The Drudgery of Launching and the Difficulty of Hiring

Colleen gets closer to launching her image management service, and Michele opens up about their thinking on hiring.

Michele Hansen 
Welcome back to Software Social. I'm Michele Hansen.

Colleen Schnettler 
And I'm Colleen Schnettler.

Michele Hansen 
So what's going on, Colleen?

Colleen Schnettler 
I have so many things I want to share today. Yeah. I, yes, yes, I am super excited. Because I have finally finished my image management widget. I need a better name. By the way. Image management widget is like the worst name. I need something snappy, like cool image uploader. Anyway, I'll work on that.

Michele Hansen 
Naming is one of the hardest parts honestly, like, naming and pricing.

Colleen Schnettler 
So I have finally finished what I ended up doing was, I think I was listening to a bootstrapper podcast years ago, and I remember the host said something about how he was like, Well, you know, sometimes you need to just go to a hotel for four days and finish something. And that's entirely impractical for people, you know, who are responsible for spouses and children and other things like that. So I wasn't actually able to do that, but I did manage to block out like three solid days, and I got it done.

Michele Hansen 
Nice!

Colleen Schnettler 
So I'm super pumped about that. Yeah, I'm super pumped. So that's exciting. So my next steps are, you know, kind of, not kind of my next steps. My next step is getting it deployed. And I've already deployed an app in the Heroku Store before so I know the process. So hopefully that will not be too painful.

Michele Hansen 
So when you say it's done, is it the product itself is done? Or is also like the commercialization of it done in terms of making it something people can pay for and have accounts for and stuff like that?

Colleen Schnettler 
What do you think, Michelle?

Michele Hansen 
I'm just asking!

Colleen Schnettler 
if it was funny, you say that because I was literally thinking as I was finishing up, I was like, Alright, so now the real work starts. This was like the fun work. Now I actually have to do the real work and my plan is to deploy it in the Heroku App Store. So there is some glue, I have to work with the Heroku API, and things like that to make it available to customers. So my plan is to start using it for my own projects and my client projects immediately. And, you know, maybe after I've been using it... I think the way that Heroku App Store works as you'd have to put something in the App Store, and then you know, you have to it has to be free. And you have to get like a lot of users, I forget how many, but you're just in this alpha stage.

So that's, that's kind of my plan to kind of get it out there. But like, really, the hard work behind this now is documenting how to use it and figuring out how to use it for different use cases and all of that kind of stuff. Which yeah, like I said, that's probably the real hard work, right?

Michele Hansen 
I mean, that's the work that never ends right? Like so much of marketing is here is how you use this and here's when you would use it and...

Colleen Schnettler 
I just -- and I could be wrong, but I feel like I am uniquely equipped to handle that because I think a lot of developers who do things specific like this, especially something is technically, you know, unique, I guess, they don't really do a good job of making it easy to use. They're like, Oh, here's this thing, but you also have to go get an AWS account and set up your own IAM account. And you have to, you know, put it behind a CDN, and you have to do with all this other stuff. So, so I hope and I think that one thing I am good at is I'm really good at taking complicated processes and distilling them down into simple explanations. So that's really my goal. So

Michele Hansen 
if people wanted to use this to add images to their project, would they only need to use your image management service for this? Would they also need their own AWS account or because you'd mentioned a couple weeks ago that it would just be under your AWS account?

Colleen Schnettler 
Yes. So it's one service. I thought about doing it as to services. It would have actually been easier on me to do it as to services, but I don't think that's what the customer ultimately wants. Especially as we talked about is if I put this into even less developer, you know, friendly terrain and start to try to use it in a no code tool or something like that. You've got to extract that away, because like the AWS console is a bear, especially if you don't know what you're doing. So yeah, so it's just one service right now.

Michele Hansen 
And so you said that for the time being in the Heroku marketplace, it'll be an alpha that can only be free.

Colleen Schnettler 
There's yeah, I actually don't all the details yet. Because I wanted to finish it, but it's something like that, like you put it in and it has to be free for a while. And you have to have -- I think it's a lot I forget, there's a certain number of people you have to get trying it. So I'm going to beg all of my friends who ever used a Heroku.

