When Competitors Are Nipping At Your Heels

Michele reflects on competitor activity, and Colleen takes a moment to enjoy how she's finally launched a product after so time wandering through the proverbial woods.

Michele Hansen  0:00  
So we had kind of a wake up call this week.

Colleen Schnettler  0:04  
Oh, what happened?

Michele Hansen  0:07  
So we're looking at some of our competitors websites, and we realize either their employees don't have kids, or they don't care that their employees have kids or what, but they have gotten a lot more done this year than we have.

Colleen Schnettler  0:24  
Oh, okay. 

Michele Hansen  0:26  
I mean, we feel good about what we've gotten done considering everything. But it was definitely kind of a moment of, whoa, okay. Like, you know, should you know, we have this information now, like, should we do something with this knowing that some competitors are nipping at our heels a little closer than they were a year ago?

Colleen Schnettler  0:47  
So what does it mean for them to be nipping at your heels? Are they releasing new features? Are they like, what exactly did you see that made you go, Oh, we need to up our game.

Michele Hansen  0:58  
So it's, it's partly new features, I think it's one of the most visible things, there's also some administrative type features, like, you know, certain compliance, and certifications. And you know, it with this kind of thing, though, you know, you have that first moment, it's like, oh, like, they now support something that they didn't before that we do. And so that makes us tighter competitors. But also remembering that we compete on so many different levels. And like, we have no one true one to one competitor, um, which, which I think is good for us. And it was, the other thing is like, we don't really pay much attention to our competitors, which I think is somewhat unique. Um, you know, I get the sense that that most companies, if you ask them to how they divide their mental headspace, and research time, and all of that between their competitors and their customers, I'm gonna bet that most companies are somewhere around at 20 in favor of looking at what their competitors are doing, what their features are, what their pricing is, you know, what their marketing is, like, all those kinds of things. And then 20% on the customers, and even like, really great companies that are known for focusing on their customers, which most truly great companies are, are probably more like 5050. And I think we're more like 9010 in favor of listening to our customers and letting them guide our roadmap. And then it's really maybe only once or twice a year that we really check in on what our competitors are doing.

Colleen Schnettler  2:46  
Okay, so you were checking out some of your competitor sites? And like, what's your reaction? Are you concerned? Are you worried, you're gonna start? Are you seeing, are you seeing higher customer churn? Because people are going to your competitors for these additional features?

Michele Hansen  3:01  
No, that's the thing. And our growth is, you know, perfectly healthy, it's, you know, beyond a level that that we, you know, sort of, quote, unquote, need. And so all of that is healthy, and we're really busy. So we're not worried about it. And I think that's what I have been thinking a lot about is okay, you know, we have this moment of we have this new information. And whenever we get new information, there is there's the question of, what do we do with this information? And the answer to that question can be nothing, we don't do anything different. Which I think is an under appreciated answer. In business many times, and old boss of mine was sort of famous for, you know, his do nothing approach. Because, you know, we're not going to sort of run around like chickens with our heads cut off to launch a new feature. When, you know, it turns out that oh, well, the competitors pricing model is actually not as customer friendly as ours, and based on some other things are, it's very clear, they're going after a different market segment than we are. And maybe there's a small percentage of customers that view us as a one to one comparison, but it's really very few customers who do, but it's a tricky thing, right?

Colleen Schnettler  4:34  
Yeah, I can definitely see that. So I was talking to a friend the other day about his last SaaS, which did really well, he grew it and he sold it for a good chunk of money. But he was talking about like the emotional upheaval every time a competitor launched. And I thought that was really interesting, because that's got to be like, you don't know what to do. Should you implement these features like there's got to be a lot of tension there in terms of how you approach this kind of new information you have?

