Mitchell Harper and his co-founder’s first project was software that made web page creation easy. They priced it at $149, and by selling an average of 20 copies per day, they reached a million dollars in revenue after one year. You’ll hear the clever way they marketed their app in this interview.
You’ll also hear how they built followup products by constantly asking their customers what they should create next. Today, their flagship product is BigCommerce, an ecommerce platform that powers 10,000 online stores.
Three messages before we get started. First copy this Facebook idea for your business today. See how they make it super easy for their users to import their contacts from AOL, Yahoo, Hotmail, etc.? Well, you can add that functionality to your site today using CloudSponge. By using CloudSponge, your users can easily import their address books into your service and invite their contacts to use your site. And if you use the discount code Mixergy, you’ll get a couple of months free. www.CloudSponge.com.
The next sponsor is SuperConf, where I’ll be speaking on February 25th and February 26th. Come watch me and the guys behind Blippy, Wufoo, Grasshopper and other successful Internet companies live. Also, SuperConf is where mind blowing startups will launch. If you come, e-mail me so we can meet up in person and I can introduce you to some of the speakers and the guests and hopefully we can have a drink together. www.SuperConf.net, that’s where you want to go.
Finally, Scott Edward Walker is the entrepreneur’s lawyer. His firm, Walker Corporate Law will handle your big transactions like when you raise money or when you sell your firm. But if you’re just starting out, Walker Corporate Law can make sure your paperwork is in order so when it’s time to sell your company or raise money or do any of the big transactions, everything will be in place and be just right. www.WalkerCorporateLaw.com.
Here’s the program.
Andrew Warner: Hey, everyone. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart. I know, by the way, as I say home of the ambitious upstart, people in e-mail are telling me they say it at the same time with me. It’s great to have you guys and great to have you guys watching for so long that you can predict the introduction and do it along with me.
The big question for today is, “How does a bootstrap company do $10 million in annual sales?” Joining me is Mitchell Harper, co-founder of Interspire, which offers hosted shopping cart software. That’s exactly what they’re doing in annual sales. Mitch, welcome to Mixergy.
Mitch: Thanks for having me, Andrew. It’s good to be here.
Andrew: What are some of the companies that use you guys, that use Interspire?
Mitch: We have about 20,000 clients on the Interspire side of the business. Big names are G.E., McCaughey, Shell, Dell, Kraft, Ticketmaster, Virgin, Orange. Pretty much a lot of the Fortune 500 companies, but also thousands of web designers and tens of thousands of just small businesses looking to one up their competitors online.
Andrew: Tens of thousands of customers is what you guys have?
Andrew: By customers, we mean people who take their credit cards out or some other form of payment and pay you, not users, not visitors, right?
Mitch: Yes, paid customers.
Andrew: Paying customers. I’m going to get to that later on. I’ve got a note here to ask you why you don’t offer a free version of some of your software. I mentioned in the introduction that you guys do $10 million in annual sales. That’s a run rate, which means that basically monthly sales are over $800,000 and you extrapolate that, you just multiply it by 12 and you end up with roughly $10 million, true?
Andrew: $10 million, big number. Let’s go down to a smaller number that’s a little more exciting and more meaningful to entrepreneurs, that first million. Can you tell me what that first million dollars was like to make?
Mitch: It was fun. It was exciting. We started in 2003 or early 2004, and it took us about just under 12 months to make the first million dollars. We are bootstrapped. We didn’t have any funding. Basically myself and my co-founder, Eddie Machaalani, we put in our own money. We were just developers. We both had very technical backgrounds. We built our first product, which was called WebEdit, which was basically a CMS that would let you edit static web pages or static HTML. It’s not around any more, it’s been discontinued. Back in the day, about seven years ago now, we were one of the first CMSes out there, and that product really grew quite quickly. It gave us a lot of revenue and a lot of customers. The revenue from that, the first million allowed us to build additional products, hire more people and everything like that.
Andrew: That first product, the one that you described right now that built basic HTML pages produced a million dollars in revenue for you guys?
Mitch: In under a year, yes.
Andrew: In under a year, wow. What was your background? What were you guys doing before?
Mitch: Eddie was freelancing, just building websites for different clients. I was actually running devArticles.com, which was a programming website that I founded back in 2003. I built that up to 20,000 or 30,000 visits a day and sold that off to DeveloperShed in about 2004. I was working at a computer hardware company as well. That was my nine to five. I was building out their website. I built their online presence. Eddie and I met in an online chat room of all places, for PHP. We were trying to solve, I think, similar PHP problems. We met and realized we were both in Sydney here in Australia. We got together and things kind of started from there. It’s funny how things start out.
Andrew: What was the original idea that you guys had before you launched the business?
Mitch: To be honest, we didn’t really have too much of an idea. We both liked development. We both had similar content management systems we had built previously. Really, I guess the main idea was, how can we make a browser-based simple editing tool that anyone can use to edit their website? Back then Dreamweaver was huge. It was still blowing up, but WordPress wasn’t around yet, or it wasn’t what it is now. If you wanted to edit a static HTML site, you really had to know HTML. We wanted to bring the WYSIWYG components in the browser that were just starting to come out in IE, we wanted to make those mainstream. We just wanted to build cool software. That’s how it all started. That’s a lot of what we focus on today. What can we take that’s typically complex and make it very easy that anyone can use? That’s what guided us back then and that’s still what we do now.
Andrew: I think you say on your website that you “want it to be so easy that my grandmother can use it.”
Mitch: We do. It’s completely true. Maybe not your grandma, but if your mom can’t look at our software and at least click around and figure it out, then it’s too complicated.
Andrew: Yeah, my grandmother definitely can’t do it, she’s dead. They both are. But if my mother can do it, that’s very impressive. At the time FrontPage existed, and as you said, Dreamweaver was around. There was software that you could install on your computer. What you were doing was saying, “You don’t need to install anything. You can just come to our website and build other websites on our site.” Am I understanding right?
Mitch: More or less, yes. There was FrontPage and Dreamweaver, but they really didn’t have enough built-in templates to get you started. They assumed you could create everything from scratch using WYSIWYG or HTML. The second problem was that people aren’t graphically capable. So they could start with a blank page, but the website they built would end up looking not pretty. What we did was we shipped with, I think we had about 50 templates at the time. They were basic. They just had nice photos and sample logos, and they gave people the foundation on which to build websites. All they had to do was add their content, and then they had a fully functional site. That was another difference we had over FrontPage and Dreamweaver.
Andrew: I see. But it was a web based application?
Mitch: It was. It was in PHP. You’d install it on your own website, similar to WordPress.
Andrew: I see. I’ve got it. How long did it take you to build that first version?
Mitch: That took us about six months.
Andrew: Six months to build the first version? What was in it? What could it do, the very first version that you launched?
