No Longer "Bootstrapped"

Michele makes some changes. Colleen, meanwhile, feels like she's building into a void.

 Michele Hansen  00:00
Hey, welcome back to Software Social.

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Michele Hansen
So I have kind of an announcement to make. 

Colleen Schnettler  00:35
Oh, I love announcements. Do tell. 

Michele Hansen  00:38
We are no longer a bootstrapped company.
Colleen Schnettler  00:42
What does that mean?
Michele Hansen  00:44
So, I've been getting more feedback on my, on my book, and, and I’m getting so much amazing feedback from, because I ended up sending it out to like, 200 people last weekend. And I decided to open it up to some friends of mine who are, like, like, work in tech, but not in kind of, like, bootstrap world or in VC world. So that, so, they like, aware of what's going on, but also kind of outside of this little bubble, because I want to get their, their perspective on things. And there was one comment in particular that I got that really made me reconsider things. And in the intro to the book, I'm describing how, you know, we're this, you know, bootstrapped B2B SaaS. And they said, that was complete jargon, and also consider using a less racially-loaded term.
Colleen Schnettler  01:44
Michele Hansen  01:45
Yeah. And I had this real moment of sort of looking in the mirror and realizing, oh, wow, like, people outside of this bubble, have a very different definition of this word, and a very different meaning from that word, than we do. And I've had reservations about it for a long time, and like, wanted to switch to a new word, but didn't really have one that I felt like worked, because everyone kind of recognizes what that means. But this was kind of shocking to me of, like, you know, getting outside of my bubble and seeing how people outside of it react to that.
Colleen Schnettler  02:27
I honestly didn't know there were negative connotations around the word because I've only heard the word used in our little context, you know, people that are in tech starting businesses.

Michele Hansen  02:40
Yeah, I imagine you're not the only one who is surprised by this. So, I kind of dug into the phrase a little bit. And the problem comes from the fact that the phrase pull yourself up by your bootstraps is where it comes from. Now, historically, apparently, when this, this word, the phrase first came around, it was actually intended to imply that something was impossible, because if you can just sort of picture someone wearing old fashioned boots with, with loops on them, and then trying to stand up while holding their own bootstraps, like, they would fall. So it was, so it's kind of a funny image, if you can sort of picture that. But then it sort of, in specifically American political discourse, where, the phrase is originally American, it came to sort of be combined with all of these sort of self reliance and sort of the rugged individual American man who doesn't need help from anyone, and kind of all of these connotations. And as I sort of dug into people with outside, who are outside of the community, they all had this very negative reaction to it, that was very politically tinged, and to them, felt like we were sort of making this like, political statement. And I was like, whoa, like, that is not the intention at all. But you know, the sort of, the politics of it aside, I realized that within the community, we're not even clear on what it means. Like, 

Colleen Schnettler  04:14
Yeah, I guess that's a good point.

Michele Hansen  04:16
Like, I was emailing with a customer a few weeks ago. And, and for some reason, I happened to ask them if they were bootstrapped company. I had just gotten the sense from their website. And their reaction back to me, that I've been thinking about was they're like, I wouldn't say we're bootstrapped because we're growing. And I was like, oh, that's interesting. Like, when they heard bootstrapped, they thought that it meant a company that doesn't grow. And then, and I did some polls on this a while ago. You know, some people think that it can mean that a company doesn't take any funding at all. But what do you like, what about debt? What about using credit cards? Is that funding? What if you take funding from something like TinySeed or Earnest, which aren't like the big VCs, but like, you're still taking money and maybe giving away equity, like, is that bootstrapped? But then also like when we started out, you know, part of our funding capital was $1,000 in AWS credits for the first six months. Now, that technically showed up as a marketing expense for AWS and not as an investment, but to us, it was the same thing. And so, I think it's this broader point that none of us are truly self-reliant. Like, we all have a community that's holding us up and helping us at every step of the way. And seeing how people outside of this world react to that world react to that world was a really kind of shocking moment for me. And I was like, you know what, maybe, you know, maybe there's another word that I can use that is both more descriptive and less potential for offending people outside of this little bubble.
Colleen Schnettler  06:01
Okay, so what did you settle on? 

