Andrew: hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses. I think this is the first guest who’s, um, who put together this exhaustive list of all the different business ideas that he had hoping that he could find the one big winner that he can run with.
How many on this list? What is it like? 30.
Ben: Uh, probably more like 40 or 50 something in there. It was an ongoing list that ran for years.
Andrew: And the reason is because there you were looking for an idea that you would fall in love with, is that what it is?
Ben: Um, so I was a programmer and for a while, programming was like totally engrossing to me. And I was like, this is everything. I love it. I just want to get really good at this. And. After some number of years of that, I got interested and the business side as well, where I was like, wow, if, if we’re going to use this interesting, and there’s a way to like, get money to come out of programming, like in a, like a SAS app or something like that, that seems like interesting squared.
And so I was like, kind of always had this idea that like somewhere at the intersection of programming and revenue was gonna be something cool for me, longterm.
Andrew: I know what you mean. I think that when I was in the greeting card business, some of my friends asked me, do you care that much about greeting cards? I said, no, I hate getting them. I hate, I like sending them. I don’t like getting them, but I definitely don’t love the greeting card. Business. I love the business that happens to be greeting cards because the whole idea of what do I need to do to increase the virality, what I need to do to increase ads without pissing people off.
How do I make this? Something that, that people could be proud to be associated with that mental calculation? The puzzle. That was the exciting part. Anyway. And that’s really one of the funnest parts about business. And if you get it right with a puzzle, you end up with seeing the puzzle for a little bit.
Maybe you take a picture, maybe you frame it, but you move on with your life. If you get business right, your whole life fricking changes. I mean, every part of it becomes a little bit better. It’s like I was a, what am I past? Guests invited me to a conference where people were microdosing. I go, all right, let me try.
Micro-dosing all you, people are business people. I really respect you guys. I’ll try it. It’s supposed to make everything a little brighter. It didn’t, it didn’t do Jack life was not a little brighter. You hit well with a business. Everything is a little brighter. Let’s be honest.
Ben: Businesses better than LSD.
Andrew: Yes, it is better than microdosing.
I would rather microdose on business. Alright. The person whose voice you heard is Ben Orenstein. He is the founder of Tupelo years ago. There was this app that allowed developers to see each other’s screen, to interact with the screen at the same time to talk to each other, do this thing. It was called Screenhero.
It had this fan base that was just rabid in the developer community. The thing gets bought out by Slack. And there was this little bit of hope that Slack was going to nurture it. But in the back of my head, I knew there’s no way this, this is way too geeky, way too small for Slack. They want something bigger that appeals to the masses and sure enough Slack killed it.
And the developers who loved it. Where we’re upset, but here’s the beauty of that business. If you’re a regular person, you’re upset, dude, go to Twitter, go to blog, go to complain on writing. God bless you. That’s your job in life. But if you’re a business person, your job, I wonder if I could fix that. Okay. I wonder if there’s an opportunity for me to actually jump in and do something about it.
And so Ben actually said, you know, I’m going to do it. And he launched Tupelo. And this thing is so much of what screen hero was to people plus that I assumed you were one of the creators of screen hero and you were just coming back at it, but you’re not. You’re a guy who just said, I think I can solve this problem.
You reached out to one of the creators it’s going in hero and you launch it. I’m talking way too much. Let me tell you, we’re going to talk about how you built this business. We’re going to see how far you’ve gone with it and we’re going to do it. Thanks to two phenomenal sponsors. The first brand new for me.
Well, not brand new, but it’s a fairly new sponsor for me. It’s LinkedIn. And I’m going to use the ad to try to convince Ben, to sign up to LinkedIn for a hundred dollars. Yeah. Free ads, free ads. Ben, you got to go with that. Linkedin.com/mixergy. I’m going to try, we’ll see how it works. Be honest with me if it doesn’t and for anyone out there who wants to start their own business or start a blog or start creating, go to hostgator.com/mixergy.
I’ll talk about those later. I’ve been yapping for two months. Let’s talk about you, how much revenue produced
Ben: We’re in the millions of annual revenue at this
Andrew: millions bootstrapped
Andrew: and you’ve grown since COVID or gone down.
Ben: Uh, grown hugely since COVID.
Andrew: I bet you have, did you take any of the money out of the business yet?
Ben: Oh yeah. We’ve been paying out profits for awhile now.
Andrew: What were you doing before this.
Ben: Uh, before this, uh, the main gig was working as a, uh, I was working at a company called FAPA originally as like a Ruby on rails consultant, like slinging code. And then I eventually ended up starting a small, um, program or training business inside thought bot where we basically teach people how to write better Ruby.
Andrew: Thought bot is a design and dev shop. Right? I would hire them to redo Mixergy or if I have an app idea, they could design it for me, creative for me manage it. Right. How’d you get into development.
Ben: Um, kind of the hard way I studied computer science, but was not a good student, so did not graduate. Uh, and. Uh, worked my way into the programming industry by starting off with like kind of a crappy programming gig that I really hated. And then slowly, slowly, just kind of like trying to get a better job and get a better job.
Um, learning Ruby and Ruby on rails on the side was like a thing that really led to a turning point where suddenly I jumped into this like industry and this, this, uh, programming niche that was really exploding. Uh, and then it’s been, it’s been really good since then.
Andrew: What’d you love about it. Do you have a memory of a time that was especially fun?
Ben: So yes, and this and that, this dovetails nicely. But, uh, so I got my first Ruby on rails job and it was a small team, just two people besides myself. And I spent so much time in the first like six months or so. Uh, pair programming with my boss. So at this point I had like done a fair amount on my own. And like I had like done like book learning and, and try to study up, but I didn’t really know the nuts and bolts and like the processes of like, how does like a professional developer work.
And so I sat next to my boss for months, like plugged in my own keyboard and like, just like we work together on things and. I learned how he did things and he taught me a million little things about how professional developers do things efficiently. And that was like a huge, like increase in my skill and in such a short time.
Andrew: Can you describe what pair programming is?
Ben: Yeah, totally. Uh, the broadest definition is just two programmers. Uh, looking at the same thing, like collaborating on some code, uh, so you can do it in person like I did here, or you can do it remotely through various tools.
Andrew: And I’ve interviewed companies where the way that they develop is they have two people writing code together, right there. There’s some companies, that’s how they work, which seems to me like you’re double your, you’re paying twice for the same job and neither person can get lost in the process because they have to keep talking it out.
But in practice, it doesn’t play out that way. Why not?
Ben: Um, because we’re not making widgets. So software is complicated. And one of the things, one of the ways to make software development slow down is to write not great code. And it’s harder to write not great code if you are pairing with somebody. So combining two heads, uh, makes the process means the code that you’re making is higher quality, which keeps development speed high.
And it also really helps the productivity. If I’m coding by myself, it’s so easy to like, get distracted, go off on Twitter. And then that’s kinda like the worst case. But even if I just get stuck on something like every programmer has had the experience of being completely blocked, not sure why the code doesn’t work for like a day and then the instant you have someone else look at it.
Someone’s like, Oh, this is the problem. And so when you pair, you really increase your speed.
Andrew: You know what? I’ve had similar experiences with writing where I’ll get stuck on something and someone on my team will say, let’s just do a zoom screen share and we’ll sit and. Just write it. And sometimes they’ll just tune out and then when they see I’m stuck, they come in or sometimes they’ll come in and they’ll write something bad and go, this is not at all what I was thinking of.
And that helps, but it does help when, when I say they tune out. Does that happen to programmers too? When it’s pair programming and one person’s going, does the other person just tune out and let them go?
