a bit of experience under their belt? Where do they start? Like, so where, where do I start? And how do I go about figuring out what to do? You know, I’ve, I’ve seen there’s some of the stuff you talk about. There’s, you know, Brian Castle’s stuff around productized services. There’s Amy Hoyt in the sales Safari. There’s kind of like all this, like a lot of options, so to speak. And I’m sort of sitting here going, okay, I know I’m good at building stuff. I’ve done that for years now, but where do I start? And there’s a bit of a paradox of choice thing going on, or do I start back at step one in the stair-step? Maybe that’s the answer.
Rob 00:30:58 You know, it’s tough for me to do a one like a one size fits all recommendation. I think a lot of it depends on your personality and knowing, like, knowing yourself, talk about personal development. One of the biggest things that I’ve learned over the past 15 years is to learn my strengths and weaknesses three, four years ago, uh, Mike and I recorded our podcast on Skype. And then we switched to zoom and the audio quality was always kinda crappy. And we’re always on the same track. And I said, we could do a double ender, which is where each of us record locally, but it’s just such a headache so much, it builds some software to do this. Well, then ZenCastr came along and it blew, blew our minds. And I was like, Oh my gosh, this is amazing. And then there were problems with it.
Rob 00:31:39 There’s some audio tracking and other stuff you and I were talking about. And then SquadCast came along and you know, they’re an even better version. And so that’s just a thing of like, if you’re a podcaster and you have issues and you know that you’re a developer, then to me, I would start digging into that pain point. You can’t just say, I have that pain point. I should go build it. You have, you can say, I have that pain point. Now I have to find others with it. And I have to find out if they’re willing to pay for it. Right. Those are the three steps. I know there’s a pain. Do others have it? You know, can I reach them and are they willing to pay for it? The other thing is if I go through my own list, I mean, that HitTail, a SEO keyword tool.
Rob 00:32:13 I acquired that because I was a customer of it. It was failing and it was super valuable and it served a need that I needed. And I figured I could find other people, drip, which was an email service provider felt fit and need that I had. And I went and talked to 17 other founders and said, do you have this same need of wanting a more advanced MailChimp, you know, a MailChimp that has tagging and has automations, which they didn’t have at the time. And people were saying, in essence, yes, I got about 11 people to say yes. So again, I found my own pain point. Then I went in first others with that pain point and I asked them, would you be willing to pay a 50 or a hundred dollars a month? The pricing moved around, but you know, are you willing to pay X for it?
Rob 00:32:54 And people were like, yes. So that, those are my steps. Now you can go out. You know, you mentioned like Amy Hoy’s sales Safari at that’s going to Facebook groups and going to forums and combing through them and seeing, finding external pain points and then doing the validation. I just said, you can do it yourself. There’s advice that you should be the first customer. And it’s like, yeah, kind of. I mean, I know a friend who built software for small movie theaters, like not big chains like AMC, but like one off theaters that are in your town and it’s sell tickets online. And it’s some POS type stuff. He didn’t own one. He didn’t run one. He is interested in the space and he heard someone had a need for it. And he built it, but I don’t think you need to be a customer we’re number one.
Rob 00:33:35 And so to say in your shoes, I would have to look for pain points in your day to day workflows of recording podcasts or whatever else you do in your P you know, for your professional life right now, or the other model that I’ve seen work quite well is to find a subject matter expert, to co-found it with, you know, where you were, you’re a developer and you have a friend, or you have a partner or a spouse or whatever, who is a, you know, an architect or a interior designer, batch one, a TinySeed had this exact pairing. And, and the wife was an interior designer and said, this, all this software so bad. And the husband was a developer and they paired up and they did it. And they didn’t, they did not stair step, but he had a ton of skills and she had the subject matter expertise.
