AW: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I am the founder of Mixergy where I interview entrepreneurs for an audience of entrepreneurs. I am so happy about today’s guest because he’s someone listened to these interviews just like you. And, I don’t, I don’t, I was going to say you’re a hustler, Andrew, but I don’t think that’s what it is.
You know, what amazes me about you? It’s you learning to code you, putting in the work for the sun came up before your family woke up. It’s you? I picture on the train with what was it? You had a laptop with you.
ABT: Oh, gosh. Yeah, that was a long time ago. And I remember those early days. We, well, I say we, it was, I at the beginning, I had to literally write this product on my commute or before work because I had a job. You know, I had to earn a, an, an income and, um, yeah, I, I, as I wrote in the blog post, you read, you know, in the early days I would get up very early.
I’m not a morning person. I would wake up at say, five, five 30, set an alarm, and then try and set aside a few hours a day to create this product. Uh, and then, uh, cause I live outside of London, you know, a good 40, 50 minutes on the train. I have this laptop. And this is like an old beater, sort of a, I can’t remember the brand, you know, it’s nothing flash like a nice Mac book.
it got bashed around a lot on the train, but I was sitting there coding while people are like reading the paper or looking at their phones or whatever. yeah, a bill, a build the product like that, you
AW: can’t believe you could focus with all that going on. I can’t believe you could get yourself to be up that early, be focused at home and then spend the whole day working on your business, working at your job, being with the family, and then, you know, giving up the next day or giving into fatigue. Let me introduce him.
Today’s guest is Andrew Burnett Thompson. He is the founder of side chart. You know, a lot of software has charts in it. I was assume that the software makers created the charts too, because it’s just the chart. It turns out it’s not just the chart. It’s a way of analyzing lots of data fast and making it look presentable to people.
So many developers, whether it’s for their own software that they use internally or software that they create for customers, don’t do it themselves. They just. Pay Andrew’s company side chart to create the charts, to give them the charting software. That’s what this business is. Am I right,
ABT: Yeah, pretty much. Yeah. I mean, a lot of software nowadays is sort of, you don’t write everything from scratch, scratch. If you’re building an application, there’s so much out there now there’s a, there’s a huge open source movement. almost every piece of software uses open source now. So that’s free stuff that’s been made by developers just for sort of.
Love for, you know, recognition. but ours is commercial and you’re absolutely right if you wanted to put a chart into your application, doesn’t matter what it is. Maybe it’s a fitness app. Maybe it’s a business dashboard. Maybe it’s a trading or financial application. You know, your first job is going to be to find something that can do that.
And your choices are to use something out there that’s free, or to build it yourself, or to use a commercial one, like our own that we’ve made a side shot. And it’s an incredible amount of work. I mean, like you just said, you said it’s just a chart. This is possibly the hardest thing that we have in our sort of sales and marketing.
We have a three and a half million lines of code. In our chart software. So that just the chart, it took us eight years of R and D to get to where we are now. And it’s incredibly complex under the surface, but you’re right. That we make it look simple.
AW: And the other thing that it sounds simple. It seems like, well, he’s a developer. He could do it. Developers can do. I know he wasn’t a developer self-taught before there were really online programs that teach people, we’re going to find out how he built up this company, how he bootstrapped it, where the revenue is today.
And I think you’re going to be very impressed with how far he has come with this company and we can do it. Thanks to two phenomenal companies, two phenomenal sponsors. The first, if you need to hire a developer, really a great, phenomenal developer, someone who’s done. The work that you need done it already rocked it and could do it for you.
Go to top talent.com/mixergy. And the second as you’re listening to the story, notice how he got his first customers. Andrew did by blogging. And then they started saying, when is this software going to be available? If you’re ready to start to think about a product, even start. Blogging about it, start talking about it.
And if you need a way to do that, do what Andrew did. He started with WordPress. I’ll tell you later why you should get your WordPress site hosted on hostgator.com/mixergy. Andrew, do you feel comfortable telling us where your revenues were last year? 2019.
ABT: Oh, well, like I can tell you where they are now. I mean, we’re, we’re on course to make about $2 million, annual revenue. we’re on track to grow 30% this year, year on year, in sales. and, yeah, last year, I mean, I think about one and a half million loans. That’s where you get your 30% from.
AW: All, all ’em all bootstrap, right? No outside
ABT: All be all
ABT: privately owned. We didn’t have any capital or anything to begin with. Nothing.
AW: go back and understand this though, because you graduated with a degree in what? Back in 2003.
ABT: I have the electronic and electrical engineering. I was really into building circuits when I was young. Absolutely loved it. And, um, you know, I, I went to university in 1999 and at that time in the nineties, you know, electronics was the, the big thing. You know, if you did this, you would work for a really cool company.
Like I dunno, NASA or something, and you are guaranteed a job. And I went into it and I did my four year degree. I came out with a master’s this degree and I couldn’t get a email@example.com bubble had just burst and, and all these jobs that were like loads thousands. Before I went into university.
They kind of evaporated. you know, I, I remember sending a 40 job applications, when I graduated getting two interviews and flunking, both of them, in rather tragic circumstances. So, you know, I had a bit of a dilemma. What do
AW: what’s the tragic circumstance. Give me
ABT: Well, try try comedic circumstances. So the first one that the first interview I went to, I was so broke that I had to borrow 20 pounds from my, like a friend for fuel in my car and drive to this interview.
And it was, it was a three hour drive and I left. Super early, cause I didn’t want to be late. And I was driving down this old beat up car and there was an accident on the Mozart. They closed all three lanes of the most way for three hours. I mean, this is unprecedented. So I turned up hours late, flustered, you know, obviously stressed out, but I flunked that interview is terrible.
didn’t get the job. So the next one, I, I thought to myself, do you know what? I’m not going to drive. I’m going to take the train because I don’t want anything like what happened before. and, um, you know, my, my, my wife’s, yeah, my fiance at the time gave me some money to buy a train ticket. They’re quite expensive over here in the UK 50 pounds to get to London.
