Andrew: Hey, everyone. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy, where you guys know I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their massively successful companies. But today I have an interview with an entrepreneur whose revenue aren’t as high as some of the others that I’ve interviewed. To me, though, this interview is more important than the other interviews that I’ve done here.
The reason is that you know, as a guy who lives in San Francisco, I get access to a lot of phenomenal entrepreneurs. Like just the other week, I invested as a limited partner in a VC fund and I got to go to dinner with all the other limited partners and I got to see them. Some of them are incredibly successful entrepreneurs and I could have any number of them here on Mixergy and I will be interviewing them.
But if all Mixergy is is a place for you to hear from these VC-backed entrepreneurs who got a lot of funding, who built up companies who may or may not survive for the next ten years and cashed out and now are angel investing in the next batch of companies, I don’t think I’ll satisfy the mission of Mixergy.
I want to expose you to entrepreneurs who are doing things differently and more importantly, I want to expose you to entrepreneurs who are doing things in other parts of the world because when I interview an entrepreneur in Europe, in Africa, in India, the other entrepreneurs from that part of the world who are touched by it, are inspired by it, who are moved by it end up using what they’ve learned to create companies themselves and seeing that they do not have to be here in SoMa walking up and down Market Street raising money in order to make a change in their lives and change the world.
So that’s why I keep looking for entrepreneurs in other parts of the world who I can interview who have successful companies. I have to tell you that it’s a little bit harder, harder for me to find because I don’t have the network, harder for me to speak here because there isn’t a culture outside the US where frankly bragging about your success, where here this is part of how we live, so much so that we don’t even consider it bragging. It’s just conversation.
So with all that background, I’m really excited to introduce you to an entrepreneur who is in what is consider a tier two city in India—I want to talk to him about what that means—who nevertheless has bootstrapped a successful company called Recurpost. His name is Dinesh Agarwal. Recurpost is a software that allows you to recycle your best updates on social media so you can be more interesting to your followers, be more useful to people who are reading your posts and so you can grow your business with that software.
This interview is sponsored by two companies that you’ve heard me talk about for a long time because frankly, they’re getting great results from advertising here. The first will host your website right and has hosted mine. It’s called HostGator. The second will help you hire your next great developer or designer or PhD. It’s called Toptal. I’ll tell you more about both those later.
Dinesh: Thank you, Andrew. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Andrew: Let me jump to the most American question that I have, but will nevertheless help people see where we are here. Revenue, what is your monthly revenue right now?
Dinesh: So we are close to $7,000 now a month.
Andrew: $7,000 a month?
Andrew: So I actually thought—oh, I see. Got it, $7,000 in revenue a month. How long have you guys been in business?
Dinesh: We launched August 2016.
Andrew: So I actually thought that you were doing a quarter-million dollar annual run rate or no or was that the previous business?
Dinesh: So Recurpost is doing $7,000 a month, but what we do is we help entrepreneurs build their products. So we have some other products. They make decent money as well. So we are making close to a quarter-million dollars a year.
Andrew: I see. Those other businesses like Pro Start Me, do you own them outright?
Andrew: You do.
Dinesh: Most of them are owned by me.
Andrew: Got it. All right. So this is a pretty good business you’ve built up in a fairly short amount of time, all bootstrapped and as I said, in a tier two city. I did not understand what a tier two city was when you were introduced to me. I never heard that expression before. Before we started, I asked you what that meant and you said, “There are a bunch of issues here. Talent is harder to find, healthcare is harder to get and education is not as available. People need to leave.” I asked you, “What do you mean by healthcare?” And you told me what happened to your dad. He slipped and what happened to him?
Dinesh: First of all, why I mentioned healthcare is difficult is my dad was diagnosed with cancer. There were no good doctors here. The doctors that we tried to go to, they tried to rip us off. It was so bad. Once a doctor came in the middle of an operation and then he said, “If we had done these reports earlier, it would have helped us. Would you like me to stop this operation and get these reports done and go back to it again?” I said, “Okay, yeah, stop the operation,” and I said, “Dad, we’re taking you to Mumbai,” which is the closest tier one city. I said, “We are getting you treated there.”
So we had to take him there and then with cancer, you have regular follow-ups. So every time we have to go there, I would have to skip office for a day, go with him and then we’ll take like a four-hour journey there, be there and then the healthcare industry is really difficult because there are so many people. So we have to wait there for a few hours and then we come back another four hours. So, basically, I would spend my entire day there and it had to happen for maybe close to two years.
Andrew: I get it. I get the challenge of actually even living there, never mind the difficulty of hiring talent, how about the difficulty of actually getting your job done? How did your dad do with cancer?
Dinesh: He recovered, but it had only been two months since he recovered and he was feeling better about his life and he was telling everyone, “I beat cancer.” Then one night, he went to the restroom. He slipped and fell and he had a brain hemorrhage. We took him to the doctor. Somehow, he called me at 4:00 a.m. in the morning and he was like, “Dinesh, come here. I’m not feeling well.” I went there and then he went to the restroom and he slipped and fell and he had brain hemorrhage.
I took him to the doctors right away. The doctors couldn’t figure out that it was a brain hemorrhage, even though he was showing all symptoms of it. They couldn’t figure it out. He was not put to a CT scan and they thought it was like a minor wound and then they dressed it up and only after 1:30 a surgeon came and he was like, “This is serious.” Then the treatment was started. So he was operated on at 4:00 in the afternoon, 12 hours. So for 12 hours, he had blood flowing in his brain and that actually caused so much trouble that we couldn’t save him.
Andrew: If you lived in Mumbai, if you lived in Georgia, where you got your PhD, would he have survived that?
