A conversation with Noah Kagan

Today I have my friend here whose company I really admire and whose company has become ubiquitous.

I remember when Noah Kagan first created a tool for Sumo I was excited and put it on my site. But I didn’t like it and I didn’t tell him why.

But he continued to build the business and I want to find out how he evolved and improved the product.

Noah Kagan is the founder of Sumo which helps users get more shares on Twitter and other platforms.

He has a new podcast out, Noah Kagan Presents. We’ll talk about that today too.

Noah Kagan

Noah Kagan

Sumo

Noah Kagan is the founder of Sumo which helps users get more shares on Twitter and other platforms.

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Full Interview Transcript

Andrew: Hey, everyone. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com.

And I’ve got my friend on here and he’s got a company that I’ve been really admiring. It’s ubiquity. I feel like every time I go to research a guest, they’ve got this blue little tag on the bottom right or the top left-right of their site, and that tab then brings up a login page. I know what that’s about. They’re using Sumo, the tools that help you grow your email list and grow your traffic.

The tool was created by my friend, Noah Kagan. I remember when he first created a tool for Sumo, I got excited when he told me what it was going to be. I said, “Yes, I’ll put it on Mixergy. I’ll help out my friend. You’re always helping me. You send me underwear. You do good stuff for me.” I put it on AndrewWarner.com/blog or something, and I didn’t like it and I didn’t tell him why. That was when I disappeared on him about it.

But he kept on building the business and obviously he did well even without my site. I did install it again on my site and take it off. I’ve gotten to use it and see him evolve the product from the outside, from a little bit of the inside and I’m curious about his process. How did he take my feedback? What did he do to improve the product? Why didn’t he get upset, or did he get upset when I said that, when he did like one-on-one sales to people to friends and asked them for favors. What happened there and then how did he build it and how big is it today?

Today, I don’t need to tell you guys what Sumo is. You probably have it up on your site. It’s helping you get more shares on Twitter and Instagram–not Instagram, but other services. But you probably want to know that he’s got a new podcast out. It’s called Noah Kagan Presents. I like his direction with it. He’s kind of doing this podcast for entrepreneurs, but not exactly the way that I’m doing it and everyone else is doing it, not interviews with successful people but thoughts for other people and challenges for other entrepreneurs.

Noah, it’s good to have you on here.

Noah: Dude, it’s been forever. I was thinking the last time I was on this show, I was showing you my underwear in France.

Andrew: Yeah. And that was a nice touch that I said, “That actually is impressive,” and suddenly a box of underwear showed up at my house.

Noah: I like getting and receiving gifts that are functional and people use on a regular basis. So, when you give someone a food gift, it always goes away and then it comes out the other end. But if you give someone like underwear, it keeps it on their other end for a long period of time and they think about you. I like doing gifts people are going to use.

Andrew: How do you know that stuff pays off? I know you’ve given out gifts at times in your life when you didn’t have a ton of cash. I’m wondering, were you just saying, “It doesn’t matter. It’s only money,” or was there some logic to that?

Noah: I don’t think gifts have to actually be that expensive. You can see my to-dos. My to-dos, I use note cards and I do them the night before. So one of the things that’s not even expensive, I just write a letter. Generally I’m writing one about every single day. It can be for anything. It’s not an expensive gift. People can throw it away, but I think the fact that like writing actually a letter to someone is like going so far above and beyond normal.

Andrew: That’s even worse because that’s more time.

Noah: Yeah. I don’t mind giving my time because you could make something for someone else, do something for someone else.

Andrew: What about–you sent me a Kindle at one point, right? The first Kindle came out, you sent it to me.

Noah: I enjoy that, man. Honestly, there’s not many things I’m great at, but one of the things I take a lot of pride in is my gift giving. A few things about that–number one, I’m kind of always on the lookout. When I meet someone, I have like not a checklist, but like, “What’s missing?” For someone I really like. I’m not trying to like buy things for people I don’t care for, but people I really like. It’s fun to like think about that for them. I think of it as a challenge. So, number one, I’m on the lookout.

Andrew: I’ve tried it after receiving one of your gifts. I forget what it was. It might have been like I was running in Washington, D.C. doing over 30 miles at a time and suddenly–

Noah: Glasses.

Andrew: A bag of water that I can use as a running water bottle showed up and I used it. I sent you pictures of it. I thought, “Interesting.” I mentioned that I run and that it’s hard to find water when I’m in these random spots. Noah must have filed it away, and then he bought me a gift for it. Let me try it.

When I tried it, I couldn’t actually live up to it. It’s a lot of work to send out gifts. But what I did appreciate, Noah, was it gave me something to do in conversation with someone, some reason to pay attention for the little details of the lives that matter to them but that would then just be throwaway sentences in conversation otherwise that was more businesslike.

Noah: Yeah.

Andrew: I get that. You’re saying there’s no logic, there’s no math to it.

Noah: No. I don’t look at it as math, like, “Hey, if I buy this $100 thing, I’m looking to get something more than that in return.” It’s more like the people I enjoy the relationship, it’s fun. I enjoy that more than buying some gift for myself. For example, a friend of mine is taking a road trip. I was like, “You know what be really cool like a gas card.” They’re going to be needing gas, just things I think make people’s lives better that I want to continue the relationship.

Andrew: It’s just a way for you to enjoy yourself in the relationship and to show affection. What about when you gave me that Kindle? I didn’t know what to do with it. I was reading on my iPhone at the time and an extra big device didn’t appeal to me. You asked me about it, do you remember?

Noah: I’m not sure. No.

Andrew: Good.

Noah: Did you give it away?

Andrew: I returned it and I used the money to buy something else.

Noah: Good.

Andrew: And you’re okay with that?

Noah: Two things about that specifically–I actually think it applies really well to business. I hate Christmas, not just because I’m Jewish, but I hate Christmas because everyone sends this like generic card with cookies. If they spent five minutes, they could have actually understood that I eat pretty healthy and I’m into mountain biking and chess and these activities or things [inaudible 00:05:51] in our company and they could have sent something with five minutes of effort, a really thoughtful gift that actually would strengthen our relationship.

So, in business, I don’t want to just get your shirt from a company I hardly care for. Why would I want to wear your shirt? But I do believe in business you can benefit strongly from sending out thoughtful gifts. It’s actually a very affordable way to grow a business.

Andrew: Do you actually do it? I know with you, maybe it’s one of our friends, he’ll email his assistant and say, “Buy me this,” instead of going to Amazon and buying it for himself even though his credit card and address is in there. Do you actually log in to Amazon and put in my address? This is a little too specific, we’ll move on in a moment.

Noah: Yeah. That’s fine. No. Yes, I buy the specific thing for people, but I just try to be thoughtful. For the business ones, I try to give gifts that I think they’ll see often. It will enhance the relationship. But I think business and in life, I notice that things decay pretty quickly. This is a way of like enhancing the relationship, continuing the relationship and deepening it on either a personal level or a business level.

Andrew: Yeah. I’ve got to say the best one that you got me was–it doesn’t have to be expensive, just this one thing did happen to cost a little bit of money. But you came to my house. You saw there was someone at the house looking for a wine opener.

Noah: A corkscrew.

Andrew: This was on a Friday night or Saturday night. The Sunday night, there was a knock on my door. It was Amazon. They delivered one of these fancy corkscrews that we still use. The reason I like that is you noticed what was going on and used Amazon Prime, which meant that it was going to arrive fast and also you weren’t going to have to pay for shipping. I don’t want to make this all about gift giving.

Noah: I think gift giving can be an interesting thing. I guess on the flip side, how does that make you feel? How’d you feel when you got these gifts from me?

Andrew: I generally feel–I always feel great about your gifts. I generally feel very sheepish about gifts people give me. You introduced me to a guest that’s coming on the site soon. He offered to give me a jacket.

All last night, I was thinking, “Why did I say yes to that jacket? Is that going to corrupt my conversation? Is that going to change the interview with him? What happens if I don’t like the jacket? What if it’s not the right size?” It’s a beautiful jacket. I saw it on you. For $250, I’d much rather just spend it myself and not have to be nice about the fact that I got the gift or feel guilty that I like the gift. Just like so much . . .

Noah: I already sent you that jacket, by the way.

Andrew: You sent it to me?

Noah: Yeah. I already bought it for you. There’s not–I wish there was like some complicated thing. I enjoy that. I think that’s an interesting thing about people. It’s easier for us to buy sometimes for others than it is for ourselves and maybe there’s some deeper lesson there.

Andrew: Here’s why I think–we’ve got to get back to business in a second–

Noah: Yeah, we can edit some of this out.

