15: A Recap of 2019 and Looking Forward to 2020

Aaron and Darren look back over 2019 and look at a full year of podcasting, running the businesses, what they learned and more. Things wrap up with what 2020 might hold in store and both agree that you can never build features fast enough in SaaS

FULL SHOW NOTES

[music]

00:08 Aaron Weiche: Episode 15, a big recap of 2019 and looking forward to 2020.

00:16 INTRO: Welcome to the SaaS Venture Podcast. Sharing the adventure of leading and growing a bootstrap SaaS company. Hear the experiences, challenges, wins and losses shared in each episode. From Aaron Weiche of GatherUp and Darren Shaw of Whitespark. Let's go.

00:43 AW: Welcome to the SaaS Venture Podcast, I'm Aaron.

00:45 Darren Shaw: And I'm Darren.

00:47 AW: And we have made it to the end of another year. Just a couple of weeks away from turning over the calendar and Darren and I thought it would be fun to take a look back at 2019 as a whole. A year in which we started podcasting together. We got in... This is our 15th episode and a number of other things, and take a look at what's gone on in the calendar year for us and what we're looking forward to the next year.

01:15 DS: Yeah, it sounds great. I think it's really good to look back, understand what we've learned over the past year, look at some of the challenges and our accomplishments, and look forward to 2020. It sounds like the future. Hey? 2020.

01:30 AW: It is... It is an exciting year to talk about, right?

01:32 DS: Yeah.

01:33 AW: Plenty of plays on words with having 2020 vision for the future whatever that might be.

01:39 DS: Yeah, it's been a full year. Our first episode was recorded on January 15th. So it's been just exactly a year, we've been doing this thing.

01:48 AW: Yeah.

01:48 DS: Yep.

01:48 AW: Wait was it like last December when we decided something that we had talked about months earlier, when we were like, "Alright, let's do this, let's get it going." And then we got all of the ducks in a row, and then just started hitting record on. I think we were hoping... I think I was hoping we'd maybe get past 20 episodes. But I'm also... Considering what we've both had going on this year, I also look at like, "Alright, 15 episodes. We at least got one in every month." We didn't do too shabby.

02:19 DS: Yeah, more than one per month I think is alright. And, I don't know, 2020 is shaping up to be pretty busy too. But so... Maybe we can try to get a few more in next year.

02:27 AW: Yeah... And looking at that, what are you takeaways from 15 episodes, a calendar year of a podcast, maybe you've listened back to a few of them. What's your feeling on what we've done with the SaaS Venture?

02:43 DS: Yeah, I think personally, for me, it's been really incredible to have... To carve out those moments where, "Okay, we know we're doing an episode on"... Let's say, support, or sales and to really like... Okay, before the podcast, I take some time to think about what are our challenges in sales, what are our accomplishments, what are the things that we're trying to do and just having that time to think about it the podcast has been really helpful for me to take that step back and think about it. And think about how do I wanna communicate what we're doing.

And so, that's been really amazing as a driver of new learning and growth for my company. So the podcast has been really helpful for that. And then, of course, it's amazing just having the opportunity to chat with you once a month, plus. Because I think that that collaboration I have learnt do much from you through doing this podcast. It's just been... It's been wonderful. I'm really glad that we decided to do it. And it's been a super fun time.

03:46 AW: Yeah, I couldn't agree more. I've enjoyed getting your perspective on all of these different things. I also... Just the ability to talk out loud about some of these things is like... I don't know if it's therapeutic or just helpful to hear yourself say some of these things. But I've learned from stating them out loud and every now and then listening... I'll go and listen back, partly because I wanna... Alright, how can I be better? How often am I saying "umm" or "yeah"?

04:16 DS: Right, yeah.

04:17 AW: Or repetitious words. But also just hearing my perspective, especially when I dive back into an episode from mid-summer or early on, and then just thinking, "Alright, is that the same way I still feel about it? Did my perspective change? Have I done something different with it after talking about it as a challenge, or looking how well we're doing with it?" Yeah, it's been so...

04:42 DS: I've actually taken a number of things that we discuss on the podcast, and started implementing at the company. And it's been great. It's been... Everything is just... Feels like we're tightening up a lot of the areas that we were a little loose in and just constantly growing and improving. It's been really good.