Andrew: Tell me if I’m kidding myself or if there’s some truth to my belief. My belief is that if we could bring entrepreneurship, if we could bring companies like yours to cities like yours that there will be more money in the local economy, they’ll be able to support better hospitals and better infrastructure in general and more importantly, better expectations from people who live there so they won’t allow a doctor in the middle of an operation to try to upsell you or kick you out of the operation. Am I being Pollyannaish when I say this or do you think there’s some truth to this vision I have of the world?
Dinesh: You’re right about it. So things are changing. So things are definitely improving. So as more money is coming in, as people are getting aware of the world outside them, they know what they can expect from their doctors and people have started asking questions. Usually in America, we question doctors, “What’s happening? What are you giving me? What is this medicine for?”
In India, that was not the culture traditionally. Doctors are gods. And you don’t question them. You don’t even ask them, “What are you treating me for?” or, “What’s the case with me?” So they write your prescription. You go to the chemist. You take that medicine and that’s all. You usually don’t partake in your own ailment. That has been the case, but now people have started asking questions. Some doctors don’t like it, but some do. So things are changing as people are getting access to money, internet as well as the world outside these cities.
Andrew: You want to know something? I think something is true in the US. Malcolm Gladwell, I don’t remember in which book he said it, I think it’s in “What the Dog Saw,” he pointed out that wealthy parents on the way over to see a doctor will coach their kids to ask the doctor questions. It’s not like an intentional thing, we have to teach them to do it. He just observed that that’s what they do versus poorer kids in the US, who on their way over, are taught to not do it, to let the authority tell you what to do.
My hope is again, as we do better as entrepreneurs, we’ll allow people to do better around us. We’ll bring in more resources. That’s the mission here. We’ll get into a little bit more about what it means to work where you are. Let’s talk about how you started all this. You’re a PhD. You’re someone who I don’t think was headed toward entrepreneurship, but you had entrepreneurship in your bones and it was kind of tapped when another student said that he had an idea. What was the idea?
Dinesh: So, of course the third year of my PhD—and this was at Georgia State University, Atlanta—so, I got an email from this guy from my industry and he’s like, “I have an idea, but I don’t have the technical skills, so I would like to talk to you and see if you are interested.” I was like, “Yeah, why not?” I was a graduate student. All I had was time. I would do my research and then I would go away from my research and refresh.
So he came to my office. He was like, “We are spending too much money on books.” So the bookstore will sell a book for $70 to a student and then they would buy it back at the end of the semester for $30 only to sell it again at $70 for another student. He said, “What if we take the middle man out and students could directly trade books with each other?” So you could pay for your books. If I have books that you need for the next semester, I will take your books for current semester and I’ll give you the books you need.
I liked the idea. Right there, I went to the whiteboard and created an algorithm like, “We can do this, we can do this.” He’s like, “Okay, I don’t understand this, but I like your enthusiasm, maybe we can work together.” So we started working together. Then I thought, “I like this. This is what I want to do.” Before that, I was dead set that I was going to the industry as a research scientist and that’s what I wanted to do. But once I tasted entrepreneurship, I knew that I had it in me and this is what I wanted to do because it made me so happy.
Andrew: So this didn’t become a company you cofounded, right? But it did lead you to entrepreneurship events. As you were going to entrepreneurship events, you started to find that a common problem kept cropping up. What was this problem?
Dinesh: So Atlanta is a big city. There are a lot of entrepreneur student mixer events. So I started going to them. The common problem that I faced is people had great ideas. There were so many people with great ideas. I was like, “Wow, this is a great idea. Why are you not doing something about it?” It was like, “Well, only if I had some developers, if only I had technical talent to help me execute this.” I thought, “This is actually a problem.”
So once our idea did not get any traction from students, I thought maybe there is another idea. How about I help people take their ideas to market and instead of charging them a lot of money, I take equity in the final idea. So maybe I have to hire a team so the guy can pay me whatever it costs me to hire that team and on top of that, I take equity. So I started asking people, “How do you like this idea?” Everyone was like, “Shut up and take my money. If you start this company. . .”
Andrew: Was it that they were giving you your money or just equity?
Dinesh: So, basically, I don’t charge for my time, but if I have to hire talent, then you pay for them. But I don’t charge a premium on that. That’s why it made sense to come back to India because the talent in the US would be prohibitively expensive for bootstrapping entrepreneurs. So I thought I’ll go back to India, find great talent and create this company.
Andrew: So, if I had an idea, I would come to you. You find the developers for me to execute the idea. I don’t pay a premium on those developers and they’re much less expensive than in the US and I give you for all your trouble, I give you a share of the business and people said, “Shut up and take my money,” they wanted it. You come back, why didn’t you go to Mumbai? Why didn’t you go to what you would consider a tier one city?
Dinesh: So, in my pursuit of education, I had been away from family since like 2000. So I left my home in 2000 and I was in the US in 2013. So it’s been 13 years. I really wanted to be close to family. My family has a traditional business here. So they couldn’t move. So I thought I’ll be here.
Andrew: Okay. So you come back. You start looking for developers. Did this idea actually work out? Did it actually take off?
Dinesh: So I come back and I take a break. I knew once I go back to work, there are no breaks. So I took three months’ break. I went to hike. I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. That was fun.
Dinesh: Once I came back and I was rested well, then I started looking for talent. It was very hard to find good talent. But then I found some people. Then I started contacting the people who said, “Shut up and take my money.” So they gave us some projects. Also, I started promoting our company on communities like Reddit. I would offer, “For this subreddit, I will create something for free. So there is no charge, no strings attached. If you need a small project done, let us know.”
Dinesh: I already had the talent and I did not have enough projects. The word went around and I got some more projects from there. So, as we were new, we did not know what kind of projects to take, what kind of projects would work, something that sounded good, we jumped on it. But after having built more than 30 startups, I kind of know what kind of projects work and what kind of projects don’t work. So now we are smarter.
Andrew: All right. Talk to me about how you discovered the next—what happened when you discovered the next issue, which is they don’t know how to get discovered. What did you do next to deal with that? You discovered that they didn’t know how to get new customers, right? They didn’t know how to get people to pay attention. What did you think they were going to do about that at first? What’s the first thing that came to mind when you came up with that issue?