Ben: Uh, that’s definitely one of the failure modes of pair programming. Uh, the, the goal is that you don’t do that, uh, but it can happen.
Andrew: You then, um, saw somebody do some screen casting.
Ben: Yeah. So this was like my, the first time I made money from like a stranger, like a stranger paid me money for the internet. It was actually through this. So, um, it used to be this, this wonderful company called PeepCode and they made educational screencasts for developers. And I was super inspired by them.
And then one day they came out with a screencast, which is like, how do we make screencasts? So I bought that and after watching it, I was like, I can totally do this. And I was like, I want to make a screencast and try to sell it and like be a mini peep code. So I
Andrew: interrupt, but the screen cast about what.
Ben: It was actually about VIM.
Are you familiar with him?
Andrew: It’s a, it’s a, what’s it called? It’s a way to, to code. It’s just a, like a note
Ben: a programmers, super nerdy programmer, text editor,
Ben: and I had just gotten obsessed with it and I loved it as a tool and it’s pretty complicated. Uh, really like, uh, can be a steep learning curve, a high skill ceiling, I would say more than a steep learning curve. Um, and so I was like, I, I feel like I have all this useful knowledge.
Let me make this first screencast about this. That’s what
Andrew: So this, so this would kind of be like, I’ve used notion a few times. There’s so many little obstacles. Like I can’t on my iPad or my iPhone copy a whole block, whole document because each section has its own block of tech. Right? Little things like that. You started off and you just say I’m giving up because I’m so used to Google docs, but I’ve obviously seen people use notion and go really far with it.
This would be the equivalent of somebody saying, I know notion as a way of editing. Yes. It took me a little bit of time to get used. I’ll just create a video for somebody who who’s brand new to it and coming maybe from a standard document, uh, app, like the note app, the Evernote app, or the Google doc, explain it.
And I’ll sell it for a few bucks. This was you saying, I know this app. I’ll explain it to new people.
Ben: It was actually a little different than that. That’s the right just, but I decided that I wanted to target a smaller niche than just people that are interested in VIM. And so my first screencast was called VIM for rails developers.
Andrew: Okay. Why did you want to go? So, so nichey, what were you thinking?
Ben: Because also, first of all, there was a fair amount of people that had made beginner focused, VIM content, like that’s. And I find that’s actually true for most educational things. Like there’s usually pretty good intro materials for most things that are fairly popular. It’s when you start to hit the intermediate level that it really thins out.
And so I was like, I, I. I have a lot to say here, I’ve done. I’ve invested a lot of my own time, leveling up my own set up here. And I think I can make a screencast that will mostly, mostly not appeal to people. Almost no one will want this, but the people that will want this will be pretty excited by it.
Andrew: That’s pretty smart business thinking that usually takes people a few failures to arrive at. How did you get to that?
Ben: I don’t know. Um, I’m not sure it might’ve just been luck.
Andrew: fair enough. And then you reached out to Peter Cooper. Who’s Peter Cooper. And what did you want from him?
Ben: Uh, uh, Peter Cooper, uh, runs, maybe ran. I’m sure this, I’m not sure of the status. Uh, there was, this is a really well as this Ruby newsletter called Ruby and side, and I think it was a weekly publication, just like interesting links for Ruby programmers. And I was having some success, um, selling the screencast.
I in sort of like naive ways. Like I just like email the link out to like the Boston Ruby group mailing list. I probably tweeted about it. Um, and, um, I emailed Peter and he eventually like convinced him to do a review of it and publish it in his newsletter.
Andrew: And he agreed to do it. And then.
Ben: And then he didn’t do it. So he was like, yep, happy to do it. No problem. And then he just kind of just like, didn’t happen. Um, and I was like, this really sucks. I really do want this. I think it’s worth one more email. And so I followed up with him one more time and he was super gracious about like, Oh, I’m so sorry.
I, I, I do remember. I agreed to that. Let’s let’s get, let’s get it done. Uh, so he did it, uh, the newsletter went out to thousands of people and I woke up to like hundreds of sale, like new sale notifications for my mystery guest.
Andrew: I heard your inbox was just so flooded. You can find regular messages.
Ben: Yeah, it was, I remember taking screenshots and be like, this is just, this is ridiculous.
Andrew: How much did you sell it for?
Ben: It was $9.
Andrew: How much did you make at that point?
Ben: Um, I feel like it got up somewhere around like 10 grand, something
Andrew: Wow. That’s significant
Ben: I mean it’s yeah, I got significant. Also the first one was like the one that blew my mind more than anything. Like the first time I got an email from like PayPal, I’m pretty sure it was through PayPal.
I got put up on a Shopify store or like a PayPal payment browser. And like, it was like someone that you don’t know, just paid you $9. And my heart started beating like so fast. I was like, I have like an adrenaline rush from this experience.
Andrew: You know, I think the one thing I want to underline from that is the persistence. I think a lot of people would have felt Peter were just being nice, but he really doesn’t want to do it and seen it as Peter making a decision that he doesn’t want to have you on, but maybe had a hard time saying it there’s, that, that happens to me sometimes with guests, somebody will, you know, who had happened with IMiD from mercury.
In Hayes app, he’s a phenomenal entrepreneur so much that he goes by his first name, but it’s been like 10 years since then I remembered his last name because he goes by him on everywhere. He just known him. I said yes to him. I forgot to follow up with him. It’s not that I don’t want to mot on Mixergy.
Obviously I do. He’s going to come with a ton of traffic and a ton of credibility. It’s just that I forgot. And I think a lot of people who make requests, who get a yes or maybe think I’m not. If there are no followup, it means that no. And I just, I wish that more people would follow up with me, especially if I say yes and not think that I understand that I’m human and I may make a mistake or maybe someone else on my team, I said, follow up.
And they thought a mod was somebody else. And my Rashad and suddenly a mater shod gets an email.
Ben: Yeah. I mean, I think a polite, second followup has gotten me results quite frequently. Like those there’s just a lot of times where something just kind of falls off people’s radar. And I don’t think I’ve ever gotten someone who was upset with me about like a single, Hey, can we still do this? And it’s, I would say 30 or 40% of the time.
It just unstick it. And then the thing happens.
Andrew: Yeah, that sounds about right. I think, yes. Male did some research on that because they, all they do is allow people to send these followup messages and track open rates, and they did some research. And I think it was the second email got more of a response in the first, but I think there’s, some people were overusing that technique.
God knows that my inbox is full of those people. Okay. So you were working with thought bot, you were teaching a thought bot and where you a screen hero user. And you used it for, for peer programming or for what?
Ben: Yeah. Yeah. I was using it for pair programming when I wasn’t like if someone was on a different floor or I was working remotely with somebody or working from home, something like that.
Andrew: I’m not a developer. So tell me if I’m missing out on what made this special it’s screen-sharing but the mouse, each mouse, from what I remember, it would have the person’s name on it. So we could both control a mouse or mouse on the screen. And it was, it was fast though. I have to say zoom is pretty fast for screen sharing.
What else am I, am I missing?
Ben: So those are the main things. So like latency is, is super important when you’re doing remote control. So if I’m just doing screen share to you, 300 millisecond delay and I’m showing you slides. It doesn’t matter at all. That will basically be imperceptible. If you are controlling. My machine 300 milliseconds is basically unbearable.
Uh, so, uh, screen hero went pretty nuts and like got their latency down really low, uh, while simultaneously not using a lot of system resources. And that combination for programmers when doing remote control in remote pair programming situations, uh, was really important.
