21: Frameworks

Aaron and Darren catch up on business, summer, COVID and then take a dive into a feature framework Aaron created and has been using S.E.A. stands for Security, Efficiency and Advantage with the framework putting a feature against these key benefits to judge its value and prioritization.

Full episode show notes:

[INTRO music]

00:13 Aaron Weiche: Episode 21, Frameworks.

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.

00:46 Darren Shaw: And I'm Darren.

00:46 AW: And I am currently living summer to its fullest the last few weeks. How about you?

00:55 DS: I wouldn't call it to the fullest. [chuckle] I'm living summer to the "halfest". I'm doing some summary things, but I feel like I need to get out more. We're a little apprehensive about going out, spending enough time outside. We should get out more. More walks, more bike rides.

01:10 AW: There you go, I think it's a good idea. In regards to COVID, I would say that the easiest way I surmise our family and definitely having kids with high school activities and sports and those things are like on their own trajectory, but we've moved from isolation to limitation. And a lot of it's just limiting like what are bad ideas? Going to a bar, for me, I'd rather not go get a haircut, I'm lucky Marcy's been cutting my hair. I'm in no hurry to jump on a plane. I'm not going to the health club. I'm doing long walks just about every day, but no weights or strength training or any of that but yeah, just trying to get back to as much as normal. If I'm in a store, I'm in a mask, just that kind of stuff, just trying to be as smart as possible and distancing and preventative things without... Yeah, the bunker life in a family of six and when you have a 16-year-old and a 14-year-old, it just won't work.

02:10 DS: I can imagine, yeah. Yeah, it's not that dissimilar from what we're doing, so pretty much every night after dinner, I get outside with Violet, and we'll go for a walk or bike ride and Jill comes for most of those, too, so we're doing that, we're getting out and just sort of going outside when the weather is decent. Yeah, and definitely, mostly not going into any stores. If I did have to I would bring a mask. But for the most part, I haven't been to a store in over a month 'cause we get everything delivered. Our groceries are all delivered or curbside pickup and so it's been really easy that way.

02:42 AW: It's an interesting thing when you're out, and when you're wearing a mask, and just the human energy between those wearing masks, those not wearing masks, just all... You see the collision in people's eyes of political views and personal views and their rights and oh, so many things, I don't know.

02:58 DS: My freedom?

03:00 AW: Yes, it's quite an interesting thing.

03:02 DS: Yeah, totally. I follow this group on Nextdoor for our neighborhood and wow, some of the posts over there are really blowing up with the two sides clashing, people talking about their freedoms to not wear masks, and people trying to educate them on the benefits of masks. But man, there's that one group that can't get their head around the mask only being for them, and they don't see the benefit of it from the other perspective, which is you wear the mask to protect others. And it's faced with all of the information being presented to them, they still can't wrap their head around that. It seems to me. There's probably lots of people like that.

03:36 AW: Yeah, it's tricky folks. Definitely, I don't know, I don't know if it's pride. If it's vanity, I don't know if it truly is freedom or just being told what to do, or the fact that there's just so many people not willing to believe anything from any source at any time, right. The... I don't know, I can't handle all the conspiracy theories, what a hole to go down these days right.

03:57 DS: Oh my God, yeah, I know, I haven't really gone down the holes, but I've seen glimpses of them and I'm like, Wow.


04:04 AW: Who knows?

04:05 DS: Some things they're thinking, yeah.

04:06 AW: Yes, you'll never get out if you go in. So I think what you're doing is why it's just kind of walk around the edge and find a new path.

04:13 DS: Yeah, totally, totally. How are things going at Gather Up these days, what's going on?

04:18 AW: Good. I think the easiest way to state it is just stability, things have become more stable from what's gone on as we've talked. We've had over a month since our last episode and things have really stabilized. The things that you see more than anything is, one, for me personally, like new sales are just slow and I'm mostly dealing with larger multi-location all the way up to enterprise-type deals, and really more than anything, it's like taking on something new, implementing a new tool and building process, or some companies would call change management. That's the obstacle right now. More so than spending budgets. And when you look, it's really easy to understand, it was the same for our business, especially the first eight to 10 weeks of COVID and what was taking place, it was like every minute was filled with a special meeting or a task force, or talking about how things were trending, what numbers churn, paused billing.