Dinesh: This was a common problem across everybody. They were smart. They had good ideas. But then it’s not true that if you build it, they will come. They don’t come these days. If no one knows about it, I would say it’s like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you’re doing, but no one else notices it.
So we thought, “What can we do?” So we started looking for avenues where we could promote these startups. So paid advertising obviously was not a good fit because most of the entrepreneurs did not have resources to pay for paid advertising. So that was a no-go. Then we started looking at other avenues like blog posting, guest posting. But that was also very hard and it needed specialist skills that we did not have. We needed developers but we did not have writers.
So social media was a good fit for us. So we started looking at social media and then we found that yes, this is a platform that people are hanging out and if you share your message nicely, you don’t try to abuse the system, then in that case, this actually works. People respect you for what you do. Then we started creating some tools.
So we wrote some scripts and we started working on those scripts and we saw that this was working. When we share our work through social media, identifying when we should share something, where we should share something and what kind of post will do well on Twitter, what should be shared on LinkedIn, what Facebook is good for. We understood that these things work. Then we started writing those scripts.
Eventually, what happened is like I said, most of the startups of the study did not work, but these scripts applied to everything that we built. We could promote—
Andrew: I’m writing a note here. You might hear me typing it. I want to come back and ask you how you discovered those early scripts, like what are those early tests and then what did you mean for this software to do and how did it end up being this product that now you’re selling.
But first, I’ve got to tell you about this email that I got from one of my listeners. It’s a guy—I’m going to call him out by name because I like that he did this—Josh Ossler. Josh emailed me and he said, “Andrew, you keep talking about HostGator and you say that you’ve got a great price. But I did some research. I found an even better price that HostGator is offering than you.”
So most people if they were in my position would say, “You know what, Josh? The price difference is insignificant. HostGator is like charging $4 or $5 a month with my discount code instead of $4.50 or $4.39. Who cares?” But I couldn’t do that. I forwarded the email over to HostGator. I just wanted to see what are they going to do. HostGator gets the email and again, I expected them to say, “Dude, Andrew, a couple of pennies. If they don’t love you enough for a couple of pennies, what are we doing here with you?”
They started investigating it at HostGator. They sent me screenshots. It’s a guy at HostGator named Matt Pretti starts to investigate, sends me screenshots if people go to HostGator.com/Mixergy and what the price is, sends me a screenshot and discovers that they were doing tests—not him, but somebody was doing tests at HostGator to see if changing the prices would impact results.
He discovered that all the packages that we offered on HostGator.com/Mixergy, we had the lowest price out there except for one plan, which is called the—we were offering the business plan at 50% off. They were testing something called the pro plan at 60% off. We had it at $7.48 a month. Somewhere else was offering at $5.95 per month.
If you guys are listening to me and you can’t keep track about those details, you’re not alone. I’m looking at it on my screen. I don’t give a rat’s ass about those details. What I care about though is why HostGator took this so seriously. They are on this stuff. If you guys have listened to me for a while, you might have heard that HostGator was sponsoring every day and suddenly they stopped and you might be wondering why, I said, “I got a lot of emails about HostGator, let’s go see if HostGator really is a good company for me to promote or maybe all these emails that I’m getting about HostGator are an indication that there’s a problem.”
So I took every freaking—I didn’t do it. I asked Andrea, my assistant. I said, “Andrea, if you have a couple of hours, go through and find every email that we got about HostGator, put it in a doc. I want to know every problem that everyone had with HostGator.” She put it in a doc. Then I sent it to HostGator. They responded to every single one of them. They responded the way they responded to this little bit of a nothing issue.
The problem was that many people didn’t realize that yes, they’re comparing HostGator plans that are the cheapest with the most expensive they can find somewhere else or they had an issue with HostGator that they didn’t get resolved fast enough and HostGator has upped their response times. So I said, “You know what? These guys are on it. They’re on everything. I’m proud to have them on as a sponsor.”
We did this internal investigation. I’m proud to have them as a sponsor and I’m proud to use them. I started a new business for creating bots. I’m proud that I’m using them as a hosting company to host my website. This is kind of a little bit of a rant here that I’m going on, Dinesh, but it’s important because I want people to know that this is how seriously I take every advertiser that’s on Mixergy. This is how proud I am that my listeners take all of my ads this seriously.
I’ll tell you that at the end of it, I was so excited about the way HostGator responded, that they didn’t just say, “Andrew, here’s the difference. We ran this test. He’s comparing something called a pro plan, which we offered as an experiment with a business plan.” They said, “You know what, Andrew? He actually didn’t look at all the details, but to make sure this is better than it was right now, we’re going to give you 60% off. You’ve been offering a 50% off discount. We’re going to give you a 60% off discount. That should mean that any test that we do will now mean that you will always have a better price than those tests.”
So now you guys, thanks to Josh Ossler, who had to complain about like one dollar off and he didn’t notice he was comparing two different plans, but thanks to him, we now have a much better discount than we’ve had before. I’m going to give you that discount if you go to HostGator.com/Mixergy. I’m testing it right now. On the business plan, now you get 60% off.
But guys, look, if what you care about is like pennies, you’re in the wrong business. You have to think about the bigger picture. This is a company that takes things like this that seriously. So if you want a hosting company that cares about you that much and cares about the details to that degree, I urge you to do what I did, go get your business hosted, get your website hosted on HostGator.
The way to do it is by going to HostGator.com/Mixergy, HostGator.com/Mixergy. Don’t, don’t, don’t be like petty where you care about a penny here, a penny there. Do be considerate about your business where you care about the kind of company that would care to this kind of degree. Go to HostGator.com/Mixergy.