Michele Hansen  06:03
Customer funded?
Colleen Schnettler  06:05
Oh, that's good. 

Michele Hansen  06:06
But then somebody pointed out to me that people might think that it meant that we did crowdfunding, or like one of those Regulation CF campaigns that, like, Gumroad did.
Colleen Schnettler  06:16
When you said that, like, it is a little confusing. Customer-funded is a little confusing to me, too. And then what about people who don't like, people in the beginning, like what word? I mean, if you think about language, which I think is, this is really good that you're bringing this up. But we don't really have a word for people who aren't making enough yet, you know, like, 

Michele Hansen  06:35
Right, yeah. 

Colleen Schnettler  06:37
Self-funded, I guess?

Michele Hansen  06:45
Yeah. I mean, I guess self-funded is another word. I mean, I, I've been thinking about this, and I don't really have an answer to this. So I'm kind of curious what other people think. There is, like, we as a community, feel an importance to note that we are not VC-funded SaaS. We're also not all SaaS, right? Cuz there's people doing courses, there's like, like, there's all sorts of other things going on here. And we can't define ourselves by what we're not. And we do have a, like, we have a unique perspective as a community. And so some people call this, you know, sustainable business, but then like, people tend to think about the environment, too, which, you know, like, like, sometimes that is, is the case, but like, you know, most of us are not sort of sustainability-focused companies. Or there's also calm companies. Though, I feel like that, kind of, 
Colleen Schnettler  07:34
I don't really like any of those. I don’t think any of those,
Michele Hansen  07:37
It kind of discounts, like, the, like, kind of crazy hours that people are, you know, it, it's like, it's like a milder version of lifestyle business, it's just not said, it's not said with the intention of being offensive, which lifestyle business is. So I don't know what that word needs to be, but I sort of invite everyone to consider, like, like, what are we as a community, and what do we call ourselves? And I, I recognize that it may come as a shock to you that there are people who find that word offensive or off-putting, and, and I think that's okay, and you sort of have the reaction like Colleen just had. But I think we also, we do want to be a community where all sorts of people feel welcome and feel like they can start a business. And I think for so much of us, this is about, you know, the liberation from the pressures of corporate life, from, you know, from the pressure that trying to run a high growth company can, can come with. And so, what, like, what is that, what is that word, and how do we define ourselves? I don't I don't know what that answer is. But, um, but I feel like we can find an answer to it, and finding a different word, you know, I think it, it doesn't discount, right, any of the hard work that any of us put into this, like, it doesn't mean that there's anything wrong about that, or about us for using a word that, that other people find off-putting. But I think it's something for us to grapple with, especially if we want to be a force within the business community at some point.
Colleen Schnettler  09:16
Michele Hansen  09:18
I feel like you're just kind of shocked. You're just like, where did this come from? 
Colleen Schnettler  09:20
I'm just sitting here processing, Michele. Well, there's a couple of things running through my mind. The first, the first thing I would like to say is this shows the importance of getting, this word is overused, but diverse opinions. So I mean, if you hadn't sent your book out to people outside of our community, I never would have, I wouldn't have had a single comment on that word. So I think this shows the importance of that and as, in a larger sense, if more tech companies tried to get more diverse ideas and opinions, you know, they would avoid the pitfall you almost fell into. 

And the other thing I was thinking is I feel like Courtland has, has really come up with a good term, Indie Hackers. But that is, of course, a brand name as well, so we can't really take that. But I tend to use that word the most, because I think that most represents what I'm trying to do, which is build a business without taking funding while hustling, but also trying to build a business that fits into my life. So, that's kind of the term I use a little more frequently. But I love this idea of trying to think of, you know, a new way to kind of brand ourselves as a community.
Michele Hansen  10:29
I feel like Indie Hackers is a really good way of describing developers who are trying to start their own companies. But to me, it sort of feels like that's where the definition ends. And like, I love participating with Indie Hackers, but like, I wouldn't classify myself as a hacker. There's also, you know, tons of people who have really negative reactions to the word hacker, right? 

Colleen Schnettler  10:52
That’s true, too.