So you can understand that inside of these other businesses that not only have that, but then have entered a reopening phase and changing protocols and health measures and communication and all these other things. So it's easy to see why they've probably just said like, "Hey, just keep on keeping on right now and let's not introduce anything new, look we have enough to deal with."

05:45 DS: I think that's exactly it. Everyone's busy and they're getting back to business for the most part, but some things are lower priority and that concept of stability makes perfect sense. Let's just keep things going as they are, so we can focus on all this other stuff.

06:01 AW: And as I pointed out with our stand-up team meeting today is what has really spoken well for us is just retention. Our April was down, but our May, we were not down, we were on the plus side, very little, but still on the plus side, which was really encouraging. June, as we record this headed into the last few days of June, is trending nicely for a percentage point or two of gain, which sounds fantastic, right now.

06:29 DS: Any gains, sounds pretty good.

06:30 AW: Exactly, and all of that's being done with basically almost no new sales, we have some of our resellers and agencies are expanding, our partners that resell us are expanding, but as far as things direct with us, that really isn't happening. So it's having just a high level of retention and you've already peeled away some of the people that were very fringe customers, not heavy users, don't find value, things like that, but overwhelmingly, the massive core hasn't needed or wanted to make any of those changes, so that's really sound. And I just shared with our team, that's a compliment all the way around, 'cause I really do believe that we have an outstanding product, but we have a phenomenal service layered over the top of it, and those two things combined absolutely lead to retention.

07:19 DS: Yeah, totally, I think there's also some nature of the business too with yours, I notice certainly, 'cause we're a GatherUp reseller white label version of it is like that always stayed relatively stable. We certainly saw some drops at the end of March, early April, but then it stabilized and we didn't see much because it's the kind of service that you just will always need, it's one of the ones where you're like, Yeah, okay, I can't cut that. It's a bit of an essential service, and I think that that's really helpful for GatherUp, and we're seeing it on our side too. Yeah.

07:52 AW: Other than that a lot of small little releases like a number of things it's interesting, I think we kinda have these cycles where we push and we'll have a really big feature or two, and we're really pushing and grinding on that, and then the minute that happens, I think especially our engineering team kind of needs... They need a little break and then we've also kind of built up a lot of small things that need to be tended to, and a lot of those tend to be behind the scenes, like migrating to a new version of something, shoring something up, test code, whatever it might be. And so we made it through a couple of weeks of that after some big, really big pushes to start the year, but then now we're getting into this middle ground where they're smaller things, but they're very visible things.

We're pushing things out, but it's things that we can blog about or market or talk to our customers about things that they notice or they can engage with, or not so much a feature release, but an enhancement to an existing feature that's there. That's been nice to hit these patterns of that happening, like every couple of weeks out of a sprint.

09:00 DS: I'm a little jealous of that position because I've got most of my dev team focused on building our brand new accounts system, which is like all of our payment processing, user management, receipts, all the order forms, if you're gonna go and sign up for something, all of that accounts stuff. Right, and it's one of those big huge beasts of a project and also migrating it all from the old system, and so we're not gonna have any feature releases for a while, until we get this thing wrapped up and out the door, so it's gonna be a quiet period for us, I think.

09:32 AW: But what a new level you will hit when you get that done.

09:35 DS: Yeah, it would be nice because we've been really held back that this system, we built it in 2011, I think, and it's just this Frankenstein system I think I mentioned it before on the podcast, but it's just terrible, so it's time to definitely centralize all of that, and it'll also really help us with our reporting and understanding our metrics better, so looking forward to it.

09:54 AW: Now, I think it'll be a... It'll just elevate the level that you're playing from, and then I think a lot of the things that you wanna do moving forward from that will just be so much more impactful and in sync and consistent and all those other things.

10:11 DS: Yeah, it also is the foundation of what we're trying to build overall as a company, kind of in our two, three year plan, and so that... It's the foundation of that, so we have so much to build upon it, so I'm excited as once we get that piece out the door, then we'll launch into a launching features quicker phase.

10:33 AW: Awesome, yeah, we're about... I'm happy with these little quick releases, but we're about to embark where we've gone through all the design process on a new feature for us called Inbox, which is really centered around ticketing reviews or customer feedback that needs to be looked at so you can prioritize it and then assign it to people in the organization, and then efficiency in replies, so you can save replies and signatures and obviously, be able to look at a status and see if things have been replied or closed off, so that's gonna be a very heads-down two to three-month build, so I'm about to be back in the same boat as you, where it's like, Alright, nothing new for quite a while, none of these fun little quick hitters that the frequency makes you feel really good about them. Where it's about to be like, Okay, we're going for something big, and it's gonna be a while until the smoke clears.