And I went down on the train and I kid you not the train stops and it’s their stock for ages. And it comes over the tannoy what happened? They said the train hit a cow,
AW: Well, okay.
ABT: a cow. And I couldn’t believe, and, and, you know, uh, texted my wife. I have one of those old Nokia flip phones.
Do you remember those buttons before the screens and whatnot that you have now? And I said, Oh, you know, honey, I’m going to be late to the interview. The
AW: So no job. It didn’t work out. What did you do? Did you, did you go back to school? Did you do something else?
ABT: Yeah. Well, I, I, I flunked that second interview as well, and I’ll be honest with you. It wasn’t a great job. I mean, it exposed to me like how much people were being paid as graduates and what bad conditions. I won’t tell you who it was, but, you know, I just thought this is shocking.
Really. I’m glad I didn’t get it. So I ended up going back to the university and the university said, look, you know, you’re already good at what you do. If you want to come here and, you know, build for us. We will sponsor you to do a PhD doctorate. And it wasn’t what I wanted to do. It wasn’t on my planner.
I had planned to go into, is this, you know, the big city, blah, blah, blah. but I took it because they were paying and they weren’t paying a huge amount of money and it was enough. So during that three years at university, I thought to myself, Okay. I’m trained in electronics, but there’s no jobs. So what is that?
So I remember going on search engines and typing in, you know, C plus plus jobs, programming jobs, and there were hundreds like within miles of my house, not, not Countrywide or nationwide, they were local hundreds of jobs.
AW: Where were you? Where were you living?
ABT: I was living in Manchester at the time, which is in the North of England, a couple of hundred miles North of London, but that programming and software, it was obvious that it was a boom of business.
And that was in 2003. So I thought to myself, do you know what I gotta learn? I need to learn this. so I just completed a degree. I’ve just done all of that stuff. And, what I did, I did this further study, but I kind of had the freedom to direct it a little bit. So I directed it. Towards I’m going to do as much software as I can.
You know, so yeah, I, I began the process of learning.
AW: Okay. What’s this what’s the Sam’s teacher yourself books. I looked
them up. I didn’t know about them before.
ABT: Yeah. I mean, those are quite old books, you know, we’re talking like 15, almost 20 years old. and you know, I gave those as a, as an example of how I learned, because nowadays, if you want to learn to program, you’ve got so many resources, you know, you have. YouTube, you’ve got, websites like plural site.
you, to me, a packet pub there’s tutorials, everywhere courses, you can buy them, you can learn to code, you can do a bootcamp. We didn’t have any of that stuff. And then we barely had Google in 2003. So the Sam’s books, they’re very simple books. And, you know, we have 24 hour 24 lessons, which you can do in an hour.
And I sat down
AW: One hour per lesson.
ABT: Yeah, pretty much. And you just, you just sit there and work through it. And I did, you know, it took me about three or four books to realize what I wanted to do, you know? So it took me three or four months to say, okay, this isn’t gonna work for me. This is gonna work for me, you know?
AW: And Andrew, are you the type of person who was regimented about it? Who’d say I want to every day do one lesson, one hour nonstop until I finish.
ABT: I’ll be honest with you. I’m very disorganized and I’m not that kind of person, but I forced myself because I wanted the price. What I wanted was I wanted, you know, employment, I wanted to get income. I wanted a success. So, you know, I kind of force myself. I have to do this. This is the, this is the way out,
AW: Every day to do one.
ABT: Yeah. I mean, maybe not every day, but I was pretty, I was pretty consistent. Yeah.
AW: How, how did you live though? You, if you needed money from your wife to get a train, to
ABT: that was when I was, that was when I was a student, but by this time I was actually doing a PhD at the university and they were paying me a small amount, not a huge amount of money, but they were paying me enough to pay bills and whatnot.
AW: And then in your spare time, you said I’m also going to learn how to do, how to code.
ABT: Yeah, and I worked it into the study. So like a lot of the work I did, I did in software. I had a choice. Do I build a circuit or do I write some code for it? And, you know, I chose to practice as much as I could while I was there. So by the end of that, you know, took three years to graduate a second time. By the end of that, I was pretty proficient at software or so I thought, Good enough to get a job.
And I did get a job straight out the gate. I sent one application, had one interview and got the job straight away.
AW: Wow. As opposed to 40 applications to interviews and to failure failures that
ABT: As opposed to totally flunky. Yeah, it was a good, it was a different story.
Um, you know, I
AW: Because you knew this is what was hot. People didn’t want a lot of electrical engineers, but they needed desperately software developers.
ABT: And that trend is still going on today. I mean, you know, right now in 2020, there’s this whole movement of learn to code and people are wising up and waking up to, Oh my goodness, you can, you know, six figure salary is not out of the question as software engineer, either with say, you know, three years experience or four years experience.
If you’re good at your job, you can own very, very well because software transcends every industry, every single industry needs it, you know, they’re there, they’re all using
AW: Well, we don’t, I don’t even realize how much software has transcended has embedded itself in every you’re going to tell us later on about how formula one, John is one of your customers. I wouldn’t have thought that the pit crew at formula one races would need software, let alone the right charting software.
And once you hear that you see it is embedded everywhere. Now let me take a moment. Talk about my first sponsor. Since we’re talking about developers and then come back in to the rest of the store. And I’m curious to see then once you got a job, what that was like, and then what led you to say, all right.
Job is not enough. I have to go and develop my own thing, even though I’ve got so many other obligations. My first sponsor is a company called top towel. I know you’ve heard of them for hiring developers. Let me ask you this. Since you haven’t used top tell yet, what tips do you have for either hiring remote developers, which is what top town does great developers, all remote or for managing remote developers.
Do you have one tip that we can pass to people within this commercial for top talent?
ABT: Do you know what I think that managing and hiring remote developers is very difficult unless you yourself understand software development. What we have found is rather than having an extensive interview process, we give people a technical test. And then a face to face interview to determine attitude, personality, communication skills, et cetera, et cetera.