Rob 00:34:19 And, uh, you know, they did, they built a SaaS app called gather that’s in TinySeeds, first batch. So those are a few models. I mean, this, we could turn this, just this piece of the conversation into 90, from 90 minutes or more, but that’s kind of high level how I think about it a hundred percent. Let’s pivot a little bit for those who are not familiar, what is TinySeed? How’d you get here really TinySeed spring out of MicroConf. And so MicroConf, again, is, you know, started as the cost friends for self funded startup founders and has developed into three things. Really it’s, it’s still in person events once we can have them again, cause we’re, as we’re recording this, we’re in the middle of a kind of COVID and quarantine stuff. It is an online community called MicroConf Connect, which is like I mentioned earlier, about 1100 people in a Slack channel founders and aspiring founders.
Rob 00:35:04 And it is like resources and education. So we have more than 200 videos in our YouTube channel cause we’ve been doing conferences for 10 years. So we have 190 something, you know, conference talks that are like from people like Heaton Shaw and Steli FD and Joanna Wiebe and Jason Cohen, like really knowledgeable some of the best talks in the space for these, for this non venture track, non Silicon Valley, real business type of startup. So running MicroConf for at the time, ms. Seven or eight years, and really seeing this need to have this in between. I mean, you and I have kind of been dancing around this, but yes, there’s or self-funding. And on the other side, there’s there’s venture funding and there was never this in between of like, what can I raise a little bit of money? What if I raised like two, three, 400 grand, I don’t have to give away the farm.
Rob 00:35:49 I don’t have to become a unicorn. I can just use that to reach escape velocity and to become a real business and to build a five, 10, 15, $20 million business and have that be an amazing outcome for everyone, you know, because that can have life-changing whether it’s dividends come out of it, or if you decide to sell it, that can be an amazing outcome for the founders and for investors, if they decide to put money in. And there really was not that we knew of an institutional way to do that. I had been, after I sold drip, I had been doing some angel investing and I was really investing in these types of companies. These MicroConf non Silicon Valley, non venture backed companies that I thought, Hey, these, this might be worth or not worth. Cause you know, a $10 million SaaS app that’s growing can sell for five times, six times the annual revenue, right?
Rob 00:36:33 So it’s actually worth 50 or 60 million. I wasn’t expecting any of these to become unicorns. Right. Unicorn has a billion dollar valuation in Silicon Valley parlance. And eventually I got to the point where it’s like, well, I’m kind of overweight in my portfolio. I’m overweight startups and, and there’s not liquidity for, you know, many years. And I was talking about this whole concept of just being able to take some money because bootstrapping is hard. It’s very hard. That’s what I did with all my companies. And at times I wished I had raised some money, but there were no good options to look around and just be like, look, I want to raise a hundred grand to 300 grand to hit that escape velocity. And so after I give myself six months of downtime, I realized there a there’s a real gap in the market. So I hooked up with my co founder, a interval set who is more on the finance side.
Rob 00:37:14 Cause I didn’t, yeah, I’m a founder. I’m in the startup space. I’m a podcaster. I like going to conferences or speaking. I don’t particularly want to get knee deep in spreadsheets and figure out IRR and pitch investor, you know? Yeah. Cause to start a fund, you have to invest in it. So he handles all that side of it. That’s really what it is. Right. It’s the first startup accelerator for SaaS. Bootstrappers it’s for people who traditionally bootstrap and who just want to build a real company that they think can get to seven figures or eight figures. And that’s yeah, we’ve just launched our second batch of companies. You can go to TinySeed.com, you know, and see the list. Uh, but it’s, it’s some pretty killer SaaS companies and we’re actually fundraising for our second fund. We raised about four and a half million for the first five, which I don’t know by venture capital standards.
