Entrepreneurship

Running a developer community

In this episode, I talk to Bekah Weigel, who runs the virtual coffee community about community building. 

Bekah graduated from a Bootcamp in 2019 and quickly created a striving and very special developer community in just under two years. 

We talk about:

  • how she kick-started the developer community virtual coffee
  • what it takes to run the community
  • how sponsorships make it possible to be sustainable, and
  • how community members take over a large part of running the community. 
Bekah Weigel

Today’s episode is sponsored by Codiga, a smart coding assistant and automated code review platform. Try Codiga for FREE!

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Transcript: Kickstarting and running a developer community

[If you want, you can help make the transcript better, and improve the podcast’s accessibility via Github. I’m happy to lend a hand to help you get started with pull requests, and open source work.]

[00:00:00] Michaela: Hello, and welcome to the software engineering unlocked podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Michaela. And today I have the pleasure to talk to Bekah Hawrot Weigel, a web developer and creator of the virtual coffee developer community.

But before I start, let me tell you about an amazing startup that is sponsoring today’s episode: Codiga.

Codiga is a code analysis platform that automates the boring part of code reviews and lets you merge with confidence on GitHub, GitLab and Bitbucket. I’ve worked with Codiga for around one year now and I really love how it guides me in discovering and improving, well, the not so nice parts of my codebase.

But there is more. Codiga has a coding assistant that helps you write better code faster. Find and share safe and reusable blocks of code within your favorite IDE on demand while you’re coding. Codiga has a great free plan, so there’s nothing that stops you from giving it a try today. Learn more at Codiga.io. That is Codiga.io.

But now back to Bekah. Bekah graduated from the bootcamp Flatiron school in May, 2019. And since then she started a consultancy specializing in front end development and created the developer community virtual coffee. She also recently started her new job as a technical community builder at deep gram.

She’s also a mom of four, so I’m totally impressed. And yesterday I went to pick her brain on how she could develop this awesome. Develop a community so fast in just a little bit under two years.

So that come to my show background, I’m really, really excited that

[00:01:41] Bekah: you are here. Thanks so much for having me. I’m very excited to be here. Yeah.

[00:01:45] Michaela: So can you tell me a little bit about virtual coffee, what it is? And for me it seems a little bit different than other communities. It seems a little bit, a little bit more niche, grit, like closer.

W how would you describe

[00:01:57] Bekah: it? Yeah, I think that’s a great way to [00:02:00] describe it. We always like to say that we like the intimacy of virtual coffee because we’re a small community of developers where all stages of the journey. So if you’re just learning, if you’ve been doing it your whole career we’ve got everybody and we’re tech agnostic, so it doesn’t matter what, what tech tools you’re using.

If you want to meet up with other developers and share and support each other. We’re here for it. So we meet up twice a week when we meet up on Tuesdays at 9:00 AM, Eastern and Wednesdays at 12:00 PM Eastern for some chats. So we go into breakout rooms. So we have small group conversation. We like to maintain that intimacy.

And then for members, so people who have attended at least one virtual coffee, they’re welcome into our slack and our members only. So we have lunch and learns on most Fridays, we’re running our third round of lightening talks soon. We’ve got monthly challenges and some other small groups that meet that are building within the slack community, which is just so great to see everybody supporting each other and working to meet the needs of the community.

[00:03:04] Michaela: Yeah. So there’s a bunch of things that you just mentioned. Right? So a virtual coffee. When I came to know it, it was mainly there’s. The weekly, or I don’t know if it was even PVT at the start, but it was like this virtual coffees where you. We’re seeing each other and chatting to each other and now it grew into something really big.

Right. And so you say you it’s, it’s a small community, but, but how large is it? Like how many people are participating here and, you know, , what else do you do to keep this , intimacy, Ronaldo and Messi. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. How do you, how.

[00:03:43] Bekah: , Well, you know, we’ve got our slack has almost 600 people in it, but I would like to just note that I think that, you know, there’s a lot of people who used to be active that aren’t active anymore.

And one of the things about the community is we’re really close, but it is transient in nature [00:04:00] because sometimes people are looking for their first job and they get it and they can’t come around much anymore. Sometimes people change jobs and their availability changes.

So, you know, one of the things that we really like is being able to celebrate wins with other people.

It’s bittersweet a lot of times because you know that they won’t be around much anymore, but you know, like occasionally I’ll get messages from people who came at the very beginning and it’s just so great to, you know, still have that connection and know that, you know, we support each other, whether we’re in slack or not.

So I would say maybe we have about 200, 200 or 300 active members, which I think is still pretty good. 30 to 50% of our slack is fairly active. And I think, you know, We maintain that intimacy by doing, by focusing on small group conversation and a lot of ways. So the small group conversation that happens when we meet up on zoom twice a week we try and keep our breakout rooms between eight and 14 people, but we have.

Start in the big zoom room together. And we go over some announcements, like our code of conduct and what the mission of virtual coffee is a little bit of our history just to allow people to get a glimpse of this is how long we’ve been doing things. And this is how, how things have grown. And so. By having that interaction with other people by seeing faces or hearing voices or interacting and a synchronous way, it provides some kind of connection and friendship that doesn’t happen as easily in async only environments.

And then it’s great to see what the community members are doing. We have let’s see here, we’ve got all of these small groups meeting within the community and. Tech interview study group. These are all led by members that happened on Monday. We have an indie hackers meetup on Wednesday, a react meetup on Wednesday and [00:06:00] a monthly challenge check-in on Friday.

So, you know, the members are really there to support each other and to see what the needs are. And so not, everybody’s going to come to indie hackers. I like to go to that one. It’s one of my favorites. You know, maybe there’s like. To eight people there, but it’s great because you can really dive into those deeper conversations and get to know people in the, those small moments in ways that you can’t when you’re in a large group of people.

So I think that’s one of the things that, that we’ve done well is have people who care about each other and, and see them supporting each other in their new.

[00:06:39] Michaela: Yeah, that sounds really good. And there are a couple of things that I want to touch base on that you mentioned, first of all. So I can imagine that there are like a hundred people joining your soup, and then you have this announcement.

Remember you’re members of what is all about, which I think is really good for the mission also, and for new members to, you know, Just introduce them to your culture code of conduct and them so on, but then how do you announce the different breakout rooms? Do you know, do people speak up and say, oh, I want to do a breakout room.

Is it like, I don’t know if this is an a term in English by the bar camp where you, and non-conference where it just self-organize itself or do you have to announce it beforehand? Did you know already, these are the topics of, you know, today’s

[00:07:24] Bekah: Yeah. So that’s a really great question. So we also, I should have mentioned this before, because I think one of the ways that we also have been able to support everybody is we have documented most of our processes thoroughly.

And that allows us to bring new volunteers on and to support new people. We think of pretty much every interaction as a opportunity for onboarding new members and to constantly remind people of the things that matter to us, which is, you know, being kind and recognizing that the impact of our words matters.

And so we have all of that created and we [00:08:00] have let’s see maybe about 30 room leaders in note takers. And so we have a process on Mondays where we see who’s up for volunteering to be a room leader or note taker. And we pick a introduction question, just a random question. It can be something silly.

Like what kind of dinosaur would you be? And so everybody in the breakout rooms answers a couple of questions, including that. And we have a Backpocket topic, but we always say that we like to prioritize what folks who are in the room want to talk about. So if they have a question or if they have a topic they want to talk about, we start with that.

And then if not, we’ve got that back pocket topic. We had virtual coffee today and our back pocket topic. I’ll read it to you. Just so you have a sample of some of the things, actually, all of them I think are listed on our discussions in our repository. Our topic today was what are some transferable skills you bring to tech either from a previous career or from other parts of your life.

And so actually my breakout room did talk about that. And so everyone there’s okay. So we have the. MC he’ll gives all of the announcements. And then we have a host who controls zoom and the host puts everybody into breakout rooms. So we already know who our room leaders and note takers are. Those have already been set up the day before.

And so we make sure that they all get in room and we try and have backup ones. So, you know, if we need a fifth room, then we’re going to have this person as a backup room leader. Which today I think we did end up using our backup And then the host goes through and fills all of those rooms and we do our best.

It gets chaotic when people come in late or at the end or drop off and come back in. But we do our best to make sure that we get a pretty well-rounded room. So new folks, people who have been there for a while, you know that some people maybe are leading for the first time. And so you want to put some.

[00:10:00] Dependable talkers and their room. And so you try and make sure that you do that, but that’s kind of the process for what we do and how we do it. Wow,

[00:10:07] Michaela: that sounds like you’re having a conference and the organizational, like I say, not a burden, but burden ID. It doesn’t seem like it’s a burden to you to organizational fun.

Every week, twice sounds like a lot of work.

[00:10:22] Bekah: Now that we have the process down, it makes it a lot easier. And we’ve got some, you know, Slackbots reminding us about some of the things that we have to do and where to look for things. And it, it is a lot of fun. There is definitely work behind the scenes that happens to make sure that we have a, a safe and welcoming environment for everyone.

But, you know, it’s worth it. If people feel like this is a safe space that they can grow. Yeah, definitely.

[00:10:46] Michaela: And I can really see like with this organization, I mean probably if, if, you know, like if you started there like five people come in, you know, showing up, you don’t need a lot of organization. Right.

But then if 10 people, and then it’s 20, then you know, you started developing those processes and you probably see also what works and what does not work. And what are some of the things that you tried that didn’t work out. So.

[00:11:08] Bekah: Well, I will say that when I first started virtual coffee, I didn’t even know that zoom had breakout rooms.

So that was a totally new concept to me. And I feel like I’ve got some expertise in it. Initially. I so virtual coffee started. I had been working as a developer for about eight months when the pandemic hit. And then I lost my job because of the pandemic. My kids were sent home from school. That same day.

They never went back to school that year. I think. And so I was really interviewing for the first time for jobs and I just didn’t have a great sense of the developer community out there, what the expectations were, how to make it through the interview process. And so I asked, you know, Hey, does anybody want to meet up for virtual coffee on Twitter?

And, and that’s why we’re so called virtual coffee. And so I’ve learned so much. And [00:12:00] initially I was kind of resistant to having a slack because, oh, I don’t know if we need it. You know, this is just going to be something we do for a couple of months. So I, I would say that maybe some of the things that didn’t work were, you know, pushing some of those things off for a while or being resistant to.

Adding we, we lean on project boards and get hub issues a lot in our organization. We want to make sure that we use tools where our members lived. And so I initially I was resistant. I was like, I can not look at one more repository no more. And now I’m like, yes. Yeah, we need a repository for that.

So. I think that my, my, the thing that didn’t work was my frame of mind around it, because for a long time, I thought this was going to be a temporary thing. And when we did our first heck Tober Fest event two years ago, that’s when I finally thought, oh, this is, we’re not going anywhere. We’re w this is not just a pandemic thing.

Like we’re filling a need for a lot of people, even outside of the pandemic. And so that’s kind of where. Things started shifting in my mind, like, what is the, what are the long-term processes and how can we make this sustainable?

[00:13:12] Michaela: Yeah. And it’s really nice. Yeah. I’m also like, I, I’m often thinking of creating a community around se unlocked, for example, the podcast.

Right. But I’m not sure about how it will, you know, what are the right tools? What is the right kind of community. I’m also more a person of like, I’m not really good at. Participant in the slack channels and this core channel, I get very easily overwhelmed. And then, you know, like maybe a week I’m trying really hard, but

If it already starts with that, you know, I don’t, you know, I don’t think that I can run a community like this, but having, you know, chats or, you know, soon conversations. I was also thinking about Twitter spaces. Is that something that came to your mind that you could maybe do as well?

[00:13:57] Bekah: Yeah. So I [00:14:00] went through, I ran a lot of Twitter spaces myself.

I went through a string of them. I was doing them weekly, and then I started live streaming, I think instead just trying to get a feel for everything that’s out there. But I think with my job at deep gram, we’re going to start doing some Twitter spaces that I’m really excited about because of the support of the team.

And we can do some really great stuff. Start build community and fill some of the needs that we see out there in the tech community right now.

[00:14:31] Michaela: Yeah. Yeah. And do you think that there’s a difference between a zoom? It assumed seems a little bit more intimate for me because you know, it’s, it’s a community that’s not completely public it’s public, right.

Because people can just respond and be part of it, but to the spaces for me, just because it’s there on Twitter and then you see at least some of the bubbles and then it’s broadcasted through other, you know, sort of followers of the people that are in there. And so on. People can drop in and go out.

Do you think it’s different and, and has a different need or fills a different need, a different purpose for the condition?

[00:15:07] Bekah: I think, you know, there are expectations when you meet with other people in a small group setting, face-to-face, you know, you, and we say like, if you want to leave your camera off, if you want to stay muted, that’s totally fine.

If you want to throw things in the chat, that’s a great way to communicate as well. But still you see other people there, whereas Twitter spaces, you can kind of come in and out. You, there’s not the sense of, oh, I have a roll hill here that I have. Bill because you’re not a speaker. You can be a listener.

And so in. Twitter spaces I think is closer to watching a live stream because you can interact through the chat, but it’s a little bit more personal because if someone’s live streaming at Twitch on Twitch, you don’t see everybody who is there, but in Twitter spaces, you can see those other people and they do connect you.

Other like, you know, if we follow [00:16:00] each other, I can see whose space you’re in. I’m like, oh, okay, well, she’s there and she’s cool. So I’m going to go check out, you know, what she’s listening to. And so there’s a, I think a little bit, maybe more community happening in Twitter spaces, but there’s less like barrier to entry or friction if you’re shy or an introvert or, you know, just kind of want to check something out one time.

so

[00:16:24] Michaela: another thing that I wanted to talk with you, and I think they are a little bit connected. One is that, so I looked on your website, virtual coffee.io, and there are a couple of people publicly listed. Right. And apparently they are not all of them. Not everybody wants to be listed there or it doesn’t, it doesn’t.

Hasn’t edited themselves. But a couple of people are really listed there. And then I also saw that there are different roles, right? You were also talking about the different roles for the meetings, but there were two particular ones that were like labeled there. And one was the, the. Maintainer and the other was the community maintainer.

So what are those two roles? Is that all the roles that you have and how do you select people or how are people selecting themselves to be in those

[00:17:07] Bekah: roles? Yeah, that’s a really great question and it’s kind of evolved over time. We’ve had so many people step up and offer support and offer help. And Sarah, McCombs, they were really great support at the beginning of.

Virtual coffee and, and making sure that we got this stuff done and helping build out these processes. And when we launched our first hack Tober Fest, we had a whole team that was focused on that. And a number of the people who were on that team ended up coming on as maintainers and. I’m both a, a core maintainer and a community maintainer and, or a, an org maintainer rather.

And what that means is we kind of look at the overall organization, the health, the strategy where should we go from here? What decisions need to be made in terms of the entire organization? I would say the community maintainers are [00:18:00] looking more at the day-to-day, the community management project planning that, that kind of more day-to-day focus, I guess, in, in making sure that the team is supported there.

So we all work together as a core team and we make decisions together and there’s always going to be overlap in all of those things. But it’s funny that you ask about these roles because I was just working on this. Actually we have some team leads and they should be going up on the site there.

They’re already listed there, but. You know, we have leads for our monthly challenges as Areli, Varo, and Andrew Bush for our audio visual stuff. So getting things put up on YouTube, helping with live streams, that’s bogged in. For documentation, we just onboarded a new team lead named . Who’s absolutely great.

I met with her this morning to kind of like walk through the process of, you know, how do we prioritize, what needs documented, where do we put these things? And she’s so great about, you know, asking questions and getting issues up on the site before I even think about them. So I hope I didn’t miss anybody.

I know that, that we work with. A number of other people as well to support the organization. But I think that, that those will go up on the site soon. We want to also have like a community health team lead and we’re talking to someone about doing that. Job search is a big thing at virtual coffee.

It doesn’t matter what stage you are. Somebody is always looking for a job. And so we have some great folks who do a lot of work on that. And so, you know, that might be up on there soon too. So, you know, we’re, we’re, I think we’re in the phase where we’re trying to figure out how do we best support our members and help provide those leadership opportunities that we want.

[00:19:56] Michaela: Yeah. Yeah. So when you describe all [00:20:00] of that, it seems to me this is a full-time full-time job already, but so how much, how much time does really go into that? I mean, there’s the meetings themselves, right? That you’re a participating and I’m even, I’m not part of virtual coffee because I don’t have the time to do it as.

Just as a participant. So I can imagine you have to be at the meetings, you have to plan the meetings and there’s the chat and you’re making all this. You have all these thoughts and meetings also with other members of the community, how to grow the community, how to, you know, keep it alive and make it healthy.

So how much time off your week goes into data? I can imagine

[00:20:39] Bekah: a lot. I don’t know. That’s a good question. At some point, I think. Stopped keeping track of how much time was going into it because it was a lot and it’s not a job, right. It’s a volunteer position. But I think, you know, now we have so many supportive members and with the core team that I’m able to do, where like we’re all able to do a lot more and to lean on each other.

And to grow in that way. And a lot of the stuff is almost like muscle memory. Now, you know, I’ve been doing it for so long that it doesn’t feel like it’s one more thing to do. There are always things that, you know, I have a whole board of things I would love to do for virtual coffee and I have to try and pace myself because sometimes I go for it anyway, and then I.

Well into something and I’m like, oh, I, I might, I might die after that. So I try to avoid that feeling now.

[00:21:38] Michaela: Yeah, I can imagine. So I have seen on the GitHub page, there are some, there’s some sponsoring going on, right? Is there, are there other ways that you’re monetizing this community or that the community monetize it itself, that it has some budget around that you can also do cool stuff.

[00:21:55] Bekah: So right now, sponsorships, we launched [00:22:00] sponsorships maybe in September. And so up to that point, we were just paying out of pocket for everything. But sponsorships is the primary way that we cover our costs. We had a monthly challenge sponsorship, which was nice. We have the podcast there’s opportunities for sponsorship there.

Oh, oh, we just launched a store, so, oh yeah. Cool. That’s really exciting. It’s just really exciting to see people like wearing the virtual coffee and sharing their stickers. So those are some ways that we’re, we’re working on covering, covering the cost of what we want to do, and then, you know, hopefully providing new services and.

Yeah. Yeah.

[00:22:38] Michaela: I think at one point you have to think about it because even like this lag is probably not free, right. You have to pay per month membered and.

[00:22:46] Bekah: Nope. So we’re on the free version of slack because it costs, I think $6 per member per month. Yeah. I saw there’s no way that we could cover that.

That’s so

[00:22:59] Michaela: crazy. Yeah. Yeah. Okay. So there’s a free version of that as well, because I looked into that, I thought like maybe, you know, slack channel and it’s not like $6. Why am I God, not.

[00:23:11] Bekah: Right, right. Discord, discord, we’ve gone back and forth about it. It has a lot of great tools. We’re just not in love with the user experience of discord.

But you know, we have class. So one of the things that we have Put a lot of money into zoom because we have accounts for our core team, but also we have a coworking room that stays open all the time. So folks can join in slack and the coworking room is always open. So that’s its own account. We, you know, producing a podcast can be costly you know, producing.

Transcripts and providing the services for that. We’ve got like Zapier and air table. So, you know, like we’re, we’re using all of these tools that we can to you know, make things a little bit easier for us, but do cost money. And so what we, we try and keep our costs minimal, [00:24:00] but you know, there, there are some, but I think that.

Covered right now for our CA our monthly costs by our sponsorships, which is really, really great. Yeah. That’s

[00:24:10] Michaela: really good. Yeah, that’s really cool. So what would you say to the listeners today that would like to, you know, start their own community, have a community? What would be the MVP, a MVP version of a community that you, you know, from your experience would.

Suggest to them, should they start with fitness spaces or should they have like a meeting or a slack or a discord channel, you know, what are the options and what are the pros and cons for each

[00:24:38] Bekah: one of those? That’s really a great question. I think that, first of all, I feel strongly that. You, there are a lot of really great communities already out there, and a lot of them really need support.

So if you are not all on board and starting your own community, explore some of those and see how you can help because, you know, you might be able to be on a core team or something that allows you the experience that you want from that. So I’m not convinced that every, every person needs to start their own community.

But I would say that I think trying to fill a need within the community is a really great way to start one, because if you see that there’s a gap or that people are asking for things, or, you know, like one of the things we’ve been doing virtual coffee for almost two years now, and we get the same questions in our Our zoom sessions.

All the time. And so I can tell that there’s a real need for more work, to be done around interviewing about supporting junior developers about creating positive workspaces. So for sure there are. For groups that focus on those things. And then I would say for me, if you start a slack or a discord, that’s probably the most time-consuming [00:26:00] thing that you can do because you want to keep people engaged.

You want to keep them talking, you need to answer questions. So if you don’t have a core group of people, Then it’s going to be really, it’s going to be a lot of work to try and keep up with that. I also think that we’re in the pandemic now and people have been collecting slacks and discords, and when things in the pandemic start to ease up, we’ll see that a lot of those communities, I think, start to fade off just because, you know, people are going to prioritize the couple that they’ll keep and stay active with.

And, and then they’re going to be, you know, doing. In really stuff.

[00:26:42] Michaela: Yeah. Yeah. Which is good. I’m I’m waiting for that.

[00:26:47] Bekah: Yeah. Yeah. So I mean, thinking about like, okay, maybe you want to then create some kind of hybrid model or, you know, do an online meetup that translates into an in-person thing. Or if you, if in-person is not your thing, then, you know, figure out how you can build your online environment around that.

I think it’s tricky because it’s not one size fits all, but you know, in-person or async, if you’re a really async person, then, then slack or discord is a great way to go. So yeah, there’s, there’s a lot, there’s a lot there. Yeah.

[00:27:21] Michaela: I think it probably really about personality as well. I think a lot of people really enjoy.

Writing and, you know, participating in this estrone coroners conversation, even though they are often very synchronous right in discord. That’s why I always feel like I missed that conversation. Oh, I missed that conversation as well. And then I just leave without writing anything like anyway, so the last question that I have for you is you just started as a technical community, like.

What, what are you doing dead? Are you doing actually the same thing that you just learned yourself? And you’re not like your master now and the expert here for, for deep gram or what’s your role there?

[00:27:58] Bekah: Yeah, it’s kind of, I [00:28:00] feel like it’s such, it’s been such a good fit for me. My background, I spent 10 years teaching college English.

And so deep gram is a speech to text. AI company. And so there, there are so many different experts in different fields there. So, you know, whether it’s data science or linguistics or engineering and, you know, the devil team I get to talk to everybody and. Understand where they’re coming from, but I sit on the dev REL team as a technical community builder, so I can do dev rally things.

I can write if I want to I can contribute code, but my focus is on creating those systems and processes for community and the external community at deep gram. I always say that your community starts with the internal community. You want to make sure that you have a strong internal community before trying to start an external community, because you have to have that support network to help you and that trust to be in guidance.

So I’m doing. You know, some educating I am doing well, hopefully some speaking in the near future and hopefully some writing and building out that community strategy and trying to figure out, you know, where, how can we. Fill a need in the tech community or how can we support existing communities out there?

So it is, it’s pretty much a mixture of everything I’ve ever done in my life to this point. And it’s been really fun in the first three weeks now having a team to work with them. Yeah,

[00:29:31] Michaela: it sounds super exciting. Yeah. I can’t imagine everything coming together for you. And you can really strive now with the competencies that you, I think not only developed you probably had already from the beginning, right?

Because it’s not something that you. You make the first virtual coffee? I think a lot of people did that and then it grows into something that’s, you know, so probably not in the deaf community as well, so well rounded. So yeah, so [00:30:00] congratulations to that. And thank you so much for sharing so much about the process and about virtual copy, how it worked.

Yeah, I really enjoyed it. Is there something that you want to tell our listeners? Maybe how can they sign up for virtual coffee? He said, you know, do you, do you have to have some commitment there or accountability?

[00:30:21] Bekah: That’s a great question. So we make everybody come to at least one virtual coffee for before getting an invitation and to our slack and that’s to, you know, help them experience, you know, our community and to see what it’s like, because, you know, we feel that we demonstrate that pretty well in those meetings.

And so it’s really. Figuring out if it’s in the community for you, because it’s not the community for everyone, we all have different needs and, and things that we like. And don’t like, and so if it’s for you, then it’s great. Then join our slack, fill out our new member form. You can find those events@virtualcoffee.io slash events.

So come and check out a virtual coffee and then.

[00:31:05] Michaela: Yeah, cool. I will link everything in the show notes. And thank you so much for talking to me being here today with me. I enjoyed it.

[00:31:14] Bekah: Great. Thanks so much. I’m going to, can I mention one more thing? Yeah, sure. I just want to say to ’em if you follow deep gram devs on Twitter, I think we’ll be running some very cool Twitter spaces through there soon.

So if you want to check out some Twitter spaces, you can do that as well. And thank you so much for having me. This has been great. Yeah, I really

[00:31:35] Michaela: loved it. Okay. Thank you for caring. Thank you. Bye

[00:31:38] Bekah: bye.

Predictable profit through small bets

Daniel Vassallo left his cushy job at Amazon, where he made over half a million per year, to start his own business.

We talk about:

  • anxiety when start-up attempts do not work out as planned
  • how he overcame failure
  • his strategy of small bets to reduce uncertainty
  • and all the little products that provide him with an average of 23K USD of profit per month.
Picture of Daniel Vassallo

Today’s episode is sponsored by Codiga, a smart coding assistant and automated code review platform. Try Codiga for FREE!

Links:

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Transcript: Entrepreneurship as a developer

[If you want, you can help make the transcript better, and improve the podcast’s accessibility via Github. I’m happy to lend a hand to help you get started with pull requests, and open source work.]

[00:00:00] Michaela: Hello and welcome to the software engineering unlocked podcast. I’m your host, Dr. McKayla. And today I have the pleasure to talk to Daniel Vassallo, a former Amazon engineer, and now an entrepreneur and freespirit. But before I start, let me tell you about an amazing startup that is sponsoring the podcast Codiga.

Codiga, is a code analysis platform that automates the boring part of code reviews and let’s you merge with confidence on GitHub, GitLab, and Bitbucket. I’ve worked with Codiga for around one year now, and I love how it guides me in discovering and improving, well, the “not so nice parts” of my codebase. But there is more: Codiga also has a coding assistant that helps you write better code faster. Find and share safe and reusable blocks of code within your favorite IDE on demand while you are coding. Codiga has a great free plan. So there’s actually nothing that stops you from giving it a try! Learn more at Codiga.io. That is Codiga.io.

But now back to Daniel. Daniel got internet famous by sharing that he left his Kashi job at MSU. Yeah, half a million per year. Can you imagine? And his main motivation for leaving was that he wanted to be more independent, but also challenged again. After that you shared his attempts to build a successful business on Twitter.

And since then he managed to get a really large Twitter following. And even though his first SaaS business did not work out as planned, he ever reaches around $23,000 in profit each month. So I actually also asked Daniel if he would give away one of his products, to my listener and he agreed. So that’s really awesome. And so today you have the chance to win a couple of things, right? You can either win. Everybody can build a Twitter audience, which is a video course from Daniel, where he really goes into depth on how he, how he built this to the audience.

And how can you do the same? Or you can. When a digital [00:02:00] copy of the good parts of AWS. So it’s a book, a very technical book and tell us your, everything that you ever wanted to know about AWS, where he’s really an expert in. So how do you want to do that? Right. You ask them, you have to like, and retweet today’s episode’s link.

I will put that in the show notes and for an additional chance to win, you can also leave a car. On what are you doing to get a little bit more independent, some side income, or maybe a hobby that you have that just gives you more energy, which I think is equally important.

Yeah, but without further ado, let’s dig into Daniel’s interesting success story. Daniel. I’m really thrilled that you’re on the show. Thank you for being.

[00:02:41] Daniel: Of course. Thank you, McKayla, then. Nice to meet you. Happy to be here. Yeah,

[00:02:45] Michaela: I’m super, super excited.

So when I go to your website, I have a list of products that are linked there. Right. And they are very, very diverse, which is super exciting for me. I’m just two of them I already mentioned. Right. Which was a video course on how to build a Twitter audience.. Then you have the good parts of AWS.

Then you have cutting boards. They’re like wood, wood cutting boards. I was like, wow, how does that fit into that? Then you have like profit and loss, which is some status updates on your business finances. And then finally you have this SAS business user base which I’m also super interested in.

How does that come about, right. That you have like a cutting board in between. All of those is a little bit more technical parts or products that you have. Yeah,

[00:03:34] Daniel: yeah, yeah. So I think I sort of, I started this journey, I think in a traditional way, like many other software engineers, I thought I was going to be doing the boots.

I was going to sort of focus on one idea and build it inside to make it successful at all costs, putting all my effort into it. And I think what’s happened. And that’s what I started with. That’s what, that’s what user base. What is the light? When I, when I started [00:04:00] a few months in, I started to have a little bit of I was public call it like a small crisis of anxiety.

I was thinking I was getting very sort of uncomfortable by the uncertainty that I was imagining. In front of me, you know what, when we’re like, when will, I know if this will succeed? What if it won’t succeed? Like what sickness should I be watching for? What if it succeeds, but slowly that should I be shifting attention to other things and sort of, I had all these questions that I didn’t really have an answer for.

And I was noticing that I probably was underestimating. How much uncertainty that is in doing something like this, that it’s very hard to know. And th this was a bit more confounding because actually I was getting very strong sickness about user base back then, very song. You know, I just liked the term validation because I think sort of it implies something that it isn’t there, but the typical size that people look for.

For validation. Like I was sort of had a mailing list of about 4,000 people waiting for the launch. I had endorsements by highly influential people, sort of the CEOs of like Netlify and various publicly. And those, the products that I sort of and were very welcoming and sort of wanted, wanted to collaborate with their teams.