Michele Hansen  5:02  
Yeah, and and what I tend to think about is, when I get those feelings, I pull it back to Okay, what what are the dimensions that we are truly competing on? And how many of those have really changed, and how many of those are present in this competitor, and how easy is it for this competitor, to replicate our model, because that's what makes a business unique is it you know, all the different things that go into it that make certain you know, price points possible for some companies that aren't possible for other ones, for example, you know, so we, we not only compete on the price itself, we also compete on the pricing model. So we have free tier daily free tier plus pays, you go plus subscription options. And then you know, all sorts of other more custom options after that. You know, some of our competitors are, for example, one of the major ones, they have a free tier per month, but you have to have a credit card on file. Some of them are much lower free tier per month, some of them have a free tier per day, but it's only for a three month period, like there's all and then like some of them have pays, you go on top of that some as we were talking about with you a couple of weeks ago, some of them maybe have paid you go on top of that, or they have subscriptions within a certain band on top of that, or they jump straight to enterprise after that. Um, and so the price and the pricing model are one way we can eat, then, of course, there's the the data itself, like so in our space, it's the coverage, you know, where US and Canada and some of our competitors are us only some of them are worldwide, but not at rooftop level. Some of them are rooftop, like some places rooftop some places not like all sorts of different things. And then also the different data appends that we have. So adding congressional districts, adding census data, all that kind of stuff, which most of our competitors don't have, only one has a couple of those things. So there's the data and the coverage. There's also things like the features. So we have an API, we also have the ability to upload spreadsheets, like massive spreadsheets, most of our competitors don't have spreadsheet upload support, most of them don't have batch geocoding support. And some of them actually expressly prohibit batch geocoding. Only one of them has some sort of spreadsheet support, but it's actually like copy paste, and it's very limited. And then there's also Terms of Service, which is probably the hardest one for anyone to replicate, which is our extremely permissive Terms of Use. And most of our competitors have very restrictive Terms of Use, and you know, you can't store the data, you can't reuse it, things like that. And so when we have a, you know, a new competitor Come on, or a new a competitor, add, you know, features or things like that, we're always thinking, Okay, like, how does this? Yes, there's that initial feeling of like, oh, oh, like, okay. But then what does that actually mean for us? And how does that change our competitive position? And usually, it's, you know, what, this, there's more competition, that's fine. We're still okay, we're still going to keep focusing on what we do.

Colleen Schnettler  8:19  
So you're looking for like specific data points, like you would be maybe concerned if a customer changed to a similar pricing model, or if they decided to let you cache your data or let you keep your data. So you're looking for things like that are more specifically competing in your competitive advantage? Exactly.

Michele Hansen  8:39  
Yes. And especially the combination of all of those things, too, which is something that thankfully, none of our competitors have, at this point. And, and the thing about competitive advantage, even in a commodity space, is that we still have some advantages, like we have seven years now of working with this data, and have happy customers who are willing to vouch for us who who talk to other people about us, like, those are advantages we didn't have at the beginning. And now our data is much, much better, the user experience of those features is much, much better, which in a commodity space. You know, you only have so many levers to pull prices, the most obvious one, but user experience is a big one too, because if you can make it easier for someone, and it's the same price as something else, they're going to use the one that's easier to use. And so we have years under our belt of making those things easier, for example, some of our competitors, like maybe they have international data, or they do have rooftop data or whatever that is, but you have to hit multiple API's to do that. And so that's an infrastructure decision that has informed a competitive advantage for us because it's easier to use our API because you only have to make one request and then you get everything back all at once. And so there's a lot have like strategic level decisions like that. That may just seem like an engineering decision or a legal department decision with Terms of Service, for example, that I think really do change, competitive positioning and competitive advantages.

Colleen Schnettler  10:20  
So part of this makes me think about something we've discussed before. And it's just as this decision on how and when to add new features. Do you guys use a product to help you with that? Or do you have a product roadmap, you guys review every six months? Like kind of, besides looking at, you know, where you're competing? specifically? How do you handle new features.