Michele Hansen 
Listeners...

Colleen Schnettler 
Yeah, if you use Heroku, please, please, please send me an email or a tweet or I will let you know when this is in the App Store. Please download it!

Michele Hansen 
But hold on. So is there a free tier from AWS for what you are effectively reselling?

Colleen Schnettler 
Yeah, so that's that's the rub. Um, there's not really.

Michele Hansen 
Oh no.

Colleen Schnettler 
So it's not it sounds bad, but like, it's not that bad because I can rate limit everything. And so what I did was I got a new AWS account. And with new AWS accounts you get -- I forget how much -- but you get a certain amount of free stuff that first year. So under my new URL, like URL, email and stuff, I got the new account, so I get X amount free. But so this is like a really interesting, this will be a really interesting kind of pain point, right is because yes, if it's required to be free, Cloud Storage generally isn't free. I don't really know how it's all gonna play out. But really, I don't actually expect to get a whole bunch of people that it's going to become a problem yet.

So I was reading this blog post by Amy Hoy, the Fine Art of Flintstoning. I don't know if you've ever heard of it or read it. And she talks about -- like so sometimes you just she talks about how it took her six years to ship something, which by the way makes me feel way better. And she also talks about how there's a point where you just you just have to ship something, right. So she uses this term "flint stoning." And she uses it to mean some stuff you're going to do manually. So she was talking about when they first launched Freckle, like, if you wanted your email reset, like you, they had to do that manually. And so there were the certain steps she had to do manually TO ACTUALLY SHIP her product. And that's kind of where I am right now. Like, there's a lot I want to do on the AWS side to monitor this and, and, you know, watch the billing, but I started to get like lost and all of that. And so at least for the first couple months, like I'm just gonna have a simple script that runs independent of the app, or I'll just look at it with my own eyeballs to kind of keep track of where I am.

Michele Hansen 
Yeah, I think that kind of custom monitoring and all of that. We were doing that all manually for quite a long time. Time I want I want to say like three plus years.

Colleen Schnettler 
Really?

Michele Hansen 
We had various services that we used, you know, for, for in terms of having a one central dashboard where we could observe everything. At least you know, specifically where you're talking here in terms of server health and those sorts of things. Yeah, we didn't have like, you know, a full dashboard with all of the different metrics on them. I mean, of course, with AWS, you want to keep an eye on what you're being charged. So yeah, that's important. I mean, even just manual things in general, like she, you know, she mentions changing an email address, and I think for Geocodio, do we, we didn't actually add a way to delete your account on your own through the dashboard until like, last year, or two years ago, and it wasn't because we are trying to be evil dark pattern people. It was just, we just hadn't designed a flow for it. And there wasn't enough people asking to do that, that they could just email us and we always responded promptly.

Colleen Schnettler 
Yeah, so I'm, I'm going to take on so there's a certain amount of risk. And it's interesting like going into this, because I, as we talked about last time, like I started to, there's so many things I can do with this. So I started to aggressively cut features. And I'm just basing the feature set on what I personally need right now. So I'm aggressively cutting features, and this was this, this AWS thing was a big one for me, because I really wanted to have a cleaner like interface for myself, you know, just to manage everything on the AWS side, but I read that article and I got all inspired and I was like, you know what it's done. Like, I can manage that myself, at least for the first couple weeks. And I mean, honestly, like, I don't anticipate -- people are not knocking down my door for this product. And I'm not saying I don't think it's gonna succeed. I just don't anticipate I'm gonna have a whole lot of people in the beginning. So I feel like the first couple months, especially since I'll be using myself, will be a great time for me to do this stuff on AWS and figure that all out. And, you know, kind of see how people are using the product, if they're using the product, what features, you know, are important or aren't important. So, things like that.

Michele Hansen 
So what are those specific thresholds that let you out of alpha and then allow you to charge for it in the Heroku marketplace?

Colleen Schnettler 
Okay, I don't know.

Michele Hansen 
I would be very interested to know what the thresholds are.