Mitch: Basically, it could read in a list of files that you had on your web server. It would list them and you could hit edit, copy, or delete or view next to them. When you hit edit, it would bring up a WYSIWYG editor with the basic toolbar — Bold, Italic, Underline, insert image. You could delete files. If you had users, they could create logins. It was a very kind of basic, lightweight content management system. That’s all we needed to get the product out there.
Andrew: You included themes with it, templates?
Mitch: We did, and they were very basic. Each theme had two pages, so a home page and a content page. A theme would take us two hours to build. They were very simple.
Andrew: Do you remember what you charged for it?
Mitch: Yes. It was $149.
Mitch: Yes. Quite affordable.
Andrew: Okay. How did you get customers for it?
Mitch: We did whatever we could, specifically online marketing. Back then, you didn’t have Twitter, Facebook or any of those tools, so we were really active in forums, answering a lot of questions from other web developers. We decided early on to target web developers with clients because they become evangelists for products that they like. WebEdit was designed to make their jobs easier. Instead of taking two weeks to build a website for a client, they could take a day and still make the same if not more money. Our strategy was really to figure out where do these web designers exist? Let’s go find them and let’s help them. So forums were really a big part of what we did initially. We’d go in and answer their questions about HTML and CSS and we built up a lot of trust. We also did Google AdWords and iMar marketing back then as well.
Andrew: What about some of the techniques that today might be considered spam that you guys used?
Mitch: We were very conscious about branding, and we didn’t want to go to any black hat SEO for example. We didn’t want to spam lists via e-mail. So we took the approach of putting out quality content that people would find useful and then want to come back to use. So that took a little bit longer than maybe spamming or doing black hat SEO techniques, but it paid off in the end because we now have over a quarter million people on our e-mail list that we can e-mail at any time who want to hear from us.
Andrew: Today you have that?
Mitch: We do, yes.
Andrew: Back then, you got you said customers from Google AdWords. Can you tell me about how that worked for you guys?
Mitch: Yeah, sure. Back then, Google AdWords was fairly new. It wasn’t as competitive as it is today. So back then you could get a click for $0.20. Today it’s maybe $4 or $5 for keywords around content management systems or build a website or anything like that. It was a lot easier back then and a lot more affordable to get people to your website. Really we just wrote basic ads. “Want to build a website? Try WebEdit. Click here for an online demo.” We’d link them to our website. We’d set up split testing on the landing page, so we’d try different headlines, different colors of buttons, different messaging, and we’d have an online demo. All we’d do is just e-mail them after that and follow up and try to close the sale. Back then, we didn’t have auto responders or a sales team like we do now. It was really just Ed, myself, and a few other people just in one small office just doing whatever we could to get those first few hundred sales coming in.
Andrew: The first few hundred sales I could understand doing one at a time. But to get to a million dollars in orders within one year, you have to do 7,000 orders in that first year, right?
Andrew: A little over [inaudible] orders a day. How do you get to those bigger numbers?
Mitch: If you break it down, a million dollars is really about $20,000 a week in sales. Let me work out how many sales that was. We needed about 134 sales a week, because the product was $149. That’s about 20 sales per day, which really isn’t that much. If you have, say, a 5% conversion rate, which wasn’t uncommon back then, especially since we were targeting web designers, all we really needed to the website was about 1,500 people a day. We did that with Google AdWords. We did a lot of e-mail marketing. We wrote a lot of really good articles that helped web designers win more clients because they were the target we were going after. Our mentality was, “How can we help web designers so much that they just keep coming back to our website?” Over the first two or three months, we’d start building up this blog and all these articles that we still have on the Interspire website. There were articles on how to get more clients, how to charge more for your work and still win the job. Really just articles that resonated with our target market who were the web designers who wanted more clients because they wanted to make more money and have more free time. We really took the time to understand their mindset because we were web developers ourselves. So we were essentially eating our own dog food, targeting people who were like us who we knew we had a solution for. That’s kind of how it started.
Andrew: Where were you posting these articles?
Mitch: Initially, we were just posting them on our own website. Back then, you didn’t have Ezine articles, Go articles, or the article resources. But we did publish on Sidepoint, which was doing quite well back then. I think it was called WebMaster Resources back then. DevArticles, which was my website which I started that was getting about 20,000 visits a day. We really just identified the 5 or 10 websites that we used as web developers and we figured out how to get our content out there. We’d build relationships with the editors, and then every article had an about box at the end that said, “Mitchell Harper is co-founder of Interspire. Go here for content management software.” Then the traffic just started coming in. It started with 200 or 300 uniques a day within the first month, and then we got to 5,000, 10,000, 15,000, 20,000 within two years. So we really focused on online marketing.
Andrew: You mentioned e-mail marketing. What kind of e-mail marketing did you do back then?
Mitch: It was really simple. We would just write white papers, say a 10-page guide that would teach a web designer how to win more clients or how to charge more for your jobs while still winning the same amount of clients. We actually took the time to write these guides. We didn’t just slap together some content just to get a guide. We actually spent a week together writing the guides, putting really good content in there, and making it something that these designers would want to read. They just flocked to that because it was actually good content. Back then, there weren’t too many other guides or too many businesses targeting web designers like we were.
Andrew: So this was a white paper that a user/designer very often would come to your site, give you their e-mail address and then get access to. And you’d be able to keep e-mailing them in the future because they were signing up to a mailing list too.
Mitch: Exactly. And we would send out monthly newsletters. Again, the monthly newsletters would have really good content.
Andrew: How did you get people to come to those landing pages where you had the white paper offer?
Mitch: Typically we’d either do it two ways. We’d use Google AdWords to drive traffic directly to that by focusing on long tail keywords. The long tail keywords are the ones that aren’t as popular on Google but they’re very targeted. Instead of people searching for web designer, we’d get them searching for how to be a better web designer and we’d link them to our landing page there. We’d also just promote the white paper on our home page and in our newsletter as well. So just driving as many people to it as we could find.
Andrew: In addition to buying ads that would take people to a sales page where you sold your software, you’re also buying ads to convert them into e-mail members.
Mitch: Exactly. That was typically Google AdSense instead of Google AdWords, which has a lower cost per click. It was costing us around $0.05, which is really considering we had about a 20% sign-up rate.
Andrew: $0.05 per click. So each user was costing roughly a buck?
Mitch: About that, yes.
Andrew: That’s pretty impressive, especially considering who you were getting. You weren’t just getting average people. You were getting really high quality, targeted leads.
Andrew: Before we continue with that story, one thing that strikes me is that you said you and Eddie are both developers. Developers don’t have this kind of marketing passion. They don’t sit and write white papers and then figure out how to get people to come from Google ads and how to write other articles that will convert people. Where did this come from?
