Sprouter.com: How Do You Recover From A Shutdown? – with Sarah Prevette

Posted on Oct 31, 2011 - 9:14 AM PST

What can you learn from a failed startup?

Joining me is Sarah Prevette, the founder of Sprouter, which allows entrepreneurs to get curated answers to small business questions from people who know what they’re talking about.

Recently the company announced that they had a setback and had to close down, but at the last minute, they got bought out. So I invited Sarah here to find out what happened and learn from that experience.

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About Sarah Prevette

Sarah Prevette is the founder of Sprouter.com, which allows entrepreneurs to get curated answers to small business questions from people who know what they’re talking about.

Raw transcript

Mixergy’s audio transcription is done by Speechpad

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Hey, everyone. It’s Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart, and, of course, the place where entrepreneurs come to tell the stories behind their businesses. The big question for this interview is, what can you learn from a failed start up? Joining me today is Sarah Prevette. She’s the founder of Sprouter.com.

Sprouter allows entrepreneurs to get curated answers to small business questions from people who know what they’re talking about. Recently the company announced that they had a set-back and had to close down. They got a buy-out at the last minute. I invited Sarah here to find out what happened and learned from the experience. Sarah, welcome to Mixergy. Thanks for doing the interview.

Sarah: Thanks for having me.

Andrew: I want to know the story of how Sprouter launched and the evolution of it. Before we go into, how it grew, and where it’s going the future. That day when you had to do the blog post and got up here in front of me, what did it feel like that day?

Sarah: I’m not sure there are really words to describe having to shut down something that you work tirelessly on for years and years. It was a really, really tough decision to come to but even tougher trying to push that send button on that blog post and announce it. It’s a pretty humbling experience and I guess panic inducing when you have a community and your business is a community of people. It’s not bricks and mortar. It’s an actual community that you’re shutting down.

Andrew: You’re a much better person than I am. For me, I don’t so much worry about the community at that point. I worry about what they’re going to think of me. In fact, that’s what I did worry about when I shut down the previous version of Mixergy. I said, “It’s just not working. I spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to make this thing work. I’ve got to shut it down. All I have is good domain, essentially.” I thought about myself. Like, “What are people going to be thinking of me?”. Did you have any of those thoughts too?

Sarah: Absolutely. No one looks at failure and doesn’t take a hit to their ego. It was a really, really, really, daunting experience. It’s certainly one that makes you look at things a little bit differently and certainly changes your perspective on your community and on your start up.

Andrew: Differently how?

Sarah: Well, you get the benefit and the pain of hindsight. You really sort of start to be introspective and look at all the decisions you’ve made and that’s eye-opening. Not a lot of people get that perspective to be able to turn around, have that all brought into focus, or, to sort of painstakingly go through every decision you’ve made, things that you did, things that you might have done differently, and all that kind of stuff. It’s definitely easier to look back than it is to look forward but when you get that chance and then you get that chance to move forward again with that hindsight it’s definitely a very big game changing moment.

Andrew: The big worry for me with Mixergy is, here I am dong interviews with successful entrepreneurs and the goal is to just learn from people who are experienced, who are proven, and the thing that I keep thinking or I kept thinking when, where what if this thing isn’t going to work out is. I’ve been saying that listening to these interviews will make you a better entrepreneur. That listening to these interviews will make me a better business person, and if I listen to them, every single one of them obviously, and I can’t do it, boy have I been a failure and a fraud. How did, you’re in a similar situation. How did you handle that?

Sarah: Yeah, I guess, but you know I’m very careful to not brand myself as an expert. I’m going through the evolution in learning just like everybody else that uses Sprouter. And I think that it’s really based on your circumstances and everybody has to deal with the cards that they’ve been dealt. And there’s always extenuating circumstances that are unique to your business. And I think things like Mixer D and Spreader are fantastic resources to get advice, but at the end of the day you have to make those decisions, right. People don’t make them for you. And we’re all going to listen to you, people that have been there before, but sometimes we’re going to make our own mistakes. And I can certainly put my hand up to claim some of those mistakes.

Andrew: And I’ve got to tell you that one of the biggest lessons for me, having done these interviews is, the biggest successes are the ones that are almost proudest of their failures. I remember when I had Joel Spolsky on here when his question and answer platform just wasn’t working as a platform and he had to say to all the people that were using it as a platform, it’s not working, we’re going to have to pull back. We won’t have a platform anymore. And he was just, he was comfortable, he was confident as he did it.

And sure enough, I think about a year later he came on to do another interview where the guy was just on top of the world. Suddenly the non-platform version of his business of StackExchange was just killing it and he had a brand new product, Trellio, that he was launching and the guy was on top of the world. It’s just part of the process. And part of the process I’m so grateful in this space is to talk about it publicly. Let me ask you this. One last question about where you are, two more about where you are today and then I want to go back and find out how you got here. The first is you said, a lot of lessons learned. Tell me about one of them, the biggest lesson that you learned from this setback.

Sarah: Well, it’s challenging to find just one, but, I think one of them is really about persistence. I think the most obvious lesson from the Spreader experience is that it’s really not over until it’s over. We really, I mean we went on, we were all, we shut down the office, had the U-Haul come and take the office furniture away. People went to look for jobs.

And then, all these people came to the table to buy the company and to continue what we had built. And so, even when your ego is taking that big hit and you’re walking away, it’s really not over if you’re willing to come back. There’s definitely, that whole, I guess we talked a little bit about it. That vulnerability and that humbleness when you fail. It’s tough to get over that right, to bounce back. You’re coming back after a defeat. And I think one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is just having to keep your confidence and be willing to persevere even when you’re going through hell and back.

Andrew: I wrote down two things here. First of all you said it’s challenging to find just one lesson, so I wrote a note to come back and ask you about some of the other lessons. You also said it’s tough to come back, and looking at some of my most heart felt painful e-mails in my inbox. The big question is, how do you recover from something like this? And you have emotionally too, I want to learn from you and I wrote a note to come back to it.

And there was a happy ending as I went through the blog post. I saw that of course that there was a buy out and then suddenly I’m living your life in like high speed, there’s set back set back, boom buy out. And then suddenly it’s we’re hiring, and we’ll get to that too. I don’t want to reveal too much of the story up front.

Final question and then we’ll go back in time is, I gave a quick description of what the business is. And to be honest I lifted it right off of one of your blog posts. Because I wanted a quick way for people to understand what Sprouter is. But maybe you can put a little more flesh on the skeleton that I put there. What’s a use case that someone in my audience might come to your site with?

Sarah: Well, we have entrepreneurs from all stages of their business. People who are sort of early ideas, maybe even pre-prototype. We’re just trying to figure out what’s next and how do I get approved a concept, how do I do customer discovery? You know, what are those steps? Right up to I’m pitching investors, things aren’t going well. Having people review their pitch. But really the idea of Sprouter is to do exactly what you’re doing in a different format with Mixergy is letting people get advice from people who have already been there.

And it’s such an important resource, mentorship for anyone who is trying to grow a business, learning from people who have already been there is just an amazing resource. And I think the more that we can provide channels between people who have done things successfully before, and failed before, and learned from them, I think the more opportunities we’ll have for success and innovation.