Michele Hansen  10:43  
So we do not have a product roadmap, I think that was something that we honestly, were kind of excited to liberate ourselves from when we went full time on this, because you know, we don't have a board of directors to report to we don't have other departments that need to coordinate, we don't need leadership that's on board. Like, because we are the leadership, we're also the operators, you were the investor, like we're everything. And so we don't have a roadmap, which is, just makes it really simple with the two of us, because we're always, we're always learning together. And so if something starts to shift that like, oh, like we should, maybe we should add this particular data append, or maybe we need to rethink the user experience of a particular part of our service. Both of us are kind of evolving at the same time. It's pretty rare for us to be in a situation where one of us thinks one thing is really important, and the other one thinks something else's, is really important. I think that's really where working respect for your co founder is really important. We do though, generally, like we'll talk maybe over the next three months. And how we tend to work especially when it comes to new features, is we will do sort of sprints and rest periods. So fours, everybody knows the term Sprint's from agile and all of that, and this term drives me nuts. Because anyone who has ever run knows that you do not sprint constantly, you can't sprint for two weeks, and then sprint two weeks sprint for two weeks that you're going to be exhausted, you live your body physically cannot do it. And so what we will tend to do is we will sprint on a particular feature, or something that we're trying to improve or trying to do. And then we purposely have a rest period, we might take a couple of weeks where we're just doing maintenance work, you know, we're doing all the other things that go into running the business. But we're not doing that energy of new creation, which is kind of exhausting and like requires a lot of mental energy to work through. Okay, well, what if, in this scenario, what happens there? And that way this could go wrong? How do we handle these three, you know, cases that come out of that, like all of that sort of thinking is very resource intensive, from a mental perspective. And, and so we purposefully will sprint for a period of time, and then have a period where we're, you know, fixing bugs and doing accounting things, and then and other things like that. But we usually don't plan more than maybe two months in advance, like what we'll have a general idea of what we're going to be working on over the next couple of months. We are rarely in scenarios where we have a specific deadline for something, especially for a feature like I can only think of one time in the past two years that there was a customer that was coming on board. And there was a particular feature that was a requirement for them to start. And we you know, we gave them a timeframe for that. And we basically had a due date for it. But pretty much all of our due dates are always self directed.

Colleen Schnettler  14:02  
Very cool. It sounds like a great way to run a business. I mean, it sounds like you guys have a good a good balance there. And you're far enough along that every time a competitor launches, you know, a new feature. It's not like oh my gosh, we're gonna go out of business. Like it sounds like you're in a pretty comfortable position.

Michele Hansen  14:18  
It definitely was like that. In the beginning, though. Um, you know, we have to close our eye on things. And yeah, I remember we had there was somebody who launched something similar for Australia, and they like copied our entire website. And our price like they copied literally everything about us. We had another competitor who copied our tagline and I think they might even still have it. Who knows, they might even be listening. Um, if they pay attention to competitors, like most companies do, they probably think this podcast is a great source of competitive intelligence and corporate espionage.

Colleen Schnettler  14:59  
I love it. You said corporate espionage but so fancy,

Michele Hansen  15:05  
I don't, I tend to be more relaxed about this stuff, you know, we like we see the competitors Come on, we see them do things. And I think, as a business because we are so in touch with our customers, and because it's so important to us, and because we know we're doing the things that are important to them, I think as a business, we tend to have a certain amount of quiet self confidence, we don't feel the need to be looking over our shoulder, you know, wondering if our customers are going to go to the new hot thing and leave us behind like we, we know them, they know us. And, and we listen to them. And, and so far, that seems to be working. Now, there's no guarantees that that will continue to work. And there could be some, you know, crazy funded company that's going to completely come in washes away, that certainly happens all the time, especially to small companies, having a big well financed competitor come in. So that's something that could happen in the future. But for the time being, you know, we're gonna keep doing what we're doing.

Colleen Schnettler  16:11  
Awesome.

Michele Hansen  16:12  
So what's up with you?

Colleen Schnettler  16:13  
So I have been working, I've been busy working on all the things, it's still a lot of fun. It's nice, even now past the idea generation stage and having actually shipped something. It's nice to know what to do next. Like I have a lot of things to do. But I know what to do next. And you know, that kind of feels good after floundering for so long with like, oh, what about this? What do I do now? What do I do now. So customer levels about the same as it was last week, 30 ish people signed up, I think I've 10 that are actively using it. But the great thing is, because I've been able to talk to some of the 10 people, I have seen some issues with the product that I really want to address have already addressed, you know, by this week, and the first one was deleting and that I already told you about. So I did that. The second one was customizing the widget. So it looks great on my site, because the branding is obviously designed to match my site. And so someone sent me his production site where he's using it, and he has like this dark theme, and it looks terrible. White, I know, I was like, let me fix that for you immediately. So it's cool. So I added a section now where as the implementing developer, you can now set your all your different colors, you can upload your own icon, you can completely customize it to match your site branding. So I was pretty excited about that. Especially since you know, that's an immediate like gratification thing for people who are using it. I'm also I have it running on two of my client sites now. And I'm seeing some issues with like the ease of implementation, like that's my big tagline, right is that like, it's easy. And I'm seeing that there are some things you may want to do that are, you have to have like a deeper level of JavaScript for. And so I want to kind of, I think not everyone's gonna want to do it. Basically, for example, let's say you're using it for your avatar and your avatars uploading photos, what would happen is because the drop zone doesn't have a memory, per se, if you render the form, but it's an edit form, instead of a new form, the previous image is not going to be on the form, you as the developer have to write the image tag to put the previous image in the image tag. And then the drop zone would be wherever you put it on the page. But that's kind of that's, that feels kind of clunky, right? Because you have your image, and then you have a drop zone below it. So just things like having it pop up, when you click a button and having it hidden. You know, I'm just working through some of the UI stuff. And I'm trying to give people options. So yes, it takes five minutes to implement it. If you also want it to pop up here and do this and do that. Here's a snippet you can use to make that happen. So I'm kind of trying to work through some of those kinks. 