05:00 AW: Nice. Maybe... Just maybe some of our listeners have been able to do a little bit of that too. And I would say, if any of you have, if there's anything that we have sparked an idea or you took a piece of process or whatever else, man, I would love to hear from you on Twitter, email, through our website, thesaasventure.com, anything else. That would be really cool to talk about that or speak to anything that anyone's willing to share on a few SaaS Venture episodes.

05:25 DS: Same. Yes please, feedback requested.

05:28 AW: Yeah, alright. And just as my last thought with it is, it just... It gets into just how much, time is a commodity. There are so many times where we've wanted to record something, do whatever else... One of us has to slide because of whatever... I feel like we've done a really great job of being flexible with each other. We both had our moments we're like, "Yep, it's not gonna work for me today." We gotta push a couple of days or push next week. But yeah, making the time for it really is the hardest part. Once we're on, talking is easy, but just carving out an hour and saying, "Yep, I can make it work, I'll have some prep done." Any of that that that's the hard part.

06:03 DS: Yeah, talking is definitely easy. Keeping it short and succinct is hard.

06:08 AW: Yeah.

[laughter]

06:10 AW: Absolutely on that. Alright, outside of the podcast, and just since we last talked, spoke in November, what's new with you? What's going on in the day-to-day of Whitespark?

06:23 DS: What's going on? Let's see. Well, we've hired a lot of people recently. We transitioned our citation team through an in-house team, so we've been kind of busy with a lot of stuff around that over the last quarter.

06:39 AW: What was behind the move to go from the outside team to internal?

06:44 DS: Well, control was a big part of it, so there were a lot of things that we wanted to do with our citation processes and our work that were not... It was harder to work with the third party on that. If we owned it completely, then we could do whatever we want, and we didn't have to try and convince the third party that this is the way things should be done, and so control over quality and control over specific things that we wanted to be tracking in the process was a big part of it. Also, heating up competition, I guess, in the space. So trying to be a bit more profitable and competitive that way has been a big driving factor for it as well.

07:28 DS: And all of those things have been accomplished by taking it in-house. And so, I think that can happen with a lot of businesses where your partner with the third party, and then eventually, you're like, "It would just be so much better if we did this ourselves." And so, we eventually got to that point where we had to pull the trigger and do it, and it was tough. And we had a great relationship with our previous partner for citations for ages, but it was just time to have complete control over that.

07:57 AW: Yeah, and then how has that transition been?

08:00 DS: It's been great. Yeah, so everything is going good. We're a little bit behind on orders, our capacity is a little bit low, and that's what's been driving the hiring, but it takes time to get people up to speed, right? We're having a little bit of a growing pain with orders being late, but mostly getting there. I'm pleased with the hiring process, and who we've been able to bring on. Upwork has been awesome, too. We just recently put a job out to Upwork, and so we're gonna use it as a training ground. So you do a project, and you get five people do that project, and the two that did the best job are the ones that are gonna get a full-time contract. I think Upwork has been a really helpful... Discovering that this year has been a big one.

08:45 AW: Nice. Anything else?

08:47 DS: Anything else right now? Well, we're just plugging away at trying to finish up our platform, our new account system, so that's coming together so beautifully. I'm thrilled with it. I cannot wait to launch that in Q1. I'd like to push for January, but you know how software development goes, so it might be February, but it's really coming together. It's all of my dreams coming true, Aaron. I cannot wait to have this thing, it's gonna be amazing. And I'm also really thrilled about our rank tracker development. How that has... We basically rewrote the whole thing. And so now that we have this thing, we can iterate faster on, and we have a new guy working on it, too. So I'm excited about that.

09:30 AW: Yeah, I know.

09:31 DS: We got some great new processes in our support team like a new onboarding process that we just rolled out, which is, I think really helpful. And this actually... A lot of these ideas were somewhat driven from stuff we talked about on the podcast. And so, when we have someone sign up, we actually have a customer support person look at how they set up their campaign and look for any key things that they might have missed or made a mistake on, and then we proactively reach out to them. So we're doing that with every campaign. Anyone that signs up for a rank tracker campaign, we check it out. We watch how they're doing, because this is a huge thing for reducing churn.

10:08 DS: If people are setting up their campaigns wrong, then they don't get the data, and then they cancel, and lots of times, they don't tell us. So by proactively looking at every single campaign that gets set up, we're catching that in advance and fixing it for them. They really appreciate us reaching out to them, and they're like, "Oh, thanks a lot. You fix up my campaign, now I get it." And so, that's really helpful to reduce churn. And so, I think that that's a really good initiative that we've started doing.