Andrew: Here’s why I’m surprised to hear you say that. You did an episode of your show where you recounted a conversation that you had with the founder of 1-800 Contacts, the contacts by mail company, where you said that when he sits down in a restaurant, the restaurant knows what food he wants and they know how to bill him afterwards, so he doesn’t have to waste time ordering, paying for the food, those little life hacks you’re into, which is what allowed you to build Sumo into such a big company and that’s why I was surprised that you handled the gift giving so well on your own. I get it.

Let’s talk about now this business. How big is Sumo?

Noah: Yeah. The gift giving again–I just want to finish that thought. I’m sure we can edit it down. The gift giving, I enjoy it. I think people, maybe the higher level concept is like–I’ve really been thinking about this a lot lately–go into the businesses, go into the activities you enjoy and do more of it. I think a lot of times what we do in business is we find things we enjoy and we’re like, “Well, I should fix thing and learn how to do this other thing over here.” I’m like, “Well, you’re great at this. Why don’t you learn how to do that even better and find someone who loves to do x?” I can talk very specifically about what I’m doing around this.

For example, I like doing audio interviews. I like creating content. I like experimenting with marketing. I don’t like audio editing. I don’t really like writing. I don’t really like certain organizational things. So, with my podcast, Noah Kagan Presents, I’ve actually found experts that are freelancing in those different fields. It’s actually amazing to work with people in that.

Andrew: Who, people who will write the intros for you?

Noah: People who will take the podcasts and turn it into an amazing article or people who will take the article and turn it into a guest post. I call it content multiplication, which we can get into, but kind of like the gift giving, I think so many times we have sweet spots. That’s what I’ve been labeling them as. I think people spend their time, not enough, in their sweet spot. They spend 30% when they should be spending 80% or 90% doing their sweet spot activities.

Andrew: But you’re really good also at hiring people. I remember you did–when I was trying to figure out the courses for Mixergy, you came on and said, “Look, people need to know how to hire and if they’re getting started, they might need interns. Here’s how I hire interns.” You were really methodical about it and also you were in your groove with it. It’s a challenge to say, “I’d like someone to turn my podcast into an article.”

I was thinking about it for myself. It’s a challenge to come up with these ideas for what you’d like that you want done, but you’re not good enough at it to do it yourself and you don’t enjoy it enough. It’s a challenge to find people. How did you find these freelancers to turn your passion project, this podcast, into more content, into edited final products?

Noah: Yeah. Two specific things–one, Andrew, you’re married, you have two kids. You’re probably not going to leave your wife. I can assume that, yes?

Andrew: Yes, I’m not going anywhere.

Noah: Yeah. You’re not going nowhere. That’s the same with people in jobs that are at good companies. They’re treated well. They’re loved. Where are they going? Nowhere. So two things have to happen. Number one, you have to know what you want to hire. So you have to have clarity on that. Secondly, things take a long time for hiring. I think a lot of things we do, we want like short-term gratification. We want that STG. We want that bump of the STG. But the short-term gratification can’t happen in hiring because somebody like yourself is already in a happy place. The opportunities are two-fold.

Number one, pay people as contractors. I look at articles. I look at marketing. I look at anything I see out there that I’m impressed with, I try to connect with that person. I challenge anyone, if you see something you like, connect with that person today because a lot of times it will be two years later, three years later, five years later. My business partner, frankly I met through you. That was because you introduced me to someone like, “Hey, this guy seems kind of interesting.” And Chad is amazing. So, with recruiting, I’ve actually thought about this a lot.

But number one, know what you want to hire for. I know I didn’t want to do audio editing. So I was like, “Who’s Tim Ferriss’ editor?” So look for who’s doing one of the top shows. Look for the best.

Number two, be okay that it’s going to take a while. I think we want to hire people and we want it immediately. We’re like, “You won’t start today? Dammit.” No. Put it on repeat. So, for pp, I’ll follow up with them every six months. Let me go over a few other tips because these are generally pretty helpful.
With the people that are the best like Tim Ferriss’ person or there’s a guy at HubSpot for two years, I’ve been trying to recruit him and every six months I email him, “How are things going?” This ties into gift giving. Finally he’s like, “I’m not ready still.” I was like, “Who’s the best person you would hire for this position, for operations?” He said, “You should actually talk to this guy.” I actually ended up hiring his friend. So always ask for referrals from rejections. I do this in sales and I do this in recruiting.

Andrew: What do you do to keep up with them every six months?

Noah: Generally I use FollowUp.cc.

Andrew: That’s it? It will just be in your inbox, another piece of email that comes back to you six months later that reminds you to follow up.

Noah: Yeah. I think the three ways of recruiting, it’s very simple. One, it’s your network. Your network and all the people you work with’s network. You have to actually be direct with that. You can’t be like, “Do you know anyone?” Go search their LinkedIn and go search and ask like, “Hey, you know this person. How can I get an intro?”

Number two is your customer base. So people that listen to Mixergy or follow OkDork or follow Sumo.com, way easier to hire.

Third, I generally look for people that are the best at doing something. I want to work with the best. When you work with the best, it’s a night and day experience. You’re like, “Life’s so much better with this person.” That doesn’t happen with the people like, “I always have to remind them to do something.”

Andrew: Yeah.

Noah: You know what I’m talking about?

Andrew: I do. It’s such a drag. You start to think, “What’s wrong with me that I can’t get them to do this? What’s wrong with my management skills?” versus you find someone who’s really good and even if you screw it up, they still do great work for you despite you. It’s almost like–did you read Phil Knight’s book?

Noah: Yeah. I loved it.

Andrew: I’m bummed I couldn’t get him on for the book. That is one of the best autobiographies out there. In it, he talks about how there was this guy that was eager to work with him, I can’t remember his name. But he just kept like blowing him off. He hired him and he kept ignoring his letters, real paper letters that would come in every day because the guy was so passionate.

Despite ignoring him, the guy kept building up his part of the business and kept growing and growing and become one of the–what do they call it, the Butthole Teams or something? People who were the top running Nike, who were so good at running Nike and so open with each other they call each other the Buttholes or something like that.

Noah: I actually just saw the Butt Bongos perform, which is a pretty cool band.

Andrew: Okay.

Noah: No, but I have a guy–I don’t have–there’s a guy named Brandon. You want to talk about random, I met this guy at the Arnold Schwarzenegger Bodybuilding Classic in Ohio a year ago today. He just said hi to me on the floor. I think when you hire people, there are people who put in a little more effort. They send the handwritten card. This guy met me on the floor. We went and worked out. He actually lives in Austin. It was crazy, though.

So we’re in Austin. We work out. Then he’s like, “I actually love photography. If you want me to take some headshots of you and your team, I’ll do it for free.” I was like, “Sure, that sounds good.” He was like, “I know you’ve done YouTube and you’re doing podcasting. Do you want me to make a video for you? Let’s make a video and I’ll edit it for you.” I was like, “That sounds good.” Now he’s actually making all my YouTube videos. We go and record them together. The guy is amazing. We do a video and he edits. Now I’m paying him.

Andrew: The editing on that is so good.

Noah: He does an amazing job of that. So, number one, trials are a great way to work with someone, like a project. But two, look for the people–I learned this from someone recently–look for the people that amaze you and do whatever it takes to stay in their life or work with them. That’s been my MO lately where I’m like–anybody who I’m like, “Oh my god, you’re so impressive,” I’m like, “Let me just figure a way to make it work.” If not now, it will be later and if not later, ask them for a referral, like, “Who are you impressed with?” I’m pretty confident they’ll have impressive people.

Andrew: All right. The reason that I kept saying how big is Sumo is I feel like the intro of an interview or the beginning needs to be a setup that shows the audience, “Here’s how big this guy got it and because he got it this big, you’re going to want to listen for the next hour to see how he did it.”

Noah: Sure.

Andrew: Do you have any metric that shows how big it is?

Noah: Yeah. I was trying to think of like bad jokes. But yeah, it’s an eight figure company, profitable. I generally think it’s always strange when companies talk about people size. But we have around 50 people. Yeah. We’ve gone through a lot of ups and downs. We’re bootstrapped. We went from me, down to 20 back down to 4. We fired everyone. We’ve built it back up to kind of like a phoenix hero journey story.

Andrew: And this was AppSumo that got to 20 people then down to 4, is that right?

Noah: Yeah.

Andrew: Okay. And AppSumo was Groupon for geeks is how you put it. A lot of us have bought stuff from AppSumo. You’ll get an app that ordinarily sells for $80 a year selling for $5 on Friday, but you’ve got to get it by Friday, right? When you went down to 4 people–I’m sensing a change in your attitude as I’m talking about this. What are you feeling right now?

Noah: It’s an interesting story. I think what I’ve realized through my failures, which I put out a little more publicly than others, is that we all go through hard times. So I think the thing is like how are you actually learning and making the future better from these hard times? We’re all going to go through them.

Andrew: Why’d you go to four?