So many other tanks, even, even on launch. I sort of, it was front page on hacker news, number one on product hands, even, even the initial day 11, you were strong was actually about 40 customers, about $1,500 in sales. But yet I was still noticing that, you know, it was uncertain and I tend to find that that’s what happened.

It was much harder to keep the momentum of all the sickness that, that had been. So, so th that’s crisis a little bit opened my eyes. And I basically, I started thinking if I want to make this as an arrangement, the self-employment engagement, successful public, and it’s a different strategy. I can’t just be going all in into one thing, because I was worried that I was just going to run out of time savings and I have to go back to full-time employment, which isn’t the end of the world.

Like, it’s not like it would be the end [00:06:00] of the world. I was enjoying being self-employed. I enjoy the flexibility, the, the, the sort of freedom, the ability to work on what I wanted and all those good. So I don’t really know what has happened, but sort of I had the smaller epiphany and I wondered what if instead of having plan a plan B plan C and plan the about, you know, if this fails, I go to the next thing and so and so forth.

What if I decide to do a bunch of things at the same time, small things? Of course I was there. The stick. You know, I had limited finite time, like for the one. And that’s sort of changed my attitude to things instead of sort of focusing on one thing. I started looking around with me and I started asking myself, what can I do?

Low-hanging fruit. That’s what I kind of do. That is a small thing. Doesn’t necessarily need to have large upsides accounting because I’ve been new or, and this is, they be sustainable for a long time. It was mostly looking at small wins. That’s what, what can I do? Something that can be, can make me some money into the month’s time, which are these, the higher odds it’s still unpredictable.

You never really know whether something’s going to work or not. Even today. That was when I launched new things. I have no clue sometimes whether things are going to work or not. But it’s changed my perspective because before. Looking at things, does this have upside? Is this going to scale? Is this sustainable?

And I think that side of that comes with dads. Those things that do have those properties tend to have low odds of succeeding and they just to be hard, you know unpredictable sort of affected by them, them things, good timing and other things that are very opaque. And this has worked out well for me.

So now sort of the, to get back to your question, so to these and why now it looks like I have a very diverse portfolio of products is, is because I, I I’ve been the products are a manifestation of inspiration that I had over the last two and a half years or so. And I ask myself, is this something that’s going to be a small bag?

This is something that I can give it a shot. And maybe if it’s works, I keep it. If it doesn’t or if it becomes, you know, too, too, too, too hard [00:08:00] to do or something that I’m disliking, I can just drop it. So don’t, it’s been sort of a stream of experiments. Some things work, some things worked more than others, some things beyond my expectations, some things work, it worked a little bit, but didn’t meet my expectations.

So as you can imagine in a poetry. It’s like an investment. I mean, I did, I don’t think the idea is that we tend to do the same thing with, with how to, how we invest our money. For example, that we almost considered food. To deploy or your life savings, like in a single stock or a single assets that we tend to want to diversify, to tame uncertainty.

And I think more or less, it’s the same episode to my own ideas and my own small ventures, essentially. So I know it’s a general answer. I hope happy to dive deep or deeper into all the individual tanks, but sort of the general idea at the Titanic.

[00:08:52] Michaela: I think when I look at your projects and your products I think what’s also distinctive here is that they have started that end.

So a lot of people have a lot of ideas but there continues, right. So they are, I’m starting with it and that can actually not stop them. But it’s more something that I’m doing and. I keep on getting busier and busier because I’m adding things to my portfolio, right?

Let’s say I’m a SAS business user basis. Probably the exception here, right? It’s not something that you start and then it already ended. It has some maintenance cycle, as we all know, it’s software. Right. And if it gets more successful, you will have more, have to be more involved in. But like a cutting board has a start and end.

Right. You have the idea, you design it and then it’s finished and then maybe you have to sell it. Yeah. Okay. But there is not really a lot of involvement in it. The same for the video course. . You recorded it and now you’re selling it the same for the book. Right. You start it, you finish it.

so do you think that this is you, you deliberately think about that when you’re looking at your small bats? I mean, there’s [00:10:00] like as, as we have time, Infinitive ideas on board we can do. . And, and I think long enough people have struggled with that. I’m struggling with that. What should we, you know, what should we take on?

And there’s always a pros and cons list, or however people make the judgment is this affinitive thing of I’m starting this and, you know, in. Three weeks or in three months I have it finished and then I’m done with it. And so on. Is that something that crosses your mind that you’re thinking about it?

Okay. Yeah.

[00:10:30] Daniel: Yeah, yeah, definitely. It’s sort of, I think I’ve developed a selection criteria. I like to call it. It’s it’s sort of it’s I think, I think back when I started, I almost fell into the trap of. London can do the first opportunity to tie fell that I could do. And I would just jump into it. So I don’t, because it seems like, okay, I can do it.

Let’s do it nowadays. I’ve become much more vigorous. I would say that’s what my selection criteria and I feeling completely okay at peace ignoring things that I feel like I can do. I can give a shot, but if it, if they don’t set up. My strict selection. Cause I too, yeah. I just leave them for someone else or whatever that they’re just not mine.

And what you mentioned is a, is an important part of it’s that this is like, Is is this something that’s I like to call it? Is this something where time is going to be my friend, not my enemy. I think what you, what you’re doing is you, you need to have the payoff happened before a certain period of time. Otherwise you’re going to run out of.

Money or out of time out of frustration or get the motivated. And I disliked that situation. I disliked that property. So I try to avoid those as much as possible.

I think with user base, I also made the mistake of what the kind of SAS was. It’s the kind of SAS that’s acquired. Unfortunately in our 24 7 support, I have a PagerDuty app. I sort of, sometimes I get paged until 2:00 AM in the morning. Like nowadays I would almost certainly avoid something like that. So I thought I would go for something simpler almost certainly.

Other parts of my selection [00:12:00] criteria. I also is this something that I can build in blink to markets by myself? Not because I think I had no after the thing go, I can do everything, but I think it’s a good test to keep things simple. Right. It’s sort of a proxy for is the simple enough that I can bring good to markets by my.

Like if I change my mind I, or I decide it’s not worth pursuing, getting a more, I don’t have to make sure that everyone is on board or I’m not sort of haircutting anyone else.

Concerns go away. If I keep things simple that I can sort of do do, do on my own. . I just, with user base, I type invested so much that then I started falling into the trap of sunk costs.

Now I should invest even more. And I ended up spending, you know, a ton of time, money, and more than what my, this capital to the other was light. And definitely a lesson learned. And, and what you mentioned, I do like projects and ideas that sort of ideally have a start and an end where time is my friend.

[00:12:55] Michaela: So what are some of the products that you started or the ideas that you started that haven’t yet? That haven’t succeeded yet, or maybe that you haven’t even shared with the artists, some that you haven’t shared even with, with, you

[00:13:07] Daniel: know, with the people.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely. So there’s various defense of failure degrees afraid as well. Certainly I think we’ve already mentioned the user base, probably the biggest failure that I had. And this one I did it before. I was thinking about sort of the strategy that, so I think it’s a failure that led me to see things differently, but I almost feel embarrassed to say this, but I’ve spent almost $150,000 of my own.

Building user base. It’s crazy. It’s talking about what does, and this is only making about $5,000 in annual revenue, not monthly. That’s almost certainly I will never recoup my money may be I might sell it in the future, but even though I’m not expecting a sort of large amounts, and I don’t know if even that is an option, but as I mentioned before, I think my mistake was in the.

Underestimating uncertainty. I invested too much. I went to all, then the more I went all into my life as I can need to invest. And it was sort of this [00:14:00] cycle of, of bad decisions, but think that has side. However, I do a few other small things that I would spend, not necessarily they weren’t big failures, but there were things that didn’t see the work as I expected.

In fact, the very first digital product, the tight side, not many people know about. Was I’d say to sell a spreadsheet there’s a bit of a technical project that I started to sell a spreadsheet about benchmarking different, easy to servers during network speeds. So, so back then, back in 2019, AWS didn’t really advertise accurately.

What network speed you are getting and what network bathymetry are you getting when you’re buying or using a particular instance type? I thought I’m going to run a benchmark test and measure exactly what type of performance you’re going to get.

I was building in public and talking about, as people got interested and tights, basically long story short, I spent a week cause I was. Open source the tool had benchmarked. Everything spent about $500 I did prepare a very sophisticated spreadsheet with pivot tables. Very fancy spreadsheet. I was very proud of it. I posted it on Twitter. Post is on hacker news and a few other places. There was lots of fences into this and that tension that’s actually surprised me.

I think the sort of lending page got about 30,000 views, which was even nowadays that’s compared to my other products, but this sold nothing. Cause I mean, nobody paid and I was, I was charging $10, like not like a crazy amount of money, nobody bought it. So I tend to, in fact, a few days later I released it for free.

I, and I think. Lesson that I learned that is back then. I remember thinking, wait a minute, this is what back then it was 2019. I, I said 2019, you know, information wants to be free. Nobody wants to pay for information, especially developers, but I think actually I’m happy that I didn’t sort of take that lesson too seriously because it was, I jumped to the wrong conclusion.

And my now in hindsight, it’s not really to do in fact. Money now selling information, different kinds of information that’s and sometimes even to developers, that’s sort of that belief or that [00:16:00] conclusion, the developers don’t pay for things. So in fact, I think a lesson that I learned with sort of these experiments is that sometimes we tend to jump to conclusions. The tire not warranted.

So that’s that’s that’s why did this fail? Why did, why were people not willing to pay for it? Maybe I can take some educated guesses,

but nowadays I’d say to be careful not to be too much from these things, because I know that things that are affected by that. bye. Good timing and other unpredictable things that sometimes whether something succeeds or not is just things that we can’t even see that it’s just opaque. Yeah. So that was another example.

You know, we mentioned the cutting boards, so the cutting boards started as purely as a, as an experiment. I started with working just this time, last year as a hobby, . And at some point I was wondering, could I try to sell some of the things that I’m making? And.

Oh, eventually I bumped into the idea of within cutting boards I launched the sort of the offering, I think in October of last year. So maybe four months ago, I sold about $5,000, not a big tank, sort of probably if I, if I consider all the tools and the tank, I might have just broken even .

So it’s sort of it’s that failure in terms of expectation. Nevertheless, I still think that I gained something from the novel. Because I did ship F you know, I bought a dozen around the world and learned a lot. But I think what’s more important is that now, nowadays I feel much more, I feel less daunted by a physical product offering.

So you know, the, the, you mentioned, for example, I have the profit and loss membership.

That’s another thing that was purely an experimental. If I was so a bit of, a bit of a background story, I always also have sort of this quarter time freelancing arrangement with. Are you familiar with gumbo such as this platform for, for, for digital? And back then when I, when I joined the team we were launching a feature memberships that the ability to, to, to do the CareLink sort of payments.

And I wanted the next cues to try to use the feature. Essentially, this was, this is how it started. I [00:18:00] was wondering what could I sell for the carrying fee? And I had already been very, very open with my finances for a long time on Twitter and other places with my business finance, at least like with how things are doing.

And I talked, what if I talked to. Sell an even more detailed financial view. Like we built and done by products, broken down with all the expenses and where the costs basically the full profit and loss per product. And I started at then when I started it, I was hoping that I could build like a community at ons.

And then with these ideas of making money online and figuring out small bats and building a portfolio. I could use the circle group. I was posting updates. So not only I was posting my financial desires, but some comments as well, long story short, even though this financially know did okay. I did about $40,000 in total in about a year or so.

I’m quite happy compared to the input I’ve put, but sort of the, the, the, my goal of building a community, it didn’t tell the happen, like. Originally, there was some momentum. I was getting lots of questions, but it never really changed some of my talking about my own topic and eventually things sort of Sort of stops the energy disappeared and barely any activity continued to happen.

Nevertheless, almost by surprise. These simply my mostly synthetic jackets actually is a cohort based cars where we’re meeting 25 members at a time that I launched this about two months ago or so where we were having sort of this synchronicity. Basically cars that we meet together, a small group. And we talk about these ideas in much more detail that we’re discussing here, sorts of finding inspiration, finding opportunities, juggling multiple things at the same time.

And funny enough, even though it wasn’t my intention, I set up a discord server just for housekeeping purposes to share the zoom links and the slides and whatever, and the community that I was hoping to build back then sort of happens there now by accident that this wasn’t something I was. The time to do it, which is fascinating.

It sort of became the [00:20:00] community almost became the main selling point of this course that people are word of mouth is spreading. You know, there’s about 200 people now, like, and people are encouraging others, you know, come here, we’re talking and getting good feedback and brainstorming ideas and things like that, which is again, it’s quite fascinating to me.

Most of the things that have been successful and even the failed things, but particularly the successful things are things that I have wouldn’t have even imagined I’ll be doing. Just a year ago or so that’s what sort of ready for the interesting sort of the, I had the idea before I used to believe, you know, business success is going to be a, a self directed top-down you come up with the idea and you execute it.

And now it’s almost, I tell myself that, send them things, see what works. So I wait to that. Yeah.

[00:20:48] Michaela: Yeah. And it’s also interesting to see that while you have this idea of having a community and then you have an intention and the deliberate effort to do it and it doesn’t work out. And then it’s. By chance somehow creates itself.

Right? I think this is really an interesting perspective. I want to dig a little bit into your motivation and, do you think that you will be bored by what you’re doing right now

and what is really your motivation behind that? For me, for example, I’m definitely an entrepreneur because. I want to have the freedom to be with my kids. And I didn’t see how I can do that in a job that fulfills me being employed just wasn’t possible. There was nobody that would offer me the flexibility that I need, right.

Working in the middle of the night or on the weekends, or, you know, having like crazy two weeks of work and then three weeks doing nothing because the kids are sick or, you know, and I feel like this is more important now for. And that’s definitely my motivation for being, I think self-employed, what’s your motivation.

Why do you, why do you do that?

[00:21:52] Daniel: I think the motivation to become self-employed I think is similar to yours and similar situation, I would say. So also two small kids[00:22:00] I was feeling like I’m leaving the house before they wake up.

I live home, very tired. They’re about to go to sleep. And in the weekends, I also thinking about work. So maybe it may be a bit different for me as a dad, but still sort of the same concept that I’ve felt like, you know, my kids are going up and they spend time with them. So I was looking at people around me at Amazon and there was noticing, you know, things are probably going to get worse, not better.

I wasn’t envying the lifestyle and being, getting a good sense of other people, no matter how much more they’re getting paid or how much higher up they were. So I’d be fooling myself. If I were to believe it’s going to be different for me is if I just get the next promotion or the next bonus, suddenly things are going to be better.

So it’s I jumped into to the self employment. And then once I did.

Get all this flexibility I take immediately. I realized that I didn’t see the one, this to be taken away from me. So suddenly I w I joke sometimes I joke tweet about this as well as my own. The business plan is not to go back to a full-time job. I’m not thinking about goals that I want be. A successful SAS or this particular product or some idea or whatever, it’s literally to make this lifestyle sustainable.

So that’s, I would say is it’s, it’s a different, I think it’s a different attitude. And I think it’s helps me with my decision making process as well, because when I do bump into these opportunities, so I get inspired to do something. I ask myself, is this going to increase the odds or is this likely to increase the odds of making this lifestyle sustainable or not?

[00:23:28] Michaela: It’s true. Yeah. We started sort of at the same time with the entrepreneurship.

And I’m a big believer in that you have to enjoy the process, which I think is a little bit the different way of saying the same thing that you just said.

Right. So I only take on things where I feel it’s not the end product that I will enjoy, but I enjoyed the way. The only problem. And I tried to combat that, but I think it’s very deeply internally in my, in my, in my genes or something. DNA is That I have a hard [00:24:00] time having the money focused all the time.

Right? So that’s for example, say I did a PhD, right? And from a money perspective, this is such a stupid thing, right? It’s the worst thing. The worst decision that you can, that you can make is you’re not making, you know, money for a long time. You’re putting a lot of effort, a lot of work into something. But I think I wasn’t, you know, I wasn’t interested in the money.

It was okay for me doing it just for the process. And I survived in a small apartment, you know, like we were thinking of, you know, it should be by this this vegetable or not, it was definitely this kind of grinding. But then in hindsight, I really try to do things different than now because the sustainability part, you know, is also a very, very important part for motivation, right?

You can be extremely motivated and it can be such a fun to do something, but in the end of the day, and maybe this has to do with growing up and having a family and, you know, it’s not only you and you know, your crappy apartment, but you have to provide for your family. And, you know, and this comes with, with, with this aspect of also sustainability.

I try to have that mindset much more of thinking of is that actually something I can keep up doing. And unfortunately, you know, money is it’s a big part there, right? Is it, is it coming very naturally to you that you, that you think about those?

[00:25:22] Daniel: I, I actually, I think actually I there’s an, it sort of idealized that I am almost incapable of thinking properly about money, unless I feel I need that.

So that’s, and I think. I don’t know if it’s a different situation. Maybe that’s like now my wife is staying at home with the kids, sort of like now I’m I’m diploma income person. I tend to sort of, I think that stressor of needing to make ends meet soon because otherwise I would have had to go back to work.

I think that was probably the most critical thing for me to open my eyes and find [00:26:00] opportunities, ignore and not ignore. I would say that instead of being. Prudent and not being too idealistic and making the making better decisions essentially. And even now I noticed that, cause now, now with the types of work that I do, I have lots of ups sends hours.

My income is very volatile. If I launch something new, there’s like big spikes and then sort of zaps sort of very spike. So if I’m noticing there’s something very fascinating that I never noticed before. That’s when I’m riding the momentum of a, of a high period. My mind almost shuts down. Like I can’t work.

I can’t think I’m not creative. And I think this is similar to what creators talk about when they mentioned your constraints, bleed creativity. Now, for example, early 20, 21 last year, the first. I would say seven months was a good period for me.

I was riding the momentum of a couple of other projects that I, that I was doing. And I realized I don’t need to think about money. I’m just going to experiment with hobbies. We took a two month vacation that we were on back to you with it. I’m from originally. And we spent a whole summer there, like.

Just almost didn’t do any work until September, basically. Right. But then sort of by September things have dropped down to a point where it wasn’t critical, so there’s a buffer of savings or whatever. But I started to notice that if I’m not going to do something, things are going to start becoming negative soon.

So that was enough. But then suddenly I can almost see it. I can almost feel. I started thinking of new promotion ideas, new products, new opportunities, and very quickly I went to do September. Then I went to a very high focus mode. I started with working thing. I started the cohort based course as well for as much a month after I did a few new promotion campaigns for my existing product sense.

You know, again, I could change the subject to the, again, sort of, again, not everything worked, same, same thing. Cause somethings work [00:28:00] better than. But it’s sort of very fascinating, you know sort of it it’s it’s as if the assessors are what I need to make me make design decisions. I will feel almost incapable to work if it doesn’t.

And we talked before we started recording that, we talked to this a bit about the, the plot act of building a house custom built house. But I think it’s helping me as well because it’s giving me some, some meaning to my income, I think if I didn’t have debt, I felt that we were working much less a public, those Newlands would just sleep in my head and just, I would be less creative, less productive.

And I would be seeing the words differently and probably opportunities that. I would consider now I would ignore, I call it luck blindness. Like sometimes when you’re in the state you might bump into opportunities, but if you’re, if you don’t have that small successor, you almost don’t even see them.

The lights is just because we’re shut down. So I don’t know if it’s, I think I, I understand what you’re saying. Maybe the circumstances are a bit different. No.

[00:28:59] Michaela: Yeah, I can totally relate to what you’re saying, especially with the house now, because the house shifted my whole thinking around money tremendously.

I’m a very frugal person, extremely frugal. I have always been my whole life and you know, it’s just didn’t mean anything to me money, but you can’t be frugal with that. I was actually thinking like, now that we get our. We have a very, very small car. And there are no, there, there’s no way that you can fit three child seats into the last row. Right. There are just two and a half seats. So now we have to buy it.

Bigger car. And so I was brainstorming with my husband and it was like, okay. So, and, and it really helps me to think about products and my wig. It gives so much meaning to me to thinking about, okay, this quarter of the car can come from that. And, you know, I could do this to get the other. And so [00:30:00] having, having a very realistic way of how to spend the money definitely is extremely different.

Or life-changing for me, for my mindset, because, you know, having the managers on the bank account, or it has no meaning for me, but now it’s, you know, part of a car and can a kid sit there or not. Right. And so on. Yeah. And I think that I wanted to ask you and maybe it’s probably the final question that I have for you.

And that I think is super interesting for my listeners is how do we deal with scope creep? But also how do we, how can we let go? Because for example, one of the things, when, you know, when I looked at you and especially at the beginning, You were only on Twitter, right?

So you tried a little bit to be on medium, but very quickly realized, you know, you have a couple of very dedicated and deliberate clock posts. But you never started really like your blog or now, or you’re building like your audience on the blog. You were building your audience on Twitter. And this, I found that really inspirational because I was also like, I didn’t have enough time to be on Twitter and on Instagram and on, you know, like what not.

And then you’re doing a shitty job on all of them and you just but now when I looked at your website, I saw. Oh, you can find me on Twitter. Gumroad Instagram and clubhouse. And I thought like, is that a little bit of a scope creep? Is that are your you’re you’re now on many things, do you feel like you’re, you know, are, do you still have like a very deliberate way of choosing where you are and how to also say, okay, I tried clubhouse and maybe now it’s not working in a.

[00:31:37] Daniel: Yeah. Yeah. I wish I had the precise on. So I think it’s mostly goes by Gutfield to be honest, I think in fairness, this as a full disclosure in the beginning guide side, many, many different things, as you noticed, I was on medium, but not just that I was, I think, little bit of background story. I think what I realized the very first week when I started working for myself, I realized I [00:32:00] had no reputation.

Oh, outside of the couple of companies that I had worked from, nobody knew who I was and there was still, I wasn’t, I wasn’t thinking, building an audience back then. I was thinking, can I build some reputation? Can I make some people know about me? And I was thinking, how can I go out there and help?

I was doing some open source on that data was very active for a few months. StackOverflow LinkedIn Quora, Twitter on medium on hacker news, LinkedIn, almost everything that had given that side. I dedicated probably a couple of months just experimenting different things. Some things I gave up quickly.

Some things, it took me a few more months, long story short, mostly Twitter was the only one that stuck around. And if you were to ask me what were the exit signals that made me choose that? I constantly say exactly. It just felt there was something that was working better. The return on investment seems to be better.

And again, almost like procrastination or something similar, a cousin of procrastination, something was making me feel like what’s the point of going off of spending more time on stack overflow. If this is not conducive to more people knowing about me and that sort of thing. It’s not, it’s not that I wasn’t helping people there, but it wasn’t a translating to me building a reputation, which I know sounds a bit selfish.

But in that period, that was my goal that I wanted to get myself no, a little bit. And over time I still experiment. So I sort of cocktail party downside. But again, for some of these and I, I lost motivation, right. I, I stopped. I stopped going. But so I still keep my eyes open for various reasons, because again, the opportunities diversification as well, sort of who knows I’m nowadays with Twitter, I feel like I have something to lose.

This is a common problem.

Since I have, you know, a hundred thousand followers or so. Concerned, you know, to some degree that’s what if that were to disappear? What if the algorithm changes? What if I get kicked out for some of these who knows or [00:34:00] get hacked or whatever? So again, there’s the back of my mind, ways of diversify flying that I haven’t really found anything concrete yet, so I, you know, it’s not scope creep. I was called it, I think is just still part of my experimentation phase.

Yeah.

[00:34:17] Michaela: I think that’s perfectly fine. I think it’s really important that we experimented with try out thing. And what I like what I also do is that if I feel it’s not like, for example, Twitter, right? That could be that I’m not posting something for a couple of months just because I don’t feel like it.

And, and I really liked this freedom and maybe, you know, like there is no comparison between, you know, your Twitter account and micros with your account. It’s really a small account by. I don’t want to be like the slave of Twitter, right. Or whatever I want to have, you know, like, and sometimes like in the summer or something, and there was a lot of stressful time or even a beautiful time.

Right. Sometimes I just didn’t feel like I have something to contribute and, and then I’m not, I’m not doing it.

[00:35:07] Daniel: Yeah.

Yeah. And, and, and, you know, I’m, I, I’m really not a fan of sort of the, the, these ideas that you need to be prolific and tweeting all the time, all the days. Sure. That might be the best strategy to put the audience faster, but what’s, what’s the point as you were saying. I think what I wanted to my, my, my ideal situation is that this becomes something that I enjoy doing because.

If not chances are it won’t last. I told like I, in summer, I think between June and August, I almost didn’t tweet at all because I was spending time with my family. You know, I might have tweeted it a couple of times. Yes. You know, my follow workouts stopped and maybe even lost some, but like, who cares? So I did sort of.

This idea that everything needs to be done in the most optimal way, sort of the fastest coat subject to the, whatever. It’s just very, as you mentioned, it’s sort of it’s you become a slave of, of, of the process, but in [00:36:00] general, in general ideas, like these are all extrinsic, things like that. I think they feel very naturally.

That’s sort of, you need to come to keep the streak uninterrupted streak of posting daily or blogging after a week or whatever. It’s things that I feel. Those things that I feel liberated once I break them, that’s a sign that I should probably not be doing them.

[00:36:20] Michaela: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. You know, this is why I’m, you know, an entrepreneur to have this flexibility and freedom to choose. So, but I don’t want to take too much of your time anymore. Then you thank you so much for being on my show.

I really enjoy talking to you. We could, you know, continue for another hour, but let’s be very deliberate with our time as well. Just want to remind my listeners of of the chance to win, you know, one of your products, either the good parts of AWS, the book, or the how to build a Twitter audience video.

So retweet, like the episode, maybe tell us what you are doing, that you enjoy, that you know, is one of your small bets to have an additional chance. And yeah. And that’s it. Thank you so much, Danielle, for, for being one of my show was

[00:37:07] Daniel: really a pleasure. This was very fun ticket. Thanks a lot.

[00:37:10] Michaela: Yeah, it was great.

Thank you.

 

Make money with open source software

Alvaro Trigo is a web developer who could quit his full-time job due to his popular open source software FullPage.js.

We talk about:

  • how to use open source to make a living
  • how long it took him to build software people want to buy
  • what he does against fraud
  • and his advice for developers that also want to go independent with open source software. 
Picture of podcast guest Alvaro Trigo

Today’s episode is sponsored by Codiga, a smart coding assistant and automated code review platform. Try Codiga for FREE!

Subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, Google, Deezer, or via RSS.

Transcript: How to make money with open source

[If you want, you can help make the transcript better, and improve the podcast’s accessibility via Github. I’m happy to lend a hand to help you get started with pull requests, and open source work.]

[00:00:00] Michaela: Hello, and welcome to the software engineering unlocked podcast. I’m your host, Dr. McKayla. And today I have the pleasure to talk to Alvaro Trigo, a web developer, who enjoys learning every day. But before I start, let me tell you about an amazing startup that is sponsoring today’s podcast. Codiga. Codiga is a code analysis platform that automates the boring parts of code reviews and lets you merge with confidence on GitHub, GitLab and Bitbucket.

I’ve worked at Codiga for around one year now and I love how it guides me in discovering and improving, aell, the not so nice parts of my codebase. But there is more. Codiga also has a coding assistant that helps you write better code faster. Find and share safe and reusable blocks of code within your favorite IDE on demand while you’re coding.

Codiga has a great free plan. So there’s nothing that stops you from giving it a try. Learn more at Codiga.io. That is Contiga.io.

But now really back to Alvaro. Alvaro created his first website at the age of 16 and did not stop learning and perfecting his craft. One day, he started to make JavaScript plugins and well again, to learn and as an experiment.

And three years later, he earned enough from his experiment so that he could quit his job. When I last looked his library. 21,000, I think downloads per week on NPM. And today I’m super, super excited to talk with him and learn how he actually makes money with open source, how he could, you know, write something on the side so that he can.

Quit his day job and become free and independent. So hello, Alvarado to the show. Welcome. And I’m really excited that you’re

[00:01:46] Alvaro: here. Hello, Mikayla. I’m happy to be here.

[00:01:49] Michaela: Yeah. So the last time I looked and this was 2020, right? The feed from 2020, it said like 21,000 downloads on NP. M what is it [00:02:00] now? Like? It must be even higher.

[00:02:02] Alvaro: Well, to be honest, I’m not sure I haven’t taken awhile, so I don’t know exactly, but, uh, so the similar, I guess I’m not very sure if the MBM stats are very representative anyways, but I think it’s just a way to, to show that, you know, you can have quite weight broadcasts. If you do something, you know, by yourself in your own house, nowadays is quite easy to reach so many.

And to, you know, to influence people in some way, right. Or companies or whatever. So I think it shows the power of open source in time.

[00:02:30] Michaela: Yeah. Yeah. So this is exactly what I want to deep dive a little bit into the power of open source. Right? I think the power of remote work. Yeah. It’s something that I’m very fascinated with and with the pandemic, I think a lot of people now really understood what’s going on here, but what about open source?

How did you even come up with the idea and maybe we should also explain, well, listen as a little bit what you were building, it’s called food page GS. Right? And as I understood it, it’s like a webpage that goes over our website that goes over the full page and it’s easy to set up. And,

[00:03:03] Alvaro: um, it’s a component that allows developers to create these kinds of websites, where you have like a full screen kind of slide.

That snaps to each of the sections. So when I created that, the fake wasn’t very popular yet it became very popular because I realized that almost at the same time that apple released the page four, iPhone five C the iPhone five C website was using these kinds of effects. So I think then people started searching for these kinds of effects and, and they were able to find my.

So, how did they come up with the idea? Well, I, I didn’t actually think too much about it. I wanted to create a component just to learn by myself. I wanted to keep on practicing jQuery at the time because the first version was a jQuery plugin. It wasn’t vanilla JavaScript. And well, I just came up with this idea that I thought it was cool because I was making a website in my.