Michele Hansen  10:53
Like, that word is, you know, is very loaded in its own right. And someone brought up indie SaaS, which kind of reminded me of indie rock, which, you know, started out meaning independent of record labels. And then it meant just, like independent record labels, as opposed to major record labels. And then it just meant like, a style of music and more broadly, a culture. I guess I would be fine with indie SaaS, but for me as a former sort of, quote, unquote, indie kid, when I was a teenager, like to me, like indie just sounds a lot like music. And doesn't, I, but maybe, like, maybe it's just like, you know, the little 15 year old hipster still in me that thinks that and like, everybody else thinks it's fine. Like, I like I would be fine with that, I think but it is, you know, with language, it's important to, to have something that is instantly like, recognizable for people, but, and language is always changing. I think that's the, sort of the fun thing about it. And, and changing words is hard. But, but there's many examples throughout the decades and centuries of people adapting language. So yeah, I'm kind of curious to hear what, what people will, will come up with.
Colleen Schnettler  12:19
Me, too. Yeah, I'm looking forward to it.
Michele Hansen  12:20
Yeah. Let's move to something a little lighter.
Colleen Schnettler  12:25
That was pretty heavy to open the podcast with. 

Michele Hansen  12:20
I know. I dropped a bomb. 

Colleen Schnettler  12:29
But this is my first cup of coffee. I just woke up.
Michele Hansen  12:31
Did you get a testimonial up this week, Colleen?
Colleen Schnettler  12:34
I did. I got a testimonial up. So, I'm pretty happy with that. I ended up buying Tailwind UI, which was such a good decision. It's so I mean, I should have bought it six months ago. Like, it's so funny. But I bought Tailwind UI, and I use their testimonial blocks. So, and I wrote one and I got it up. So I felt pretty good about getting that done. It’s a small thing, but you know, baby steps. What I've really been thinking about, I feel like, although my optimism is still high, I have felt kind of directionless the past few weeks. And so, and I think the thing that we have talked about and that I've been struggling with is people are obviously using my product and paying for my product. So, there is a need for my product. But I have not yet honed in on who those people are. 
Michele Hansen  13:30
That’s okay. It’s been live for like, you know, with paying customers for like two months now, right? Like, that's okay.
Colleen Schnettler  13:40
So, what I want to do in order to, like, tailor my marketing and my content and, and kind of figure out who's really using it is I want to go back to basics. So when I built this, my original thought, I built it for myself, right? So, at the time, you know, if we go back almost a year now in the podcast archives, I was like, oh, I'll sell this to other consultants. I have no idea if this is something other consultants want. So I am trying to go back to basics here. And I'm gonna, I want to speak with other consultants to find out what their needs are and what their pain points are in the file uploading space. So that's my plan.
Michele Hansen  14:24
Hmm. What's driving this feeling?