10:37 AW: Yeah, that's awesome. I'll be excited to maybe hear the data or the results behind what that looks like 60-90 days from now. So it sounds really awesome.

10:46 DS: That's all that's new for me. What's going on with you, I know you had some big news.

10:51 AW: Yeah, well, since the last time we talked, it became public that GatherUp has been acquired.

10:58 DS: Huge! 

10:58 AW: Yeah, very huge. Roughly about four months in the background of the deal fully coming together from the signal that, between offer and all of those pieces and everything else. So definitely a very intense, daunting, unknown process. I haven't led a company being acquired before, so I kind of equate it to running a sprint through a pitch black tunnel, and part of you is kind of waiting to get hit in the head with a low beam or something else, and then when the other end shows up, it's just like daylight, and you shoot out the other side.

11:41 DS: That's a great analogy.

11:43 AW: Yeah, very, very interesting. I'm happy to be through it. Very grateful, thankful, excited about what's next. And not to go too far, you and I have already discussed with this that we're gonna do at least a couple of episodes about this in January, 'cause there is so much to break down with it. But I can say just the high level is one, we are interested in someone acquiring us that was gonna help us grow faster. 

We felt like the company buying us was gonna help us achieve that. We wanted our team to be able to stay intact, and we're able to accomplish that. And then the third is that we felt like we'd still have the right leeway and dedication to what our vision is for the product, and that was accomplished well. We got a very healthy, multiple and... Yeah, all those things are really good so...

12:40 AW: A lot has gone in to that, and then once everything is kind of finalized there's so much of internal communication with your team, then with your clients, then the last step is kind of the public PR and that announcement stuff and that really kinda helps close that off and then I'm staying on the CEO, so then I have to dig right into a whole lot of transition work and that's really been my last 60 days and it'll be my next 60 days.

13:06 DS: Unbelievable. It's kind of cool that in our first year of podcasting this has happened for you. It is such a goal I know for most SaaS company owners, is like that dream that one day you'll be acquired. And so it's gonna be amazing fodder for our next couple episodes so listeners stay tuned. We're gonna have some exciting episodes coming up.

13:31 AW: Yes. That will be fun to re-cap and I don't even know I'm already at the point, so much was happening at the time. Man, am I even gonna be able to speak to all these aspects of whatever, but I think a lot of what I wanna just share is just some of the emotional journey through it and when you have... We had four main shareholders in the decision-making process and what that looks like and then just the hard part of understanding something that you haven't done before, but has just such high stakes attached to it. It's one thing when you're trying something new. You've never ice skated before and you're gonna go out there. It's another thing when there's some serious money involved and you're trying not to screw it up or have something go wrong or get the most out of it 'cause you can't go in resell the business again after selling it. It's a one-time deal so you really need to make sure you're getting things right.

14:27 DS: I like that analogy too. You just walking out of the ice with the shaky legs, trying to get it figured out, and then eventually, you're skating.

14:35 AW: Yeah, and there's no helmet for an acquisition and you kind of need it but, anyway. Well, we'll dive into a number of those things but yeah, just super grateful for what we've been able to accomplish, our team, our customers, all those things and looking forward to what 2020 is gonna look like.

14:56 DS: Yeah, so besides the big accomplishment, the acquisition what else you looking back at 2019? What do you think were some of GatherUp's biggest accomplishment that you're most proud of? 

15:05 AW: When I spend a few minutes thinking about this, one is first and foremost our team we really... I think we added 6 members in 2019 bringing our total to just a little over 20 and a lot of just really solid. We got some great hires, like our VP of Customer Success. One of our founders kind of rolled back and being a product manager and we brought on a new product manager, so that's a very key and an important role. I finally got my sales team hired, two sales people, and starting to catch a little bit with that, so definitely some really big hires and for the most part all these people just gelled really really well together as a team and being able to... We had our all company retreat in October, where everybody got together from our North American team. And then, a month and a half later, we were all together again because of the acquisition where our acquire flew everybody to Seattle where they're based so we all got to see each other again so yeah, that was a lot of fun to have that face time and we normally get it once a year. Team is a really big accomplishment. I'm proud of a lot of the features we're able to roll out. Text back or inbound SMS feature, our insights report that's powered by IBM Watson.

16:36 DS: Yeah, those are huge.

16:37 AW: Fundamentally, we put almost two years worth of work into really kind of rebuilding that the platform, with the theory of things that kind of started from a bottom up and we needed... We kind of finished finally getting to a top-down build with everything.