At the time my boss told me, I, won’t kind of like a very simple website, kind of like a PowerPoint presentation. [00:04:00] And then I, I restart it to me. Then I came up with this idea that, uh, I took from different websites. And then after grading the website, I thought, well, this was quite difficult for me. I was trying to find for a component to do these kinds of websites and it doesn’t exist.

So it might be a good idea for me to create the components and see if other people find it also. He goes, he was out of that, saved them lots of time. And that’s what I did. And then decided to get some traction on GitHub. I remember one day. And seeing that you had like 500 more stars on GitHub and I didn’t even push it too much.

So I was quite surprised and then, uh, just kept moving. Cool.

[00:04:35] Michaela: And so did you, ’cause I, I looked on, on your GitHub profile in the size now, GDPs and GPL, right. Was that the initial license also that you looked up and you thought this is the right thing. Did you already think that you want to commercialize it a little bit?

Did you want to make money by. Having people that use it commercially?

[00:04:57] Alvaro: No, not at all. My whole purpose was just to, to keep on learning and at the same time to get the motivation for myself to, to, to keep on learning, to do something useful for others and that, you know, well, it makes you very excited about that and it needs to lead.

It was under the MIT. Because that’s what most open source kind of use writing in JavaScript the spectrum. And they they’re all, when I decided to start commercializing it is when I made the change to GPL person three, because I thought it was going to be more suitable.

[00:05:26] Michaela: Yeah. It’s also my license, like know it’s the Apache like years before it was the unpatched.

And now it’s always the MIT that I, that I use for open source. A lot of freedom to the user. Right. And so does it mean that if you already licensed it before under MIT that’s the previous versions are still licensed under that and only then the new things are under, you know, GDPR or how does that work?

I’m not really

[00:05:51] Alvaro: familiar with it. I don’t see this thing is quite complicated, so we understand I’m not really. Uh, an expert on the topic, but yeah, I guess what happens is [00:06:00] so full page version one and verse two, and they’re the MIT license you’re going to still find them under their releases sites and you’d have, and then after that I changed to GPL.

I don’t know how that legally works or I don’t know exactly how it does, but.

[00:06:16] Michaela: Yeah. Yeah. I probably, it will work like this, at least. That’s what I thought, but I’m also not, I’m not alone. I have no

[00:06:22] Alvaro: idea about it, but,

[00:06:25] Michaela: and so, so how long, because there’s also another tweet of yours and you were saying, well, I started to play around with that experiment with JavaScript, plugins and so on.

And now three years later, I actually quit my full-time job. How long did that really go? And where the times where you thought. This could be something or, you know, a lot of a long time where you just did it for fun, but never imagined that it’s, you know, going to be your bread winning. Um,

[00:06:56] Alvaro: yeah. Well, at first I couldn’t even imagine that I was like, somebody would be able to leave out from, from these kinds of things.

So I guess it’s kind of not right to me. I was working on it for free for three years under the MIT license. You know, at some point you start getting a bit, you have to take the seasons like, so that I keep on improving this or. And go for a barbecue with my friends. Right. Or, uh, so that has been extra hours doing this after work or so that just chill with my housemates or my friends or whatever.

So, you know, at the beginning of it’s very exciting. You, you get people using it and that excites you a lot. And then, um, you know, provides you some, um, help to keep on improving it. At some point you start having to work on it when you don’t actually feel like working on it. Right. Because people keep.

Requesting new features or they have bags, very specific bags that almost look like you are doing free consultants services for them. Right. And that’s when I thought, well, you know, maybe I can try to get something out of it. I got motivated by another developer it’s called. I don’t know how to pronounce it either.

I think it’s the Sandra, he created clickety Mansuri and [00:08:00] another popular JavaScript components. He was providing them the licenses for them paid like. I went into those, I read the bit how he was doing, and then I thought that I could do it as well. And that’s when I started charging for not for the product itself, but for paid extensions to the plugin.

So they were non opensource life extensions that I was selling on top of the open source project. So that’s how it just started. And then I saw people start buying them and that’s what motivated me to keep going. And then I noticed that I was more, I was feeling better about it all. Like if somebody reported the bag or wants it, this new feature or whatever, then I wouldn’t be so bothered about it because now I knew I was getting something in return.

So I think this way it works a bit better. Like when you can take the time to do something and you get compensated for that. And then you don’t feel as bad because you can, you’re not just wasting your free time. You’re actually doing something in your work time, I guess. And that’s a win-win for both sides, for the developer and for the users who get better support, better features, you know, better response times.

So I started sending the licenses, sorry that, um, extensions. And then after six months of doing that, I was able to quit. And then after a year or so is when I decided to also change the whole project and our license and try, uh, charting for the, for the license itself for commercial use, for non open source projects.

Yeah.

[00:09:33] Michaela: I think that it’s really, really important that, you know, projects, you know, that they are sustainable, especially if you have some success with it, right. Because. There is more and more time that you’re spending on it. And I think that, you know, nobody, like if it’s a hobby and you’re spending one or two hours per week or something, this, this idea doesn’t come up.

Right. But if it gets, as you said, if you have more users, you’re getting more requests, you’re getting more ideas maybe for features. So you’re [00:10:00] spending more and more time. And obviously, I mean, we all have to live somehow. Right. Um, obviously you have to think a little bit about how can I actually. You know, make that maybe my, my job.

And I think, especially if you like something, that would be like a win-win. So yeah, I can totally understand that. Another question that I had for you when you were, when you were turning the drought, I saw you have really big names. You have big names on your website for companies that are using full-page.

Yes, right. There was like a Google eBay, Coca Cola, Sony, and so on. Right. Did they all purchase a commercial license? Um, you know, did you reach out to them when you changed your licensing model and your, you know, your monitorization idea around that? Did you reach out to them and say, you know, I’m actually by now licensed for that?

[00:10:48] Alvaro: Or so some of them are using my license. That’s how I managed to discover, uh, website. Cause when you use the license for, when you buy an extension, you have to register it for a specific. Extensions of a different price, depending on how many domains you wanted, he wants to use extensive for those. That’s how I use for some of them all there’s I think I just discovered them by chance and they might not be using the license.

So it depends, but no, I, I didn’t read when somebody buys an extension or a license for the product. Now I get there. Um, I get to notify them about dates or changes. So yeah, when I released a new version and notified all of my previous customers and told them about that, that if they were not previous customers, they didn’t get a notification.

If they were using the previous restaurant, they can keep on using that forever and nothing’s going to change in their sites.

[00:11:37] Michaela: And so what’s preventing people from using. The new version and not buying for a license?

[00:11:45] Alvaro: Well, I guess some people, some people might not know that there’s a more recent version and others, I guess they they’re happy with their website and they don’t want to touch it at all.

So they don’t even want to bother to update to the latest version. All there is, they might not want [00:12:00] to pay. It’s not very expensive, it’s quite cheap, but you know, there’s all kinds of users, not only companies, but also freelancers or people who just make websites for. So that might be one reason because there’s no other good reason to not update because it’s totally compatible.

You don’t have to almost change anything in your code. I think it’s just one line. If, so

[00:12:19] Michaela: the question was more, um, are there people that are updating. Not paying if they use it commercially or is that not possible? Do you have some prevention mechanisms around that? What I mean is that, can I, you know, can I be a little bit cheat, cheat your sister?

[00:12:36] Alvaro: Yeah, you totally can. And there’s not much that we can do about that. I mean, yeah. For example, I discovered there was a McDonald’s website in Russia making use of day of the new version of the blogging with a new license and they were not paying for it. And there was a warning if you opened the JavaScript.

You were able to see a red warning say, Hey, is this somebody is not licensed. You can get the license here. There’s there’s not much that I can do about that. Uh, sometimes you can try to send, I think they’re called DMC a notices to Google or to some marketplaces to take down some of the staff at, you know,

Yeah.

[00:13:13] Michaela: Yeah. So you are more focused on, um, directing your energy to creating more value for your users and, you know, doing what you like and not so much buttered with, with the thefts and, uh, you know, trickeries and things like.

[00:13:27] Alvaro: I I’m only a little bit, but I try not to bother too much. It is true that with extensions, with, uh, extensions to that, to the main components in those, you have to register each of them for four different domains.

So you actually have more like, um, yeah, there’s kind of like a more sophisticated license key that you cannot trick so easy that that’s only on next sentence. I don’t want to enforce that on the product because then it will be too much of burden for many people. Yeah.

[00:13:57] Michaela: Yeah. And I mean, I think I would [00:14:00] probably draw a line a little bit between, as you said, smaller, you know, maybe individuals that even though I’m in $10, come on, but you know, like if then they’re like larger organizations like Google or E-bay.

In addition to this small fee, really small fee for you, are they providing some support? Do you get some sponsorship like there’s GitHub sponsors or something, or do you have other ways to, to support your work?

[00:14:26] Alvaro: Well, what I do is I also know I don’t, I don’t do sponsors and they don’t usually get support unless they go for a higher, higher license.

They do get support with. All kinds of tires get support for those, but not for the main license. And also what I do to get money from different places is also, uh, I sell, uh, against. I know you also do some affiliate things. And I also have another flagging that I also commercialized. So I have a few things that also drive money and not only the Fulbright silences also like sentinels, which are not opensource.

Yeah. And, uh, well, uh, I just remember that another way that, um, many people don’t even bother to get a license is because they don’t know very well how the GPL license works or, uh, you know, they are not very after with license. Terms and stuff. So they don’t even know that they have to purchase the license or they didn’t even know what is considered opensource or how to add a license to their own private.

So, this is a big issue that I see, especially on smaller developers, freelancers.

[00:15:31] Michaela: Um, so you were talking about plugins. Is it like a package or is it like a plugging? Was it the difference here?

[00:15:37] Alvaro: So well, back in the day is every time you made a component for jQuery, it was called a plugin plugin for jQuery.

And nowadays I tend to call it the library and JavaScript library, but yeah, also, um, the, I talk about plugins for work. Because a WordPress, you know, they have these kind of flagging stuff and then it’s flagging that it incorporates the library and allows you to [00:16:00] do certain things and you have a little interface.

So it’s not just for something on top of the company. That allows you to do things through an interface. Yeah. So

[00:16:12] Michaela: w when you were right at the beginning, you said, well, I tried to do that for my, you know, for my boss and try to implement that. And I was surprised how difficult it actually is. Right. I’m, I’m really in the same situation because I ported two websites from.

To get SPI now. Right. And I was like, oh, I studied excited, uh, you know, generator and gets me super supported and so on. And I completely underestimated how long, right. Even though there are so many plugins or, you know, uh, you know, components that you can use. But just even researching which plane to use, then writing the query really adopting it to your thing.

I mean, it’s like, it really blew out of hand. And even though their websites are, you know, now almost done, it’s like always like, oh, this little bit, you know, still like that, you even have to think about. I’m like, yeah, for work, like with word press, I was not so happy because it’s slow and I didn’t want to be bothered with, you know, going around PHP and, you know, changing something in the back end to improve my speed.

And then the loading time off each page really was annoying. So I thought like, okay, I’m going to do a guest beside, and then I will have everything with markdown fires and, you know, directly gets them from the fire system and it took. Actually no time almost right. To have that set up because there are already like start-up packages and then, you know, like, but then the small things like that, the canonical link is,

[00:17:40] Alvaro: you know,

[00:17:42] Michaela: it’s horrible.

Yeah. That I have a site map and then I have the keywords and I completely underestimated that. So, yeah, I totally understand. So if I want to use full page now in my guests beside, is that, is that something. Is that a thing? Can I do that?

[00:17:59] Alvaro: Would that [00:18:00] make sense? Yeah, I guess, I mean, well, I don’t know what your site looks like.

Is it more like a

[00:18:05] Michaela: blog? Um, it’s mainly a block, but it’s not only a blog. It also has like a run pages, right? Where landing pages and so on. I think for the landing page, probably something that if

[00:18:17] Alvaro: you go, yeah, I mean, you, you could, you could totally use it. Yeah. It’s just basically a JavaScript library, so you can initialize it, whatever you want.

[00:18:24] Michaela: And then it’s made mainly about the look and feel. Yeah.

[00:18:28] Alvaro: So yeah, what it makes is that allows you to create this snap scrolling experience, uh, full screen. So, um, well of course it is much more complex than that. It has many more options that you can configure. You have hash URLs, you have history back and forth.

You have the lazy load, you have, uh, play, um, pause of media elements. You have many more. Right.

[00:18:49] Michaela: And I think this is it, right? So first you think, oh, what is it? Right. And it’s really small. And now I’m like, I have this blog and I’m thinking like, if I’m in my blog and I mark anything, then I would like to pop up that says, share it on Twitter and so on.

And then realized.

[00:19:04] Alvaro: Yeah, exactly. So the very basic functionality seems very easy, always to implement by yourself. And then 20% of the extra features that you want. Those are what takes the most time. It takes a lot

[00:19:17] Michaela: of time. Yeah, exactly. Like, and then you want to have like previous, a previous RT connects article, and then this is not good enough because you wanted by category.

Right. And so, yeah. So another thing that I was thinking a lot about and reminds me also of your success stories, and there are, I mean, there are similar success stories. I think now more and more popping up right around the internet is that 10 years ago, If you ask somebody to pay one Euro or dollar or whatnot, or 10 for something, they would like crazy.

I mean, everything was free and it was like software should not cost any money. And I think, especially in the last two years, three years, it completely changed. I [00:20:00] mean, if there are like Google. You know, sunsetting, most of them products that are for free, right. And then the ecosystem completely changed into this SAS businesses.

But also that you have more and more smaller, I would say, yeah, smaller, independent developers also really making money for their, for their software. Right. And suddenly I feel like, okay, we have to pay for everything. It’s getting really expensive. Like for my website, if I don’t want to use Google analytics.

Right. Which is. And this is like the, you know, 10 years ago, mindset, like let’s use Google, Google analytics, and now the mindset is, oh, we don’t want to use Google analytics. So what else do we have here? And then I find like 10 different analytics platforms, but they’re all. $20. And I’m like, okay, this is for my private block.

It, you know, it’s already, it’s already a lot, right? Because it’s not only the analytics that you need, you need a lot of things, but I see that people are starting to value software more. What’s your experience?

[00:20:58] Alvaro: At the beginning, it wasn’t common at all to transfer these things. And now it’s getting a bit more common, right?

But still on the JavaScript environments, especially in the front end side of the offense is not yet to come on to transfer these kinds of things. You see libraries, components of all kinds, but usually they tend to be free because I think one of the main reasons is it’s not easy to. Protects in some way, like the code is it’s free.

Everybody can see the code when it’s front-end. So it’s very difficult to protect something like that. And when you can not protect it, I guess if that’s the make or some people think it doesn’t make much sense to charge for it. But yeah, I know a few libraries that are starting to charge for demonstrable libraries, but are still not very common.

I think it’s more comfortable for other kinds of products for backend staff for kind of like subscription services. But I think it’s sending to implement. In that regard, because I think it’s been a, so like sometimes when you don’t see this, when you don’t see that the owner of the, the great of the component is [00:22:00] getting some benefit out of it, then it’s easier to see projects in GitHub that.

Get unmaintained or too, you know, that they will eventually die or get obsoleted or whatever, because you know, somebody can not keep a mundane enterprise for some people think that you can create an open source project, tablets it, and forget about it. But the publishing part is just the very beginning.

Then you have to keep on maintaining it and that’s for years, like my component is more than seven years. And you have to keep on improving it and adding features and reporting and dealing with reports. And you know, so many people don’t bother doing this. And then you see the, uh, the, you know, the last release was four years ago.

So it’s not really a component that sometimes you can trust or you have to look for an alternative or you open a, you’ll never have the answers.

[00:22:46] Michaela: So your experience with, you know, there’s this rumor I’d say, or the anecdotes around customers and especially. You know, the free riders, they they’re really like heavy maintainers customers that are asking a lot of things.

And then the people that are actually paying are, are much more moderate. And I mean, my experience is definitely like this. Whenever I provided things for free people come with this attitude that, you know, it’s there, it’s there. Right? Yeah. I mean, sometimes I get emails. Like I have a newsletter and you get an ebook, right.

That I wrote, if you, if you, for my subscribers. And sometimes they can’t find their email in the spam, right. It goes in promotion or spam or whatnot. Right. It’s not really my father’s and thing I can do. And I’m always, if somebody is, you know, writes me an email back and asks, you know, I didn’t get it. I’m always going, doing the wig to write them a personal email, send them the book.

Right. But there are.

[00:23:44] Alvaro: Yeah.

[00:23:49] Michaela: And for other things as well, what’s your

[00:23:51] Alvaro: experience here? Yeah. You always get some people that is a bit aggressive a bit, uh, you know, they want everything for free when you to work for them [00:24:00] for free doing consultancy, you fix their bags that sometimes they are not even related with your own product.

Right. So, well, what I used to me do is just reply to them. Very politely, politely explain them the situation. Um, you know, always telling them, have you found a bag or you are not happy with this because you didn’t pay for it. You know, then you can just go and check the code because it’s open, you can check it yourself and does it go same?

Like everybody can check it and things back if they find them. So I think, uh, how many, this, an open source is also a way to, you know, move people in certain that I send and tell them, Hey, this is open source, you know? You know, you’re taking advantage of it, but it’s also good because you can fix your own easiest, right?

If you have them. So that’s what I do sometimes. And all the times you just tell them, well, if you need my help, you can always upgrade to a, you know, the business license, and then I’ll provide you whatever support or whatever. So I give them the options and that’s. Yeah. You only did some, some angry people, the money so much, if they’re angry and they paid for it and they are not happy because there’s a bag that I cannot fix.

For example, then I’m happy to refund them. You know, if I can not find, uh, fix their bags, you know, that, that makes sense to me. But otherwise, if they’re not paying anything, then, you know, I help them to, to some extent, but not, you know, there, there are some limits.

[00:25:13] Michaela: Yeah. So how much of your work day now is really?

Are you still. Program or is still a developer in your mind or are you now, uh, you know, like you are a salesperson already or, you know, like an admin person. Yeah. You know, how do you feel like in your, in your entrepreneurial journey right

[00:25:33] Alvaro: now? I don’t know. I think I like to consider myself more. Person than a developer.

It is true that another developer and, uh, you know, the background is, and I keep on developing the product. Uh, actually I’m about to release a new major residence. That’s it is also true that I don’t spend. My whole time developing anymore. Like, uh, I just have to do marketing. I have to do content marketing and I have to do, [00:26:00] you know, taxes.

Uh, you have to do all kinds of things like images. Uh, you have to think about potential new opportunities. You have to think about the license system. You have to think about. I don’t know, uh, so many kinds of things. So yeah, I guess I, I like to consider myself more as a, as a business person. I would like to maybe eventually in the future delegate parts of the developing side to somebody else that is even better than me.

And so also there are people. Benefit from that, you always try to look for the best outcome and sometimes it’s also gets into readable yourself for certain tasks.

[00:26:34] Michaela: Yeah. Yeah. True. Yeah. So I don’t know. Um, I couldn’t find anything about, um, how much you’re making per month or per year. I’m also not sure if you’re sharing something publicly.

Some people do some people don’t, you know, I’m totally going with whatever you decide. Do you share it? Do you say how much you’re making with it or can you give us

[00:26:56] Alvaro: in my case? I prefer not to be very open about it just because, you know, it’s open source, so anybody can just see my code and create another project.

And I started doing the same, so, and that’s one of the reasons if I had the SAS, you know, a vacuum product or whatever, I wouldn’t mind, but right now I prefer to be more primates on these aspects. So, uh, you know, we can say that I get an app to, to leave. And that have different sources of income. That’s an, all, everything comes from from the main component and it also comes from the plugins for, for WordPress, from AFI.

The links that I have for selling other WordPress themes from support is. From consultant services from, and now I’m starting a blog as well, which I’m also expecting to monetize in some way. So yeah,

[00:27:41] Michaela: it’s good. Yeah. Yeah. And I think it’s really good to have multiple income streams. I also try to have more than one, at least for me, it gives me a little bit, um, Ease of mind that, you know, if something dries up or doesn’t work out so well, maybe SEO doesn’t work or, you know, something else comes a copycat, as you said, right.

You have [00:28:00] other opportunities as well. So yeah, I can totally understand that. Cool. So I think I probably, there are a couple of listeners that. Are also like one baby more freedom, or at least, you know, a side project that gives some side income. What’s your advice for them? What would you do like now you’re in that game for a long time or is it seven years?

What do you think? Is there what’s the right time right now to start

[00:28:25] Alvaro: something you’re saying, oh, the right time, the right time is always there because some people are still waiting to finish that course to finish that book to become better. And, uh, you know, to master a certain technology, I don’t think.

The way you have to take this the way you have to do. You know, do your best, be wherever, you know, and you will probably end up helping somebody. When I created my project, I wasn’t an expert developer in jQuery. I created it because I wanted to keep on learning and creating something useful was what was a good motivation for me.

And I think that’s what the people have to do. Well, yeah, I haven’t the same when I created my first website, I do it. I created it using Microsoft. I didn’t know how to code. I didn’t know anything about websites, but I had a teacher that taught me how to make websites used to Microsoft word. And then I started seeing people using the website and that’s what motivated me to keep on learning.

Right. So the right time, I think it’s always now just do whatever. Keep on improving it, keep on iterating. It gets feedback from people and they will tell you sometimes how to improve things, what features they will need to add, what bags they found. So I think that’s what really. To improve my components at first.

Um, what I would say is don’t quit your job, do something on the side, see how it goes, get feedback. And then when you get some traction, you can decide to quit. In my case, I only decided to quit. When I saw that I was going to be able to keep on living from. Took me six months can take more, can take less.

It depends on people, but I was working in on the side for three years. That’s what I would recommend people to do it on the side, if they [00:30:00] can not get too crazy because you know, a great idea might not result in people buying your product. So, yeah, that’s one of the things. And another thing that I think helped me a lot at the beginning was making it well, I was open source or let’s say.

Because when you have something for free, at least at the beginning, or you have a freemium kind of product or something, you get much more exposure. Like people will blog about that. People will share it on Twitter, on Facebook, or so you create this kind of like snowball where, you know, the content keeps on spreading faster because it’s.

Unless you have a very good product and you can already charge for it or whatever, having it free at the beginning might be good because you not only get much more free marketing because you know, people don’t mind certain staff when they know that it’s free and nobody’s going to really benefit from it.

And you also get the feedback from the. The more people, they use it, the more feedback you get and the more you can improve it on different iterations. And then, you know, in the future, you always can start charging for it, release new virus zones or, you know, or even people to another area or whatever, but having that free feedback and that’s free marketing, I think it’s very powerful.

[00:31:12] Michaela: Yeah. Yeah, I totally agree. Yeah. Thank you so much for taking the time, talking with me about your journey and, um, about how we could, uh, leverage open source to actually start our own little business and, uh, you know, get

[00:31:25] Alvaro: independent. Thank you for you for having me here.

[00:31:29] Michaela: Yeah, it was really great talking to you and, uh, thank you so much.

[00:31:34] Alvaro: Okay. Bye. Bye.

[00:31:37] Michaela: This was another episode of the self engineering podcast. If you enjoyed the episode, please help me spread the word about the podcast. Send the episode to a friend Wyatt, email, Twitter, LinkedIn. Well, whatever messaging system you use or give it a positive review on your favorite podcasting platform, such as Spotify or iTunes.[00:32:00]

This would mean really a lot to me. So thank you for listening. Don’t forget to subscribe and I will talk to you in two weeks. Bye.

Content creation as a career path for developers

In this episode, I talk to Florin Pop. Florin is a web developer that started building websites in 2013 and worked many years as a successful freelancer. I know Florin from his super-popular YouTube channel and his funny and inspiring Twitter stream. In this episode, he explains how content creation became a lucrative career path for him. 

We talk about:

  • how he turned from developing software as a freelancer to a successful content creator
  • his recipe of success through failure and smart goals (e.g. specific and measurable goals)
  • his journey to more than 100K YouTube followers.

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Subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, Google, Deezer, or via RSS.

Transcript: 

[If you want, you can help make the transcript better, and improve the podcast’s accessibility via Github. I’m happy to lend a hand to help you get started with pull requests, and open source work.]

[00:00:00] Michaela: Hello and welcome to the software engineering unlocked podcast. I’m your host, dr. mackalya and today I have to pleasure to talk to Florin Pop.

But before I start, let us talk about this extremly long, and very unexpected break. You must have believed that I might never come back. But thankfully, that’s not the case.

In fact, I actually came back bigger and multiplied… Yeah, from today on, I’m not doing those interviews alone anymore, but I have a little intern for the next couple of months – which is sitting right in my belly. So far, the intern has not been very helpful I have to say – instead, I got horrible morning sickness, which is also called hyperemesis. Well, that’s also the reason why there was this long, unannounced and unexpected break. But I had a good talk with the intern and put it right on a performance improvement plan, and yeah, it seems we are slowly getting better.

So, we both started working on new episodes for you again. During this break, I also decided that it is time to shake things up a little bit. I will start to experiment with the format and content of the podcast.

I have a couple of ideas that I will try out and see how you like them. So, stay tuned for new episodes! But now back to Florin and his insight into content creation.

Florin is a web developer that started building websites in 2013 and worked many years as a successful freelancer. I know Florin from his super popular YouTube channel, and he’s funny and inspiring on the stream. He’s dedicated to grow and learn in public. And what fascinates me the most is this Florin always is humble, honest, and very, very kind. So I can’t be happier to have Florin here with me. Florin, welcome to the show.