11:25 DS: Going into dark mode.

11:26 AW: Yeah, totally. In our notes we exchange, I see something here I wanted to touch on, I see... I wanna hear about... You're working on a referral program. I would love to hear... Is it because you're asked so much about it, you feel like this is a good growth channel, tell me about why you've looked into it and kind of like where you're at with it.

11:46 DS: Yeah, for sure. So it was one of the growth levers for our GMB management service, we really thought about that 'cause we get so many people sending us referrals already for that service that I feel like it's this opportunity because it's such a well-priced service that meets a need for a lot of these digital agencies that are... Right now, you can white label it, but a lot of people don't want to do that.

They just wanna send them to us and not have to worry about it, but make some cash anyways, and so I think that the referral program could actually drive that side of the business pretty significantly, and so we've been just talking about it, just defining it, what is the payout? How do we track everything? Do we use some sort of system that's off the shelf that we can just get up and running immediately, or do we build our own. And so, yeah, we've just been kind of debating that, do we pay recurring, do we pay one-time payouts.

12:45 DS: If you look at different referral programs out there, like web hosting is kind of a great one to look at because every web host has some kind of referral program and we really like WP engine's method, which is... It's just like a one-time $200 payout for accounts you sign up beyond a certain level. And so we're looking at something similar for ours, where if the client stays with us for three months, you get a $100 payout. And so we also were trying to debate, build our own versus use a software system, and if we just really decide it it makes so much more sense to build our own because the system is pretty damn simple, you have an area in the admin where you can generate these referral codes. So I was like, Oh, make a new one. Okay, here it is, agency.

13:29 DS: And then they send that link out. When someone hits the page through that link, it sets a cookie, cookie expires after 180 days, and with that, any time they go through the check out, we just look for the cookie. "You have the cookie?" "Yes." Okay, then we fire... We fire a conversion. Now, the funny thing is, is that if you implement it in someone else's system, you have to do the same work. You have to go into their system, generate the length, you still have to build the cookie setting and tracking on your end, and then you fire the conversion over to their system instead of ours. So, it's almost the same amount of work and instead of paying 200 bucks a month for some system, we have just our own. The only thing you need after that is just a dashboard to report on how many clicks each referrals getting, how many conversions you're getting, and when their payout is. It's in a couple of days of work for our team to build that into our account system, so we're just gonna build our own.

14:16 AW: So, how are you doing the payouts with it? Are you doing credits or kind of a check?

14:21 DS: PayPal.

14:22 AW: Okay, PayPal.

14:22 DS: Yep, so when you sign up, we want your PayPal email, and then one of our managers will just go through once a month and send payout. So, they just pull a report from the dashboard and send payouts via PayPal.

14:35 AW: What happens when 10 people say they want Venmo?

14:38 DS: Then we say, no. [laughter] Do you wanna be in our referral program, then you can give us your PayPal, if you don't, then you're not in our referral program. And we'll expand it later, right, but we've got an MVP in mind, we're gonna launch with that, and maybe later it's like, "So many people want Venmo, so I guess, we'll add Venmo." So, we'll expand it as the needs arise.

15:00 AW: Yeah, I was just playing a little bit of devil's advocate there.

15:02 DS: Absolutely, cool.

15:03 AW: Those are some of the reasons why after GatherUp we built our own billing system, that until now we're kind of actually in-between. All of our new customers are going on to, we're using Chargebee now. All of our new customers are going on to the Chargebee system. Our existing customers are all in our Legacy billing system that we built six years ago and added on and band dated and kept afloat over the years. But some of those reasons are the reasons why we wanted to use someone else who is strictly focused on creating that because so many things within billing features and just different methods of things in reporting and whatever else, it was like, "Okay, let's focus on one product, we build customer experience and review management, we don't build billing systems."

15:52 DS: Yeah, right.

15:53 AW: But I'm definitely curious, I would... I think this is something that I'll be checking in with you because I've had a lot of requests for a referral program and based... I don't know if I've over-thought it. We've just never felt comfortable in coming up with the right format and how it works and things like that, and then we also have a lot of customers, it would be like, "Oh well, I wanna resell some, but some I just wanna refer," and it just... It feels like it just gets really messy on the record keeping side more than anything.

