28: Vision and Mission

Creating the vision and mission statement as well as core values for your SaaS company can have big benefits internally and externally. Aaron and Darren discuss the process and benefits as Darren looks to finally create this for Whitespark.

0:00:12.1 Aaron Weiche: Episode 28: Vision and Mission.

0:00:16.0 [INTRO]: Welcome to the SaaS Venture podcast, sharing the adventure of leading and growing a bootstrapped 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.

0:00:44.2 AW: Welcome to the SaaS Venture podcast. I'm Aaron.

0:00:48.2 Darren Shaw: And I'm Darren.

0:00:49.5 AW: And, Darren, I think from our conversations that we have weekly, you and I, we've both gotten one shot in the arm now, which is nice to report.

0:01:03.6 DS: That is really good to report, yes. I'm just waiting for the second shot and hoping things come back to normal, but a bit apprehensive about things going back to normal, because of variants and whatnot. But it's definitely a step in the right direction, feels good to have some protection that I likely won't die from COVID now.

0:01:26.6 AW: There you go. Yeah, that's pretty much... Once you're fully vaccinated, that's proven to be 100%, your protection, depending upon what you're getting, 50% to 90%, mid 90%, depending upon which shot, what application types. But the fact knowing that it won't take you out is definitely reassuring and that's awesome. And, yeah, I can... I've fully accepted the way things were 16 months ago might never be the case, but...

0:02:06.8 DS: Same.

0:02:07.3 AW: I just... I've come to, like, "Okay, here's how to hedge your bets and to be smart, get vaccinated, all those other things, and... " Yeah, I'm excited to just dip my toe a little bit more into the social world. I'm definitely gonna get on a plane in June, so I'm excited about that. That'll feel awkward.

0:02:32.0 DS: Amazing, wow. What an experience.

0:02:34.0 AW: Both my co-founder and I will be fully vaccinated, so it's like we're long overdue to have a two, three-day jam session in person, melt some white boards and do something more than Slack, Google Meet, Zoom, everything else we've done.

0:02:53.3 DS: I like that, it's a SaaS jam session. Rather than melting faces with guitars, you're gonna melt brains with white boards.

0:03:03.6 AW: Yeah. We're just gonna be so high off of expo markers, it's gonna be wonderful. [chuckle] Other than that, what's new with you?

0:03:17.0 DS: What is new? Let's see. In the world of Whitespark, we did launch our new account system, I think I talked about that in the last podcast, that we were about to launch that. We launched it, and it was generally a pretty great launch. Nice and smooth, team did a great job on that. We have obviously lots of kinks to work out post-launch, as there would be with a whole new billing and account system. With that, we launched our new services packages, which have been very successful, so businesses thriving on a listing service side of things, so that's great. Busy planning the next Whitespark Local Search Summit for 2021, that's coming up right away. We're gonna be having that near the end of September, so we gotta get our speakers lined up, everything pre-recorded, get our sponsors in place, we're working on all that.

0:04:09.0 DS: I've been really busy with these Whitespark weekly videos. I put in a good five to 10 hours every week, making these videos and then getting them published. It's going really well. I think that they're driving business for sure, we definitely feel the uptick. And we're growing our YouTube channel. We're at 1200 subscribers on YouTube or something, so that's been good.

0:04:30.5 AW: That is such a massive undertaking. I would feel that that is so daunting, and you do such a great... I mean, when you tackle these topics, it's not just, "Hey, here's a few things in this direction." You are pretty exhaustive in what you're putting together on these, and great long-form content, blog posts, the videos, I see it all on my social channels. These things are legit and take a whole day out of your week, too.

0:05:03.3 DS: Yeah. They might take me five to 10 hours to build and to actually prepare the deck, prepare my notes, figure out what I wanna do, all the research, record the video, then... I don't know how much time my video editing team spends on it, then I got Jesse working on getting it all up on the blog and doing all the promotional stuff. This is just a ton of work, but I believe in the rewards, particularly believe in the long-term rewards. If you can stay with it consistently week after week, month after month, year after year, you end up hitting this point of... It's like the TSN Turning Point, where all of a sudden now we have 50,000 subscribers on YouTube. And the thing is just a snowball that continues to drive value. So, I'm just gonna keep at it a good two years in. If two years we still don't have more than 1200 subscribers, then I'll totally give up, but I believe in the power of this, particularly long term.

0:06:04.5 AW: We talked outside of our podcast recordings on this, and I think... And it's something you agreed and you're gonna implement, finding more calls to actions within this content. Because it is so great, it's attracting eyeballs, and it's taking it that last mile and giving people a clear next step on how to get a little bit deeper, start using one of your tools, investigate one of your services, but really working not just a traffic tool but a conversion tool as well.

0:06:40.1 DS: I have already started implementing that, yeah. So, that's already... We're going through our content and finding good spots to drop, like little subtle banners. It's not like in-your-face blinking, but it's like, if you're looking for help on this particular aspect, hey, we have this software, we have this service, whatever it is. And so we're definitely integrating that into the content. And again, speaking about long-term value, that content will continue to drive views and people checking it out, and so that's getting our products in front of more people all the time.