Rob 00:37:58 That’s just a rounding error, but like buy my book, never raised funding. I was like, this is incredible. We can fund 20 companies out of this. You know, we funded 10, the first batch and 13 and the second having a lot of success and have had more companies apply that we wanted to fund it. Then we had money to fund. So this is a good problem to have, but it’s still a problem. You know, it’s like, well, we would have written maybe 20, 20 more checks at least 25, 30 a lot. So yeah. So we’re already back, you know, raising fund two right now. And actually if you’re listening to this and you’re an accredited investor and you can Google that if you don’t know what it is, but uh, you know, it to be a high net worth individual, we are raising a fund for, to invest in hundreds of these, these real B2B SaaS companies. So that’s TinySeed.com/invest. And you can poke around there too, to find out more about what we’re up to and if you’re,
Andrew 00:38:50 I love it. I’m so glad you explained that. Thank you. You know, what, as I was listening to you, describe the types of companies that tiny sees doing it occurred to me. I think maybe I think there’s a word that central to the TinySeed and the microcog philosophy that is utterly missing from the Silicon Valley mindset. And I think that word is enough and I was just listening to you. I’m like, Oh, wait a minute. There’s a false dichotomy here of either like a build any, you know, build a billion dollar company or you’re building some, you know, bullshit, little thing that no one’s ever going to care about. And it’s like, you know, a lot of people that I’ve, I’ve been thinking about this, they’re like, well, is there anything in the middle? You know, is there something between like a little joke of a thing and, and you know, Facebook and like, of course there is, you know, there’s there’s, you could build, as you just said, there are people building great companies that are doing, you know, significant revenue for, I’d say 99.9, nine, 9% of the world’s standards. You know, they’re doing 5 million a year, 10 million a year, and they’re creating great companies and great workplaces and great lives for everybody involved. They’re just not trying to take over the whole fucking universe. And that idea of like, Oh, there is such a thing as enough. And you know, maybe there’s another way than chase then in spending your entire professional career chasing, you know, truly chasing significance is what I think it is.
Rob 00:40:02 Yeah. There’s a, I, I really liked that enough is such a, such a good way to put it. There’s this difference between ambition and accomplishment for ambition and accomplishment sake, you know, as much as we idolize Steve jobs, he just really wanted to make a dent in the universe and he was worth, I forget it was like 10 million when he was 20 and a hundred million. When, you know, it was a million dollars when he was 20 and 10 million, when he was 21 and a hundred million, he was 22. So he could have done anything he wanted and people get behind like, Oh man, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg and Travis and we work and it’s like, these are these big companies. And they’ve had this impact. I would argue that they have much less ability to actually help their employees and their customers and their, um, their stakeholders.
Rob 00:40:45 They have less flexibility to do that because their mandate is to just get fucking huge. And we see it with the implosions of Uber and how they treated their employees and how, you know, they treat their, their drivers. We see it with we work and how it’s just a mess, you know? And, and arguably like Facebook has it. How is it a net win for the world? I think it’s arguable. It’s debatable. Whereas look at, at, um, you know, a base camp, a MailChimp, a convert kit, a I can just see, I could go for a hundred little SaaS apps, a little being 1 million to a hundred million in revenue. They have the freedom and the infinite flexibility to treat their customers the way they want to be treated. And when their customers say, I want a refund, you can give them a refund. When your employees say, I want to take a month off, or we want to work for our work weeks, or we want to have the best health insurance ever the board doesn’t look there and say, you can’t do that.
Rob 00:41:39 It’s too expensive. Or when you want to make contractors into full time employees so they can, Oh, you want to overpay people overpay. I’m going to, when minimum wage is seven bucks, I’m going to pay him 15 because it’s the right thing for me to do. In my opinion, you don’t have this, this oversight of the mandate of, Oh no, I have to grow at all costs. I have to be grow, grow, grow, or be profitable profit or whatever it is. And there are so many more companies like it’s the long tail of startups. That’s what this world is. And again, I can name three that some people have heard of, but I can also name 97 others that you haven’t, that are seven or eight figure companies that make the right decisions because of the founders want to, and they may have investors. So I’m not saying investment is bad.
Rob 00:42:24 Again, TinySeed companies. They’re going to make the right choice. You are an investor. Exactly. I’m an investor and investors who don’t, you know, it’s the mandate that gets in the, in the way, right? The unicorn mandate suddenly says, I need, I need to achieve for achievement sake. And I need to become a billion dollar company and the collateral damage. I kind of don’t care about that. And you know, I buy tons of stuff from Amazon. Do I like the way they treat their employees? Not really. Why do they treat their employees that way? Because probably Bezos or investors or whatever, have a mandate to do things a certain way, right? And it’s a maximize shareholder value and it’s to get as big as possible. And it’s certainly at this point, business is not doing it for the money. So why is he doing it?