Let’s come back to what I said earlier. Do I get a little bit obsessive, by the way, Dinesh? I’m looking at myself reflecting back on that ad and I think I hear ads on like NPR. They’re so pre-scripted. Why can’t I be that scripted? Why do I have to be so obsessive? As a listener, what do you think? Is that too much?
Dinesh: What I think is you put your heart into it. You’re not just selling something to make money. You care about your listeners. That guy complaints, Josh Ossler, and then you forward it to the advertiser, “You know what? My listener is not happy. That’s not good. Can you please look into it?” So that tells you that you put your heart into what you’re doing. That’s why you get excited, because you love what you’re doing. It’s simply that.
Andrew: You’re right. I think that it wasn’t the most polished, but it sends across the message, “This is what I obsess about.” You should see, I’m looking at a screen here back and forth between Sachit and me and Matt.
Let’s come back to your story. The early scripts that you wrote, were you using other people’s software? There was software already out there that allowed people to post on social media. Were you using their software and that’s what led you to figure out what you wanted? What are the scripts you wrote?
Dinesh: I think that’s an issue with us. We don’t use someone else’s software. We tried to build things ourselves because we believed that everything that we build will be reused by use some day. Because we write it, it will be of good quality. Of course, there are some tools, third-party tools that we use, open source tools, libraries that are out there. We respect them and we use them because we trust them. But most of the time, we will not buy a script from a script selling website because we—
Andrew: Why not use Hootsuite, Buffer, the rest?
Dinesh: Right. So I think the fun as a developer is to write something of your own and use it. If you don’t do that, then you’re not like the kind of developer that I am. I would not say you’re a bad developer or something, but the kind of developer I am, I believe in experimenting and doing something, going beyond having control of everything that you want to do. So it’s learning something else and doing something that they allow you to do, why not build something from the ground up, learn what are the challenges, solve them and then like you have a system that you can control 100%.
Andrew: I see. Okay. So I get that mentality. I’m curious about you’re starting to create all these tools. I’m imagining it’s all for internal purposes because you plan to use it with multiple clients. At what point did you say, “Now I want to see if I can sell this as its own tool. I’m building other people’s products. Let’s see if this will sell as my tool.”
Dinesh: Right. So I never said that. What happened is my partners are people who I helped with their ideas. It’s not like a client and developer relationship, it’s almost like a friendly relationship. I usually come in as a CTO. So we are usually friends. So they’re like, “Dinesh, I know it’s not working, but those scripts, they were valuable. Why don’t you do something with this.”
So what happened with one script—this is a very interesting story—I was working with the same guy with my school, Georgia State, who gave me a taste of entrepreneurship. So that idea did not work. So we started working on another idea. He went to the Founder’s Institute in Atlanta. I was in India. He’s like, “I’m working with something with Founder’s Institute.” So to promote that idea, Founder’s Institute wanted to do something to experiment with something.
So I created a script as an experiment. What it did is it would look at your competitor’s Facebook page and it will get ID of everyone who commented on that page or liked that page. At that time, Facebook allowed that. So we exported those IDs, created a custom audience using that, promoted his tool to his competitor’s audience. It was a hit. So he goes to Founder’s Institute for his presentation. He explains his idea. They were like, “How did you get such good numbers?” He was like, “My CTO wrote a script and this is what it is.”
He’s like, “Screw your startup. That is a better idea. Start with that idea. Make that your idea. That will sell like hot cakes.” He came back to me and he’s like, “Can we turn this script into a product?” We did. It got so popular that we heard from Facebook’s lawyers, “Guys, this is not allowed.” Literally, we heard from Facebook’s lawyers that, “This is not allowed. You guys have to shut it down.” We didn’t want to break any TOS or something. We were like, “Yeah, guys, sorry. We did not know that.” We shut it down.
Andrew: What was the name of this company?
Dinesh: It was called Fan Harvest.
Andrew: And you told our producer, “This was a really depressing moment in my life.”
Dinesh: Yes. You know, you wake up, it was making decent money. I think we released, within two or three months, we were at $7,000 or $8,000 a month.
Andrew: That’s what you were generating. So more with that business than with Recurpost, it happened faster, less work.
Andrew: You got so depressed that—
Dinesh: There were people who said, “We are watching you guys and if you grow, we will invest.” So the dream of a startup was coming true.
Andrew: Yeah. A fast success, a product people love so much they can’t wait to get their hands on it, revenue coming in, investors coming in, the whole thing. When it didn’t do well, you got so depressed that you did what?
Dinesh: I went into depressed, actually, after that.
Andrew: Clinical depression?
Dinesh: Yes. I had to see a doctor.
Andrew: Did you need medication?
Dinesh: He put he on medication. It was a six-months long course. After that, I recovered.
Andrew: How do you know that you’re clinically depressed versus just bummed that something didn’t work out?
Dinesh: I think that comes from being in the US. I have heard stories from people and I knew what were the symptoms of depression.
Andrew: What were your symptoms?
Dinesh: My symptoms were that if something got into my mind, it will not leave it. I’m taking a shower, I’m thinking about that thing, I’m driving, I’m thinking about that thing, I cannot concentrate on anything else. That thought will occupy my mind throughout the day.
Andrew: I see. Okay. So you went on medication for months. How long until it started to help you get back on focus and start thinking about what didn’t work out?
Dinesh: So, actually, medication helped me immediately. Within a week, I knew that it was working and then slowly he had put me on a lower dose, lower dose, lower dose and after six months, he stopped it completely.
Andrew: I see. Okay. So that didn’t work out, but at least it opened your eyes to these internal tools could actually become external products. You take this collection of tools, you put it out there and people saw all the different things they can do and they said what?
Dinesh: Everyone loved it. Everyone absolutely loved it. When we showed it to anyone, he was like, “Okay, I could use this.” Then someone was like, “You could build this. You could add this. You could add this feature, that feature.” I thought, “Maybe this is the start of a new startup.” Then we polished it. We put them nicely together. We bound everything that could be bound together and we put it out as Recurpost. It worked. Actually, before Recurpost, we had another startup in the same social media niche. It had every tool that we build so far, but it became so overwhelming, people could not use it. It was just overwhelming for users.