Andrew: You know, in the early interviews when I used to say that the idea is that you’re going to learn from people who have been there, figure out how they did it so you can bring back their ideas to your business and apply them. The part of me that was like, I think that’s the way it’s going to work, but maybe I’m even putting myself out there by saying this is the way it is. Maybe we figure things out by figuring it out on our own.

I have now been doing this, I think, for three years doing interviews, 600+ interviews, and it is so cool to see that a lot of people who I am approaching for interview requests are listeners, people who now, in the interview say, “I listened to this Mixergy interview, and this is what happened.” I care about the revenue that we get from Mixergy. I am proud that there is revenue here.

I am proud that there are all kinds of stuff here, but the thing–and people can see it in my face when I hear it in an interview–what makes me proudest is to hear someone say, “I watch Mixergy interviews. I learn from them, and here’s what I was able to do,” and to see that is anecdotal evidence–there’s no hundred percent proof–but anecdotal evidence is really powerful when it is like this, when they say, “This works. We learned from other people’s experiences, and we built something that changed our lives.”

Sarah: Yes.

Andrew: All right, according to Ari’s research here–Ari did a lot of research into you–she says 2009 you launched Sprouter. What was the original idea for this site?

Sarah: Well, it is recently, so I did a business beforehand, and I found it really challenging just trying to find people. I was living in a small town, and had this idea, but where to turn to? Who to go to for advice? I started cold-calling people, trying to find people who could answer some of my questions, everything from pricing–how do you put a price on something, how do you seek advertisements–all that kind of stuff was new to me at the time, and I really felt like there should be a better way.

If you wanted to start a company, shouldn’t you be able to put your hand up and say, “I have this idea. Here is what I need help with,” and have other people who are also entrepreneurs put their hands up and say, “I can help you with that, and here is my problem. Can you help me?” That is the original idea of Sprouter was really peer-to-peer support, entrepreneurs helping other entrepreneurs. When we started, we realized that people were having a lot of their questions unanswered, or people all had sort of similar issues and not enough advice to give . . .

Andrew: Was this originally a Q and A site? Was Sprouter going to be a place where you can ask questions and get answers, or in what form were you going to let this peer-to-peer help come out?

Sarah: Yes. Originally, it was pretty similar to Twitter, in the sense that it was sort of a community of users that would put their hands up and push their questions out, really into the void, and some of the community questions would jump on the questions that they could answer, but it did not have that clear, “Here is your question.” “Here is your answer.”

That is what we really had to move to because we wanted to make sure that everyone had an answer for their questions, and that you were getting answers from people who were best suited to answer it. If you have a question on product development, talk to somebody who is an expert in product development. If you have a question about pricing, talk to somebody who has stumbled through it for the past three years and finally has built a successful business that has great pricing and learn from the strategies they employed.

Andrew: Forgive me, but I am so fascinated by every entrepreneurial story that I want to dig in really deeply to everything. Take me through what the first version looked like. How long did it even take you to build it?

Sarah: I don’t even know how long it took us to build it. It was a work in progress for a little while.

Andrew: What do you mean?

Sarah: Well, we took our time before we debuted that to the world, and that is probably one of the key learnings to pull out is we were really slow to bring it to market, and when we brought it to market, by that point, we could have probably iterated a lot faster had we had our customers actually playing with it and telling us, “What about this?” or, “My questions are going unanswered.” Instead, we debuted it to the world, and then got that feedback, and then had to iterate from there when we probably could have saved ourselves a couple months and been further ahead in the game.

Andrew: How long did it take you to launch, roughly?

Sarah: I would say probably three to four months.

Andrew: That is not a huge amount of time, but you are saying you could have even done it faster.

Sarah: Could have been much faster, for sure, and you learn as you go on and as you continue to do more product development and product building. You move towards more iterations and more testing, and move faster, but, I think for a lot of entrepreneurs, we isolate at first, and we try to protect our idea, and you want to make sure it is perfect before you show it off. That is really not the best way to make sure that your product is the best thing for the market.

Andrew: When you were in that moment, take me back and say, “I want to protect this because of–what?” because I know you were worried that people would take it, but what was it that you were protecting. Did you think this was going to be this big? Well, what was it going to be?

Sarah: I don’t know. I think you want to protect it until you feel like it is the best that it could possibly be, right? You want to have this big debut, and be on the cover of Wired, and everyone say it is amazing and revolutionary. You just think that if you have a little bit more time and you can do this, add this feature–you get into that whole future mode thing that kills a lot of startups, thinking, “Oh, well, we just need this. Oh, we just need this.”

Andrew: What are those features that you said, “Oh, we just need,” that in retrospect you feel that, “Boy, that’s just not necessary”?

Sarah: Do we have three hours for this show?

Andrew: Believe me, for this stuff. I live for this stuff. I want to learn it all.

Sarah: We have actually cut most of the features from the original version. I think what we came out with, we had event listings for startups, we had groups you could form–groups around specific topics. You could find people in your specific area, people in your specific topics. You could hashtag your questions to death, and it would just try to make sure, you could . . .

Before filters and lists were on Twitter, we had something similar on Sprouter. You could create your own list to curate that people for specific topics and specific geography. And it was just overkill. It wasn’t useful. At the end of the day, you can provide all these bells and whistles, but if somebody isn’t getting a simplistic solution for their issue, you’ve wasted all this time, energy and money.

And it became convoluted. I think if you went back and you look at the first version of Sprouter, you’d wonder, “What the heck do I do first?”

This new version is really simple. That’s really what we focused on with this current version is, you have a question. Ask it. We’ll find the best person to answer it for you, and you’ll get it immediately. That’s really, really important, and that simplicity is something that we’re now struggling to maintain, because you have all these users asking for new features. That’s a tough battle to fight.

Andrew: I want to know how you win that battle, how you figure out which feature, [??] which feature.

There’s something about me that I can’t just trust that I’m going to remember to come back to this stuff. I’m just going to write it down in this ugly pencil that I’ve had, I think, since interview one with the bad eraser. I’m still holding up in the camera in the most unprofessional way, but that’s the way I learned.

Sarah: [??]

Andrew: I’m like those college kids. I live now in Washington, DC. All I see now are college kids who are going to law school, and they’ve got their bad pencil and their bad highlighters, all day long writing and highlighting it. I feel like I’m a student of yours, so I want to write down everything.

Maybe one day I’ll be more professional, like Charlie Rose. Charlie Rose, I don’t think ever writes on his program. He just remembers and asks.

So I see, you’re saying by adding more features, it’s not that people could ignore the features they don’t want. It’s that they get distracted by the ones that they don’t want.

Sarah: I think there are too many options, right? User flow is something that I’m really paying attention to right now on our site, because I think we can do a better job than we’re doing, certainly.

When you have so many options presented at once, it’s overwhelming. And the user, if they question for a second what they should do first, they’ve lost the whole experience. “What do I do?” is not a good question to have somebody ask on your site, and that usually leads to them going to find something else.

If the answer isn’t straightforward and their use case is presented to them in a way that’s meaningful for them, they’re going somewhere else.