Andrew: And it allowed for voice communication and it was basically free. I don’t know if they’ve been charged anything. Did they?
Ben: I never paid. I remember they eventually had paid plans, but I think shortly after the introduction of those, they, they required.
Andrew: Okay. So you had this list of projects, of business ideas. This was one of them. What’s, what’s another one that you either considered really strongly or you decided, um, or, yeah, what’s, what’s the second best. I want to get a sense of ideas on the list.
Ben: Let me pull it up.
Andrew: I’m going to read some of it while you look for it. Quality analysis for rails, app space, repetition for learn programming tools, space repetition is really helpful. I actually, I seen a lot of people come up with hacks for how to do space repetition. That’s where you learn something, then you learn something else, something else, something else you come back to the first thing.
And that’s what we’re talking about. Right?
Ben: That’s right. Yep.
Ben: still think that’s a, I still think that’s a decent idea, actually space repetition focused on programmers. Again, going back to that niching idea, but like, I do think there’s, there’s things that if you can have them immediately, recallable, uh, as a programmer, it’s more useful than having to go look up them in the docs.
Gary Bernhardt is doing something interesting in this. Uh, his thing is called execute program and I’m excited for the potential.
Andrew: Uh, what are your ideas is move people’s domains off of shitty registrar to a good one, uh, was actually is a business I’ve seen. I’ve worked with companies that do that. Um, Okay. What was this? What’s this whole thing. What’s trail mix. That comes up a lot.
Ben: Yeah. Um, trail mix is a journaling service, uh, that you write in via email. So every day you get an email from the thing and it asks you how your day was. You respond to the email. It takes that and turns into a journal entry. Um, and as part of it’s like a little, uh, uh, incentive to get you to open the email, it includes one of your old entries at random.
So it’s almost like a space repetition for your old entries.
Andrew: Got it. And so you saw that and you said, wait, they’ve gotta be other applications for trail mix.
Ben: Uh, I just, I, so I built trail mix with a friend of mine on a thing that we called Caucasian,
Andrew: Oh, you create a trail mix. Okay. Sorry. You built it on a, on a white
Ben: Uh, so we we’d had this idea called , which is, uh, we would go somewhere interesting. The first trip first trip was to Costa Rica and we would rent like an Airbnb and we would go do some touristy stuff, but we would spend most of our time, like writing code for fun and trail mix was like the first, uh, like little sass app that we, that came out of a, a Caucasian
Andrew: And this was Chris hunt that you did it with. You charge $3, three 99. Did it make money? It feels like it feels like the one thing that’s missing is some virality, some, some built in promotion. Am I right?
Ben: It’s yeah, it’s the opposite of viral. Uh, and that it’s completely private. Uh, no one will ever know you’re using it. Um, yeah, it was, it, it made some money. Um, it actually still probably kicks off like a hundred bucks a month or something like, it’s still going, it’s still, it’s still going concern technically.
Um, but like, I, I sort of, it was a really interesting training ground for like, what is it like to launch a product like a real recurring revenue, SAS app. Um, but I was not excited about like chasing down $4 a month for people. When I started doing like, what does this actually take to make real money? I was like, Oh, let’s take some sounds.
Sounds not that doable.
Andrew: Okay. All right, you are going to tell me what one of the other, almost winners were on that list.
Ben: Yeah. Um,
So SAS and a box rails kit was one of my it’s one of my sort of continuous I do actually. So here’s the thing, here’s the thing that it didn’t quite make it to the final list, but it’s like this problem that I still feel like I’m wrangling with Stripe is getting closer to eating all this up. So this might become non-valid, but there is, um, here’s the high level pitch pricing pages as a service.
The most important page on a staff app on your entire site is slash pricing. Right? But people mostly design bespoke versions of a pricing page and they mostly pick one set of prices when they like start the company and they don’t revisit it often enough. So there’s problems with their pricing and packaging.
And there’s also problems with just like how they’re laying out the grid. Is it beautiful? Is it understandable? Uh, does it make sense? Um, and so I think there’s an opportunity somehow in there to give seed control. Of your, like, my pitch would be like, give me 50% of the traffic to your slash pricing page and we’ll see what I can do.
And I’m going to check, I’m going to set your prices. I’m going to control your grids. I’m going to like control how many widgets do you get for whatever. And then we’ll see who, who makes more MRR at the end of the month.
Andrew: Oh, you know what I’ve seen people do that for landing pages, you know, the AB testing as a service. You’re right. I’ve never seen anyone do it for pricing pages because they’re afraid to touch the pricing. And you’re right. Pricing is dramatic, has a dramatic effect. And if you could collect people’s email addresses before you, before you showed them the pricing page, you have an ability to follow up with the people who didn’t buy because of the pricing or because of the offering and the different buckets.
That’s actually really an interesting idea. Okay. I see the way you were thinking. Okay. Screen hero was acquired and then they were shut down. And then there was this big outcry. I remember it on hacker news. Where did you see it? How did you experience it?
Ben: yeah, definitely hacker news. And, but also just like friends of mine, like I remember when it eventually shut down, it was like, okay, now what are you using? And no one had a good answer. Like all my, like sort of most tool sensitive friends that like have really high standards where they use, they had no, they’re like, I don’t know.
I just basically stopped the remote pairing now, I guess.
Andrew: Oh really? Wow. I would have thought that they’d go for zoom or some kind of screen sharing, but yeah, no, it’s too slow.
Ben: Yeah. I mean, I think this is also like way before zooms, heyday. I don’t think zoom was on the radar at this point. At least it wasn’t on my radar for sure.
Andrew: Um, alright, let me talk about my first sponsor and then we’ll get back into this. So my first sponsor is LinkedIn and I have to tell you before the interview started, I asked you if you had an experience with it, and you said that you had some challenges with, um, not with advertising on LinkedIn, which is what I’m promoting, promoting, but with LinkedIn.
And usually I tell my guests, then go for it. I actually tried to tell you not to, and I regret it because if I’m going to be open about my sponsor, I can’t do it by telling you to shut up about it. And like, let’s say only, you know, I have to, I have to respect my honesty more than respect that the money that comes from the sponsor.
Talk openly about your issues with LinkedIn. And then I’m going to try to persuade you to try this linkedin.com/mixergy.
Ben: Okay. Um, I would say the biggest thing for me is the quality of the cold messages I’m getting. Um, like some of them are honestly like, are comical. Like they’re like amazingly bad, like hilariously bad until like to the point where I’ve like shared them on Twitter to like, like this is, could there be a more generic and poorly targeted cold message on, on here?
Andrew: And they’re just using the, in the, in messaging feature within LinkedIn to send messages to strangers. Yeah, I have to say there’s a couple of issues I have with it. One of them is the messages that I get from people who clearly shouldn’t be messaging me and their copy pasting something really grammatically incorrect.
The other is at times it does feel a little bit too corporate for me, but I also know the super power of LinkedIn, which is the people tell you their positions. I looked at your pricing page, Ben. You guys have 25 bucks a month per user for the, for the regular team plan and for enterprise it’s $600 a year.
Right? So that’s twice as much. And you’re locking in a year yearly subscription for enterprise who is the enterprise decision maker.
Ben: Um, that’s a good question. Uh, Intro. So weirdly. So it’s, it’s, it’s very bottom up. So most people don’t like, we don’t go sell to a CTO and then the CTO goes, heck everyone, we’ve bought Tupelo. Now you’re gonna use that for remote pairing. Instead, developers sign up, they try it, they sell their manager on it.