Colleen Schnettler 
So that's a good idea. Um, I will have that information for you next week. I will let you know. Um, so yeah, right now, you know, it's interesting, because like, I'm just kind of like riding my high of letting of having this thing working. But like I said, like, I know, the real work is now kind of, it's a little more of the drudgery work, right? Because it's like hooking up hooking it up getting in the marketplace writing all the time...

Michele Hansen 
It's making it a business!

Colleen Schnettler 
Yes, exactly. It's making it a business.

Michele Hansen 
So It's interesting that you describe that as drudgery.

Colleen Schnettler 
Is that bad? Does that bode poorly for my future?

Michele Hansen 
I didn't say that was bad! I just said it was interesting.

Colleen Schnettler
Well, yeah, we'll see. Maybe I'll love it. Maybe I'll hate it. I don't know.

Michele Hansen 
yeah, we'll see something that seems to really drive you in. This is the frustration that you feel with facing this problem repeatedly. And I think that once you get that groundwork laid, you get it in the marketplace, you've got some documentation, you've got a little bit of copy around how people can use it, and then you actually start getting people using it. I find that such a huge motivator to keep improving something and keep going and get you through all of the drudgery is seeing somebody else, use something that you made and seeing the impact that it has on their work and in their own frustration with it and when and when they you know, express to you how much frustration it's removed for them.

Colleen Schnettler 
Yes. And I think that'll be like my energy cycle. Like building it is a lot of fun. But there's a lot of like lows and highs and in that cycle because there's things you know how to do, things you don't know how to do. And I think that the documentation stuff like, that's a little bit of a, you know, a little bit, a little bit boring, but important, but I also think like, I love people, right. And I love talking to people. And I think to your point, like, if someone actually if literally one person besides myself, uses it and is like, Hey, this is exactly what I need. This is awesome. That's all I need. Getting to that point, we're actually going to talk to people again, and everything is mostly in place, and I'm just improving. Like, that is my goal. My goal right now. That's kind of where I'm trying to get to.

Michele Hansen 
We'll get you there. I think you can get there.

Colleen Schnettler 
Yes. Yeah. So another thing I wanted to tell you. So I have another great idea. And I am, this is my thing, right? I think I just get a lot of energy from ideas and I have tons of ideas. So as we had discussed again every week, my focus right now is on the image management stuff. But I have another idea. I'm not quite ready to talk about it yet. But I actually had a person tell me he would pay for it...

Michele Hansen 
Oh...?

Colleen Schnettler 
Which is more than I've gotten. Yeah. How about that? It's more than I've gotten from anyone, any of my other ideas. So, so that's kind of in the back of my mind. So I'm just trying to like, you know, marinate on that a little bit. But I do have two people who have already agreed to talk with me about this other idea. So I'm going to get to, I'm going to get to practice all of my customer interview skills, hopefully, get those scheduled in the next couple weeks.

Michele Hansen 
Sounds like you're really on a roll.

Colleen Schnettler 
You know Michele, I think this whole process is managing your own energy levels. Like I went on vacation, and I came back and I'm like, Oh my gosh, I'm gonna take on the world.

Michele Hansen 
You know, we always find that like we have our best business conversations when we're on a road trip.

Colleen Schnettler 
yeah, it's just there's something about not being in I don't know not being in your house or like, I went on vacation and what I didn't say at the beginning and this makes me sound like a super nerd but because there are a lot of demands on my time at home with the kids. On my vacation, I actually took three days and ditched my family to finish my image management service. Now everyone who listens to this podcast knows what a nerd I am. But it was a boy -- you know, right. Like the kids have been home for six months, it is almost impossible to to get the kind of deep focus you need. And I am like, a deep focus person, like put me in a basement. And like, like with no sound like I'm like, Oh my gosh, that's my like, happy place. So yeah, so I ditched my family for three days on vacation. It was and I just worked and it was, I don't know, it was glorious. It like really made me happy.

Michele Hansen 
I think that's a pretty normal feeling, especially, especially with side projects, right where and if you're not getting a whole ton of fulfillment out of your day-to-day job that the side project itself like feels like a vacation from the things you're normally doing because you have you have total flexibility and independence and latitude to do what you want to do -- which whether you're consulting or you're working for a company, you're rarely in that scenario and if you genuinely enjoy your work -- which you definitely do -- be at the side project even though it's work it's it's it's also a break from work at the same time. It's a very weird thing.