By outsourcing that to an agency such as top tail that you’ve mentioned, they’re doing a lot of that legwork and hard work. They’re already filtering through people who, who have the right kind of skills. So luckily I know what to look for, but somebody else, if they were not software oriented, I would absolutely say you want to be using experts to find, your, you know, the right talent.
AW: You want to know something? We flew a guy, one of the, the top people at top town to San Francisco, brought him into my office here to the conference room. That’s like a few walls behind me. Sat him down. I said, let’s record a masterclass for Mixergy about how to hire developers, because you guys have done it so much.
He says I could talk, but top tail won’t let you publish. I said, I usually, if it’s a course, we’ll be flexible about whether we publish or not, but I don’t understand why they wouldn’t let us publish. Let’s just talk. He said, I don’t think they would allow it. I said, let’s record it. If they say no, I’ll just dump it out.
And I was okay. He says, they’re not going to let us, but I’m happy to talk about this because I’m very proud of the system. And we built, he starts telling me about a process that they’ve created. That’s very similar to what you talked about, where they bring in people to do, who, who know the software, who are developers were talked about to basically screen out developers and they get these amazing right.
I’m I’m incredibly hesitant here because I know how they do not want me to talk about their process in any way, but that’s essentially a big part of what they do. A top town, what you do, what you’re describing, and then people get into their network. Meanwhile, of course we messaged top towel and said, create this great course.
It’s so good about how to hire. They said, don’t run it. I said, but amazing. You have to understand, people are going to read. They’re going to listen to it. They’re going to learn so much. I don’t want it. All right. so we never got to run it, but that’s essentially what they do at top tile. They have a process for finding developers, for screening them out and then making sure that they have phenomenal developers.
And then they have a matcher who, when, if you follow my URL, that I’m about to give you. You will get to talk to the matcher. They’ll understand you. They know their network of developers they’ll match you up. You can get started for a few hours of full time job with someone or even a whole team of people who work on your project.
Many people who I’ve interviewed will say, I have this thing that we need. I’m not going to hire someone to do it in case we don’t want to. Continue. Like maybe they want charting, maybe the hire someone to just do the charting thing and then say, actually, we shouldn’t be doing it. We should be hiring an outside firm.
But before they do, they want the best of the best of people to do the work for them. And so what they’ll do is they’ll go to top house eight, let’s get someone who’s going to build it on their own. Won’t distract our team and then we’ll decide whether we want to continue or not. All right. So whatever you need, if you want to talk to top towel, all you have to do is go to top.
Towel.com/mixergy. And you will get into a conversation with the matcher. Why throw the slash Mixergy at the end, because frankly it helps me out. And I really appreciate you showing them that you’ve heard about top towel for me, but also you will get 80 hours of developer credit when you pay for your first 80 hours.
In addition to a no risk period. All you have to do is go to top as in top of your head, talents and talent. That’s T I l.com/m I N E R G Y. Top towle.com/mixergy. You got a job. Tell me about the good thing about the job before we get into why you decided that you needed to go and do this whole thing on your own.
ABT: okay. Well, I worked for that company. The first one I went to after university for about three years and it was a scientific software consultancy and they work with incredibly wide varied sort of numbers of customers. Like they have customers in, The nuclear industry, they had customers in like legal medical, you know, oil and gas.
there was even some stuff that we did for ’em, you know, that believe it or not. You talked earlier about, about how you couldn’t believe software was in everything. Yeah. I’m not going to tell you which company it was, but there’s a very large company that makes things like shampoo. And deodorant, you would not believe the research that goes into making those products.
And they have laboratory and they have software and they have a lab technicians and whatnot. They’re doing experiments and they’re writing their own applications to help do their experiments, to prove that their products are better than their
AW: So then what’d you like about all this?
ABT: Well, I guess problem solving, first of all, I mean, you know, software is, is, you know, it’s complex.
it requires you to really, really understand what’s happening. you get to build interesting things. you get to sort of do a lot of variety. some of the projects I’ve done have been really, really cool, like controlling robot or, you know, Processes in factories or things like that, you know?
So I worked in that job for about three years. And I’ll be honest with you. I thought it was all right. I thought it was quite good when I went into it. I actually learned an awful lot. Just going through it, seeing other people, you have to own your stripes, you know, in this industry, it’s not something that you can go from zero to hero.
You know, you have to spend time refining your craft, getting very, very good at it. learning all of the techniques, You know, and ultimately, you know, it got to a point where, I was there from say 2006 to 2009. And during that time as a credit crunch, and, you know, credit crunch was pretty, it hit everybody pretty hard.
Right. You know, massive recession. people were losing their jobs left, right. And center. I didn’t lose my job. No. You know, nobody, our company did. It was a very, very well managed company. but I saw it. Yeah. And I saw, you know, people unable to pay their mortgages. People are unable to pay their bills.
and I remember saying to my wife, I said, I really need to make other streams of income. I’ve got to, you know, do something that can earn money. In, not just British pound, our own currency, but it needs to earn in dollars. I want to earn in euros. I need to earn in, you know, from other countries be more diversified so that if I lose a job or something bad happens, I can still pay my bills, you know?
so that kind of leads into the, the, the phase of where I began starting to think about business, leveling up in my career, and so on and so
AW: I heard you were creating multiple products in your spare time trying to teach yourself, but also figure out a business. Am I right?
ABT: Yeah, pretty much. I mean, I’ve always been the kind of person who wanted to create something, you know, create a business of some kind, but I didn’t know what I mean, you know, choosing software because you don’t need any capital, right? I mean, okay, fine. If you hire people, you need capsule, but if you have a good enough idea and you have enough skill and the idea is simple enough, you can build it yourself.
All you need is a laptop. You know, and if you can start to get traction, you can then roll the funds that come in back into the application. Whereas you’re making a, I dunno, widget, some kind of a device you need millions in order to even get to a prototype stage.