[00:00:34]

Florin: Thank you very much. And thank you very much for the kind words that oh [00:00:39]

Michaela: yeah. I’ve been following for, for quite some time and I’m really always impressed , . It feels very authentic. If you do a YouTube channel, if you do your challenges and how you share what you’re learning. And also sometimes you’re vulnerable, right? If people, you know, online can be a rough place, you probably know that. And, and I think it’s really important to also show that, you know, words can harm and can. Yeah, you can feel it. And I like that, that you shared that. Like, if, if you are deep down, you’re sharing it. If you have like success, you’re sharing it. And I always feel like you’re very, very honest with your journey and not everything is like super fine. And, you know, I’m writing three blog posts and now I’m famous and make the most money or something. Right. So yeah, I always say, give and take, [00:01:29]

Florin: right? Yeah, exactly. So this is how life works. You have successes and failures and some days you’re doing great and other days it’s not so great. And I like to share that and to, because. I always, I’m thinking of people who are following me. I want them to learn the most after my experience. This is one of my values to share what I’m learning and alongside my journey. There are also failures and I’m messed up a lot of things. Usually people are kind of afraid to share that because you have to be vulnerable about those. But if you don’t do that, especially as a influencer quote it just sends the wrong message that everything’s perfect, but in reality, not everything is perfect all the time. It’s just a continue grind of doing your best every day. And sometimes you mess up things and that’s okay because that’s how we learn by messing things up and. [00:02:34]

Michaela: Yeah, it’s true. Like, it’s really easy to say for others always. Oh, it’s, it’s totally fine. It, I think they are. They’re also forgiving for artists very much, but not so much for ourselves if you’re messing up. Right. And you’re afraid to, to show that things are not. Not going as well, or, you know, we made this big goal. You make this big goal, right? You said like 100 K you didn’t say many how many days. Right. But you said 100 K so it’s a list, but you know, like, can you fail with that? How would you say it? Would you say, oh, it didn’t work out or, you know, and actually. [00:03:09]

Florin: I like to create big goals for myself. This is probably the first challenge where I didn’t have a deadline for, for it. For example, 365 years days of running everyday, I did 100 projects in 100 days. I did, when I started my YouTube journey, the first challenge was 31 videos in 31 days. Then I did the frequent camp curriculum in a month. So everything kind of was kind of had a deadline because. Those are called smart goals. They have that deadline aspect of it. The reason why I didn’t add the deadline to this new challenge, which I’m currently working on going from zero to 100 K I mean revenue is because I wanted, I, I just feel that there are so many variables. I don’t know. And I didn’t want to put a lot of pressure on myself, although I kind of have a deadline of one year, 1.5 years, roughly, I don’t want to go 10 years with it. And I’m sure that I, so I have kind of a hidden deadline for myself. Oh, I don’t make it public. Although in some of the streams, we talked about it when we kind of decided, okay, how many projects I should work on? What should they do? And what are kind of the deadlines just to see, just to keep track of what’s happening. And I think that’s, for me, that’s highly motivating because this is how I worked in the past couple of years. I just. These kinds of challenges got me out of my comfort zone. Also the public aspect where I share on, in public, what I’m doing is what makes me kind of have to do it because now people watch me and, you know, I, I it’s okay to fail. But like, The challenges, which I’m doing. I try not to make them super, super hard. Like, I don’t know, make 10,000 pushups in a day for 100 days, you know? But rather make 10 pushups every day. For one of the days, it’s more about the consistency aspect than having crazy, crazy, crazy goals. I might do that, but like with shorter, like 10 days or something, Yeah. So it’s going [00:05:31]

Michaela: into the building. I have it building thing, right? So I say tiny habits are actually better for, in the long run. [00:05:37]

Florin: Right? Exactly. So it’s not about doing super, extremely hard things, but then just doing something which is relatively easy to do, it’s just a matter of being consistent with it. And it will over time change. Change an area of your life. Like when it was for running, I lost weight that period, then I felt much energized and yeah, building the projects have learned stuff along the way. So it’s just being the consistency. Yeah. [00:06:08]

Michaela: Yeah. And so, for example, we’re coming back to the running because I also follow that one. I’m following a lot of things, but so you lost weight and then after the challenge, do you keep up with the things, do you still run daily or several times a week? And did you know, did the, the way you go up again or, and you share that as well? Like if it’s setbacks, for example, [00:06:31]

Florin: Yeah. So when it comes to weight, my weight journey II, it’s kind of rough because I did this like several times in my life so far, I would lost the way doing a challenge. Then when I kind of gave up on being public about it, I started to go back to my old habits and I got some of it back. So right now I’m. Doing on tick-tock I’m doing this weight loss challenge again and I’m sharing what exercises I’m doing, what I meeting everyday, just to, again, hold myself accountable. And what I’m trying is to, which is really tough. This is one part of my love with my life, which is tough for me is to not only lose the weight because that’s relatively. it’s just the map. If you have ambition, you can get it done. You just said, okay, for the next three months, I want eat and healthy. I will do these exercises. And it’s that the most challenging part is afterwards, like keeping the weight off and keeping the habits. So that’s where I’m a. Kind of going now is to build a healthy lifestyle, which can continue after I lose the weight. So I want to keep it off for good. And it’s still a challenge for me. It’s been going on for a couple of years now. But yeah. Yeah, I think a little learning and [00:07:55]

Michaela: yeah, I think having a healthy lifestyle is a challenge for, for many, many, many people. Right. Be it sleeping enough, eating healthy, you know, don’t not gaining weight. I think also sport, like sport is something. I have a lot of friends that don’t do any sport and I’m like always, I’m always amazed. I also have two. Struggled quite a bit to make enough place and space in my life to do sport, but I always do some kind. I mean, there are always like weeks you know, where I didn’t do it or sickness, for example, I was very sick at that time. I didn’t do sport for a really long time or what I wouldn’t consider sport that the, you know, the doctor would consider it even sport like walking and things like this. But in general, I try really to make sure. You know, I also needed, it’s also for my health, for example, for mental health. I always feel much better if I, if I do, if I do sport, but yeah, it’s, there are people that don’t do any sport and I’m always amazed. Like how, how are you doing it? Like, I really feel completely. And ease and very unhappy. So yeah, maybe everybody is different. Right. But I think a lot of, yeah, [00:09:06]

Florin: yeah. He’s like, so we are different and some people can just have a great body and all of that without doing any exercises. With eating like junk food and all that. For me, you can quickly see that. So if I don’t take care of myself for a couple of weeks and I start eating junk food and stuff, it just, you can clearly say not only that my mood is going down, I don’t have energy. And part of my reason why I’m doing I’m working out and all that is because of that energy, I need a. What I’m doing now as a content creator, making videos, live streams and all of that, I need energy and I need a clear mind to be able to do that. And for that, I need to take care of my health. I need to go to sleep early. I need to eat healthy exercise and follow the. I mean, I guess everyone knows what are the good habits to do in this area. It’s just sometimes we, we mess up and it’s okay. So if we mess up once it’s okay. It’s not the end of the world. It’s just, the problem is when we do it through Peter Lee for weeks, that’s one, that’s when sort of say that our lives. Yeah. [00:10:24]

Michaela: Yeah. I think can even, you know, mess up for several years and still start today and say, well, today’s a different day. Right. So yeah, exactly. Yeah. I have two little kids and I have to say it’s so much more challenging to do all those nice things with little kids, because like, for example, sleep. I mean, you can, it actually messes you up. If you have like this goal of having a healthy sleep habits and you have like a newborn, I mean, it’s just two competing goals that are not, you know, you can’t, you can’t do them at the same time. And I think it took. It took almost three years that, you know, each of my kids, you know, we’re able to slip through. And so until that time, there is no healthy sleep you know, balance, for example, for yourself and with the sleep thing, you know, a lot of other things deteriorate because you don’t sleep, you don’t eat healthy because you’re like just not, you know, really awake and not clearly thinking and so on. Right. So that’s, I think, and the same for sickness or other things, right. Just struggles in your life. And I think that’s okay. Yeah. Whenever you wake up and you can try again and maybe you fail and you know, don’t give up. I think this is probably the most. [00:11:32]

Florin: Yeah. Yeah. This is something I like about what I’m doing now is that I’m okay with failing for me every day is a new day to do things. If I mess up, for example, last week for a couple of days, I felt unproductive and that and that for me was okay. I accepted that, that it was okay for me to be unproductive because now it’s a new week. It’s a new day and I can pick up things which were not done last week. So it’s okay to always like, give yourself this. Boost of all right. I messed up, but it’s okay. I can start over and I can do it right to this time. [00:12:19]

Michaela: Yeah. And so content creation, this is really the big thing now in your life, right. It’s also where you build your business around and how did that come about and how do you, how does the monitorization work? Can you live from it or, you know, how long did it take you to live from it? I think content creation. A dream of, from many people. And then the question is, you know, is it really working out or is it not working out? Do you think that you can sustainably do that for a long time? [00:12:50]

Florin: Yeah, so I expected as a content creator on my blog writing articles. This was in 2019, I think in February or March, I posted my, I restarted blogging because I had like seven articles. But they at least started logging in. I did it sort of consistently three blog posts, two or three blog posts per week. I had a job back then. And it just said, okay, after my day job, I’ll just write something because it felt like something fun to do. And they always wanted to get down this path of blogging and creating content. So I started blogging and at the same time I picked up a Twitter and I started sharing on Twitter. I started to be active on Twitter, really. I think I spent hours and hours per day on Twitter, interacting with people, with people, replying to them and all that. And it took like six months. Well, the, the plan was actually to leave my job. Next year. So in 2020 January, that was the plan they need for plan. So I’ll just try these for 10 months and see how it works. And then if it’s all good, I’ll just quit my job and do this full time. But then on June in 2019, so six months prior to my actual deadline, I was like, I told my wife, you know what I just, I want to do this now. I mean, we had some money saved up from the job. And I was like, you know, let’s, let’s do it earlier. I mean, if it failed, I failed in six months, I’ll get the new job and it should be okay. We use the savings and it was an interesting journey. I can say that it was tough because my focus wasn’t. Monetization. So just imagine, like in the first month I gave up my job, I made 150 bucks. So yeah, it went down for several K two to 150 bucks. But for me, that was okay because I never. I didn’t chase money in the first year or so of concentration. Right. I liked what I was doing. I wanted to grow my reach to grow my audience, to get in front of multiple people. And I knew that it will pay off one day. And they did that for, so basically I was blogging for six months or so. And then in November, that year I started my YouTube channel. And in 2020, my main goal for the year was to get 100,000 subscribers in a year. And they started working really, really hard on that, I think in six months or so I published over 200 videos and livestreams on my channel. Yeah. I was in the crazy, crazy mode where I was putting out content like crazy. Of course it wasn’t like. Highest quality and all that. But for me it was a great practice. I, I know people say quality over quantity, but for me it was quantity brings quality. So I was pushing out a lot of content and see what works and then doubled down on that and made it better and better. And I got monetized in February 18th or March. No, it was in March. 2030. I was monetized. Quickly compared to other YouTubers. And probably because I also had an audience on Twitter, so that helped. And then the amount of content I was putting off out was was a lot. So that helped as well. But from the YouTube revenue side, it wasn’t a lot, it was like probably $400 a month or so. Yeah. After two months or so, I don’t, I don’t remember now exactly the numbers, but the peak on my YouTube channel. Was it September where, when I did a live stream, another challenge, 10 pro 10 JavaScript projects in 10 hours. I just got the idea that morning and it was like, okay, I’m going to go home prepared. These inches go live for 10 hours to do 10 projects. Wow. And that turned out to be great. That video now has over a million views. Wow. And brought in like three or four K sense. But like when it comes to YouTube, the trick is that YouTube revenue from ads is oh, okay. It really depends from which, what, which part you’re saying now is roughly seven, $800 per month. So it’s okay. It’s probably not lots of people can live off of that, but the, the main source of income from YouTube is that the audience, where if you create a digital product, you can sell that digital product and you can also have sponsors. So those two combined will bring in more revenue. Yeah. That combined with some, I think I had a couple of projects for someone I managed to get past to that period of low-income and now the digital products are making good income. Roughly 3, 4, 5 came depends on the month just from digital products, which is mostly passive. So there, the products are out there. And they’re just selling on their own, I guess that’s your book, for example. Yeah, so I have my ebook and I have a course on you than me, and they’re both both doing this. Like [00:18:27]

Michaela: that’s not counting them for the zero to 100 K. No that’s so exactly. [00:18:35]

Florin: Exactly. So those projects I bead last week last year, and I’m not comping for challenge for, for this challenge, which has started. Two months ago or one and a half months ago. I started from zero. So everything I’m monetizing in, the challenge is built during the live streams. I go live every day from Monday to Friday and I build something and the things I’m monetizing then are the things which come for the challenge. Because right now I also have some sponsors on my YouTube channel. And they can’t add that too. I don’t feel like it will be okay to add that to the challenge because it kind of uses my audience before the challenge. Right. There’s just some extra income which I have. And it’s not for the challenge. The challenge is something else in it. [00:19:26]

Michaela: Yeah. And so today I went on YouTube and to your profile, and then I saw that now you can not only subscribe, but it seems like there’s a membership thing on YouTube. Now, is that something that you offer and you see that it’s working already? Or how does that work? Yeah. [00:19:42]

Florin: Yeah. I offered this for quite, I think over a year now. And it’s. It worked out well at the beginning, when I started to promote that I had, I mean, well, I had several people who subscribed who became members, but it’s. I don’t know if people can rely that maybe if you offer something valuable, it can work out. Well, it’s sort of like a Patrion, but it’s built into YouTube. So if you have something to offer you might get more people to become members. For me, it was just like, Hey, if you want to support, become a member. So that’s not like a high incentive to people. To become a member. Yeah. I still get one. She remembers every now and then, but it’s not something you can at least not for me because probably I haven’t laboratories date to the maximum. [00:20:35]

Michaela: And so what do you do members get? Do they get something else or is it just really that, you know, they, they get the same public videos and it’s just like, they support you and they want to be. [00:20:46]

Florin: Yeah, so you can do like sky’s the limit through that? For me right now is you get the special badge and you get your name collar to the live streams. You get some special emotes who can use. A lot, a lot of value there. That’s why probably I don’t have a lot of members, but you can do that. So you can have specialty videos for those members. You can offer them a one-on-one consulting or coaching, or you can send them a discounts on your products and like the sky’s the limit to. What you can use it for. I’m just yeah. I even forgot. I have that enabled. And now you also have a button, a YouTube. They added it recently where people can thank you. So they click the button and they can donate you. If they liked your video, they can donate a, I’m not sure if anyone used that button so far on. I’m not sure if where I can see that. So, and people also can donate through the livestreams. And I got a couple of those along the year or so I’ve been streaming probably for streaming. I’m still debating, which is best YouTube or Twitch, because I noticed that on Twitch people are more likely to support creating. And like donate more become members and all that. It’s just the communities built around, you know, supporting creators on YouTube is more like people come to watch polished videos, which are edited and all that it’s nicely placed. So they’re not that popular right now with streaming. So probably that’s why. People, at least in my niche, people are not. Likely to donate, [00:22:36]

Michaela: but how many people do have on your life? Coding streams onto it? [00:22:40]

Florin: It depends on if I like, for example, last week I had a special livestream where I announced it two days prior to the event and I had over a hundred people joining me, but in the day day by day-by-day stream, I gets 30, 40. Tomorrow or less that [00:22:59]

Michaela: are, that are following you and your [00:23:02]

Florin: staff. Yeah, but I mean maybe some of them leave and others join, but like an average of 30, 40 people tuning date. I mean, that’s the number I see of viewers at the moment, but who knows how many people show tonight? [00:23:20]

Michaela: And so you, do you use restream Dan too, or something like that, the platform stream your Stritch video also on YouTube and the other way around or? [00:23:28]

Florin: No. So right now I’m only streaming on YouTube. So I’m using just OBS to stream directly to YouTube last year I streamed. So I started streaming on YouTube last year, then I moved to Twitch and now I’m back on YouTube because I just felt like I have a big audience here. And I don’t know. I was thinking that I’ll get more viewers over time. I still don’t know. I might have to test multiple times to see all right, which is best Twitch or a year to maybe just keep Twitch for streaming and a YouTube for videos. But I found myself that that was too lazy to just take the videos from Twitch and upload them again on YouTube. So I I’m just dreaming now because. Easier for an hour. The goal is not necessarily to have the streams go out to thousands and thousands of people because I only see them after a day or so. They’re not very polished. So the goal is to have a place where those who are interested to follow. Day by day didn’t know that, okay. Flooring is life this hour everyday. Let me check what is day. And I’m also doing recap videos every week. Now I messed up a couple of weeks, but the goal of the recap videos is shorter videos, which kind of describe what I did in the past week. And those should like push out the challenge idea to more people and get more people. To eventually join me. [00:24:56]

Michaela: Yeah. So I have been streaming on Twitch for, I was 2019 a long time ago. I actually almost said, no, it wasn’t. 2010 days, sorry, 2020 last year for a month. And also for like my challenge of building, you know, building a tool within 30 days. And I also went live every day was very, very nice. I was a little bit exhausted to be honest, after 30 days with like, oh my God. And it was fun, but I also feel like it’s really hard to do something meaningful in an hour. Without really preparing for it. Right. So this was also always like great, just jumping in and doing it on the spot. And, and then even talking with people, like if people are coming you’re a little bit chit-chatting and then really getting something done, I feel it’s very, very challenging is it’s something that you felt you grew into and you just got some more, you know, some muscle memory to do it better. Or do you prepare before the stream or how, how do you. [00:25:58]

Florin: Yeah. So I have to agree, like it’s very exhausting. For me, I just, I kind of noticed that after two hours of going live, building, researching, brainstorming, chatting with the people from the chat for two hours, I’m just dead. Like it just can’t function anymore. I need an app very bad. It’s just, that’s how it is. I mean, I can think on my head hurts from after two hours, because I think. Too much going on because I’m also coding and thinking at the same time, because it’s not something I know by heart. So I have to research it. I have to think about the things I’m doing. And at the same time, people from the chat are talking with me. I have to interact with them. So it it’s, it’s tiring. But I liked the, I liked the fact that I do this every, every day and the, it just. To be honest, some of some days, this is the highlight of the productive part of the day for me. So if I didn’t have this, I wouldn’t do anything that they, so for me, it’s. Motivating to keep doing something, even if it’s just for 30 minutes or an hour, it’s doing something towards the goal of what are a cake. And like the money aspect is nice. It’s kind of intriguing for people to join and see, let’s see how much money flooring made. But for me, the real goal is not necessarily the 100 K in revenue. I could make that it don’t have to make it public. I almost did that in a year, so it’s not the, I it’s it’s possible, but for me, it’s just who I have to become, what skills they have to learn and develop and what knowledge I need to learn along the way to be able to do this. And I also do it publicly. So it’s, it’s more about my personal growth than it is the money aspect. That’s what motivates me. So the money goal is nice. We could public people like to chase those things. But yeah, it’s more about, because I’m also going out my comfort zone because I’m building projects to monetize them. So I need to maybe learn new skills of how to develop a proper database and how to get that education and how to design well and market and all that. So there are new skills I have to learn along the way. And that’s, that’s motivating for me and hopefully inspiring for others to get out of your comfort zone and money is just a return of the value you bring and grow to have. So it’s just a matter of time afterwards. [00:28:35]

Michaela: So it seems like you never suffer from analysis paralysis, right. Where you’re like, oh, what should I do? Oh, this or that? Or they say that, how do you do, do you just do all of that? Or do you feel that [00:28:47]

Florin: something. I feel that probably all the time is just the chat helps. So whenever I don’t know what to do, usually what I try to do is to set the side tasks for tomorrow. So whenever I’m live and I have inspiration of how to develop the project to bring it to the next level, I just write down a series of tasks. So then tomorrow, when I’m not that inspired of knowing what to do. I just have the tasks and another thing which really helps is the chat. So I have a couple of people who are joining every day and just having people to bounce off ideas and they give you feedback and their critique, your work is it’s a great way to have something to do. But I, yeah, sorry, [00:29:38]

Michaela: man. Do you know how, how old. Audience is, or the background or the new developers or the senior people are they’ve maybe indie hackers as well, or, [00:29:54]

Florin: yeah, probably those who follow me along everyday are indie hackers or at least want to be in the hackers. The reason why, like I have 115,000 subscribers, but. Dan’s joined the live streams and there isn’t why is that? Because most people who subscribe to my channel, they subscribed for my tutorial. So like probably they want to learn to code, but what I’m doing now in this challenge, basically it’s not necessarily beginner friendly, although I kind of try to make it beginner, flan friendly, where we build a project from scratch, but there are. Some things which go out of that comfort zone is some things which are more of a business related thinking. And not a lot of people are interested in it right now. You know? So most people who follow me day by day they are interested in this like building projects, monetizing them and work for themselves kind of. Entrepreneurial stuff. [00:30:57]

Michaela: So you have actually two, two sort of niches. One is the indie hacker niche where you have, you’re building a following and then you have that mixed in with the, I want to be a developer niche. Right? So teaching niche, do you want to have them separated more? Do you feel like. You started off it, for example, teaching development. And now you want to be more in the D you know, indie hacker space, or is that both that represents you? How do you think about that? [00:31:27]

Florin: So throughout my journey, as a content creator, I mostly shared what I was doing. So I started off as a blog. Right. I was posting articles. Then I moved on to YouTube creating YouTube tutorials, and now I’m moving on to being an indie hacker. So I’m kind of doing my own journey and. People who follow some people follow me for me. But then I have separate audiences for those separate stages. As I said, most of the people I most of the subscribers I gathered along the past year or so were those who are interested in learning how to code, but now as I’m approaching like a new direction, some of them will be interested in this too. But I’m also now targeting another audience for me most, most about my own growth. And I know that if I learn stuff and share stuff, people who also want to do the same. The same things they will follow along. I know that with this new indie hacker kind of journey, I’m not targeting my older or my old audience. But that, that’s fine because it’s, it’s a progress in my own life. I’m just, I want to be I feel like I would be starting. In a place if I just don’t grow, you know, and I will continue to address that audience as well with tutorials, but my life goes on and I learn your stuff and I, it. Move on, on a, on a new, because at the same time, there are so many YouTube stars out there doing tutorials for beginners and much less of those who just use the skills you’re learning. And building stuff, monetizing them, be your own boss. Yeah. Yeah. Kind of thing. I think that [00:33:23]

Michaela: that thinking and those fears around those thinking are very, very similar to those fears that you have. Oh, I studied computer science and now I want to be a writer. Oh my God. You know, my life will end. I’m even allowed to do that. Right. So these growing aspects, I think of people and, you know, whatever you set out to do, and then you grow and you realize actually something else. It’s happening in my life. I think this is very important that we acknowledge that and that it’s really normal and it’s okay. Right. You, I don’t know, you studied history and now you want to be a developer, go do it. Right. And now you did those videos and you want to be, you know, want to do other videos that are following along your life. I think that’s a super important and we shouldn’t be afraid. I think it will work out wonderful. You’re very charismatic. So I, I was really happy that you have been on my podcast today and to talk with me about all of those things, content creation, monitorization, building an audience, and I will definitely follow you. I will link everything down in the show notes and yeah, with those words, thank you so much, Lauren, for being on. [00:34:31]

Florin: Thank you very much for having me was very nice step. Yeah. Thank you, [00:34:35]

Michaela: flooring. Bye-bye [00:34:36] Florin: thanks. [00:34:38]

Michaela: I hope you enjoyed another episode of the sup engineering unlocked podcast. Don’t forget to subscribe and I’d talk to you again in two weeks. Bye.

Falling in love with the JavaScript community

In this episode, I talk to Tracy Lee. Tracy is the CEO and co-founder of This Dot Labs, a widely successful dev shop. She is also a speaker, conference organizer, and blogger.

We talk about:

  • how she dared to start her first start-up as soon as right out of college,
  • how she learned to program and fall in love with JavaScript and the community,
  • how she founded a successful development shop,
  • her advice in terms of a marketing-driven versus product-driven startup launch.
Continue reading

Bootstrapping Netlify to a multi-million-dollar company

In this episode, I talk to Matt Biilmann. Matt Matt is the CEO and co-founder of Netlify – the modern platform for high-performance websites and apps. Netlify has around 150 employees and an estimate of over 20 million dollar of annual revenue. Matt also coined the term Jamstack, which stands for JavaScript, APIs, and Markup. 

We talk about:

  • his journey bootstrapping Netlify to a million-dollar company
  • how he got the vision for the JAM-stack,
  • how it feels to grow a company from a two-person adventure to over 150 employees,
  • how he envisions the collaborative software development of the future,
  • and the acquisition of  FeaturePeek.

Today’s episode is sponsored by CodeSubmit – the best take-home assignments for your tech hiring!

Subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, Google, Deezer, or via RSS.

Transcript: 

[If you want, you can help make the transcript better, and improve the podcast’s accessibility via Github. I’m happy to lend a hand to help you get started with pull requests, and open source work.]

Michaela: [00:00:00] Hello, and welcome to the software engineering unlocked podcast. I’m your host, Dr. McKayla, and today I have the pleasure to talk to Matt Billman.

But before I start, I want to tell you more about CodeSubmit – the best takehome assignment platform to streamline your tech recruiting! Yes, exactly, this amazing start-up is back sponsoring the podcast. And over the last months, they introduced a lot of exciting new features such as live coding – within a full working IDE running directly in your browser. Beginning of the year, when I was hiring engineers for a startup I work with, I used their tool during the interview process for all the candidates and was extremely satisfied. CodeSubmit made it really easy to create custom tasks that reflect the actual work candidates would be assigned to on the job. Their missing: real tasks, not brainteasers, resonance a lot with me. So, I cannot recommend CodeSubmit enough. Please check them out at CodeSubmit.io. That is Codesubmit.io.

But now, back to Matt. Matt is the CEO and co-founder of Netlify, the modern platform for high-performance websites and apps that defy has around 150 employees. But that’s not all: Matt also coined the term JAMstack, which stands for JavaScript, API APIs and markup. Today, JAMstack is even more. It stands for collection of technologies and languages, including web oriented databases, frameworks, like Nuxt and NextJS, and even framework less approaches. So I’m super, super thrilled to have Matt here with me today to talk about his experience founding and running Netlify and also JAMstack and
software engineering practices at Netlify fly. So yeah, I’m super thriller that you’re here. Thank you so much for joining us.

Matt: [00:00:57] Thank you for having me. Yeah,

Michaela: [00:01:00] really, really excited. So how is that? I looked a little bit like a research you obviously a little bit. And so I started it’s around, you know, seven, eight years ago that you, you for aided or you found that and Netlify how, how was that? Is that. Or you have an idea and you do it, or what was the process like?

Matt: [00:01:23] It was a long, it was a long process that, that, that started way before Netlify itself. So. I I’m originally from Denmark, but spent seven years living in, in Spain, in Madrid, where I worked a CTO for a company that built websites for small to medium businesses, but at a very large scale. So we would build something like a hundred websites a week, tens of thousands of sites in total. Right. And in. And I let the whole product and engineering or built the platform that all the designers would do the design with it, all the clients with useful content management that, that powered every single website from brief to production in. And then, then I actually started a CMS startup in, in Madrid together with the founders of that Spanish. Is that up because we had just tried building sort of several iterations of this. Develop a platform in-house and we thought, okay, we can build a cloud hosted multi-tenant version that, that other agencies and other professionals can, can use to get a lot of the same efficiencies when they are building websites for their clients. Anyway, that was sort of the first take on, like, how do you really remove all of that? The friction for web developers in, building deploying operators. With properties, but, but it was built as Hess as a traditional, like monolithic application. Multitenancy Amisu with database and template engine and all of that. And I came to the, to the bay area and the whole tech scene here, working on that. But while working on that, I started getting this sense. But even if it, if it was a product that was, I was very proud of building. It had a lot of like early innovations in it that had serverless functions before. That was the thing you could write, like service side Java script to running in, in this case, within the JVM in isolates and so on. But I got the sense that the fundamental architecture of this. This monolithic approach where data business, logic template language, front end code is all closely tied to gala was just not going to be long-term the real, like the few charts I could take chunks the way. Yeah. I was looking at lot at, at, in, at what was happening in the, in, in, in two different areas. One was like the space of static site generators. Jake hill and middleman were at the time in the other ones, the whole no JSPs ecosystem and Beaufort was having what was happening there in terms of the early built tools and task runners like grunt and gulp, but also. The first sort of real full race into the, in, into the whole world of single page application with originality tools like sprout Cole or Andy and Leyda in birth in angular react to all of that. Right. And I got this sense that. Pretty soon as browsers really started maturing, it would make much more sense to have an architecture where you try to decouple the front end web UI layer completely from the backend business logic, Leah, and the best back in business logic layer would likely Kelly split into all these different API APIs and services where someone to them, of course I, your own in Europe. But a lot of them are other people’s services, like Stripe oil, goldeo Twilio, and the like, and I also saw that if, if you could do that, you could sort of map that whole web UI there. You could map the workflow around that pretty tightly into the get centric workflow that developers were already working on, where in pull request and merchants and so on. Right? Like it was much more straightforward to. Map that whole process on twist StatePlus, UI Leah, then mapping it onto both the UI layer and the whole business logic data layer that tends to require all these kind of migrations and the settings and so on. So I got, I got the sense that that architectural approach would win out, but I could also see that there was just too many too, too much friction. Standing in front of developers that wanted to go that direction and then actually building, deploying and operating with properties like that. So I built a small in VP of like, what’s the smallest thing I can build that that’s sort of. Aims at edit dressing the workflow for those kinds of web developers. And the first MVP was this was a small service called bit balloon, where in the very first version, you could drag a folder with your friend dot com and it would immediately go live on a, on a, on a URL. And then I edited some CLI tooling and some in API tooling around that. And, and quickly saw that it, that it resonated with the right kind of early adopters in the front end space and, and got very validated in the idea that this architectural shift was going to happen. So at that point, I started to talking to one of my best friends back from Denmark, who Chris was my was my co-founder today. Him. He. We we’ve known each other all the way back from, from high school, which is sadly a long, long time ago by now. But while I, I spent seven years in Spain, he had built his own production company back in Denmark is specializing in like in very interactive, often video power websites typically built in flash for some of the largest brands in the world. They won a bunch of international awards for its work there. And then sold that to a full ed foot, to a full service agency where he became the partner and the chief digital officer. And I started talking a lot to him about this architectural shift and what it would mean if you could sort of pre compile the whole UI and put it on a globally distributed network. And then just talk to these different APS and services. How we could really fundamentally solve a lot of the problems around global performance, around scalability, around reliability, around security, in an, and even in the process, potentially really address to develop a practice city. And all of these areas were where areas that, that. Like he, he knew from, from operating across like web properties from, from tons of different companies and running digital strategy for the sort of Walmarts of Scandinavia and the, like how, how big these problems were and how enhanced they were. Like how, how much worse the problems got as, as, as we also started having more and more people using mobile devices for the web and, and expecting a different kind of, of both pace and use experience. But we could also just see again, how much friction there was. If a team wanted to adopt this architecture, suddenly they had to stitch together like CIC CD with object storage, with CDNs. They had to figure out cash perching rules and it’s caching. They had to figure out how to connect to all these different API APIs and services, and typically had to pick out triggering, rebuild swings. Content that data changed and so on. And there was just no viable tool chain for saying like, okay, we’re going to do this. What do we do it with? So that became the core idea. We, we, we sat down and discussed and came up with from fo for Netlify and still the mission we’re we’re still working on, right? Like how can we create a. At cloud platform for the collaborative work, where teams can really operate efficiently, where we can remove all the friction involved in going from pull requests to live code running in, in, in front of a real uses in. And yeah, we, we, we started out just bootstrapping the two of us. Build on top of the, of the product I had already built and turned it into Netlify launched on air show. Heck a news post the in, in March, 2015. In, and by the end of 2015, we were still just two people bootstrapping a company, but we are serving around a quarter billion web requests a month out of our homegrown CDN for customers. Like we work in Sequoia capital and the Molalla foundation and, and was realizing at that point that, okay, now, now we need to raise capital, build a whole team around this and, and really accelerate. Hmm. Ray cell first round of venture capital in the start of 2016 and hired the first engineers in March, 2016. And then, and then it, of course, it’s been a really fast paced growth since then by now we’ve raised about $107 million. From top tier find slack, Andreessen and Kleiner Perkins, Menlo ventures, EQT M we have for you onboarded more than 1.5 million developers onto our platform and, and, and sites are now like just, just the sites and web apps on our platform are reaching the close to 700 million unique visitors every month. It so. So, yeah, it’s, it’s been quite the ride so far. Yeah. Mine’s lowing.

Michaela: [00:11:26] Wow. Yeah. It’s mind blowing. Yeah. And so for me, You were really very, very involved with the technology. And you had like this vision where it’s going to go and it also went there. Right. So it was spot on. Do you feel like that you’re still very connected to that? Like, do you still feel like that you’re so connected to technology or are you now more involved in, you know, you have to see overall. I am now a little bit more away from this technology side. And how is that for you? You, for me now, how you explained it and how much passion I could really see that. Right. I can imagine that you have also like this passion for the role that you have right now. So you’re probably extremely. Business oriented and you know, all these funds and you know, like where to raise money and how to acquire a company and all of that. Are you still very technical? Do you feel like you’re as technical as you have been before?

