Andrew Warner: Three messages before we get started. If you’re a tech entrepreneur, don’t you have unique legal needs that the average lawyer can’t help you with? That’s why you need Scott Edward Walker of Walker Corporate Law. If you read his articles on VentureBeat, you know that he can help you with issues like raising money or issuing stock options or even deciding whether to form a corporation. Scott Edward Walker is the entrepreneur’s lawyer. See him at WalkerCorporateLaw.com.
Do you remember when I interviewed Sara Sutton Fell about how thousands of people pay for her job site? Look at the biggest point that she made. She said that she has a phone number on every page of her site because, and here’s a stat, 95% of the people who call end up buying. Most people, though, don’t call her but seeing a real number increases their confidence in her and they buy. Try this. Go to Grasshopper.com and get a phone number that will make your company sound professional. Add it to your site and see what happens. Grasshopper.com.
Remember Patrick Buckley who I interviewed? He came up with an idea for an iPad case. He built a store to sell it and in a few months he generated about a million dollars in sales. Well, the platform he used is Shopify. If you have an idea to sell anything, set up your store on Shopify.com because Shopify stores are designed to increase sales. Plus, Shopify makes it easy to set up a beautiful store and manage it. Shopify.com.
Here’s your program.
Hey everyone. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart. How do you create a ghetto launch that goes from zero to 200 paying customers in three months? Joining me is Jason Baptiste who built PadPressed as a part-time project and he did exactly that. PadPressed enables any blogger or publication to make their content iPad friendly. Jason, welcome to Mixergy.
Jason Baptiste: Hey. How are you doing Andrew?
Andrew: It’s great to have you on here especially since you’ve been feeding me so many great guests. Thanks for all those introductions.
Jason: You’re welcome. You’re welcome. Actually I think there’s one more I need to make after the show. I was like, “Oh, I’m doing it.” I was so excited. I was like, “I’m finally doing a Mixergy interview.” They’re like, “I need to talk to that guy.” That’s actually somebody who’d be a good interview.
Andrew: Keep bringing them on. I don’t know what it is about you but you have a lot of great contancts and I want to leech off of every one of your contacts and bring them on here to do an interview.
Jason: Leech ahead. Leech ahead.
Andrew: What does PadPressed cost?
Jason: PadPressed costs $50. It’s a one-time fee. Or, if you want a developer license for five sites, it’s 150 bucks.
Andrew: Okay. The New York Times has a similar product. What are they charging? You’re charging about $50 minimum, what are they charging?
Jason: Yeah. They came out on August 3rd, a little bit after our first launch, with a product that they’re licensing their iPad app technology for $50,000 upfront and $1,500 a month which is kind of like a monthly maintenance fee to essentially make content iPad friendly and as a native of application. We’ve even had customers email us and say, “Oh my God, you’ve basically taken what was going to cost us $15,000 in custom development and made it 50 bucks.” It’s literally like order of magnitudes, in some cases, thousands less.
Andrew: I want to figure out in this interview where you came up with the idea, how you built it, how you got the initial users, how you got so much press for it. I want to first ask you about their product, not yours. Why do you think theirs costs so much when you came up with such a simple, cheap, elegant solution?
Jason: I think it’s like if you just look at [??] as a whole, they’re going through the traditional enterprise play where you have to charge very large amounts of money for something. That’s how you do it. I also don’t know if it’s in the New York Times’ DNA to sell a product like this for 50 bucks. They’re a content company. I think they’re trying to find other ways to make revenue and also native applications are a lot harder and the bar for native applications. Go find any iPhone or iPad or iOS developer. It’s a ton of money.
Andrew: Meanwhile, your product is just a theme for WordPress right now. I know you’re planning to go after other content management systems, but right now it works for WordPress. All you have to do is install it as a theme. The theme picks up on whether the user who comes over to the website is coming on an iPad or a computer. If it’s an iPad, boom, you get the native iPad experience complete with the touch interface, the accelerometer that knows if you’re holding it this way or that way, what you’re doing. Right?
Jason: Correct. The basic gist was how can we make stuff on the web feel exactly like a native iPad application? Technically, it’s a plugin that just works. We said WordPress because it power 8.5% of all websites including my blog. That’s the basic gist. I wanted to work with that before other stuff. A little bit selfish.
Andrew: Jason, are you a developer yourself?
Jason: I didn’t do the development on this. I guess I’m technically savvy in knowing how to code. The way I put it is there are people a lot smarter and better than me at it. I team up with them. On this, it was Armando Sosa. He’s actually based in Mexico. Then Andres Baretto, who was the co-founder at Grooveshark. He’s in Miami. It’s a full team.
Andrew: I’ll tell you who I’m envisioning this interview for. I’m envisioning it for the person who’s going to have a new idea when the Android tablet comes out or the BlackBerry tablet comes out or a new computer device or a new watch that can let you look at the Internet or whatever. They say, “You know what? I know the Internet. I am technically savvy a little bit, but I can’t code this stuff myself. Meanwhile, I see an incredible opportunity. I want to jump on it. How do I do it?”
I want them to remember this interview and say, “Okay. How did Jason do it when he had this idea? What did he do first? What did he do next? I can’t mimic every step that Jason took but I can certainly learn from him and adapt it to my situation and take my idea from just a thought that’s moving around in my head into a product that’s out on the Internet with customers and profits and growth and all that.”
Jason: Absolutely. I think the first thing I want to say is, let’s say somebody watches this tomorrow and obviously they don’t have the idea right now, they might get it in six months. They’re what I call entrepreneur curious. They’re just reading all of this stuff. Start making contacts as fast as you can. Get on Hacker News which I think a lot of people here probably are. Learn how to code even if you’re not going to do it yourself because that’ll make easier to just talk the talk. Being able to get the product to a technical point from from specs and product management standpoint, those are the things I’d recommend.