16:21 DS: Yeah, so it's easy for us because we're doing a real basic phase launch, like the first version of this. It's not for anything Whitespark, it's only for our GMB management service. So, we've really trimmed it down to this one little thing and we're actually not even building that web-based interface right now. We're in a kind of pilot. We already have three people lined up that wanna be referral partners, and those three are probably enough to drive a decent amount of business to pilot it. And we're just gonna give them a spreadsheet.

It's like whenever there is a conversion, we're just gonna record it in the spreadsheet and, "Here's your shared spreadsheet." It's totally Mickey Mouse, but it'll allow us to kinda get a feel for it, and then we'll have a developer build a little web interface where they can wanna check their own stuff, but actually, I kinda wanna wait until we launch this new account system I mentioned and to build that, 'cause I don't wanna build it twice, and so that's why we're gonna launch with basic spreadsheets to start. Just really simple, really, really straightforward. For sure.

17:18 AW: When... Outside of two weeks, when are you looking to launch this?

17:25 DS: The actual tracking is already in place. We have a call this Thursday and I think we might be handing out links this Thursday. So, I'm gonna go with two weeks, Aaron. [laughter] Two weeks, man.

17:37 AW: All right. As long as you have it thought out and you're still going on two weeks.

17:41 DS: I know it's a risky call, but I'm going with two weeks.

17:45 AW: Well, here's a piece of good news with us, we're usually somewhere from three to five weeks when we record an episode and get together in talks. So, you really have three weeks and depending upon...

17:56 DS: Okay good, yeah.

17:57 AW: How things go down, you might have four or five weeks to get this done, and as long as it happens in between our episodes, that's almost the same as two weeks to me, so you don't have to worry about me criticizing you if it doesn't hit this.

18:08 DS: I tell you what, as soon as we get off of this podcast recording, I'm slacking the team and I'm saying, "Guys, we've got two weeks. I told Aaron on the podcast it's gonna be done in two weeks. We've gotta get it done."

18:18 AW: There you go, I'm there to keep you honest, Darren.

18:21 DS: Thanks man.

18:22 AW: Well, I think that's a little bit of a good segue, 'cause realize it or not, when we were sharing some banter about what we wanted to talk about today, and I wanted to talk about a product framework that I've developed and just kind of wanted to talk out loud and share it. And something I wanna kinda write about and hone even further, but I think to some extent it's kind of... You've gone through a little bit of a framework. You're building a framework for how you're gonna look at your referral program and what are the staples. What's gonna guide it? What is the structure of that system? And I want to talk about frameworks as opposed into a concept for how I approach features and how I evaluate which one is there, because it's really helped me prioritize what features to build and when off of a number of different factors.

19:12 DS: Yeah, I'm really interested in this because, I don't know, I don't think I've ever said, "Hey, this is our framework." I've never really formalized it, but I guess in everything we do, we kind of build things through some kind of basic framework. So, yeah. I'm curious to hear your thoughts on this and what you've been working on.

19:28 AW: I think a lot of it sometimes is just peeling back and just thinking about it more abstractly, or even just analyzing your own thought process and starting to dig a little bit deeper in, well, alright, in these past things, why have I decided that? Or why did it become important to me? What was it, right? And on the surface you start to look at things and it might be like, oh, well, it's because a competitor had that feature or enough people asked for it or I read about this and it gave me an idea, whatever that might be, but then there's still layers to go beyond that, is like, well, why are people asking for it? What's the emotion behind it? What's the fear behind it? What's the excitement behind it? Things like that. And that's what I ended up doing last year, early on when I was just looking at a number of... I was like, alright, I had a dozen ideas and features and trying to figure out what order and how and what's their importance to our customer and to kind of the, I don't know, the next level of bricks in the structure of what GatherUp is, is we try to get always building closer and closer to what our vision is.

20:35 AW: And it just started to emerge, and I'm obviously one, I like concepts and I like stories and figuring out these elements, so I just started to look at it and like, okay, there is kind of a method to how I keep doing this over and over again. I just haven't focused on it, detailed it, and made it into something where then I can easily go back and rely on it to support my decision. Does that make sense?

21:01 DS: Yeah, totally. So the concept makes sense. Can you give me an example?

21:06 AW: Yeah. So the framework is basically for identifying a feature and then prioritizing it, and... Amazing, right? No surprise to anyone, right? Create an acronym for it. So I call it the SEA Framework, as in the body of water, S-E-A.