Colleen Schnettler  14:28
Because I feel, here's the thing with Heroku is these people aren't, no one's emailing me back, which is fine. I only have, what do I have, like 18-ish paying customers? Of those 18-ish paying customers, only 60% are using it. So I feel like those people that aren't using it will churn, and Heroku is like, choppy, right because they prorate. You could sign up for two days and then cancel. Now people aren't really doing that, but I don't know, I feel like it's coming. And I feel like I want to know where, what to do next, right. As we've talked about a million times, like, we've talked about all the different things I could do next, and so I need to, I need some focus. And I feel like before I start diving into all these other communities and, and stuff, I need to know what my value proposition is here, like, who am I providing value to? What do they need? Because part of me hasn't want to made, part of me has not want to make the push to new communities because I feel like there's a lot of features I'm lacking. But the question is, like, no one has complained about me not having these features, like, do I need these features? I don't know. I just need to, I need to figure that out, I think. And so that's kind of why I think I want to go back to my original audience and see if what I'm providing is actually something consultants want, because I'm starting to think maybe it's not. I'm starting to think maybe they're not my people, not because I don't know, this is just a hunch I have just based on, like, the minimal feedback I've gotten so far. So I don't know, I feel like I've been bouncing around kind of unsure of what to do next, and so when in doubt, talk to more people. Right, coach? Isn't that the rule? 
Michele Hansen  16:219
That is the rule. You know, what? I wonder if there's this feeling that we had for the first couple of years, and I wonder if this feeling is running underneath what you're feeling, which is this fear that everything could go away overnight.
Colleen Schnettler  16:42
Oh, yeah. I mean, definitely, I think part of that is like, okay, so my 18-ish paying customers, maybe 11, or 12 are actually using it. Yeah, I mean, sure. They could all just change their minds, because they're like, she doesn't have, you know, image resizing or batch deletion, or whatever it is that I don't have that they need. And that hasn't happened, but it might because I just don't know enough about what people feel like they need.
Michele Hansen  17:13
Yeah, there's this, there's this real, I think, I don't, I don't know what the word is that I'm looking for. But there's this precariousness of a product that runs underneath, right? Like, like, for a long time, we would just be like, all this revenue could go away overnight. Like, we just operated as if it could all go away. Which made us really hungry, in the way that you are, to try to figure out okay, why is this working? 
Colleen Schnettler  17:47
Right? Right? Why is it working? I don’t know. That's fundamentally the problem.
Michele Hansen  17:53
Is it working, and why is it working? I mean, there's also kind of, I think, in this, this feeling, I feel like I'm hearing from you, which is also something I have felt, which is, why did anyone sign up for this when it is lacking all of these features that I thought were absolutely critical, like, you know, and basically, you know, like, I have definitely had products that I think of I'm like, this product sucks, like, why is anyone using it? Like, are they, like, are they okay, like, did they realize that this is terrible? Like, like, there's this, I mean, it's, it's like an insecurity, right? Because you don't have security and knowing why people are there, and why they're staying.
Colleen Schnettler  18:40
Yeah, no, that's exactly right. That's such a good, that's the perfect way to put it, Michele. Like, clearly this is working because I'm not losing people. And I'm getting, you know, about one sign up every one to two weeks. So, something is working, but I have no idea like, how it's working. I have no idea if they feel like they're getting their money's worth. I have no, I have no idea what value I'm providing to these people. And so absolutely, if I, you know, let's say every single one of them talked to me and showed me their side and was like, this is how we're using it, and this is how it saves us money, then I'm sure I would feel very differently. But with no people talking to me, I've literally no idea. So I expect them to all cancel tomorrow because I just don't know if I'm providing them value.
Michele Hansen  19:23
So I think that's a rational feeling.
Colleen Schnettler  19:25
Michele Hansen  19:26
Yes, and I think you were doing the right thing. By listening to that feeling, right? Like, you're not just kind of like, running from that feeling and saying, no, I'm just gonna act like that's not there. And whatever and put my head in the sand. You're saying, okay, where is this feeling coming from and what can I do to answer this, right? It's, why is this working? And because, because without knowing why it's working, you don't know what to do more of, or less of. Like, it's impossible to prioritize when you don't know why things are happening. And this is one of those things that like, you can look at signup metrics or, or traffic metrics and see that something is happening. You can see what is happening. You can see that there's new signups every week. You can see that there's revenue. You can see that, did that whale customer like, did they, did they cancel yet, by the way?
Colleen Schnettler  20:19
They did not cancel. They are still paying me $250 a month. 
Michele Hansen  20:23