Be very clear and find somebody who has domain expertise. In this case, Armando was just absolutely amazing, just a baller WordPress guy. We originally worked with him on Cloudomatic.com which was a startup weekend project. What we did was we went to him really fast. It’s also finding somebody with domain expertise, working backwards.
Start making contacts as soon as possible. Get out in the community. Don’t be, what I call, that business guy. Just be casual. Say, “Listen. I got a great idea.” Know how you’re also going to make money with it. If you have some kind of reputation contacts, put that out there and say, “Hey. I know how this is actually going to succeed.” They probably have people come to them all the time.
First is learn some basic technical skills yourself. Even if you know you’re never going to be the lead engineer on a product, the difference it makes, it’s just a world of difference. I stopped out of school and when I went back, I decided to get my degree in computer information systems. I knew I would never be an engineer by trade, but the basic skillset that I learned was so valuable.
Andrew: Let me stop it and go a little bit slower. First of all, let’s say somebody’s going through this interview right now and they’re saying, “I can’t go back to school,” or, “I can’t change my major at this point.” Where can they go and learn just the basic, basic technical skills that will let them have a decent conversation with a developer?
Jason: There are a lot of languages. Let’s just say for this case it’s PHP which a lot of people criticize but I also think it is very easy and very mature. There’s one site, PHPVideoTutorials.com, which is where I learned a lot of basic stuff from how dynamic applications work to basics of just database interaction. That was key.
I would also just go to Barnes and Noble. Literally, if you don’t want to pay for the book, go to Barnes and Noble and just sit there and read for 30 minutes on a Friday. Keep doing it and getting at it. Then there’s also a wealth of resources you can Google around or you can go on Stack Overflow once you get into it. There’s really no silver bullet but I would say that it’s all free. It’s all on the Internet. Just start learning and taking in. I think video tutorials are the best way to do it.
Andrew: Have you ever done a Lynda.com course?
Jason: One of my hacks was when I was at school they offered free Lynda.com stuff. I downloaded everything and I still have it to this day backed up on Dropbox so I can reference and learn. Lynda.com is great. If you’re a broke student, you can find a way to get it.
Andrew: Great. Actually, when I interviewed Lynda she did tell me that she had some partnerships with schools and now I can see how it helps students. Get a little bit of technical background, technical experience. You can go and look online at certain video tutorial sites. Pick up as much of it as possible. Go buy a book from Barnes and Noble or if you’re cheap and for some reason can’t do it, pick it up at Barnes and Noble and sit there and read it. Sorry, Barnes and Noble. You guys are going out of business for reasons like this.
The second thing you say is you say, Andrew, back up. Before you even launch you need to do a couple of things. One of them is get a little bit of technical knowhow. The second thing you say is build contacts. How do you build contacts? I know that you’re especially good at this because, as I said at the beginning of the interview, you’ve introduced me to so many people. How do you do it?
Jason: My big belief is, and I did a post out on On Startups on this, the best thing you can do is start writing and participating in a community. I would say Twitter is one big community, but get more focused. I will always say it’s Hacker News in terms of community. Start writing. Even if you don’t have any readers on day one, everybody starts with nobody. Start saying smart things. Start talking about your process. My thing is be your own Mixergy. Teach all the lessons you’ve learned along the way. Over time, you’ll build an audience. You’ll have people come to you. When you finally do go to a person to team up with as a partner, and this is even if you’re technical, they’ll look and say, “Wow. They’re smart.” Let’s say you go for VC funding events. They’ll be like, “Wow. He knows what he’s talking about.”
Best of all, there’s this whole thing about serendipity the other day. It is the greatest engine for serendipity in the world. You will just get emails out of the blue and you’ll meet people. I would say to build contacts, start writing and also host your own meetups. Don’t go to. . . Well, you should go to other people’s meetups, but do your own. When you run the party, you get to be closer with people.
Andrew: Such great advice. Absolutely. It’s so easy today to organize a meetup for something that you love. It doesn’t have to be, “Hey. I’m throwing the Andrew Warner meetup.” If you’re into Hacker News, you can throw a Hacker News meetup. If you’re into On Startups, you do an On Startups meetup. If you’re into certain people, you could do meetups around them. Then it gives you an excuse to organize the event. You get the backing and the name of the group that you’re fanned up with and their fans will come out too. Like you say, when you’re an organizer, you get so many more benefits. Everybody gets to know you, even people who don’t come to the event get to know you because you’re the organizer of the event. Really helpful.
Jason: Yeah. Another example, I moved to Boston two months ago. I started the Hackers and Founders meetup. I took over as the Startup Digest curator. I think I just found any, like Roy Rodenstein who I knew and David Skok and then they introduced me to other people like Dharmesh and then from there they introduce you to more and it keeps spiraling out. Anybody can do that. You don’t have to. . . You can literally be a nobody and it just somehow works.
Andrew: I got to Buenos Aires. I wanted to meet people who were developers who were in the startup world. The first thing I did was organize a Hacker News meetup. I used to think you needed permission from Hacker News or from someone else to do a meetup. No, they don’t care. They’re happy that you’re on the site, that you’re part of the community and want to get together with other people in the community. I’ve seen that you do that. I also see that one of the things that you do exceptionally well is, anyone can organize an event, what you do I think better than most people that I know is write. Actually, can you give some of the names of the popular blog posts on your site?
Jason: I would say probably the number one popular one is How to Become a Millionaire in Three Years. That sounds like scummy, MLM type of thing. It’s moreso that there was a question on Hacker News, ask Hacker News, asking, “How do I become a millionaire in three years?” I just started the same way a rapper might freestyle. I started writing. People liked it. It got popular.