21:25 DS: Okay.

21:25 AW: And from analyzing a bunch of different features and the decisions I made and why I've made them and all those things, I really could end up boiling it down to three specific things, and that is that feature either provides security, that feature either provides efficiency, or that feature provides an advantage. And the really good features tend to hit on actually two or three of these at one time, and that's what I really noticed I was picking up on is those are the ones that I felt more compelled to build first, were the ones that hit upon multiples instead of just one out of the three.

22:04 DS: Mm-hmm. It makes me think of, I don't know, how do you organize your feature requests? Are you using something like Canny? Feature requests are coming in from customers, and how do you keep track of them? You have a spreadsheet, what do you do?

22:16 AW: Yeah, so we don't keep a running tally or scoreboard. We do a weekly report from our customer success team on what are people asking about, what are they reaching out about, things like that, and that's not always ideas. When we do talk sales team and even in... At this point, there's just a couple of us doing sales, but we have pretty tight dialogue with what people are asking for. We've never hit a point where it's like, okay, we need to track that every time they've asked for this, we need to track this because the amounts are so great.

22:52 DS: Sure.

22:53 AW: But I definitely keep track of what some of that volume is in my head, and a lot of times we're trying to get clarity on customers asking for this, but is that what they really mean, or is what they're asking for just the way they see to accomplish X, right? And then it's digging in and like, okay, well, can they accomplish X a different way that actually is more robust or applicable to more situations or just hits upon a greater level of output than how they see it, right? And a lot of times your customers are gonna bring you things where they're like, "Hey, if you just did this... " They're gonna look at the quickest hack to get what they want, because that makes them think this is more likely to get done if this is just change this or quickly add this thing or whatever else, but then if you start having the conversation, like, okay, well, ultimately, what do you wanna know? And then tell me why do you wanna know it? What's the importance? And then you can start to peel back and be like, "Okay, I see your destination, but I actually know... I feel like I have a better way to get there that will benefit more than just you and your role."

23:55 DS: Yeah, that's the big thing, right? You get so many of these little feature requests, and it's easy to jump on them, too. They're just like, oh, yeah, we could just have a developer tweak that in a half day of work and then put that in the system. But then that's how you end up with a really bloated, ugly, messy system.

24:10 AW: Yeah.

24:10 DS: So are you putting these... So, let's say... You must have a list of the top four or five things that are commonly being requested, and so do you put them and score them on SEA, security, efficiency, advantage, and then if they're hitting... One of them's hitting all three, you're like, okay, that's my prioritization, I'm gonna hit that one first because it's more valuable than the other ones, which is maybe only hitting efficiency or something.

24:38 AW: Yeah. So I haven't developed a point system or rating to it or anything else yet. I would like to get to something that makes... I think there's some of it that's just easy for me to understand, and of course that probably comes with its biases, but I feel like I'm able to look at it and really understand what it's drawing out or what it's hitting upon, what it's triggering for that customer and also for what we're trying to do with it. So when you look at at each of those, and when I look at those top things, I do wanna gravitate towards one that hits at least two of them, if not all three of them. So an example, just as I was talking before this about our inbox feature that allows you... Say a bad review comes in for two stars and based on what it's about, there's someone specific in the organization, you want to address it, or you want the general manager of a specific location to address it.

25:35 AW: So it would allow you to take that and then assign that to Sarah, who's the general manager at that location, send it off to her, and then when she gets it, she already has a list of replies she's put together, so now she can just say like, okay, send reply four to this customer that has an apology, identifies the issue, and then offers, please email me so we can have some more back and forth on this to try to take it offline or into tighter communication cycles and make the customer feel taken care of. So when we look at that, it's like, okay, I can easily look at that one, that hits upon efficiency in the SEA Framework, right? It's gonna save time, it's gonna create more outcomes and more power for the person that's doing it, it's very process-focused, there's just some different wins that are in there for that person. But then we also look and it's like, okay, one other thing we wanna build into it... Now instead of somebody having to look at it, now you can actually... We're building in what we're calling smart routing, so you could create rules and say any time a 2-star review comes in that talks about feeling sick after eating at our restaurant, it needs to go to Sarah. So now a human doesn't have to touch it based on the rating and the words used in the review. It's automatically gonna be routed to someone you have placed as the owner or the expert this falls in their domain.