Mitch: I guess I should have probably prefaced that we’re developers by saying we’re entrepreneurs first and foremost. So I think, really, web development is something we were passionate about and we’d learned about it to a certain point. We learned enough to build a product. We don’t do any development today. We’ve got 50 people in the company. We have a team of engineers. Back then, learning how to program was one step on the way to becoming a business site. We learned development, we learned marketing, we learned positioning, we learned sales, support, and HR. We learned them all one at a time, and development just happened to be the first thing we learned, because we knew that without a product there’s no point in trying to build a company.
Andrew: The other thing I’m wondering before we move on is, how did having your own audience help you to make sales or help you develop the business in the early days?
Mitch: I think the mindset we both had and we both still have is you can shout at people all you want. You can jump on Google AdWords and say, “Hey, buy my product.” You can run radio ads. You can spam people. We wanted to do it the other way. We wanted people coming to us and waiting to hear from us. Very early on I decided I wanted to be in a position of authority, teaching people as opposed to selling. It’s a very different mindset. You can go out and try and sell someone something, but if you educate them first, they’ll be much more receptive to what you’re selling because you’ve given them something of value. That’s really the approach we’ve taken since day one, that we want to be an authority in the market no matter what type of customer we go after because they’ll respect you more when you teach them something first.
Andrew: That was the first product. When do you add another product? What do you do next?
Mitch: We surveyed our customers and said, “Hey, we like building software. What do you want us to build next?” They told us, “We want you to build an e-mail marketing platform.” We said, “Okay.” So we went and built one. It’s a very simplified view of what happened. Our next product was called Send Studio, which is now called Interspire E-mail Marketer. That’s download software that’s on par with ConstantContact, iContact, Exact Target, and those kinds of e-mail marketing platforms. Back then, we built software so we figured out what we needed to put in the software to make our customers like it. We asked for their feedback. We ran a lot of surveys. We put out an initial release that was basic, and then over two or three years, we built that product up. We’ve now got about 15,000 people or companies using that product to send tens of millions of e-mails a day.
Andrew: Unlike the services that you mentioned earlier, this is software that I would buy, put on my server, I would maintain, and I would continue to use. No matter how many e-mails I send, I only pay you one time for that.
Mitch: Exactly, yes.
Andrew: What about deliverability with a product like that? Aren’t there deliverability issues that iContact, AWeber or MailChimp, and the others take care of for me that now I have to take care of if I use your software?
Mitch: There are. What we were doing with the e-mail marketing product was not targeting the very small businesses, but targeting the businesses who might have had their own IT person in-house, so they had someone who could help with deliverability and setting up Linux and everything like that. We also partnered with SMTP.com and they help with deliverability and getting your e-mails out. We tried to provide the whole product solution by partnering with other companies so that if you weren’t technical, you could still use our product and get everything up and running.
Andrew: I see. In our pre-interview, you talked about how you don’t want to target the wrong customer as a business owner. You’re saying now that you specifically went after a specific kind of customer. Who did you go after, and why did you decide to go after that market?
Mitch: With Interspire, early on we decided to go after web developers or web designers. As I mentioned earlier, these guys are very influential. Typically, as a small business owner, you won’t go on Google and search for e-mail marketing software or how to build a website. Some will, but most will find a web designer and expect them to do all the legwork for them. We were really trying to get to the middle man who influenced the business owner.
Andrew: Specifically, you didn’t want to go after enterprise. You didn’t want to go after customers who were too small or too big. How did you decide what size is right for you?
Mitch: We looked at the market, and still today it’s very fragmented, especially in the shopping cart software space which is where we’re playing now with BigCommerce. Even back then with e-mail marketing, you had a few different options. We were the leading option after about two years, but it was still very fragmented. You had big enterprise offerings like the Silverpops and the Exact Targets. Enterprise typically means you need to have services in-house as well. You need to offer an SLA. You need to have an account rep. You need to have an expensive sales team. Back then, we didn’t want those people in our company because we were very focused on development. We wanted the do-it-yourself web designers who would come buy our product, support it themselves, and promote it to their customers. We chose the web designers because they were a fit with us. We didn’t have a huge support team back then. We only did support via e-mail, and we knew the web designers would handle a lot of the support themselves. Small businesses would come back to us and constantly say, “I’m having this problem. Help me.” Enterprises wanted a dedicated account rep and a SLA, and that didn’t fit with our personality or the culture of our business back then and it still doesn’t today.
Andrew: What is SLA?
Mitch: Service level agreement. Let’s say that they had a problem. They wanted a guaranteed response within four hours. We weren’t that kind of company back then.
Andrew: What does Interspire mean?
Mitch: Interspire is a combination of two words. Inter means Internet and spire means inspire, so we kind of just put those together.
Andrew: What did the first version of the e-mail program you created look like?
Mitch: The first version was quite powerful by the standards back in 2004 when we put it out. It let you create e-mail campaigns, create contact lists, import your contacts, send out e-mails, not auto responders, so just one-time e-mails, and then view statistics. I think what’s important with developing software is you can always add more to the product. It’s what you don’t put into the software that can make it more powerful and more targeted towards an audience that you’re going after.
Andrew: How did you know back then what you should include and what needs to be excluded completely from the first version?
Mitch: We asked our existing customers.
Andrew: How did you do that?
Mitch: We used SurveyMonkey.com, which is survey software. It was free back then. I think they still have a free plan. We said if we were to build e-mail marketing software, tell us the core features you absolutely must have to pay for the product. There’s a very big difference there. We said, “the features you’d need to pay for the product” not “to use the product.” We wanted customers who would hand over money because we’re a business and obviously we need revenue to grow. So that’s the mindset we had there. Again, because we were targeting web developers, one huge feature we put in was the ability to private-label the software. That meant as a web designer, you could put your own logo and your own powered by text. Your customer would never know that we were providing the software for you. So that gave them a huge competitive advantage over their competition and other web designers.
Andrew: I see. So a web designer could buy your software, rebrand it, put their brand on it, and then sell it as if it’s their own for whatever price they wanted?
Mitch: Exactly, so they would typically pay us.
Andrew: That was key to them? They didn’t care about creating campaigns that e-mailed over time? They didn’t care about fancy auto responders. But that was key?
Mitch: That was key more than anything.
Andrew: That was in the first version?
Andrew: What did you leave out of that first version that you look back afterwards and you said, “Whoa, we messed up. We didn’t listen to our customers or we didn’t understand this?” What was that?
Mitch: I think because we did listen to our customers by the surveys, we didn’t leave too much out. With software, you’ll always have a passionate community of customers and non-customers who will say, “I can’t believe you didn’t put in auto responders or I can’t believe you don’t have more templates or I can’t believe you don’t have this feature.” But we purposely knew who we were targeting and it was web designers. Their pain point was if they didn’t have private label software, they’d have to attempt to build an e-mail newsletter system themselves. They didn’t care about building software. They cared about getting paid and moving on to their next job. So we hit their number one pain point, which is making them look professional and large to their customers, making them look like they were the ones that built the software for them. As soon as we hit that pain point, the fact that we were missing other features didn’t even matter. It didn’t even factor into the equation. They bought the software, they loved it, and they kept buying it.