Andrew: It got insanely popular. You linked to me at the bottom of that post and I still get traffic from it which gives me a sense of how popular it got.
Andrew: Let me ask you this, and thanks for that, by the way. It takes some confidence to put yourself out there. Here I am just doing an interview. I think it takes a little bit of confidence to get comfortable in front of video. It takes a lot to put yourself out there and say how to become a millionaire when you’re not a millionaire yet. How were you able to get yourself to do that?
Jason: Part of it is I just love sharing any information that I learned. I failed a lot over five years. That’s just what it is. Along that way, you learn a lot of stuff that you’ll go through in the first six to 12 months as an entrepreneur. My belief is it’s almost like it would be wrong of me not to share that with people because if I can help. . .
Andrew: It’s stuff that you hadn’t done yet. I think that there are certain people who just feel more comfortable teaching and there are others who’ve got all these accomplishments who still don’t feel comfortable saying a word. How do you get to a place where you can put yourself out there and not worry about people saying, “If you know so much, why don’t you spend three years doing it and then come back and tell us?”
Jason: Part of it is I’m an extrovert. I’ve always loved public speaking. I can do interviews. That’s just me. That’s part of it. Let’s say I was a complete introvert. I think part of it is find an audience that you’re comfortable with. When I write, what I do is I just say, “Okay. If I could write a letter to myself five years ago and give myself information on a topic like. . . If I could tell myself five years ago how to get on TechCrunch, what would I tell myself? If I could tell myself how to find a co-founder five years ago, what would I tell myself?” I just find an audience. I’m comfortable with myself.
Let’s say you want to write about tech stuff. Just write for people you’d be comfortable having a beer with. Don’t think about that this person is going to come about and diss me. You’ll see that’s what John Gruber or Mark [??] do. They basically write for people like themselves. You’re comfortable around those people. I think you’ll just get into the groove. Once you get that first positive comment, that’s the tipping point where anybody’s hooked and we’ll just keep doing it. It’s write for yourself and get towards that first positive comment or email. It will change your life and in turn you’ll change more lives.
Andrew: I do that too with the questions. I try to think of myself when I was starting out and wondered what questions would I want answered. Then I go for those in the interviews. By the way, you didn’t just get a positive comment on that post. Business Insider picked it up and I know Business Insider got a ton of traffic for that post that they copied and essentially pasted on their website. In fact, they did something even better than copy and paste. They copied and pasted your post, How to Become a Millionaire in Three Years, onto their website but they made it into one of those page-view generators where essentially to get to every one of the points in your blog post, you have to click next, next, next and go from page to page to page on Business Insider. That’s the way they operate.
Jason: That’s how they do it. That’s their style. When I have something that’s a lot of points, I send it to them because I’m like well, it’ll help get me visibility but I know they’ll do a page-view generator with it. I got competitive at some point because I was competing against their actual writers for page views, so I wanted to beat out their writers. I was like, “I’m not going to stop until this is promoted enough.” It was like a game.
Andrew: I do that too because they have that little fire icon along with a number of how many times your post was viewed. If you’re in there, you want to show fire. You want to say, “Look, my post republished from my website is getting a ton of traffic.” As you say, even more than their full-time writers or professional writers. I don’t even know that they have a lot of full timers. That’s what you do before you get started. Let’s talk about now your specific experience. Where did this idea come from for PadPressed?
Jason: Perfect segway was I had started really getting into writing at that point. At the same time, the iPad had just come out. I got the 3G version right around when it came out. I was sitting here saying, “Wow. This is just an amazing device to browse content.” I said, “Two times in my life before I’ve noticed just immense changes in technology.” That was with the first mp3 player in ’98, the Diamond Rio PMP300. Mp3 players became big. Also the AOL Messenger which was developed by a little company called RIM. That would later go on and become what is now the BlackBerry. It was essentially a device to let you access your AOL Instant Messenger and AOL email anywhere.
I just had that same spark with the iPad. With the iPad, I said, “I’ve got to do something with this device.” At the same time, I was starting to write a lot and then I was trying to reformat myself. Just doing some coding and design tweaks myself to the blog to make it feel more formatted for the iPad. I said, “This isn’t going to do it. Something special has to happen.” I said, “I know WordPress is a big market.” I know you had Adii’s numbers and WooThemes. I just noticed some of the guys [??]. I’m like, “This makes sense.” I said, “Well, instead of developing a native application, let’s make it feel like a real native application on the web.”
Literally, we had an office in Miami at the time that was kind of gratis. We within five hours speced, prototyped, had the whole thing, and we started cranking. That was basically how it came about. Literally one afternoon, we’re like, “That’s it.” By 10 o’clock we had it. We were building at that point.
Andrew: WooThemes told me that he made millions of dollars from themes. Who would have thought that a theme for WordPress could make even a buck let alone millions of bucks? Who’s we? Where’d you find the other person who you partnered up with, Andres?
Jason: Andres and I met through the South Florida startup community, I think it was right after he left Grooveshark in 2008, through a mutual friend. We became friendly. I was doing my own first startup at the time. I moved out to the Valley. We were still in contact. That went really well and then bombed miserably in 40 days. I went back to school. At that point, when I was finished school we met at Startup Weekend. I said, “Hey. I think I’m crazy enough that I want to do another startup.” He’s like, “Yeah. I do too.” We were like, “Let’s start exploring stuff.” Originally we were going to do Cloudomatic which was getting some traction and then there was PadPressed. That’s how we met. It’s the really short story.
Andrew: You guys were going to partner up on Cloudomatic the other startup that you have?