Andrew: I see. What about the name? There are a lot of things that I admire about the site; one of the things that I admire is the name, Sprouter.com. How’d you get it, and what did it cost you?

Sarah: This is an interesting story. I don’t think I’ve actually told the story. I fell in love with the name Sprouter when we were trying to come up with a name, and it was a domain being used by a sprinkler company in Tennessee.

I tracked down this poor man who was running a sprinkler company, and I called him up and asked him if he’d sell the name. He told me he couldn’t, it was his company, and a lot of his customers relied on finding him through his domain.

After I think badgering him for weeks on end, talking to his wife, offering them vacations to Hawaii among other things, finally I convinced him to sell me the domain for an undisclosed price. But it was worth it.

It was great. We got the brand that we wanted and the name that we wanted, but definitely it was mostly because I couldn’t come up with another name. That was the one that I fixated on, that I had to get that one. So, sending him flowers and trying to bribe him was the best we could possibly do, and it worked in the end.

Andrew: Over or under $100,000?

Sarah: Under.

Andrew: That’s a great name.

Sarah: Thank you. Under $10,000.

Andrew: Under $10,000 for the name, Sprouter. And it did take a lot of time and a lot of energy, and I could see myself giving up after he said no one time.

Sarah: Perseverance is really the moral of this entire story. It’s always about persevering and fighting.

Andrew: Perseverance. The company you mentioned that you had earlier, 2007 you launched a company called Upinion, right?

Sarah: Terrible name, right? It’s ‘Upinion,’ but everybody calls it ‘Opinion.’

Andrew: Upinion, I see, like your opinion is on the site. It’s a pop culture website for kings and queens. That’s not where you got the money to fund Sprouter, is it?

Sarah: No. That’s definitely the first time I lost a lot of money.

Andrew: How much did you lose in that business?

Sarah: I probably lost around $20,000, $25,000.

Andrew: $25,000. Let’s go back in time and just study that for a bit, and then we’ll come back to this.

Sarah: Painful.

Andrew: Hey, painful, but I saw that you were smiling. You’re willing to talk about this. I asked the same thing of Joel Spolsky, “Why are you willing to talk about this?” I asked Jason Fried of 37 Signals, you have a big reputation for success, we’re all studying you. Why are you willing to come to Mixergy and talk about your setbacks? I ask you the same thing. Why are you so happy to share, why are you so willing to talk about this publicly about this and share it with us?

Sarah: It’s so important. So many people spend so much time hiding their failures. Really their biggest fault. Failure doesn’t have to be catastrophic, right, it doesn’t have to be company ending. It can just be shitty mistakes that you’ve made that ended in you having to reverse or do something differently. But you learn, and the more that we can share what we’ve learned and some of the mistakes we’ve made, one, people know that they aren’t alone in making mistakes. Because I think if you only saw what the press presents to people, you would assume you were the only person that’s ever made a mistake. But two, you know, try to avoid the pitfalls other people have made. Make your own mistakes, but don’t repeat somebody else’s.

Andrew: I know I’ve learned a lot from those mistakes, and it’s true, I still make mistakes too. We’re not talking about eliminating them all, but if we could just identify some of the common ones and avoid the big ones then we’re going to be saved a lot of trouble, a lot of I was going to say crying in the shower. But I had an entrepreneur on here recently who said, I drink beer in the shower at my lowest moments. I said, why beer and he goes, I just had to wash the failure of the day off of me and I couldn’t wait until I was out of the shower to drink, I just needed to have that drink. Poor guy. So the idea behind the business Upinion was what and what happened with that?

Sarah: So Upinion was this novel idea I had about talking to anyone who was a teen or a tween. So I decided that originally the concept was citizen journalism. I thought, all of these phones are coming out with cameras. Wouldn’t it be great if you could capture news in your local area, upload it and share it. And people would be able to find news from people in their neighborhood.

Then I discovered that teens and tweens were the ones that were actually buying these phones and were taking videos and photos. But as it turns out they really didn’t have the journalistic integrity that you would sort of want for a news site. What they were interested in was taking photos of themselves, uploading videos from You Tube, scrolling on pictures of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, and funny videos and comments. And really sharing their opinions about what was going on in pop culture. So we really, I say we really when it was really me, but looked at it and said okay, let’s go to where the people are using this kind of service.

And so, originally it was more news focus then it moved into this pop culture sort of load up, load down what your friends have posted and things like that. But I did an absolutely terrible job of doing customer discovery. I got caught up in, wouldn’t it be cool if, versus actually talking to people and trying to understand what they wanted to do and how we could make it useful for them.

Andrew: Okay, and.

Sarah: It was terrible.

Andrew: It was terrible.

Sarah: It was terrible, every mistake you could possibly make. I did the antithesis of Eric Reed’s lean methodology, the antithesis.

Andrew: It sounds like he did, too at times. What’s your equivalent of drinking beer in the shower?

Sarah: My equivalent of drinking beer in the shower, I don’t know. I’d love to tell you that I work out or something like that but I’m probably a drinker too.

Andrew: Oh now, I’m the opposite. I’ll tell you, for me it was just the middle of the day I went home and I just jumped into bed. I don’t know if I was crying or not but I was just feeling like a complete failure. This is not going to work out.

Sarah: Really. Well actually my shower time is my best idea time. I come up with epiphanies in the shower. I need a waterproof I-phone so I can start messaging.

Andrew: Write them down.

Sarah: I definitely don’t want everyone to know that I e-mail from the shower though. You know, I don’t know. When I do need to think about stuff or I’ve been hit with a brick wall, I usually take myself out of the equation. I sort of unwind, I get offline and try to avoid human contact as much as possible. So I think hanging out with my dogs is my break from reality.

Andrew: So after Upinion why launch another site? Why not say I’m going to go get a job somewhere. I’ll recover for a little bit, I’ll catch my breath and then I’ll go back out.

Sarah: Well I did. I needed money, that was really. It was less about I need some time and more about I need to fill my pockets again. So I did. I went and worked for a software company. And that’s actually what helped faciliate Sprouter was working with two entrepreneurs who had come together, joined their businesses. Working with them on product development, marketing and M&A. And we made a deal. We’d help sell their company and they would invest in this idea that I had which became Sprouter. And so we successfully sold their company and the rest is history.

Andrew: And how much did you fund Sprouter with?

Sarah: Well we’ve done two rounds. We did two rounds initially. So all in all, it ended up being just under a millon dollars.

Andrew: Okay. Who is the second round from?

Sarah: The same initial investors put a second round in.

Andrew: Are they angel investors then? You sold their company so they had money?

Sarah: Yeah, they’re entrepreneurs. They’re guys that have built great companies. Actually in very different spaces in software for the legal industry and the financial industry. This is their foray in web and more consumer focused tech.

Andrew: So, you had the idea. You spent four months. Who develops it for you?

Sarah: At first it was me trying to cobble things together, and I’m still renowned for my hand-drawn diagrams and mock ups done in a heartbeat. I was really fortunate to come across Grant Hollingsworth, he’s our CTO, and I managed to sell him on what at that point was a terrible idea on a napkin. He’s been with me ever since. Grant has really been the foundation of Sprouter and built that technology. We’ve added onto the team over the past two years.