Noah: We went to four for a few reasons. You kind of could tell who really wanted to be there, number one. Number two, the business had predictable expenses but unpredictable revenue, so it was kind of a hard way to grow a business. It was just like ultimately–I was reflecting on this today actually because I’m not in the best in moods, welcome to running a business in life–it’s not what I really wanted to be doing. It got to a point I was like, “What the hell is this thing? This is not anywhere near what I want to be doing.”

It’s actually funny. I’m reading “Creativity Inc.,” the Pixar story. The guy, Ed Catmull–the book is amazing, I love it–the guy says when he got a job at Disney, they said, “You can do animation or you can work in the park.” I think the park one was going to pay him better or something like that. He said, “No, I want to work in animation. That’s what I’ve wanted.” I think in general we have to stay true to what we really want.

Andrew: So, Noah, for a long time, you had all these businesses. You had community next, the conference that did really well, right?

Noah: Yeah.

Andrew: You had a Facebook app business. You had a payments business. There was a period there where people felt like you weren’t sticking with something because you didn’t love it every minute and if you didn’t love it or if you didn’t believe in it as the fun thing that was worth spending your life on, you were going to move on. People were wondering, even close people to you were wondering, “Is he a bit of a flake here? Is he scared of success?” This was around the time you went to four. Any truth to that? Does that resonate at all? I’m seeing like hateful eyes from you for that.

Noah: No. I have nice green hazel eyes. Yeah. It’s actually a deeper like therapy story. I did have that fear. I think everyone has an Achilles heel, right? Something you’re very strong at is also a weakness. I think what’s happened over the years now at this point in my life is that you have to embrace the things you’re great at and not apologize for what you’re not good at. Not apologize in the sense of like if you rip someone off or cut someone off, you shouldn’t say sorry. But just embrace who you are and stop apologizing for who you actually are.

For myself, for Sumo, I would say for two years I worked on something like recruiting and some management stuff and meetings and strategy that I’m like, “This is not what I really like doing. This is not what I’m great at. Let me find people who are great and love doing this,” and put them in that place so that I can go and explore and do the things that are really my sweet spots.

That’s what I would say has happened with Sumo more recently. I love what we do with AppSumo. I love what we do with Sumo. I love all the people there. My general excitement is starting new things. Why am I fighting it just so that I can externally prove to others that I can stick with something? There are a lot of things that I do stick with. Like our relationship I’ve stuck with. I’ve stuck with health. I’ve stuck with certain activities. It’s not that I can stick with things. You have to understand yourself. I think one of the most powerful things today is self-awareness.

Andrew: You were saying those times you were continuing a part of the business you really love, which is maintaining it, being a manager and that’s what turned you off to it.

Noah: Yeah. You know what? I’ve actually thought about this. I think about Buffer when I think about this, Andrew. I think anyone can be successful if they stick with it. So, if it’s not working but you just sick with it and you keep working on something.

Andrew: Let me give you not the counter argument but let me give a doubt that I’ve had about myself relating to that. But first I have to tell you about–you love software. I have to talk about my sponsor. I forgot to even mention them at the top of the interview. Do you know Acuity Scheduling?

Noah: I don’t.

Andrew: You don’t. Wow. One piece of software I’m finally going to introduce you to.

Noah: Yes.

Andrew: Here’s the deal. I used to try to book people on Mixergy and no one would book. I thought they didn’t like me. I would try to get people on the phone, even people who said they wanted to work with me and they couldn’t get on the phone with me and I thought they just don’t value the relationship enough.

And then a friend of mine, Bob Hyler, said, “You know, Andrew, I’ve found this piece of software I think can help you.” And I’m always dismissive of software, just like you love it or you love new tools and I’ve heard you give lots of software recommendations. I use MyFitnessPal because of you to record what I eat, not today though. I’m reluctant to do it. I say, “It’s not about that. It’s about writing the better word, coming up with the better approach.” Finally I said, “Let’s try this Acuity Scheduling.”

I connected my calendar to it. I selected the dates and times I was available to do interviews and I embedded whatever embed code they gave me on my site and now I started giving people the URL to my site where this calendar was embedded and they could see my availability. They could pick from all my available interview times a time they wanted and they could actually book themselves. I knew they could ask them after they booked themselves for their Skype name so when I’m sitting here, I know exactly how to connect with them.

Boom. Suddenly I went from chaos to order, more people said yes and yeah, I felt better about my relationship with the world that people actually want to do interviews with me. I now use it when I want to sell something to people because I noticed that you’re good at when you sell something for the first time, you try to get on the phone or Skype chat with people who are buying to understand why they’re buying. I do that too. I like to get on the phone. I give people an Acuity Scheduling calendar where they can book time with me and we can actually talk.

If you’re out there and you’re listening to me and you want to get more calls–you may not be doing interviews but maybe what you want is more of your customers to get on a call with you or your sales people or more potential customers to chat with you, you’ve got to check out Acuity Scheduling. There are lots of ways to screw this up and I’ve tried lots of different competitors of Acuity Scheduling.

What I like about them is it just works and everyone on my team can use it. So, if there’s a problem, I don’t have to go in and adjust it. You mentioned I have two kids. If daycare is closed next week, I don’t have to go in and close it out in Acuity Scheduling. My team can figure it out because it works so well. What were you going to say?

Noah: Just because you did these ad spots, I always fast forward. I always fast forward. I do on the podcast thing, I hit like 30 seconds, 30 seconds. I’m like, “Is it 30 seconds yet?” I guess I’m curious like–we were going to talk about I bought an ad on your show–I love that you use it, right? I love that you discuss–it’s interesting. You actually–some of the best ways to do sponsorship is not actually the sponsor, it’s the relationship you get from sponsoring.

Andrew: Let me close it out and then I want to ask you what you mean by that.

Noah: Sure.

Andrew: If you guys want to try them, don’t go to AcuityScheduling.com. Anyone can do that. What I want to do is get you to a special URL where you’re going to get 45 days free trial of this. You really can close sales within the free trial and close it out and if you want. That’s how generous they are with their free trial. You should go check out AcuityScheduling.com/Mixergy. You too, Noah, AcuityScheduling.com/Mixergy.

Noah: How do you spell Acuity? Is it with a C or with a Q?

Andrew: That’s a good point. I wish they had an easier to spell name like Buffer. It’s AcuityShceduling.com/Mixergy. All right. What about the relationship with the sponsor, did you say?

Noah: For people out there who are starting their businesses or want to connect with certain people, one of the tactics that’s worked really well for me is give them money.

Andrew: Find a reason to do it.

Noah: Yes, exactly. So I’ve actually gone out and sponsored I think Pat Flynn back in the day, maybe five years ago Tim Ferriss. We were already friends, but I sponsored his blog for two years. And that’s a way that you can kind of like stand above everyone else and people will actually respond to your emails for the future. I think not John Lee Dumas, but one of the other guys, David Garland sponsored his show for like $2,000, and then we became friends and then a few months later he actually was like, “Hey, you want to be on the show?” I was like, “Okay.”

Andrew: That’s a big reason that people buy courses, that if you buy someone’s course, you’re spending $2,000, you get to learn from them, but you also get to build a relationship with them. I get it. Let’s come back to this thing with sticking with it.

Noah: Sure.

Andrew: This is the thing you’ve stuck with the most. I remember when you were dropping stuff out, I said maybe I’m going in the wrong direction, Noah. I’m someone who always sticks with things. I hated school. I went to college anyway. I hated college. I stuck with it until I graduated. I’m like a stick with it type of person. I’ve always wondered maybe I’m making a mistake. Maybe Noah knows something I’m not picking up on. What do you think about that?

Noah: I think that’s good because you’re married. Stick with it, maybe that’s why I’m single because I don’t know if I would stick with it.

Andrew: But you were saying if you stick with anything long enough, like Buffer, things eventually work out.

Noah: I think the point is that like if you stick with Titanic–let’s say you’re on the Titanic and you’re like, “I just stay with things. I’m going to stay on this ship that’s sinking.” That’s not that smart. You’re like, “Oh yeah, that’s an obvious example.”

Andrew: Yes.

Noah: With business, I’ve noticed from people starting businesses is they do it and they don’t get results right away and so they give up. That’s my point where like Buffer, when they first started, Leo was commenting on my blog like, “Hey, you should try this,” like one by one, that’s what Chet Holmes calls it his Dream 100 list. Make your dream 100 list of customers and go after them. I think Leo did a good job of that. Go with it. Stick with it in the beginning, but over time, you have to realize, “All right, am I good at this part of it, or am I good at something else?” Then find the people that can complement you around that.

What I’ve realized is that like for me–this is why I was talking about self-awareness a little bit–take a moment to go sit in a chair. Like I have a chair that’s over there, you can’t see it. Now you can go see it. That’s my thinking chair. It’s called my thinking chair. I just take times to think about things. I spend every morning doing that. I call it self-diagnostic.