Colleen Schnettler 
Yes, totally agree. And the only other thing I wanted to say on this me having all these ideas all of a sudden, is I did want to share with with people who are struggling with idea generation because I know in a lot of the groups I mean, this is a common problem. I started a habit, like two and I used to never have any ideas. I started a habit like two years ago, where every morning I would write down two ideas like with my coffee before I turned on my computer. And there's so bad. I mean, 99% of them are terrible. But it kind of got my mind engaged in a different way, where I just started seeing things more often than then before, like just changing my mindset.

Michele Hansen 
Yeah, I think once you start looking at the problems in the world, not as problems but as different opportunities to be solved, it's hard to turn your brain off from thinking that way.

Colleen Schnettler 
Yeah. So anyway, that's my very exciting news. I hope next week to have -- to stay on track and have another great update. So Michele, what's been on your mind this week?

Michele Hansen 
So I was thinking back to some of the episodes we've done so far. And you have been so open and vulnerable with us about all of your struggles with launching your new product. And the things I have talked about have not exactly been struggles. So, so I wanted to dial in on something that we do struggle with, and we do talk about that we haven't figured out yet.

Colleen Schnettler 
Oh, okay, what, what is this topic?

Michele Hansen 
Hiring?

Colleen Schnettler 
Oh, I've always wondered about this with you guys. Please tell me more.

Michele Hansen 
So it's something that comes up fairly often. Actually, that other people will ask us about, you know, I feel like there are these ideas that you're not a real company unless you do X, right.

Colleen Schnettler 
Mhmm.

Michele Hansen 
Like how many of us have heard you're not a real company unless you take funding, or you're not a real company unless you have employees. And so this is something that we, we hear fairly often, but honestly, we really like the simplicity of not having any employees of it just being the two of us.

Colleen Schnettler 
So I know people who run bootstrapped businesses of comparable size and almost all of them have employees.

Michele Hansen 
Yeah, I think something is a little unique about our business, though maybe not so much for a bootstrap company, is that since it was a side project for three and a half years, which I think actually is a little bit long for a side project to be a side project, we definitely waited a lot longer than I think many people would, like we were well past the replacement rate of our of our salaries, mostly because we were terrified of paying for our own health insurance. Um, and so during that time, things that other people may have hired for, like customer support, we found ways to automate them away or handle them with our design. You know, so things like resetting passwords or cancelling plans or all sorts of other things. Whenever we had repeated questions, we just designed our service better so that people didn't have to ask us those questions, right? Because no one really wants to talk to customer support, like, it means you have a problem. And so we try to preempt all of those things. And then once we went full time, it became so much easier for us to handle things and to make improvements and reduce the number of tickets and, and all that kind of stuff. So that that kind of moves off of the radar. Of course, there's many other things you can hire for besides customer support, though.

Colleen Schnettler 
This is interesting to me because I had a friend who listened to our podcast, the episode on the HIPAA stuff, and he runs a venture backed company, and he had like a whole business plan set out for you. He was like, Oh my gosh, she's doing it all wrong. She should hire all these salespeople and like, he had you guys like a $500 million company in his head in like 20 minutes. So it was interesting, like, you guys haven't hired anyone, like you don't even have one salesperson. I mean, tell me more about that decision.

Michele Hansen 
Something that's really important to me, is incentive design in a company. And I think this is something that can get overlooked. So, for example, when you take funding, you're creating a set of incentives for yourself, you now have investors that you, you know, you need to impress them and and meet their expectations, right? You're, if you have employees, you're giving them shares. And so everyone is having incentives towards specific outcomes. And something that I really treasure as being a bootstrapped business owner is that we can make decisions that are in the best interest of the customer, that are ethically aligned with what we believe, and that we don't have to chase growth at all costs, or we're not struggling to meet metrics that may be externally imposed on us. And instead, we have our own metrics. And some of those are financial and many of those are not. And so designing an incentive structure is a really important part of scaling a company. And I don't feel like I have figured out what is an incentive structure that aligns with what I believe in and how I want to run the company and how I would want to run the company in the future that satisfies sort of all those different concerns I have.