Rob 00:43:05 Because he wants to achieve stuff because his personality is achieve, achieve, achieve, and back to your word, he will never have enough. Whereas I think a lot of the founders, you know, if you sold a company, let’s say you just own all of a company and you sold it for 10 million bucks and you pay your 20% cat longterm capital gains and you had $8 million in the bank. Is that enough? I would say, it’s certainly enough that now I can, you know, you can live forever on that. In essence, if you’re decent at managing money, now you have the, now you can do it, what you want. And my guess is what you want. If you’re a good person is to go help people, right. It’s to go out and, and whether it’s teach people, invest in founders, you know, if that’s your interest, I mean, that’s how I look, look at this.
Rob 00:43:45 Like Microsoft started to help people, uh, with the education of bringing speakers together to educate, and then it started helping them by connecting them to one another. And the podcast has always been the freeway to do that. And then TinySeed is just that next level of like, if you want more help, if you want like really in depth mentorship, and you want to check, you know, you want to say, you need 120 grand for one founder, 180 for two. That’s just that next step. I truly view all of these things as ways to help founders help ambitious startup founders who want to change. They don’t wanna change the world. They want to change their own corner of the world. And they want to treat people right. And to be a butt, to be able to do that. And we’re a for profit obviously, and to be able to do that in a sustainable fashion, um, cause I don’t want to have to go, you know, personally, go to donors and, and ask for that. And I also have to justify my time. I spend 40 hours a week and not have their have a salary, you know, and I quit. I couldn’t do that, but it’s a personal thing. I won’t, you know, I can’t let myself do that. So that’s where the enough comes in. I think a lot, I liked that you, uh,
Andrew 00:44:43 Yeah. Are you familiar at all with the concept of zebra startups and I’m doing air quotes here, have you heard this?
Rob 00:44:49 I have. And I’m, I’m familiar with it, but not in depth. Like if you to define it for your re your audience, it might help me help me know
Andrew 00:44:58 For sure. I was just looking it up again because this is one I saw a while ago, but there’s a couple of articles and essays about this that I’ll link to in the show notes, but it’s, it’s very similar to, it’s kind of like, let’s take the idea you just described around like building a company that’s enough, right? Let’s build a good company, let’s build a good business. You know, it doesn’t have to be Facebook. And it’s sort of combining that with the freedom as a, as a founder and someone who’s running a company to do it the way it feels right to you. And then I think in the zebra parlance there, I’m [email protected] They describe it as being both black and white as in, they are both for profit and for a cause. And I’m curious if that’s something you’ve seen, how you’ve seen that show up in the work you do in the companies you’re engaged with the idea of a cause being involved. That’s something that I know has been a through line with, with my audience and in my own thinking as well. So it’s just something that I think is top of mind out of the way that set off and by the way is like double bottom lines and things like that.
Rob 00:45:57 So with TinySeed, that is not our like explicit goal to, to fund companies with double bottom lines. I have invested in a couple of companies like that. One is Bitwise industries out in it’s in Fresno, California. And it’s actually, as I’m looking through the same zebra article you’re in, I think they mentioned a first round capital, which I believe is now invested in them as well. And they are absolutely, uh, you know, in Fresno there’s a lot of poverty and just not a lot of opportunity. And that is a, uh, a double bottom line company personally, when I see a company doing both, I like, I jumped at the chance cause that’s how I’m wired is to, I want to help people and be able to make money. Are you kidding me? I mean, that was like the dream of amazing. Yeah. So like I can write a book and help founders and I can make some money from it or I can start a conference and do both or I can start TinySeed and hope. Hopefully do both. Eventually I’m certainly helping people now. It’s whether it’ll, you know, make money. These, it’s funny when you throw out you raise a 400, $4.5 million fund, people think like that goes to your bottom line, but Nope, taking a small stipend salary for now. And we only make money really, if, you know, if, uh, if the companies grow. But yeah, all that to say, I would, I would veer towards, towards doing that, but we don’t have like an explicit mandate to, um, to invest in double bottom line.