Jason: Yeah. We basically met at Startup Weekend and created the first version of Cloudomatic which was actually built on WordPress which is how we know Armando because he was the other founder there with us. It’s not that it was a bad idea. We actually still to this day have a list of 200 people for a software product that’s finished but we said, “We need to pick one.” PadPressed was it for a multitude of reasons. We stayed partnered on that.
Andrew: Cloudomatic is a directory of web apps, right? Apps that operate in the cloud.
Jason: Yeah. The business we found there was building the software for referral engines, referral affiliate engines for software developers. I don’t know. We just had something in our gut about PadPressed. We needed to focus and went off with that.
Andrew: The idea behind Cloudomatic as it is with a lot of directories is, as you said, they’re affiliate programs for a lot of apps. If you have an iPhone app directory, there’s built-in revenue source there because every item in the directory links over to Apple’s store which gives you a referral fee. Apple I think uses LinkShare or someone that automatically will send you revenue. The problem though with cloud apps is they don’t have affiliate programs. They often don’t. Their affiliate programs aren’t as cleanly structured as even the Apple store affiliate program is. Right?
Jason: They’re horrible. We built a software for them to have the affiliate programs. That was essentially where we ended up taking Cloudomatic. We have to this day 200 people who want to pay for me. I don’t know what we’re doing. The software’s finished and we could launch it but we’re focued on PadPressed.
Andrew: Okay. You built it but you still haven’t launched the affiliate program for web apps.
Andrew: All right. How did you meet Armando who’s in Mexico? How would you connect with him?
Jason: Andres does a lot of speaking in Latin America. He’s a big evangelist for Latin American startups and Latin American technology communities. He just knew him through kind of. . . I guess how do you meet people. He just was out there making contacts, putting himself out there. That’s how he knew Armando. I knew Armando through Cloudomatic. He was going back to the other point of make sure they have domain expertise. He knew WordPress really, really well. He had built his own WordPress framework before so we’re like, “All right. This all makes sense.”
Andrew: You guys just connected with each other and you came up with the first idea and you said, “Hey, let’s partner up.” What kind of partnership agreement did you have on Cloudomatic?
Jason: At Cloudomatic, part of it was gentlemen’s agreement as we were figuring out. Now with PadPressed, we’re actually all incorporated, the agreements are there. Equity agreements I’ll keep private, but now that we’ve seen all this revenue, we’re like, “We need to have things cleared out.” We spent a lot of time doing that in the past month as well.
Andrew: That’s only after you started to see some traction, some revenue, and some press. Before then, you didn’t have anything on paper, any agreement about how you’d split up the company?
Jason: Correct. It’s so easy to think that’s not the smartest thing but part of it is, and I wouldn’t suggest most people to do that, there’s trust between us to the point of hey, we know. It’s not even a full thing yet. It’s like if anybody walks away or tries to do anything. . . Let’s say I tried to be Mr. Bad Guy and take it all and run, that’s stupid because without them it would fail anyway. If one of us left, the whole house would fall. That’s a good deterrent.
Andrew: I won’t ask you about what your agreement is with your other two co-founders but I’m curious about what you spent on legal fees to put it together, roughly.
Andrew: How do you get free legal?
Jason: It’s a Delaware corporation. Part of it is doing this stuff before you know if you want to do an S Corp Form 2553 and these are the right founder agreements. All those different things. We’ve seen them and we have them either from past experience or you can. . . Dockstoc has some very, very good examples. He worded them the right way and we know what the points of contention were and put them in there. This is something I need to write up is doing a Delaware corporation isn’t too difficult, but it’s not as easy as it should be. Instead, people just say, “I’ll pay some company 400 bucks to do it.” I say zero, but there are filing fees of $139. That’s if you want it within 24 hours.
Andrew: You basically went with an organization like the Company Corporation.
Jason: No. We didn’t even use them. Literally we filed it ourselves.
Andrew: Really? Okay. Then the partnership agreements, you just found something on Dockstoc that allows you guys to decide what your share of the company is? What about vesting? Did you put that in there?
Jason: Yep. There’s vesting. I think vesting is very important.
Andrew: Wow. Go Jason Nazar. The guy who built Dockstoc apparently built a really great resource.
Jason: He did. There’s a lot of great stuff there. Once you get into the financing, PG’s put out the Series A docs. That stuff is useful.
Andrew: Okay. All right. You told us how you found your co-founders. You told us how you structured legal, or at least what you did to organize the company. What’s the first thing that you guys build out in that, I think you said five hours?
Jason: Yeah. What we did was we said, “What is the basic functionality we need for this to work?” For example, there’s not even comments in the current version. We would love it but we’re like, “That’s not really crucial.” What we did was we sat down, we found some inspiring. . . This is from the first version not the current Flipboardesque one. We looked and said, “What is the look and feel that we like?” We looked at a lot of native iPad content apps. We said, “What needs to be there? What do we want it to look like?” What needs to be there, let me rephrase that as what will make this really stand out and take advantage of what the iPad can do? We said, “Touch navigation. The ability to swipe to advance. The ability to add a home screen icon. Accelerometer aware.” Then also just the typography and the layout. The [??] was important, too.
We went and said, “What are all these different things that we could put in?” As it turns out, we had to build a lot of that technology from scratch. The existing libraries just weren’t good enough to do what we wanted to do. The native scrolling of the iPad and Safari is actually not as powerful as the native application. They kind of nip it, per se. We found out all these things along the way. We basically sat down and said, “Here are the mockups. Here are the specs. Here are the important things.” We all agreed upon it. Armando didn’t even have an iPad at that time, so I had to take videos with my iPhone to show him exactly how it all works and looks like. We’d have to debug showing him a video of how it looked like. It was rough.
Andrew: All right. You said typography and I wrote it down to come back and ask you about typography and design. Any of the three of you designers?