16:55 DS: What do you mean by that? 

16:57 AW: So, when GatherUp started, originally as GetFiveStars, the original build that the guys put together was really focused on single location small business and a lot of that was born out of... They hadn't worked with 200 or 500 or 5000 location company so they weren't able to see it through that lens, it was just something that they weren't aware of, and that was one area where that's where I had worked a lot and then when I got in and started selling to some of these larger ones, I could see how that was limited, so we really had to look at alright, how do we keep inching towards this and flip this upside down that instead of everything being built off the location, it's really built off the brand but filters all the way down to the location.

17:47 DS: Right, right, right.

17:49 AW: Yeah, so a lot of work into that and most of that is really all tied up so we had to do that in increments.

17:55 DS: Yeah, we're in a similar position right now with the design and development of our platform and so I'm trying to think about it from both angles. I want it to be easy for a single location business to come in, but it also needs to accommodate the enterprise businesses and so I think we've been thinking about it from both angles as we developed this so should be good for us I'm excited.

18:16 AW: Yeah.

18:17 DS: Yeah.

18:17 AW: Yeah, yep. Now, it's just really important 'cause in some parts, it's great victory and really exciting but I also know we had to burn a lot of dev cycles kind of redoing things. We were still finding wins and how we redid it and making it better, but at the same time there's certain pieces that if you do them right the first time their shelf life is much longer before you have to re-touch them or reconfigure, and then you can build more new things.

18:46 DS: Yeah, that's an interesting topic for another episode. It's just that concept of burning dev cycles and how do you reduce that, reduce the burn so that you're actually developing cleaner, without so much waste. I feel like we often waste a lot of dev cycles at Whitespark. It'd be good to fix that.

19:05 AW: Yeah, I often feel the same way. You're not alone.

19:07 DS: Everyone that runs a software company, I think yeah.

19:11 AW: And I'd say lastly, the one other big thing, making the Fortune 5000 list, it was really great. I know we touched on this in one of our other podcasts but if anything, it was just such a big accomplishment internally that really made our team feel like hey, we're much more than a startup. 'cause now you get to see yourself alongside, numerically with other companies and you realize alright, we're doing something quite exceptional here. We're making a list of very high growth, fast-growing companies and we're right in the middle of this list. We weren't 4999, we're in the low 2000s and I think that was really an eye-opener from our team that...

19:55 AW: In a startup, new company, small software company, you're so heads-down and you don't get a lot of these legitimacy things that make you feel like oh no, we are for real and especially with employees, if they haven't been around that type of thing before, there's just this giant gap in how they view what we're doing compared to a giant software company like Salesforce or something like that.

20:24 AW: So it was really great to get that and just see the pride of our team in that accomplishment and what they got out of it as far as self-value and reflecting on what they've helped achieve and it's something they could take to their friends and family and be like no, what I do is legit. Here's the very credible list that we're on. That was really cool.

20:44 DS: Yeah, it's a really great badge to put on your company, put on your website. It's really probably helpful for trust and sales with new companies looking at you as an option and I really do get that piece where, that company morale, where it's just like "Yeah, we're legit. We're a for real company. Look at it, we made the Fortune 5000." I really get that. In Canada there isn't one so I couldn't apply for this Fortune 5000 but there's a Canadian list that I guess I could get on but you know, it's Canada.

[laughter]

21:18 DS: I'll do eventually.

21:19 AW: Yeah. There's a list somewhere you can get on out there.

21:22 DS: Yeah, sure, I'll try to get on one of those lists.

21:24 AW: There you go. What about you? What's been the big accomplishments for yourself and for Whitespark? 

21:29 DS: Yeah, I think I've touched on a couple of them before. The transition of the citation team I think has been a lot of work and a big accomplishment that's been good for the company so I'm really pleased with that. Our GMB management service has really, in my mind, been a massive success. I had this vision to build a really straightforward well-defined service, recurring service that would scale nicely and so far, that has proven to be very true and huge props to Ally who directs and runs that team. She's doing an amazing job of getting everything in place and getting the people trained and it's growing really nicely under her leadership and so I'm really pleased with that, really grateful for having Ally in that position. She's doing a great job.

22:19 DS: But that team is growing. Like we're up to 60 clients now. We just put out another job posting so we'll have four people on that team now and it's growing at a rate of 10 to 15 clients per month and then, it just has this potential to explode and with that rate, I expect to be at around 200 plus clients by the end of 2020.