AW: Did you ever create a product on your own? as an electric engineer, did you
ABT: no, no, no, no. Unfortunately not. I mean, just tinkering in my spare time,
AW: what’d. You tinker and create yourself
ABT: Oh, a long time ago, a long time ago. I made, You know, little things like lighting circuits. And, I actually made a mixing desk, you know, for, deejaying, believe it or not. That was
a little hobby of mine when I was about 18.
I was rubbish, but I made it, I made thing it’s like that, but you know, it’s incredibly difficult to make a product on your own. You need labs, you need factories, you need capital to do it. whereas software, you can, you can create something
AW: So what are some of the things that you created in your spare time?
ABT: So I was very interested in finance and trading.
What, with the credit crunch I saw, how badly everything sort of crashed. I thought to myself, do you know what trading software is, is a really good area to be in. I was trying to make, you know, stuff like that, but I quickly hit too. Limits, and you know, number one was my skill. and number two was, you know, it lacked critical components that there were some parts that would just take way too long to build.
and one of those was, was the charts. so
AW: Wait, wait, you had, you created software for finance that you couldn’t create the chart for?
ABT: Yeah. So basically I started off, I was, I was in my spare time trying to create a business to make financial trading software. And I quickly realized that one, this is like a 10 year job or like a, you know, three or four year job for a team of 10 is huge. And to at the time, you know, this was back in 2010, say there were no, you know, you know, you talked about earlier how you can go and get a chart component and plug it in.
There was none that was really good enough to do the, the, really, the real depth of all the features that you need, for, you know, financial trading. So it hit this one. Well, and I kept trying to do this and kept hitting it this wall. And eventually I kind of, you know, I had a very, very strong conviction, shall we say, I need to build the chart.
You know, because if I, if I’m failing to build this thing, which is too big for me to do anyway, on my own, because of the chart, maybe other people are failing to build these kinds of things too, you know? So yeah, that was about, 2011. That’s when I started creating this and, and, you know, I had a very strong conviction, as I said, to stop what I was doing and do the chart and do it now.
AW: No, I I’m looking at my notes here from 10 years ago, I interviewed, palava Ned honey. He is the founder of fusion charts. He said, he said he found a similar issue and he created it. So it existed by then. Didn’t it.
You know, five or 10 other companies doing them already, but the niche we looked at was high-performance. Big data, you know, complex visualizations, the kind of thing, like not just sort of like a, I don’t know, maybe a fitness app with a simple graph in it. but something really, really complex that a scientific customer might want to visualize.
and that was the niche we concentrated on. And, yeah, I mean, I, I mentioned in my blog posts that, W I started blogging about the first version, because I was trying to get something that could perform much better, much faster than anything else on the market. You know, maybe 10 times faster. That was a goal.
And I started blogging about it and people started to contact me and say, Hey, this is great. When’s it going to be ready? You know, and I was like, I don’t know, it looks, it looks my wife, when’s it going to be ready? She said, you tell me. And another guy sends me an email. Well, and I’ve only made a prototype and he emails me and he goes, this is exactly what we need.
How much is it going to cost? You know? And this was a pharmaceutical company in America. and, and, and I said to them, Oh, okay. how many people do you have on your team? And he goes, Oh, we got 10 people on our team. So I’m like, well, how much we didn’t even know what to price it out. We didn’t even, I have a
AW: by we, you mean you and your wife.
ABT: Yeah. My cell phone. Yeah. I mean, I, I interchangeably use we and I, because it’s the beginning, whether it was just me, but she’s been on the road with me the whole time. And now we have 15 people, you know, 15 staff. so now I say we naturally, but yeah, at the time it was just me.
AW: You know what I read that you had some criteria for what you wanted this new project to be. You’ve tried other things in the past. They didn’t really go much and go far. One of them was, you said you have to be able to build it yourself, right? You didn’t want to have outside people. It had to be done in under a year.
I understand why under a year, it had to, it had to be a market there and it had to be profitability
early on clear road to profitability. Right? obviously nothing that took a lot of capital, you didn’t have access to money. And so that was the criteria you sat there and you said, if I need charts than maybe other people do, I’m going to create the chart software that I wish existed for all the projects that I had.
And then what I’m trying to understand is why did you blog about it then?
ABT: Why did I blog about it? You mean like to tip people off or, or, you know, I mean, I had, as I, as I said to you, or you just said, I had no capital, I had no clouds, no connections. Do you know what I mean? So you can’t just sell a product unless you, you
AW: So this was marketing, letting people know what you had in mind as a way of recruiting people who cared about it. Okay. Alright. Let’s then move on to your schedule for getting this done. I kind of hinted at it. You woke up at what time, since you had a full time job.
ABT: I would get up at five o’clock in the morning,
AW: I do a morning person.
ABT: No, I absolutely hated it. I’m I’m a night owl. but I, I, you know, I figured that off to work, you know, it’s very, very noisy in the house, you know, there’s stuff going on. you know, we had a young son, he’s 11 years old now at the time he was two.
So I thought, you know, morning is completely quiet. Nobody’s about. It’s a good time for focusing. I’m not a morning person. Hate it. so I would wake up at five or five 30 if I couldn’t do it. And I would try to get the solid, you know, two, two and a half hours, sometimes even three hours, before I jumped on the train and
AW: I’m sorry, let me pause there. How did you get yourself as a night owl to wake up that early? What trick did you use on yourself
ABT: Jedi mind trick, I guess, like I said, hunger, I was, I didn’t have any money, you know? I, I was living in a rented house. we’d previously just move. We moved from Manchester to London. my, my wife had just given birth, you know, we had a young son she’d lost her job as well in the credit crunch. So, you know, I was now the only owner and I said, look, if we’re going to earn.