Michele Hansen  19:23  
I mean, the great thing about having early users, even though it's not a lot is like I can see how people are using it and you can get which is so bad from people not only as Hey, like can you do this but do what you're talking about with a dark mode like the the feedback of oh my gosh, this is amazing. Like thank you so much you fixed it like that is some of the most powerful motivation and like, like affirmation that you're working on the right thing, which, you know, said for so long, you felt like you were kind of floundering looking for something to work on and didn't have that that kind of direction. And we're really just trying to find something and now to be in a place Where you have people using it, and you're using it yourself, and you're seeing these issues and you know, on the one hand, it can be a little bit overwhelming to be like, Oh my God, this product has such a long way to go. But also you get those little moments of Oh, wow, you fixed it. Thank you so much like, just hearing someone appreciate you is, I find that to be so motivating.

Colleen Schnettler  20:25  
Yeah, it's been really cool. And I've noticed too, like in the beginning, you know, you and I've been friends for years and have been doing these coffee chats pre podcast for years. So you remember me just desperately trying to find an idea. And I would interview people. But I have found that now that I actually have something, people are much more open to talking to me about it. So I have like, I've had a couple calls this week, I have calls with friends. They were just friends that are developers, but I can be like, here is this thing. What do you think? How does it integrate with your production applications. And I feel like I'm getting a lot of really good feedback from from that. So it's actually really nice to go back through with follow up with people I've talked to before and been like, Oh, so I built this thing. And you can get really specific feedback, which I think is cool. And so that's been, that's been a lot of fun. So I've been doing like a lot of calls and just talking and talking and talking to people about what they need. And about the feature thing too. At first, when this guy sent me his site, and I saw this white drop zone on his blue background, I was like, Oh my gosh, I am so embarrassed that I shipped a product that you can't change the color of. But then the more I thought about it, I was like, I just really needed to ship something and it works. You know, I didn't ship a piece of crap. Like it works, it does exactly what it says it will do. So I'm really glad you pushed me to ship it, even though it didn't have some like things that are really nice to have. Because once it was shipped, like once it's out there, the hardest part was all the AWS architecture, right? This stuff is easy, like this stuff I can do in a day. And so I'm really glad, like, that's all that would be my you know, if you're in that early stages of a product, and you have one that works, but it's not perfect shipping anyway. Because then to your point, you'll hear from people, you'll see what people want, and you'll be able to, you know, riff on that.

Michele Hansen  22:18  
And I feel like, what I hear you saying is how, you know, you said you, you were you felt like you were floundering for a long time. And it was hard to get people to talk to you about that. And you didn't say this, but it but it sounds like that was kind of a lonely process. And now that you have someone, something out there, you have all these people to talk to you and they're excited about it. They want to give you feedback. And yes, there's like some embarrassment that like oh my god, like, like, you can't do the background. Oh, this is terrible. Like, we definitely had those feelings of like, Oh, my God, our product is terrible. Why would anyone use it? Um, and like, but you have connection now with other people. And so you went from this kind of lonely place to one where you do have conversations and people want to talk to you because there's like something tangible that you can talk about with them. And so I think your story is, you know, so inspiring for people who, who may still be in that looking for a problem looking for something to build phase because it's okay, if you're feeling kind of alone in that stage. Like, that's, that's perfectly normal. I think your story of just, you know, building the thing you needed, even if it's not the most exciting thing in the world, it's not going to be the next Uber, like it solves your problem, and you're happy with it. Um, and yes, there's a little bit of embarrassment about features of it when you when you launch, but you got something out there, and now you're you collaborating with people on it like you can get there.