Jason: Andres and I are UIUS and design guys. If you look at [??] website not even [??]. We modified a WooTheme but we went through and did the [??] ourselves, all the colors, how it looks. Actually I was inspired by this shirt. I was wearing it at the time. We’re like, “Let’s go with pink this time. Let’s make it nice and bright and outstanding.” The way that we wanted to do the app, I think Armando’s probably the best designer but we went through and said, “How do we want this to look? What’s the typography? How can we make it look good?” I think everybody has a sense of UIUS and design. I spent a lot of time in Photoshop too. I would say more technically I would put Andres and I on the UIUS side as well.
Andrew: Do you think, now they’re a sponsor but I’m not mentioning them because they’re a sponsor, that someone in the audience who wants to do this who’s not a designer can go to 99designs and get a designer? Maybe even go and hire somebody on Craigslist? I think we might have lost the connection. Did you catch that question?
Jason: I’m here. You had asked about 99designs. I think it’s possible for. . . We’ve even thought about putting out requests or proposals for people who want to create beautiful designs and then we’ll turn that into code. I think you can but it only gets you to a certain level. Let’s say you’re somebody, how you said, who just wants to do something like this out of the blue and they want to get started. Just go to 99designs, post something up there, and you will have something to go with. Like a starting point to have somebody start coding up or building up [??]. I think that’s completely doable.
Andrew: Okay. What about for edits and changes and day-to-day debugging and new designs? Do you think that you need somebody in there who’s part of the team or is this the responsibility you can outsource and work with someone temporarily?
Jason: My belief is that every startup, if they’re really technical, has something that’s domain specific to them. If you look at, let’s say, WePay, a great, big YC startup. Payments and security is big to them so they got a team for that and Max Levchin as an advisor. In our case, it’s not really the code that’s important in terms of PHP and [??] logic. It’s the Java script and touch [??] in expertise. That I don’t think you can outsource too easily. Maybe at first for a little bit, but long term I think that’s really dangerous for startups to outsource core technology. In our case, Armando’s really great at that. I would never in a million years outsource that core part. Stuff like simple WordPress logic that most people can do, yeah that’s fine.
Andrew: Got you. Do I have any other questions about that? Not on the piece of paper. All right. Let’s go back and you said that we came up with the core features. When I listen to that, I always think, “Oh yeah, of course, the features that you just mentioned, of course they’re the core. Of coure that’s all you need. I would have done the same thing.” Meanwhile, when you’re actually in the thick of things, when you’re building the site yourself, it’s really hard to differentiate core from would-be-nice-to-have features. Can you toss out some ideas of features that you could have added into the first version? Just give us a sense of what you tossed out. You said comments, what else?
Jason: Comments was a big one. Actually the first revision of the first version we wanted to have a splash home screen, the thing that we have now. It would have been a great wow to work ratio in one line of code, but we didn’t do it. We said, “Let’s keep it simple.”
Andrew: What’s a splash screen? What do you mean by a splash screen?
Jason: Let’s say you open the site as if it’s a native iPad app. It will show a splash screen with it. You don’t want that. . . Sorry I just lost my train of thought there. That’s just something big and loud and wonderful but we took it out. You got to think that even if you have the feature, you have to support something new. You have to write new marketing and copyright for it. We didn’t add it because that’s actually something we would want to tout. We do tout that now. I’m trying to think what else we have.
Andrew: What else could you have added in there?
Jason: What else could we have added in there? We could have added more widgetized areas. People have asked us for advertising widgets like custom little iPad type of advertising widgets.
Andrew: That’s a good point. I could see myself, if I was designing the first version, saying, “The way to sell it is to show my customers that they could make money by installing my theme. If I’m charging 50 bucks for it and they have a good audience, they might be able to make 50 bucks in one month. That seems like a natural selling point. Let’s add it in there.” Why didn’t you add advertising? Why didn’t you give people a way to monetize it in the first version?
Jason: I think we had something good enough which was the widgetized area. It’s just like put an ad there, all right. Unless people really, really scream that it’s missing, we don’t put it in. Even to this day, some people are asking for it and we will do it. The other thing to look at, can you do it right? Don’t do it when it’s just like, “Oh, well we can throw it in.” Like comments for example. We’re thinking of some really cool ways to do comments. We said, “We can put it in something.” Comments are important. We can put it in and do it not too well, but we said, “Let’s do it the right way.”
Andrew: Got you. Okay. You said widgets. You said advertising. Can you think of anything else that you might have included in there that people would have wanted?
Jason: One thing, and this is big on the business end, there’s a WordPress company called Gravity Themes. Gravity Forums it has that if you buy it, it validates that you actually purchased it. We haven’t had piracy yet, but then again I haven’t checked recently. They do it that it’s still GPL, still open source, but to get support and get the plugin actually working, there’s a validation scheme. We really wanted to build that just so it was out of the way and the support forums could be easier. We still to this day haven’t done it. With a developer license, we just added that now. Literally, we get one email a week saying, “We want to pay you more money.” We’re like, “We don’t know exactly how to do this license yet.” We waited until this version to do it right.
Andrew: Got you. All right. That gives me a good sense of what it is, of what you dropped out. I could also see myself saying or working with a co-founder who says, “Hey, let’s lock this down. Let’s make sure version one, that nobody can steal it. They have to verify that they have a legitimate account before they can get tech support and this and that.” You have to say, “No. We’re going to keep this really focused on version one. Future versions, we’ll decide what to put in there.” Basically the way you’re going to decide is based on what they scream for.
Andrew: You say it took a few hours to build version one. What I found is when you really dig into things, when I dig into a story, I find that version one really wasn’t version one. The version that they built in a few hours was just a good concept. What was version one that you built in a few hours?