Enough money to buy a house. I’ve got to do something so, you know, hunger, but practical tip. I mean, I guess what I did was I sat in along. And then I got up force myself to get up. And then I, I would set out my desk, you know, the night before. So I’d have a computer and a notepad, like, this is what you need to do in the morning, because you know, when you get up your mind’s foggy and whatnot, so, you know, make a coffee or look at the note pad.
Okay, I’m just going to do this. There’s one thing, you can do this one thing, do it, go to work, come back. And then, you know, in order to get up at that time, you need to go to bed early. So I would go to bed at like nine o’clock, you know, which is pretty antisocial, but, you know, I don’t understand these people that wake up at five and they’re, they’re still working at like, you know, midnight, I mean, That’s not sustainable.
So I would go to bed early. I’m pretty boring. And I would do that. I did that for about six months, I think before it became a little bit too much. And then I dialed it back, you know, a little bit later and I would use the train more. funnily enough, we started making money quite soon. So we use that money to hire, you know,
AW: Let’s let me still go. Through your early schedule five, you’d get up in the morning. You would start to work on your side project. I’m assuming kitchen table. Right? While
ABT: pretty much
AW: were you a dad at the time
ABT: yes. Yeah. Yeah. So, my son was, I think had one or two. I can’t remember exactly. Yup,
AW: So he would sleep. You’d be up at the table. You’d be working. You’d continue until 8:00 AM. Then at eight o’clock you get on your train to London, we talked about how you were studying on the train. You were also in the 45 minute commute. Now that you had a business, you were coding on your laptop on the way to work
ABT: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I
AW: and still able to focus.
ABT: yeah, I mean, noise canceling headphones go a long way or ear buds, if you can’t, you know, if you don’t have them, they go a long way. But I was just singularly focused on building this thing. I kind of knew what I needed to do. I had the skill to do it. Like, like I said, I didn’t want to build something.
That I didn’t know how to do. I didn’t want to build something that was too big for me to do or too complex. So I chose this because I thought I can do this. This is where I have where I have skills. So yeah, I
AW: of work.
And I know this is so mundane, but I’m so freaking fascinated by it. You still put in a full day of work, which obviously it’s not easy work at a time when everyone’s worried about losing their jobs. You have to show up be as, as, as optimistic, positive and hardworking as you could be, then get on the train back home, still doing coding, research, learning.
ABT: yeah. A little bit. I mean, yeah, a little bit. I mean, that was pretty much the end of the day. So maybe there’s a couple of emails to answer or something to look up or something quick to do, you know? but I, I get very, very bored. If I sit on like a train or an airplane, I have to do something, you know, I’m not the kind of guy that could sit
AW: What’d you used to do before you had this side project.
ABT: to be honest with you, it wasn’t, you know, I’d only been working in London, say six months before I started it, so I didn’t have long. but yeah, I would, I didn’t read the news or something. Listen to music. I found it incredibly boring. I’d actually rather be building something than sitting there.
AW: I’ll close this out by saying you get home at seven o’clock. You’d spend time with your wife and your son, and then you’d go to bed at nine o’clock like you said, and start the day over again. Work weekends also on this or weekends where family.
ABT: well to begin with, it was pretty good evenings or weekends. It was solid, but you know, you can’t do seven days a week for a long period of time. You have to have some rest,
AW: Oh, you’re saying weekends, you were working solid.
ABT: Oh yeah. I was working on the
AW: Meet your wife was with your son and you were, you were working most of the day on your, on your side project.
ABT: Yeah, pretty much. Yeah. I mean, like I said, that was for a short period of time. it was a sprint. once I got to the point where there were sort of like, you know, proof of concept to prototype and whatnot, you know, I was able to dial it back a little bit. But, you know, I’m, I’m an all or nothing kind of person.
I wouldn’t recommend that level of work for a long, long period. I wouldn’t recommend it for everybody, but there was certainly a time when I was working like 90 hour weeks. And that was crazy.
AW: hunger really fueled you. I’m going to come back and find out how you figured out what to charge the first customers that first version did for them, that it failed at at work. And then that’s spectacular. First year, I’ve got the number here of what you did the first year, but first I’ll tell everyone that my, my second sponsor is a company called HostGator.
Andrew, you blogs and tips for people who are building a business and saying, you know what? I have this idea. I want to blog about it. Any tips for them on what they should do. If they go to hostgator.com/mixergy and get a hosting package,
ABT: Yeah. I mean, if you’re going to blog about something, you need to be careful what you give away. Right. Because if you have a, if you have a great idea and you just, if that idea is easily repeatable and you start talking about it before you finished it, someone’s going to Nick your idea, or they might make
AW: Really? Okay.
ABT: Yeah. And when we actually had that, by the way, that’s a topic, we can talk about that. The blogging, although it one us customers, it was marketing. We had no clout whatsoever. A competitor saw it and decided. You know, heck they’ve managed to achieve this. We can do the same thing. So you need to be careful about what you give away, but maybe if you have a product that is in proof of concept, maybe it’s ready for sale, maybe, it’s you know, a month away from sale that kind of close, you know, blogging.
It gets, it gets the word out that people, if there is a need for your product, they are Googling it. They’re Googling for it. They’re searching for it. You know what I mean?
AW: okay. That makes sense. All right. I’m going to suggest this. Even if you’re not yet ready, if you don’t know what your idea is, if you’re just thinking out loud, it’s better to think publicly than to think in your own little journal. We’re not six year old boys and girls. We’re adults think publicly, not in your little diary and see what comes up when you put it out there for the world to see if they react and say, I want to buy this.
If they react and say, I’ve got this other idea, I have this other need. When you do that. Then you start to draw people to you who will help you think through your business? God knows. That’s what happened to me with Mixergy. If you’re out there and you want to start a website, go to hostgator.com/mixergy.
There are tons of hosting companies. I like them because they’ve been around for a long time. They’re dependable, they’re inexpensive, and you can get started with them. And then you’ll see the price is super low. And as you grow, they have other plans that will grow with you. God knows Mixergy. wasn’t a, was an appropriate fit for their cheapest plan.