Andrew: How much revenue did you get from existing customers as soon as you launched that second product?
Mitch: That’s going back awhile now. I can just give you a rough estimate. Let me just quickly fire up my calculator. We would have made about $1.8 million in the first year after launching that product.
Andrew: Is that from this new product or from both combined?
Mitch: From both combined.
Andrew: Both combined. I imagine that having an existing customer base helped you a lot. Did you test out with the existing customer base? Did you test out with the initial pool of e-mail that you had from people who signed up to get your white paper?
Mitch: We did, yes. What we would do is about three months out from launching, we’d blog that we’re about to launch this new e-mail marketing product. We’d post screen shots. We’d send them e-mails with teasers of new features we were about to release, and that really got the buzz out around the product, because back then there weren’t really any competing products, believe it or not. Back then, ConstantContact was still fairly young. iContact didn’t exist. Exact Target was just getting started, and we were on the download to own side, so we were similar to WordPress that you had to install the software. So we didn’t really didn’t have any competition, and people were really crying out for our product. We used a lot of pre-release buzz, and then when the product came out, it literally flew off the virtual shelves so to speak.
Andrew: Let me ask you something. All these years later, why is it that I will install WordPress and have a custom installed WordPress and published just on my own domain with my own software, but when it comes to e-mail, I and most other people who will install WordPress for themselves turn to iContact, MailChimp, AWeber, etc.? Why is the market so different?
Mitch: E-mail marketing is hard. It’s hard to manage, especially at scale. When you think about WordPress, you install it once, you add some plug-ins, and then pretty much from there on you just write posts. You don’t have to maintain any of the hardware or the network. With e-mail marketing, as you grow your list and you start sending to 10,000 or 100,000, or a million people, like you mentioned earlier you’ve got deliverability, you’ve got spam, and you’ve got blacklisting. You’ve got to take care of the network on the hardware side, which is a lot more complicated for the average person even if you are technical. That’s why SAS, especially for e-mail marketing now is just really a lot more popular than the do-it-yourself option.
Andrew: Even with services like SendGrid, which will make sure that your e-mail gets delivered?
Mitch: It’s really I guess different strokes for different folks. If having the software on your own servers is important to you or required by law or if you’re a lawyer or if you’re in financial practices or you’re a surgeon, then you need everything installed on your own servers for compliance.
Andrew: Oh really? Lawyers can’t use those outside services?
Mitch: I believe they can use some, just not all of them. There are policies around how their client data is shared and stored. For some businesses, you just have to choose install it on your own servers, but for most people, SAS or a hosted version is a lot easier and a lot more convenient.
Andrew: Why didn’t you ever shift towards creating that iContact type service?
Mitch: We actually did. We launched a hosted version of our e-mail marketing product called BigResponse. The website is still up. It’s BigResponse.com. What we learned from that is how easy a SAS platform is to get started as opposed to selling download to own, because if you sell licensed software, which is what you install on your own server, you have to keep selling the same amount every month to make the same revenue. On a SAS model, because it’s a recurring subscription, even if you don’t make any sales this month, you still have your customers from last month paying you. We learned that from BigResponse, which is the hosted version of our e-mail marketing platform. That’s what led us to launching BigCommerce last year, which is our hosted shopping card.
Andrew: I sometimes interrupt my questions halfway through because I want to make sure that I have a full understanding and that I give my audience a full understanding. Why didn’t that work so well for you guys? Why didn’t that hosted version where people have to pay you month after month do better than the solution where you sell a customer once and move on to find another customer?
Mitch: Well, it wasn’t that it didn’t do better. It was that we more or less launched a hosted version of our e-mail marketing and our shopping cart software around the same time. So the e-mail marketing platform grew like this, but BigCommerce grew like that.
Andrew: Now I understand. I didn’t get that before. It was just a fast rise for BigCommerce that everything else had to be put aside, anything else that wasn’t as fast.
Mitch: Exactly. And one thing we wanted to do as a business was shift our focus from having six or seven different products, which we had, to really focusing on one. We put BigResponse and BigCommerce both out there at around the same time. BigResponse caught on, and my feeling for that is because the eCommerce market was very stale, very dry and very dated, whereas the e-mail marketing section of the market was mature. So iContact was doing well. MailChimp was doing well. There were established players, whereas on the shopping cart side, the offerings out there were still four or five years old. When BigCommerce came out, it was innovative compared to what was on the market and that’s why customers gravitated towards BigCommerce so much and that’s why it took off.
Andrew: Where did you get the idea for BigCommerce?
Mitch: The name or the product?
Andrew: The product.
Mitch: We had our shopping cart, which we launched after the e-mail marketing product. We launched that in 2007, and it was called Interspire Shopping Cart. It’s still exist today, but it’s download to own. The reason we launched that was because I had an eCommerce background. Before Eddie and I got together, I was building successful online stores here in Australia and they were doing really well. The problem, even back then in 2001, was there was no off-the-shelf eCommerce software that you could just use. You had to buy it and customize it and get designers and developers. It didn’t have all the features you’d need to run your business. So I had a very good understanding of what was lacking in the shopping software that was already out there. So that’s why I built Interspire Shopping Cart initially.
When we put it out there, it was selling well. We’ve got about 10,000 customers using it at the moment, maybe 12,000. A lot of them say to us, “Hey, I love your software but I don’t want to have to deal with my own servers and all that kind of stuff. Can you do a hosted version?” Initially, we said, “Yes, maybe one day.” But then we just had thousands of requests and we said, “Okay, from now on, let’s focus on figuring out how to build a hosted infrastructure so we can launch a hosted version of our shopping cart product.” That was the beginning of last year we started building that. It took us about 9 or 10 months to build the infrastructure, build the system and to make changes in the code. That’s when we launched BigCommerce, in September of last year.
Andrew: September of last year.
Andrew: How big a share of your overall revenue is coming from BigCommerce?
Mitch: It’s quite significant. I don’t want to go into too much detail, but it’s exceeding our expectations.
Andrew: More than 40%?
Andrew: Wow. A product that’s less than two years old is doing can I say more than half?
Mitch: I won’t give you a yes or no, but it’s doing well.
Andrew: Okay. You’ve been open and I want to respect where your limits are.
Mitch: I can tell you the number of customers we have. We’re about to hit 10,000, and it’s only been around for just over a year.
Andrew: 10,000 customers of BigCommerce?
Andrew: Why? How did you get so many?