27:01 DS: And there's a security element there too, right, because it's like I can feel more secure that I know that these 2-star "sick" ratings are going to the right person. It's like the software is doing that for me, there's a security there.

27:13 AW: Absolutely, and then you can see automation is obviously a huge part of efficiency, right? My top three efficiency things I ever wanna achieve is automation and integration, or can machine learning or AI help out with it? And then interesting enough, then looking at it for the next is like, does inbox... Are the benefits an advantage? Does this give an advantage to A, our product, and does it give an advantage to B, our customer usage? So, on the A level, then I start to look at like, okay, do any of my competitors have this smart routing feature, right? There are definitely other competitors with ticketing abilities and things like that, and being able to assign a review for someone else to look at, yes, that exists, but I'm not able to track down anyone else that has, hey, we'll do the thinking for you. We'll automatically assign it to people based on topic, rating, a combination. You're really able to build, if this, then this, do this type framework.

28:09 AW: And so in looking at that, it's like, alright, that create a selling advantage for us, so that's a plus. And then when we look at it for our competitors, all right, if they're able to respond faster from the right people with more ease, that creates an advantage for them, right? They see like, alright, this... We look better in customer service than our competitors because we feel this gives us the ability to respond X amount faster than they're gonna get from other businesses that they're working with. So it's not hard for me to look at a feature like inbox and say, this is something, just as we talked about, that we will shut off most of what else we're doing for three months while we make this feature come to life for us.

28:50 DS: And you feel confident in that because it's hitting all three of the primary metrics of your SEA Framework?

28:56 AW: Yeah, super confident in it, because it hits across all of those things. Where you get into other small things like, let's just take review monitoring, right? To me, that's a strictly security play because it's really about two things. It's about, one, feature parity. Every other solution out there on the market has it, and the second, it's something the customer expects. It gives them security, like yep, of course I need to know what new reviews are coming out there, but they'd be even less secure in us as a solution if we were like, that's such a staple we just skipped right past it, use someone else for that. We're actually gonna help you do these other things instead, but because that's a fundamental. That they would look at that and be like, I don't feel so strong about you guys. This is something I expect.

29:42 DS: Yeah, and they wouldn't wanna get that out of two different systems. They're just like, I want one system for monitoring and managing my reputation.

29:48 AW: Exactly.

29:49 DS: It sounds pretty good. It makes me wonder, what are some other frameworks? Okay, actually, here's another thing. So this is your framework for evaluating features, right? And so evaluating and prioritizing features. It's the SEA Framework for evaluating and prioritizing features. So what's next after that? There must be a whole bunch of frameworks already out there presented by other SaaS companies, and it's just not something I've explored. Have you looked at anything else out there?

30:20 AW: Well, there's definitely a lot of... From the high level, you have your... Is it a painkiller or a vitamin of your solution, right? I think that's... I don't know if that's just an analogy, or a framework that's supposed to be out there. I know there's a few other... Oh, I know I'm gonna forget who it's from, I believe somebody has someone... I should do a quick Google search on this and see if I can attribute it. So there's one, the RICE scoring model.

30:49 DS: Oh, I've heard of this.

30:50 AW: Yeah, so that's the one of that I've heard of before. So that one has to do with... And maybe it's Intercom that made that possible, but it's reach, impact, confidence, and effort. It's taking a... It's definitely a little bit different approach to what's out there, but it does have a point value with it, right? You're looking at... You're assigning numerics to what the reach is, what the impact will be, the confidence, and then what does it take to complete it, and then letting you know how that works into your prioritization and execution, right? And mine, mine doesn't go as far as saying, alright, that's great because your biggest ideas will definitely square out on the SEA Framework really well, but that doesn't take into account, can we actually pull this off?

31:36 DS: Sure, yeah, of course. It could be like, this thing could be huge, whatever, it's like, oh, yeah, definitely hits all the buttons, but it's an entire two-year project to build it, so I don't know, should we do it?

31:46 AW: Yep. No, in my search, maybe we'll link to this in the show notes, but it looks like... I found a list of nine product prioritization frameworks for product managers. So I need to create mine, and then I can email them and let him know I have a 10th.

32:00 DS: There you go. I got another one for you. It's the Aaron Weiche SEA Framework for feature planning.

32:05 AW: Exactly. So nobody wants a list of nine when you can have a list of 10, that's for sure.