Jason: Let me correct you that version one wasn’t five hours in terms of being built. It was, “This is exactly what we’re going to build.” I got this methodology. I think I outlined this in a post of like eight steps to go from idea to paying customers and PadPressed is an example. We got to the point of initial specifications and some customer validation. We asked just some blogger friends if this would be useful or people who read blogs if they’d like this format. Basically, what we had at the end of those five hours was a ghetto Photoshop mockup of where things were. I think there was also a Balsamiq mockup. There were specifications of these were all the features that were going to be in there. Once we said, “This is locked down,” literally we’ve just disciplined ourselves. We don’t add anything else.
Andrew: I see. Five hours to create a mockup and a list of functions that you guys are going to build into this thing. By the way, I included ghetto launch as a phrase in my intro. What does ghetto launch mean? I only used it because you used it in our pre-interview.
Jason: Yeah. David Cancel has this big thing where he’s like, “Don’t worry about the fancy tools and the crazy stuff. Keep it ghetto at first.” We did it. The first version, there were some things that were messed up. The design wasn’t as good as it should have been. We could have kept tweaking that. There was even something with page scrolling. It would flicker a little bit. We’re like, “We know we’ll fix that in five days with an update. Let’s just get it out there.” It was just on a product side.
Then you look at the marketing side. We said, “Let’s put ourselves in the harshest conditions.” Think about the bad neighborhood of town. If you can make it out of there alive, then you can make it anywhere. We said, “What’s the startup equivalent of that with a marketing side?” It was not optimized for conversions. We didn’t have the analytics there the right way. Things were spelled wrong. The design wasn’t as pretty as it should be. We said, “In the harshest of conditions, let’s show how this does.” Literally people would email us and say, “This is spelled wrong. This could be more readable here.” I’m like, “Let’s wait until the next version. Let’s see how it keeps doing at this.”
Another reason to do that is you can show progression of here’s what this looked like and here’s what it looks like now. This is how much we progressed. Even look at Facebook. When they went into new schools at first, they didn’t go into some random community college they could just take over. They went into places like Columbia where there was already something there, or Stanford already had something. They wanted to know that in the harshest conditions possible that they would succeed.
Andrew: I see. What about this? What about the idea that you now built up a repuation for yourself and you’re hoping to continue building on it for the rest of your life and now you’ve launched a product that’s ghetto, that’s got misspellings on the home page, it’s got some flickering on the initial product? We’re about to talk about how you got press, how you got into TechCrunch. The TechCrunch writers and the TechCrunch audience, their first impression of your product is ghetto. Aren’t you ruining a potentially good reputation by putting something out there that’s ghetto?
Jason: No. Everyone is like, “First impressions matter. First impressions matter.” I’m sure they do matter but people always come back, even TechCrunch which is one of the largest tech publications in the world, if not the largest. That’s still just such a small subsection. There are so many fish in the sea. Use it as a test audience. You don’t want to leave the product too ghetto but you want it to work, obviously.
The thing is, I think it’ll impress people more by showing that progression of. . . I call it your minimum viable demo or minimum viable product. You just show that progression of we had this then we had this then we went here. Look at Facebook. Their first thing was Harvard, no wall, one photo, horrible design. Look at it now. It’s much more impressive that they went from that first ghetto version in two weeks to where they are now. That’s our philosophy is to show progression.
Andrew: Okay. I see. What else do I want to know about the launch? How long after you came up with the idea and the feature set and the mockup did it take you to go from that to the first version?
Jason: I would say a month to do that. Yeah. About a month I would say. We started in mid-June and launched late July with the first version. July 28th was the first version. Mid-June, so a month and a half.
Andrew: Month and a half to do it. How much time do you think Andres and Armando and you spent on it? You say it was a part-time job. How many hours a week would you say you guys worked on it individually?
Jason: We were doing Cloudomatic at the same time, it’s hard for me to quantify hours. I would say probably somewhere around 20.
Andrew: So 20 hours. What was your responsibility and what was each of theirs?
Jason: I think Armando was on the lead developer side. By developer, it’s more front-end engineering and Java script and CSS. Technically back end it’s not much. Andres really worked with him as product manager. I worked moreso on the higher level like how we were going to launch this thing, making sure things were on track, what’s the copyrighting, what are the longer term cost of acquisition channels. Andres is more internally focused operations and I’m more external. For example, setting up what the support process is going to be. We went through every support product out there. We actually ended up using a modified version of Vanilla Forums. That was a lot of work to get that. . .
Andrew: Forums is what you ended up using.
Jason: Yeah. We looked at what the other theme providers do and what we wanted in terms of a ticketing system. We’re GPL so what people essentially pay us for is support and great updates over time as being a WordPress plugin right now. The support, we needed it to be private. We needed it to be in control. We also needed it to be a public knowledge base. Right now, one of our biggest problems is thumbnail issues. People just see past examples and other community members help each other. It was the right solution. We owned it too since we hosted it.
Andrew: Okay. How did you launch it?
Jason: How did we launch it? We gave TechCrunch the exclusive. Then we worked with a couple of other just smaller media publication blogs then we had a waterfall effect. From there that carried it. You always hear that TechCrunch doesn’t get you sales. In this case, it got us a lot of sales. It made us I guess you could say ramen profitable. It got us this first sales and validation. There’s something here, let’s make a second version. Andres was in Mexico for a conference. I think I had just moved to Boston. We sat down and said, “What’s the craziest thing we can build?”
Andrew: Let’s stop there before we go to the crazy thing that you could build. TechCrunch. Did you have a connection to TechCrunch or did you just email their tips email address?
Jason: I literally emailed editor@TechCrunch.com which is Mike’s email there. I give him all the credit in the world. He still checks that email. He probably won’t respond for the most part. I think it’s a crapshoot. He does read what comes in through there.