Through that, I’ve realized over the years I love starting new things. That is what I’m amazing at. I love doing marketing. That’s what I’m amazing at. Recruiting, I suck. Development, I suck. Customer support, oh my god, you don’t want me doing that. There are other people out there–Samantha, Jamie, Amen, Anton, Chad, people on the Sumo family–that do it and love doing it.

Here’s an example, webinars–I did webinars for like six months for Sumo.com. They performed well and they do well, but like I literally it’s hard for me to bring myself to do it. Once I figured it out and got it to the point of creation, the zero to one I’m very strong at. But that one to ten, I probably do like a 50 to 40% job. Troy is like a magician with it and he loves doing it.

The weird thing is I go to Troy and I say in a quiet voice, I’m like, “Troy, you want to do this every day, like every day you want to do this?” He’s like, “Oh yeah, man, I can’t wait to do another webinar.” He had one today. He’s like, “I love doing these webinars. I love connecting with the people.” What I’ve realized is that we kind of impose our own beliefs on other people. Ultimately in a business, you have to find out like where are you–I call it sweet spot–where’s your sweet spot and find other people who complement your sweet spot.

Andrew: I see. If I’m understanding you right, you had this business. You built it up. You cut it down to four people partially because you were not enjoying it because you weren’t finding your sweet spot. You were forcing yourself to do things you didn’t like. Partially was it also that revenue was going down?

Noah: It’s not necessarily I wasn’t doing what I liked, it’s just that the company wasn’t going what I liked. The specific moment with AppSumo, it’s a Groupon for geeks. We do promotions. I kind of didn’t know what I was doing or where I was going. At that point, I remember we were promoting like how to make a mobile app. I actually downloaded the product.

Here’s a really good telltale sign if your business is off. A telltale sign is you don’t care about your product anymore, meaning that you see like trash on the ground, meaning you see something wrong with it and you don’t pick it up. You’re like, “That’s fine, it’s trash on the ground.” Here’s another one–your company emails, you stop opening them. You’re like, “I don’t really read our emails anymore.” That’s a problem.

So, with Sumo, I finally opened one of our products that we were selling with AppSumo.com and I was like, “This is a PDF, 45 pages of shit showing someone how to make an iPhone app and it does not help them. That has my name on it.” That was the day that I was like, “Yeah, we’re done with promoting these problems. This is not how the company is going to be run moving forward.”

Andrew: Okay.

Noah: I started it to promote cool stuff that I just loved.

Andrew: All right. So you went on a smaller scale. It went from every day offering a new deal to occasionally with no schedule and only the ones that you believed in and only the ones that you found. Then at one point, you emailed me and said, “Hey, Andrew, would you want a tool that let people highlight your transcript?” And I thought, I’ve been looking for something like that. You said, “It also lets them tweet.” I said, “I’ve been looking for something like that.” There’s stuff in the interview that I know people highlight and put into their Google Doc. Let’s make it easy for them.

So you sent me the tool. I installed it. I know that’s part of your process, right? You’re reaching out to people. You’re getting a beat on whether they care about it or not. You ask us to install it. I installed it. I didn’t like it because there was no way to delete it because people were able to highlight random words and it stayed highlighted. I guess those are the big ones. I felt sheepish about that. You didn’t follow up with me, but I sensed you were looking to get into software and you realized there was other feedback like that that was telling you what?

Noah: So I think there are two points at this part of our journey. You have to look at the major problems in your business. This is something that now we’re doing on a yearly basis, where you make a list of all the problems that can hurt your business. Make a list of them. Through each problem, have three solutions or one solution, like very exact. I think it’s very easy for us to criticize, but it’s not very easy for us to be suggestive.

We’ve done this recently and I think with AppSumo at the same time, the main problem with AppSumo at the same time is it wasn’t predictable. It was very inconsistent. I highly recommend this for every business. Make a list of all your problems and then specific solutions and then prioritize it.

So, with AppSumo, it was like, “Man, we have this inconsistent business.” So that was a huge problem that we can’t grow a business if it’s unpredictable. What we ended up doing was we have to create our own products because that’s the only way we can predictably know how revenue is going to do. So, Chad, my business partner, came up with the idea of like, “We’re really good at marketing. We built all these tools for it. Why don’t we sell these tools?”

Andrew: I see.

Noah: It’s actually been our hypothesis has changed over the years, which has been fascinating with Sumo. So for anyone out there trying to do a SaaS business, I will tell you exactly what to do. You’re like, “I want to create a recurring revenue business.” All you have to do–so, software as a service, SaaS means the software is going to do a service. So, if you want to start a SaaS business, just do the service before you make the software and then create software to do that service.

So, specifically, if I were to do Sumo.com all over again, I would go to people like you, Andrew, and I would talk to you about your site and then see if your email list is important. You’re like, “Yeah, my email list is important.”

I’m like, “If I can double the amount of people joining your email list every day, how important is that to you? That would change everything.” “Do you have any idea how much an email is worth. Do you send emails and how much is it worth when you send an email to sell something?” You’d say some amount of money. So, basically getting it to an amount of money.

With that, I would be like, “Why don’t I set up your email optimization and you can pay me?” So I would do that a few times manually and from there, I would build the software. I think we did it a little bit of a different–we didn’t do it that way very well. We didn’t really do it that way.

That’s how I would do it for any SaaS business, do it manually. Go take plugins, go build it really cheaply, do it yourself and then you could start automating it. I think people get too excited to build something. I did this recently, actually. I made a big mistake. I started building some software for recruiting using your LinkedIn contacts. Then I was like, “I have to go sell this now?” I was like, “No, it’s just easier to keep building it.”

That’s when I was like, “Yeah, exactly.” It’s way easier to sit at home and hope that money comes to the computer. It’s like me waiting for my wife to show up at the door, like, “Oh my god, they’re finally here.” She’s just going to be at the door. They’re never going to be at your door. You have to get the hell out of your door and go find them. So with Sumo, yeah–

Andrew: You reached out to people. I’m sensing the feedback on this highlighter was it was not exactly there.

Noah: So we were trying to figure out what the hell to do exactly. We knew we should sell our marketing tools we built. We didn’t know in which order. That would probably be the second thing I would recommend is pick some way to prioritize things. We were like, “We’ll built this highlighter thing,” because we saw The New York Times do it. Then we’d try to build something like Optimizely because we already had something like that. It was kind of all over the place. We were like, “We need a framework.”

What we did instead was we looked at directories like WordPress directory and then we looked at like some SaaS directories that were out there and we were like, “What are the most popular tools people are using? Then we can prioritize based on that order.”
I think about this with my content recently for OkDork.com or the podcast. I can make ten episodes, but if I can put it in a specific order or if I can prioritize it based on something like maybe keyword searches or YouTube searches or popularity of other people’s podcast episodes. The order of my episodes will be more highly leveraged versus doing other content.

So, if I can do one on hiring versus productivity tools, it matters if I do one first because that will give me bigger leverage for the future. With Sumo, we were like, “Well, email is very big. Why don’t we do that one next instead of just kind of all over the place?” I say for my suggestion for people is figure out how to create some type or framework to prioritize your decisions in almost all aspects of your business.

Andrew: That framework as you described it seemed a little scary to me because you’re saying you went to WordPress’ directory of plugins to see what’s most used. Wouldn’t if you saw stuff that was most used end up thinking, “There’s enough competition, there are enough people doing it?”

Noah: That’s a fair part. No. For us, we already built the stuff. We knew we needed it. We were going to make it free and better. I think one thing I’ve realized, Andrew, is that number one, there’s always going to be another Japanese restaurant in your town. Like how many Japanese restaurants are there in SF?

Andrew: I don’t know, a lot.

Noah: There are a lot. You’re like if the first guy saw one, there would never be a second one. There’s room for different types of dishes from different people. Secondly, what I’ve noticed through business, this is kind of more of a cliché, but most people I’ve noticed are kind of hobbyists and they’re not actually serious, so meaning that they’re not really persisting through it. They’re not really working their asses off on it. They’re like, “This is kind of fun.” It should be fun, but if you take it seriously, it’s pretty easy to win, meaning that like a lot of these other ones we saw out there, I was like, “These aren’t really well done. They’re not really improving it. They don’t update it. It seems like an opportunity for us.”

I think the thing I really want to hit home is as long as you build something for yourself–so, we were building it for ourselves first, but we just wanted a priority of which one to build, then you can’t go wrong. So, if you serve your own problem and starting a business or running a business, you will always be satisfied.

Andrew: Okay. And so then you hit on this email collection set of tools.

Noah: Yeah. We productized that because that’s what we needed for AppSumo.

Andrew: What was your validation process? I always admired how you check in with people, how you go out to people who you know and you have the guts to ask them to try what you’re building. What’s your process?