32:09 DS: You know what, it looks so lame when you just see that "Nine Best Frameworks," it should definitely be 10. It makes you wonder, though, what are the other areas of our business we should be structuring into this framework? Frameworks seem to help you, guide you towards decisions, right? So what is the next best feature to launch, or how should I approach this situation, or... There must be HR frameworks, and I don't know, I think there's great value in exploring that and seeing that implement in your business. I think... I just listened to this one about your SEA Framework, and I'm like, damn, gonna do it, I'm gonna definitely create a spreadsheet, we'll track our feature requests in there, pulling stuff from both sales and support, identifying what people are asking for, and then actually have a column for each of these and put checkmarks in them, an SEA column, and then if they hit all three of them, then that helps me with the prioritization. Also gives you an immediate visual. It's like... You can see which one... You can sort by number of checkmarks, right? So, yeah, I think it's really powerful.

33:06 AW: Well to your point, that's the biggest value is you're creating something that you can make... Guide you in your decisions that can maybe save you from your biases or heat of the moment or moving forward or placing something higher than it needs to be in the moment, and sometimes those things happen and you need to react and you need to do those things, but how can you use it to guide in how you look at it and what you end up putting it back against? I also think it's important when you're building these things too, and you talk to it about your team that you're able to explain, especially 'cause most orgs, your entire team is not gonna be part of deciding the roadmap and the prioritization and things like that. And I feel like to keep them onboard, have them confident, them seeing the vision clearly, you need to be able to explain some of the method to the madness to them, not just, "Well, this is what I decided, or these two people decided, or whatever."

34:06 DS: I can tell you the people at Whitespark that will love the SEA Framework more than anyone will be my developers, because if they have this like, "Uh oh, Darren is pinging me on Slack, I see Darren typing... Darren is typing on Slack" and it's like, "Oh what's coming now? What do I... What is he gonna ask for?" 'cause it's like, I have a tendency to derail them off of like, "Hey, one customer once asked for this thing, what do you guys think?" It's just like, yeah, I gotta stop doing that, instead I'm gonna put them in the spreadsheet, sort them by the SEA Framework and I won't be bugging them on Slack.

34:39 AW: We all fall victim to that Darren, I've often laughed... Same thing where, especially on Slack too, the minute someone's typing for two minutes, and you're just sitting there in that channel ready for it to come out, 'cause based on what your usual interaction is, you've already developed, you already have the brand reputation that you are about to throw something out there, so that apprehension is there. And the longer it goes, the more it's like, "Oh, this is a doozy... This, we got a lot here."

35:09 DS: Which is, Slack should start doing that, it'd be like, Darren is still typing. And then it just keeps escalating, it's like, Uh oh Darren is typing even more. Uh oh, here comes the doozy.

35:19 AW: They probably all jump into the private channel and just start, they're already three cycles into banter before you even get it out.

35:29 DS: Yeah totally. Yeah, well okay, I'll stop doing it, I'm gonna start using the SEA Framework instead.

35:32 AW: Alright. Well, we'll see what happens. I need to continue to work on it further, but I wanted to... I thought it was something I was interested in, I'm kinda... I've been using it for a while. It's helped make my decisions like cleaner and faster, and it does help when I take it to the team, and then a large part of when we release features when we're on our monthly webinars with our customers, that's where we always start. We always start with, why did we build this? And we explain to our customers exactly why we built this, and there can be a number of things, and I don't tell them like, "Oh, we have the SEA Framework and here's what it is", but I'm explaining those specific things that this Framework has actually made me think about and...

36:15 DS: Yeah. You were already doing that, but you just hadn't formalized it into a framework.

36:18 AW: Yeah, and I think it gives off the impression to your customers, like the amount of thought and intent and vision that you're putting into what you're creating, and I found for us that's been really helpful in building trust because it increases the visibility on how you arrive, not just like, "Hey, here's this new thing that we built for you", they start to understand whether we're mentioning a lot of you have asked for it, here's what we see this provides, here's where we see a shift in the market, here's why we think this is really efficient but that explanation at the highest level gives them the right context to then embrace the feature and understand how it fits into the set we're trying to put together.

37:00 DS: Yeah, no, I can also see it helping on the marketing side too, because once you've already defined that feature in terms of security efficiency advantage, you've also already written up the way you're gonna communicate the value of that feature when you put out your newsletter and your social posts on it.

37:16 AW: Yup. You've been thinking about it the whole time.

37:18 DS: Yeah.

37:19 AW: Alright.