Andrew: So, you start out by drawing it on a piece of paper saying, “This is where I want to go. This is what I think the page needs to look like.” Grant is the CTO. He takes that. Does he design it too or does he design it too or does he do the coding at first?

Sarah: Grant will drag his feet when he thinks the design isn’t a great idea and he pulls no punches with me. It’s a really great dynamic that we have because I couldn’t possibly do any of the background stuff that he does, and I think that we really benefit from bouncing ideas off of each other and going through the designs. As long as he can read my writing we’re usually pretty good.

Andrew: But, what you’ve sketched out is essentially a wire frame. Somebody actually needs to replace the pencil markings with pixels. Who does that?

Sarah: Well, we’ve actually changed a few times, but we’ve found some great designers locally. We’re based in Toronto and we were working with them early on. They’ve since come together to build an agency. We’ve really leveraged outside talent for our design up at this point. That’s why we’re actually hiring a designer right now. It’s getting a bit too big for us to continue to do napkin scrawlings.

Andrew: When it was napkin scrawling would it Grant who would make the design? He would. So, he would do the front end, essentially, based on your wire frames and the back end.

Sarah: Yes, initially, until we realized that that wasn’t really cutting it. Then we reached out to other designers to help us flesh those out. But, still, all of the designers who work for us are forced to look at my napkin scrawlings. I think it’s probably indicative of a control freak, but you have a vision for something. Design’s such an integral part when you’re building a community and you’re building a piece of technology that user interface really comes down to that design. So, I’m definitely stepping on designers toes by stipulating, “I want it here. This is what I want it to be on.” But, at the same time, I’m the one that’s dealing with the customers and I understand as a customer of it what needs to be changed and things that need to happen.

Andrew: So, the first four months Grant’s working away by himself doing the front end design and doing the back end build. From what I understand you guys built out from scratch. It wasn’t that you were using an open source social software. It was from scratch. You built it. You put it out there. It’s time now to get users. Where were you getting your first users?

Sarah: Our first users really came from twitter, to be honest. Social media really played a huge role in the development of our community. Early on I brought on a community manager, Erin Bury, who’s name I think has become synonymous with that spur as well. Erin was really paramount to building that community. She was out at events. We were sort of divide and conquer.

We’d go to all the places where start ups were hanging out and really involved them in the process of creating the product. That was something that I obviously learned from [??] and did it differently this time. It was, ‘Let’s bring people in who will actually help us build the product.” Like, what would be useful for you as an entrepreneur? Erin was out soliciting people to come in and hang out in our offices. The three of us made a pretty good team in those early days.

Andrew: So, Erin’s going out. She’s going to events. She’s going out on Twitter. She’s saying, “Here’s the product. You guys should use it.” The first feedback that you’re getting, what was that?

Sarah: Well, the first feedback, obviously, with the first iteration, was “What do I do first?”. That’s a horrible thing to hear. I think your first reaction as an entrepreneur is egotistical. Certainly, my first one was, “Why don’t they get it?” not “What have I done wrong?”. It’s “Why don’t you understand it?”. So, once you get past that and realize that it’s not an insult to you and to your idea you need to fine tune it.

Then you start to really listen to that feedback and you realize it’s unclear. It’s “We need to change the process. We need to be more direct and more simple. Let’s start killing features. Let’s really focus on the value.” The value, as it turns out, wasn’t really in the events or in the groups or in the topics or all that kind of garbage, it was really in, ‘ I have an immediate problem, I need somebody to help me solve it’. So it really became how do we best identify what that problem is and how do we identify who can answer that for you.

Andrew: I had events on my website. I thought it will help me connect with event organizers, let me network with them and when I was ready to speak at events, I have those relationships. And that was the vision. I don’t think I got that many events on the site. I don’t know if anyone ever looked at it. But I still refuse to give up on the vision. Even though, like 20 people a day tops, would’ve looked at this thing, and it had top billing on my site.

So if I couldn’t do that with Mixergy, even though it’s just easy to delete and no part of me is connected to it. I didn’t even build it out, someone at Google calendar division built out my calendar. How do you get yourself and your team to say, “Friend, thanks for all these work, I appreciate all the time you’ve put in, you got to kill it.” How do you do it?

Sarah: That’s no, that’s a tough decision to make, one. And two, it is tough to sit down with somebody, who has painstakingly build it out, line by line. But it was a chance and we had to frame it as, ‘OK. We got to X amount of users with this current design, but let’s try this. What’s the worst thing that could happen, right?.

Andrew: Was there intermediate period where you just hide those features and emphasizing the one thing that you wanted people to do as a first step, or did you really, no, you went for it, you took the hatchet, you said…

Sarah: Kill everything down to that one basic functionality. I mean, we did test that, with people behind close doors and got feed back and we had some great feed back initially, and that feedback is incorporated into the design. Yeah. Then we went right down to, this is the problem we’re trying to solve, and this is how we’re going to clearly stated. And we decided that we add more features in as they were requested. And that’s really been the basis of our product development now is, “OK. We have 10 and thousands of people screaming at us for this, now it’s time to look at it and see if we can add that into the site.”

Andrew: So we’re just a little over half way mark. But I’ve got to stop and tell you, “I’m so glad that you are doing this interview. I couldn’t believe I’ve never met you before, you’re very good.”

I love this interview. Because you’re so well thought out, so willing to be open and it’s just, it’s useful, useful, useful, and frankly I see a lot of myself in this process. And I see a lot of my leaders in this process. And I know that they’re going to benefit from this.

By the way guys, we’re half way through this, I usually say this at the end, but I’m going to say it right now. If you get any benefit from this, you got to go to Sprouter.com, find Sarah and say, thank you. You cannot allow yourself to just be a passive viewer. You have to engage with people in the space, you have to be a part of the space. And one way to do, the easy way to do it, and one that’s going to make you feel good, is just contact Sarah and say, “Sarah, thanks, I saw you on Mixergy”. You don’t even have to say Mixergy, I’m not looking for a plug. You can say, “Sarah, I heard your message, thank you so much for doing it.”

And believe me, I see people come back a year later and say, I just sent that message, and the guy who you interviewed, who I sent it to, happen to be in Malaysia where I live. And we got together for lunch. So those relationships start with a little bit of gratitude. Which is what I’m saying here, Sarah, thank you.

All right. So you’re chopping away, get down to one feature, what’s that one feature?

Sarah: Ask a question, get an answer.

Andrew: OK. Ask a question and get an answer. Now you’re seeing that people are starting to ask questions. Before I ask you what happened after the questions were asked. Let me ask you how do you get people asking those questions?

It’s hard enough to get people to come to my site and add comments. To get them to ask questions and put themselves out there, it’s a feat. How did you get them to do it?

Sarah: Well, and that was something that came back in feedback. As we were doing some of our customer discovery. We discovered that people are embarrassed to ask questions. Right? Like putting your hand up and say, I don’t understand this. Especially when it’s going to live on the Internet in text format forever. Nobody wants to do it. So we went ahead and made all of the questions anonymous. So you can ask a question, nobody knows it’s you asking, and so the experts just get’s it, they been asked this question, they answer it, you get the answer, you benefit from it but so does the rest of the community. You don’t have to be fearful about putting your hand up and say that you don’t know how to do something.