Colleen Schnettler  23:56  
Yes, yes, you're absolutely right. And you know, I was thinking about this. So I told you, part of the reason, like I listened to a lot of podcasts, and I listened to a lot of these two founders starting a business podcast. And so I've been listening to them a little more closely. And it occurred to me, that of the four I listened to, not a single founder is on his first company. Oh, like they've all started something before. Yeah. Well, I mean, whether it's been like an info product, or they haven't all started, like super successful sasses. But like a couple of them have sold, they've all sold something outside of their consulting before. So I think also, I think part of my part of the thing that is lonely and can feel really frustrating when you're trying to get started is I'm listening to these guys on their podcast. And they'll just like casually mention, the other company they sold, or they'll casually mentioned, they're backed by tiny seed. And I'm like, well, we were backup like, what about us that are just starting from the beginning. So yeah, so that's just like my little pep talk if you're just starting from the beginning. So am I And, and it is lonely in the beginning, especially since you're so like, you're so directionless. Right. So like you said, Now I have a direction. This might, as we said, I don't, I don't really know where it's going. But now I can talk to people and I collaborate with people. And I can really find out the pain frequency of this problem, which is something we have discussed before, too.

Michele Hansen  25:22  
It sounds like you're in a good place right now.

Colleen Schnettler  25:25  
I am like, this part is so fun. Another thing I've been thinking of is like, as we've discussed before, as well, this is like what I want to do, right like this is this is the path I want to go on. So I've tried to kind of implement strategies to not work myself to death ever thinking, I'm just going to be, you know, once I, because I used to think like, Oh, I just launched something like everything will be perfect. I think Amy has a great article about this, too. Like, if I just make my first sale, like everything will be perfect like this is I want this to be my job. Like I want this to be, you know, something that weaves itself into my life in a really manageable way. And so, you know, this is a really fun time right now. So I'm just trying to enjoy it.

Michele Hansen  26:07  
I'm so happy to see you in a good place like, new, as you mentioned, like we've been having these conversations for years now. And it's just so gratifying for me to see you so like happy and bubbly and full of tasks and things and directions. And like you're on the path, you may have just gotten your foot on it, but you are on like we have gotten you to the trail, you are no longer wandering through the woods like there, there will be rivers, there will be cliffs like this trail is not going to be just a walk in the park. But we found the trail. And that is such a huge part of the journey. And I'm just so happy to see you at this place now. Like it's so gratifying for me.

Colleen Schnettler  26:55  
It's awesome. It makes me happy too. And thank you so much, you're the best. So Oh, and so really this upcoming week, I need to work on my marketing page. It's funny how like, I just have been really slow to get that done. It's not that it's particularly hard. I just have to do it. So I need to I need to fix up my marketing page. And like, just keep talking to people and just keep iterating and reaching out to folks. Yeah, so so that's kind of where I am.

Michele Hansen  27:27  
So are you reading Storybrand?

Colleen Schnettler  27:29  
I am. And so this week's chapter was actually so it felt so obvious. Like I almost didn't want to share it this this week's chapter was not a big like, Oh, it was a call to action. And it's basically like, don't forget to tell people that what you want them to do. But that was the whole chapter, like don't like call to action like they need to you so you do all this work to you know, get them to trust you and establish yourself as an expert and an authority in the field, you understand them you understand their problem. Now you have to tell them what to do. And so you have to call them to action. Oh, yeah,

Michele Hansen  28:05  
I remember what I was reading this chapter. And I also thought that it was something that was so obvious. And then I looked at our website, and I was like, wow, we actually haven't done this. Like there are a lot of places where it said, you know, it said sign up when really the action was upload a file or create an API key or, like, not just telling them do something but do this specific thing.

Colleen Schnettler  28:27  
That will wrap up this week's episode of the software social podcast, we'd love to hear from you at on the Twitter on Twitter, at software slash pod


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