Mitch: I think it’s a few things. I think innovation is one of them. When we launched last year, the offerings on the market were okay. They did the core of what you needed. You could get an okay looking website. You could have a checkout and a shopping cart and all that kind of stuff. We really looked at it from a different approach. We knew that having an online store wasn’t the challenge. It was getting people to your online store, getting customers. So while we had the core functionality, we built a lot of marketing tools into the product from day one. We made it really easy to rank in the search engines, ranking on the front page. The reason we could do that was because we understood SEO, Eddie and myself, because we rank on the front page number one for all of our keywords. We still do. We took that knowledge and put it into BigCommerce.
Another thing we did was make it easy to list your products and sell on Facebook and eBay and all of the shopping comparison websites. Basically, we sat down and identified, if you were to sell online, how could you reach your target customers? We built all of those tools into BigCommerce. You could go to one of our competitors and sure you could get an online store set up and it would look okay. But then what do you do when you need people to come to your online store? You’ve got to go and hire consultants. You’ve got to learn SEO. You’ve got to learn social media. We didn’t want to put that into the equation. We wanted to take that out and make it so you could point and click to get all this traffic to your online store. That’s one of our points of difference.
Andrew: If you see me pointing down or if you see me looking down, it’s because I like to take notes. It seems a little odd and I noticed that when I do it, you pause for a second but thankfully you continue. I just thought I’d acknowledge it. I’m not turning away attention. I’m actually giving what you’re saying even more attention and writing it down. Earlier when I asked where did you come up with the idea or where did you come up with something, you seemed to have a story behind how you came up with the name BigCommerce. Where did that name come from?
Mitch: Eddie and I were brainstorming one day. We wanted a name that sounded different. There are lots of shopping cart software and our product, Interspire Shopping Cart software was very boring. The reason we came up with that name was to rank in the search engines. People search for shopping cart software, so all we did was prefix that with our brand and we came up with a product name. That was our strategy early on. The naming for BigCommerce was we wanted to sound different. We didn’t want to launch a product with a boring name and Big explains itself. Big, big impact, big sales and big revenue. Commerce, selling online. We kind of just pushed those two words together and that’s how we came up with BigCommerce. Again, because the domain name was available as well. That was a huge part of our decision.
Andrew: It’s one word though, right? Is it one word, BigCommerce?
Mitch: It is.
Andrew: How does having it be one word influence your search engine rankings instead of Big and Commerce which might help you rank for commerce?
Mitch: We get a lot of our branded searches that are two words, so Big, space, Commerce. While technically and from a trademark point of view, it’s one word, we don’t mind if people use one word or two words when they’re talking about the product. We use one word for branding consistency, but most of our branded searches are Big, space, Commerce.
Andrew: When I asked you how did you get 10,000 customers in about a year and a half, you mentioned all the features, all the things that separated your product from the competition. I’ve done enough interviews here with entrepreneurs who built great stuff whose stuff didn’t go anywhere because they just didn’t get the word out because people didn’t know it existed. They weren’t as good at converting as you described earlier as you guys were. Now that you’ve told me about the features, how did you tell the world about it, and how did you get them to come in and sign up?
Mitch: I think the big thing with BigCommerce compared to when we started Interspire is back when we started Interspire there were two people; Eddie and myself. Now we have over 50 employees, so we had the base and we had the revenue from Interspire to fund the growth of BigCommerce. It’s not cheap to fund. Initially, when you want to launch a SAS product, you need millions of dollars a month that you’ll be running at a loss for to gain market share, and that’s the approach we’ve taken with BigCommerce.
Andrew: So you were buying advertising. You were buying market share first. When I say $10 million run rate, is that a profitable run rate?
Mitch: Yes, we’re very profitable.
Andrew: Very profitable meaning net margins over 20%?
Andrew: Wow. That’s pretty impressive. Fifty people too.
Mitch: Yes. I think the main reason for that is we depend on automation to run the business a lot. Anything that can be automated, we will automate it. A good example is auto responders for sending out e-mails for customers when they sign up for BigCommerce or when they try the demo. We could easily hire two or three people that sit there and write e-mails to send out. We automate that. We automate a lot of our support, so we have the self-help knowledge base. Really, that saves us having to take a lot of phone calls. We still offer phone support, but 30% of our cases can be resolved using self help. We really try and keep the team as small and tight as we can and automate as much as we can, because that gives us a predictable growth model and we know when we have to plug in to get to the next step in terms of revenue.
Andrew: You automate to keep things simple and to cut down on costs. You spend money on market share. Where do you spend money? What kind of ads are you buying?
Mitch: We don’t do anything different in terms of marketing when we’re buying customers. We do everything that every other business does. We do e-mail marketing. We do Google AdWords. We do social media. We do a lot of PR, so we’ve been in TechCrunch, Forbes, Mashable and Inc.com. We were in the Inc. 5000. We were number 633 for 2010. We focus a lot or most of our marketing budget on direct response. So if we spend a dollar, we want to know exactly how much we’ll get back. If it’s not more than a dollar, then we drop that and we look for a marketing that we can scale out by putting $1 in this side and getting, for example, $2 out this side.
Andrew: What kind of ad buys can you do where you get that? Without being specific.
Mitch: I can be specific, because it’s different for different businesses. You can do that with Google AdWords if you know what you’re doing and if you know the right keywords to target and if you test your landing pages. You can do that with display advertising by buying banner ads. Banner ads as dated and as boring as they are, they still work. You can do that with e-mail list rental and sponsorships, and you can also do that with social media and contests.
Andrew: What kind of social media contests have you done?
Mitch: One of the big ones that we did last year was an eCommerce makeover contest. So similar to Extreme Makeover where they come in and they redo your house, we did that with an online store. We’d come in and put all of your products over to BigCommerce from whatever platform you were on. We’d design your store and give it a makeover. We’d help you with search marketing and everything. The prize there was $35,000 worth of services. To enter that contest you had to record and post a video on YouTube telling us why you like BigCommerce better than anything else.
Andrew: How many entries did you get for that?
Andrew: 1,500 people created a video saying why they liked BigCommerce?
Andrew: How did 1,500 people even know that you were doing this contest?
Mitch: We used a lot of PR, so we work with PR agencies. Again that’s something you probably can’t do if you’re small because they’re expensive. They’re $10,000 or $20,000 a month. We figured out what kind of customers we wanted to attract, and we figured out the best way to get to them. We also promoted it a lot on our Facebook page. We’ve got about 2,500 fans on there. We promoted it on Twitter, and I built relationships with journalists and editors and magazines that target the people that we want to go after. I had to do that over three months before launching the contest so that I had relationships with them and I could say, “Hey, we’re launching this contest. Can you write about it?” The traditional old school PR journalist relationship is probably the biggest thing that we’ve done differently to a lot of our competitors. Journalism, as boring and old school as it is, still works to get the message out there. We did that in combination with social media. We also bought a few banner ads and some Google AdWords ads to really get attention to the contest. It worked really well. If your viewers want to see the site of the winner, it’s www.GorillaSacks.com. Her name is Lisa and she sells recyclable tote bags. Her website is just awesome now.