22:43 DS: So it's growing beautifully. I think it's a wonderful service. It's gonna be an amazing complement to the software we're developing so all of that is coming together so nicely. We grew our team a lot last year too. We added 10 new people in 2019 so a lot of those are on the citation team.

23:00 AW: Awesome! 

23:00 DS: A few of them on our GMB team so that's been some great growth for the company. We're up to 29 people now. We have two job postings out right now too. The Rank Tracker rebuild, that had been a long time coming so I'm really pleased to have that finally out the door, being able to iterate on that. We launched a cool little tool called, The Review Checker, which is a great little tool that allows you to see all of your review ratings across the web and it's just a free little simple tool. We talked about that in some earlier episodes but I'm pleased to have that out the door.

23:38 DS: Rewriting our templates and support, our new onboarding process and support. I don't know, it's just been a great year. I'm really happy with how 2019 has gone and gosh, I'm thrilled about what we've got coming for 2020. It's been a good year, yeah.

23:52 AW: Well, I think if I look at combining ours, the two themes are great people and great features, right? 

24:01 DS: Yeah.

24:02 AW: That's probably a couple of main ingredients to a successful...

24:06 DS: That's the formula right there everybody. Great people, great features. Your PR motto for the podcast.

24:11 AW: There you go, that...

24:11 DS: Yeah.

24:13 AW: So what about Darren on the challenging side? What are a couple of big challenges you faced this year? And are you winning currently against those challenges? Did you lose those challenges? What does that look like? 

24:27 DS: I feel like we failed pretty bad on the software dev side, it's just so slow. You think you're gonna have this thing out the door in July and here we are in December and it's still a couple months away and then that couple of months turns into more months and it's just that frustration of dev cycles, this concept of burning dev cycles because you worked on something but you gotta go back to the drawing board or you just didn't properly scope it. You couldn't see how big it was until you started diving in and that's one of the biggest challenges for sure that we face at Whitespark. It's been really tough to try and develop things faster.

25:09 DS: I think, the biggest problem we have is that we've got a fairly small development team. We've got new initiatives that we're working on but we have to continually be maintaining and supporting and fixing problems with the existing systems and so our capacity to develop something new is reduced to 30% of my total Dev teams capacity because they're always getting distracted by these little things that come up. My dream would be to have two teams. I got the Maintenance Team and I got the New Dev Team and the New Dev Team is pushing hard on the new stuff and not getting distracted. They're staying focused, they're staying on task and working on new software. While the Maintenance Team is fixing all the little things that come up or adding the little things that need to be added. That's the dream, I wanna get there.

25:58 AW: Yeah, I can tell you, from listening to you, almost all the same words could come out of my mouth and I think every SaaS business might feel the same way. I can't remember who I read it from, if it was in a tweet or whatever else but they basically broke down SaaS as this. It's ship, code, sell. Ship, code, sell. Ship, code, sell and yeah, when you're not shipping code, it does. It just starts to wear on you and we had some of the same. We had like...

26:29 AW: The first seven months of the year were so fast and so furious and really big features and getting things aligned and whatever else and then after that, it was like... I know the team felt a little bit burned out. We had some mis-steps within a few things. Details were missed. Some of those kind of pieces with it and that all kinda added up and then it kind of put us on pause for a month or two for everybody to get their feet back under them and now we're kinda in the same cycle where we have a lot of things starting to slope for like a January release and I feel like we're hitting this build up of things again that's not gonna be healthy for our team and it's a little harder to market because they all come at once.

27:14 AW: We actually just had some meetings yesterday and we're trying to figure out how do we get our sprint cycles to be a little bit cleaner and better and our product manager Mark, had some really good ideas on that because at the end of the day, that's the biggest thing I care about; is shipping features and it's this balance of some of the things you ship are things you have to build into the product, they're not sexy, they're not gonna help you in marketing but the product needs them.

27:44 AW: But ultimately, as a CEO and as a CEO that is helping a lot in sales and marketing, I need things, give me the marketing, give me the sexy features, the things that I can talk about. So it's finding that balance. I try to talk to our team about that. You have to understand this from the perspective of, we have to make news, we have to make a splash, we have to get people excited and certain things that we do or if they're about more of the plumbing of the system and things like that, that's not gonna turn heads, we have to balance those things.