Andrew: That’s what I was getting at. For you, the tool made sense. You built it internally. For customers, it was too complex and you had to scale it back for it to work. I’m wondering how did you know it was too complex? It could have been anything that people didn’t like it for. How did you know it was because it was too complex?
Dinesh: Because luckily I came in touch with a great salesperson. He was like a great guy. He sold so much of our tool that we were close to 60 or 70 paying customers. The tool was expensive. It was $100 a month. It was an expensive tool. He sold it to a lot of people. Everyone quit after a month or so. We knew this was definitely not working. Getting people excited was easy. He was able to do it. He was able to show them what we had. He was able to sell it to them, but then the tool definitely had something wrong because it will not work.
Andrew: So how did you know that it was overwhelming features versus some other issue. Did you guys do any exit interviews with customers? By the way, while you answer that, I’m going to adjust the lighting here. How did you know?
Dinesh: We talked to people who were leaving us. We asked them what was happening. Then we also added some more scripts to see what they were doing. So those scripts recorded user sessions and then we could see what they were doing. So, from that, we figured this is what is going on. People are not able to do things as we expect them too and that’s why they get confused and they don’t set it up properly.
Andrew: What did you scale it back to?
Dinesh: So let me show you how you great this tool was. What that tool does is you tell us about your business that this is my business, that tool will find content that could potential go viral. It will share it on your behalf on your social accounts automatically.
Andrew: I see.
Dinesh: It will even add a banner to every link that it shares. So no matter what website you share, it will add a banner at the bottom of that website saying—putting a message of your own. So, basically, someone will click on the Twitter link. They will go to that website. On that website, they will see a small little banner that says, “Are you looking for this or this?”
Andrew: If I have a business that sells chat bots, your software will go and find articles related to chat bots, share them on my behalf so that people see that I’m the source for chat bot articles. When they click it, they not only will go to an article that I not only have to find that is being sent out to my audience, but on the bottom, they see here’s a link back to Andrew’s company where they can go and buy a chat bot.
Dinesh: Exactly. It would say looking to get the chat bots made for your company and it will have two buttons maybe, yes and no. They click yes, they come to your website.
Andrew: I see. That’s the thing that you put together. By the way, when someone hears that and the audience, they’re going to say that seems a little bit wrong because I don’t know if this software is going to represent my company right if the articles will actually feel right to my audience. What do you say to someone who has that question?
Dinesh: So, first thing, we only recommend articles, we find across everything and we tell you these are the ones that we found, you get to approve everything. Unless you approve, it will not go out. So that is one thing. This is just part of it. There were a lot of things other than this that you could do with that software.
Andrew: Even in this new simpler version, there were more features than that?
Dinesh: No. That was the—
Andrew: That was the initial re-release, take every feature out. How did you know this was the one feature to focus on considering the other things you did?
Dinesh: This is interesting. There was a competitor to Recurpost. The founder of that tool did an AMA in a community that I am an active part of. So I liked that person. I really respect him. Then I said, “I would like to hear more of your story. There is another person I know. Would you like to have him interview you?” That guy is not a small blogger. He is very well known. But that person was not interested. They replied, “It is way below our standards,” or something, while it is not.
So I felt like, “This is not the [inaudible 00:35:22].” So that got me curious. What is it that their software is so popular. It’s nothing compared to what we have, but still, it works. Then I start looking at their Facebook and Twitter and I realized their customers were complaining. They were asking for things that were not done. They were always in the pipeline.
Everyone was complaining about why is everything in the pipeline? Why are you guys not building anything? I thought maybe they’re able to sell because it’s that simple. Maybe that’s what people love. So I took some inspiration from there and I removed every feature that I thought was a little complex.
Andrew: And I feel like that’s something as I walked into work today, I said, “I’ve got to do that too.” Anything that we do, I have to just say, “What can I remove?” My life feels like it’s constantly, “What should add? If I have a problem, how can I add a solution to Amazon cart and it’s going to solve it?” Instead I should be thinking, “What can I remove?”
All right. Let me take a moment here to talk about my second sponsor and this time I won’t be so pissed. Actually, not pissed, it’s proud, it’s excitement for the sponsor. So there’s the thing. The second sponsor is Toptal. There is a post on Quora where someone asked, “Hey, is Toptal really. . .” I should say top as in top of your head, tal as in talent, “Is Toptal really all that people say it is?” And this guy—I’m going to find his post right now so I can say is specific name and company name—Doug McKay, he is the founder of Sidekick, came in and he responded with this long-ass post that I can’t read fully but anyone can go and take a look at it on Quora.
He said, “Here’s my experience.” I’m going to bullet point it. I leveraged Toptal for the initial mobile app design and UX. You guys know I talk about Toptal as a place to hire developers, but they also have designers. He, Doug, hired someone from Toptal to do the design in UX. Then he said he went back to Toptal and hired one of their financial services people to refine his business plan, to refine his pitch and to ask him the hard hitting questions that venture capitalists would ask him when he went to raise money because he wanted to be fully prepared.
As a result, he says, six VCs became interested in the company, which is a tremendous return on investment for a brief engagement. So Toptal doesn’t just have developers and designers. They also have now MBAs, people who can do this, people who are in the business world very often who are doing some work on the side while they’re trying to figure out what next to do for themselves.
So he got a great return on that. So then he said, “I hired another company. I went kind of cheap and I wanted them to build this minimum viable product based on the UX that I got from Toptal, based on the business plan refinement that I got from Toptal’s MBAs. He said, “I hired this company to do it.” But after talking to them, I realized Toptal is going to do it 10 times faster at a quarter the cost because they’re overall so much better. So we hired Toptal.