Andrew: Wow. All right. If I go to YouTube and do a search for BigCommerce, in addition to the videos that you created, I’m going to see 1,500 videos of people who say, “I love BigCommerce.”
Mitch: You will.
Andrew: Good Lord! I’ve got to create some contest like that about me, have 1,500 people say, “I love Andrew Warner.” This is like a personal boost. Or I may have one for Mixergy. Maybe instead of doing these contests where I just offer stuff out for people who tweet, I should say, “Create a video.” And I need to come up with a high perceived value. You came up with $30 plus thousand in value.
Mitch: Exactly. The effort someone would put into a contest is relative to what they’ll get back.
Andrew: How do you come up with $30,000 in value on you guys taking an existing site, pulling it over to your platform and skinning that. How is that $30,000 in value?
Mitch: The key is we provided $30,000 in value, not cash. So it didn’t cost us anything.
Andrew: How is that worth $30,000?
Mitch: We found a few partners who wanted to be in on the contest. We found a search marketing company and MailChimp were in on the contest. A few other companies provided sales and marketing consulting, and a designer who wanted to be in on the contest. Basically, I said to them, “Look, we’ve got this huge reach. Do you want your brand in front of 300,000 people? If you do, tell me your best prize. If you don’t, that’s cool, we’ll go and find someone else.” Putting up $5,000 in services to get your brand in front of 300,000 potential clients is a no-brainer for them.
Andrew: You said, “MailChimp, we’re going to include your e-mail service in our package. How much is that worth lifetime?” MailChimp, whatever, it doesn’t cost them that much. Boom that adds a few thousand dollars. You go to a SEO person. That’s brilliant. I love it. You and I met because you e-mailed and you asked if you could advertise on Mixergy. I said that we were booked up for now, but we got into a conversation that led to this interview. Why would you buy ads on a program like mine when you could run contests like this and have hundreds of people who are promoting you? There’s still some value here. Why? What is it?
Mitch: There is, because the demographic of people who watch your show are early adopters and they’re entrepreneurs. They have huge reach and influence over the non-technical people in their lives. I’m sure that if you were the first to get an iPhone, you told 20 people about it. I’m going for the influencers who tell the business owners, their friends, and their family about BigCommerce. That’s why I came to you.
Andrew: So you have a portion of your budget that doesn’t have to be directly measured but you just will go and trust that it has some impact that’s not measurable?
Mitch: Yes. When we started, the only marketing we would do is direct response. If we couldn’t get a return and track that return, we’d say no. Now that we’re more established and we’ve grown, we take about 10% of our marketing budget every month and we just try random things. Sponsoring your show was one thing we were looking to try. Every month we just try different things. If we get a return or if we can track sentiment behind our brand, which is not quantitative, but let’s say for example one month we see that we are getting 5,000 tweets about BigCommerce. Then, all things being equal, we do a sponsorship and at the end of the next month we’re getting 7,000 tweets. That came from somewhere. It came from that sponsorship we did. If we can track it in some way, then we’ll keep spending money on that marketing. If not, we’ll try something completely different. We’ll try all sorts of crazy things that our competitors haven’t tried before.
Andrew: Like what? Give me another example. How about another social media example because in our pre-interview you talked about social media being important to you.
Mitch: One thing we’re doing at the moment if you go to Facebook.com/BigCommerce, which is our page, we’re giving away T-shirts. It’s not too left of the middle, but we went on 99Designs and we set up a contest where designers can create cool designs for T-shirts. We chose and paid for three winners, and over the next few months we’re giving away batches of T-shirts, a hundred at a time. The only way you can get the link to sign up to put in your shipping details for a shirt is to follow us on Facebook.
Andrew: I saw that. There’s an arrow that points up to the like button and it says, “Win this T-shirt. Hit the like button.” If I hit it and I win, I don’t get a batch of T-shirts, I get a single T-shirt.
Mitch: One T-shirt.
Andrew: T-shirts still work as contest prizes?
Mitch: You’d be surprised. T-shirts have a high perceived value. One T-shirt will cost us $9.50 to print, design, and ship anywhere in the U.S. or Canada. $10 has a perceived value of $50 to the person receiving the T-shirt, and it builds enormous brand loyalty because they’ll wear that T-shirt, they’ll talk to their friends about it and they’ll wear it to trade shows. They’re basically becoming a mobile salesperson for us, and all it cost us was $10.
Andrew: Someone once said, “Never underestimate the American public’s appetite for T-shirts and baseball caps.” I can see it here.
Mitch: It’s phenomenal. When we do finish the contest, we’ll have a thousand T-shirts out there initially. I think it’s fair to assume that each person wearing a shirt will tell 10 or 20 people about BigCommerce. That’s 20,000 people that didn’t cost us anything to get to, to reach.
Andrew: It’s a thousand people and it cost you $10? That’s a lot to create and ship a T-shirt? Why so much?
Mitch: Is it though? In my opinion, it’s not.
Andrew: In return for what you’re getting for it, I don’t think it is. You’ve got people who are liking you. You’ve got people who are walking around with your brand. You’ve got people who care enough to come over to the site to see what the T-shirt is and of course, they’re telling their friends. But I thought T-shirts were cheaper even than $10.
Mitch: We’ve gone to the high quality T-shirts. We could have spent $5 and had a low quality shirt where the design would come off after a few washes. We wanted to go high end and make a good quality T-shirt, because the quality of that shirt will represent the quality of our brand to the people wearing that T-shirt. You don’t want to see a faded, BigCommerce T-shirt walking down the street, right? So we opted for the higher quality.
Andrew: As people can probably tell from your accent, you’re talking to me from Australia today. How has being in Australia impacted your ability to do business, good and bad?
Mitch: I guess to preface that, I’ll tell you that I’m in the U.S. about four or five times a year. We have a big office in Austin, Texas, which is where we do all of our sales and support from. We’ve got about 40 people in Austin at the moment. We’ve got about 15 people here in Sydney, and all we do here is our development and our engineering.
I’ll start with the positives, and then I’ll get into the negatives of being geographically separate. The positives are really that we’ve been able to put managers in place in our U.S. office and let them run the show. We’re not involved in the day-to-day nitty gritty of dealing with complaints and dealing with growth and hiring and firing, although we do all final interviews for anyone that comes into the company. So it’s basically like we’re two separate companies, but we’re only in the Austin office four or five times a year. That’s the good part of it. Another good thing is software companies thrive and grow or live and die on their innovation and their releases. So when we’re here in Sydney, I’m very focused on working with our engineering team to make sure what goes into our product is what our customers want, that we’re releasing frequently, and that bugs that are coming in are being squashed. I’ll work with our product development manager and our systems admin team on that.