You know, I do a lot of reading on ethical business, like people may be familiar with the book Conscious Capitalism by John Mackey written before Whole Foods was acquired by Amazon. There's also The Lapsed Anarchist's Guide to Building a Great Business run by the people who founded this little deli and Ann Arbor, Michigan called Zingerman's. That's such a fantastic book. And both of those books really talk about this incentive design and how having goals like, you know, aggressive sales goals or you know, having a huge team and you need to pay their salaries, like that creates incentives. And are they always good? The answer is probably, often not.

Colleen Schnettler 
So why is this a touchy subject for you? Do you feel a lot of pressure amongst like your peers to hire, to grow?

Michele Hansen 
No, we don't. We don't feel pressure to grow. We certainly have people expect that of us. And then they get confused when we tell them that we don't have any growth ambitions. And even though we are growing, I mean, I shared those numbers a couple of weeks ago. I think something that we we really enjoy is yes, it does feel like it's that next step, right. Sometimes I think about it in terms of you know, people will often ask couples like when they're going to have their first child or when they're having another child as if this is like sort of a, like, normal non-invasive question you can just ask similarly, you know, how did you you know, enjoy the weather today, right?

Colleen Schnettler 
Pro tip: like don't ask that question.

Michele Hansen 
Yeah, just for anyone asking, like, that's not a friendly question. Like, don't ask.

I feel like it's kind of a similar vein because people ask Oh, so what are you guys hiring and you know, you don't know what that company situation is, you don't know what their perspective on things is but quite frankly, I think something that I I also really treasure about our business is just how simple it is. Right? So my husband and I created the business together. And it's always funny talking about that with people who don't work with their spouse because I find there's very polarizing reactions to that like, like the people who don't work with their spouse. Give me this like deer in the headlights horrified reaction that's like, "Oh my god, like, don't you guys fight all the time. That must be horrible." Like, or they're just like, oh, how do you like disconnect from work and like, and, and they assume it's terrible. And I'm just kind of like, we wouldn't have done this for six and a half years if it was terrible. And then on the other side are other couples who run companies together. And they're like, isn't it so great? Like it's just so easy. It's amazing. It's actually this is one of my favorite things about being MicroConf last year was meeting other founder couples and us talking together about how like, nice it actually was compared to how chaotic people assume it is. Which is kind of a funny thing. But it's just so simple with the two of us because we work so well together like we met at work. Professional respect for one another is one of the foundations of our relationship and we just work so well together and it's so easy. And yes, we could grow more if we had, you know, people doing marketing or we would grow a lot faster if we had a sales team or you know, things could run smoother if we had engineers, but we feel like it runs smoothly enough and we grow enough that we don't have to bring in those other elements.

Colleen Schnettler 
But isn't the whole point of building a bootstrapped business so you can hire someone and only work four hours a week, like Four Hour Workweek? Michele?

Michele Hansen 
I've never read a Tim Ferriss book.

Colleen Schnettler 
Really?

Michele Hansen 
Yeah, I don't know if I'm the only one. Um, no, I don't see I don't even know if that's the goal, right? Because I enjoy what we do. And I think this also confuses people. I think a lot of what I do confuses people, because we, we like serving the customers that we do and and helping them and doing what we do. You know, I'll have people ask me "Oh, like, Are you trying to get acquired? Like, you know, what if I gave you..." you know, I was giving a presentation to some business students, probably about a year year and a half ago. And I was talking about how we don't have any plans to get acquired and actually how we just offhandly reject offers to to get funded or get acquired because we're just not interested in it. And they're, and they didn't believe me. And they're like, what if I gave you $10 million, hundred million dollars? And I'm like, What would I do with that? Like, I would just have to go figure out another company to start and I already have one that works. And I don't necessarily aspire to work four hours a week. Like I enjoy working and maybe that is confusing to some people. I can certainly understand how that would be but I don't know.

Colleen Schnettler 
It just seems like you guys work a lot and I know you love to work. But you do work a lot. So it seems like if you could find the right person to bring on board, it would take some of the, you know, the pressure off of the two of you and give you a little more breathing room.