Andrew 00:47:08 Hmm. Yeah. But yeah. To your point about like, yeah, if you can, if you can find a way to serve with joy and also get paid for it. I mean, hell yeah. That’s, that’s the, that’s the dream, right? So I think that’s fantastic. So we’re going to, we’re going to go ahead and shift and close out here with some rapid fire questions. They’re short questions, you know, that just like to ask everybody, so the first one I like to ask people is, so Rob, what is a quote that’s important to you or saying that’s important to you? And, and what about it speaks to you?
Rob 00:47:32 There’s a quote from Thomas Jefferson and I’ll paraphrase it because he used, you know, English from 300 years ago, but it’s the harder I work, the luckier I get and I don’t want it to imply that man, all you need is hard work to get things done because we don’t all start from the same place. So that’s not, that’s not what it says to me, but I do think that you can build some of your own luck by just putting in you just put in time. And maybe that’s biased by my own experience because I grew up running track, playing football and getting, I got straight A’s in high school. And I, that wasn’t easy. I wasn’t naturally gifted in, in especially sports. And I just had to put in a lot of hours and I just taught myself to code. And I put in a lot of hours to do that. I mean, nights and weekends, checking out books from the library, no one told me to go do that. I just worked hard because I thought it was a skill that would be helpful later. And so I do think that in life, you know, we each have that choice to work hard and try to create opportunity for ourselves,
Andrew 00:48:30 For sure. Rob, with all the types of companies you’re working with in TinySeed, you know, where we’re, we’re trying to build these self-funded companies. Another other way I’ve heard it said that I really like is build small giants, right? Companies that choose to be great rather than big. Uh, that’s from a really good book of the same name. One of the things that I’ve I’ve been wondering about lately is for someone who’s trying to build the kind of company we’re talking about here, how much should they look to use the tools? You know, the methods that are coming out of the, you know, hypergrowth tech, uh, VC backed tech world, you know, how much do you find that that stuff is actually useful for people who are not trying to build a unicorn?
Rob 00:49:04 I think that 10 or 15 years ago it was, there was very little overlap because so much of the information that was out there was not tactical. And it was all about building a deck and raising funding and maybe some stories of how Airbnb growth hacked or who, you know, whoever named whatever startup from the early two thousands growth hack their way to something. And I think that was hurtful. It was a detriment to the movement we’re talking about of just building real companies today. It’s different. There was this shift around, it was around lean startup. It was around when micro conference starts for the rest of us. We’re getting traction to being more tactical and less pie in the sky, theoretical coming out of Stanford and Harvard where you’d read that, read the Harvard business review and be like, I would be like this doesn’t apply to me at all.
Rob 00:49:51 I want to get to five grand a month in revenue. Are you kidding me? But give me something to help. And that’s why I went to the internet marketers who were talking about writing copy and how to do direct response and all that. And so there has been a positive shift, I think, into practical frameworks that have led to where I believe it’s about. I mean, if I were to throw a number at it, maybe 80% overlap between Silicon Valley, high growth startups and what we’re talking about, these real, these real businesses and that the overlap is stuff you said, like, I think customer development is extremely valuable in both cases because need to build something people want, whether you’re going to become a million dollar company or a billion dollar company that you have to start with that foundation. I think that growth hacking is where that line may blur.
Rob 00:50:39 And that’s where as a founder, you have to ask yourself, is growth hacking, just marketing, you know, is it just helping people discover you? Is it just lead generation? Well, then, then cool. That to me, that applies to everyone, right? A marketing approach of running ads on Facebook or building content people want and getting traffic from Google, if that’s what you’re calling growth hacking, then yeah, that applies to both. If growth hacking is what people might call black-hat stuff, or maybe you’re spamming Craig’s list, or maybe you’re, you know, whatever. There are things that start to become on the, on the line that I think Silicon Valley, I don’t want to paint. Also. I think some folks at the grow with the girl at all costs mindset would say, well, ends justify the means I need a billion dollar company. So I’m going to do it versus we have the luxury.