Andrew: In the original, when you cut everything out and you focused on the question, was that anonymous at that point too?

Sarah: Well, at first it was everybody had a profile, right? We thought that you wanted to promote your startup, promote yourself. But we realized this isn’t the place for that. This is the place for you to get advice and if you’re going to be timid or embarrassed about getting that kind of advise, we want to take out all of that kind of ego and all of that kind of pressure.

Andrew: OK. Now still I remember that, in the same space it was Joel Spolsky who was doing question and answers site with Stack Exchange. Also Jason Calacanis, big community, big guy in the space, doing questions and answer site. they both came out in a different direction. Both thinking that getting people to ask questions is the most valuable thing. Jason thinking getting people to answer questions and paying them to answer questions is most valuable thing. Both of them had their challenges coming out from both directions.

What was your situation, when you were trying to get people just to ask questions? Were you able to get them to ask questions, did you need to reward them with money, the way Jason did or did you need to reward them with status and badges, the way Joel did. How did you get them to do it?

Sarah: I guess I’m the different way than both of them. For us, it really focuses on the value of the information, and if you really have a pressing need, and you need advice, you’re going to ask a question. Getting points for asking a question is relevant when you’re getting value out of that answer, so we really focus on curating experts that would provide valuable information, useful advice, and providing a channel for people to access those people. And so far it’s worked.

Andrew: OK, so first you get all these profiles up, then you realize people don’t want to be public and are going to remove their profiles, and that still doesn’t get a lot of people to fill the question box. What I saw that worked, and tell me if as an outsider I missed it, but what I saw that works for me was, ‘Boy I think you had Mark Shuster on the homepage. I know you had Brad Feld on the homepage. You have these top people on the homepage and that added credibility and also made me feel like if anyone asked the question on Sprouter, these guys are going to jump in. They’re part of this community. Is that a part of getting people to ask questions?

Sarah: Absolutely. The quality of the experts is everything. Really what we focused on was providing the top stop leaders and the people that you already want advice from, and providing format for them to do that. And so that continues to be a focus for us, and that’s why not everybody can just come in and be in an expert on Sprouter. We’re not about crowd sourcing. We’re anti crowd sourcing, sort of ant just-putting-a-question-out-there-and-hoping-someone-would-answer really focused on the specific expertise of certain people. And it’s all people that we know in our network. These people on Sprouter are the very people that I was excited to meet and excited to get advice from, and so there’s not a single person on Sprouter that hasn’t been somebody that I think personally provide great advice to a new startup founder.

Andrew: OK, so the idea is, any other site you ask a question anyone one else on the Internet can ask. And I could ask a question being completely clueless about a search engine optimization. Someone else who’s just as clueless but thinks he knows something, can come in and answer. On Sprouter, the vision that you had at that point was, no, we’re going to get Rand Fishkin to answer. We’re going to get someone who’s really good at SEO to answer. That was the main idea.

Sarah: Yeah, we want the top stop leaders, the people who have demonstrable success in an area. I think the example that we used on the website is you’re learning how to play golf; would you want to learn from some guy who plays in high school, or would you want to learn from Tiger Woods. Undoubtedly you want to learn from the best, and it’s no different when you’re building your business.

Andrew: OK, so I’m getting the evolution. I get how you now have a much more compelling reason for people to come and ask questions. What I’m not seeing is though, how do you get them in the door? Now you have a compelling reason for them to ask a question once they know about you. How do you get them to come in and do it?

Sarah: I get people to answer the questions?

Andrew: Well, I’m going to get to answer the questions too, because I know it’s tough to get these guys to come out, even to do interview, but to answer a question I can imagine is even tougher. How do you get the questions up there? You take a look at Cora. Every time someone asks me a question on Cora, I get an email that I have to go back and so keep getting reminded this is a place to ask questions. What was your hook to say, you got this question, I’m bringing you by the collar to Sprouter.com so that you know to ask it right here. How did you do it?

Sarah: I think our community really benefited from the experts and their networks. Every time one of these big names was coming on to our site to answer questions, they were Tweeting it out to their networks; they were inviting people to come ask them questions. But the big game changer for us actually happened only recently. We sent out an email when a live session would begin, and so a lot of our answers happen spontaneously. You ask a question, and it goes via email to an expert. They get it, email it back, and so it’s not a scheduled time; whereas these live sessions that we’re doing where we schedule, at 3 p.m. on Thursday, you can log in and talk to Brad Feld, or Mark Shuster, whoever it is. That is something tangible, and that’s something that people can plan for, and that’s a big deal.

But sending an email just before session started changed everything. People needed that extra reminder. It was just a simple change that we had overlooked. We sent an email to one of our live sessions, and exponentially changed the number of people participating in that session. It seemed like such a small thing to do, and something that seems so obvious now, but at the time, we hadn’t really looked at that flow because we did live sessions as sort of an add-on. “Oh, we should do this. We should have one-op sessions that people can plan for,” and hadn’t really thought about how to approach it and how to get people involved. And so, looking at this type of usability issues, and are you doing everything – are you emailing and Cora really does do a great job at that.

Andrew: They do. It’s overwhelming. I actually decided to sit down one day and get off all the Cora emails. It is a job. You have to go, “Bah, bah, bah, bah”, update, I think it’s like 20 or 30, I wouldn’t be surprised, check boxes to remove. But, so live did well for you, so it wasn’t just getting people to come into a forum ask their question, wait for the expert to answer. It was alive, essentially a webinar, where people can ask their questions, and get it answered via a voice?

Sarah: Well, that’s the problem right now it’s text based. So people are anticipate a session and you can watch the questions that are coming in from other users, and you can ask your own question and get an answer. But it still lacks that intimacy, right? From seeing people’s faces and hearing people’s voices. And so that’s actually something that our community has been asking for, is moving to video. If you’re going to have a live session with someone from here, have Aaron actually on the video, and allow people to ask questions via video. But there is obviously some issues inherent in the fact that a lot of our community wants to ask questions anonymously. So getting the benefit of the expert participate and see them, and have that level of engagement, is challenging when you have users who are afraid of putting their hands up and being open about what their challenges are.

Andrew: And of course the other problem with removing the anonymity is that people start show boating. I remember watching Gary Benner, Chuck take questions at SXSW. Everyone who want to ask a question was essentially plugging themselves and saying, hey, to Gary. It was not about the question, it was not about continuing the conversation from the stage.

You’re nodding, so you recognize that is an issue. So what you said though was, we found a way for people to come back into the live session and ask their questions. But how do you get those people initially? How do you get the initial email address from someone who potentially would come in and watch them live?

Sarah: Yeah. Our content has been a big piece for us and it was accidental. I love to claim it was all a strategy, but eventually we started a newsletter called Sprouter Weekly. And at first, it was just sort of all the talk about the big changes that we were making, when we were cutting all the features at Sprouter, we wanted a way to engage our members, to keep them sort of abreast of what we were doing. But we started highlighting contents that you’re reading around the web, that was great for start-ups, that people’s blogs that you may or may not have heard of before. We also highlighting the events up coming. And then we started profiling some of the great entrepreneurs in our community.