Michele Hansen 
That's something we've thought about. You know, I mean, it's, we had someone actually reach out to us this summer to be an intern, and she seemed so awesome. And she actually lived nearby, so we could have even had sort of over the fence meetings with her. She sort of got like, we actually took it seriously. We even looked into you know, how much we would need to increase our workers comp by and stuff like that if we took on a part time employee. You mean, it's sort of as an aside, I think it's the highest compliment you can pay a business owner to tell them that you want to work for them and work for their company like it just it's incredibly moving every time. I consider that a huge responsibility. I know there are a lot of companies that you know, they hire people and they delay them off or... They don't feel like they have a responsibility to the employees, they feel the employees have a responsibility to them. And I feel very strongly that it goes both ways. And if we were to hire someone, I would not only want to make sure that we had a job for them six months or a year from now, but like, five years from now, 10 years from now, because I feel like you're making a commitment to them, and their family, that there is going to be something for them, there's going to be a role for them that they're going to be able to move up in that role, which is another thing I have questions about because it's the two of us running the company and so there's a set ceiling for someone going going into that role and someone's like, you know, how good of an experience would that be really if they knew that they could never move up like that, that would be a very frustrating scenario for them. And then there's the other element of Okay, you know, the the kind of person we would need to bring on would need to be very highly skilled. And so we're probably looking at least $100, $150,000 a year including benefits. And then how would, going back to incentives? How would that distort my own incentives? What I feel like we need to grow more aggressively? What I feel like we need to change our tactics? I'm really proud of the fact that we don't have an aggressive sales team. But if we had a staff would I feel backed into a corner? And like we needed to, you know, to do things. And I, and I feel very strongly that we should run the company in a way that is in the best interest of the customers and I question whether I would be able to do that if I had salary pressures on me.

Colleen Schnettler 
Yeah, that makes sense. I tried to hire someone maybe two years ago, but all of the things you just said that's the reason I never built a consultancy. Because hiring trying to hire someone was incredibly painful, like especially engineers, trying to vet engineers and then I felt the same way like... you know, I've had a pretty good stream of income. But if you're responsible for someone else's livelihood, like it kind of changes the whole game. When you look at, when you validate contracts, and you try to figure out what kind of business you're going to take, because you are now responsible for someone else. And that is a huge responsibility. So I definitely see where you're coming from.

But I think there's a lot of opportunity for you guys, you could have an incubator, you could have like a cool internship program. I mean, there's so many people trying to start businesses in this space. I feel like there, you might find other ways. If you had more time, you might be surprised, you would find other really cool ways to use your time.

Michele Hansen 
So I'm actually participating in something soon that relates this because I do love mentoring people and helping other business owners and I feel very, very strongly that I have a responsibility to help other business owners try to do what we have done. And so I'm actually going to be a leading a cohort group with Founder Summit later this fall. This is through Earnest Capital. And I love doing that. Maybe it's because I get all of that the fun part of having employees and helping helping them grow and nurturing them without all of those pressures of being responsible for their family's livelihood.

Colleen Schnettler 
Awesome.

Michele Hansen 
But yeah, I you know, we haven't ruled it out. I imagine that we will take baby steps in the future like hiring consultants -- like we've never even hired a freelance designer for anything. I mean, we have really never hired for anything. And I imagine we will at some point, but I want to share that as a genuine struggle that we have. Something that we we haven't figured out in the business, less it less it sound like we have figured everything out, which we certainly haven't.

Colleen Schnettler 
It sounds like you're pretty happy with where you are right now. In the choices you've made so far regarding hiring.

Michele Hansen 
Yeah, I think the the idea is sort of we want to be able to keep doing what we're doing for as long as we can. And we know that's going to change in the future. But where things have been for the last, you know, last three years, it's been oh my gosh, because my full time anniversary is coming up in October. We, yeah, we enjoy it. It's simple.

Colleen Schnettler 
Awesome. Well, that's gonna wrap us up for today. You can find us on Twitter at @SoftwareSocPod, and we'd love to hear any feedback you have about this week's episode. Until next week.


Won't you join us?

Get an email when new episodes post. No spam, we promise!

Got it. You're on the list!
2020 Software Social