Rob 00:51:18 We have the freedom to maybe say, I’m going to grow a little slower and I’m not going to do things that I think ethically. Um, maybe I don’t agree with. So I do think there’s a lot of overlap now with that said the 20% that I don’t think fits in our model is number one, the, like I said, the stuff that is too much growth at all costs, that is the growth hacking, the, the blackout, the treating our employees like shit, the treating your customers or your contractors or whatever, you know, in a way that we shouldn’t. And I think that there’s a lot of really high level stuff that I think doesn’t apply. Like again, still coming out of Stanford and Harvard, Harvard business review. And, um, one example is like Alex Osterwalder’s business model canvas. I don’t know if you’ve read that book.
Rob 00:51:59 Like I think that’s, I re Alex is great. He’s got a great framework for like really complex Silicon Valley ish stuff. When every time I’ve read it, I always think to myself, this is a solved problem for these for a $10 million business, you don’t need to start hearing, I don’t know what value I feel like this would be a waste of your time. So there’s certain things that are just a little too heady that I think are detrimental and not tactical enough. Right. You need to be pretty tactical to grow. Uh, you know, I’ll say as I keep saying a smaller company, but it’s like you said, it’s a small giant, and you just have to have any boots on the ground in a way that some authors, um, and it’s usually academics. Don’t
Andrew 00:52:38 Yeah. I and adaptation of Alex Osterwalder’s canvas that I like actually better for the kinds of stuff we’re talking about here is it’s called the lean canvas. It was adapted by a guy named Ash, Mario for anyone who’s, uh, who’s familiar with him if you’re, if you like this idea, but you want to get a little more tactical with it, check out that version and we’ll link to that in the show notes. Of course.
Rob 00:52:56 Sounds good. Yeah. I know Ash. He’s a good dude
Andrew 00:52:59 Right on, yeah. He’s I talked to him once many years ago, but uh, I followed his work and, and big fan. Okay. So we’re gonna, we’ll go ahead and put it back to the rapid fire questions at this point in your life, you know, with, let’s just say for the next phase, whatever that is three years, five years, what does success look like for you?
Rob 00:53:13 It is expanding the number of founders and aspiring founders that I can help both through all three things, right through the podcast. Just bringing more people into the fold to spread this message of enough to spread this message of, you can build this without venture capital, you know, build it all costs to help them through MicroConf that building the community, bringing people together to help them, you know, through TinySeed to obviously help fewer there, but to help them grow companies. And that I think takes two fold. It’s helping more people get further along on this track than otherwise would without us. And the other thing is diversity. And I think that’s a huge diversity inclusion is just such a big issue in the startup space. And, and, uh, it’s one that takes a long time to solve. But, um, success is continuing to push both of those forward.
Andrew 00:54:01 I love that. So for someone listening to this, who’s like, okay, Rob, you sold me. I’m in what’s step one. What’s what’s the homework.
Rob 00:54:09 It depends on where they’re starting from. Should we do a hypothetical? So tell me what, like, is this someone who is a developer or designer or are they just that they want to start a nonprofit? And they’ve only worked in nonprofit. I mean, what, what is the
Andrew 00:54:23 That’s grounded a little bit. So for someone who has, let’s say their, you know, call it five to 10 years into their career in some kind of discipline where they’ve been let’s do it. Let’s say as a developer or designer, someone who like is in the world of making stuff, they want to go down this path, but they’re really just not sure where to start, but they love everything you’ve said. And they’re like, cool, I’m in, what, what would you say they should do as a starting point?