And so, the newsletter kind of took off on it’s own. People were sharing it, people were writing us, asking to feature their startup, to talk about what was happening. And it’s really started to become a staple of our services and our offerings. And this weekly email that goes out to all of our members, it isn’t about Sprouter any more, it’s about our community, it’s about all the great start-ups that launched that week. Without really provide another funnel of startup founders that may have not heard of Sprouter Q&A before, but have this email sent to them and wants to be apart of this community.

Andrew: So the funnel starts with at the top of the funnel is the blog post. You guys have great blog post, with a lot of leaders in the space. Funnel starts there, you from there gets people’s email addresses, they get on the list, they get to hear what the rest of the community is up to and from there, when it’s time to announce an event, you’ve got a ready pool of people, who are going to know about it.

I got it OK. All right. You’re doing that and now let’s go back then to the experts. I know that with some of this guys it’s hard to even get them to come in and so an interview. They’ll do it, thankful now that the audience is getting bigger, and demanding on my behalf, is much more powerful than me asking for the guest to do the interview. But it’s still, they have a lot of things going on, to come in here and do an interview, it takes time. To go to Sprouter and answer questions take time. How do you get these experts to answer questions, so that you can offer this big value, that everyone is coming in for?

Sarah: I think a lot of it has to do with paying it forward, right? And we’re looking at entrepreneurs, all the experts are serial entrepreneurs or investors who are looking to help people in the space.

Andrew: There’s so many ways to pay it forward. They could go to core and answer questions, they could blog, they could go to conferences, they could organize their own meet up. I see, what’s his name Fred Wilson is going to meet-ups and I think he’s even organizing lunches at his place. Everything is a way to pay it forward. They still in the way that they are paying it forward saying, what’s the most bang that I can get for my paying forwardness?

How do you show them, this is worth your time or is this just a matter of asking them to do it and sometimes they have the time and they do it and sometimes no?

Sarah: We’ve actually been blown away by the response by the experts. Because we have similar reservation about how many people are going to be able to give up the amount of time required. Certainly it differs upon person to person, right? Some people answers questions every single day and are on there engaging and pushing it out and inviting people to ask questions. And other people are a little more passive, where we do one off sessions with them. But for the most part I think, it also comes down to super vanity matrix, right?

If you know you can have 10,000 people participating in a live session with you tomorrow and you, maybe you’re an investor, that are looking at the SaaS businesses. And this is a great way to get that kind of visibility and to interact with people, gets sort of that online influence, that’s the way. But, I really think it comes down to people who recognize that this is a way to give back to these entrepreneurs, and they have the advice to give, and they’re willing to do it. One of the things we did was give each expert a unique URL so that they can direct people to that, and that’s also been a big piece for us. A lot of these guys are asked similar questions all of the time, and rather than answer 100 questions every day, they can point people to this and say, “Hey, I’ve already answered this. Check out my advice on Sprouter.”

And that’s also been a great way for us to increase our distribution and get this visibility as we benefit from those experts’ network.

Andrew: So, it’s one URL that they pass out with all of the answers that they gave to all the questions that they got, and they answer the questions via chat live.

Sarah: Yes.

Andrew: It’s not voice and you transcribe it.

Sarah: Yeah. It’s all the answer either on the site live, or they do it via email.

Andrew: All right. I think Namesake was doing that for a while there, and they were pulling in experts because Brian, I think… Both founders are angel investors, and they’re tight with the angel community. For some reason, that didn’t work out for them. For some reason, they went from answering questions all the time, asking me if I would come in and answer questions and . . .

I know part of it is they launched chill.com, and that’s where their main focus is, the two founders Brian and Dan. But at the same time, I can see that Namesake and this question an answer thing wasn’t working with them, with all the money and all the time that they invested, and all the experts.

Something similar happened to you. You had all of this down. Everything you say makes sense, and still you did that blog post where you said – where was that? I don’t remember the date. On August 2nd, Sprouter will be closing its doors and shutting down. We’re devastated to have to shut down the service, but unfortunately due to capital constraints, we’ve simply run out of options. It has been an incredible journey, and we’re heartbroken to not be able to continue on.

So, what happened there? How did it still miss the mark?

Sarah: Well, I guess that was the most heartbreaking part of it. The product hadn’t missed the mark. The community was thriving. We had tons of momentum. We were hitting a quarter of a million on a weekly basis, so it was the prime time moment for Sprouter, and things were still continuing to trend upwards.

Andrew: A quarter million what?

Sarah: Of people who would engage with either Sprouter’s Q & A or the weekly newsletter.

Andrew: How many people on the weekly email?

Sarah: About a quarter of a million is what it is now.

Andrew: You had a quarter of a million email addresses on your list? Get out! Way to go, OK.

Sarah: Things were going really well for Sprouter.

Andrew: How did you get a quarter of a million people on your list? It’s not enough to say at the end of a blog post, if you want to join our whatever, give me you email address. You’ve got to really work that thing. We’ve done courses on this. We’ve work on it with interviews. It’s a challenge.

Sarah: I think a lot of it is we ran promotions, we did a lot of marketing around it but I don’t think . . .

Andrew: What’s a powerful promotion for getting email addresses for you guys?

Sarah: Honestly, I think it’s all word of mouth referral, and I’d love to sit here and give credit for ourselves. Certainly, Aaron, our community manager, deserves a lot of that credit, but I think a lot of it was based on who were featuring. And so, people who we were featured in the weekly would share it with their networks and share it with people. And to get that delivered to you, you need to put in your email address.

Andrew: Is that one of your requirements to put in your email address in order to join the live sessions? And so, people registered for that.

Sarah: Anything with Sprouter, you need to be able to put your email address in. And so, that email needs to have . . . If you’re asking a question and if you want that question to be sent to you, but also if you want to register for any of the upcoming events, you certainly do need to register for that. There’s an opt-in for the weekly.

Andrew: What kind of click-through rates were you seeing?

Sarah: On the weekly, it’s about 17-18%.

Andrew: 17 to 18%? Way to go PostMedia who acquired the company. Wow. If for no other reason alone. I’ve seen companies that were smaller that have done interviews here, had smaller email lists and smaller, I think, click-through rate but I can’t remember exactly, and they ended up getting bought for a lot of money by very successful companies like Disney. Who am I thinking of? Ideal Bite. I forget how many . . . $20, $30 million or so. They got bought out just because of their email list, and that’s all they had.

All right. So, a quarter of a million people via email, and that’s the thing. You’re saying, “We just ran out of cash, but we still have this big audience. We still had momentum.” How do you measure momentum?

Sarah: Well, momentum for me is what’s trending upwards, right? You’re looking at our new users coming. We were increasing the number of new users on a weekly basis. It’s that number every week getting higher, and then you look at things like engagement; how many people are participating in live sessions? How many people are asking questions? Even the social media mentions it was a part of our metrics.