28:16 DS: Yeah, that's a really good thing to think about. Like what... Maybe, I think you touched on the idea that your product manager and you're looking at these sprints. I mean, how do we spread these out so that we're injecting some of these splashy things in between all the must-do-not-so-exciting things? And that's a pretty good model to follow, really. If you lay out the next three months of development and say okay, we're gonna push for this exciting launch in January, push for this exciting launch in February and we're also gonna do these other little things just to get them done." It's a good... Keep the wheel turning. Continually marketing and pushing out new exciting things.

28:57 AW: Yup and I totally agree with you on the maintenance side. I just referred to this yesterday in a meeting, is like this is the undercurrent, right? No one can see it but there's so much to do and the more customers you have, the more small requests and we get a lot of integration requests and all these things and yeah, it just becomes really, really difficult with that and so I get back to the hardest thing of running a SaaS company is prioritization.

29:27 DS: Yeah. Huge.

29:28 AW: Right? Yeah. What to build over what, who to say no to? It's so hard to say no. We definitely have a yes-can-do culture in our company.

29:36 DS: Yeah. Same.

29:38 AW: And it's really hard because whatever I'm saying no to, matters a lot to someone in our company. It's a CS rep who has a customer or customers that are pinging them about it or a sales rep or an engineer that would feel a lot better if that was re-factored. So it's like you have all those things that when you give that no, there's multiple people taking a loss on it and then there's others on the team that are then getting a win because what they're rooting for, what they want to have happen can actually get some love, make it into the product...

30:10 DS: Yeah. I think I've gotten better at that in 2019. Someone comes through support and they're like, "Does the tool do this thing? I need it to do this thing, otherwise I can't do it." A big one that comes up occasionally is integrating a rank tracker with Google Data Studio. I'm always faced with this option. Do I drop the other things that we're working on so we can build this? Is that a splashy thing? And so the thing I'm always trying to balance when I see these feature options, potential things that we could build, is how many customers will this effect and how much money could this thing make us if we actually built it.

30:48 DS: And then based off of my assessment, I throw it on the list. It always makes it on to our task list but if it's something that's only gonna affect a handful of people and it's only gonna benefit a handful of people, it goes lower on the list and so I've been getting better at prioritizing that, I think. I feel better about it. Saying no more for sure has been a theme in 2019.

31:14 AW: Yeah. I don't know if I'm getting better at it. It's happening more often. I think just because the request and the things that are there happening more often. I did comment I think, I don't know if it was in one of our management team meetings or an all-team meeting but I kinda made a comment that was funny to me where for so long, there's definitely plenty of people that almost beg you to say no to things, especially your engineering team.

31:36 DS: Yeah, definitely.

31:38 AW: But then once you start saying no to things, then some of them are bummed out that now you're actually saying no, right? So it's this flip like alright, what way makes you happy? And it's like the answer is neither. It just depends on their position on that feature, on that issue, whatever it might be but yeah, there's always work to be done there. I feel like prioritization is probably a good topic for us in the future to talk about a lot deeper in just as you outlined, what do you use to help make those decisions, data, financials, all those 10 pieces and...

32:05 DS: It's mostly my gut. [chuckle] That's what it mostly is.

32:19 AW: Yeah and where do you draw the line with those things? Within your business, what is it? Is it if two customers ask, 10 customers, 30 customers. What is the dollar amount that makes it seem worth it to you to do a one-off? So...

32:36 DS: And sometimes it depends on the customer. It's like oh, well massive brand wants this thing so I guess we're gonna do it.

32:43 DS: Yeah, yeah. Such difficult decisions that just have ramifications all the time. Everything comes...

[overlapping conversation]

32:50 DS: I think another challenge that we had in 2019 was custom projects. Well, I'd say I'm pretty good at saying no to feature requests that maybe don't affect a lot of people. I have taken on a couple of really big things that have slowed us down. It slowed me down personally, where lots of stuff that I personally wanted to accomplish, maybe more research, writing, speaking had to take a back seat because I've been so busy with custom projects, things that I personally am taking on and so that's a bit of a learning thing that...

33:27 DS: The payout for those projects was good and the money is good but what was the cost? What is the cost in productivity in other areas of the business? That's the thing I'm trying to understand and learn from and in 2020, I'm gonna make a commitment to really stick to our core competencies and not take things that are outside of our typical realm of expertise.