Matt: [00:12:24] I I’m obviously not as involved in building Nipsey five from writing code perspective at Southwest, right? Like the first version of I built a CDN from there, from the ground up and the CSTD platform and the react UI that powered it and everything. Right. Like, and now I typically don’t like by my working space, now it doesn’t involve writing code file product eight. Like. But in a curious thing about my background is that that while I’ve been programming as a hobby, since I was 10 years old, I studied the musicology and cultural studies in and was always more interested in how humans adopt ideas and make sense of the world and understand things. So, so I think some people are, need to feel very hands-on with the coach to feel that they are doing something. I, I, I get a lot of joy also out of building the culture and the organization and the, and the engine that can build things without me. Right. And trying to understand both how, when we talk about something like the gem stake emerging, for example, and the shifts in technology. There’s always a mixture happening of like the actual sets of technologies involved and, and the specific program languages and API APIs and infrastructure evolutions that we’re seeing. But in the end, technology is adopted by humans, learning about things and building things, right. And you can understand where technology is going, what will happen in an ecosystem? If you don’t understand how humans adopt technology and why developers built with certain technologies at certain points in time and why you’ll sometimes see technologies that are technically better loose out in the marketplace because their adoption path is harder. Right? So for me, it I’ve always been a very curious person and, and, and, and like to understand. Both sides of that spectrum, both the lower details of, of how does technology, like how does that technology work behind the scenes, but also the details of like, how does human beings approach it and understand it and build with it. And of course, as I been building this company and it’s, I am building it right. The layer of where I operate them, we’ll have to keep shifting. Right? Like in the beginning I had to be the one who just sat down and wrote the code. And then I had to be part of a team that wrote the code. And then I had to be more warfare at it, take lead for that team and guide them in the right direction. And so. And now I have to build the right kind of organization and the right kind of organizational structure to allow our company to build the kind of product that. That we think we need to build. And that’s that, that in some cases also requires finding the right partners to build it with in terms of fee investors or, or ecosystem partners in, or finding the right people to join our team and, and help build it.

Michaela: [00:16:01] So, this is really, really super interesting. Is it, is it for you all about the people or is it also about the structures and how people are working together? Do you see it as a system? Or, you know, like, or is it self forming, like is a company self forming or do you give it some structure?

Matt: [00:16:20] No. No, we, you, I believe in, in trying to, to, to. Bring some structure along the way. I think both me and Chris have always fought that did that, that intentionally building structure and organization is really, it’s really important for building a company that can, that, that can scale to, to become a really large company. Right. Like I think. If you, if you try to ignore the structure, you, you will hit a point where, where everything’s that’s is that’s falling apart. And it’s very easy to hit points along the way that feels like that’s happening. Of course, you’re always a bit riding on a rocket that’s slightly out of control. Right. But I think culture and structure and And value is a really important for how a company functions. And then of course, like you can never replace the, like, it’s in the end, it comes down to actual people doing stuff. Right. But the structure is important and it’s important to be intentional about it. I think we’ve seen some companies that tries to build completely like say they built completely flat structures with. In any kind of structure to it. And that, that just means that as a leader, you’re not taking any intentional decisions and route the structure, because your team is still going to have people that have more offices than other people. And they’re still going to have, it’s just going to happen by politics and, and, and sort of maneuvering rather than by any intentional process of like how strict the structure. Do you see

Michaela: [00:17:51] like a parallel between like I texture, like software, I attacked her and technical debt and structures of companies. Like where you say, well, we try to build the best system with the information that we have right now. Obviously also looking into the future, but then, you know, things evolve, things change. So we actually have to go back and change the architecture or change, reverse some decisions, you know? Remove some technical debt. Do you see the same happens in company in your company structure? Or do you feel like, oh, this is for what we have foreseen, but now we actually have to restructure and re refined or redefine ourselves.

Matt: [00:18:31] Yeah. You absolutely see that happening. And of course it could be a useful metaphor too, to compare like your company through to the machine, building the thing and, and, and think of it as an architecture and that point. Just also have to remember that Indian, the pieces of the machine. So not lines of codes that, that are predictable. They are people with goals and dreams and carry ambitions and interpersonal. Characteristics in. So you have to be aware of both, both sides of it.

Michaela: [00:19:07] So you’re what you’re saying is that technical debt is sort of peanuts, right?

Matt: [00:19:12] Complicated. I just, it to deal with, with, with technology. It’s a lot more predictable Indians than people are, but it, yeah, in the same way, it can also be a lot more fun. To deal with, with human beings. Yeah, obviously.

Michaela: [00:19:30] Yeah. Yeah. I’m, I’m super impressed. Like I can’t imagine how much personal growth has to happen on a way from, you know, like bootstrapping something, then getting investors, you know, scaling probably if you get investors, you normally scale really fast really quickly. And yeah. So th that’s.

Matt: [00:19:53] Yeah. And it’s also, I mean, it’s also a choice you take when you go and raise venture capital that, that raising venture capital is only one way of building a business, right? Like the many other approaches to build a business. In, in our case, we felt that there was also the kind of market opportunity, right. Because we really, from the get go belief. That there was a real opportunity to shape how the future of the web is, is going to be built and how it’s going to function. But we could also see that, that making that big of an impact and getting there in time. And so. There was not something we could, we could have done if we had grown just organically based on our revenue. Right? Like, so that’s, that’s why we, we went out and, and, and raised funds to be able to, to scale and grow much faster than we would be able to do organically. Right. And that, of course always didn’t happen. Half the trade-off of like all the older challenges you get when you are trying to scale an organization very fast. And it has like, you have to know what you’re going into as a founder also, right? Like, as you say, of course, it’s a, it’s a learning curve and you have to be very okay with continuously taking things that, that you saw as quarter your role, like writing the code, building the technology. And then have other people come in and do them instead of you and step away from it. Right. But if you do that, you’ll also learn very quickly along the way. The more like that, no matter how much of your job you seem to delegate it at way, you only get more busy somehow.

Michaela: [00:21:39] Yeah. So one thing that that would really interest in me is like you said, you wrote this little first version MVP of, of Netlify and. A lot of people adopted it. So it seems like you didn’t really have to convince people about this solution or that there is a problem because sometimes like founders it’s, it’s hard. Right. You think like, oh, I have this idea. And then is it too early? Do I have to convince people to have to explain it better? Do you have like to, do you think that this is, this is the right mindset or should people step away from something like where we have. Tweak one sentence to be really powerful and express like the pitch. Right. Is that really too important? Or should we read our focus, our energy on finding the thing that people actually want? Even if you write a sloppy sentence about it, you know what I mean?

Matt: [00:22:34] Yeah. I think, I think it it’s never completely one or the Euler in, I think. You have to in like initially for example, the mental model we had around adoption was that for these kinds of technology products, if you’re trying to build something that’s in that the future of how things will be built, you would expect it to sort of grow in concentric circles where you sort of have these very early adopter technologies that are constantly. Joking too, to broaden their horizon, then find new things that work and so on. Right. And, and, and you want this kind of product to resonate with them first, right? Like in the initial stages of this product, you wouldn’t expect someone who was like aids. Are they working in a law long enterprise company? Very focused on solving. Big picture of business problems, insight that for which assisting technologies to even be interested in your product, right? Like it’s just not time, but you would expect like for a product like ours and, and early adopter of JavaScript frameworks or, or site generators to, to get interested in. And then ideally like there’s, there’s two is essentially two different paths to building. Product companies, right? Like one of them is product led growth and the other is sales or marketing led growth. And not, there’s not like one way is the right way for some products. If you have a product that requires in a whole organization to adopted horizontally before it really adds value. Right. Build a product lead motion around that. You have to go build a sales lit motion where you first go and talk to executives and companies and pick out the needs and then solve their needs with a product. But if you have a product that can both be really useful to an individual engineer, into a small teams with engineer to a larger team of engineers into a whole organization, then you have the opportunity of building like a product led growth moment. Motion. Where, the way you get into businesses is by individual users first adopting the product, and then, then it spreads from there. Right? And we saw the opportunity to build that kind of company. And when you built that, then it can’t be like the cost sale doesn’t depend that much. At first, unlike nailing there, the phrase on your marketing site or something like that, it comes on nailing the onboarding experience for how fast. Can you get someone to land on your website and then be inside the product, doing something where they having a hard moment of why? Like, why is this product going to be useful to us? And for us, there was really about like landing on netlify.com and then having a web property running on a custom domain in a shorter time as possible. Right? Like that was sort of the first iteration of, of, of that hard moment. And then knowing that maybe in, in, in 30 seconds, so minutes or something, right. You had gone from nothing to having a globally distributed website, running on a custom domain with a CSED pipeline plug directly into get right. If we could just make that motion, like something you could do in, in, in 30 seconds or minutes at something like. Then then we would drive that, that, that feeling of like, wow, this is, this is another generation of tooling. This, this is, this is just so different from how the world looked before and, and, and then build excitement with developers. But then in parallel with that, we will also positioning ourselves Hindu in, in the midst of like an architectural change of how are we going to build the web in the future. And at the time when we started, there was just a lot of difference. Technologies that was making that happen. There was, as I mentioned, static site generators that were single page applications. There was a lot of talk of the API economy, some talk around like the programmable weapons, but there was no name for this architecture. And that was something that, that, that, that Chris Sue, my co-founder immediately saw from his background. Like we need, if this is going to have him, we need a name for this category and this architecture, because otherwise, again, all of this happens because humans adopt the technology and humans goes in the direction and, and. If you can’t give people the vocabulary to talk about what they’re doing, it becomes very hard for that idea to spread between groups and teams and people. Right? So that’s why we ended up coining the term game stack. And it happened sort of in a very collaborative process with different people in the, in the industry. And so on in an and the term started taking off because it was needed, right. Because it gave me. And nomenclature to start talking about things that before were seen as just separate movements, right? Like, okay. This, something happening about the architecture we use for cell phones, talking to API APIs, there’s something happening or how this whole world of web API is exploding. There’s something happening around single page applications and something else happening around CDNs and site generators and stuff. And suddenly we had a nomenclature to say, oh, it’s an architectural shift. It’s a shift to watch the games deck. And that, that was really important to, to, to build the other part of like on the one hand, the individual product story and the developer story of like finding this product and instantly getting into ha moment and then connect them. To a broader story around like a new architecture for the web emerging and, and the possibilities that that would entail and how not just individual developers, but large organizations could benefit from that change. So both sides are important, but in the end, if you’re building a product led growth company, you have to be really obsessed is obsessive about the product itself and how. That product that attracts Andy and convinces juices to, to, to work with it.

Michaela: [00:29:17] Yeah. The funny thing is that when you described the story off, you know, how a developer, you know, sees your side and tries it out. This is exactly how I felt when I tried it out. I was not an early adopter dough. Right. I try it out somewhere last year, but. It wasn’t exactly like this. I was like, oh, I have to reply this website. And I want to do it quick. And you know, like, let’s, let’s try that out. Right. Everybody is already on it. I’m like the late, late person too late for everything, but I went to it. Right. And obviously at that point it was fully baked fully in, but, you know, I was there and was like, wow. Well, it’s running, right? Like I was like, and as you said, right, this, like you push and then it’s there. I exactly felt what you were saying, but it was like last year. How was Natalie fly when you say, well, let’s go five years back. How was the experience? Was it similar? Like at that point, would you say.

Matt: [00:30:18] Yeah. So, so the expense involved in, and it will continue to evolve it as, as we also go for, broadening the experience and, and telling it different, like as a large and larger story through the product. Right. So the very first story you would see was, was, was in bit balloon the predecessor to Netlify. Land on a website that just immediately on the front page, head like a drop soon in saying drag your web folder here. And there would also be a little download link where if you didn’t have a website handy, you could download one and drop it there. Right. And then you could just drop aside onto bit ballooned at com without even signing up or anything. And it, you didn’t need to sip the files first, anything you just drag the actual folder onto a bit, little.com and boom. Now you would be live. We still have that done. If you go to app.netlify.com/drop, you’ll get the same kind of experience that mimics, like what, what the very first version was like, of course, in the signed by me and not by actual designers. Like it looks like today. So that was like the first simplest motion we could do right in. And then the next step was really to, to start, like after we had, after I had built out that initial version of just getting a site live and, and, and getting a custom domain connected to it, getting SSL set up and so on, then, then it was really the question of okay. This is fine. If you’re really just one developer by yourself, manually deploying, and we added a CLI where you could do the same from like writing it at for spit and native later, just Netlify deploy and immediately from the command line, deploy fault. That’s fine. If you’re really just one individual working, as soon as you’re at team of people, that’s not very useful. Like you, you can’t just random. You have people deployed manually at different time without structure and people get their structure from, from GitHub or GitLab or bit bucket. That’s where developers collaborate on opening new pull requests and building new features. So. The next iteration of that on Netlify was really saying, instead of focusing on you deploying manually from a folder that solves the whole problem of you working in a good provider and getting that live. So the next moment really became that flow of like calming. Tell us you’ll get repository and we’ll try to even guess what tool you have a framework you’re using. And just say, okay, and now you’re done, right? Like now you have something you live in. And, and now of course, with, without acquisition of a feature peak and that whole journey, we are going even deeper into that space of like, this is not just for single developer building. On their own, like real projects, always built by teams with lots of different stakeholders and with several developers and one part of the processes it’s writing the code. But another part of that whole process is that for every release, you have some feedback cycle where you have back and forth with product managers or designers or other developers or other stakeholders. Before you take something live and now we’re really sort of expanding that whole experience to drink fluid, that process and to sure how, how frictionless we can, we can make. The process of a team actually building releases together and taking them to the world.

Michaela: [00:34:21] So with, with this acquisition, somehow you have like this deploy previews feature. Yeah. You know, my, my favorite thing are code reviews. Is that something that you think is part of the programming part or is it part of deploy? Is it, is it part of something that should be, should code reviews be somewhere in that picture or how do you see it?

Matt: [00:34:45] I mean, code code reviews are really important, but then there’s also the, the step ahead that’s like viewing their outcome of, of, of your current code. Right? Like being able to just open a pull request and having that pull request running in the full production environment. Exactly. As it would look like if you were. That’s that’s really like, it doesn’t replace the code review. Right? Like the developers should still work on the code review tools to make sure that the quality of the code behind that it’s up to scratch and so on. Right. But it does make the, the review, especially from. It QA testers, product managers to designers and marketeers to content editors or anyone else that’s involved that will want to review what the output looks like. Hmm. It makes that process in much simpler. Right. And what we were seeing, like w w like we launched deploy previews in 2016, a long time ago, and we’ve of course been very big consumers of that whole workflow internally, ever since then. netlify.com runs. And Netlify Natalie find that conference and identify all of our web properties up easily run on Netlify. And in that process of deployment, Completely essential to how our web teams work. We’re constantly sharing URLs and so on. But the one thing we saw also when talking to clients and so on, was that when you share that URL, then. The feedback cycle spec to the developers that happens all over the place. Some of it happens you’re shared in slack and there’s feedback in slack and more people open issues and get up or in JIRA, or they will piece two screenshots into documents and sent them back and forward for, at the mess attachments. And, and for developers like the, the process. The process of, of that is as fragmented as the process of code reviews was before tools like get help and get lab integrated into the workflow. Right? Like before that happened, like there was no. You, you would sometimes have specific tools for code review, but mostly it would be processes of sending back and forth emails around the code, or simply just having to sit down at a laptop together or at, at this top bank at the time, and look at the code and talk through it. Right. And get up with the pull request. Functionality really gave her home. For court reviews, right? Like in the game of place where, where now you no longer have to wonder, like where is it happening? And people commenting in all kinds of places and so on. Right. So what we’re trying to do with collaborative deploy previews is in a similar way to give it a form for the, feedback, not on the, on the input, which is the code, but on the output, which is the reason. And make sure also that since every deployed review, it’s a different URL. We don’t, we didn’t want to have a system where every deploy preview now has its own. Like you have to know it exists and go there and look at the feedback in order to take part in that process. Because like we had some initial prototypes integrating with tools like that, and it just attracted from the process because now. Apart from checking the pull request to end a slack messages and the emails also I had to continuously try to figure out is people, are people now also commenting on the deployed from you? Yeah. So it’s really important to make each deploy from URL. Okay. At checkpoint that that makes information flow into the original places. So feedback that stakeholders make on the deployment of the will, will flow back into the poll requests. They’ll take part in the comments there, or they can open tickets in whatever project tracking software you’re using related to get Harper linear clubhouse for the like, and now it’s really important for us. Right. But again, it was this sense of like, Now when a developer, she is that deployed preview URL, the Isles are sharing how to give feedback and how that whole process operates. And we hope that can really, as I said, do do for this process, what, what pull requests themselves fit for them? For the code review process

Michaela: [00:39:23] feature peak, which basically is part of what you’re just describing right. Of the functionality that you’re describing. As I understand it. Is it a company that you acquired? So I would like to understand the process around that a little bit. So you have this vision, obviously you seem very vision driven, right? So you have this vision and then you see that there is no place for that. But how does that work? Like, and then you find a company or, you know, like it, because you’re, you’re obviously. Yeah. Having your eyes out on the space and under companies, and then you see a company that works in that space and you think, oh, they’re going to the right direction. And then you contact them. Or how does that, like how, how can it be such a good match and why not do that? In-house and you know, like how does this whole process wig? And what’s your, what’s your mental model behind it?

Matt: [00:40:12] Yeah, let me, let me tell them, so let me take a step first bank and just to the listeners shit like yesterday, we announced a big feature for us called collaborative deploy previews that allow other stakeholders to give feedback in the process of, of, of reusing and going from pull requests to release. And behind that feature launch was an acquisition of. Affair venture funded company called feature peak that was backed by Y Combinator and matrix venture in that joint Netlify and integrated that product into the core of our product. And the whole, the whole process started in a way back into, in our all hands meeting at the very start of 2020, where in memory. So was a UX researcher on, on, on our team. Yeah. Brought up the, it like brought up the initial idea that take it. It would really add so much value to the other stakeholders. If there was a way of bringing feedback and commenting to to deploy previews. And based on that, we started at first in prototyping with a couple of different tools that already existed in the space for. Full commenting and annotating on websites. So we integrated one of those tools through it, built, pluck in and started testing it out internally. And we learned there that if the commenting was something external to the current process, our developers cut more frustrated than helped by it. Like they quickly felt like, okay, now, now I’m just getting. At pod from all the meals and slack messages in this year’s I get, I’m also now getting comments in a different place. Right. So after testing that for a while, we found out that, okay, that’s that’s not going to be the right approach. It’s the right idea. It’s the right problem with tackling, but it’s not the right solution in. So we think it, that, that we would have to do something that tied into the process that developers will already working in. And that tied into the pull request process. And we did start in building our own. We built first, a quick prototype that I went to celebrate experienced team built in. To be able to take that to our user researcher and then put it in front of a bunch of our clients talk through like, what would this do for their workflow? What are they currently doing for their workflow? And started all to really understanding like the set of tools that, that our customers were working with and how they were already solving this problem. Because obviously like, It’s not like this is something that everybody already doing in some way. No, no one are building software just by having developers write the code and then launch it. Right? Like there’s always a process of write the code, show the output, talk through it, do testing, validate the result, give feedback, iterate on it. And then you launch it. Right. But often that process is just a lot of screenshots and PowerPoints and emails and slack messages and stuff. And we could see that, that, that if we could make that flow back into the poll requests, that would help. But it wouldn’t be enough. Like when we tried just that with our first prototype, we saw like just full requests, comments. It’s not enough. Like people are also using is your track or some project management software. And we had to figure out how can we integrate into those pieces as well? So this was a long process and we built several internal prototypes and did some. Kicked off some real development. And in the process we kept looking at, in any, any company, they was trying to take a listen to the market. The end, the one of them that started to really stand out was, was west feature peak. So we reached out to them and, and asked to meet. And they came to us and, and had at the time actually started working on it on a nearly fight integration through our built plugins layer and. Yeah. I was in Nicole together with a, with, Jessica, one of product managers with the two founders of feature peak. They gave us a demo of, of what they had been working on in the integration. And as the demo progressed, I would say like our jobs got closer and closer to the, to the flow of because yeah, it, was really far ahead of anything else within this space. And more than that, It, it was as if they had been reading all of our use of research, like building exactly the kind of product that, that I wanted to build in that we were dreaming about. Right. So we very quickly figured out that, that, between us and, and the, and the Fiji peak founders, we really shed a vision of like, what can you do in this space? And what can you build in? They had already built a product that, gets a lot of things. But we could also like, just, just talking through food, future potential. We could see that we were so aligned in like, what could this turn into? And as we started to talk more, it was also pretty obvious that they could build a great integration on top of Netlify and here’s how our integration layer for that. But it would still just be an add-on. It would still just feel. Like something you could add and that would be bolted on, right. It would have its own like separate sort of dashboard and lock in. And the integrations would be only on there and not on our end and so on. That would not really be a good way to integrate the whole feedback cycle as a first-class citizen throughout our whole product journey. It would be feeling like it just, to pluck in just an add on, right. And we felt. Between all of us that if we really wanted to do this, integration had to be much deeper. It heads to be much tighter. And we would only really be able to do that if we were one company. So then we started talking about what if we joined forces? What if we, what if we built something together, then build something in, in two different silos ended and ended up agreeing that, that that was the right way to go.

Michaela: [00:46:35] And so now, You acquired them this week. And are you going to develop something now or is it already developed or, you know, like how does that person?

Matt: [00:46:46] So, , we did the acquisition in about three months echo and behind the scenes that their whole team and our team have been. Working really hard on, on, on integrating their technology really deeply into Netlify. So Netflix too. So yesterday we didn’t just announce the acquisition. We also announced the full product launch with with all of these collaborative features now available to all Netlify users from Friday.

Michaela: [00:47:19] Yeah, very cool. So you took the D the code base that they had, and then it w it’s not a complete rewrite, it’s just that you blacked in what they had, you know, got rid of some, you know, functionality because it was a plugin first and now it’s, you know, it’s part of Natalie fly. So you, part of the code base and integrate the data. How does

Matt: [00:47:40] that. The team that has like they both whom re rewrote parts of their code base to integrate it into our code base directly for, for the whole coy API functionality. I think our team together with their team built the. Three new microservices to power, like identity for cross integrations, for uploads and so on in. And and they updated the whole UI to be in line with how we built Netlify UI and to feel integrated into, into that process. Eh, But if, but I have to say an incredible job from, the whole team, executing that in just three months in and taking it to them.

Michaela: [00:48:29] Yeah, I can imagine. Yeah. Yeah. Well, it did. So I have 1000 more questions, but we are on time. So I will just, I would just say thank you so much for sharing everything with me and Medalla, you know, with the listeners and with, with, with us, it’s like, yeah. As I said, I just have so many more questions. I could talk for hours, but you maybe I’m inviting you again. Maybe you have time to spend a little bit more talking with me about all of those things. Yeah. Can you have more questions, but yeah, it’s, it’s, I’m really impressed. It’s a, it sounds really fascinating and really cool. Is there something from your side that you want to share, like with my listeners that you want to give them on the way I will obviously link everything in the show notes, but is there something that you want, especially for people that are, you know, like love technology, software engineering, and also maybe want to become founders or, you know, do their own thing.

Matt: [00:49:28] In. Yeah. I mean the first thing I would say, if you think all of this sound sounds, sound interesting and, and you would like to read the part of it. We are very actively hiring. So check out our careers page and if you don’t find anyone, anything there. Think you could be a great part, then we always have at your dream job position that you can write in for in. So that would be the first part. And do the other part, I would say is that it S this whole sheet. From big monolithic applications having to to, to modern architecture with it, decoupled front end and all these different APIs and services. There’s also a lot of opportunity for founders to, to build new, interesting, newer, interesting pieces that, that fits into that developer workflow. And I’m always happy to. To, to, to spend time with founders in that space that are building something new or interesting. So it feel free to reach out or Twitter or email or the like,

Michaela: [00:50:36] wow. That sounds really nice. Cool. Thank you so much, Matt. For, for being on my show. It was really a pleasure.

Matt: [00:50:43] Thank you for having me. Bye.

 

 

Using Entrepreneurship 101 to Build a New Profitable Business

In this episode, I talk to Karls Hughes. Karl is a software engineer who turned into an entrepreneur in the midst of the pandemic last year. His start-up draft.dev creates content that reaches software engineers – which means he combined his two passions, development and content creation.

We talk about:

  • his transition from developer to CTO, and then to the business owner,
  • value-based pricing and how to focus on the customer segment that gets the most value out of your product,
  • how to scale as a bootstrapped business,
  •  why blogging is such a career changer for developers.

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Transcript: How to build a profitable content business as a developer

[00:00:00] Michaela: Hello, and welcome to the software engineering unlocked podcast. I’m your host, Dr. McKayla. And today I have the pleasure to talk to Karl Hughes. Karl is a software engineer who turned into an entrepreneur in the midst of the pandemic last year, his startup draft up that creates content that reaches software engineers, which means that he combined his two passions development and content creation.

Today, I will ask him all about his new business and what he ambitions and what he wants to reach. So like,

[00:00:31] Karl: Thanks for having me Mikayla.

[00:00:33] Michaela: So maybe I introduced you a lot with this new startup, but actually what I want to start off with is the startup or the side project that I know you from, and that is CFP land call for paper land.

Right? How do you pronounce it thing? You see a few?

[00:00:48] Karl: Yeah, we, I, I say, I say CFP land for short, but CFP stands for call for papers or call for proposals depending on who you ask.

[00:00:56] Michaela: Exactly. So it’s, it’s a sideways. I find all the relevant tech conferences. Right. And then know where to submit it, how to submit.

And so I think from that, I know actually your activities a little bit. And so, so how is that going? Like it had had to been really hard for the pandemic and everything. No, no, no conference.

[00:01:17] Karl: Yeah, it’s been a weird year and a half for CFP land. So I started the kind of backstory on that. I started speaking at conferences a few years ago and just for fun and to kind of get out there and meet more people and learn things.

And so it was great. I had a lot of fun, met a lot of people, but one of the challenges, a lot of the speakers. And we would always talk about it. It’s like, where do we find all the CFPs that are available when they close? Like where do we apply? What kind of speakers they looking for? Things like that. And so I started off CFE land.

It’s just a simple newsletter, just running it. You know, it was very much a side project and eventually I got. It grew. And it’s now a website with a newsletter it’s well, over 2000 people subscribed to it. So it’s a pretty popular, I mean, this is a small world [00:02:00] of tech conference speakers, but it’s pretty popular within that small world.

So a lot of people do hear my name from it, but it’s always been just a thing to do on the side. I actually, the year, the beginning of last year, when right before the pandemic happened, I was thinking about, as I was thinking about starting with. Maybe I would make CFE land or something like it, a full-time thing, which was fortunately, I didn’t go all in on that site because it was really, I mean, it went from, you know, we were getting consistently growing traffic to all of a sudden, just almost to zero overnight and yeah, I mean, I’m glad it was just a hobby project.

It’s starting to come back. Now. Things are starting to, you know, conferences are starting to like look at coming in person. And also just the virtual events are starting to get more predictable. People are figuring out how to work them. So all of it I think, is going to come back and it’s going to be, you know, I’ll put more effort into it this year, but yeah, it’s been a tough year for, for the project and for anybody who’s into event marketing and.

Yeah, I can

[00:02:56] Michaela: imagine. I mean, I started off with on-site trainings and it wasn’t like good starting March, like grew up. So. And how, why do you change from like you were employed before, right? You were a software engineer, you were a manager. So how did you change from that to become your own boss? So why, why during the pandemic, was that something that you did deliberately or something that, you know, just the events happened and this is how it go.

[00:03:30] Karl: Yeah, that’s a good question. So, you know, I’ve been with the startup. Uh, I I’ve always worked in startups, tech startups, like small companies, less than a hundred people. And so I started off just as a software engineer and was then most recently like leading a team of engineers. And I really enjoyed it. I actually liked my company a lot, but unfortunately the business was pretty strongly affected negatively by the pandemic.

And so myself and the rest engineers went down to half-time to kind of conserve money and make sure the company. Get through it and figure out what we’re going to do next. [00:04:00] And so in that half-time I started to explore, well, what do I want to do? Maybe, you know, maybe I’ll do something different next.

Maybe I’ll try a career shift. So I started writing for fun on the side, just, just kind of called up some people I knew and started writing technical blog posts for them. And then I found some lists of places you could write technical blog posts. And I realized there’s a lot of people who want engineers who were willing to write some blog posts on this.

I figured it was a good mix of my skills and it also was not negatively affected by the pandemic, like speaking was and things like that. So I started doing it and I realized quickly that there was a lot of companies that wanted this kind of content and that I could work with other engineers to sort of increase my output.

Knit draft out dev was kind of born out of just seeing so many people ask me, Hey, could you write for us? And I just realized I only had so many hours, so I better start bringing some other people in on this. So yeah, that it was really. I needed something to do on the side. And then eventually it became a full-time thing within three or four months.

I think I had transitioned out of my old job and was doing draft out dev full-time with a very small team at first. Yeah.

[00:05:01] Michaela: And so right now, are you still writing content? Are you mainly managing people that write for you?

[00:05:07] Karl: Yeah, mostly managing now. So it grew pretty quickly this year. I think it’s about quadrupled in size from what it was in January, which is, feels surreal.

So I’m almost exclusively managing hiring and kind of helping other people get unstuck. I still do a lot of sales calls as well, but the, yeah, the bulk of our work is done by software engineers. Blog posts around the world. And so for them, it’s a nice little nice and weekends thing they can do. They make some extra money and they get to learn new technology and write about it.

Show what they know for our clients. They’re getting experts who are interested in their tools and their tech tech that they write.

[00:05:45] Michaela: Yeah. Cool. That’s really cool. So how do you make the match between the people that you know, right. And the people that want things written?

[00:05:55] Karl: Yeah. We’ve got kind of a word it’s still an evolving process for sure.

[00:06:00] We do some recruits. Of writers that are in specific skillsets when need be. And then we put all of our writers into a list, and if you’re on our writer list, you get an email every couple of weeks. That’s kind of like, here’s all the open opportunities for writing. And we have people sort of like give us, just basically apply to, to write for each of them.