It spreads within the organization by through invites. And then eventually they go, wow, we have 30 or 40 or 50 people on this. We should really move this to like the VP of engineering’s credit card rather than my budget. Uh, and then some, sometimes there’s a sales process at that point where they’re like, do we really want to spend this?
Okay. Who do we talk to? I need to have you talk to procurement and get you set up in the whatever system.
Andrew: I’m going to suggest, and I think this is going to come out throughout this interview. The reason that it comes bottom up is because you haven’t trained your top down muscle. Like you have really good connections with developers. Really good. Um, you’re simpatico with them. You are them, right, but you’re not the VP of engineering.
You’re not the CTO. You don’t live with them. And so you don’t know how to tap into them. I’m going to suggest that LinkedIn is a way for you to do that, that you could say, you know what, we’re not going to start with the CTO. We’re gonna start with the VP of engineering. We have a point of view on how care, uh, Coding works better when it’s done using an app that has low latency when it’s done remote.
What if we write an article about it and we go to LinkedIn and we just bump it up with a little bit of sponsorship with a little bit of sponsorship money. What if we know that most InMail in LinkedIn is really bad, but a VP of engineering who’s hiring, who’s dealing with developers might want to check their email and we’re going to write a really good InMail message and use the paid features of LinkedIn to send it out.
Or what if we just say, you know what? We have great landing pages that we’ve spent a long time on. We’re just going to buy text ads on LinkedIn. Any one of those things could really work for you now, risk your own money on it? I think yes, but maybe you’re not ready for it. If you go to linkedin.com/mixergy, they’re going to give you a hundred dollars to go a hundred dollar credit to go and try it.
And they know that there are many people like us. We’re not the, the geeky people who I’ve seen geek out on marketing on Facebook and Instagram and those people. I love them. We may not be that for LinkedIn, but if they could give us a hundred dollars to seed it, they believe that they could convince. So as to continue once we see the results.
So Ben, I’m going to suggest to you go to linkedin.com/mixer G to get the a hundred dollars and start targeting those people who are just a little bit above and frankly decide, you know what? We don’t want that. How about if you target developers at bigger companies pennies so that you can start in your comfort zone and have them the top bottom up?
What do you think of that?
Ben: I mean, it’s a pretty good pitch. We haven’t tried it. So I think I would be remiss to tell you no, that won’t work based on no data at all.
Andrew: All right. For anyone who’s listening to me, you can try it yourselves too. It’s completely free for a limited time. I know other podcasts are doing $50 credit and I think $50 is phenomenal. They are trying me out for the first time. And one of the things they’re going to discover is that I do allow my guests.
To go negative on the sponsor because I want the open conversation. And the other thing they’re going to discover is that my audience will respect that and go and take a, take them up on this. Especially since my audience knows, looking around that a hundred dollars is it’s actually a really good offer that they’re not making with every podcast or so go to linkedin.com/mixergy and sign up, take this while it’s still available to you.
Alright, you, one of the things that I love that you did was you went to one of the screen hero co-founders and you talk to him. No connection. And what did you learn?
Ben: So this was, I think, so at this point I had, we were probably 60% of the way to deciding, like, we should do this. Like we’re like, we were we’re at the, like, should we quit our jobs and start the business? And yeah, I would say we’re like maybe 50, 50% of the way there, maybe 60 and. I was like, how do we just get a little more sure about this?
And I realized that like I could, I found the Twitter accounts of some of the screener co founders. And I think I just picked one at random and DMD him and said, like, it was a, I was like, Hey, for us, like, I’m thinking, starting a thing. That’s kind of shaped like screen hero. Uh, is there any chance, like, you’d be willing to chat with me about this and like, just let me know if you think this is like a reasonable idea.
And he was like, so nice about it. He’s like, absolutely, totally happy to talk with you. Like let’s set a call up. So we did that. And on the call, uh, he basically sorta, he gave us a little bit of a sort of inside of like, here’s what happened around the acquisition. And the takeaway from the conversation was basically like, yes, there is still a market for a tool like screen hero.
In his opinion, the thing that screen here ended up becoming when it got integrated with Slack is not what it was before due to very real business trade offs that were, you know, reasonable people had to make. Uh, so if you want to make a more niche tool, uh, I think there’s still, still demand for it.
Andrew: And he also told you about the latency in the importance of it.
Ben: Yeah, totally. Yeah. We asked like, where, like, what was the, what was the thing? What was the key to the screen here that like made people love it so much? And he was like, yeah, it was like latency. He’s like, that’s what, that’s the problem with all the tools today is like, that’s just not a thing that most generic screen-sharing tools will ever care about.
Andrew: You know, something, I think the way you’re doing it with Tupelo is what he probably should have done with screen hero. I mean, go for revenue, stay independent. The love that you have a tool. I mean really fricking DHS can’t stand anybody. I feel like the first thing that he said to me when it came on for the interview was I say, Hey, their freedom fighters.
Um, Mixergy is home of the ambitious upstart. Hi, David hammer house in the creative Ruby on rails. He goes, I hate, um, I hate ambition. Like he had to find in the intro a thing to dislike. He doesn’t like Apple. Right? The one thing that he seems to have a lot of passion for is tubal.
Ben: Uh, yeah, we were, we were fortunate to have base camp as a customer and,
Andrew: there are customers too.
Ben: uh, yeah, yeah.
Andrew: I didn’t realize that.
Ben: through base camp. Yeah. Um, and so I forgot how I got connected to him. D like David and I have like chatted occasionally in the past. I don’t think he would like, remember me. Uh, but somehow I think one of his, one of the base campers were like, Oh, like David had some thoughts on Tupelo.
I was like, Oh great. And so I reached out to David and we had a little chat, uh, and one
Andrew: that you do that.
Ben: I think it’s, I think that’s that’s the, the cheat code is like talking to people about your product
Andrew: And they’re fully open to it. I mean, you’re talking about screen here or you go in and you, you find out what worked and what didn’t work. I think that, um, I think. The guys who created screen hero, super smart. And they have the reputation that will allow them to build whatever they want to do. I just feel like what you’re doing just makes so much more sense to the, the aspiration shouldn’t be to sell a company.
The aspiration should be to have what you have. I feel like I’m making you sweat a lot. What, why am I making you uncomfortable?
Ben: Oh, no. I feel totally comfortable. Am I giving you the
Andrew: looking at you as I’m saying it and I could see it’s like, Oh God, I don’t want to put them
Ben: So, because it’s because I have two thoughts I’m gonna share. So the first thing is, uh, I think Screenhero made some very reasonable choices, like who knows what the deal they got from Slack is, but like having asked, um, a couple of them, if they like regretted selling and they said, no, So like they could have had a different path for sure.
I think the path we’re taking is reasonable and I think they’re, they seem reasonably happy with what happened to
Andrew: They started on a path that would have led to this at the ideal stage, right. Selling to Slack before Slack went public, becoming an integral part of the product watching this whole evolution. No doubt, no doubt. I’m not saying what they did is wrong. I’m just saying you have customers who love your product, a business that’s growing.
Right. Okay. Sorry. What’s the next thing. That was one point that you were making.
Ben: The other thing, uh, I just wanted to point out is that the DHH tweet, uh, I asked him to do that. So like,
Andrew: I didn’t realize
Ben: yeah. So, so we had this conversation and he was like, yeah, I really digging the app. But you know, I wish this, this, this were different, which was awesome feedback. Um, and I was like, by the way, like, it would, it would be really helpful for us if you ever wanted to like, share publicly that, that you’re like in the app.
Uh, and he did like basically right away. And it has actually multiple times since.