33:51 AW: Yeah. No, definitely a valid item. I think for me the last thing... And this will be a 2020 challenge for me as well. We started the conversation in the summer this year but just around pricing. The last time we raised our prices for gather-up was three years ago. We grandfathered others in and we've seen our market continue to elevate up above us. We are one of the cheapest solution and based on the features that we have and what we offer, we're definitely in that area and it's such an interesting thing because it just brings in so many emotional things for people on how do they individually value the product, how do they think through, okay when you go and talk to a customer about a pricing increase, are they gonna be mad at you and then how does that make you feel? Do you disappoint them?"

34:44 AW: It's really hard to get your management team wrapped around this, right? And get them understanding and when we did a team survey on a number of things on just kinda do like, "How do you feel leadership was for the year or management or some of these different things?" I did ask everyone to name a price. If you're a one-location business, what's the price of our product? 

35:10 AW: It was really interesting to see that variation from just a little bit more than what we charge right now, to three or four times more than what we charge right now. It's so interesting and it's such a psychological exercise internally and ultimately, externally as well.

35:28 DS: Yeah, are you saying that if you... You grandfather people in but you also mentioned communicating a price increase to existing customers. If you have an existing customer that has, let's say, 20 locations in the system, do they only grandfather for those 20 but any new locations they add would be at the new price, is that how you do it? 

35:49 AW: No, the account itself when we did it before just ends up grandfathered. So that customer can continue to make the amounts for that through that entire time. It becomes really tough right? And you're building a SaaS product that... Alright, if someone who's been with us four or five years, they have realized hundreds of updates, right? And you're not reconciling for those updates at all and when you look at the market, alright, if you were to go buy a similar tool, you would pay 2X or 3X of what our price is.

36:24 AW: It's all these pieces and all of those things and so, we started talks early on this. It helps people get their arms around it, helps with the psychological part but it's something that is gonna happen for us in 2020 and that'll bring its own set of challenges on finalizing it, communicating it, just a... Our company is built to make everyone happy. We have great customer service. The minute anyone's remotely wrong, multiple people are on that problem but this is gonna be a hard one because it will... Price increases, no matter what, always ruffle some feathers when you have thousands of customers and this is something that's hard for every SaaS, right? 

37:07 AW: And you hear, it's like... Man I've listened to so many podcasts and read so many articles on pricing strategies and structures and communication alone and there's so many that they just say like, "You have to do this or you will not be successful. You will not survive unless you're doing this on a frequent basis." And even sometimes some say, "You have to condition your customer that this is a constant. Tool gets better and the price gets better."

37:33 DS: That's right. You mentioned that people that started with you five years ago, they were paying for a much more reduced feature set than what the system offers now and so, price increase makes sense. So would you then, are you saying that a person that did sign up five years ago, they might not get grandfathered in with a new price increase? 

37:50 AW: Don't know any of those details yet.

37:52 DS: Sure.

37:53 AW: It's really looking into it. A lot of it is... Step one is getting the psychology around it and then the second step is figuring out alright, what do we need to do that's healthy for our business? That gives us the margins we need to continue to make the investments, continue to do those things as you get bigger and support your customers? That's the hard thing for... Some of your really good customers, they totally get it. They're like "Hey, I get it. If you're not making money, you're not a tool that's gonna keep growing and I can't use you so I want you." But it's that right balance, right? So yeah. I don't know any of those details yet other than... Those discussions started last year, they will likely... Hopefully, some time this spring we will arrive and figure out where we're going with it but it's just, it's a very big undertaking.

38:44 DS: For sure, I got a pricing meeting today. We're gonna be talking about pricing for our new stuff that's coming out. I'm trying to figure that out.

38:51 AW: There you go. Yup.

[overlapping conversation]

38:51 AW: [38:51] ____ your challenge as well.

38:53 DS: So what are you excited about for 2020? 

38:55 AW: Yeah, the new working environment we have, right? With having a parent company. The grouping were in, right? We were acquired by a group that owns seven other marketing SaaS technology companies and they even own one of our competitors and that was one of the things we liked. Yeah.

39:15 DS: Weird.

39:15 AW: But we saw how they could grow our competitor so that was really hands-on like alright, they know our space well. They understand the pulls and the levers in there and now we get to understand how those companies are operated. To me, that's what I'm really excited about to be able to not just know what my company is doing and how things are going and decisions being made but I'll see this for seven other companies. Yeah.

39:40 DS: Amazing, yeah. Great learning opportunity.

39:41 AW: Absolutely.