Noah: Yeah. So what I always do–I call it the Dream 100. It’s from Chet Holmes. If you guys haven’t read “Ultimate Sales Machine,” I love that book. Basically make a list of all the people that you want to have use your stuff as influencers or partners. I call it the WIIFT theory, I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it to you before, but like what’s in it for them. Everyone’s life is selfish. So you really have to kind of place it for the other person, like what is in it for them.

So, when I reached out to you or when I reached out to Tim or Eric Ries or Andrew Chen or any of these people that I have relationships with, I had them on a list of my 100 and I went one by one and I’m like, “Hey, we’ll set it up.” They’re like, “Hey, I’m busy though.” “All right, we’ll set it up for you.” “All right, but does it cost money?” “Yeah, no worries, I’ll give it to you free.”

Basically, you have to remove the objections. So, for like Highlighter, updating it we’re like, “Well, this isn’t really that important.” We just did it as like let’s get it going to build stuff. But then as we got to our serious thing, which is the email collection list builder, we’re like, “Okay, what are the objections of why people aren’t using it?” And then we’ll just keep answering those objections.”

Andrew: I see. So you’re fixing those objections one at a time, but once you start to see objections pop up often, you find a way to integrate the solution to the software.

Noah: Exactly. I think one thing we did, but it took us a year and a half, was you have to understand–this was a mistake we made. I think we should have had a tighter customer initially, meaning we make email collection tools for bloggers. We make email collection tools for ecommerce. We make email collection tools for like Hispanic websites.

I think that would have made us a lot more successful and we actually would have been a lot larger than we are today is we were narrow in our customer base. We kind of made it, I would say, accidentally a little too broad, which has some good sides, but I think marketing, customer focus, pricing, everything would have been tighter if we actually chose any customer early on very specifically.

Andrew: I’ve heard that ConvertKit and Drip, Drip.co, started at the same time roughly and the reason that ConvertKit just took off is that they focused on bloggers, where Drip was the email tool for lots of different people.

Noah: Yeah. There are a lot of examples where like the more narrow you go, the more successful you are. So that’s something that we’ve had to do it kind of like as we’re running the race. So we realize super large enterprises we don’t serve well because we’re not going to do custom stuff.

Then the small guys, the people starting out, we have a free product and that’s pretty much what we can give them and then it’s like who do we really focus on and it’s the kind of SMBs, the mid-level customers, specifically like ecommerce or info marketers, people who actually value who are on their email list and have a real business. That’s where we’re like, “Okay, cool.”

Andrew: When you take an early version out to Tim Ferriss–and you know that he wants good stuff on his site, that he really is in some ways a perfectionist.

Noah: He is. Yeah.

Andrew: And you take your first version, aren’t you worried maybe it’s not ready, maybe he’s not right for it, maybe I should wait? Why do you go to him so fast?

Noah: I don’t go to just him right away, but someone like him or you know who’s very–he’s got a lot of opinions and they’re generally pretty helpful is like Michael Stelzner from Social Media Examiner. We got him early on Highlighter and then on the share bar for Sumo.com, and he would always have opinions. It actually just helped us keep making the product better.

Then the other thing it really helps us do is it helps us prioritize. We’re like, “Hey, actually, that’s not as important right now and here’s why. We’re working on this instead.” So it was great to get that kind of early feedback. I just think you can plan things at home, but it takes a lot longer versus like getting out and doing really faster, rapid iteration.

Andrew: Do you do any customer development, calls with customers beforehand or emails?

Noah: We’ve done a lot of it, and generally I don’t find it that helpful. I kind of know–we can see in data what things people are using and not using and then we kind of have an understanding of what we think they need and that seems to be working a lot better for us.

Andrew: Do you have a way to look at data and understand what pain or what problems a website has so you guys can create a solution for it?

Noah: No one cares about a website. I said it. No one cares about a website. No one cares about us. What they care about is their own life and how to make their business better. So what I really try to understand when I’m talking–I do talk to customers. I like hearing–my favorite stories are when someone’s like, “Hey, I have this business. I put it on Sumo.com and now my business is bigger.” I’m like, “That’s awesome.”

What I try to understand is like, “What are people really trying to accomplish and can we genuinely help them?” I went to talk to someone today about Invisalign. They’re like, “We just don’t think you’re good for it.” One, I actually did want it more, but two, I appreciated that they said, “Yeah, you’re not good for this.”

Andrew: That’s the braces?

Noah: Just my bottom teeth. It’s not the point the story. The point of the story is like I do think it’s helpful to have customers on real-time chat, so Slack or Skype or GTalk, to get quick feedback. I think sometimes you can get sidetracked and go in like dark holes if you just do customer development all day long. I think make a product for yourself, have a small customer board you trust, you trust their opinions on and then work on it from that.

Andrew: You mentioned you fast forward through the ads, and I should say there’s a faster way to fast forward. If you have a headset in and you’re using Overcast, you can just double-click and it will skip 30 seconds. You can also tell Siri, but I forget what the code was to tell Siri to skip 30 seconds. So I’ll say that to anyone who’s listening. But I want to make this ad so good they wouldn’t want to fast forward.

My advertiser is a company called Toptal. They have these top developers. Let me ask you this, Noah, if you wanted to build a new product right now and I gave you one Toptal developer, one of the best of the best, what would you have that Toptal developer create?

Noah: I would have them–well, for Sumo.com, we need DevOps help, so I’d have them do that. I’m not sure if they do that. For my personal stuff, we bought a Chrome extension to help for marketing. So I’d have them update the Chrome extension.

Andrew: What’s the Chrome extension?

Noah: It’s called Leoh.io. It’s a personal dashboard for your Chrome. So if you’re using Google Chrome, you can install it and it makes it like a really nice productivity dashboard for you to get shit done.

Andrew: Got it.

Noah: It’s actually been a pain in my ass to find a developer that I can count on to build this up. It would be nice if someone through Toptal is reliable.

Andrew: Perfect. That’s the thing about Toptal. One of the things they do is they spend a lot of time making sure they get the best of the best developers. 97 out of 100 people they screen end up getting turned down. The top three percent make it in their network. If you had an idea like this or a need like this, in fact even bring your DevOps need to them, you go to Toptal.com/Mixergy, you schedule a phone call with one of their matchers.

The matcher understands your problem, lets you know often, “You know what? It’s not a good fit.” Many of my listeners have actually been turned down and they complained to me. But I think ultimately you’d rather not pay than pay and find out that it’s not a good fit. If it is a good fit, they introduce you to the right developer. That person can work on a project basis, on a part-time ongoing basis, on a full-time basis and so on.

If you’re out there listening to me or frankly if you’re just in here listening to me and you want to start up with Toptal. It’s created by a long-time Mixergy fan and so he’s giving Mixergy listeners 80 hours of Toptal developer credit when they pay for their first 80 hours. That’s in addition to a no risk trial of up to two weeks. You’ve got nothing to lose.

Go to Toptal.com/Mixergy, top as in top of the mountain, tal as in talent. There’s a reason why they’ve been advertising for about two years now. Mixergy people keep getting results from them. And frankly, if you ever get a bad result from any of my sponsors, I want to know about it. I’m Andrew@Mixergy.com. I’m not just taking their money. I want to make sure they do right by you guys. So, complain away, Andrew@Mixergy.com.

Noah: That was a great ad. That was a great ad.

Andrew: You like that one, right?

Noah: Can I give you a suggestion?

Andrew: Yeah.

Noah: So I liked, one, that you said a lot of Mixergy people have been buying it, because I’m like, “Oh, others have bought it. That’s good.” The other thing I would have hoped for, I like that you identified a problem for me like, “Noah, what are you building that you need help with?” The third thing that would have actually closed it really well because I’m like, “I need to check out this Toptal thing.”

You should just give me an example of something they’ve done for you that I can relate to, like, “Hey guys, you ever been working on a software project or you ever need a WordPress update and you have to find someone and you’re texting your cousin who said he was a CS major in 1994? These guys have found the best people all over the world. They’ve already screened them. They actually solved this problem for me. If you ever have a problem like this or something similar, they’re going to be able to do it for you.” I would be like, “Okay. I believe it.”

Andrew: Yeah. I’ve done that a bunch and I feel like repeating my example is the best, but also they’ve heard it so much that I shouldn’t do it again. I find that the best feedback for the ads comes when the guest comes up with a need for it and I realize I haven’t done that approach in a while.

Noah: Good. That’s a good one.

Andrew: I like it. I like that you were writing them down or at least thinking of calling them. All right. You built out the first thing. My sense was that one of the smartest things you did was have that little tab come up so that when I go to my own site, I see a tab come up that makes it easy for me to log in to Sumo to this set of tools. Also when I go to someone else’s site, I identified that they were using Sumo and I could click and become a customer. Was that part of the plan?