We were starting to get a lot of audience, big growth. We moved up to have all these other plans, but I recommend that you get started with the inexpensive, very effective plan at hostgator.com/mixergy. You’ll get the lowest price they have possible when you follow that URL, hostgator.com/mixergy. Let’s talk about pricing.
How do you know what to charge?
ABT: You know what? I had no idea in all honesty. I mean, it sounded outrageous for me to charge what we did charge, but what we did was, you know, the first version of our software, it was very, very basic. But it was very fast. So all it could draw was like line charts, you know, and a few other basic things like that, but it was very fast and it was beating the next fastest competitor by a factor of 10 kind of thing.
And, I looked at the market and I saw that, you know, some companies were charging like $300. For this kind of thing. And some companies were charging $1,500 and I thought to myself, well, I’m new. I don’t want to be 5,000 bucks is too high. So, and I don’t want to be at the bottom end of that spectrum because you know, people associate higher price with quality.
So I went right in the middle of the first version of the software was, was about $799. or about 500 pounds at the time. So we got that inquiry from the pharmaceutical company that said, how much is this going to cost for 10 people? And we said to the, you know, finger in the air, we had to just decide.
And we came up with a pricing strategy or plan or structure that looked reasonable for the market. It was kind of in the middle of the road. And we said $5,000, you know, and the guy emailed me back and goes great. Tell me when it’s done. And I, I said to my wife, I remember this guy is a great tell me when it’s done.
I hadn’t even finished it. Right. And it was out there. It was a prototype, but it wasn’t finished. you know, in terms of pricing there, there was a, there was a book I read very interesting book called predictably irrational talks about the kind of decisions that people make and marketing and whatnot, and something that caught my eye was something called the decoy pricing strategy.
Yeah. Have you heard of this one?
You must know everything, but everybody knows about that. Every business person knows about the deal pricing strategy. So basically, you know, iPhone does this all the time. You know, you have an iPhone and it has, 64 gigs and it costs $800. Then you have the same. iPhone has 256 gigs and it’s $900.
And then there’s one, that’s 512 gigs and it costs. $1,200. He said, high price people look at the high price one and they go, that’s too expensive. Then they look at the low price one and they go, well, that doesn’t have enough memory, but the next one’s only a hundred bucks more. So I might as well get that.
Now they know that when they’re selling their iPhones, they know that, and they’re predicting that model is going to be the highest seller because they’ve, they’ve asymmetrically price, their products to sort of channel people here that the expensive one is sometimes a decoy. You know, they know not many people are going to buy it.
You know, so we did a similar strategy. We had a, like a small, medium and large version of our software and, you know, the medium was sort of seven, nine, nine, and the, and the small was like six, nine, nine. And the large was like, 1200 bucks and we thought, no, one’s going to buy the lodge. You know, they just going to look at that and go, Hey, guess what?
Seven, nine, nine looks like a bargain. and you know, the prediction was right. It was our biggest seller. you know, so there was no hard science in it. It was kind of like we chose something that we thought sounded reasonable. and then put it live and we had no idea if anyone was going to buy it, what the sales were going to be.
you know, I mean, in my mind, I was hoping to make a few thousand a month. That’s what I was hoping to do so I could pay the mortgage. If things went South, you know,
AW: I’ll get to what you made, in a moment. But when you say all you did was line chart, there was a market of people who needed just line chart and everything else. They were going to do what with.
ABT: So imagine your technician and you have some kind of piece of hardware. That’s recording data. Usually that data is just lines and you want to see it, but all of the chart components that existed at the time, and even, even now our reputation is the fastest in the world of what we do. You know, they can’t display that much data.
They’ll just crash. They’ll hang the computer. We’ll slow down, use too much memory, et cetera, et cetera. So yeah, there was a market for people who needed that, but they needed to display this data really, really fast. and the first version was pretty basic, but it was enough. And I I’ll be honest. I was surprised myself.
AW: Okay. First year sales was how much?
ABT: I believe we sold $173,000 in the
AW: Hundred and 73. Did you celebrate any part of this?
ABT: well, yeah. I mean, it was beyond an expectation beyond expectations. I mean, I told you at the time we were living in rented, we just moved to London. My wife had lost a job. and we were looking at the housing market in London where we had left.
Like was half the price of where we’d gone. And we were looking at houses and we were like, How are we going to afford this? You know, I needed to come up with a, almost a hundred thousand dollar deposit for a house, you know, and you’ve got to earn that that’s post tax income. So, you know, I really had to hustle too chief that, so yeah, $173,000.
It was maybe on the expectations. I was surprised, myself, and I was still working, for that year and also for the next one or two years. As well. So what I decided to do was kind of roll the profits, you know, back into the business.
AW: Okay. Into what
ABT: it. Well, it’s a grow it. I mean, I was yeah.
Hiring. Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, I built this prototype in my first, in my spare time. but, it needed maintenance. People were asking for features. They were saying, can you make it, do this? Can you make it, do that? Can you help me? Can you show me? Is it it’s a complex product? It needed a lot of, You know, expert assistance and that took a lot of time.
So the first thing I did when we got the first sort of month or two sales, I thought, right, well, we’ve made this much money. I can’t remember the exact figure, but I think we made like, you know, $20,000 in the first two months. And I said, well, why don’t I use that to hire? That’s gonna pay for, you know, a temporary worker for a few months and see what they can do, you know?
And if the money keeps coming in, then we can keep paying them. So that was the decision I made early on was, was to, was to do that. The first guy I hired, he’s still working for me. Actually. He’s been working for me for eight years now and he’s
AW: it about him? How did you know that he was going to be good? This was your first hire.
ABT: Yeah. I mean, obviously I’m a software developer myself, so it’s easy for me to, you know, filter on technical skills. and you can have a look at their work and, you know, What I do now is, is we tend to set coding tests, you know, face to face interview to determine, you know, their communication skills and so on and so forth.
and yeah, he ticked all the boxes. So that was our first hire works out very well. And as the product grew. sales came in, he was maintaining it in the day. I would be like, you know, popping out at lunch and answering a few emails or like, you know, telling him what to do in the morning and the evening.