And we ended up trying to match up the best writers with the topics because, you know, we tell a client might. An article done in PHP and JavaScript and Ruby and you know, something else instead of like, we’ve got to find like a mix of writers to cover all those, which is, can be really tricky. But our, our pool of writers now is I think 50 or 60 active writers.

And so it makes it easier once you’ve got a pretty good volume of writers. Pick up the assignments.

[00:06:45] Michaela: Okay. And do you vet them somehow? Do you look at the can right or that, I mean, there’s also like a reason out there. Right? So people just call from the side.

[00:06:57] Karl: It’s a huge, that’s a huge undertaking. I mean, this is why this is why clients like working with us because it is a lot of work to try to find and vet good engineers who are also good writers.

So we do have a process. We start with a rubric, a skills rubric, but one thing that I learned as an engineering manager was it’s really helpful to hire people based on objective criteria, as much as possible. That’s not, you know, there’s always a little bit of fuzziness when you’re working with humans, but like we try to have like a pretty objective rubric that allows us to.

Great or rate each applicant based on specific criteria around like, how good did they do at writing? How good are they do explaining deep technical topics? How good were they at? Uh, things like communication and answering emails promptly, just, you know, being in touch. Uh, and then we evaluate each candidate and we’ll accept or accept or ask for more samples from each one.

So we do ask for existing published samples or sort of written sample of their work. You know, most of the engineers who were. Pretty experienced as far as writers and engineers, because we are a lot of the topics that we cover are kind of [00:08:00] hard to cover, uh, sort of things that most junior developers would have a hard time maybe picking up on the first try.

[00:08:06] Michaela: Yeah. Yeah. So maybe one thing that comes to my mind. I’m also like a intrepreneur and I’m doing mostly workshops and cultural workshops. I’m also doing consultancy right now. I’m doing quite a bit of research again. And so that’s, that’s exciting, but on the other hand, but I’m always feeling like I always have this urge I have to program again.

Right. So I’m not constantly programming because while that’s not my job right now, but if I like, if I’m in one source, Six big of a dollar 3d programming, something. I feel like, oh my God, I’m losing cash. And I really want to go back into it and I’m coding something on the side and I’m always like, I’m, I’m still struggling with how to, you know, make that a habit that it’s always constantly there because I feel it’s so, so important.

I mean, especially for me, but I think also if you are, you know, if you’re a Def shop for writers, I think it’s important. Stay at death somehow. I don’t know. How, how is that for you? I think it’s also the same for managing, right? If you’re in a managerial role and you’re managing people, how far can like a CTO or a engineering manager?

How far can they be away from actually doing the stuff? Right. I think it’s so. Um, I spent a lot of time, the last couple of weeks, really getting, knowing everything about the latest code review tools that are out there and, you know, all the studying and Ella analyzes again. And you have to do that, I think periodically because otherwise you really lose touch.

How do you think about that and how do you, you know, how do you combine that with what you do right.

[00:09:41] Karl: Yeah, I agree. I think that there’s a lot of value in staying in touch with the technical skills. Even if you like, I’ve always admitted to my employees and myself, I’m not the best engineer who’s ever written code.

Right. Like that’s okay with me. It’s okay. Really love working with people who are good because they are way better because [00:10:00] then you get to see sort of like, oh man, humbling experiences. Right. And reminds you. But I do think it’s important for engineering managers, CTOs, who are at least at smaller companies, CTOs to stay at least somewhat connected to what’s going on on the ground.

So the way I do that, A couple of things. First I do occasionally for fun, write my own technical articles. So I do it for say like guest posting on, uh, on different blogs or maybe on my own personal site or other sites around that people ask me to write for. So I do that some just to keep up with what’s going on.

I think I did pick up like a client article a couple of weeks ago because I thought it was an interesting topic and I wanted to get my feet wet in it. And then the other thing. Is I, well, what I find is that it is easier to pick up new tech when you’ve already picked up several things along your career.

So unlike when you’re first learning to code, you know, a lot of junior engineers always ask like, well, how do you, how do you just pick up a new language so quickly? I’m like, well, when you’ve learned four or five, the sixth is not that much harder because a lot of the same paradigms, the same concepts apply.

The same is true. If they. When you’ve used six different web hosts in your career, likely the seventh one is not that much different so that you probably don’t have to learn everything from scratch. Same like any CIS CD tools, testing tools, whatever, like, yes, there is some difference and yes, there’s subtle things that are important to know the differences between, but like, you don’t have to always be the, you know, you don’t have to know everything from the root level.

You just kind of have to get a good high-level sense of how is this different from the other things I’ve done in the past that are similar.

[00:11:31] Michaela: Yeah, that’s true. I mean, as I said, I was looking at study analysis tools recently and obviously it’s different. Right. It’s different because it’s more integrated in.

In dev ops, for example, in CII CD. Right. It’s a little bit more automated, but in the end it was the same, like the same as 10 years ago. Right. So, yeah. Yeah, I totally, and, and the same, like for languages, [00:12:00] I feel that picking up, and this is something that I really, I mean, I love to talk about it because I feel like you can pick it up.

Fast, but then really getting really good at it. It’s even, I think sometimes a little bit harder if you have a lot of baggage, right? So like coming from the object oriented Java and C-sharp world. And I recently it’s not recent anymore, but like two and a half years ago, I started with. And I mean, obviously I could program and I could, could really productively do stuff within really short amount of time.

I mean, it was days that I, you know, and, but then I feel like stuck and I feel like, oh, it really took me quite some time to understand, you know, and feel comfortable really that I know how to architecture and I’ve heightened. I could architecture, but it was like it was a job or a C sharp application heightened.

Which didn’t feel like it’s not by tonic and it’s not like how you would do it in that language and learning that and changing the mental models that you already have. I found that quite, quite interesting and tricky. How, how, how has that.

[00:13:06] Karl: I agree. I, that is tricky. I think one thing that I’ve thought about in this transition from being like engineering leader, who’s expected to still really know the tech to more of a business owner is that I, I don’t necessarily have to be the best at those lower level, that lower level of knowledge, right?

The specific implementation details. I may not always be the best, but at a high level, I shouldn’t have. How does Python work versus Java? Like I should know that it’s almost like knowing what you don’t know is good. So knowing that I’m not going to write Python at code, like you call it is maybe helpful more than just knowing like exactly the best way to write Python, because you can always, when you’re, again, kind of going back, putting my business owner hat, My goal is to make the company run well.

So that might mean hiring somebody who knows these things better than me. It might mean hiring technical reviewers in the future. As I get less connected to the day to day, it might mean hiring well, we already do this. We hire a lot of [00:14:00] writers who are experienced in languages and frameworks that I really haven’t used much if at all.

So yeah, it’s definitely important to like, know where your limits are and then be like, ask yourself the question of, you know, is this the best thing for me to learn myself? Or can I hire someone? To who knows it already and get even more, more bandwidth out of this.

[00:14:20] Michaela: Yeah, I like that mindset. I mean, in general, maybe that’s what I want to deep dive a little bit with you.

Is that mindset of, you know, the manager, a CTO or also a business owner? I think I’m, I’m, I’m still struggling with that. I like two years ago with this one. I totally didn’t feel like it. And so even though I started already my business, I would never say to myself, like, I’m the founder or, you know, business owners thing.

I always say like, I’m a software engineer. Right? Like, and, and it really took me one and a half years to say, okay, I feel a little bit comfortable. You know, I’m doing now my tags and all of that, but I still, I still struggle with, for example, sales. Right. It’s just something that. I dunno, like, and, but you were talking about Sage, like I’m doing sales calls and all of that.

So how do you get into that mindset of actually doing the stuff that a business owner does versus, you know, doing the stuff that an engineer does?

[00:15:17] Karl: Yeah. I mean, there’s nothing, so I’ll just like play the other side and say there’s nothing wrong with becoming a, a business owner consultant who stays. Very much a software engineer.

Let’s say, you know, I have several friends who are consultants or freelancers that essentially like they, they have a very flexible, interesting work where they can do, you know, work for several different clients, but they don’t really have a bunch of employees there. It’s kind of just them being a freelancer.

And that’s a great, that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. But if you sort of. If your goal is to build a company that runs either without you, or it runs with you being able to take a vacation, things like that, then you kind of have to step out and figure out what it means to be [00:16:00] a business owner and a team leader rather than a.

Team like a doer, you know, the person who’s touching every piece of content or whatever. So it just depends your goals, right? Like there’s nothing wrong with either path. My goal went in starting draft was, I mean, it was initially just like figure out if this was like something I wanted to do. And then I realized, yeah, it’s something I want to do.

There’s a lot of people who want it. So I kind of, my long-term dream has always kind of been to start my own company and run it. And so this has just been like a really good opportunity at the right time and place, but it is hard. And one other thing that’s really hard about it. Letting things go to other people when, you know, you could do it better yourself.

And I still struggle with that. I mean, like there’s some articles that come through and I, I read what the writer wrote and I’m like, yeah, it’s not bad, but you know, I know I would do this better this differently or whatever it is. It’s so hard to let that stuff go. And I, I don’t know what the answer is.

If you get yourself booked so solid that you can’t possibly do it all yourself, that will force you to get good at delegating or you’ll just fail. So that’s one way you can do it too.

[00:17:06] Michaela: Yeah. True. True. Yeah. I think I’m like right now, I’m also in a place in my business that I’m thinking. What are my next steps, right.

So I grew to a capacity level where I just can’t, like, I’m saying no to a lot of things, but I’m not set up in a way that I can take that on and delegate. Right. And, and I, and I know maybe it’s also mindset again, it’s not only mindset. It’s also like, if you’re already at capacity, how do you get a person?

And how do you know, you know, like how do you get them to the point that they could actually take off and do stuff. Right. So even for the podcast, I actually have like, And little advertisement out there that, you know, I want somebody that helps me with the podcast. I haven’t found anybody yet, so yeah, I’m really admiring that you say, well, you have like a couple of full-time engineers, right.

That are writing for you. And then like these large network of people that [00:18:00] are working with you a little bit more in a loosely coupled way and was just in a couple of months. Right. So how did you get the first.

[00:18:08] Karl: Yeah. So this is my process for this. I I’m a huge nerd for process. So like it it’s, it’s excessive at times, but I’ll just like, be bare it all out here.

What I do is I track my time. So I’m pretty diligent about that. And that tells me like, am I spending say eight hours or 20 hours a week writing articles. So at some point I reached a critical mass where I was writing. 20 or 30 hours a week. And I realized, okay, if I want to spend 10 to 20 hours a week on sales and marketing, I cannot keep writing.

I have to stop and pull this out. So I started to look for other writers. And so that was my first step. What I first did to, to hire the very first one was looked into my network and people I trusted already. So I was like to think of the first hire for any position is kind of your trailblazer is how I call what I call them.

And that means. You’re going to give them very imperfect information, but you need them to be smart enough or have worked with you enough to have a high level of trust with you. Like, you know, this kind of goes back to your point about the podcast person. You do want to be picky in that very first hire because they’re going to help you set forth a process, then you’ll be able to imprint onto other people in the future.

So that very first, right? Yeah. Was a friend of mine who I knew could write, well, he had a similar background in writing engineering and he was, we were in the same city. So we could talk if we need to did a great job, he helped me figure out what things are clear and not clear when I pass work over to a writer from a client.

So that was my first step. And then the next thing is to build like a template for what this work looks like in the future. And me and him just kind of like trial and error basically figured out what, what worked and what, didn’t, what I needed to give him, to make him. All the information you needed to write articles.

And then we start, I started to test it out with other people. So I found people outside of my network, who slightly, I didn’t know, quite as well or didn’t trust quite as much, or didn’t have as much experience. I just started to try them out and see what happened. And then [00:20:00] that helped me refine the process even further.

And so by December of last year, I was starting to ramp down on my writing and ramp up with these other writers. I found a new bottleneck and that new bottleneck was, I was spending a lot of time editing and editing was also very tedious detail oriented work that I tend not to be the best at or the, like, it doesn’t, it doesn’t get me excited.

It just drains me. And so I started looking for an editor and I kind of did the same thing. I started with someone, I knew someone I trusted and. Pay them really well. And I was like, look, I don’t know how to edit, but you’ve done it professionally for years. Could you edit this article? And like, help me come up with a process and style guide.

And she’s now our managing editor and she’s full-time and she has a couple other editors she works with now or under her. So I kind of followed this exact same process every time I want to make a hire, just do that account manager. I’d done like a marketing person. And it is hard. It is definitely something that you’re going to like, you have to be okay with that person, screwing some things up.

You can’t expect them to pull everything out of your head, but if they free you up to say, spend more time on the growth side of the business, the sales, marketing, the stuff that generates new business and keeps clients really happy. And coming back then it’s worth those slight hiccups that are going to happen because that’s the only way you kind of get a bigger company.

[00:21:14] Michaela: Yeah, that’s true. Yeah. But you know, the funny thing is that, you know what I did, I started to automate.

[00:21:22] Karl: Well, that’s a bad, yeah. I think that’s a really viable option if you, I mean, this honestly, like hiring people should be like your second resort. Like the first resort should be automating everything as much as possible.

Yeah.

[00:21:34] Michaela: That’s what I tried to do. I honestly, when I looked into that, I thought that couple of things you can really automate very well and they’re nice tools around and a couple of things were still really imperfect, right? So like the editing for the podcast. For example, even though I upgraded my tools and my process.

I actually have is a step-by-step guide, how to do that. Right. But the automation is not completely, like, you cannot really [00:22:00] automate that too much. There’s so much manual, still manual thing. But for example, the whole booking guests and things like this, there is a lot of potential for automation that you can actually do before hiring somebody.

Maybe another topic that I want to pick your brain on is, well, when you hire, right. Do you have also to think about how much of the money that you get from. Business. Right. Are you investing in the higher again? Right? Which for me is also a little bit tricky to do. I mean, especially podcasts, it’s not really making money.

Right. So it’s also harder than to say, well, you know, like you’re hiring people, but how has that for you? Like. Would you say that at that point it’s okay. If the company’s had a loss or does it have to be, you know, positive or neutral or, you know, what is your thinking about how much do you spend for hiring and growth and how much does the business have to, you know, sustain itself as a, as a bootstrap business?

Right. So funded business. Yeah,

[00:22:57] Karl: it definitely, this definitely depends on the kind of company you have and the way that cashflow works and the way that if you’ve raised money, it’s a different thing than if you’re bootstrapping or self-funding. And so I’ve seen it done both ways. Like when I’ve worked at funded startups, the way they did it is, you know, we raise a big chunk of money and that sits in the bank essentially.

And then we start to hire a head of where. It’s like basically you hire for what you want to be at in a year. So we bring on five or 10 people all really quickly. And then we try to like get to the point where we can actually support them. So that’s risky obviously. And if you’re you’re bootstrapping, that’s not really an option.

I didn’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars sitting in the bank to just work from. Right. So, so the way that I did it was sort of when I started draft, I started to think about. Okay. I don’t have a lot of money. How could I build a business? Basically, clients helped me pay for these things. So what we do is we, we get, we get clients pay upfront and that helps us know we’ve got the cash in hand to pay the writers, editors, and anyone else supporting staff that we need.

The. Three or six months of execution. So it’s like, we kind of [00:24:00] make the plan with the client up front and then they pay us and then we actually get into production and then we start paying people, but the client’s already paid us a large portion upfront, or they’ve been on a payment plan or whatever. So that helps a ton with being able to know that what we’re doing is profitable.

The other thing that I do is a forecasting. So basically looking. How much, it costs us to produce an article, how much we can have to charge for that. And then where’s the like margin, you know, the profit essentially, but in how much that margin goes to other things like support staff, other support staff that isn’t really counted there, or services or tools to your point about automation.

I’m big on that too. I spend a lot on. SAS tools that automate a lot of these little things behind the scenes. Yeah. So Zapier and even Calendly and having all that stuff, just kind of automatically do this little administrative work is really, really helpful. And I think it does allow you to run a lot leaner business.

Even if you pay all the subscription fees, it’s still cheaper than hiring people.

[00:24:59] Michaela: Yeah, exactly. That’s that’s also what I. Especially when you’re like, when I was completely bleeding footsteps and, you know, even a $10 subscription somehow really string because they add up, right? Like they add up and if you’re really making zero money, it’s like, oh my God, how I’m going to do that.

But then if you, if you’re a little bit profitable, I think automation is really a. You say, well, I’m paying like 10 bucks for Kalindi, for example. Right. And now it does all the magic and sends email reminders and whatnot. Right. And thinking about how much time I would have to spend here to do that. Yeah.

So in the end, you’re always, is it something like, would you say that you are getting a salary right now? Do you try to, to really you are sustain it as well? Or are you saying well I’m as a founder right now, I’m investing my time before.

[00:25:48] Karl: Yeah, I do take a salary, you know, since the, since it started one of my, I don’t know, one of my, my goals with it was like, I do want to pay myself something.

I, I definitely make less than I did as a CTO to start out. I’ll [00:26:00] say that, but you know, to your point, like I’m investing my time centrally into the business. So I’m working at a discount to pay for the company to grow, which is, you know, a fair deal for a lot of entrepreneurs, you know, with a service business like ours.

Uh, there’s different kinds of companies, right? Some companies like a software as a service kind of tool, you can probably take, you probably have to take no salary for longer because it takes a long time to ramp up to the amount of revenue that you can then pay yourself. But with a service business like ours, that’s pretty high dollar.

We, you know, we make a lot of cashflow into. We’ve got to like, essentially I wanted to build into our cost structure, a person like me to run things because it’s not like I, even if I didn’t work in the company, somebody would have to do what I’m doing. So I don’t think there’s a way that you can run this business as a real business without having somebody in that seat.

Even if I’m working at a discount. You know, keep things going a little longer. I still have to budget something for this in the future. So I think that’s important. I also think that it, again, like, kind of is like business fundamentals. You want to set your business up in a way that can, that it is realistic.

Like if, if you make a small business and it. Like pays you anything like you’ve just made yourself like into a, I mean, that’s, that’s really terrible, you know, that’s a lot of work to get nothing out of it. You may never get to a point where you can sell it or whatever you don’t know. So I think you at least have to cover your basics, but I do, you know, I think it’s also, I would prefer to invest more back into the business than to take more out at this point.

Now I don’t really need a ton of cash, I guess.

[00:27:30] Michaela: I personally always think that you have to love the way and the progress, right? Not only that, because otherwise you could really end up with a lot of regrets. So unless you sat, right, you probably don’t. I mean, it depends on how much you need right now from a supportive perspective on no, how much money cashflow do you need right now to feel that.

And then you can invest into your business and the growth and that’s the end goal. But I also think like if you’re starving on the way, it’s not that it’s not just the [00:28:00] right. Yeah. Yeah.

[00:28:01] Karl: I mean, it depends, you know, if you’ve got a bunch of money that you’ve saved up and that can be your bankroll for a while.

Sure. You might be able to do that. But yeah, everybody’s circumstances are different. Like I knew that I didn’t have that, so I couldn’t start a business that was going to take me two years to pay myself. It just, wasn’t an option. I’ve got a family to help support, you know, so for some people, I think.

Engineers who want to become entrepreneurs? They think like, oh, I’ll just build a software product. And that’s the, you know, I’ll, I’ll grow it. But like the time required to grow, that is huge. And the amount like you have to think and be realistic with yourself, about how much runway as we call it, do you have to make no money?

And if you don’t have a lot of runway to make no money, then maybe that’s not the right kind of business for you. Maybe you need to think about like, eh, is there another more service business where you can get some more cash in the door early? Or is there a. Info product or a course kind of business, you can start where you get more money in the door, early, things like that.

[00:28:55] Michaela: Yeah. I also think that, I mean, even if you do a software product, really trying to gab people paying for it as early as possible is super, super valuable because it keeps you honest. Right? Like having 200 people sign up for freestyle. You know, feels really good from, from an endorphin perspective or dopamine, but is it, is it, is it I actually underwrite way, right.

And you don’t want to feel like invest all the time three years and say, well, you know, I’m, I’m investing all of my time and you know, which is, I think a very noble goal to do, but. Three years you realize, actually not that I want to charge for it. You know, nobody’s really interesting. So actually starting with something and putting a price tag on it, I think is a really good.

Strategy also to know whether or not that is valuable, right. Or, or how to tweak it, that it becomes something that people want to also pay for. Or, and for engineers, it’s not that easy. I think engineers is a specialist species that are, I was actually talking with my [00:30:00] husband lately about what are we paying for?

Right. And there are a couple of. The IDs are all free. I mean, he’s actually paying for it for his

[00:30:09] Karl: ID. I pay for mine too,

[00:30:13] Michaela: but a lot of them are free and they’re really good. And then the other tools are all also free or either the organization pays for it. Yeah, I dunno. I think we are, we are too bunch.

[00:30:27] Karl: Yeah. I mean it is. But the other thing to think about one thing I’ve found that was surprising until I started the, this business was that your pricing will determine your. In a lot of ways. So for example, just in draft dot Deb’s case, if I charged half of what I do, I could probably open myself up to different kinds of customers that I don’t have today.

But the downside is, you know, we wouldn’t have the money to hire other people. So we wouldn’t be able to do things at the scale we’re doing. And so we’d have to scale way down. We’d have to be very limited in who we worked with and it would just be a different company and there’s nothing wrong with that.

There, it just is like different price points end up enabling you or pushing you into different market segments. And so when you go with the free market segment, like you said, that may not be the people who you actually need to pay you later. So companies that do freemium, a lot of times, what they’ll try to do is roll those free subscribers up into a company plan later.

But if you don’t have outside investment, that’s really hard. It takes a long time to get there. Yeah. Yeah. So it, again, it kind of goes to like, be realistic about if you’re bootstrapping and self-funding like, can you really afford to do that kind of freemium strategy? And like, usually the answer is probably not.

Yeah,

[00:31:42] Michaela: yeah, exactly. Yeah. You’re right. So. When I get from what you’re explaining here is that you also have a little bit like higher paying clients, a little bit companies that you have contracts with. So how do you get them? You were talking about sales. How do you do sales? And you [00:32:00] know, like how did you get that?

[00:32:02] Karl: So early on what I did was I said yes to anyone who wanted me to write an article for them. And so what I started to learn was which kinds of companies, what size of companies, what kinds of teams that are hiring me are the ones who are least price sensitive or most willing to pay the highest dollar amount, because they got the most value from the article.

So. You know, for example, I could write the same great article for a team, like an engineering team that wanted some content for their blog. As I could write for a marketing team that wanted content to put out to the public to make sure that engineers knew about their product. It could be the same article that was just as good.

But that marketing team would pay me two to three times as much as an engineering team would because that article leads directly to revenue for the company. So it’s a totally different business model and sit like you have to think about that. When you think about pricing services, there’s a guy out there named Jonathan Stark who talks a lot about value based pricing.

And while I don’t, I wouldn’t say we’re like a value based price service entirely. We think about that a lot, because what he’s saying in value based pricing is you should charge. The amount of value a client gets from your whatever work, your service. If an article is, let’s say for our case, like if a company can clearly make $2,000 of revenue from one article, we write over the course of a year or two, let’s say our articles are a great investment.

You know, that is a clear winner and they will pay us, you know, up to that, whatever, probably half of $2,000, a little more or whatever. So that’s that side one. If on the other hand, the company is not sure of their revenue per article like that. They don’t know how many visitors it’s going to attract.

They’re really nervous about that. Or maybe. They know that each article only gets $300. They’re never going to pay for our services. They’re not a good fit. And so that’s where, like, to me, the, the, the hard part of sales quote unquote, is figuring out who the ideal target market is that has the willingness to [00:34:00] pay and actually gets a good value out of our service.

Um, and so the clients that, you know, sure. I have people all the time and say like, yeah, you guys are too expensive. That’s totally fine. Like, Set up to do that kind of low cost work, but I have a lot of clients that think we’re a great value and they probably would pay more if we charge more. But like, you know, there’s a sort of a limit to where yeah.

The pricing pushes you into different markets. And so anyway, I think that the big part of sales is figuring out how to narrow down your market as much as possible. And so for us, it’s like started off as just like, we’ll write any technical content and then it got more narrow and it’s like, Technical content aimed at software engineers, but then we started to narrow down even further to like start ups who are trying to hit, trying to get in front of software engineers from their marketing teams.

And so now we’re like super narrowed down and it makes it really easy to have sales calls, like, because I basically know there’s only a few hundred companies in the world. Need to work with us anyway. So it’s a really small list. They all know each other’s, there’s lots of introductions and referrals. So you know what, we’re not going to be like the next Facebook size company ever.

That’s fine. We’re doing really well in the small thing that we’re good at.

[00:35:01] Michaela: Hmm. And so you’re also Dan, redirect, you going to a marketing head of marketing and pitching deeper, or how do you, and do you use like LinkedIn or sites like that to find those.

[00:35:16] Karl: I don’t do a lot of outbound like that. You know, there’s kind of two kinds of sales and marketing and it’s called outbound or inbound.

I am not much of an outbound outreach to people kind of sales person every now and then I we’ve tried it a couple of times. It’s just like, I don’t like it. It doesn’t seem to be that productive. We do mostly inbound and referrals, which means that people see the content we’re writing out there in the internet and they say, oh, that company did a good job.

Let’s go talk to them. Or they see, they talk to a, another client of ours who gives them the recommendation or they see maybe my, I share a lot of things on LinkedIn and Twitter. And so they, they see that and they contact me directly through that. We’re also doing some like meetup groups and conferences, things like that too, to kind of get the word out a little more.

To be [00:36:00] honest, like at this point we’ve had enough business from this inbound stuff that we haven’t needed to do a lot of direct outreach. So I think that’s ideal if you can get that set up, but it does take, I mean, I spent a lot of time building a reputation and the connections and networks. So like, that’d be hard to replicate if you were somebody earlier on in your career.

[00:36:17] Michaela: Yeah. Yeah. I’m also completely a hundred percent invalid because there’s just like this. I don’t want to do it. Like I, you know, whenever I get an email from somebody, I don’t know, it feels like spam, but I don’t want them to be that person. Right. Like, I don’t know, like it’s also mindset obviously, right.

Because I know a couple of really, really wonderful, safe people that I also tried to learn a little bit about, and it never feels like they do it in a way. That it doesn’t feel like, you know, it’s this LinkedIn message that you get like that, you know, went out to 1000 people and drinks the same rate. So, but yeah, I’ve never, I’ve never tried it and I’m not really eager to try it anyways, but yeah.

So it’s, it’s inbound. Right. So do you write on your own blog as well? Do you write content for yourself or content

marketing?

[00:37:08] Karl: Yeah. Oh, quite a lot. I try to write at least an article or two a week, sometimes more. Yeah, I, so I write for my own personal blog and then the draft.dev company blog quite a fair bit, although I’ve been trying to get more writers for that as well.

And then guest blogs, whenever they come up, whenever people just happen to see something and want, want me to write about? Yeah. I think writing is a really powerful career booster. Even if you don’t become self-employed as an engineer, I was just talking to one of our writers the other day and they were telling me about how.

Writing this article on some new technology. I don’t even remember what it was, but they got to write this article on a cool new tech that they’d never used at their day job. And they now get to put in their resume, you know, Hey, I’ve worked with this and look, I can prove it. I’ve got an article out there that I wrote, and that’s really powerful because like at our day jobs, like as a software engineer, I would usually get to work in like one or [00:38:00] two languages, one or two frameworks at a single company.

Company doesn’t want to have 30 different tech tools they’re using. They don’t always want to experiment with the newest things. It’s not worth it. But with, uh, with written content, a blog posts, you can go explore and try the try five or six new things over the course of a year and get those published.

And now you’ve got proof that, Hey, I know all the cool new stuff that’s been happening. So I think even if you don’t go, the self-employed. There’s a lot of advantages to writing, but if you do go the, like become a freelancer or consultant or starting a business, having all this writing out there on the internet is extremely powerful.

I mean, there’s people who reach out to me because of articles I wrote three or four years ago. And so it’s just this like compounding interest effect of good content being out there. And so you just never know when that stuff’s going to really pay off.

[00:38:48] Michaela: Yeah. Yeah, I totally totally see that, but it also takes really long time.

Like if you want to run, you have no idea about that tech. It really takes time, right. Especially if you want to. I mean, probably an introductory to something is quite easy to ride, but when it gets a little bit more. Substantial that it’s definitely like, for example, I’m thinking about all studying analysis tools that I analyzed over the last weeks.

Right. So I’m thinking about what I’m going to do with it. And if I’m going to create a YouTube video out of it or blog posts, definitely. I mean, I don’t know how long are you people spending on a, on a Blackboard. Probably would spend from my own block bars. It would take me several days to do that. Right.

To have that blog posts that you want to bring out there. How is that for you? How long do you spend on a. Well, it

[00:39:39] Karl: does get passed. Yeah. There’s definitely different kinds of articles that require different levels of time, commitment and research and all that. But I think you do get, I’ve gotten faster at writing since I’ve been doing it more.

I’ll say that I, you know, before this year I probably wrote a blog post a week on average, you know, maybe. 2000 words or a little less [00:40:00] now I, you know, writing a couple of week and having written even more, some at some point throughout this year, I’ve really taken that average time way down. So I don’t really have a, I don’t know what, I don’t have an hour number or anything like that, but I do know it’s like usually with a good solid day, I can finish up a single blog post unless it’s something really, really specific.

And then maybe it’s a two day thing and you know, it. Uh, you know, whether you should invest the time to get faster and better at writing blog posts. I don’t know. That’s, uh, you know, depends on what your goals are and what you’re looking at do, but even just writing one a month, you know, you think about, again, like this compounds over years.