So, we had a good one pager of metrics that was reviewed every Friday, and then everything was trending up. We had struggled with a few of our numbers, really wanting to increase the number of sign-ups and look at those things, but right at time is when things really started to pick up. It was one of those bizarre moments where you had something going really, really well, but at the same time through my personal fault we had let the money get a little low and not enough money was coming back in.

Andrew: What was at fault? Where were you at fault there?

Sarah: Well, obviously, it’s easier to look back, but when we launched Sprouter, the new version of Sprouter, we were getting calls from people, investors to put in money, to get involved. For some reason, unbeknownst to me at this time, it felt like the wrong thing to do. Why would you take money? We didn’t need money at that point. We thought that we had a great business plan that we could execute against. Let’s push ahead and do it without bringing on outside investors.

Andrew: Who was the revenue going to come from?

Sarah: Well, originally we really looked at a variety of options, but the plan that we’re still working towards is the plan that we had before. It just took a little bit longer than we had anticipated. And so, we do want to turn on a premium option for Sprouter, do a subscription model, a free version, have a pay version. We have some ideas around that, and we do want to expand on our content.

We do accept advertising and sponsorship right now inside of our weekly, but we haven’t done anything on the site and it just . . .

Andrew: Nothing on the site. Frankly, I don’t think site advertising is that powerful, but email advertising is powerful. How long have you had that?

Sarah: We only started introducing advertisements lately, I guess, probably six to ten months ago. You protect your media. You’re excited about something. You want it to be clean. I don’t want advertising to disrupt what we’ve done, and it takes away from it. At some point, you lose sight of OK, now our job is to drive revenue and now an acceptable form for people if they’re getting the newsletter. They accept that there’s going to be advertisements in it. As long as it’s relevant to the audience, it’s not going to detract from it.

And so, there were a lot of decisions that I made early on to keep the site clean, to not be advertising. That probably would have enabled us to have a little bit more runway to execute on our plans.

Andrew: It’s weird this startup community because there are a lot of people who as soon as you turn on any revenue model, they start to scream, and you think, “Well, you’re really an entrepreneur and you have a problem with an entrepreneur making money?” I can understand if it’s like a hippie community getting a hippie blog or a hippie newsletter saying, I don’t want any ads in here, man. I get that completely, but if you’re an entrepreneur, reading an entrepreneurial email or watching an entrepreneurial video and you see an ad and you’re upset. That just blows me away.

I got negative feedback from some people when I started running ads. It’s weird, and frankly between you and me, Sarah, they can fast forward through it. I can see the ads. People aren’t fast forwarding through the ads. Whoever is listening to us right now – what are we, about 50 minutes into the interview? Chances are you fast forwarded through the ads.

I think you miss a lot of golden – what am I going to say now, products, tools, but I think I’ve got great sponsors, and I hope that you watch them and learn from them, but people skip them. And still some people complained, and then I went premium, and still people complained. Instead of saying, let’s stand back and learn from this. Let’s stand back and figure it out

All right. I have notes here. I said to ask you about which features you wouldn’t have included. That, we asked about. What about lessons? What are most of the big lessons?

Sarah: Well, there is quite a few of them, but I think that one of the big lessons that I continue to see people not listen to and not take even though it’s a big part of it, especially of the lean startup movement, is customer discovery. You can have a great idea, and it doesn’t mean that you can go off into the darkness and be isolated and create this without talking to people.

I think there’s a real fear, and I think it really comes down to ego. You don’t want somebody to tell you that it isn’t good or when you know it’s not ready, right? And so, my biggest lesson is get out early and get feedback and try and involve your customers right from day one. Talk to them about it. Understand the problem, and I think the less focus on the product and the less focus on the features and more focus on the problem.

Even saying this, everybody says it but I’m saying it, and I fall into the same trap of looking, especially if it’s an existing product. Starting from scratch is one thing, but when you have an existing product, talking and dong customer discovery on that product to figure out how to improve it, how to increase engagement, how to use it is very different than starting with a clean slate.

And so, even now years into this, I fall into the trap of looking at the product and trying to figure out what we can do with it versus going back to the customers and figuring out, OK, what can we do for you, and how can we go further in solving this problem together?

Andrew: All right. Let me put in a little plug for myself here, and then I’ll ask you the question that I told the audience I would ask you later on in the interview.

Two reasons why if I hope you’re watching is to go to Mixergy.com/premium. I didn’t pick a good name like Sprouter. Mixergy, I made it up. So, good luck typing that in. Thank you, Google, for redirecting typos. Two reasons to go to Mixergy.com/premium. Number one, you get courses by people like Cindy Alvarez from KISSmetrics who teaches you how to do customer development.

If you want to know how to ask questions of your potential customers in a way that will lead to real features, or if you want to know who to ask questions of, Cindy will show you how she finds the most irritated, most bothered people on the Internet who are going to look for a solution that you can create. And they’re so bothered that they’ll even take a half solution from you. They’ll even help you build it because there’s so desperate for the solution that you’re going to build.

She shows you where to find them exactly. She shows you her computer screen, and you can watch as she finds these people. She gives you the exact questions that KISSmetrics asked potential customers when they built up their business, and if you see KISSmetrics, these guys are just killing it with the number of clients that they have and the revenue that they’re building up and the credibility in the space. So, that’s one reason.

Courses like Cindy Alvarez, experts in their space, who come in and turn their computers on and walk you step by step through doing is what makes them great.

The second reason is I need to frickin’ make revenue with Mixergy, too. I love what we’re doing here, and if you watch all this way to the end, then you must care a lot about the kind of questions that I ask, the kinds of work that I do here. And I need you to join Mixergy.com/premium so I can keep this thing going for you. Frankly, if you’re the one person listening to this, don’t do it. I’m not going away, but if you do do it, you see every dollar we have I plow right into getting a researcher, getting a pre-interviewer and making this thing more and more useful for you. And, of course, making the premium membership more and more useful for you.

There’s a lot in it for me, and a lot in it for you, if you go to Mixergy.com/premium, of course. If you’ve already a premium member, go to Mixergy.com/premium, and you’re going to get all of this stuff. It’s already included. You don’t have to give me any more money.

So Sarah, Cindy Alvarez is the person I was talking to. Sarah is the person I’m talking about in the course. Sarah, last question is this. You came back. It’s tough to come back. A lot of people are just right now listening to us. They’re hurting. They’re saying, Andrew promised that we’ll answer this question, or he’ll ask Sarah this question.

I’ve got to ask you. How do you come back when it’s your ego, your reputation, your enthusiasm and energy level that all took a hit once in public? How do you do it?

Sarah: Well, it’s not like you just wake up the next day and think, “OK, I’m back in this.” To be honest, it was tough. It’s a lot easier to walk away, right, and hide from it. I think I had fantasies of opening up a cheese and bread store and never being on the Internet again. But it just felt wrong when we announced it, when we had to tell the community that we were taking off Sprouter. Everything else felt surreal and completely wrong.

I don’t know how else to describe it, but it just felt like we weren’t done yet. I was heartbroken that we would have to in the community, but also we wouldn’t get a chance to continue on with the vision. This isn’t the extent of what we had envisioned. This isn’t the extent of what we had dreamed of building.