Andrew: And did you get good revenue from that new customers?
Ben: Uh, Oh yeah. Tons and tons of traffic, a lot of credibility he’s on the, the landing page and the checkout page and all that. Of course. Cause it’s like a pretty cool wind for us.
Andrew: One of the things that I love about the base camp guys is they are incredibly supportive that if they have a clear point of view, if you’re on that framework, they don’t feel like, well, Hey Ben, can you give me a cut of the sales? Or can you cut me in, on ownership of the business because you’ve done that?
Or would you allow me to get on the cap table? It’s just like, go ahead and use my name. I know it’s going to get you business and I’m not going to get anything out of it. But I like what you’re doing, I believe in it. And just as much as they give a pounding to somebody whose ideas, they don’t like they give a prop and unless up to people whose, whose approach they like, okay.
So it took you what, eight months we build the first version of a, of Tupelo.
Ben: Yeah. Um, yeah, so the three of us, so I have two cofounders, Spencer and Joel, and the three of us were all web developers before this. And so, um, the, the version of people that eventually we launched our alpha, uh, as our alpha was the third, like full rewrite of the app, because the first two, we were just like trying different approaches and like kind of didn’t really know how we were going to like, make this thing work.
Andrew: I’m worried that I’m want to understand what you did. But try to tell me like a five, like I was a five year. What did you do to make it work?
Ben: Um, so the key insight for us was that we needed to, uh, use C plus plus like we, we need to go like kind of up to a low level and have like really close control of the computer hardware. Um, we tried these sort of more pleasant ways of doing it that were higher level. Uh, and let us kind of ignore some details, uh, but it wasn’t fast enough.
It wasn’t performing enough. And we realized like, look, if our, if we’re going to really care about latency, we’re gonna really need to be able to control this whole pipeline, how every little piece of it works and we’re going to need to use a really fast language. Uh, and we’re going to have to like really sweat these details.
Andrew: you try to build it on Ruby at first? Is that a
Ben: Uh, uh, it wasn’t, we didn’t try to tell a Ruby. We use electron at one point, if you’re familiar with electron. Um, so we tried that, that we, that was not fast enough for us. Uh, we didn’t see a clear path to making it function how we want it to, um, uh, and the, the first version was just, it was just craziness.
I had no idea we were doing, uh, but, uh, yeah,
Andrew: you wrote in language that you don’t know, right. Did you call founders know it?
Ben: No. Uh, so Spencer, so Spencer and Joel, uh, learn C plus plus to make doable C plus plus and Swift and a million other things. Um, but they they’ve basically started from, from a stop. They didn’t know either of these languages and learn them to build a fully native, um, tuple.
Andrew: And that explains why you told our producer that first version was janky. What was janky about it?
Ben: Oh, I mean, even, yeah, the alpha was Jackie it’s like even like the third, third rewritten version. Like when we, when we launched our first set of teams, um, it was still, uh, it was crashing, uh, pretty frequently. Uh, we, it was missing tons and tons of features. Uh, it was very much, you know, classic, like MVP,
Andrew: Like what, what was the feature that it was missing?
Ben: so for a lot.
So for months, uh, if you canceled your tuple subscription, Uh, nothing happened. We would stop charging your credit card, but you’d just keep using the app. Like there was, there was no like shutting people out. There’s no password reset. Uh, there was no self serve checkout for probably a year. Maybe not maybe six months or something.
Like I was individually like generating a Stripe invoices for someone mailing it over to them. And then when they’d pay it, I would go create their team on the console on the backend and then email them an invite link.
Andrew: Why? That doesn’t seem like a hard thing. You’ve done that before, right?
Ben: Yeah, but it wasn’t, we didn’t need it.
So like we were, we were focusing on like, sort of just-in-time development, like what do we need right now to make life better for our customers and for us and everything else, let’s put it off until later. Cause we just have such limited, you know, there’s only three of us gotta prioritize,
Andrew: Ah. Okay. All right. And so why did your customers stick with you if you had so many missing basic features?
Ben: um, because of the core thing that we did work for them. So at the end of the day, the. We built something that had really high quality. So it wasn’t just like, okay, you screen sharing. It was retina quality screen sharing. And it wasn’t like tolerable latency. It was like quite good latency. Um, it wasn’t like decent audio quality.
It was really high, low latency, audio quality. So we sort of got a handful of things. Right. And then also like sort of, yeah, uh, sort of fairly smooth remote control. And so that, that combination of things together. It gave people what they were felt they were missing and that they were, we were stealing them away from Slack calls and zoom and things like that pretty fast or pretty early on.
Andrew: And the first customers came from.
Ben: Um, my network basically. So I’ve been teaching and talking to developers for a long time. So I had like a pretty big Twitter following and a personal newsletter. Um, and so I just started like looking for people. So we put up a landing page right away before we had even started writing the code. I started promoting that collecting email addresses and starting to like, kind of get people plugged into the mission, uh, feeling excited about it.
Um, which was not that hard. Cause people miss screen hero a lot. Um, and, um, yeah, it was like people who usually knew me from something I had done at some point.
Andrew: How did you get a 5,000 person email list
Ben: Uh, bit by bit. Uh, so I did a lot of,
Andrew: were you doing?
Ben: yeah. Um, so a lot of conference speaking. So when I was a thought bot, um, they had a great conference benefit, which is just like, if you’re speaking at a conference, we’ll pay all of the travel expenses for you to go there. And I was like, this sounds like a pretty sweet way to do a lot of free travel. And so, and also just, I love speaking at conferences. Like I have are like a, kind of a performer at heart. So being on stage is really fun for me. Um, and so I would just like started applying to conferences, like crazy, uh, and, and got in front of like thousands of developers over the years.
Andrew: And you told them to come to your site and see what was in your newsletter.
Ben: Um, it was usually like a blog post I had written, it was pretty, very low traffic. So it was like, I send it to Twitter or Slack or send it to like my, my personal site and be like, I send occasionally emails with, you know, an article I’ve written.
Andrew: Okay. And do you remember what your articles were about?
Ben: Um, you can get better once you.com/blog. That’s just, you know, a collection of, you know, programming things, usually programming advice.
Andrew: That was impressive. It’s hard to sit and write. It’s hard to build an email newsletter list. If it’s not your main business, were you doing it because you knew at some point you were going to start a business and you needed that audience. You are. This was you
Ben: I, well, I sort of, I knew the audience was going to be useful. I didn’t know exactly what it was gonna be useful for, but I was sure that being able to like have a bunch of people that like trusted me and that I could access was going to be valuable.
Andrew: I told you that I don’t remember this green hero charged. You did. Let’s come back to the charging in a moment. First, I should talk about my second sponsor. It is a company called HostGator. Ben is a guy who has been thinking about business ideas for a long time. If you were to start fresh and had nothing but a hosting package from HostGator, what’s an idea that you would jump on.
What’s an idea that you would kick around and experiment.
Ben: Uh, I’ve been thinking about a course for programmers about building better habits. Like thinking about what are the high leverage things that you can do that are pretty quick, like a 10 minute meditation in the morning, or 10 minutes of stretching at night or 10 minutes of, uh, cleaning up your code base per day and working on like, kind of get a cohort of people together and see if we can kind of create a support network and build a new habit, or have these habits be built in all of us.
Andrew: Oh, to become a better developer habits for becoming better developers. All right. I think that’s a great idea. And then the way you’re doing this, as you’re saying, what’s a problem that I’ve have, or have seen other people have let’s instead of creating a solution, let’s just teach what already works and then create a place where people who want to learn that and talk about it and get support on that.