And so one blog post a month is only 12 a year, but then you do it for five years. And now you’re talking like 60 blog posts. That’s a lot, like a lot of people never write 60 blog posts in their life. So I think there’s some just, you have to think about doing things consistently over time and the value of.

[00:40:50] Michaela: Yeah, true. And do you, do you use any software for, you know, helping you with the writing process? For example, the Rome research would be one, or I’m using obsidian. It’s a, it’s an open source version, which is very similar to it, which I think is a good way to, it’s like a second brain and you can link your resources.

And I think it helps with writing. I recently started like half a year, but do you use something like that for your, for your process to, you know, keep track of what you read and what you want to write about your idea?

[00:41:20] Karl: So definitely I keep a journal call called like a swipe file or marketers called swipe file of ideas and things that I think about throughout the day or week or year, I do keep a swipe file.

And then I also, as I start to like refine a topic, I start to create an outline of like, what ideas do I need to include in this article and how do they link together? So it’s, it’s really hard to write. Just boom, like bam out of blog posts without doing some research and, and outlines for me first. And actually I think this is one of those, like, time-saving hacks that a lot of people don’t do, they just jumped straight into writing.

And so then they get this mess of like ideas and then trying to fix it all later. It’s really hard. If you spend more time researching and outlining organizing, [00:42:00] it usually comes out better. And then I, you know, on the back end of things, like I use Grammarly pretty heavily because I go into back to my, I’m not a detailed person.

Like I I’ve gotten better and faster at writing, but at the same time, I missed punctuation and like spelling and all the little stuff. Right. So Grammarly is kind of my savior there. I always highly recommend if you’re going to write consistently, I think it’s free. You usually, so there’s no reason not to use it.

And even if you pay a few bucks a month, that’s it very well.

[00:42:30] Michaela: Yeah. Yeah. I also use Grammarly and it helps quite a bit. Yeah. Yeah.

[00:42:35] Karl: It’s not perfect. And I mean, we have like re yeah. We have like real editors, human editors as well, because there’s definitely things that won’t catch, but it does, it can get some little things that are, yeah.

[00:42:46] Michaela: It’s really nice. Yeah. There are a couple of things that, because I’m not a native speaker, right. So sometimes it corrects me. I think you’re right, but I’m not right now. Like, and then sometimes I go with Grammarly and sometimes I just leave my stuff because I feel like it’s not always correct. Right. But, you know, yeah.

I really like it. I can recommend it as well. Yeah. It’s really cool. Cool. So maybe the last thing that I wanted to ask you is, so you transitioned from software engineer to CTO, right? So it means a lot of managing as well. People managing and. You know, doing your own thing. I guess this people managing already at the, at the startup already helped you to get a lot of those skills that you need now to delegate, to understand, to hire people and, you know, to have this, I mean, you have brilliant large company already within a couple of months, right?

So do you think that the CTO role and the managing role really prepared you and.

[00:43:47] Karl: Yeah, definitely. There’s a couple of key things that having some roles with startups helped me with. So first I came in as the first employee, basically at the last two startups I was with maybe first engineer, [00:44:00] but whatever is like within the first four people at the company.

So I got to see everything. I mean, you get to see the founders going through raising money and pitching the investors. I got to see how they hired people, how they dealt with. Cashflow and like deciding, you know, how who’s going to do their accounting. Like all these little nitty-gritty things that are not engineering, but at the same time, you just get exposed to, by being in a small business.

So getting to see that firsthand kind of gave me like, oh, okay, those are the things I would think about. If I started my own business, you know, that was part one part two was it gave me a huge. A lot of connections in software startups, which are now kind of my target market for the clients we have. So that has been really good from that standpoint as well as well.

And then the last thing was not being afraid to hire. People, have to fire people have to give them performance evaluations. Like all those management tasks you just said, it was super helpful to get the opportunity to do that in a protected environment. That wasn’t my own company where, you know, I think I tried really hard to be a good manager.

There’s a little less pressure when the company doesn’t depend on you being a perfect manager, you know, like there’s, there’s kind of a, I could have made a bad hire and that’s going to happen. It didn’t feel that high stakes. Now it feels a little more high stakes. Cause it’s my own business and this is kind of how, you know, make a living.

So I do think that that helped a lot. Now there’s plenty of people who do it without that experience. But I think for me that having that like level of experience and background. Did it give me a lot of confidence to make this easier than it would have been had. I just started this straight out of college or something.

[00:45:34] Michaela: And so what is it, what is the end goal for that company? How, how large do you want to grow it as large as possible? Or, you know, like, is there, is there some other areas where you think you could expand to something different, like other services or other products that you could.

[00:45:53] Karl: Yeah, I don’t, I don’t know.

I, I’m not like a, this is funny because like most startups, like they go into it, like the funded [00:46:00] startups, they go into it with a very clear idea of like how big they want to go and where they want to be, what their target total addressable market is. Like, I don’t really know all that stuff. This is a, like, it’s a lifestyle business in that.

It’s fun to run. It’s really interesting and challenging, and it is paying me enough to get by. So like, I just kind of want to keep doing that. Now I do like the sort of growing, because it exposes me, it forces me to learn new things. That’s been really fun. So like growing up. Like account managers had never hired an account manager before.

So I got to learn what that’s like and how do I give them work? How do I keep up with them? How do we pass things? Right. Like all this really interesting, but yeah, I just want to keep doing it as long as it’s interesting and fun to, to run and figure out is and provides challenges. Yeah. And we’ll see, maybe in a year or two it’ll it’ll get, it’ll just keep getting bigger and I’ll be out of my control and I’ll have to like, let somebody who’s more experienced, run it or maybe in a year or two it’ll.

Like the same diseases today. It’ll be fun to run. It’d be interesting. I really don’t know. To be honest.

[00:46:59] Michaela: Yeah. I think it’s perfectly fine. Not to know. There are so many interesting paths that, you know, life can take. And so, yeah, I’m really, really excited to talk with you about all of that and to see how it grew out of.

Keep looking out for the business and probably checking in and ask you, like, how many people do you have now? And I think it’s, it’s good to be open and just explore and have fun on the way up, but there’s not one, one right. Way to do things. Right. So everybody’s,

[00:47:28] Karl: yeah. That’s what I say to engineers all the time who are like, aren’t you afraid you’re getting out of the tech or you’re getting out of engineering.

It’s such a good feeling. I, yeah. I mean, maybe at first I was a little nervous about that, but to be honest, like your career can take weird paths. Like a lot of people have like winding career paths that don’t necessarily just go linearly from engineer to senior engineer, to lead developer, to whatever.

Like, so sometimes taking in diversion and doing something different for a few years or months or something can like open up new [00:48:00] opportunities if you come back. So if I came back to software engineering, Jump into something a little different than I was doing before, or maybe I’d get into the technical documentation or some con you know, hybrid skillset.

Like, so anyway, point being that, like, just because you studied something once for a few years, doesn’t mean you have to do it the rest of your life, that, you know, you don’t have to commit forever. There’s a lot of tangential skills that are, it’s good to be, have some familiarity with software engineering, you know, in the background.

So.

[00:48:28] Michaela: Yeah. And I think, I mean, you’re bringing so many new skills, right? So in addition to the skills that you have, because to be really fair at one point, like if you’re like, let’s say you’re JavaScript engineer for five years, for 10 years, like we are both in this industry probably even longer. I’m definitely longer in this industry.

Right? So what’s like me writing Java script for. You know, 15 years or 12 years, what’s the difference here? Right? So where where’s the difference? Well, when you’re exploring something else, suddenly you have a complete different mental model. Again, you have seen so many other things and then you’re coming back, you’re bringing actually so much value to the business, right?

And I think you are probably even a better engineer than just spending your time just doing this engineering thing without trying to be. Focused on the one thing that you’re doing. So, yeah. And the other thing, maybe so we can wrap that up is that when I started, when I started my business, I was really like, oh, there’s a ride in the wrong way to do things right.

Or listen to podcasts and read books and picked how others are doing it. Right. And I mean, there are so many things you can be on Twitter, you can do condom marketing, you can do DSR. And so it all felt like, oh, if you don’t do this right, if you don’t have thousands of followers on whatever, right. Then you’re not going to make it.

And you know, this is all not true. You can do your own thing in so many ways. You can have a wonderful business without being really [00:50:00] online without having an online presence. You can have like a huge online presence and not as driving business. Right. So. I think it’s really important to understand what drives you on one thing that you said is like, what gives you energy and what drains you?

And I think this is more important, and obviously you will do things that drain you for a short time, but you should really try it. Get rid of them and get more energy flowing activities and maybe hire people or turn your business into something else when you’re, when you’re facing those draining moments.

I think.

[00:50:33] Karl: Yeah. Yeah. Those were, that was my exact struggle. When I first started was feeling the same way. It’s so funny you say that like, there is a quote unquote right way to run a business. I thought, you know, and I thought like, oh, well, if I don’t follow the template, whatever that template is, which you can’t find, you know, like I follow that.

Yeah. I’m going to screw the whole thing up, but like, yeah, you’re exactly right. Is everybody carves their own path. And one of the hardest parts to me about starting a business was not having a boss up the chain to just ask questions about like, I’ve always been a very independent employee, but at the same time, it’s nice to be like, So, what do you think we should do here?

You know, like, look up, look back and just ask your boss questions. There’s nobody to do that to anymore. So now, I mean, I bugged my wife a lot. I bugged my friends a lot, but like they don’t, they’re not going to know the same thing. They don’t have the same interests. So like, Hey, anyway. Yeah. Getting over that is tough.

And it is something you just have to overcome and just be like, you know, go all in on. Once you do accept it though, it’s really liberating. And yeah, to your point, you can run a business a lot of different ways and it’s fun if you pursue it that way.

[00:51:35] Michaela: The most important thing is there is no right way. And there are ways that worked for one person.

And it’s not only how did executed it or the ideas that it had, but also the circumstances that they have been in and so on. And, and I think it’s just being sensitive. I think that I’m sometimes a person that pushes really hard, which isn’t always a good thing. Right. So if it [00:52:00] takes so much. Maybe, you know, another pass would be better, right?

Like if it, if it takes so much effort, this is something that I try to, to realize early on that, you know, if this is now really hard, maybe it’s not the right thing. It’s not meant. Right. So try something else, go step back and try it in a different way. And then, you know, and then it will work out better, I think.

Yeah, yeah,

[00:52:24] Karl: yeah, yeah. Uh, that, that’s definitely true too. There’s a lot of people who start businesses and think that it must be a. You know, grinding uphill, battle, both ways. Like it’s gotta be so hard and they have to eat ramen for years. And like, I mean, I just don’t think that that’s a hundred percent necessary if you’re willing to be a little flexible in like what you do and who you serve and how you serve them, because there’s.

Ways out there to make a living, you know, with your own business. And they don’t, you know, you don’t have to just pick one and stick with it forever. You can kind of pivot around and move and figure out what works best. Find out places where you can actually make a living and not have to work 80 hours a week every week.

So yeah, definitely want to purse. Well, but again, that kind of comes back to your goals. Like, what do you, what are you thinking you want to do? Like, do you just have some idea you can’t let go or are you trying to just make a good living and have a lifestyle? Business. Like maybe I am. So, you know, everybody’s different.

Everybody’s got their, their grand vision, I guess. Yeah. Yeah.

[00:53:23] Michaela: That’s really true. So thank you so much. I think we are in the, at the end of this show today, is there something that you want to tell my listeners, something that you want to give them on on the way, if you haven’t

[00:53:35] Karl: talked about? Uh, no. I mean, yeah.

If anybody ever wants to. Chat more about this stuff. I’m on Twitter at Carlisle Hughes. And then, you know, I’m happy to talk to you about like, if you ever wanted to write some for draft, we always are looking for writers or just want to talk business stuff or whatever else, engineering stuff. I love helping people out.

[00:53:54] Michaela: Yeah. I will link everything in the show notes. So thank you so much for being on my show to. I have a good [00:54:00] day. Thanks. Bye. Bye. I hope you enjoyed another episode of the sup engineering unlocked podcast. Don’t forget to subscribe. And I talked to you again in two weeks. Bye.

Getting ready to build a billion-dollar business

In this episode, I talk to Max Stoiber. Max is a JavaScript Engineer that is in love with React and Node, and also a fellow Austrian. He has a track record in the open-source world, worked for Gatsby, and Github, and also is a successful entrepreneur. 

We talk about:

  • what he learned about software engineering best practices at GitHub,
  • why he started his newest side-project bedrock,
  • why building an indie or small lifestyle businesses is not his thing anymore,
  • and how he prepares to build a billion-dollar business.

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Transcript: Getting ready for a billion-dollar business

[If you want, you can help make the transcript better, and improve the podcast’s accessibility via Github. I’m happy to lend a hand to help you get started with pull requests, and open source work.]

Michaela: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to the software engineering unlocked podcast. I’m your host dr. mckayla and today I have the pleasure to talk to Max Stoiber.

But before I start, I wanted to update you a bit on what I’ve been up to lately. Over the last few months, I have been quite heads-down with some new exciting productivity research. Mainly investigating what makes developers happy, productive and successful. I’m planning on wrapping up this research soon, so I hope I can share more about the findings in near future.

Another thing I have been up to is preparing a secure code review workshop. I plan to release this worksop this fall. It will focus on secure coding practices, and shows you what to look out for when inspecting code for security vulnerabilities. If this sounds interesting to you, hope over to https://awesomecoderviews.com and either book a workshop or hop on my waiting list. But now, back to Max.

Max is not only a JavaScript engineer that is in love with reactive note, but also a fellow Austrian. He has a track record in the open source world and worked for Gatsby and get up. And he’s also a successful entrepreneur. Max built, for example, a community platform called spectrum. It became so successful. It was a quiet, but GitHub. And now he’s again, working on a new startup idea. So I’m super excited to talk with max about all of that. I’m super thrilled that he’s here. Welcome to the show,

Max: [00:00:39] max. I am super excited to be here as well. I’m a big fan. We’ve obviously spoken before. I’m really happy that I get to be here too. Yeah, I’m

Michaela: [00:00:47] really, really excited. Thank you so much for joining. So I want to start with something that I wanted to ask you a couple of times already, and that is you build this really amazing community platform spectrum. And I recently looked on their website and I see that I’m in the forums. There are several forums where people in communities where people are talking with each other and it seems really lively. Like when I went there, they were like 50 people online in that community and 60 people in that community and so on. Right. So it really seems like a big success, but on the other hand, there is the announcement that. It will be read only, right. It will not survive for me. It looks like it’s shut down. Is that, is that true? And if it’s, so how do you feel about that?

Max: [00:01:33] It makes me very sad to be honest. Whenever I build a product that they’re sort of like my, my babies, right? I want them to be successful. I want them to succeed. I want people to like them. And the spectrum no longer existing or, or only existing in an archive format is, is quite sad, honestly. But at the same time, the spirit lives on in GitHub as gets up, discussions gets up originally bald spectrum with the intention to eventually shut down the platform itself, integrated into, gets up. And that’s what, that’s what they’ve done. And so that was part of the plan. And I’m, I’m happy that that plan is being followed so closely, but of course I would much rather spectrum stayed around and lived on as its own thing, but that’s not the way it’s going. And we’ve, we’ve actually, I talk, I’ve talked quite frequently to my other co-founders Mike’s, co-founders about doing the same thing again, because with the, with the benefit of hindsight, there’s so many things we would have done differently or we would like to do differently. We have so many ideas about how we could have built spectrum better, but of course it’s all just wishful thinking. We’re very unlikely that we’re going to do that, but it isn’t fun. A fun thing to dream about.

Michaela: [00:02:41] Yeah. I mean, community is such a interesting topic and I mean, it’s so powerful and it’s so important and communities are, I mean, people are here for communities, right. We need communities to strive. So I actually also playing a little bit with the idea of building some community, but I feel also very overwhelmed at the same time, how to do that. but it’s just a fascinating topic. Right. And just having people around and I mean, a community can be also like five people or, you know, two people, three, two people. Right. So spectrum is on the very other end, right. There are like hundreds of peoples or thousands of peoples. But so I think community is really important. So, but you were saying that when GitHub bought spectrum, you already knew that they are going to shut it down. So you, you knew that that could be one of the paths or this could be leading towards that shut down off the platform.

Max: [00:03:33] Yeah, absolutely. Spectrum itself, technically just wasn’t architected well enough to SU to sort of sustain get-ups load. And it was clear from the very beginning that it would be a lot more work to make spectrum work at Kitsap, stay at scale, rather than trying to rebuild the parts of spectrum that we liked within GitHub. And so very quickly, we just arrived at the conclusion that we’re going to have to shut spectrum down as a platform. Sort of build that integration and gets up completely from scratch and separately because GitHub has so much tooling internally. And that, that helps it handle the scale it’s at, right. We’re talking hundreds of millions of developers, which is very different from scale. That spectrum is that spectrum as a couple of hundreds of thousands monthly active users, which is a lot, but it’s not by far, not as much as schizopath. And so it was clear from the beginning that we would either need to rebuild spectrum. I mean, it was clear that we would have to rebuild spectrum. The question was rested. We rebuild it as spectrum, or do we rebuild it in GitHub? And since we were already rebuilding it, we might as well just rebuild and get up. And that’s what discussion came from eventually.

Michaela: [00:04:32] Which

Max: [00:04:32] again, makes me a little bit sad because I would like spectrum to still exist, but that’s the way it is. And discussions actually turned out really well. I’m really excited about it.

Michaela: [00:04:39] But so for our community, there are two parts to it, right? So there’s the tech around, it enables people to meet in an online space and talk and, you know, like, you know, write or have chat or whatnot. Right. So there’s the tech around, but then there are also the communities itself, which are really, really valuable, right? So that hundreds of people come together on that place, like type in that URL, for example, and then meet at that forum or, you know, that, that place, that community place. So is that my graded are people migrating or is that as easy? Because I feel like there might be people that say, well, I’m on spectrum. I’m going to this community on that. You’re out, but I’m actually not on GitHub in, you know, in that space, which I think, you know, on one hand it feels like, well, what’s the difference here, but I can imagine that it’s not that easy. Right? So there’s like the tech around the community, but then the real heart of the community is the people that choose to be there to go there every day and, you know, provide benefit or value to other members. How is that what, what, what do you think about that? Spectrum

Max: [00:05:43] was always mainly used by developers. A large percentage of our users already authenticated with Kitsap even before we were bought by Gates. And most of the communities were around open source projects, or we also had some design communities. Those are gonna have a harder time migrating somewhere else. But most of them were open source communities, definitely the most active ones. And so I think those will migrate just fine. I think get up discussions is a great fit for that since it is based on a repository and GitHub and open source projects are just repositories, don’t get up. Right. And so having that community right there will actually be huge for the vibrancy for those communities and enable a lot more open source projects to build communities around their projects. I actually think that part of our fundamental assumptions about spectrum were, or parts of our fundamental assumptions were incorrect. We wanted to build a space where large communities do the order of magnitude of tens of thousands of people could communicate and connect with each other. But actually that doesn’t work super well. When you have 10,000 people in a community, you don’t really feel connected to any person anymore, right? Connection happens at much smaller, much, much smaller scales. And which you can see by the sort of prevalence of group chats now, right? Like you have telegram, you’re signaling for WhatsApp and within those chat messaging platforms, everybody’s a part of 20 groups, right? And you feel connected to each and every single one of those groups, but they’re much smaller in scope. They’re much more specific which allows much more of a community feel to build much more of a sense of community, much more of a connection to build. And so I think actually there is probably a way where you can scale that sense of community up to a larger scale, that you can definitely have a community of thousands of people I think that’s possible. But there has to be much more of a mechanism of sub groups within that. Right. I don’t know exactly what that’s going to look like. Somebody who’s going to figure this out eventually. But if you think about, for example, football fans, right? If you look at Liverpool, they have a. Fan base of, I don’t know how many hundreds of millions probably. Right. And they’re spread all around the world, but within that massive group of fans within that massive community, there’s these tiny subgroups of the fan club in Vienna, the fan club in Istanbul, the fan club in wherever. Right. And then even within that, there could be even smaller subgroups. Right. You could have your friend group of the fan, a fan group of Vienna, right. And so then that’s the 10 to 20 people you feel directly connected to, but yet you’re still part of this bigger community. And so in real life, it kind of already works that way. The online platforms just haven’t really been able to mirror that real, real life engagement. I would say if that makes any sense. I don’t think any online community necessarily has figured out how to represent both the large groups as well as the small groups. I think actually the one that’s the very closest is Facebook groups. I actually think Facebook groups for what it’s, I mean, it’s on Facebook, which kind of limits its usefulness, but actually Facebook groups works really well. And a lot of people are in very many different groups and sort of feel connected to many different communities through Facebook, which is very fascinating. But other than that, no, one’s really figured out how to make the, how to scale online communities beyond a couple of hundred members of most.

Michaela: [00:08:40] Yeah. And so when you build spectrum, was it mainly about the task and then you were all thinking of, you know, how many people do you want to allow in a student. Group and what interactions you’re facilitating and all of that. But did you also see the community itself? So how did you get the first people using your product? What were some of the strategies that you had there? Spectrum came to

Max: [00:09:03] be because my two co-founders Brian Levin and Bryn Jackson have a podcast called design details and they actually started a podcast network around that podcast that at the end, I think contained eight or nine podcasts. And it was all design and development focused podcast. And they created a Slack community for this network and where they want it to connect to all of the listeners together. They wanted to answer questions that they want people to chat with each other, basically build a community around that network. And eventually that’s like group that Slack workspace grew to eight or 9,000 members. And then Slack came to them and said, Hey, it’s really cool what you’re doing here, but either pay us or go leave somewhere else. And I think it’s Slack costs $5 per member. So they were looking at a bill of $45,000 a month for a free community that they were running, which is obviously not something they can pay. And so they looked around and they didn’t find anything that would sort of. That fit their niche, right? They, they wanted the community to Republic. They want people to be able to read the content, even when they’re not a member, but also they wanted it to be real time chats. They wanted it to be, to feel like the multiple people were there and talking at the same time with each other. And so they started building spectrum just for their own podcast network, which is where the name actually comes from because their podcast network was called spec FM. And so spectrum was sort of perspective and community platform. And interestingly enough, they had a problem. They, they were using one of my open source projects, style components, and they reached out to me from via Twitter because they were having an issue with it. They found the bug and I knew of Brian Levin and Bryn Jackson, but I’d never met them in person. I talked to them before. So I, I was a big fan of their podcasts and their work. And so I said, look, you have a problem. Don’t worry. Just give me access to the repo. And I’ll, I’ll take a look and fix it. And they gave me access to the spectrum reap, and I looked at it and I told them, Hey, I need this. Like, this is the platform I need for my open source projects. Right. I’d been building communities around my open-source projects for a lot, for awhile, but none of the platforms for that were very nice, like get like basically there was, gets her or gets up issues, but get the issues there for problems. And it gets, there was just one massive chat room, which doesn’t scale beyond 10 members. And so I said, look, forget about whatever I’m working on. I want to work on this and I want to make it more general. And so that’s where spectrum was born. And that’s also how we seeded it. We built the initial version and then immediately onboard at the eight or 9,000 members at a time of spec of him onto the platform, and immediately had that first community there, which was huge for us because that kicked up the flywheel of people joining over time. Because those people in those old spectrums, awesome. I’m going to create my own community there. Right. And invite my own people there. And so that’s sort of how it started growing and that’s why it really grew in the design and the tech communities. And why there was so many open source projects using. Yeah.

Michaela: [00:11:39] Very, very cool. And so spectrum itself, is it open

Max: [00:11:42] source? Yes. Then we asked her about a year of working on it, but we open source the entire copays. If he goes to getup.com/with spectrum you can look at it. It’s, it’s one big Monterey pro basically that contains all of our servers, all of our clients, everything we ever built. It’s all completely open source. It’s terrible code, please. Don’t look at it too, too closely. I love product what we did cause we did a lot of shipping and not a lot of cleaning up, but it works and it’s open social people to look at. It’s a, it’s quite funny because I think spectrum is quite a messy copays personally. Like it’s not, it’s not the nicest code I’ve ever written. I didn’t have as much experience then as I do now. And, and also we were just trying to ship as much as possible. I’m trying to figure out, trying to find product market fit and then eventually the business market fit And it’s funny because sometimes I see tweets of people saying, Oh, if you want to see a really well architect, the copays, go look at spectrum. And every single time I see that I like please, please. Don’t like, that’s not, it’s not that well, I can think of, it’s kind of a pain to work with. I don’t know. Yeah,

Michaela: [00:12:37] I know you cannot respond to every tweet like that. Like

Max: [00:12:41] exactly. Yeah. I can’t really be like, ah, hello. Yeah, please. Don’t look at my work. It’s really bad. That’s not a good idea. I can’t really do that. But it is, it was very interesting. I do think spectrum helped a lot of people think about how they build apps, right. And it has a lot of people to learn and it was quite fascinating to open source it and see how many people actually cared. Because there is so few food products out there that are open source, right? Usually when something’s open source is either a toy product, the toy project that somebody builds, or it’s a library that’s very encapsulated, very small, but very few people open source, entire apps, right. Century being one of the many, many exceptions and one of the most famous ones or ghost, for example, but there’s only like a handful of those. And so adding to that list was quite interesting how much people responded to that and how much they liked it.

Michaela: [00:13:27] Yeah, because I mean, I think so I’m a, for example, I’m learning Peyton things two years now. And I’m also a little bit struggling with, how should I actually go about learning Peyton. Right. And that, that has to do that while I’m not employed as a heightened developer right now. Right. Which also limits, you know, the. The amount that I can actually spend on it or that I spend on it. It also means that I don’t have like a network of people around me that I can learn from, right. Like code reviews that you have. If I would be a Putin developer right now, I would have like my colleagues also writing Python code and I can learn from them. Right. And so open source is definitely something that I’m also sometimes doing. Right. I go and look at Ida patent application to just understand, you know, how ID architecting something, because these are the questions that I still have. Right. I don’t have the question on which type to use or how to do it area or how to do a list, sorta whatnot. Right. So I know those things already from my other programming adventures that I did, but I’m more interested in, Oh, I’m coming from the job are object oriented C-sharp world. Right. So how do you do that in Piketon and, and how would you, you know, structured applications and open source is something that sometimes helps me, but it’s very hard to find like either like a good application again, because sometimes you find application and I’m looking at it. And even though I don’t feel like I’m the expert for piping, I can say, Oh, I shouldn’t call it. What’s going on here. Right. And then it’s big enough that it’s interesting to look at and has, you know, good quality and you can learn something from it. I think it’s very, very valuable. I can totally see how people are. Yeah. Interested in, in doing that and learning more about it. So, but now you, you build spectrum and then it was actually acquired by GitHub. Right. And so you’d done because it was acquired, you worked at guitar building, you know, GitHub or spectrum into get-ups right. And get into YouTube. How did their view changed on software engineering practices on good code? Did you experience something like that that suddenly you were in a team and they are all, you know, like working together and you can learn you know, you can improve your skillset, sat there with, with the input of your peers or how, how was that for you?

Max: [00:15:36] Because we very quickly realized that spectrum just wasn’t built well enough to run a Kitsap scale. It was very fascinating to learn how Kitsap scaled itself, because obviously when they started building gets up 10 years ago or however long that was, they also didn’t build it to handle the amount of traffic that it has now, because GitHub is massive. It’s one of the, I think, 10 biggest websites on the planet, maybe 15 biggest websites on the planet. It’s, it’s massive. It, it gets absurdly much traffic. And so it was very fascinating to be at Kitsap and to see How careful they are about the code they write and how many conventions and constraints they built into their systems, particularly for the developers. So that any code that that is that is written is good enough to run at that scale because most people have never worked at that scale before, unless you’ve worked at Kitsap before, or one of the other 15 companies, that’s this big, you have no idea how to work with that scale. Right? And so a lot of the work that many teams that get to did was building tools for other developers that gets hub to guide them towards success and to avoid expensive database queries, to detect them, to warn people when they were writing them, stuff like that, where they built a lot of internal tooling to make sure that they could run at scale and that they could continue scaling into the future. And I actually think a lot of what I, what I learned there was how important constraints are with programming. You have all the options, you have all the possibilities, you can do whatever you want, but a lot of what it means to be a senior or an experienced developer is knowing which 90% of those options are actually trash. And you probably shouldn’t do them because you’re going to run into problems. Right? A lot of the choices that experience developers make are based on experience and I’m talking to other experience developers and they avoid future problems, right. By, by making good decisions. Now you avoid a lot of future problems and sort of. Avoid running into troubles down the line. And that’s something I’d never done before with spectrum. And so with spectrum, we actually had a lot of scaling problems when there’s this sort of rule of thumb that started people say where every single time you get a new order of magnitude of users, you run into new scaling problems. And for us, it happened like that, like clockwork. When we ran from zero to a thousand users at the, when we onboarded our first community, we immediately hit scaling issues. We immediately had to move away from Firebase, build our own backend because Firebase was couldn’t sustain the load anymore. Then when we went from 1000 to 10,000 people, we hit the next set of scaling problems. As soon as basically as soon as the 10,000 persons joined almost to the day we started having server issues. And so we had to resolve those, then everything went fine. We’re going, we doubled, we tripled, we quadrupled. We went from 10,000 to 9,000 people. No problem. And then as soon as we hit the a hundred thousand monthly active users, the next set up problems, they didn’t get in with them releasing our server. Our servers were crashing constantly. And it was very fascinating how these, this sort of order of magnitude step change of traffic really impacted our stability. And so get ups really focused on making sure no one that gets up some writes code that doesn’t run it, their order of line of traffic, that no one, there can even commit something to the code base, no matter how inexperienced they are or how much they fork rails, for example, that could break their systems. And then when something breaks, they have a lot of infrastructure, of course, around that, to monitor, to fix those issues, to roll back deploys so that when problems do arise, they don’t impact many users. And it was fascinating to see that and to see how many constraints. They put on people, but they were very productive constraints as a developer. They made me free to build the stuff that I wanted to build without having to worry about scaling, because I knew if I did something that was bad, there would be an Arizona. Right. See, I would throw an error. There would be a winter error. There will be a test error, right. Like somewhere, somebody somewhere would catch my stupidity and tell me to do it differently. And so that was actually really fascinating. And they learned a lot about scaling engineering and then organizations there.