Noah: No. It actually, that tab was kind of annoying. We only did it so you could easily log in to your site. It became a big confusion thing because people were like, “I don’t know how to log in to Sumo.” We made it so that with Sumo.com, you could actually do any of the changes real time on your site versus if you think about most software, you have to go to someone else’s site to make a change and then come back, refresh and see how it looks.

So the blue tab was more to make it convenient. We do get around 30% of our new customers and new users come through seeing the powered by stuff. So powered by Sumo.com generally drives around 20% to 30% of our people.

Andrew: Meaning I see a pop-up on someone’s site and I think, “How the hell did they do that?” Oh, powered by Sumo and I get to click and go over.

Noah: I’ve been kind of on this movie kick, where like I think about why do good products work and why do good products more importantly spread. So why does like a podcast episode like How I Built This or Noah Kagan Presents or certain episodes of Mixergy get more popular, it’s board game they’re a better episode. It’s a more interesting guest. It’s a more unique angle. So the more we can make a better product for the right customer, the more that’s going to spread.

So my movie thought was like I watched “Get Out” last night. I don’t know if you’ve seen it. If you like scary movies, it’s a great movie. I was like, “Why do I want to tell people about this?” Because it’s great. That’s kind of true for different business products. With Sumo.com, if someone has great success with it–great success, Borat–they’re going to tell other people. I think sometimes people spend more time on marketing then they do making sure they have the right product and the product is actually working effectively and then the marketing becomes very easy.

Andrew: How do you know you have the right product? What did you do to improve the product so that it got to the place where people want to talk about it?

Noah: I think two things are important. Number one is focusing on the essentials, meaning that like of all the things you have, what is the actual thing people really want? Here’s a quick challenge for people listening–this is one of my favorite ones–go on your phone and you have all these apps, like what app have you not used in six months?

Andrew: On my home screen none, but if I go to the second page and so on, a ton. Why do you ask?

Noah: Let’s remove one.

Andrew: Oh, an easy one for me–well. . .

Noah: Just do that one. Which one were you hesitating on?

Andrew: I was going to say Chipotle, but. . .

Noah: Just do it right now.

Andrew: But if I ever need Chipotle–

Noah: You can just download it.

Andrew: I hate that stupid line.

Noah: Here’s my point. The more that you can remove Chipotle–I love Chipotle too–but the more you can remove the apps you don’t do, the more you focus on the ones you want and then anything else you add in will be like, “I really value this.” It will give you more attention to the right ones–I removed all my social apps because I found it distracting. I removed like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter because I got nothing out of it.

The same thing goes for your business and the same thing goes for your blog. I’ve been on this focus on the essentials like on a hardcore kick. So how do you make sure some things people want–focus on the things they’re really wanting and really using and remove things they don’t really use.

Andrew: What’s one thing you removed from the product in the beginning that might have been hard if you weren’t disciplined about the essentials?

Noah: We’ve removed two apps that guys have spent their life building. They spent six months of their life building it. One was a discover app, which was kind of a link exchange and one was a buy app that helped people buy things on websites. This is the same thing happening through our business.

What is really working? How do you more of it? What’s not working and kill it or remove it completely. We removed those apps so we could focus. We went and looked at what’s the app everyone is using? It was email. People want to grow their email list. So it was like all right, let’s focus on that one and make that top of class.

Andrew: I see.

Noah: Instead, I think most people what they do is they keep all the apps on their phone. Same thing with their wardrobe. I just gave away clothes to Goodwill this morning. I only wear about like a third of my clothes. So anything I haven’t worn over six months, I put it on the floor, I let it marinate there for a day and then I’m just like set it free.

Andrew: You know what I did for that, by the way? I hate how disorganized my closet got and I’m an organized person. I hired someone from TaskRabbit who’s a closet organizer for like $50 an hour, inside of two hours, this woman was a machine. She was ready to toss things out. If there was like an, “If,” or, “But,” or, “Why do you want it?” she said, “Just throw it out. You’ll be okay.” I threw the freaking stuff out. I ended up with just enough shirts to wear one each day of the week and not have to have them washed.

Noah: I love that.

Andrew: Totally fine and then I started buying a little bit more. But now the closet is organized. I even had her go through the drawer that had all the cash, which was kind of weird. I keep cash, or I did at the time, it’s kind of weird. But it helps.

Noah: Okay. So that’s interesting. So she got rid of a lot of stuff. She left the essentials and then how did you feel about that?

Andrew: I felt great.

Noah: So I think that’s kind of a point that I’ve realized. This has been a big kick of mine for the past six months for literally every aspect of life–for your relationships, for your closets, for your phone and for your business.

Even for your Mixergy episodes, if you want to grow this show, take all the episodes, which ones are the most popular? Let me try to figure out how I can do more of these types of episodes. Maybe it’s a female guest, maybe it’s international guests, maybe you did a certain type of episode, like a story one versus interview one. Then the ones that haven’t worked as well stop doing.

So, with my show, with Noah Kagan Presents, I’ve been doing a variety of episodes, so like book reports, case studies, some interviews, some just like personal–

Andrew: I noticed that. I was trying to figure out what you were trying to do with that, why go all over the place like that?

Noah: They’re all about business and they’re all about personal improvement. What I’ve realized is that I’m not sure what my unique angle will be right away. I basically chose four things–personal, business, case studies, book reports, and interviews. I was like let me see which ones are the most popular and then I’ll focus on those and remove everything else.

Andrew: It looks like the most popular right now is the SEO case study with Brian Dean.

Noah: That was one of the more recent ones. He actually had a great tip in there, which was remove all the blog posts that get no traffic. I actually spent two days removing about 80% of the blog posts I’ve written the past 15 years on OkDork.

Andrew: Interesting.

Noah: What that does is that it helps you improve the quality of the ones that are there and then Google actually gives those better ranking because it’s like, “These are really good ones, low bounce rates.” The other thing I think of conceptually for all the stuff we’re talking about, how to make Sumo.com better and our website, our podcasts, I think of it like a restaurant because everyone eats, so it’s easy to understand it.

When you go to a restaurant, if you have like a bad dish, it kind of like taints the rest of the meal, in my opinion. You’re like, “This is great but that sucked.” So compare that to a restaurant where you go like, “I pretty much always have a great time there.” I go to True Food Kitchen downstairs here where I live in Austin or Taco Deli. Man, I know it’s going to pretty good no matter what I have.

I think the same thing goes for your blog, for your podcast or for your software or for your services, like are they always consistently going to have a good time? Remove the ones that you’re like, “They don’t really like this one. They’re not really using this one.”

Andrew: Let me go a little more rapid fire here. I understand why you would call the collection of apps at Sumo. I understand essentialism like that. What I’m curious about is how do you know what apps to add? How do you know what extra tools to add to the Sumo collection?

Noah: I think that’s one of my strengths and weaknesses where I think the next new thing is really going to fix us. That’s why we’ve decided not to add new things and really just improve the things that are working. So it’s enabling the people that are there to say, “All right, how do we make these the best in class?” Like Chad, who is our mutual friend, it’s like, “Chad, this stuff is already working.”

I think this is true for everyone’s business out there. How do you 2x your existing business if you couldn’t do anything new. People, actually, if they limited themselves to, “I can’t do anything new. I have this business. How do I 2x it?” They would actually come up with really creative solutions. Chad on the team has creative solutions that we should be able to launch and talk about in the next month or so.

Andrew: Okay. What about this for promotion–what did you do that worked for getting those Sumo bars and Sumo email collection and all those other apps on people’s sites?

Noah: The things that have worked, it wasn’t advertising. Advertising has never worked for Sumo. What did work is direct outreach. So like hitting up you, hitting up Tim Ferriss, hitting up Andrew Chen and setting it up for them, like actually doing all the work.

Andrew: Give me a username and password, I’ll put it up.

Noah: Give me your WordPress FTP login and I’ll handle whatever it is based on your type of site. But if it’s WordPress, we’ll go and install the plugin and optimize it for them. The free thing really helped. Some partnerships, like we got AppSumo to promote it. Obviously we know them really well. That’s our company. Some things did not work. So ads have not worked whatsoever.

Affiliate has been hit or miss. I would say that hasn’t really worked. Webinars have worked really, really well for us, mostly for people who already are using it, not for like new audiences. Directories, so like Shopify directory, I don’t think people are thinking about directories as marketing channels, but that’s actually been a huge channel. So go to Shopify and those people are all running businesses. Get them to use their services.

Andrew: Okay. All right. Let’s go into the podcast. Why did you start a podcast?

Noah: I have a lot of–I had lunch today with this real estate developer and it was just so damn interesting and I was really–like the whole time I spent thinking, “I should record this.” I feel like that in general a lot, where I’m meeting all these interesting people or I’m doing things that I find interesting. One I want to document and two, I think other people would really appreciate hearing these things.