So you can see that they are still paying you. But those metrics will never tell you why. And you can only figure out the why by talking to someone. And this is why we use both qualitative and quantitative methods with customers to figure out the why. And so, so, so your approach to this, it sounds like, you want to start with going back to the people you were originally building for. That's kind of where you're thinking of going. Like, it sounds like you feel like you can't get your customers to talk to you.
Colleen Schnettler  21:01
Right. So, and to be fair, I just I think it's a, it's a volume problem. Like when I had 115 customers, because when it was free people signed up like crazy. When I had like, 115 customers, I could always find someone to talk to me, which was great. But I only have what, what’d I say like, 18-ish paying customers, and none of them I've, you know, none of them have responded to requests to chat, which is fine, right? I don't want to harass them. So I've been thinking about, we've talked about me wanting to explore other avenues like, other, other markets, but I'm already in the Heroku marketplace, and I want to make sure I'm taking advantage of people who already use Heroku. And so, when I originally thought of this idea, like, I was like, this is perfect for people who have to do multiple sites in a year for consultants, right? Because it speeds you up so much. So I'm trying to circle back to those people who do like, full stack web apps, like the consultant people and talk to them, because I actually never asked any of my consultant friends if it's something they would use. So I figure I might as well start there, since that was my original intended audience and kind of see what I learn because I have a hypothesis that the consultants are going to want something very different than the no-code people. And so what I look at, like what feature like, what I need to add to my product, I have, I have theories about it. And before I start building anything, or you know, really pushing into another marketplace, I want to see if my theories prove correct.
Michele Hansen  22:45
You have an email that triggers people when they start that prompts them to talk to you, right? Do you have another email that triggers people who haven't acted? Like, you said only 60% have used it? Do you have another email that triggers like, if they haven't started using it within a certain period of time?
Colleen Schnettler  23:04
I do not.
Michele Hansen  23:06
I would be curious to introduce that. And that's a fairly common practice with online services and software, is to have something that, say like, if you, you know, based on, so if you look at those 60% who did start, if you can get the numbers on, let's say, the median, or average time it took them to upload a file or to into like, like, can you get that data?
Colleen Schnettler  23:33
I don't know. I mean, the data is there somehow, I'm not quite sure how to extract it. I'm sure I can sort it out.
Michele Hansen  23:38
Okay, so if you could find that data, then let's say it's three days. So then, after five days of, so three days in sign up, so let's say five days after sign up, triggering another email that says, you know, how can I get help you get started? Like, and, and, and not necessarily asking for a call. But again saying, you know, are you having any problems with the integration? Are, you know, I'm happy to help you or, you know, alternatively, if there's internal barriers you're facing to integrating this, like, I would love to hear more. Because it could be that like, they're waiting for the project to start, or they need approval from someone or, like, there could be all sorts of things going on that do relate to the product, like, maybe they're banging their head against the keyboard, and they didn't want to tell you, or there's just some internal thing going on. And that would at least give you some context, maybe, and it might be easier for people to reply to. Now we'll have to like, work on the copy a little bit and make sure that those are questions that are easy for people to answer, and probably not a yes or no question. So that all kind of takes some, some work but I think, I think that could be interesting to explore.
Colleen Schnettler  25:02
Yeah, that seems like, like a good idea. Yeah.
Michele Hansen  25:07
While you're doing this other exploration too, right? Like, we don't just have to do one thing at a time.
Colleen Schnettler  25:15
Yeah, I think that's a good idea. I think that's relatively easy to implement, and then maybe I can get some more, you know, feedback from folks as to why they haven't gotten started yet.
Michele Hansen  25:27
Yeah, talk to the existing customers, talk to the people who you thought would be customers. And I think the more information you gather, that can help you start building that sense of security, but like, like, I've really had that feeling of this could go away at any minute, or, you know, a major company could come in and just wipe us out, like, all the time for like, three years. Like, I mean, that's, it's a very real and common feeling.
Colleen Schnettler  26:00
Yeah. Yeah. And I think your point about, since I don't really know the value I'm providing, I mean, that's the first thing people always ask me, you know, when I, when I'm talking business with people, and I'm like, well, I don't really know who my customers are. So there's that.
Michele Hansen  26:20
What else are you working on? I know, this stuff is kind of a, like, this is the not fun work, and you would rather be, you know, putzing around in the code garden.
Colleen Schnettler  26:32
Putzing around in the code garden. Um, yeah, really scheduling. I'm trying to schedule five calls. And it's funny, because I thought I knew like, tons of consultants. But now I'm like, do I really know that many independent developers? I don't know. So you did 17, so my goal is to do five.