The negatives. Sometimes it’s hard to communicate with our managers and our team in Austin over video conference. We’ve got a life size video conferencing system, which is awesome, that we use to talk to our management team and our guys in Austin pretty much every day. The downside is that it’s harder to communicate over video than it is in person.
Andrew: Just as you said that, we lost the connection there for a moment. But we’re back. Just as you said it’s hard to communicate in person, our video froze, but we’re back. Sorry, what was the next negative?
Mitch: The other negative is we do a lot of our final interviews over video conference. Again, it’s not as easy to gauge someone’s personality and their culture when you’re interviewing them over a video system. We do all of our first round interviews in person in Austin with our team, but then Eddie and I do the final interviews. I guess the only other final negative really is that we’re not in the same market that we sell to. We only sell BigCommerce in North America. By not physically being in that market, we’re relying on online news sources to really keep up with where things are going and we’re relying on our team. Having said that, the positive is I spend about four months out of the year in Austin, so I’m on the ground for one-third of the time talking to our customers and figuring out what’s going on.
There are pros and cons to what we do. I guess the biggest pro is being able to stay here in Sydney with our family because that’s where I’m from.
Andrew: There are a couple of things that I wanted to talk to you about that I saw in my research. The first thing, actually, you e-mailed this to me. You sent me a link to your YouTube page where you created dozens of videos, maybe even hundreds of videos. You have gotten half a million views. You’re very active. It’s you personally, on camera, giving people a tip. The last tip that I saw before starting this interview, for example, was how to do two things at once. Like, if you’re going to go and ride your bike, why listen to music and waste time? Why not listen to a program like Mixergy or why not listen to a self-help tape or some audio book? Two things at once. In about three minutes, you posted that up. How impactful are those little, two-minute, three-minute videos and the longer ones where you even have a white board and you’re teaching?
Mitch: They are very impactful. My average video gets about 7,000 views. The kind of person that I’m trying to attract with those videos are the people like you and I, the entrepreneurs, the people who are focused on improving their lives and the people who want to do better. They’re building companies and they’re very entrepreneurially minded. The reason I do the videos for those kinds of people is because they’re our customers and I want to attract more of those kinds of people. I guess at a selfish level, I like to educate people. I’ve always been very big on writing and podcasting and videos. I get a kick out of teaching people something that I’ve learned, that’s worked for me and that’s helped me grow as a person and as a business owner as well. Again, there’s not really anyone out there besides me, you, Gary Vanerchuk, Tony Shafton. There’s not anyone just doing really good videos to teach people stuff without an ulterior motive. They’re always trying to hawk an eBook or try and get people to sign up for a $10,000 course. There’s just no really good content for entrepreneurs, so that’s another reason why I started the YouTube channel.
Andrew: A lot of the guys who do sell these multi-thousand dollar courses have no business teaching anything about business. They’ve never been in business. What I like about your videos are they’re raw, they’re simple, but most importantly it’s a guy who’s really built a business who’s creating those videos, not a guy who read a few self-help books who’s now going to regurgitate what he read. It’s a guy who says, “Look, this is what worked for me.” You do whiteboard. Didn’t I see that?
Andrew: You’re like teaching class up there.
Mitch: The reason I do that is because there are two ways you can look at that. You can think, “Wow, I’m not going to share any of my secrets because our competitors will copy what I’m doing.” But it’s not about the idea. It’s about the execution of the idea that separates good from bad companies.
Andrew: You keep some secrets to yourself. I actually did an interview with someone who revealed a lot of secrets, and then I had a private conversation with him afterwards where he told things that he could never reveal in the video. There are always some stuff that you have to hold back.
Mitch: Definitely. Like I wouldn’t give you our percentage of revenue from BigCommerce earlier. Those things are for competitive reasons. They’re not about the idea. They’re about the execution. More often then not, I’m open about everything; the marketing, the mindset, how we’ve partnered with people and how we’ve grown. If you watched the YouTube videos, you could go out and realistically, if you had a few thousand dollars, start a competitor to BigCommerce or start a competitor to MailChimp or any of the [inaudible 55:36] products out there. It’s not about the ideas. It’s about the execution. So you’re correct.
Andrew: I’m going to come back in a moment and I’m going to challenge you on your openness. First, I’ve got to talk about two other things that I saw when I did some research. I think it was a frequently asked questions page and one of the questions was, “Do you offer a refund?” I expected, “Yada, yada, yada, of course we offer a refund. We love our customers.” But no. You said, “No refunds. We give you a 15-day free trial. It’s fully packed. But no refunds afterwards.” Why no refunds?
Mitch: There’re kind of two reasons we did that. Number one, like you mentioned we do have a free trial. The psychology behind refund is risk reversal. You want to know if you buy something, then you’re not going to get screwed over or it’s not going to work how you want and you can get your money back. Instead of doing that we offer the free trial. The second reason is people who are very conscious about refunds are typically not the kind of customer we’re looking for. We want someone who will go out of their way to try our product first, to get a store up and running. It’s pretty easy to do. You’re going to click around. You’re going to customize a design and then if the free trial is not for you, that’s okay. You can go and use another product. But if it is, then you’re committed. It’s a different psychology. If you’re committed and you know you can back out via a refund, then probably in life you’re going to commit and then pull out, commit and pull out. By giving people the free trial, we take that away. We reduce the risk on them but it also makes them more likely to commit and therefore have longevity with our software.
Andrew: Why no free version? Everything on the Internet is supposed to be free. Did you get that e-mail? It came from the captain of the Internet.
Mitch: I’ve put him in my junk mail, so I didn’t get it.
Andrew: Why no free version?
Mitch: To me, the freemium model has its place. If you’re a venture backed company and you’re going for user count and you want an exit to a company like Intuit or to Google. We’re not that kind of company. We’re not venture backed. We actually have to make real revenue to keep our business afloat. That’s a decision we made early on. We’ve talked to every VC you can imagine. Every single VC has approached us to invest, and we’ve told them, “No. Thank you, but we don’t want you at this point in time.” We might change down the track, but by having to focus on revenue, you focus on what’s important in growing your business. What I’m saying now is nothing new. It’s a view shared by the guys at 37Signals and by other companies who focus on revenue matching or getting user count. I’ve forgotten your original question.
Andrew: No, you’ve answered that. If you’re a company that has to be self sustaining that doesn’t have outside funding, you’re not trying to grow numbers of users. You’re trying to grow revenue and trying to build a solid foundation.
Andrew: That makes a lot of sense. One more thing about my research. I often will type in the name of a company and the word “sucks” to see who hates them and why so I can bring up these questions and attribute it to myself so I sound smart like I understand your business. You did something very smart, and I don’t think it was intentional but it worked out well. You use the word “sucks” a lot in your blog posts. Certain things just suck for you, and you’re willing to use the word suck in your blog post. That completely throws off a researcher like me. If anyone out there has a crappy product and really wants to hide who’s talking about it sucking, you should blog a few times, I’d say 12 times, just to shove all those sucky references to the second page of Google. That’s a little tip from me, not to you Mitch, but for everyone else. I know you guys are doing well because I also looked at your “get satisfaction” page. I said, “Who’s pissed off at them at Get Satisfaction?” It was all on this technical requests and issues and bugs. Nothing big, so I figured everything is cool.