Can, can go, am I right?
Ben: Yeah, that’s pretty close. Although to some extent it’s like almost like a support group for me. Like I have this fantasy, like building a business that also makes me better. And so it’s like, I haven’t fully figured out how to instill these habits, but surely if there’s this pressure of like, well, we’ve got a hundred people who signed up and paid money, like we’re going to have to figure it out.
And that might be the right. The thing that gets them to do it.
Andrew: Yeah. And if you have to, as the person who created the community as a person who created the solution, if you have to show up every day, well, what are you going to show up for? Might as well be something, or of course is going to be the thing that you need the most. Alright. If you’re out there and you’re listening to me and you’ve got an idea kicking around in your head and you want a place to go and sketch it out and see if it makes sense, go to hostgator.com/mixergy.
When use that slash Mixergy at the end of the URL will give you the lowest price they have available. And frankly, they already are the low price leader. But they’re also a company that’s been around for over a decade. Well, over a decade with hosting, that just works. And yes, when your idea really grows big and you need the next level hosting package, or you want them to do your WordPress managed hosting, they have all that, all this stuff that the competitors have they have because they either bought a competitor or they saw what it did and they had the infrastructure to create it themselves.
So, and I’ll have it there for you go to hostgator.com/mixergy. And if you’re like me, I hosted with another company that I thought was doing a great job. I said, how do I save a little bit of money? It’s a no brainer switch to HostGator. None of y’all noticed that I switched to host gain or nobody saw any problems I did because when I, I mean, I saw the benefits because when I went into my QuickBooks, I saw that I was spending less on hosting.
And it’s a nice upside. What do I get? It’s like the equivalent of getting a few eye pads every year instead of paying for the hosting package. Right? The difference is, is the equivalent of buying a few iPads. I like to think things in, in terms of iPads, Alright, hostgator.com/mixergy. I’m grateful to them for sponsoring.
We were starting to talk about your decision on pricing. Why didn’t you offer free plus a freemium model.
Ben: So we kind of, the nice thing about free is that it’s a low bar. It gets you a lot of people. And so you can get a lot of volume of feedback. And that I think is a very reasonable approach to take, but we were more interested in. We decided we wanted to live like, like the boutique part of the market. Like we want it to be the highest quality thing, not the cheapest thing.
Uh, and so we intentionally have kind of always kept our price a little bit on the high side. Um, and I realized, so I did a lot of pricing testing early on, and I realized that like, there’s there is pricing sensitivity, but there’s a lot of, there’s a big, there’s a big range of it. Like, if you go to like a solo freelancer, $10 versus $25 versus free, if you go to a multimillion dollar software company, they don’t really as much.
And if you go like a billion dollar company, they often like really don’t. And so. We sort of settled on. We said, we, we want to be a premium solution. So let’s, let’s charge a premium price. Um, we realized that there are companies that are willing to pay the premium price and don’t care, and also, or like they get that much value from it.
Like if they’re paying a developer $200,000 a year, 25 bucks a month is pretty, pretty reasonable. And then also the final thing was we intentionally wanted to say high bar to becoming an early user. Because we knew that our early users were going to have a lot of impact on the product roadmap and what we decided to build.
And so we wanted to only recruit people that were really passionate about what we were doing and excited about giving us feedback and shaping the development.
Andrew: That if they’re willing to pay 20, which let’s face it, 25 bucks is not that much. I think I’m paying more for the zoom account that I’m using just to record. The interviews, right? Like I got to believe no I’m positive that we are. Um, and so you’re saying if they’re willing to pay at least $25 per user, meaning two people minimum, right.
Essentially 50 bucks a month, they care enough about this problem. They need this enough as part of their business that they’re willing to invest in it. And the feedback they give me is feedback. That’s equivalent to other people who are in their position who have the money. Got it. Okay. And what’s the feedback that you were getting from them?
Ben: Um, it was honestly pretty good from the beginning. And by the way, like, so the, the today’s pricing to $25 per user per month is something that we eventually arrived at. So it was actually even, we only sold annual plans for like the first three or four months that we were in business. Again, just for that same reason where I was like, we want people to be with us for the long haul who are going to be able to help us grow the product to make it better.
Um, but, um, I forgot. There was a real question,
Andrew: And so the feedback that they were giving you, what did, what direction, what ideas, what feature requests did they give you that you didn’t know about?
Ben: Um, I’m trying to think of the big surprises here. Um, so the, the feedback was actually pretty. It wasn’t well, okay. So we were pretty convinced that we had a lot more work to do on the latency of when we launched. Like we had like a really, really like high bar in our head for it, for where we wanted to be on latency and oddly, well, we’re very impressed with the latency from the beginning.
Um, so we were pretty convinced like, okay, it’s nowhere near fast enough now. But like, at least you can like limp along and goes to feedback. And people were like, I love how fast it is. And we’d be like, Oh, that’s interesting. So like our, our, our own perception of our latency and other people’s wills was pretty different.
So that was definitely a bit surprising.
Andrew: Okay. Um, and then you went to like, I’m assuming that at first you were just using the screen here or roadmap. This is what they had. We’ll get to that and then we’ll figure out the next steps. Am I right?
Ben: Yes. Yeah, totally.
Andrew: I wonder why nobody else did this before. There were lots of developers who are angry. There are lots of developers who saw the need, right?
Ben: Yeah, totally. And by the way, there’s this amazing, there’s a comment on hacker news. Um, that was made shortly around, like when that announcement came out about the screen here or shut down and someone’s like, this seems like a very clear market opportunity where no one has come along and done this. It doesn’t seem that hard, so much to do it.
And I remember reading that and being like this person is right, and I don’t know why no one has done this and that, that like that feeling persisted. And I was like, I feel like. I’ve spotted a thing. I don’t know why it’s like, it doesn’t make sense. I feel like there’s an opportunity here. We just kind of have to take a shot at it.
I’m going to be like mad at myself for not, not trying.
Andrew: You publish a tweet on November 27, 2018 saying I’m pumped to announce that we’re launching that at pair with Tupelo alpha on January 7th. If you do remote pairing and want to try a tool made by folks obsessed with low latency, you should probably be on our mailing list with a link to the mailing list.
You had 169 retweets on that. And I thought that was amazing, but partly it’s because your followup tweet in that little two message tweetstorm was retweets of this bad boy. I much appreciated, I love that. You’re willing to ask for what you want and retweets are gold for something like this, right?
Ben: Totally. Yes. I think you’ll probably notice a theme, like the DHH thing talking to for us, like the screener co founder, I am pretty willing to ask for things and I can’t believe how well it works. Like it’s, if you want to think often you can just request it and like, people will do it for you. And some of that is like pain.
So some of that I have kind of earned, I think so like by producing useful things and tweeting interesting things and, and. Gaining people’s trust and respect over the years. If I ask them to retweet a thing, they’re more likely to do that. And if I just asked a stranger, for sure. Um, but also even with just strangers, sometimes you can just ask for something and you just get it.
Uh, I think there’s like more of that in the world. Probably it would probably be a good thing.
Andrew: I feel like Sam Parr has, does that really well. And I’ve mentioned that several times. Have you, has he asked you for stuff, Sam, part of the other founder of the hustle?
Ben: No, but I’m familiar with him.
Andrew: I’ve asked people why they just keep taking his text messages and helping them out. At least this was when he was getting started at this point.
I think he’s now in the opposite side of it, where people are asking him for a lot of help. And it was just, I don’t know, he keeps asking and he keeps doing stuff. I was even in a restaurant where he was texting the person I was having dinner with and asking him a question about how do I do something.