37:20 DS: I like it. I'm gonna use it.

37:22 AW: Alright, well, we'll see what happens. Hopefully, it doesn't take Whitespark down the drain.

37:25 DS: I'm sure it won't. It's gonna elevate it to the next level.

37:28 AW: Alright. Well cool Darren, anything in closing, anything coming up you're looking forward to or have going on? 

37:36 DS: Yeah, we got our Local Search summit coming up, I'm excited about that. I've been busy working on that, trying to get all the speakers organized, and so yeah we're gonna have 30 local Search speakers, and it's a lot of work and a big deal, and I'm excited about it. Basically, if you are a local search speaker, you're probably speaking at it, so it's gonna be maybe the greatest collection of local search speakers in one conference.

38:00 AW: I love it. That reminds me I need to get my topic and description to you.

38:03 DS: That's why I mentioned it actually. It was kind of...

38:07 AW: Dang it! 

38:09 DS: Just wanted to remind you, yeah.

38:09 AW: That's right. Well, you know me, I'm fully committed and I'm in, I will show up, but I realized I probably need to get that in so you guys can do some marketing, but no, I'm looking forward to that too, and I'm excited that you included me.

38:22 DS: How about you, anything big coming up? 

38:22 AW: No, a little bit of time off over the fourth, excited to unplug and recharge and some family time up at the cabin and yeah, I'm excited for... Just I was talking about with Inbox, it's probably, it might be the biggest feature we've ever put out, and so to be through our design phase and into starting cycles and things like that, knowing we'll be getting all that much closer to being able to see it come alive, I'm super pumped about that. I'll probably be dragging in a month when we're in the abyss of all the work that needs to be done and little details that pop up and everything else, and then as you get closer to the end, then that excitement rekindles again, so...

39:06 DS: Yeah, totally. Well, that sounds awesome. I look forward to seeing it. Testing it.

39:09 AW: Alright, well, great to catch up with you as always, glad to hear things are going pretty well for you guys, I'll be watching every day to see the referral program come out.

39:20 DS: Sure yeah. We're not gonna market it, we're launching it quietly, but I will let you know when we've launched it just so that you know that... In my two-week deadline.

39:28 AW: Tip me off. And mostly so I can just keep on the praise after you launch it, 'cause I think it's awesome and I will be, I think that's something worth checking in on... In our upcoming episodes too, I wanna hear what the uptake is like on it.

39:41 DS: And I definitely planning to roll it out to the whole company, and to all of our services, so we're just dipping our toe in right now and getting a feel for it, and then we'll expand upon it, so yeah, definitely topic worthy for a future podcast episode.

39:52 AW: Alright, well, until next time, take care, hopefully, we'll exchange a few text messages or a few calls in between episodes, but I hope you get your summer ramped up to full-time instead of half-time.

40:03 DS: Yeah, okay, I'll work on it.

40:04 AW: Alright. Take care Darren and everyone else, thanks for listening. And hopefully, we'll see you soon.

40:09 DS: Thanks, everybody.

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Creators and Guests

Aaron Weiche
Aaron Weiche
I'm the Co-founder and CEO of Leadferno, a business messaging app. Leadferno creates delightful connections at speed through SMS and messaging platforms centralized in one app to close more leads faster. I designed my first website in 1998 and never looked back. I have co-founded and been in executive roles in multiple digital marketing agencies and SaaS companies. I speak frequenty at conferences of all types on digital marketing, customer experience, mobile and local SEO. I'm part of Local University and a founding board member of MnSearch. Outside of work I'm a sports fan, love Nebraska college football, Minnesota Twins baseball, snowboarding, boating, BBQ and anything with my 4 kids and amazing wife. I live to the west of Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Darren Shaw
Darren Shaw
I'm the founder and president of Whitespark, a local search company with software and services that help businesses improve their rankings in Google. I started developing websites back in 1996 during my first year of university. I failed plenty of courses because I was skipping class to work on my HTML, CSS, and Javascript projects in the lab. Fortunately, people wanted to pay me to build websites, and in 2005 I started Whitespark as a web design and development company. In 2010 we stopped doing web development projects so we could focus on local search, and we launched our first SaaS software, the Local Citation Finder. We now offer multiple SaaS applications and services. When I'm not speaking at conferences, researching the latest in local search, or designing the next best local search application, I like to spend time travelling, skiiing, and dining with my wife and daughter in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
21: Frameworks
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