Michele Hansen  26:50
It’s not a contest. 

Colleen Schnettler  26:51
Oh, it's a contest, Michele.
Michele Hansen  26:53
It’s really not like, it's not, not a contest. I don't think that's like fair, like, I had,
Colleen Schnettler  26:59
No, no, that’s why I need to do like,
Michele Hansen  27:03
And like, six years headstart on how to talk to customers. Is that fair? I don't think so, like.
Colleen Schnettler  27:10
So I really want to talk to people. I really want to talk with the consultants, because as I said, I really think they're gonna want something different than like, the no-code community. So I'm going to start there. I'd like to talk to five people who are independent web developers, you know, who work on more than one client project.
Michele Hansen  27:28
If that’s you, reach out to Colleen. I think if that's you, reach out to Colleen.
Colleen Schnettler  27:31
Yeah, if that's you please, please, please send me a message. And then, you know, I want to do that. And then I want to do the no-code folks. And I feel like just as we, you know, talking to more people is going to give me a better idea about what people need. And like, how I can, I can help them achieve their business goals, right. Like that is the ultimate goal here is to help other people achieve their business goals. So that's kind of my focus. That and like, we talked about, I love the idea of adding the email, like, why haven't you, nicer than that, but kind of like, can I help you get started? And, yeah, that's like, the stuff I'm working on now.
Michele Hansen  28:12
Do you feel like you're in a good place?
Colleen Schnettler  28:15
No. I mean, it's so funny. Like, I think it was Alex Hillman, who has all these tweets about psychology, right? He's always like, it's the psychology, it's business, what does he say? Like business is easy; managing our own psychology is hard.
Michele Hansen  28:28
Oh, yeah, I know how like, we build software, but like, software is used by people, and people are the hard part.
Colleen Schnettler  28:37
Yeah. I mean, my thing is, I'm, I'm in this place where like, I'm not exactly happy with my product right now. And I'd like to have the time to just like, dive in and do all these cool things to it. And I know, two things are true. One, you know, it doesn't, that's probably not a good use of my time right now because I could make the perfect product, but if no one's gonna buy it, no one's gonna buy it. And like, I literally just don't have the time. Man, there's so many things I want to add to make it better though. So, so that's kind of been my challenge recently is like, is this product any good? Like, I mean, is it useful? Is it helping people? It doesn't have this feature, like, how can we work around that? Like, I don't know. I kind of feel like I've been pinballing a bit. So I'm trying to regain focus in terms of what I should be doing and you know, marketing.
Michele Hansen  29:35
It almost seems like you feel like you're sort of working into a void and like, not knowing whether what you're providing is providing value. It's sort of like, dents the motivation a little bit because without knowing that you are helping people, it's like, it's hard to keep going because, because it's sort of, where do I go?
Colleen Schnettler  30:03
Yeah, absolutely. Like these things I want to add, not a single person has asked for them. Like, let's be clear, but no one's talking to me, right? And I can't say, oh, if I add all these features, I'm gonna get, you know, all these signups coming through. I have no reason to believe that's true, right? Like, like, I have had no one say, oh, I wouldn't buy your product, but I want this thing. So this is just like, things that I want to do to make my product better. But also things that I don't know if anyone cares about. So to your point, I want to spend time on these things. But is that just, you know, what is it, yelling into a void? You know, like, is it? Yeah, I just feel like I'm kind of in a void. I'm not talking to enough people. I can't figure out why people are signing up. Um, so it's not bad, right? Like, this is a good, mostly good problem to have.
Michele Hansen  30:54
But it’s an unsettling problem.
Colleen Schnettler  30:55
It's unsettling. That's a good way to put it. Since I don't know that I'm providing value, iIt's hard for me to one feel like my work is meaningful, and two, feel like all these people aren't just going to cancel tomorrow.
Michele Hansen  31:09
This has turned into a really heavy episode, like, like, I'm pulling apart language and Colleen is in a void. Like,
Colleen Schnettler  31:21
What is that about?
Michele Hansen  31:25
It’s like, uh, do, The Good Place like, Janet's void, like I'm just picturing it. This like, cool, like, fun place and, we’ll make your void an enjoyable place to be. And hopefully get you out of the void. And if you haven't seen The Good Place, and you have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm sorry. We'll get you out of the void.
Colleen Schnettler  31:47
Yeah, I like it. I'm here for it.
Michele Hansen  31:49
I think that's probably a good place to wrap up for this week. Thank you so much for joining us. If you liked this episode, it would mean so much if you, to us if you just like, tweeted it out and why you liked it. That's always super helpful and motivating to us so we don't feel like we're podcasting into a void. But yeah, we'll talk to you next week.

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