What’s an example of something that you’ve asked that seems maybe too small, where more people, most people would’ve said, who am I to ask? Why should I do it?
Ben: So here, here’s the thing that surprised me. That was, that was, uh, I think we asked people to do so after. So that mailing list that I’d like to in that tweet, you just referenced after you signed up, if you gave us your email, we would immediately take you to a page. And I said, thanks so much for signing up.
Super excited to have you as part of this early, you know, community wants to build this thing, um, by the way, We’re a small three person startup. We’re totally self-funded. Twitter is a big way that we knew people find us about find out about us. If you wouldn’t mind, could you share a tweet about us? And there’s like a tweet button right.
Beneath it. And so. One person signing up. Like we got a crazy high uptake of, of people doing that. Like way more than I expected. I added that thinking this won’t work, developers hate this marketing crap. This is super annoying. I’m gonna put it on here. Just in case maybe occasionally someone will click it and people clicked it all the time.
Like you could, it was like a constant stream of people sharing our thing and especially in the early days.
Andrew: Oh, what a great idea. We should be doing that too. It makes her G. You’re signing up for my email list. I just gave you an interview or a video, whatever it is that you want it for free, would you mind bring me out by telling people about the site here? Um, let me say that right now. If you’re listening to me, I’m not even going to wait to add it to the site.
If you’re listening and you get any value out of this or any other interview, would you mind tweeting it out? I noticed. That Twitter is not the best source of traffic for me. It’s the source of credibility. Just saying what you said, Ben, when you were coming on, you were excited to be on Mixergy because you valued it.
It adds credibility. And then it allows me to bring in better guests and it also signals, Hey, we’ve got this little group of people who all believe in this and if you’re listening to me, I’d appreciate it. If you said something nice about Mixergy and at me, actually I’ll find it. I appreciate you guys doing that.
The other thing that I saw that you did was. I was looking to see what was a hit for you back in 2018, you wrote, you wrote articles like the case for pair programming, right? It didn’t do well on hacker news did. Okay. But it’s something that’s still you still rank for. And it’s something that you did, especially while you said here’s the case in three sentences and here it is in three paragraphs and here it isn’t three long sections.
Basically. You said, look, if you want to understand this, whatever your time and your attention span is, we’ll explain to you why peer programming works. How effective was content marketing for you in the beginning?
Ben: Um, medium effective, somewhat effective. Um, so yeah, I, I, I wrote a bunch of pairing articles. It totally was content marketing. Um, they still, yeah, they do rank, they get a fair amount of traffic. Um, and I’ve had people explicitly tell me, Hey, by the way, just so you know, we originally found out about you through this thing.
You don’t know your content marketing is working, which super free shit, because attribution is hard and we don’t even really try to like, you know, what piece of content got someone here? Um, we’re not that sophisticated on the marketing side. Uh, so. I would say like, it, it worked to some degree. I don’t honestly know how much it worked glad that people are still finding it and find it useful.
My goal was like kind of content marketing and like drive customers. Sure. That’s great. It was almost a little bit more to become the center of gravity of pairing. And I didn’t think there was a really amazing set of resources around pairing at the time. And so I want it to be, do that thing.
Andrew: But then what are you getting traffic from? How are what’s the thing that brings people in? If it’s not content marketing, if you’re not doing ad buys, if you don’t have a freemium that then has the built in virality of para what’s doing it.
Ben: Um, word of mouth. So they’re a part of the partial answers. Like I don’t really know, it just seems to keep working. And so I don’t dive into it. Um, I, I do it like, it feels like. I was talking about this, my co founders, just the other day, um, where it’s like, I have this sort of guilt where it’s like, okay, I’m not doing that much tent pole marketing.
We’re like, we do this major thing. Or we do this big shift or like traditional marketing. Like we don’t buy any ads. We do like, not that much content marketing, but I feel like I have this like background radiation where I’m kind of always doing like light marketing thing where it’s like trying to make good tweets, trying to show up on podcasts that are interesting.
Um, occasional talks making the parent guide, um, That sort of thing. And just like, we’re kind of all, and then like people developers, this is a great thing about selling to developers is they love talking about good tools. If they find a tool, they like, they totally talk about it with friends and we’ve had lots of customers be like, by the way, I talk you guys up at like all the meetings I’m going to, or like, I can’t, like, I’m always sharing this with my friends.
It’s definitely like,
Andrew: that they’re they’re geeks for, for the tech. I noticed that startup people are like that too. They love to talk about Rome after they talked about notions. So, but, but then again, I look at say an article on hacker noon, which is incredibly popular. It’s got, it’s the pros and cons of pair programming.
You guys are enlisted there. It’s not, if you want to try it, by the way, here’s the link because you don’t have a system of reaching out to people who write articles like this and saying, by the way, we are the tool that’s being used for it. People love us. If you have a right about us again, go for it. If you want to help out this small bootstrap company linked to me and let you know, you don’t do that.
Ben: Yeah. And not because like we shouldn’t, it’s just, we just, again, like, it’s, it kind of keeps working like this, this approach that I’ve had has been effective enough that it seems so it’s like if, if the grill slowed down and dried up, I think the first thing I’d be like, I would say, okay, what have we done?
We need to like, go and start doing all these things. Um, but, but for now it seems like this organic word of mouth, Twitter driven kind of thing is sort of just, just doing it right now.
Andrew: What about your podcast? Is that helping.
Ben: Oh, yeah. Um, yes. Um, I would say that that helps premier in the early days, tons of our customers were from, uh, we’re were podcast podcast listeners. Um, and I believe that’s still the case. Um, a lot of people that our customers listen to the podcast, some of them eventually become customers after listening to the podcast for a long time.
Um, that’s definitely a big,
Andrew: What’s the podcast.
Ben: It’s called the art of product. Co-hosted with a friend of mine, Derek Reimer, we both run a bootstrap software businesses. And so we sort of, it’s sort of like talking, it’s almost like a mastermind where we talk about what we’re working on, what the struggles are, that kind of thing.
Andrew: All right. We’ve talked a lot about all the good stuff. Let’s talk about some of the challenges. You’re all three of you married. That’s
Ben: no, uh, only one of us has married actually.
Andrew: okay. Oh, I see. In the notes it says, it feels like all three of us are married, meaning to each other. You’re fully connected.
Andrew: I love Ari because she gets really personal with people. And you admitted to her look, there’s been turmoil between the three of us. I feel like getting open about that will be the difference between a good podcast and an, Oh my God.
This is something you have to listen to podcasts. Let’s get open.
Ben: Well, so, I mean, there’s this a disclaimer, which is like, it mostly has been quite good. So I’d say we’ve, we’ve done a really good job of navigating co-founder struggles and, and, and strife. Um, so there’s not a huge amount of like dirt to spill or like, like horrible stories to share. Um, but like any three people engage in a difficult thing who all have other life, like life things going on.
And who were also operating in like a pretty stressful time. Uh, we get stressed, we get a little burnt out. We get mad. Um, there’s like resentment that sometimes happens that we like, you know, resentment between people that are where one person’s not aware of it. Um, I would say the key for us has been. Uh, we do these regular feedback sessions where we take time, we write up for each other person.
Like, I like that. I like that blank. I wish that blank. And like give each other as like X, like very clear feedback. Like I’m happy with these things. I wish these things were different. And that has been really important for us because that has like surfaced a bunch of these things that I think otherwise would have just festered and become much bigger problems.
Andrew: What’s an argument or point of stress that you can remember.