He goes on to say, “This is one of my key partners in building my business, Toptal is.” The reason I highlighted this is first of all, it’s on Quora, so you can go and see it publicly and you can ask him follow up questions and get to know what his story is if you want to, but I also highlighted it because I talk so much here about Toptal as a place to go and hire developers because I know that’s the number one issue for tech companies, “How do I get the right developers?” but Toptal has other people—UX designers and designers in general as you heard Doug say that he hired, people who have MBAs who can help you think through pricing and fundraising and so on and of course, they also have developers.
If you want to hire from Toptal, don’t go to their homepage, do what Mixergy fans have been doing now for years. Go to the special URL that I’m about to give you where you get 80 hours of Toptal developer credit when you pay for your first 80 hours in addition to a no-risk trial period of up to two weeks. That URL is Toptal.com/Mixergy, Toptal.com/Mixergy.
For a long time, I’ve been saying you should give it out to your friends. I’m seeing here that now they’re asking it to be limited just to Mixergy listeners. So, apparently, they don’t want us to forward this to other people. They do like you to use it if you’re a Mixergy listen. I think what they found is listeners of Mixergy are the influencers who will then go and spread the word about how great the company is. That’s why they want to give you a discount so you can recruit your friends who will then eventually pay full price. All right. Thank you, Toptal.
By the way, speaking of influencers here in my audience, you told our producer that that worked for you in promotion, working with influencers. How did you find influencers and what was this impact on your business?
Dinesh: Yes. When I have to get the word out about Recurpost, I thought, “Who would be a good fit for us?” I thought probably a coach who teaches people how to use social media. So I started looking for these coaches. I found this extremely nice lady named Jen Leonard. She runs a community called The Front Row. I simply emailed her, like it’s a cold email. I said, “Hey, Jen, this is what we do. This is Recurpost. I would love to show it to The Front Row. Or if you want a demo, I can do a demo for you and I would like you to see and let us know what you think of Recurpost, what we can improve or what’s missing or something like that.”
She said, “You know what, Dinesh, let’s do a demo for The Front Row. I will have my people come over for a podcast and you can demo it for all of us.” I was like, “Wow.” Before that, I did not know the power of cold calling, but now I knew that if you’re not like abusing the system, if you really care about someone, if you do your homework and you reach out to them, it will work.
With so many emails that we get, we can actually tell which emails are automated and which are not. So, basically do your homework and do the cold email. Then I do the demo for the entire Front Row. It works fine nice.
Andrew: What is the community called?
Dinesh: It’s a community called The Front Row. You can find it on Facebook.
Andrew: The French Road?
Dinesh: The Front Row.
Andrew: Like Front Row. Okay.
Dinesh: Like a movie theater.
Andrew: There’s a Jennifer Leonard who works for QVC.
Dinesh: Jennifer Leonard, yes.
Andrew: This isn’t the same one who works at QVC, is it?
Dinesh: I don’t think so.
Andrew: There’s a woman who has a similar name that works for QVC and every time I search for Jennifer Leonard, it’s the QVC woman who has more publicity who ends up coming up.
Dinesh: Search on Facebook for it.
Andrew: Then you did the demo for all the members of her community and what happened?
Dinesh: After that, those people, they were so nice to us that they liked the tool. Not only did they start using it, they started sharing the name with others in other communities they were part of and we started growing like anything. We started growing really like anything. We started getting 10 to 15 new users every day who would use Recurpost because the alternatives were all extremely highly priced tools.
So our main competitors started at $80 a month and we started for free. So this was definitely a good alternative. So people started moving away from them. Some of them who wanted to use them but couldn’t afford it, they came to us as well because we were also a great solution, people started sharing the word. So word of mouth became the most promising channel for us to acquire new users.
Andrew: And word of mouth specifically through influencers who have people who follow them, who look to them for guidance on what software to pick and how to run their business. So you mentioned, as you said it, that one of the things that drew those Jennifer Leonard followers to your software is that you have a free plan, but that free plan has also caused you problems, as you told our producer. Can you talk a little bit about this issue that came up with that?
Dinesh: Yes. What happened is a lot of people—so we started growing really quickly and the people who want to abuse the system, they started coming in as well. So we had everything unlimited under the free plan. So you could send as many tweets, as many messages on Facebook and so on. But some people started misusing the system by setting up their spammy accounts with us and sending like spam tweets. People were sending about a thousand tweets a day. Like every minute, they would be sending tweets out. So, Twitter saw that this app is being used by those people. So they blocked up. They blocked our app.
Dinesh: Completely. So not only for the bad users, but for everyone.
Andrew: So how do you deal with that?
Dinesh: Luckily, we were able to connect with the right people on Twitter and tell them, “Look, we are a new startup. We did not know that people would misuse this. We are making this change. We will not allow free users to send more than 10 tweets a day on one account.”
Andrew: I see. Then you can start blocking them before they become big issues for you.
Dinesh: Exactly. So, basically, we made our system repellant to spammers.
Andrew: Was the company called Recurpost and was it at Recurpost.com from the beginning?
Andrew: Okay. I’m looking at your site. It doesn’t look that much different from what it looks now, at least the archive version of the site.
Dinesh: Yes. We haven’t changed the homepage a lot. Maybe we added the video. Video was not there in the beginning.
Andrew: I see. But all those features, were they part of Recurpost.com?
Dinesh: Not yet.
Andrew: I see. Got it. So when you were selling all those features, the ones that were too complicated, what was the URL for that?
Dinesh: That is called Followed App.
Andrew: Followed App.
Andrew: I see. Okay. So this was a simpler version of it.
Andrew: Wow. It looks like it’s very similar products right now.
Andrew: But at the time it wasn’t. it had more features.
Dinesh: Let me tell you this—Recurpost is just one plugin of Followed.
Andrew: Yeah. That’s the other thing. All these different features or plugins—
Dinesh: So features, we call them plugins, but they are features. They are not like plugins you install.