I had lunch with the founder of 1-800 Contacts. I was such a damn good lunch, it like changed my life. So, I went home and recorded what I learned about it and then I put it out today. I think coming back to what we were originally talking about, doing new things versus doing existing things, I’ve always liked promoting things. I’ve always liked creating content and promoting it.

I’ve come back to doing that, so sharing people’s stories, promoting stuff I’m making or promoting stuff that other people are making. That’s really why I’ve come back to doing the podcast and updating my blog and doing the YouTube.

Andrew: The thing I told you–you and I talked about podcasting like two years ago in Napa where you considered it and I remember saying to you it stinks in that the ads aren’t trackable, like how many people have already signed up for Acuity Scheduling and they still hear me talk about Acuity Scheduling, right? How many people are never going to hire developers because they are developers or I don’t know? They’re still hearing me do it.

Versus like Facebook, you can just hide an add you don’t want. Anywhere else, it’s so much smarter. This is the dumbest type of ad. The only benefit of podcast ads is you get the personality. There’s nothing like having me in someone’s head. There’s nothing like you being in their head for an hour. It’s such a personal connection.

Noah: Just one thing I want to add, we created this Monthly1k and it was like how we built AppSumo. Here’s one of the most surprising things about marketing this course. We would email AppSumo every month about the course and literally 12 months later, someone from the list would buy it. I’m like, “What have you been doing for 12 months? I’ve emailed every month.” I think it’s kind of this interesting message for a lot of business owners out there. Sometimes you have to keep repeating yourself. If you tell your story and frankly, Andrew, that story works, keep telling your story. So, with Monthly1k, yeah, we kept emailing about it through AppSumo and eventually still people were buying.

Andrew: That shocks me, by the way. I’ve actually told Toptal, “Don’t do every day.” Someone heard yesterday’s podcast, now they’re hearing today. People listen every day.

Noah: Do it every day.

Andrew: Why not just give it a break? I’ll sell less to you, but we’ll have a spot. They don’t want to do that. Their numbers are showing it works, but I don’t get why it even works.

Noah: We can discuss the psychology of it, but I’ve had a similar experience. If you find something that works, don’t just do the same of it, do more of it until it stops working. We used to buy ads on SitePoint. I’ll give you an example of what didn’t work and I just killed it completely. On SitePoint, we bought ads and I bought it once a month and I thought same as you, “I don’t want to bug people. Once a month is enough.” It sounds like an old Jewish person, “Ah, one is enough. It’s good, you’re fine.”
So I went to like–then Andrew Chen, one of my best friend and advisors is like, “Do twice a month. If twice a month works, do weekly. If weekly works, do daily.” I was like, “Why not?” I think what you don’t realize by promotion is like we assume everyone sees everything, when in reality, most ads or promotions get like one percent out of everybody. Like a good Facebook ad, people are excited when they get two percent of people clicking.

I don’t think you realize that like 98% of people don’t do anything and you’re excited about it. I think generally it’s like do something, if it’s working, keep doing more of it until it stops. Sponsoring your podcast, I gave whatever, $10,000 or some amount, I’m not sure.

Andrew: For three ads.

Noah: Yeah, I think around $5,000. The sponsorship didn’t work. It actually drove I think like 50 sign-ups because I had an incentive. I tried it on yours and Pat Flynn’s. It was good. I learned that like–

Andrew: Did Pat Flynn’s work?

Noah: No, about the same response rate.

Andrew: I’m shocked because people tell me that the best way for them to grow their podcasts is to do interviews on other podcasts, such a natural fit. So I would have thought that ads would do more than 50. We only did two out of three. I’m gun shy about running the third ad for you. I wanted to talk to you before we did it. I don’t know why.

Noah: You should just ask your audience what would make a fun ad and then do that.

Andrew: What would make a fun ad for Noah Kagan Presents? I’m asking, guys. Tell me, Andrew@Mixergy.

Noah: Or leave it in the comments. I’d love for that. Shit, that would be awesome. And then just run the ad based on whatever they tell you to do. To my point, I did those ads and they did not work. So then I’m like I made a list–the article should come out in Sumo.com sometime this month about how I did the promotion to the show. What did work was being interviewed on other shows but not sponsoring them or sponsoring to get to know the person.

Andrew: And then once you get to know the person, what’s the benefit? Then you get an interview?

Noah: They’ll generally ask for it or you can say, “Is there a type of show. . .?” You suggest something specifically that you think would be valuable for your audience based on their past shows. The other thing that’s worked is I guess I didn’t realize how much you should be promoting something through this. On my signature, I update my signature so it’s like, “PS, did you hear this?” And then it’s OkDork.com/podcast.

Literally, every day someone’s like, “Oh, I haven’t heard it yet. I’ll go check it out. Thanks.” I’m like, “Oh yeah, it’s my signature. I forgot about that.” That’s my favorite marketing, like set it and forget it marketing. So advertising, set it and forget it, mostly. Email signature, set it and forget it.

Andrew: Did that work, the email signature?

Noah: Dude, it kills it. It doesn’t grow it like insanely fast. But it continues to like pay dividends without me having to think about it.

Andrew: I like the way you do it, by the way. It doesn’t look like an email signature. It just looks like an addition to what you just said to me. It’s not until I get the second email that I say, “Oh yeah, that’s a sig.”

Noah: I think that’s one thing in marketing and business I’ve become better at over the years. I remember at a Google interview I didn’t do this well. It’s how do you take advantage of your existing assets to do something effectively? So how do I take advantage of the OkDork.com traffic or my OkDork.com mailing list or YouTube or any of this to accomplish my goal? My goal is 100,000 podcast downloads an episode. It’s like how do I use and leverage what I already have access to versus new things so that I can accomplish my goal?

Andrew: So OkDork, a post on there worked. OkDork is your personal blog.

Noah: I actually used Sumo. This has been a really helpful one. I notice if you’re on a phone, you’re probably subscribed to a podcast. So, for mobile users, I actually have a smart bar at the top that’s like, “Hey, you’re on your phone. Go check out my podcast.” But it’s only for mobile people. So that’s an experiment I’m doing lately. I updated my auto-responder sequence, so it had more of my stuff for the podcast. I’m optimizing my thank you page. So it’s like you just gave me your email. If you like me and you’re interested in me, why don’t you go check out the podcast now.

Andrew: What else worked? By the way, if it looked like I got stalled there for a second it’s because I went to OkDork.com. I love the little touches you always add to your site. There’s a picture of you smiling at the camera crossing your arms, kind of a half-smile and underneath it, the caption says, “Noah Kagan doing his I know shit look.” Those little things always distract me more than the headline.

Noah: You know, I think you’ve got to have a little more phone. I have this stuff on my whiteboard. I have a whiteboard on my fridge. Every time something goes wrong, I want to learn from it. I write things to learn from. My word of the year is discomfort. Things I’ve learned in the past–this is just in the past month–is stop apologizing because I think we all apologize way too much for everything. We’re like, “Sorry. I’m sorry for doing well. I’m sorry for being successful,” whatever it is.

Choose you–I hung out with some people and I didn’t really want to hang out with them and I was like, “Noah, choose you. Keep choosing you. You’ll be fine.” One of the ones recently that I came up with based on some experience I had was have fun. Like I was doing a show. I was actually interviewing with Jordan from Art of Charm and I was like, “Man, this is a job. This is not something I’m enjoying.” No matter what job you’re doing out there, how do you have fun with it? How do you make it fun?” So, yeah, that’s kind of–like with my site, I want to have fun with it.

Andrew: You remember that time you said you went from 20 to 4 people. It was a tough time in the business. I remember watching you from the outside as you were going through that. I knew it was a tough situation. But then you went to–you went to Cuba or something around then. I’m wondering like don’t you at that point say, “I can’t go and have fun. I have to really get serious here. It’s important to get this right.”

Noah: Well, so I went to India. That was right before–that was actually before we let go of everyone.

Andrew: Okay.

Noah: So I went to India, kind of Steve Jobs white guy trip to understand myself. I think not enough people spend enough time in quiet. I think we spend so much time with a device that when the devices are on, our brain stops thinking. That gave me space to think about it.

I luckily had supportive people, Chad, Anton, Eric who were there that could help run the company. I think more people were there before I left. Then eventually you have space, you get clarity and then you make decisions. What’s funny, I think in general people know what they want, but we want to confuse ourselves, add dust or grime to like avoid maybe the hard thing, which is what we really want.

Andrew: What do you really want?

Noah: What I really want now is to create content.

Andrew: Create content?

Noah: Yeah. There are two things I want. I want to create content. I’ve been loving creating content. It’s been really fun. Then secondly, I want Sumo to get to a place where it’s invaluable. I want Chad and the team there and I want to be a part of it. We make a product that every small business owner online is like, “Holy shit, how did I live without this?” I think in the next few months, there are some bets we have that I think are like, “Wow, holy shit. How could someone run a website without using Sumo?”