Ben: So I think one example is, comes from like a, I think there’s a difference in communication styles, like a difference in expectations. Um, so, uh, basically like I had, like, one of my co founders would be like, would say something and to me we’re sort of always like kicking ideas around, brainstorming, throwing stuff out, and it’s just kind of like, none of it had that much weight or, or, or needed that much consideration.
But to him when he was saying like, what if we did X or, Hey, have you done? Y he was sort of expecting that to like, um, be like a pretty strong suggestion. Like, I think we should do X. I feel I’m stressed that we haven’t done. Y and so to him, he was communicating these things to me and being like, Hey dude, I’ve pointed out these things that I wish he would do, or I wish we weren’t stopped doing.
And to me, it never even registered that that was like what his intention was.
Andrew: He was just another suggestion to him. It was a cry for help about a problem that was really bothering him.
Ben: Sure. Yeah. And maybe not to that level, but you know, significant enough that he was like a couple of weeks later, like I mentioned this thing to
Ben: Why didn’t you do anything with it? Um, Uh, I think it was, uh, like it’s like one example is like reaching out to like a potential candidate for like a job that we’re thinking about hiring.
Ben: he was like, I have this friend who might be good for this thing. I’m like, Oh, okay, cool. And like that didn’t like rise to the level of like that’s a to do for Ben to like do this thing. I, and to him, it was like, I told you about this friend, what the hell man?
Andrew: Yeah. Okay. What kind of stresses do you guys have? It feels to me like the company just worked out, you’ve found a business model that was just laying there. That made sense. You got customers pretty quickly. You had to iterate, improve the product in order to get more customers instead of some random thing.
Right? What’s the stress.
Ben: Um, I mean, to a good extent that does that description is accurate. Like, I feel like it’s gone really well, even been super fortunate. Um, so like when I look around, it’s like, actually it does really feel like this business is going really well. Um, so there’s not like a huge. The business has a problem.
Stress. It’s almost like most of our stress is like, Interpersonal. Um, like I would say like, like burn out has been a stress. So like, um, Spencer’s our CTO and he has been the one that has like really driven, like owning the product, learning C plus plus going deep on that, having to learn like more than just like learn like many languages, many technologies.
And we kind of asked them to do this pretty superhuman thing, which is more or less like build this product by himself. That was a real time streaming application with no experience and like almost no help. Um, and. So, like we he’s had some he’s like, we kind of let him burn itself out to some extent at times, or like it’s, it’s gotten ugly points.
Um, and he’s been like a total champion.
Andrew: For you it’s been, you’ve had an easy time for you, Ben. It’s just been easy.
Ben: Easier, because it’s like, the things that I’m doing are kind of a little bit more in my wheelhouse or like talking to developers, marketing, making product decisions. That’s a feels pretty natural to me. Um, whereas he, we just, he had this just crazy, crazy road to go down.
So, and then like, he, he, he, yeah, he felt the pressure. And I think some of that was like, it was on us for not being like, Hey dude, it seems like you’re, you’re under a lot of pressure. How do we fix this? How do we get help? And like, it’s like, let’s hire somebody earlier rather than later to get you like another set of hands, you know, like, like take some of this, work off your plate, that kind of thing.
So we, we of let him down a little bit there. I would say for awhile,
Andrew: All right. Fair enough. I’m impressed by how well you guys have done on press a year. Just bootstrapped you guys raising money at all.
Andrew: I feel like anyone listening would want to invest in the company. It just makes so much freaking sense. Um, and you’re only on Mac right now, right? You haven’t even gone to PC.
Ben: Correct. Yeah.
Andrew: like the opportunity to just clearly there.
Ben: Totally. Yeah. Um, that’s, that’s an exciting thing is I feel like there’s, there’s like pretty big, uh, additional leverage to pull.
Andrew: Yup. And then that brings open. Forget about just the bit there’s a PC audience. There’s a type of customer. Who’s a bigger customer, more enterprisey right. Who’s going to be PC-based. And then beyond that, what else? Beyond peer programming. What else can low latency screen-sharing help with customers support?
Is it other development work? It’s all kinds of stuff. Right? How
Ben: there are definitely other interesting things in there. So one thing that we’re already seeing is our customers using it for interviews. So they’re literally creating accounts for people to interview and then they do a pairing session as
Andrew: I think DHH said that too, that that’s a recommendation of his.
Ben: Yeah. So, um, that’s a, that’s a big use case we’re seeing, but that there’s this, um, there’s this thing where it’s like, I think if we make a really amazing pair programming app, we will also accidentally create an amazing just collaboration app that other people could use, not for pair programming. So,
Andrew: the way to put it.
Ben: Yeah. And Tupelo lives up in your, your menu bar. So you open it up. There’s a list of your colleagues who are online and like with one click, you could be talking to them. And it’s like a very lightweight kind of feeling. It’s not like a zoom thing, or it’s like, let me go get my link, come over here. Like you joined this link and build it’s it’s it’s, um, it feels sort of quick and easy.
And so I think there’s a lot of interesting things that might come out of, like, here’s a list of all your colleagues and you can very quickly collaborate with them. What happens when that’s true and what additional stuff could we build there? That is
Andrew: Yeah. To say, this could add all the zoom features is a mistake, but the collaboration features that we don’t know we need yet that I feel like is a huge win.
Ben: Yeah, totally.
Andrew: All right. For everyone who is listening, the website is it’s just tupelo.com, right? That app, right? Right. I’ve been looking at, in my whole, my notes whole time.
Somebody else has tupelo.com the hell. Let me see who has got, because what is
Ben: and they’re not even using it. So a twofold is, so the name is kind of a programming pun. So Tupelo in programming is something that takes two elements in like PR elements that are disparate and brings them together and sort of be treated as one. Um, and so it’s like, Oh, okay. That’s kind of what we’re doing.
Like we’re taking two programmers and turn them into like a pear. And also like Tupelo kind of sounds like two people.
Andrew: Yeah, exactly. For your honor. I would say, start making friends with the guy who owns tubal.com and at some point you might be able to buy it, but frankly, for developers, it’s not critical because. The average person doesn’t know what a top level domain is. Let alone that.com and.app are different. Right.
Which is why a lot of times in mainstream, when you see like a bus pass by, it’ll say www.something.co to signal, Hey dude, this is a web page, right? With you. You got smart people. They’re going to find you. Um, alright. So it’s tubal.app for anyone who wants to go try it. It does not have a freemium, but it is 14 day free trial, but frankly cares about that.
You don’t even need that if they’re using it, they’re paying for it. It’s a no brainer. Um, and I want to thank the two sponsors who made this interview happen again, don’t forget. LinkedIn has given you a hundred dollars in ads advertising. I feel bad. Your article about the benefits of, of, um, uh, pair programming, natural linked to that.
See what happens free ads. Anyone out there who’s listening who has not tried LinkedIn. This is your office opportunity completely free. Are there any hang ups on this? I don’t think so. Go try it out. Go look at it. By going to linked in.com/mixergy, they’ll give you a hundred bucks and if you’ve been excited about this and you say, I want to start a business, I have an idea, or I just want to have a sketchpad.
So when an idea hits me, I will be able to go and experiment with it. There’s nothing like having a hostgator.com account and just going and playing with it. Hostgator.com/mixergy. We’ll give you that low price and we’ll give you the safety that comes from being connected to me on that platform.
hostgator.com/mixergy. I think we’ve done well, Ben.
Ben: I agree. Thanks for having me. It’s fun.
Andrew: Thanks for being on bye.