Andrew: So the way it works is I get an account on Followed App and then the stuff that we just talked about, picking the right articles, scheduling them, etc., that’s just a plugin for Followed App.
Andrew: Okay. You know what? I could see how it would have been complicated for people that you had all these different plugins, all these different features and they had to have this to connect. I could see how simplifying it, one plugin, one thing, forget about all this whole plugin architecture, you don’t need to understand it, just pay and here’s the specific results you’re going to get or try it for free and here’s the specific—got it.
Andrew: Okay. All right. So you ended up simplifying it, grew your revenue and you then have, as you mentioned earlier, all these other products. The parent company is Pro Start Me.
Dinesh: That’s correct. Yes.
Andrew: What are some of the other products you have on Pro Start Me.
Dinesh: We have some more products. One of our apps is called ZonedIn App. What it does is it’s for skateboarders. So if you are a skateboarder, then you can download the app. You can learn how to do a particular trick. You record yourself doing that trick on your phone and you upload it and the world gets to see it. So other skateboarders can see it, comment on it and then you win experience points for every trick that you upload. This way, you can compete in the world.
Andrew: How does that do compared—well, never mind compared to because it’s definitely not going to be doing as well as Recurpost, but what’s the one that does especially well out of all these other ideas?
Dinesh: So we have another with called Flippiness.
Andrew: Flippiness. Okay.
Dinesh: What Flippiness does is it’s actually again something that came out of an experiment. So there are websites that sell books and there are websites that buy books back from students. So sometimes we notice that there were websites that were selling a book for $40 and there were other websites that were buying the same book back at $100. So if you could simply buy from here and sell it to them, you would make $60. So we thought why not create a service around it.
So we started working on it. I remember, the first website was just one page. It had one link here to buy, here to sell, this much you will make and a PayPal link. If you want to open these links, you’ll have to pay me. We posted it on Reddit that this is what we created. People started paying. There is no security, nothing. We do not even have HTTPS version on that website and it’s one single page, no homepage nothing.
Andrew: And they’re still willing to pay?
Andrew: And they can collect payment on that page?
Dinesh: We had PayPal pay button.
Andrew: Got it. So it didn’t matter that didn’t have HTTPS on the URL. People were going to get that security from PayPal. I see it. This is like book arbitrage. So I could buy a book from Amazon—
Dinesh: That’s what it is.
Andrew: There’s a huge marketplace, very robust, buy it on Amazon, sell it on Chegg, which is one of the college bookstores and if it’s cheaper on Amazon than it is on Chegg, you guys will let me know what the price difference is, I can buy it on Amazon, sell it on Chegg, make my money. I see. You make money by just telling me about all these price differences.
Dinesh: So we have subscription models that people subscribe to as well as we make commissions from when you buy books and when you sell it.
Andrew: I see.
Dinesh: So affiliate commission.
Andrew: So if you find all these deals, I’m guessing you don’t do it yourself, you don’t buy the books and sell because it’s a lot of trouble to buy the books and ship them out and also keep track of it and also because there are price differences from the time you buy it on Amazon, get it delivered and sell it on Chegg, am I right?
Dinesh: No, no. You actually sell it first. You get the code from the buy back website and then you place your order. You get the book in two or three days. Your code is valid for 10 or 15 days. So that’s not an issue. The issue is that because I am in India, I cannot get the book shipped to my place. Shipping will kill the profits. So you have to be in the US if you want to use this.
Andrew: And there’s not enough of a market for you to hire someone in Detroit to get it at their house and ship it out?
Dinesh: Well, I’m a developer. I love building stuff. I’m not into flipping stuff.
Andrew: I see. Okay. I’ve got a sense of it. That website is Flippiness.com. Okay. So you have a collection of these products. So I’ve talked to a lot of entrepreneurs who started out in consulting and eventually either succeeded or failed to create products, mostly they failed.
The reason they fail is they have so many clients, so many client obligations that they don’t have the time to sit and create their own product. They also have money coming in from clients, meanwhile they would have to lose money creating their own products and often, products just fail. So if they try one or two, they take a lot of time, it costs them money and resources and then the product fails and it’s hard to get up and do that again two or three times.
I feel like one way that people succeed with this market is to do what you’ve done, which is to say, “I need to build these tools anyway. Internally, we need it for our clients, for our work. I need to build it. Why don’t I take this tool that I built for myself and find a way to make it available for other people.” You’re nodding as I say that. That’s one of the reasons why it worked for you.
Dinesh: See, the thing is, you are actually solving a problem. You’re not building something out of a thought that just came to your mind. This is needed. That’s why you build it.
Andrew: I see. If you internally can’t have this problem and it’s such a big problem that you can’t just go and find software online that does it, then you’ve got to build it.
Andrew: I see. That’s an indication that there’s a huge problem there. Do you then, since you make a lot of tools for yourself internally, how do you know what is worthy of taking out to other people, what other people have a similar problem that needs to be addressed and what isn’t? What’s a quirky thing that you guys need?
Dinesh: I have a rule or a theory. I call it create a three-page website. The first page is introduction of what you’re doing. Third page is the contact us so that people can contact you if they have any query. Second page is exactly what you’re offering. So put it out there. Maybe put it to Reddit or tweet it out or do whatever you have to do to get some people to that website, three-page website. People will read the introduction. If they like it, they will use the tool because your tool is minimal. It doesn’t do much. They will contact you. If people start contacting you, you have something worth pursuing.
Andrew: I see.
Dinesh: If nobody contacts you, forget about it.
Andrew: Does it need to be free at that point or not?
Dinesh: It depends. If for instance, for Flippiness, it was not free. It was a three-page website—well, actually, I added all those three things on one page.
Andrew: I was going to say I’m looking at an old version of it. Technically it’s one page, but I can see if I click contact, I’m scrolled down all the way to the bottom of the page where the contact section is. Okay.