So I was still doing my morning, evening routine and working at the weekends and so on. But. Perhaps not quite as hectic as before. And, you know, we got to the point where we had to hire more because we needed more staff too, to build the things that people were asking for. So, you know, I looked at the amount of money that came in and I say, right, we’ve made this much money in the quarter, so I’m going to spend that.
I’m not going to spend more than it. And then that’s our budget. so. Precisely. Yeah. So quarter by quarter, we looked at the money that came in and we said, right, I’m going to put this back into the business. And, you know, my own job was paying my own salary. So I have my own, my own expenses paid and yeah, that’s, that’s kind of how we did it,
AW: When did you quit your job? Why did you take so long to quit your job? Instead of saying I’m gonna hire myself.
ABT: well, I was an expensive employee at the time I was working in London. So by this time my career had really taken off. and my income was, I was only sort of six or 700 pounds a day, which is about a thousand dollars a day. So, you know, $200,000 a year is a lot of income to replace. And you just don’t know if.
You know, the sales could stop tomorrow. a competitor could come along and sweep the rug out from under your feet or, you know, a recession or, or I don’t know anything, anything could go wrong. So I kept doing both for as long as I reasonably could. And it got to a point where, you know, I said to my wife, you know, I can’t do this anymore.
This is hard work. I need to quit. And she said, no, keep it keep going. As long as you can,
AW: Even though it meant that she was getting less of your time. Your son was getting less of your time.
ABT: yeah, by now she was saying, look, this is really bearing fruit. You’ve got a shot here to do something. So, you know, she’s been very, very encouraging, the whole way, you know, with me on the whole journey basically. And she said you got a shot to do something here, go as long as you can. And eventually.
Just gave up. I said, look, I, you know, I need to, I need to quit. And I went first part, my employer was very, very understanding. They allow me to go three days a week because you know, two days more a week was enough to get a lot more done. And actually I quit. I quit in, I believe October, 2014, so two and a half years after the first sale.
and we’d done, you know, the first year we did $173,000 of sales. Second year was 300 and something, I can’t remember the exact number. and the third year was I think, close to half a million dollars. So by that time, you know, we had enough profit that would pay my salary. so yeah, that’s when I quit to, to work on it full
AW: How’d you, you guys have a good marriage, especially through this difficult period. How did you keep her? Connected to you. How did you stay involved with your son? I know how close you are with your son, frankly. I’ve been reading your Twitter account. That’s how you and I really connected. I’ve stayed in touch through Twitter and I, the most recent post that stood out for me is you teaching your son how to program and him sticking with it largely because, well, not largely partially because he’s getting a backpack.
Am I right? If he,
ABT: Yeah, he, he, he said to me like, you know, he sits with me. I was taught how to do electronics by my own, my mum. She was a, a teacher at a school. She, she did design a technology and she spent a lot of time teaching me and that. Ultimately caused me to go into university into engineering and, you know, become the person that I am today.
So, you know, I thought, well, I want to do this with, with my son. And, I’ve tried it to teach them to learn to code and whatnot. And he was, he dabbled with it a little bit, but a little bit young. I think the first thing he did, it was maybe seven or eight. but. He said to me, Oh, dad, I really want this backpack.
It’s really cool. It’s got like animated things on it. you use an app and you can, can make a little Pac-Man on this backpack, you know? And it costs about, it costs about 200 pounds. And I said, that’s an expensive backpack for a boy, you know? And he goes, ah, you know, I really want to, can I do chores? So we’ve been doing like chores, like he’ll, he’ll work in the garden and whatnot and you know, and money to, towards things that he wants.
And I said to him, look, I see you a challenge. If you do an hour, hour, a day of learning to code over the side, that’s 60 days, 60 hours. I’ve got yeah. Subscriptions to all of these websites with training materials. I’ll tell you, I’ll send the syllabus. You have to do an hour a day. You show me what you’ve done.
I’ll help you if you get stuck, but you’re going to use these tutorials. Right. And if you do that at the end, I’ll buy you this. And, you know, he’s got this like spreadsheet, he’s put all the numbers in and he’s like, Oh, I’m on track. I’ve got 32 hours. It’s 30 days. Can I, am I, am I going to get it? And he’s getting into it.
And you know, he started to enjoy it. I mean, you asked me the question of how did I maintain that connection? I mean, I’ll, I’ll tell you that one time when my son was say two. Or three, maybe three. I can’t remember. You know, he was young. I came home from work exhausted and he goes to me, he goes to my wife.
He goes, mum, what did that’s for?
ABT: I mean, that, that cut me to the heart because you know, as far as he could see, I was this freeloader that he didn’t see, I came home and he didn’t see me in the morning. I came home at like seven, seven 38 o’clock. I was exhausted. I was like, hi son. I made a point. I would get home every day to do the bath time.
Do you know what I mean? The bedtime story, I did that every single day. It wasn’t a lot of time, maybe half an hour, but you know, many people, they weren’t late. They work long hours. Many people have jobs where they have no choice. many people have to have their children in childcare. my wife was a stay at home mum for, you know, those years.
So she, she, you know, really, brought him up, but I made a point that I was gonna. You know, give him at least half an hour or 45 minutes or something of quality time a day, which sounds like not a lot, but you know, when I tell you the freedom I’ve bought from doing this, it has paid off
AW: do you mean? I’m saying, yeah, but I want to make sure that I understand what is the freedom that you got now?
ABT: I have worked from home for myself for six years.
I drive my son to school every morning. I talked to him in the car half an hour. I’m able to spend that time with him, ask him how his day is, what he’s got planned, teach him things. I’m able to, you know, do stuff with him. We’ve we’ve been doing cycling bicycling, you know, we’ve been learning coding, blah, blah, blah.