And so, being able to have a second chance, being able to get back into the game and take it that next step further, it’s pretty awesome. But at the same time there’s this horrible fear of OK, now I really have to prove something. Of course, you’re dealing with your ego and “Can I do this?” Obviously, I made some big mistakes previously.

Andrew: How did you get yourself to say yes, I can do this when you’re feeling that way?

Sarah: I think the opportunity is just too great, and I didn’t want to let it half fly. The number of people who came to us when we announced we were shutting down, it was just the community that was upset that we were shutting down, but also the people who wanted to continue it and wanted to invest money into it and wanted to buy it. That was a pretty good sign that we had built something that was worth investing in and was worth continuing on.

Andrew: It’s like stage diving. You just dive into the audience. If they’re there to carry you, that means they want to keep hearing you play your music. And if you do it and they’re not there, then it means that maybe you need to go and find another band; maybe pick up the accordion or something.

In your case, they said yes. In your case, you also felt that you had a mission, you had to continue doing it, and here you are, you’re building it. Congratulations. It’s an incredible story of perseverance, of persistence, even the fact that you’re here doing this interview. I look back to the first email that I got about Sprouter from Erin. It must have come over a year and a half ago, maybe two years ago, and she just said, “Look, Sarah is a good fit for Mixergy. Sarah is a good fit. You should consider her.”

And I was wrong, Erin. You were right. Sarah is not just a good fit, she’s a great fit for this interview. I’m so glad that she persisted, and I got you here, Sarah, to do this interview. I am really impressed and inspired by you and your whole company, and the way that you guys persisted.

The website is Sprouter.com, one time, Sprouter.com. Sarah, thanks for doing the interview.

Sarah: Thank you.

Andrew: Cool. Thank you all for watching.

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  • http://marcushiggs.com Marcus Higgs

    I’m away from my computer to research well so can some here help please?
    What are the revenue streams of Sprouter? How does Sarah monetize the site?

    And to Sarah, you and your team have put together a really slick site that will be a great resource in my entrepreneurial kit. Thanks.

  • http://techkik.com Amrita Mathur

    Excellent interview. A lot of my questions were answered…
    Great answers Sarah and excellent badgering Andrew :)

  • http://www.harak.im Hara Kim

    Awesome interview very interesting and useful.  I like how Sarah talked about her first failed startup before hand even she lost $20k.  

  • Mohd Shahnawaz

    I met Sarah on Montreal Start up Festival on July and she mentioned in presentation that “Start ups ceases to exist the moment, the entrepreneur gives up” then on August I was disappointed to see the closure e-mail. Some ppl may call it PR stunt but am glad they are back. Informative interview.

    @ Andrew Warner – “still people complain” -are they the same ppl complaining after every event? This idea may seem odd I guess Mixergy can make some revenue by seling season 1, 2 DVDs in store. This may conflict the premium version but if you can launch DVD version, I would buy it for 50 bucks (as we have bandwidth cap in Canada) Secondly I think your newsletters you can add more content and upsell premium features in newsletter

  • http://betacandy.com Eric Ingram

    I wanted to comment on the Mixergy video ads… I think they’re really well done and I listen to them. Don’t worry if some people complain.

    I don’t mind seeing ads on Mixergy or on Sprouter. If they’re well targeted then sometimes I find great tools in them. +1 for revenue

  • http://betacandy.com Eric Ingram

    Andrew, here’s a thought… why don’t you post revenue stats and test results inside Mixergy premium (members only), the way Eric Ries did for the Lean Startup book site. I’d love to see it and I’m sure others would learn from your own metrics.

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    I believe she said sponsorhsips.

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    I love hearing that.

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    Thanks.

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    Thanks Mohd.

    Some people will always complain. It’s okay.

    As for DVD’s. I’ve considered offering them, but it’s too much work and the future is going to be in all digital solutions.

  • Anonymous

    Sarah, if you really want a waterproof iPhone (or Kindle or iPad), buy a Ziploc bag and put your device in it. That’s what Jeff Bezos does! http://www.teleread.com/ebooks/jeff-bezos-on-e-books-bathtubs-and-ziploc-bags/

    And thanks for sharing so much in your interview… :-)

  • Matt

    Maybe it’s just me, but I would have liked a little more background.  In the interview, it is almost as if she just popped up out of nowhere with Upinion.  How did she get to that point?  Just born with the business gene and $20K in her hand?

  • http://www.JiansNet.com Jian

    Good interview, thanks Andrew.

    It seems to me that the failure is more with delay in generating revenue. Ads could also be good revenue stream too I guess.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Matt-Sharper/100000807088310 Matt Sharper

    PR stunt?!?! are you drunk?

  • Pingback: Small Business, Entrepreneurship & Startup Blog | Sprouter » Sarah Prevette Featured on Mixergy

  • Martin Euredjian

    In the spirit of testing, how about you do it TV-style and place your ads within the interview?  Several ways to do this:  Intrusive and non-intrusive.  The first would be to simply interrupt the interview at a good point and cut to the short ad.  TV commercial style.  You could ask a question and come back to the interview for the answer after the ad.  The other approach would be to have an ad play in the lower 1/3 of the screen during the interview.  No sound, of course, but it would definitely be seen by anyone watching the interview.

    As a premium member and frequent site visitor I don’t mind the ads.  They are always relevant.  I have made recommendations to others based on your ads and have personally looked into using two or three or your advertisers.

  • http://twitter.com/umuhammad Usman Muhammad

    It’s awesome to see how Sprouter bounced back.

    I’ve actually attended one of Sprouter events in Toronto (Nov 2010) and I’ve had a profile since then on their site.

    @Sarah I have one issue that might improve Sprouter’s engagement with the audience. (At least for me.)

    Sarah mentions that they send out email reminders about live Q&A sessions. They do, but only when the session is about to go live.

    I think it would help sending an email a day or two before the live Q&A session is taking place.

    I’ve only been part of one live Q&A session at sprouter.com because at that time I had just signed in my email and the founder of about.me was in doing a live Q&A session. So I figured might as well ask a question or just read the live feed and maybe I’d learn something useful.

    @Andrew, thanks for asking questions most Entrepreneurs hesitate to answer – about their failures/setbacks. I like the video interviews, since you can see how the person reacts before they answer those questions.

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    Usman, I hope you send me feedback like this on my work. I like.

  • http://deph090689298644.dreamhomebusinessopportunity.com/ Devin!

    Great interview! I agree with Usman below about their live Q&A sessions; Sprouter should think about sending a reminder a day before the sesssion.

    The sessions are quite helpful too, although at times they can be vague for me. That being said, I appreciate the content here and Andrew’s persuasive style. #winning

  • http://www.GetDateIdeas.com Will

    Sarah truly is one of the shining beacons in Toronto’s startup community.  After some of my email pestering from way back, I am *so glad* to see Sarah’s story was finally told on Mixergy!  Such an awesome interview.

    Good stuff as always, Andrew :)

  • Mohd Shahnawaz

    Instead of attacking, you should have read my comment here is the proof http://techentrepreneurship.com/2011/09/06/5-guidelines-to-evaluate-accelerator-programs/

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