Michaela: [00:19:31] Yeah. And so it seems that this is also very specific. So some of the engineering practices, some of the tools, some of the processes are really made for the scale there. But now if you’re going back and I know you’re now building a new startup, so what do you take away from that? What do you say? Well, you know, this is overkill not needed for me right now in my next startup. Right. And what are some of the, the, the practices the knowledge that you acquired your thing? Well, I’m going to build that in from the start and get go, because I don’t want to run into issues. Long-term with maintainability, readability of the code base, many things.

Max: [00:20:08] We, we made many, many mistakes, or I should say I made many of those mistakes as the main technical person, that spectrum, I made many tech choices, mistakes. And one of the main things I really learned is that. Using technology that’s widely used is a very good idea. There’s a reason people use Maya’s quail or now Postgres, right? It’s because those two databases, they run and they keep running no matter what scaling crap, right? Like it’s a famously uses my SQL and is the 15th biggest website on the planet. And I think they’re now starting to hit the limits of that. And they’re starting to have to really work around a lot of these problems. But they managed to become the 15th biggest website on the planet with my SQL. So why would you use anything else? And I’ll be like, there’s no reason to choose anything that is less battle-tested because, you know, if, because if you end up being the 15th biggest website on the planet, you can fix my SQL. If you don’t end up being the 15th biggest website on the planet, it doesn’t matter. Right. It it’ll still work. And at spectrum we chose a database that was a lot less populated. What’s called rethink to be the company behind a shutdown because they weren’t financially successful. And the database system just wasn’t as well built as my, as going reading be. And we ran into a lot of scaling troubles because of our database choice or because of the database choice I made. And so I learned to rely on battle, test that technology, even if it’s under equals boring, even if it’s something that a lot of people use, that’s a good thing, because that means it’ll scale with you. And if you have a problem, you can Google it right with rethink to be almost nobody used it. And so when we ran into problems with our careers, when we ran into problems with the database engine, we Googled them and we found nothing. There were, there was no information, which is very different if you’re using MySQL or Postgres, if you Google any problem, I guarantee you you’ll find 10 pages of Google results with people explaining different solutions to the problem, how they approached it, how they fixed it, how it held up over time, right. And that that sort of Corpus of knowledge and that Corpus of experience is incredibly valuable when evaluating technology choices. That’s really one of the main things I learned, which is obvious in hindsight and is, it’s a common thing to say. Don’t use boring technology, use things that are proven to scale. But it’s really hard to keep that in mind when you’re using technology, because you will, you’ll see something that’s fancy and new and you’re going to want to use it. And it’s, it’s cool and everybody’s using it. And you feel like everybody in Twitter is talking about it, but if nobody’s used it at scale before, you’ve no idea if it works out right. And you can only, I think there’s often these tools have upsides, but the trade off of the missing community, the missing usage, the missing scalability, isn’t worth, there’s some tools where that isn’t the case. So I would still evaluate that sort of as a trader. Right. Does this tool make me so much more productive that I can handle production problems? Is it, is it production critical at all? So there’s like, there’s, you have to think about that, but always err, on the side of choosing boring technology, that’s proven to scale.

Michaela: [00:22:52] Yeah, I think that’s a, that’s such a good advice. And I also ran into dad when I was I was choosing which, you know, static site generator to use. And like, they’re, they’re the ones that, you know, right. Like Gatsby or Jacquelyn, I think like this. And then there are a lot of others, like tiny ones. And I was like, Oh, this is one that nobody knows over there seems really promising and interesting and you know, like shine in you. And I think it was also curiosity. Right? I think that a lot of engineers are very curious. I am curious. So I went with that one. But what I forgot to calculate is how much time I’m actually spending, building my website with that acquiring knowledge, then knowing how to use that thing, but also at the same time, learning that there is not enough support information around to, to get me out of errors that I run into, or maybe it’s even, you know, like the thing itself it’s broken. Right. And it also reminds me of, I actually tweeted, I think recently about this where some tools make me cry. And it was like when we, when I was at Microsoft and I had to use some internal tooling, that was really new and we just build it until we were doc fooding it. And we were forced sort of like to use that new thing, which is it’s a good thing. Right. But on the other hand, I couldn’t just go and search for the problems that I run into because it wasn’t even existing outside. And so internally people were building it, they weren’t really like, you know, supporting others or writing blog posts. So it was really a bad experience and something that made me think a lot about so important that if you’re stuck, that you can find information that gets you out of this, that gets you unstuck, it gets you out of this, you know, stuck situation and maturity of software projects and community and livelihood. Right. It’s definitely something that’s, that’s important here.

Max: [00:24:43] Absolutely. I think this is. Even more critical in areas where you don’t have a lot of experience that the less, you know, about a problem, the more you shouldn’t rely on boring existing solutions. I know nothing about databases, so I should probably use my SQL and Postgres because I know that those are gonna work. And any problem I have, I can find a solution for, I know a lot about react. And so I can, I know I can, for example, use Preact instead of react, because I understand very deeply how react and Preact work and I can debug my own problems. Right. And so a lot of this also has to do, like you said, with familiarity, right? If I’m familiar with, with a certain problem space, if I’m familiar with the tools within the problem space, I have a lot more leeway to use cutting-edge solutions. If I’m in a problem space where I have a NOAA experience where I don’t know how anything works, if that doesn’t make sense to be on the cutting edge, because I’m not gonna be able to resolve my own problems. And so I think, like I said, that that really ties into it, that sort of familiarity that understanding of the ecosystem is really critical. If you’re using something on the cutting edge.

Michaela: [00:25:39] Yeah. Yeah, definitely. And so maybe, I mean, what me too is very often startup founders, especially ones that are new and maybe they don’t even have a tech background. Right. They’re like what tech stack should I use? Grade one? What what languages and so on, should I build up? And most of the time the answer is, well, the ones that you’re mostly familiar with, right? So if you are a Python developer, probably just stick with Python. If you’re a Perl developer, maybe it makes sense, you know, to update your texts. Most of the time you’re like, Peyton is just fine or Ruby is just fine. Right? You don’t have to have, like, you don’t have to learn JavaScript and react if that’s not where you’re coming from. But so now for your new startup, I want to talk a little bit about the app. So you’re going to do something new. How are you going to, you know, how are you going to come up with the idea? And maybe with ties in a little bit here, it’s like bedrock. So recently you released a new product called bedrock and that’s like everything you need to know or everything you need to have to build SAS apps. Right. So it would be authentication. It would be emailing a little bit community subscription payments and all of that. Right? So sort of the pilot plate code of SAS applications that people can use. And when I saw it, I mean, it, it got really viral on Twitter. So people were really like, very happy to get that. And and I think it’s one of those problems that you see people running into. And so how was that for you? I mean, it looked like super popular. Was it also from the sales perspective, was it as successful as you hoped and, and will the next product that you’re working on being that space or will you go somewhere completely Allison? How are you going to, to tackle the next problem? How did you come up with this idea?

Max: [00:27:27] Sure. So I’ll start from the beginning. I I’ve spent the past, basically all of my career building JavaScript tooling. I’m sort of, I would say mainly well known for making a bunch of open-source projects, like react polo plate and style components that are cutting edge, new ways of doing things right. And I have a very deep understanding of react and JavaScript tooling and to have a good overview of the ecosystem. And I know how things work at a very deep level. And particularly at Gatsby now over the past year, I really dove deep into that because Gatsby basically is just a bunch of open source 20 combined in a very nice way. And what I realized was that I kept building SAS products on the sides, but I kept doing the same setup every single time. And every single time, it kind of sucked. Like I have enough experience to know, like I said, to avoid 90% of the bad choices, but in the JavaScript ecosystem, it can sometimes feel like 99% of the choices are bad. And you have to just make that 1% of choices to make all of the tools that you use work really well together. And making all those choices right, is really, really, really difficult and takes a very long time. When I set up my last, my last sort of SAS product feedback Fisher, I probably spent at least a week just setting up the boilerplate code, right. Just setting up TypeScript, prettier easily in payments, authentication database, a GraphQL API, graphical client, all of those stuff, all of that stuff. So that it works well together and sort of is easily usable. And doesn’t just break down after a while. It’s actually really difficult. And even after a week, I wasn’t happy with where I was at, but we just kind of have to build our product at that point. Right. Like you can only spend so much time setting up. And so after that, I actually took what I had after a week. And I said, okay, I’m going to sit down and I’m going to make this as nice as possible. And I spent at least three weeks of evenings and weekends just building Building a boilerplate really like I just plugged together glucose, right? Like it’s basically a bunch of configuration and glucose so that everything just works really well together. And now it’s at a point where, for example, if you change, if you add a required field in the database, your seat data for your end-to-end test is going to throw an error that, that the required field doesn’t exist. And the entire thing from tobacco just works really well together from testing over client, over backend, over everything you need just works really, really well together. And I had that, I had that boiler plate and I was like, well, this is kind of nice. Like, this actually feels really fantastic to work with just yesterday. I set up a new version of change feed one of my SAS apps. Cause we were we, we kind of need to rebuild it because it takes stack. Isn’t very nice that we chose there and slowing us down a lot. And so I basically rebuild all of the core functionality in an hour. Right. I took bedrock. I added a bunch of stuff to the API. I added some fields to the client and it’s ugly as hell. Like the client, doesn’t it it’s completely front-end list. So the client looks likely to sell, but everything works. And that only took me an hour. And of course there’s a lot of stuff to make it production ready into, add to make the build the client of course, make everything nice at onboarding, whatever, but it works right. And it has everything I sort of need. And so long story short, that’s why I thought about selling it. Right. And I was like, well, if I think this is nice and it’s, if it took me, somebody who really understands this problem very deeply into really understands that ecosystem deeply. If it takes me four weeks to set up something that’s good, that that’s really good. And that, that that sort of saves people time and is better than what they could do themselves. Then maybe it’s we are selling that, that sort of knowledge and that experience to people as a boilerplate and people were kind of excited about it. Then I think by now I have about a hundred pre-orders somewhere in that order of magnitude, 105, I think, which is really exciting to see. It’s kind of funny. I, I honestly didn’t expect to get a hundred pre-orders because there, there isn’t even a demo on the landing page. It’s just a landing page to explain what I want to do. It doesn’t even show anything yet. And yet people, a hundred people pre-order, which tells me two things. One, the community really trusts me, which is fricking scary. Like that is very scary to, for me because now I have to deliver and I have to deliver something. That’s actually as good as I promised, which I think I can do, but it’s a lot of pressure. And then secondly, there’s a, there’s a need for this, right. People struggle with setting up JavaScript project very well. And they’re willing to pay for a solution to that problem. And so that’s exciting to see, I don’t think I’m going to make this, my next startup per se, but it’s a really nice product to work on. And it’s just something that I personally really care about and I really enjoy doing. And so it was just like a fun, fun project, if that makes sense. Yeah. When I

Michaela: [00:31:46] started tweet was like, wow, that’s such a great idea because I was exactly imagining something like this that you run into the problem over and over again, you have this expertise, you have the wig Dan sort of, right. So you’re there, there’s obviously more work that you probably could in now to make this even better than what we would do for yourself. But in general, there’s like this foundation. And I mean, especially if people want to start a SARS app or, you know, do their own startup, I hope that they’re smart enough to realize that, you know, I think right now you’re selling it for 150 or 149 bucks. And later it’s like 200. I mean that this is like a bargain, right? Because I mean, if I’m spending a month, I could do. And as you said, they probably spend two months. They could really think about their, their solution. They could talk to customers, they could, you know, find out which problems to solve instead of doing that work for you. So I think it’s really a fantastic idea to, to go that route and do that. And it’s also great to see that people are backing you up. I think, I mean, obviously it’s frightening, right? If you have like, you have a platform, you have like a community around, but it also see you also, I think it’s also really beautiful to see that. They are people who care about what you’re doing and who trust, you know, you and I experienced you as a very authentic, very honest person. Right. So it’s not like, Oh, I’m doing everything that I do is really cool, but like, Oh, I’m making mistakes, but I’m learning from it and I’m sharing it here. Right. And so I think this is definitely something that people can, they realize, and, and this is why they are there right beside you. Right. And so but now we’re coming, you said, this is probably not what you’re going to do for your, for your new startup. So how, how is that? No, dis tricky, first part, like we have this idea, you want to do something and now you have to start in one direction. Right. And so how are you going to tackle that problem? And, and yeah. How do you think that you can set yourself up for success in the right direction? I think,

Max: [00:33:48] Multiple, multiple things. One is being very clear about what I want to accomplish. I want to build a billion dollar startup in my life. That is sort of the thing I want to try next. I’m not right now. I don’t want to build a, a indie hacker business. Right. I don’t want to build something on my own and I I’m perfectly happy to do that. Right. But right now at the life stage, I’m at, I don’t have kids. I’m relatively young, still. I don’t have a lot of commitments. I have the opportunity to try and really build something that changes the world. And so I want to try doing that. And that immediately already tells you a lot about the problems I can tackle, right? There’s problems I can tackle with that, that are big enough. Like the, basically the promise has to be big enough to eventually be worth a billion dollars. Right. They have to be really big problems. If you’re solving something that’s a small problem. It’s never going to be a billion dollar startup. It might be a nice indie hacker product business, but it’s never going to be a billion dollar startup. And so I know that that already deletes 80% of the ideas I have probably if not even 90%. And then the other, the other fundamental assumption, or, or axial I have is that I want to build something that I use, that I need myself. And that doesn’t necessarily mean a problem that I have myself right now, but something that we’re, if it exists, I’m an, I’m a user. Right. And I can think about what I needed and talk to my customers and figure out what they need and sort of reconcile that with my own needs, for the product. I don’t, I’m not very good at building stuff for other people. I would say, like, I, I’m fine at doing that, but I’m much better and much more motivated if it’s something that I want to use myself and that I want to make better for myself, where I see, ah, This part of the app kind of sucks, right? Like I want to fix this NAF part because it’s really confusing. Right. And no one needs to tell me that. I just feel it because I use the thing every single day. And so again, that restricts the problems based on a lot, right? There’s only so many things I know so many problems I care about. And so immediately that restricts the problems I can tackle a lot. And where exactly that Venn diagram of big problems that I have sort of overlaps. And then ideally that the other part of this is that I want to solve something that businesses are willing to pay for it because we spectrum, we had, we built a product that many people found valuable in that many communities found valuable, but we never managed to get anyone to pay for it. We never made any money. And so that’s why eventually we just had to sell because we ran out of money and our server costs were exploding, but we didn’t, we that doesn’t correlate to an increase in income. And so now I want to build something that businesses are actually willing to pay for it that solves a problem for them that they’re willing to pay for. And so again, that restricts the progress based on even more. Right. And so the more of these sort of axioms, I add the more of these properties I want to have in my idea, or in the problem that I want to solve really that the smaller, the space of possible problems kits. And I have no idea what I’m going to build. I have a couple ideas that that I want to maybe explore. We’ll see. But right now I think. The main thing I’m doing is talking to people. Right. And I’m doing a lot of customer research. I’m talking to people I’m talking many to developers because I kind of want to build something for developers, not for again, I want to solve my problem. Right. And so talking to a lot of developers about what they struggled with day to day, what their work life looks like and thinking about how one could make that easier. And we’ll see where that leads. I have no idea. It’s very scary. It’s sort of a pretty scary time in my life right now because I have no idea what I’m going to do. But it’s fun. I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to the challenge and I’m really excited to be back in sort of back in the trenches of trying to figure out how to leave my stamp on the world, if that makes any sense. Yeah. Yeah.

Michaela: [00:37:19] It definitely makes sense. And I mean, I think we are in very different situations, as you said, right? You’re looking at your own situation, do you think? Well, right now I’m really free and I want to tackle this 1 billion thing. And for me it was more like, well, I’m completely not free. Sorry, I’m competing. I have my two kids and I want to spend a lot of time with them. But on the other hand, I want to go. And for me the thing, he was more, how can I use the time that I have right now to set myself up for success in two, three years, right? When my kids are a little bit more grown up. And I think that I’m getting closer and closer to that clip where I feel like, well, maybe, you know, my time to build something really cool will start soon. And And so, yeah, I think this, this all, I, it really resonates with me, like thinking about, you know, what can I actually tackle? What do I want to do? Right. What is really my, my ambition to, to do here and then trying to figure out. But I still think that even if you take this Venn diagram, it’s a huge problem space still, right? So there are so many things that you could tackle. And so if you do something like, do you try to get now this idea by talking to people, or are you going to build a little bit and testing the waters? So, so what will be the next steps to really understand if there is there’s a market for it? Or, or do you say, well, I’m completely committed. This is the idea I’m completely committed. I’m going to build it. I give it a year. Or is it like tiny bats that you do? Like, Oh this week I’m trying out, you know, I’m sending a tweet and see if people respond or I’m building like this little email list about something. How do you, how do you see that? I do all of

Max: [00:38:57] those things. It sort of depends on how serious I am about an idea and how much I believe in it, myself. Right. There’s thanks to my audience. There’s a lot of things I can validate just by tweeting. Like you said, particularly if I’m building something for developers, I can tweet, does anyone else else have this problem? And then I will feel the resonance or not. Right. Maybe nobody will respond or maybe a thousand people respond. Right. And sort of in that spectrum, I can tell how much that problem resonates with people. And then I can think about how would I approach solving that? There’s a, there’s a little validation that happens that way. And then the other thing is that I. Just ping friends and colleagues that I’ve worked with before or people that I know are using certain technologies. And I talk to them about how they’re using them and what they’re struggling with. And usually I go into those calls with some sort of hypothesis, right. I think maybe there’s this problem that maybe I could solve this way. Let’s see if they have the problem. And if you ask people straight up, do you have this problem? Would you pay for a solution if they’re friends of yours? They’re probably just going to say yes. Right. Because they’re friends of yours. They’re like, they’re probably not going to pay for it, but they’re still going to say yes. And so I actually go into those conversations and don’t even talk about my idea of what I want to do. I asked them what their problems are and then I look and listen and see if they even think about that problem at all. Right. And if they sort of stumble upon it themselves, and if they, if they’re annoyed by it, if it’s grinds their dead, their gears, right. Like the sand in the gears that grinds and it’s been really fascinating. It’s helped me invalidate a lot of ideas and, and tell me that people probably wouldn’t really care about them. Which has been really fascinating to do. I learned that from a great book called the mom test. I highly, yeah, I know that one.

Michaela: [00:40:22] Yeah. When you said that, I was thinking I should have mentioned it, but

Max: [00:40:29] it’s really well, it it’s helped me invalidate a lot of ideas. I have very, very quickly by just talking to someone for five minutes and being like, Hey, you know, what are your problems? What are you struggling with right now? What do you care about? And that very simple approach would be to the tests. We do daycare about your. Problem. And then could your solution solve that problem or not? And it also helps us cover other problems, right? Like I’ve discovered other problems that people have. And now I’ve talked to, I don’t know, 10 to 20 people and I’m starting to see patterns. Right. I’m starting to see, Oh yeah. A lot of people care about this one problem. I wonder if we could maybe solve something there, maybe there’s a solution for that. Right. And so that, that process is very, it’s very fun right now.

Michaela: [00:41:02] Yeah. That’s so smart. It’s so smart because it’s not like just, Oh, I’m going to build this and then you build it. Right. And you’re spending so much time doing it. Then I think it felt, feels maybe a little bit slow. And because you’re not really building something, which I think everybody wants to fill it, rightly we want to do, and we want to make progress. And if you just, just talk to people, it doesn’t feel like progress. It feels like, Oh, I’m still, you know, even before my idea phase, but this can pay off. So I mean, tremendously, if you’re studying and you’re going the wrong direction, I actually tweeted recently about that the tiny steps actually bring you the big success and, and, and do you have to be in the right direction? And this is also what I, I try to be very patient with myself thinking, well, you know, my steps are tiny right now, but as long as they are going in the right direction that I want to go and, you know, have a go completely straight. Right. So you, you learn and you bounce back and you think well, but if you’re open enough to see, well, this is the wrong direction. Now I have to go the other way around. And you know, even six sucking your way to success. I think this is so important and I see that. Yeah. I think you will be very successful. I can can see that. And so I’m definitely going to invite you again. Yeah. In, in a couple of years, right? I know we talk about like how it went

Max: [00:42:19] there. Yeah. We should

Michaela: [00:42:22] do that. Like we do that like in a year, maybe we do it, like go on a journey. Right. So in a year we talk again and then in a year we talk again and look how it goes.

Max: [00:42:34] Exactly. Yeah. I do think one of the things you, you said is really important is, is realizing when you’re doing something that’s wrong when you’re building a company or when you’re building a product, you’re so enamored with that product that you forget to think about. Am I even building the right thing in general? Right? You’re so in the deep, in the specifics you’re showing, Oh, which button do we put? Where, what feature do we build next? What features should we not build? What is more important? What do our users care about? Then you stop to think about the higher level. Does it, is this even a problem we’re solving, right. Is this even something that people care about at all? Or should I do something else entirely? Right. And I see a lot of startup founders particularly end up with problems or solutions to problems that no one cares about. And they never stopped to sort of reflect on, am I even working on the right. Thing right now, like, am I even doing something that anyone’s going to care about? And there’s, there’s sort of different there’s different problems to solve, right? Some are more immediate, some are problems that are problems right now. And people try to solve them right now. And then you very quickly learn whether it’s something that people very much care about or don’t care about whether you have product market fit or you don’t, if you sort of want to talk in the startup lingo. But then there’s sometimes there’s founders that are working on stuff that is way in the future, right. They have an idea of how the world should look like in 10 years and they want to help people get there. And that is really, really hard because at that point right now, no, one’s going to care, but maybe in 10 years, people care and you have to have a lot of conviction to sort of stay on your path, stick true to your values and goal the 10 years to see if that’s actually the future. That’s something I’m way too scared to do, right? Like I, I don’t have time to wait 10 years. I only have very limited time on this earth. And I know a lot of funders that are doing that and I respect the hell out of it. Right. But I’m, I’m way too scared of that. I would much rather solve an immediate problem right now where I know that people care about it rather than trying to do something so big. And so future that it would take decades to realize. Does that make sense?

Michaela: [00:44:38] Yeah, I think it’s, it’s painful. I mean, it’s painful to look at what you have invested in what you have spent your time on and to say. Honestly, I have to do something else here. Right. It’s it’s like I was standing, so I was, I was studying in London and then there was this really cool discotheque where you can go in the night. Right. I think it was called February or something like that. I forgot. And so we got a ticket there and we went there probably at, I don’t know, maybe it was like one in the morning or something or 12. And there was a line around like one of these huge buildings and we really wanted to go in, first of all, the ticket was expensive. Right. And say, if we wanted to see it and experience it. And so we stand in line and we stand in line for an hour and I say, you know, we didn’t even come, you know, like sit around. So what are we going to do? But then, because you’re already standing in our, like, it feels like, Oh, any minute, anyway, we stood actually three and a half hours and it wasn’t a morning when we could enter it. Right. And so it, and it was really this problem off, you know, like you’re standing already in line, so are you going away now? Or, and you leave all this waiting time for nothing. I was really horrible. And I think that this happens also to, to pounders. I mean, it, it also happens to me that you feel like, and, and it’s, it’s a blurry line. Like it’s, Oh, is there not traction because I’m doing it wrong? You know, is there not traction because I don’t have an audience yet? Or, you know, nobody goes to, I mean, there’s also build it and they will come if it’s not true. Right. So. It’s a little bit different, I think for especially people that don’t have like a platform and an audience yet to say, well, I’m tweeting about this amazing thing. And it could be that I am getting zero likes. So one like, and it doesn’t green really mean that, that what you’re building is not interesting. And so, you know, it’s not always easy to really understand is that the wrong direction or is it not? And then to be as honest to you and take this pain to say, well, I think it’s the wrong direction. Let’s do something else. Let’s start over. Yeah. So, so what I try to do is I try to have my, my activities always have one purpose that I know it will definitely work out. Right? So I’m doing this stuff and maybe the whole idea of turns out, but at least I know that whatever happens, there are three steps that are going into the right direction, right. Is it building an audience or, you know, building a community or learning something about the tech that I know I will use. Right. So I have, I have a couple of different goals around something where I say, well, maybe it doesn’t completely work out, but I can for sure say that those three checkpoints that are on my way to success, those three are going to work out. Right. I don’t know if that’s something, how you think about things, but this is, this is really my salt pattern pattern for everything I do. And very often it’s just learning right? Learning about. You know how to blog or how to do a podcast or, you know, something like this, which brings me to the right, you know, brings me closer to where I actually want to want to go. And then I know I have it. I have control over that.

Max: [00:47:49] Absolutely. That’s one of the big reasons I joined spectrum was because I said, there’s no downside, right? I get to work with two fantastic designers that I know online that are very famous for their great work. I get to watch them close and learn about design myself. I get to be a technical co-founder, even though I had no idea how to do that, I could learn how to do that through spectrum. And then you worst case scenario, if it doesn’t work out at all in one and a half, two years, I’ve made two new friends, at least if not many more and learned a ton about how to build a startup and what that even means. Right. And so really even if the product itself had gone in a completely mood, I knew there was no, like, I wouldn’t have any regrets about it, but I knew it could only work out and any success at the proton on top of that was just a bonus. Right. There’s the fact that we got acquired, but gets up is just a bonus, right? Like that’s sort of like that happened and it’s fantastic. And it was a great experience, but it’s not something that was required for it to be a success in my mind. Right. It was always already a success just by the fact of me doing it. And I, I think very much in the same way that you do where I sort of consider the, the whole, the, the implication of everything that I do on a sort of broader scale, right. It’s not just, I’m building a startup, is it going to be a success or not? And that sort of binary, the outcome is good or bad, but it’s. How much do I learn? Who do I get to know? What do I, what do I do? Do I enjoy my life? Do I have fun? Right? Like all these things can tie into it and can make something a success. Even if maybe directly it isn’t the success. If that makes any sense.

Michaela: [00:49:14] Yeah. That’s exactly how I approach things in life. So I think I’m fairly new. I’m happy that I got some confirmation bias here.

Max: [00:49:26] yeah, maybe. Yeah. I have no idea.

Michaela: [00:49:30] Yeah. We can see, maybe people can reply to this episode on Twitter and tell us if they are the same pattern.

Max: [00:49:37] I really curious if anybody else thinks that thinks that way. Yeah, absolutely. Please let us know. I’m I’m I’m super curious. I only start

Michaela: [00:49:43] things where I know it can, can only be a success and it can be a bigger success. Right. But it’s sort of the things that I’m doing are already success, right? Independent of how it turns out. I mean, yeah. So, well, I took already much more time than we actually that I actually set out to talk with you. So I already stolen a little bit of your day-to-day, so I I’m going to end it here, but we did promise that in a year I’m going to schedule again and then in a year we are going to talk again because I really enjoy it. I could talk on and on. And so I’m really curious where your journey goes and how, you know, how you think about the things that we talked about today in a year from now and 10 years from now. So thank you so much, max, for being on my show today, talking with me about all. All these really interesting topics and getting, picking your brain and getting a little bit an idea of how you approach things. I think this was so valuable, at least for me, I hope for my listeners as well.

Max: [00:50:39] Thank you for having me. I hope it was interesting were valuable or at least the pertaining, I hope it was at least entertaining. And I can’t wait to be back in a year and see, I, I honestly can’t wait to listen to myself. Talk about what I’ve just done for the past year. Cause I’m really curious to see where I live.

Michaela: [00:50:55] Cool. Yeah. Okay. So I will link everything in the show notes like bedrock and your Twitter profile. Is there something else that you think my listeners should know or, you know, they should check out that that’s important to you?

Max: [00:51:09] No, I think that’s it. If by then I’ll have a, start-up maybe link that to but I don’t know what that is yet. So cuddly can either yet.

Michaela: [00:51:18] Thank you so much for taking the time and enjoy your Sunday and talk to you in a year on this podcast again, hopefully. Yeah.

 

Episode 34: Vulnerability disclosure with Katie Moussouris

In this episode, I talk with Katie Moussouris, founder and CEO of Luta Security.  Luta Security specializes in helping businesses and governments work with hackers and security researchers to better defend themselves from digital attacks. Katie is also an expert when it comes to bug bounty programs and how to successfully prepare organizations to implement a vulnerability disclosure program.

We talk about:

  • vulnerability disclosure,
  • the security challenges faced by military and government organizations,
  • her entrepreneurial path,
  • how to establish yourself as a hacker or security expert,
  • and how to build security in your software development process. 
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Episode 32: Serverless is your competitive advantage

In this episode, I talk to Nader Dabit. Nader is a web and mobile developer, who specializes in building cross-platform and cloud-enabled applications. Right now, he works at Amazon Web Services, where he develops features in the client team and improves developer experience. Before, he founded his own training company, specializing in React Native, and trained engineers from organizations such as Microsoft, Amazon, the US Army, and many more.

We talk about:

  • how he managed to build a following on almost every popular social platform,
  • how he got started with his own training company focusing on React Native
  • what serverless means, and why you should care about it,
  • how to build an MVP using a serverless-first mindset,
  • and how frontend developers can leverage serverless technologies to become a full-stack developer.
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