You can’t get that kind of freedom if you’re commuting. 90 minutes each way to work every day. do you know what I mean? So, yeah, it was tough in the early years. It really was tough.
AW: it’s stinks. And if you’re shortsighted and you say this is too much pain for my family, then you miss out on the benefit that comes later on for the rest of their lives.
ABT: Exactly. And I will be honest with you. I’ll be honest with you. And some of your listeners might be surprised at this, that there were times when, you know, my wife would say to me, you work too much, you know, why are you doing this? You know, it’s putting a strain on this, that, and the other. I need to see more of you.
And it was difficult. You know, I’m not gonna, I’m not
AW: So then how’d you get past that?
ABT: Well, I would say, look, I’m doing this for us and doing this for us. This is what I want to do. This is where we’re going. And I would try and like, like, I don’t know, like our family are treated like a unit, like a team where we’re all on the same side.
Right. We’re trying to get to the same place. We came from a place where we were broke. We had no money. We had no capital. We bought our first home because of this business. And then we grew and you know what I’m saying? These are the possibilities. We’re going to be able to pay for my son to go for college.
We’re going to be able to do this. We’re going to be able to pay for that. You know? And I think that when I came home and working from home, that’s really when you know, the, the, the, the dividend started to pay. Do you know what I mean? In terms of flexibility, income, freedom, and so on, you know?
AW: So let’s close it out with this. Then one case study, we have a list of companies and organizations. NASA uses you guys too,
ABT: Yeah. NASA uses our software. I don’t actually know what they’re doing.
AW: Let’s go with a case study than a formula one. There are tons of great companies. What I’m trying to say, tons of great organizations that we could have picked. I’m going to go with a formula one because you and I talked about it earlier. What’s formula one, do it with it.
ABT: Well, I mean, these are guys who need to visualize a huge amount of data, and they’re also interested in speed performance because big data, if you, if you’re viewing big data on your computer, it uses a lot of CPU. It slows your computer down hugely. So we actually have five formula. One companies are using our software.
I won’t tell you who but major guys. And they’re all building software that helps them tune cars, during a race before a race after race. So, you know, if you imagine a pit crew, there is a, if people watching dashboards with loads of information, While the car is racing or during a Tesla or hot lap or anything like that.
And they’re looking at everything that’s happening, the acceleration, the braking, the forces, the temperature on the tires. you know, anything you can think of. I think that, that, one, we have a student team as well. They’re a university team and they do not formula one, but they do formula E, which is a formula electric.
and they said we send free hundred sensors. By radio from the car back to the pit, and then we display all this on the dashboard. They can see exactly what’s going on. If something’s failing, like a break is getting too hot, they know about it. Do you know what I mean? And then they
AW: the progression of heat on their chart and know I’m imagining, this is how we’re, this is the direction we’re going and we need to do something.
ABT: Yeah, absolutely. So they’re able to say to the driver, Hey, you know, your, your front right tire is getting too hot. You need to ease up on the brakes or, you know, something like that. Or they, they, they can say to the pit crew, you know, you need to change the front two tires because they’ve burned out or the brake pads or, or this or that.
You know, something’s wrong with the car, pull it in. Let’s have a look at it. You know, I mean, these are really, really precise machines and they’re, they’re displaying a huge amount of data. and they love our software because our software can display big data. It can display charts, graphs, but it can do it really, really fast.
and that allows them to achieve their goals.
AW: I’m so glad that you’re here to do this interview. I hope you go out and do more and more interviews. You’re somebody who there’s. When I was researching you, I found nothing. And you. She didn’t say nothing.
ABT: I’m kind of unknown. Yeah,
AW: Yeah. You know what I found? I found like reviews.co.uk. There was a bunch, you have information about side chart, your company side chart, like science chart, right?
ABT: yeah, yeah. That’s exactly right.
AW: I hope you do more of it. Your blog posts was so well done. Your storytelling here is phenomenal. I there’s just so much more that we could have touched on, but I’m grateful to you for coming here. I know you’re not a big, interviewer though. I hope you will do more interviews. I appreciate you making this a place where you can be open to talk
ABT: Yeah, me too. I’ve enjoyed it. I think, I mean, I’ll be honest with you and say that until now we’ve been a hundred percent focused on the tech. You know, the tech was complex and difficult and,
AW: And customer service from what I can see, apparently you guys are like super fast customer service. I saw one of one person, one of your customers decided to test you and competitors to see who responded faster to email.
ABT: Hey, do you know what the, I read this? I don’t remember where I read it. If somebody sends you an inquiry to your business, how do I buy your product? Or can you offer it, do this or that? If you answer within 15 minutes, you’ve pretty much blown the competition out of the water. That’s it because they’ll get it in their mind.
Like those, they will have asked that question to 10 people. You know what I mean? And if you came back first, they’re not even going to read what the other people have read and the average response time, I don’t know what it is on our, on our dashboard, but I think for sales, it’s like sub hour and we aim to answer immediately if we can, but sometimes obviously, you know, life, but.
Customer service. I will, I will say that that’s probably one of the reasons that we are successful is because we have not just made an excellent piece of software, but we’ve also try to help people use it, showing them how to use it. I coached them, solve their problems, and so on and so forth. It’s a reputation that, that, you know, we have an excellent reputation in this area.
and, Yeah, it’s paid dividends because people then go and recommend us to their colleagues and so on and so forth. We still get testimonies coming in. We get reviews coming in, as you saw reviews or credit UK, there’s about 300, 350 or so reviews for sideshow on there. And they’re all saying the same thing they’re saying, this is excellent.
The software’s very fast. It’s great customer service. Great. You know what I
AW: All right. The company is called. check them firstname.lastname@example.org. Am I right about that URL?
Kind of doing it from memory. And I want to thank my two sponsors who made this interview happen. The first, if you’re hiring developers, go to top talent.com/mixergy. The second, if you don’t like your hosting company or starting a new business and need a hosting company, go to hostgator.com/mixergy.
Thank you so much for doing this interview.