Andrew: He saw your email. He didn’t know you from Adam. You guys never talked and he said, “Okay. We’ll run a piece on this”?
Jason: I met him a couple times but I think he’s met so many people in his life. I haven’t asked him, “Hey, Mike, did I stand out?” We’ve met in the past and just because he’s met so many people. I think part of that is building a reputation on Hacker News and blogging may have helped too. Also, I spent literally an hour crafting that entire email and the subject line. I would continually email it to myself and look in Gmail on different resolutions asking what was the first thing he would see, what are the headlines. There was a certain craft to it.
Andrew: Is that up on your website?
Jason: Yeah. I did a post last week. This is purposely because I knew we were going to pitch them again. I said, “Let’s start getting a little bit of buzz.” Thirteen Ways to Pitch, Press. I have the exact email, literally unfiltered. My phone number is in it.
Andrew: What’s your blog? Where can people see it?
Andrew: Okay. That’s the first launch. You didn’t build out a website on your own, you just used WordPress. I saw the theme that you used. It was a nice theme, not spectacular, but really nice. It was a free theme I saw.
Jason: It was paid. It was an elegant theme.
Andrew: It was a paid theme? I thought those themes were free. Okay.
Jason: They have a $28 subscription. We didn’t really customize it much. Now we took a base of simple WooThemes and we customized it to oblivion and beyond. We said, “Now we’re going to make a real go at this. How would we do this right? What’s the non-ghetto way to make a site?” I’ve set up all the funnels and analytics and real-time tracking. We knew exactly what wording works. We have health widgets to tell us where people are stuck. Literally from that one change we went from a bounce rate of 70%, which is horrible, to now I think today we’re at 24% as our bounce rate.
Andrew: By just changing from one theme that was an off-the-shelf theme to another that was also from WooThemes but you customized it, going from an off-the-shelf to an off-the-shelf customized theme, you reduced your bounce rate that dramatically, from 70% to, I think you said, 25%?
Jason: Yeah. We’re at about 25% today. Let’s say it’s under 30% on average with all the traffic. We really approached it like we want to do this really, really well. What’s everything we learned in our lives on how to do this and that’s what we did.
Andrew: Okay. Then you said that you built a second product. What was the second product?
Jason: We said, “All right. Let’s do another design.” We said, “Let’s do this to really show that we can push the boundaries. What’s the craziest thing out there on the iPad?” Flipboard came out in between when we had our first launch. We said, “This is absolutely awesome. We would love our blogs to look like this. That’s really hard to do in the browser. Shouldn’t that be native? I think we can push things with HTML5 and CSS3. Let’s show that we’re the real deal.” We did it right. It was moreso it was a big technology doubt. That’s why this one took us way more time to do but it’s worth it by far.
Andrew: How much time did it take you to do it?
Jason: I would say this one took us two and a half months instead of a month and a half.
Andrew: It was basically saying, “Look, there’s this Flipboard app out there. Robert Skobel’s excited about it. People are talking about it. It’s a new way to interact with the web and articles. If that’s a new way to interact with lots of articles that are coming to people from social networks, maybe it’s also a way for publishers to present their material because that’s the way users are going to want to see it.” You just took that as a model and you said, “How close can we get to that?” That’s what you launched as a second version.
Jason: Yep. Exactly. That’s the basic gist of it.
Andrew: Okay. Is it two different themes now or is it one theme with two different options?
Jason: Right now, if you go and buy the plugin it comes with both of them. Same price gets you all of them. We could have sat and said, “Existing customers, you’ve got to pay more.” I think that would have been a pennywise, tomfoolish thing. We want to reward them. They were with us there from the start. New customers, most are going to want the new theme anyway, so why not throw the first one in there with it?
Andrew: Okay. How did having a second theme influence sales?
Jason: It gave us a reason to do another launch. It was an event for us. We knew we were going to get attention with a great design, the Flipboard play. We called it buzzword bingo. We’re like, “HTML5, iPad, going against the app store, Flipboard, and a cool demo.” Those five things, that’s our story, to play with all that. Biggest thing with the press is you’ve got to tell a story. That was ours.
Andrew: You also mentioned other blogs and I didn’t talk about them yet. Besides TechCrunch where else did you get coverage?
Jason: I think right today we got something with WPCandy. They did a teaser and now they’re writing it up. Our biggest belief is it’s not going to be one with the big TechCrunches of the world even though that helped. It’s going to be a lot of really nitty gritty in with the design community, the WordPress community, directly connecting with people who are our customers, content publishers. There was one web designer depot, I’ll put it there. That was huge for sales. I’m trying to think who else that was a good one because there are a lot of long-tail stuff too. Blog Herald was a big one. That’s industry specific. Really nitty gritty things like that plus the long-tail traffic of different little things that bring a sale or two here. That adds up over time. It’s residual.
Andrew: I think Adii told me that affiliate programs were his best source for customers. Do you guys have an affiliate program yet?
Jason: We do. We do have an affiliate program. Andres had messaged me in the middle. We’re revamping the banners to be nice and beautiful. It’s all built in to E-junkie. If anybody wants a startup idea, do something like E-junkie but better for digital downloads and delivery. We will be your first customer.
Andrew: Why? What’s wrong with E-junkie? E-junkie is a shopping cart sales plugin.
Jason: They got the whole system right which is they’ve got the affiliate program built in, you can use Authorize.net. We do not have PayPal as an option. There have been too many PayPal horror stories. We want to use a real merchant account. They’ve got that. They got the end to end. They’re not charging you per sale. They’ve got the system right but the implementation is just hard to use. For example, we don’t get all of our customers’ email addresses from them. We only can send them newsletters and updates if they opt into it, which is horrible. We have to jerry-rig something together with merchant accounts. It’s all done in Flash. It’s not intuitive. There are other products out there but they are missing a lot of stuff. It’s not the right suite.