Dinesh: So it was a one-page website, but when I saw that people are paying $1, $2, $3 for links, I knew that I was on to something.
Andrew: Got it. So if it’s free, you want to see if people are complaining about it. If it’s not—by the way, I’m distracted here for a second and I’ll point it out. I was checking in with your competitors to see if they had any inside dirt on you and I can see now he says, “No, I don’t.” He says he doesn’t know you but he’s checking you out.
Dinesh: I guess I know who we’re talking about here, but all good.
Andrew: You do? Who do you think I’m talking about?
Dinesh: There aren’t many she’s in this industry.
Andrew: I said he, but yeah, if it’s she, you probably thought I was talking about Laura Roeder.
Andrew: You guys are kind of similar but different in the sense that Laura Roeder’s software is meant to republish your own content but you want to encourage external content, am I right?
Dinesh: No. So that was Followed where we had external content. So Recurpost is actually a direct competitor to Meet Edgar.
Andrew: I should have contacted her. I wanted to but I felt like I couldn’t get a fast enough response. I should have actually done it and asked her. I do like talking to competitors. So what is the difference between your software and her software?
Dinesh: So we are better.
Dinesh: To start with, Edgar was $80. They recently lowered their price to $50. So if you are a starting entrepreneur or a small business, you can’t afford to pay $50 a month for something that you can probably do manually. We offer a free plan and it’s a generous plan. So everyone starting out is happy with that. That’s one thing. Secondly, we had video updates when no one else in the industry had them. So you could attach videos and then you could upload videos. We will share them immediately. So that is also something that we were the first ones to bring.
Then actually, we should skip this because I don’t want to make it very competitive because we are very nice. Recently, we had an issue. They saw something on our website they thought was not accurate. They emailed us and we said, “Okay, let’s dig into this,’ and we changed our website.
Andrew: So you’re saying I don’t want to kick up dirt between these two companies. They handle this issue well enough that they contacted me and I didn’t start to make a big fuss about it in private, so I am going to use Mixergy as a place to start punching and ruin this relationship.
Andrew: I got it. I should let everyone in on something. Two things, actually—number one, a big portion of my time is spent reassuring entrepreneurs that their lives aren’t over because of some little thing that they said. I don’t talk about that much, but we get a lot of interesting things said here on Mixergy because it’s an hour-long conversation, because it’s a good, warm place and because frankly, I spent years getting good at getting people to talk about things like a parent’s death.
The second thing is I said to Dinesh something that I say to all my guests before we start, which is I’m going to ask you questions. I’m not going to edit out your answers, but you can always say, “Andrew, I don’t want to talk about it. Andrew, back off. Andrew, it’s private.” So I’m respecting that here.
Let me say this. The other thing that we said before we started is I asked you how do I make it a win for you and you said, “You know, Andrew, just tell people about my software and if they want, I would love to offer them a discount code.” So why don’t we do that? What is the discount code and where do they go to use it?
Dinesh: So the coupon code is Mixergy. That’s it. When they sign up—it’s a free tool to start with. Once you’re ready to upgrade, just go to the upgrade button, select the plan of your choice and once you go to the next page, checkout page, you’ll see a place to put your coupon code, there just put Mixergy and you’ll get 50% off for three months.
Andrew: This is on Followed App or on—
Dinesh: No, Recurpost.
Andrew: Okay. Recurpost will allow them to post just their content or is that the one that lets them post the best content about their topic from around the internet?
Dinesh: So Recurpost is the one where you add your content and we will cycle through it.
Andrew: I see. But you don’t find posts for me on that one.
Dinesh: We don’t curate for you. We do have RSS feeds. So you can add your RSS feed and we will pull content from there. But we don’t find custom content for you.
Andrew: I can see how that helps me understand who your competitors are based on that. So that’s at Recurpost.com. Remember to use the discount code. My two sponsors that I mentioned before are HostGator—by the way, I’m going to slip you a link in chat because that guy who I mentioned who found a lower price somewhere else for hosting on HostGator, he didn’t end up going with HostGator yet, I think he should.
I checked to see how’s his site right now. I’m sending you a link. The site is down is what I see. Site is down. He’s got a cloud server error. They should be on HostGator. Josh, I appreciate you telling me and I really want to return the favor by telling you you should be on HostGator. Guys, everyone out there who wants a good hosting company, go check out HostGator.com/Mixergy. You’re going to find their lowest price options. When you want to scale up and get better hosting packages, they’ve got them. Go check out HostGator.com/Mixergy as your starting point.
And if you need a developer, one that is very popular on Quora and other places on the internet that I’ve used, go check out Toptal.com/Mixergy, top as in top of your head, tal as in talent.com, Toptal.com/Mixergy. I always say that top of the mountain, top of your head or whatever because Dinesh, when I listen to myself on the recording, one thing that keeps coming up is I mix up my words all together, like Toptal.
I try to say it very slowly, Toptal, but I don’t enunciate like a professional broadcaster. So I feel like I’m not going to be a professional broadcaster. Instead, I’m going to find a way to embed my sponsors in people’s heads. That’s why I’m going top as in top of your head, tal as in talent.
Dinesh: I could say the same thing. I was out for lunch with a few friends of mine and they’re really good developers. They run a company here and they have very flourishing outsource development business. They know their stuff. I was talking to them in the afternoon and they said, “Getting into Toptal is difficult.” So if it is difficult for them to get in, that tells you what kind of talent you will get there. I can vouch for Toptal.
Andrew: Yeah. I have a lot of experience with that, both developers that want to work with Toptal and are turned away and companies frankly who want to hire from Toptal and are told, “Actually, you’re not a good fit.” I’m okay with that. I think that’s what makes these guys so special. And I’m appreciative to Rohit for introducing us. Thank you for doing this interview. Thank you all for being a part of it. Bye, everyone.