Andrew: All right. I can see that. The podcast is Noah Kagan Presents. It’s at OkDork.com/podcast. Is there an episode you think someone should go check out first?

Noah: The one people really liked was the Jim Rohn episode. So there was an amazing quote–I basically read his book and just kind of dissected it. He had this like amazing quote which was, “Don’t wish life were easier, wish you were better.”

Andrew: Okay.

Noah: Every episode there’s been like this one nugget of gold to just keep taking away. Or the David Kadavy episode, he was telling me how he listens to his episodes like four or five times. I think historically I’ve been a little bit of a novelty seeker, something we talked about earlier. He’s like, “Oh yeah, dude. It’s the only way you get better.” When you write an email or you write an essay, you keep editing or keep reading it and writing it.

Andrew: It says keep listening to your episodes.

Noah: Well, keep doing anything that you want to be a master of. You have to just repeat yourself. Now I listen to all my episodes a bunch of times. It helps me really improve. I think in the past, I would literally record one episode and I’d be like, “That’s done.”

Andrew: I was talking to Shep Gordon before I interviewed him. Do you know that guy?

Noah: Shep Gordon is the man.

Andrew: I love him. He said he just can’t get to listen to his own podcast and there’s a challenge–not his own podcast, his own audio recording of his book. It’s so tough to hear yourself. We talked about this old TV show, “Larry Sanders,” where the big joke was every night Larry Sanders would go home, crawl in bed and watch himself on TV. They’re kind of making fun of how these talk show hosts are so self-absorbed they want to watch only themselves. The point of that was that’s the way that he got better was by watching himself, by caring enough about himself to keep watching it. That’s been making me rethink listening to my own episodes.

Noah: You’ve got to. I would say of all the things in the podcast, that’s been actually–I think that actually applies for a lot of different things, your writing, like going back and reading your old articles, looking at your own products, your own services. That’s the only way you’re going to improve it.

Here’s a simple one, a challenge everyone can do–go get on the scale. Once a day, go on the scale. Why? Because you have to face something. The more that you can face small things and you build that habit on small things–here’s another one. Go look at your face in the mirror every day. It sucks. I don’t know. Maybe that’s my face. I don’t think I have a horrible face, but to look at yourself, you’re like, “Ugh, what’s up?”

The more you can practice that habit of like facing yourself, the more you can love yourself, the more that you can improve yourself. But I don’t think it’s possible–I’m a huge fan. This is just from talking with David. I don’t think you can improve yourself unless you review the work you’ve been doing and understand how you can be better.

I did this episode with the founder of Alinea, one of my favorite restaurants in the world. I highly recommend it. I’m listening to it again and I was like, “Shit, man. That sound quality really is horrible.” I was like, “Ugh, I should get better at that.” So then I bought new microphones to make the sound recording better. I did this other interview and I hadn’t prepared enough. I went to Andrew Chen and I asked him shitting questions. Andrew like ragged on me. He’s like, “Next time don’t ever fucking interview me without being better prepared.”

I was like I should just spend more time preparing on things. I prepare more now for all my shows. The shows are significantly better. It’s like, “Surprise.” So, yeah, I think in all aspects of life, the more you can review what your previous work is, the better that your quality of work in the future is going to be.

Andrew: You’re sounding a lot better now than you did when we started. What was going on? You said you didn’t have a good day today. What was going on?

Noah: I started taking some medicine and I think it’s affecting my overall mood. I think in general, in the morning I do self-diagnostics–maybe it’s my hipster word for it. I basically try to reflect on what’s good, what’s bad, how do I want my day to be? I was like, “Man, I’m feeling flat and tired and blurry vision and some other things.” I was like, “What’s changed?” I’ve been in a great mood. I think the more that you, as we talked about earlier, remove the non-essentials in life–like your breakfast, remove everything except the things you really want to eat for breakfasts, throw things out of the fridge that you don’t really use that have been there too long and only have the essentials. You’ll feel freer and feel happier.

So I’ve done a lot of that. And work, I’ve removed things I don’t want to be working on and I focus on the things I like. I find people who want to do those things and they love doing that. I try to understand the root of what’s changed. So, yeah, I feel sad and kind of flat. The only thing changed is I started new medicine. I’m like, “Let me experiment going off that medicine.”

Andrew: What’s the medicine for?

Noah: It’s for low testosterone. That’s the new fad, I guess, with guys is to have small testicles. It’s called Clomid and it’s supposed to increase testosterone and sperm count. I want to make sure my sperm count–I’m 35, so I’m concerned about my sperm. They’re my good buddies. They’re my little soldiers.

Andrew: I know women who are about 35 who are having their eggs frozen. I don’t think we think about it as much.

Noah: I was concerned about it. I wanted to make sure my little guys can still fight. Clomid was supposed to help with that. It’s supposed to increase testosterone, increase sperm count. I’ll tell you, I just feel like shit and I felt a lot better without it. I stopped doing it today. So a few more days, it should feel better. I think the point though in general, like whether you’re doing pills or not pills or people or not people, food, activities, just kind of understand what things improve your life and try to spend more time doing them.

Andrew: Are you going to feel bad that you just talked about low testosterone here?

Noah: No. I think at the end of the day it’s taboo and the more people can talk about it, the more that it will become normal and the more we can get solutions to this and then like it’s not as awkward for people to bring up. Is it a little weird? Yeah. People will be like, “Oh, you’ve got small balls?” No. Maybe they are small. I don’t really know. I haven’t seen a lot of guys’ balls.

But I’m happy to share things more people are uncomfortable about in the sense of one, better discussions. When I meet people, I’ll generally be like, “I’m not feeling well.” I won’t say it’s because I’m taking testosterone stuff, but I’ll be specific. I do this in sales. I do this in business. I do this in personal. I find it attracts the right people and enables me to have deeper conversations.

Andrew: Yeah.

Noah: And ultimately deeper relationships. Now you’re like, “Oh wow, Noah’s actually kind of like–that was pretty raw.”

Andrew: I know. That actually was something I was regretting. You happen to be in San Francisco. We went for a run together. We had such a good time talking about everything and I realized, “Dammit.” Sachit texted me afterwards and said, “Did you talk about the ads?” I was like, “Dammit, no, I was talking about running and relationships and all that stuff.” So I get it. It’s fun to talk to you, and I appreciate the openness because it does make for a more meaningful conversation.

I also like hearing your–one of the things I like about the way you think about business even in private is you have frameworks. You think in a very organized way. So that allows your ideas to be actionable, allows them to be understood by other people. I found good leaders generally have frameworks, have ways of explaining what they’re doing because they lead other people. They need to lead with clear communication.

Noah: I think the thing that’s happened with me as I’ve matured over the years is I’m not as much into the novelty. I still love it. I still like doing new things. That’s what I’ve been doing lately with the blog and as I’m exploring new stuff. But I’ve appreciated the old stuff, like reviewing my old work.

The other thing about myself I think others can benefit from or learn from my mistakes and experiences is I do things right away. That moment of hesitation, I try to go into it and say, “I’m not going to hesitate, let me just do it,” but then improve it. I think that’s the part that people miss out on is they don’t actually iterate and they don’t improve from feedback.

So, specifically, I’m doing this podcast stuff and I think more people need to be doing content multiplication, meaning you do this interview, right? Then you can turn into a great article and a great guest post and a great YouTube video and great social media stuff, but you kind of just put it out and have a shitty post and some transcript. But that actually has–we have some interesting content in here. I started doing it. I was like, “This is cool. It’s multiplying the content we’re doing. It’s getting us more leverage.” But it’s unorganized.

It’s not necessarily–is it really helping us? I’m like, “Let’s put together a system or checklist to make sure we can streamline this whole process.” The audio editor knows when to do it. The writer knows when to do it. The operations guy knows when to do it. The email guy knows when to do it. It was kind of like go do something and then figure out a way to make it consistent and repeatable. So systems and checklists enable you to be able to do that.

Andrew: Makes sense. All right. What do you use for your checklists?

Noah: Google doc, Google spreadsheet. I like spreadsheets because they’re simple. I feel like everyone wants to solve, like use complicated software to solve things, when it’s generally like Occam’s razor, like the simplest answer is the truth or the simplest answer is the right one.

Andrew: All right. Cool. It is Noah Kagan Presents. That is at OkDork.com/podcast. If you, Noah Kagan, want to have that Chrome extension built for you or improved for you, you should go check out Toptal.com/Mixergy. And if anyone on your team wants to get on your calls, I’m telling you–Anton is a guy who talks to software makers on your team?

Noah: I’m going to check it out.

Andrew: I am telling you, he’s going to love this. He’ll get on calls with people so much faster, AcuityScheduling.com/Mixergy.

Noah: I’ve got to rock, Andrew. I actually had a 4:00.

Andrew: Bye-bye, everyone.

Noah: Thanks, man.


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