Andrew: Let’s talk about the tools that you’re using. I want to see all the different tools that go into selling and promoting the product. We got WooThemes for a website. You don’t develop your own site. What other tools?
Jason: I’ll go through the list. Wufoo for contact forms, WooThemes for the actual site, E-junkie for digital delivery, Vanilla Forums for support forums and we self-hosted it but also have a SAS version, let me think what else. We have a merchant account. Who’s the one company that does the comparison? They were a guest on your show.
Andrew: Hang on. That will take me a moment to come up with them. I can’t think of them but I did an interview with them too.
Jason: I know.
Andrew: They have the worst name. It’s like two initials and then a word and I can’t ever think of it.
Jason: They’re great.
Andrew: You use them as a search engine to find your merchant account. How long did it take you to get a merchant account?
Jason: I guess the thing is, any of the money I make I put into a company I’ve set up. Luckily I had that already set up a while ago. I would say the process takes seven days to two weeks depending on how in order you are with the paperwork. That’s the merchant account. Let’s see what other. . . Are you just talking tools for us to make money or also our internal tools as well?
Andrew: Let’s talk internal tools too. I’m always curious about what people use.
Jason: We’re all distributed. Obviously, Basecamp, Assembla. For testing and development we use Safari in developer mode to preview stuff on the iPad. We all have iPads obviously. Dropbox is a really big one. Yammer, we’ve got a Yammer account. I’m also trying to think of other external tools to makes. . . Oh, we use SnapABug now or Stop Ngage.
Andrew: What’s that for? For talking to customers?
Jason: Yeah. If somebody comes to your site and they want live help, it’s kind of like Olark. It was in the AppSumo bundle so we took that.
Andrew: In the AppSumo bundle, right.
Jason: Yeah. Oh, analytics, we use a combination of Reinvigorate and Google Analytics. Google Analytics for more funnel tracking and Reinvigorate for more live, what’s going on traffic. I think that covers it. I’m sure I might think of others. It’s a suite of like 10 to 20 tools.
Andrew: I’m googling Sean Harper’s company so that I can mention it. Sean Harper’s a guy who I interviewed who did that search engine. Let’s see what it is. It is TransFS. What kind of name is that? He’s got to come up with something catchier like BillShrink or BillGrow or something.
Jason: Yeah. It’s a great service. They get the best rates.
Andrew: Apparently a lot of money in that business too.
Jason: Oh, yeah. Everybody needs it in the software industry.
Andrew: I don’t want this interview to go for too long. I’m seeing that we already talked for over an hour. I’ve got to ask about Vanilla, Vanilla Forums. Why’d you use them for ticketing, for help, for chat, for support?
Jason: I think there’s a certain workflow we had that might be indicative of companies where support is a big value add. What we needed was the ability to invite users and make the forums private. We needed them to actually be forums. We needed the ability to add users ourselves, assign different roles. We knew our support workflow process was going to be less about a ticketing system and more about public knowledge where we could respond out in the open. We said, “Hey, we need forums.” They were the best choice to specifically do this. The other ones were missing certain things we needed.
Andrew: Okay. I think that’s everything. All right. What are you working on next?
Jason: Where do we go next? We get, for example, people saying, “Can you build this for Drupal? Can you build it for Tumblr? Can you make it. . . I’m an ebook publisher. I don’t want to go through the Kindle.” Think about this, if you sell an ebook, you never get your customer’s email address. If you did it on the web, you could actually get the email address of every book purchaser. We’re turning it into a hosted service that basically you plug in your log-in details for Tumblr or your WordPress account or your Posterous, whatever it is, or you upload your epub and we host it all. It’s all taken care of.
I will say even though yes, we’re only developing for the iPad browser, it’s really hard to deal with all these custom WordPress configurations, hosts, and plugins. This will just be so much easier and it’ll also. . . We got some other interesting things we’re thinking of in terms of how we help publishers not only make the content look good with the iPad but how they can make more money because it is the iPad. I guess that’s a little teaser of what’s to come.
Andrew: All right. Actually instead of ending on where you’re going in the future, I think what I should start doing is ending on advice. Based on your experience launching this specific product, what advice do you have for entrepreneurs who are going to launch a similar product?
Jason: I think the best advice, and my favorite, is you’re thinking, “I’m doing a startup,” and you get so emotionally attached thinking, “I’ve got to make it. How do I make it a billion-dollar company?” Just sit and say, “How can I get it launched fast and how can I get my first $10,000 in the door?” If you can get 10,000 bucks. . . As long as the market isn’t something too small, then you can get $50,000 then you get get more customer acquisition channels and you scale it up and you can get more people. Then you go to $150,000 and that turns into a million. You keep going and luck gets in. Just focus on that first $10,000. Don’t look at it standing too far up high. Just get to that first $10,000 in paying customers and you’ll feel great. We hit that today actually, ironically.
Andrew: All right. $10,000 within three months you already did.
Jason: Yep. Side project, no [??], no nothing, just an idea.
Andrew: We lost the connection for a moment, you said side project, no outside funding, no nothing, just the three of you guys building this and hustling to sell it.
Jason: Yeah. That’s it. That’s basically it.
Andrew: Cool. The website is PadPressed.com. Guys, check it out. Come back, give me feedback. Let me know if your websites are on PadPressed so I can check them out. Jason, it was great to do an interview with you. Thanks for all those connections again.
Jason: You’re welcome. Thanks for having me.
Andrew: You bet.
Jason: I’ll talk to you soon Andrew.
Jason: Okay. Bye.