Rob 00:54:47 I think they should learn first off learn. And then do you know? And that’s that balance of knowing yourself. Some people just learn, learn, learn too much. And they consume for years and never do. And other people say, ah, other people say, you know, I don’t need to do any of that learning. I’m just going to go do, and both of them are detrimental because there are people who have gone through this before. We’ve mentioned a few of them here. There’s patio 11, there’s me, there’s Amy Hoyt. There’s Dan Martell there, you know, there are people out there teaching. And if you find that person that resonates with you, what’s their body of work. Can you go back and read a hundred essays on their website? Probably because all the people I’ve just named have been pretty prolific. Can you watch videos with them? Can you listen to podcasts?
Rob 00:55:27 Can you watch the conference talks? Can you go to an event again, once we’re doing events again and meet up with them and learn how they think about things and try to apply that to you. So that’s what I would be doing in the background as you learn, or, you know, it’s basically it’s picking virtual mentors is really what it comes down to. I have virtual mentors that don’t even know they’re my mentors because I stock them online. You know, I listened to their podcasts. I listen to their interviews. I, when they read a blog post, I’m like, man, that’s smart. That’s such a good way to think about it and apply it to my own business. That’s a less tactical way. But the interesting thing is everyone I’ve named and I, I can name four or five more. They each have, do we have slightly different approaches to how to do it.
Rob 00:56:05 And none of them are right or wrong. It just depends on if it resonates with you. If, if you think, you know what I really want to do that productized service thing, then, well, you should go look up Brian castle and he has the productized podcast. And you know, and just go down that rabbit hole, cause he’s gonna teach you some good stuff. And then you the steps and you do it and you can be in his community. And if you want to go build stair-step your way and build a small software product or a small info product and build up what you should probably read a bunch of my essays, probably buy my book. I don’t make that much money for my book, but, you know, and be in the Microsoft community and be around the other makers that are doing it. Um, there are there’s indie hackers.com.
Rob 00:56:40 There are these communities that, that will just naturally resonate with you. And I used to believe that I could do this stuff on my own. And that was a mistake because I think you need other people around you, not only who are ahead of you enabled it to give you a, you know, a helping hand or some advice, even if it’s not direct, even if you’re just reading this stuff, but also the other people around you who are at the same place as you, and you’re kind of pushing them forward, right? You’re all, you’re all pulling or pushing each other forward. As a group. That’s really a big reason. We do TinySeed. We could have just done a fund and written checks. It would have been much, much less work on our part, but we do an accelerator. It’s a year long remote program with a group of, you know, a dozen 13 companies in the second batch. It’s a ton of work, but we know the value of being around a tight community that can help help one another out. I love that.
Andrew 00:57:26 So just in closing out, Rob, first of all, thank you so much for your generosity of spirit. Like in all of your work. I mean, you’ve been at this for 15 years and your body of work speaks for itself, but as someone who’s benefited from it and on behalf of everyone else, who’s benefited, benefited from it. Thank you deeply appreciate it. And a lot of gratitude to you, where can people find you online and what would you like to leave the audience with?
Rob 00:57:48 Sure. So if, if folks, if they’re listening to this, they probably listen to podcasts. And if you want to hear more of me talking about this every week for 30 to 40 minutes, that startups for the rest of us, you find it in all the start ups, restaurants.com and all the pod catchers. And then, um, if folks want to be, get into that community side that I was talking about, MicroConf connect it, MicroConf Connect.com. You can go, if you’re a founder or an aspiring founder, you can get into this Slack channel with 1100 people. It’s we highly moderated, really good group of people helping one another out I’m in there, I’m doing a live stream once a week. We do some happy hours now. And it, you know what I mean? It’s just, we’re, we’re really have this, especially in this time of COVID, but even even past this, um, I think that’s two, two places you can find me. Love it.
Andrew 00:58:11 Well, Rob, thank you again, as someone who, you know, you really inspire me in terms of your body of work, you’ve put together in terms of building and teaching and connecting. Those are all firms that are core to me as well. So I really, really admire the work you’ve done. And thanks so much for spending some time with us today. Really appreciate it.
Rob 00:58:18 It’s my pleasure. Thanks for having me on.