39:41 DS: Talk to all those other founders.

39:44 AW: Yup and then our team is now part of a larger team so now everybody in every position has a new set of peers doing the same type of customer success work or engineering work or sales work but on a different product so they have someone to learn from and collaborate with and pick someone's brain and everything else so I think that's really awesome. We've laid down, we have some really hefty goals so we're looking at some much bigger growth in 2020 so I'm excited for that and then yeah, just some of the challenges we're talking about like... And you put it best, right? 

40:21 AW: Challenges are the uncomfortable things that stretch you further and push you further so I am excited about some of the challenges even though I know they're going to be hard and they're gonna push on me and all of those things but it's like alright, how much better will I be? What will I learn? How will it stretch what I've gone through? I'm excited for what those challenges are gonna be.

40:43 DS: Yeah, totally. It sounds awesome.

40:46 AW: What about you? What's on the 2020 docket? What are you excited about? 

40:49 DS: Yeah well, we're just on the cusp of launching a few things. I'm really excited about those. I feel like these launches will really take our company to another level with the way we've got our software development coming up. That's our new accounts platform, our new integrated stuff that we're building. I think that's gonna be really huge for us. Our rank tracker will continue to evolve, our GMB Service will continue to grow. I don't know, it just feels like a huge growth year for us and I cannot wait to get some of these things out the door.

41:21 DS: They're really close right now so, I've mentioned that meeting today. We're gonna be looking at a lot of the stuff and figuring out how we're gonna price it and what are the features... The different plans actually is a big part of what we're meeting today; is to figure out what's included at the different levels and so that stuff is so close and man, we're gonna launch that. It's gonna be amazing. I can't wait. It's gonna be good.

41:46 DS: I don't know. In general, 2019 felt like a little bit of a flat growth year. There was a bit of growth but 2020, I'm expecting some hockey stick so I'm excited about that.

42:00 AW: Nice. Well, I Can't wait to be talking on maybe even more regular basis and hearing how all of those things are going for you and especially your integration of everything together. I think there's gonna be so much for us to talk about on how that's progressing for you and the wins and the challenges and all of those things. Like that...

42:20 DS: Oh yeah.

42:20 AW: That to me is gonna be really exciting to dig in and hear how that's going for you.

42:24 DS: Yup, yeah. I'm pumped. It's gonna be great, 2020 bring it on.

42:29 AW: Bring it on. But before that relax, enjoy the holidays, enjoy the family. We were discussing in our chatter before hitting record like this is the best time of year to just kinda recalibrate, get a little down time, get some family time so that you're ready to charge ahead once things kick over.

42:50 DS: Totally, yes. Same to you. I hope you have a good holiday break. This is a nice downtime. I'm definitely taking the full two weeks off over Christmas there and I'll be back on January 2nd to get back to it.

43:04 AW: Pretty much the same. I'm on a plane tomorrow. We're doing a quick snowboarding and ski trip into the Rockies before Christmas.

43:12 DS: Nice.

43:12 AW: Yeah and then enjoying Christmas and family and some quiet time and then yeah, I'll be amped and ready to go come Jan.

43:21 DS: Yup! 

43:23 AW: Alright. Well hey man, I wanna thank you for everything this past year, the podcast, so many of our talks both recorded and unrecorded. I have benefited so much. I'm really glad we took the plunge on this and I also... I hope our listeners are glad we took the plunge on this too.

43:40 DS: Yeah, well same to you. It's been amazing to chat with you and learn from you and to discuss all of these things about running a SaaS business together. This podcast has been a real blessing to me and my business and your friendship has been a real blessing too. It's been great Aaron, thank you.

44:00 AW: You bet, virtual fist bump my friend.

44:02 DS: Virtual fist bump.

[laughter]

44:02 AW: Alright, with that we'll wrap it up. I hope everyone listening, hope you've had a fabulous 2019. Hope you have a great Christmas and holiday season with your loved ones to take some time to relax and reflect. If you're working in this industry, you're likely working your tail off on a daily basis. Don't burn yourself out and looking forward to talking to you in a Happy New Year in 2020.

44:31 DS: Yup, I echo all of Aaron's sentiments to our great listeners. Thanks for listening.

44:36 AW: Thanks everybody. Have a good one Darren.

44:37 DS: Okay, you too. Bye bye.

44:46 AW: Bye bye.

[OUTRO music]
The Saas Venture Podcast from Aaron Weiche and Darren Shaw