Here is the part where I challenge you to be open. You’re a single guy, right?
Andrew: Are you single or married?
Mitch: I’m not married yet, but I will be soon.
Andrew: Oh, you’re dating someone. You dated someone after you made your first million dollars with your business. What was that like, to go out there knowing that you’ve made it?
Mitch: Knowing from a relationship . . .
Andrew: Let’s go back in time, and I promise I won’t take too long with this. If you’re uncomfortable, you just let me know. But I’m always curious about this stuff. You’re a guy who is a developer and smart entrepreneur. Were you dating a lot in high school?
Mitch: No. I was the typical geek in high school. I was always in the computer lab, always programming, and just really focusing on learning development and marketing back in high school, so no, I wasn’t.
Andrew: I know the typical geek. I am the typical geek. You’re actually pretty good looking. I have this big nose. The dark color that looks suspicious. All right. So you’re a geek, you go and do well. What’s it like when you decide, “I’m now going to start dating.” What was that period like after the first million?
Mitch: It didn’t really factor in.
Andrew: It didn’t? You weren’t able to go to better restaurants or not worry about splitting the bill?
Mitch: I’m sorry, I didn’t understand the question. I guess I’ll give you a bit of background on me. I’ve always been working in some sort of job since I was 10 actually. I was doing car washing and delivering newspapers and working at food shops, so as cocky as it sounds, I’ve always not had to worry about splitting bills and that kind of stuff because I’m a workaholic.
Andrew: What about having more confidence then? What about the fact that you’re now going into the dating world no longer a geek, or maybe still a bit of a geek but now a successful geek who can hold his head up high, chest out and be proud of this big accomplishment?
Mitch: Oh sure. Yes, confidence comes with growing your company. I don’t think my confidence grew as our revenue grew to be honest. More, for me, was when we had more people on the team. That really gave me a kick. I really liked that, because I knew that I was providing salary and a place for these people to come every day. I was providing for 50 people, and each of our team had four or five people in their family, so essentially we were providing for 200 people. I love that idea. Money, to me, is just a byproduct of working hard. I’ve never really thought about money as in “I’ve got more money or less money.” I think of success and how we’re helping the people that we employ more than anything.
Andrew: That is something. When you go from just being a two-man operation to suddenly having a team behind you, it feels like, “We built something. We’re here together. It’s no longer just us against the world, just two of us. It’s now a team against the world.”
I’ll read some of the notes that I took as you and I were talking, and then I’ll ask you one final piece of advice for anyone in the audience. Like, what’s that one step they could take after being fired up by you? I know I’m fired up by you, and even though it’s 8:15 here at night, I’d like to have a next step from you too. Here’s what I got.
First of all, teach to sell. You did that in the beginning with the articles, and you’re still doing that today with all those YouTube videos that people go check out. Send out a survey to people and ask them what you should build. Don’t ask just what you should build, ask “What would you pay for?” Number three I’ve got is “Do it for them.” A lot of the software that you told us about today does things for users. You didn’t expect them to figure out SEO. Your software is going to do SEO for them. The next point I have here is make things “Grandma easy.” Don’t just make it simple. Make it “Grandma easy,” or “mother simple,” since Andrew doesn’t have a grandma. The next point here that I wrote down, I scribbled “syndicate.” You talked about how your software is eCommerce software that doesn’t just leave the software on your users’ websites but it syndicates out to Facebook and eBay and so on. The more you allow users to syndicate their stuff out, the more they’re really reaching the world and bringing them back to your service. The last point that I have here is, “Never underestimate the American public’s need, desire, love, fan, fascination with and determination to do whatever it takes to get T-shirts.” That’s not completely all inclusive here. There was a lot of social media in there, but that’s some pretty good notes here from an hour-long conversation.
Andrew: My audience is all fired up. Your audience, I know from BigCommerce is going to come here and watch you. We’re all fired up here together. What do we do if we want to follow some of the success that you’ve done? What’s one bit of advice that you can give us for the next step after this interview?
Mitch: I thought a lot about this last night coincidentally. The biggest thing you can do to become successful is to model what other people have done. It’s a very, very simple concept. Let’s say that you wanted to go out and build a huge burger franchise. You go out and find someone who’s done that before you. You don’t go out and find Ray Kroc the founder of McDonald’s, but you find someone in your area who maybe has 5 or 10 restaurants. You get him, take him to lunch, ask him what he did, and you model based on what he did. It’s a similar concept to what Tony Robbins says, where if you go straight to the expert, you condense 10 years of experience into one hour of advice. If you can do that in different areas of your life, whether it’s business, a mindset or relationships, then you’re going to have all of this advice condensed and given to you that you can act on right now instead of having to do trial and error yourself. A lot of what growing a business is about is trial and error. If you can skip over the trial and error and know what works, you’re going to get the same outcome but without all the mistakes and the time that it would normally take you to get there. I’m very big on modeling people who have done what I want to do.
Andrew: Who have you done that with? Who have you modeled?
Mitch: Everyone. My biggest influence is Marc Benioff from SalesForce. His book, “Behind the Cloud” pretty much gave me a playbook on which we can build BigCommerce. He has been generous enough to talk about everything that SalesForce.com did well and didn’t do well. That’s allowed us as a company to do in one year what it took him five years to do.
Andrew: So you didn’t even have to sit him down to lunch, just reading his book and studying up on how he did it allows you to bring the ideas out to your company.
Andrew: That is what I hope my audience does with this interview with you and me and with all my interviews. They don’t have to go and figure things out, not everything out on their own if you’re going to be generous and spend about an hour with us and tell us how you did it.
Andrew: I want them to go and follow up with you and check out your stuff. What do they do? They go to www.BigCommerce.com. They can check out the platform we’ve been talking about. They can see your videos on www.YouTube.com/BigCommerce?
Mitch: It’s www.YouTube.com/BigCommerce.com.
Andrew: Anything else that they need to check out?
Mitch: Yes. They can ask me questions on Twitter. Just Twitter.com/MitchellHarper.
Andrew: If somebody has a specific question about their website, will you even give them feedback on their specific website?
Andrew: Well, tweet at him and tell him you heard him offer that on Mixergy and ask him for feedback on your website. Please be patient if he gets a flood of people. All right, Mitch, thanks for doing this interview.
Mitch: I’m glad to be here. Thanks, Andrew. Appreciate it.
Andrew: Guys, thank you all for watching. I’m Andrew Warner. Come back and give me feedback on this interview. Bye.
This transcript brought to you by www.Speechpad.com.