0:07:14.7 AW: Now, I feel that's especially important with the amount of time you and even the team is sinking into this, for you to have clear metrics that even go past traffic acquisition. I think you need to see... You can definitely tell, right? You feel there's a relation between putting these out and seeing just spikes in sign-ups and things like that. But you definitely wanna get probably pretty confident in the data that's there when you're gonna peel a quarter of your week off on to one thing, right?

0:07:52.7 DS: For sure. And we have... All the little ad placements we'll put within the content will have GTM tags, and they will track conversions in Google Analytics, so Analytics will be able to see if you can go to the campaign and see actually how much money they generate. We're getting all of that technology connected, making sure that we're tracking it well and pulling it into a dashboard. That is another thing we're working on actually. Within the launch of new accounts, we had everything, all of our subscriptions, in Payflow, which is a PayPal product, and we have since launched on Stripe, which offers a ton of benefits to us. And I didn't realize this, but you can send an email to PayPal and say, "Hey, we've moved to Stripe, can you please send us a dump of all our subscription data?" And then you can... Stripe will import it. We're gonna get everybody off of our legacy payment provider and put them on Stripe, which is phenomenal, so that gives us... Within the next week, we're gonna have everybody on Stripe, which means I can set up their metrics, gonna have excellent reporting. Can't wait.

0:09:01.5 AW: That's awesome. That's a big win, and not having to cycle through users and have them re-add credit card information over time everything else, that's huge.

0:09:14.0 DS: It's super huge, 'cause that was actually our game plan, was every time someone logs into an account, it'd be like, "Oh, we've got a new billing, can you please reenter your credit card data?" That was what we were planning to do, but this is way better.

0:09:25.9 AW: Yeah. Yeah, that would have been scary.

0:09:28.1 DS: Yeah. What's new with you? How are things going at Leadferno?

0:09:32.1 AW: They're going well. The general consensus is good momentum, especially April has just felt like it's gone really well. I'm spending a lot more of my days on demos and sales type opportunities, lining up pilot customers. And what's been really nice, especially our last couple of pushes and with the amount of features releasing in those pushes, my early demos were, "Here's what's there right now, if you were to test this, but here's 75% of the things that will be coming."

0:10:13.2 AW: And now we've hit the point where 75% of it is there, and it's just kind of 25%. And the 25% are bigger things not necessarily features, per se, as infrastructure items, like how our profiles work, which segments locations or departments, where sales team would have one shared inbox and the service department would have a shared inbox, our internal admin tools for managing accounts and customers and things like that. We're using Stripe as well, so just starting to get some of the billing stuff tied in. And those are the really big pieces. We probably only have two or three features left to build for wanting to launch in June.

0:11:01.1 DS: Great.

0:11:02.0 AW: Yeah. But we have those big pieces. I go back and forth. Some days I'm like, "Man, I feel 90% confident we're gonna nail this and be out there in June," and then the next day the stand-up feels a little wishy-washy and there's a few new blockers, and then I'm like, "Okay, maybe I'm about 50% we're gonna make it to launch in June."

0:11:21.7 DS: Sure. I'm always overly confident, to my own detriment. I'm always like, "Oh, this is gonna be great, we're gonna totally launch next week."

0:11:29.7 AW: I'm probably more... I don't know if I'm pessimistic, but I definitely fall into reality, and doing just so many releases and doing small features and big features, and just so many different things, I feel like there's some key indicators that you kind of see where you can truly have comfort and confidence that you're gonna deliver. And until I see those, then I'm usually like, "Yeah, I'm not going all in on this or being too aggressive because of those things." And then sometimes on the opposite side I've definitely had times where I'd say to our team, "Hey, no matter what, we have to hit this date. It's not just your part, here's all the other things lined up, and why and why we can't move those. And so we're gonna have to do everything that we can to hit that." It's always a dance, that's for sure.

0:12:25.1 DS: Yeah, we're just dancing around.

0:12:29.1 AW: Yeah. The one challenging thing right now is we're basically losing our best Flutter developer, our front-end SDK. And we knew it was never a permanent role, he is part-time with us, and we sought him out because we needed some leadership on that side. We had a couple of developers, but we just weren't strong enough for the uniqueness and the newness of Flutter. And so I basically stalked Twitter community on the developers talking about Flutter, loving Flutter, being part of conversations with other developers, and found him and he had time to take on our project, he was looking for his next gig and was willing to take us on part-time for what we could fit.

0:13:18.3 AW: It's bittersweet. One, I'm super grateful. He made a huge impact in the two months he was with us, and that was awesome, opened our eyes to some things, and so I'm super, super grateful. Selfishly, I would have loved to have him up till launch or even right after launch, we have some fast follow things that are important. But, yeah, he landed a really great full-time gig with a huge company out on the West Coast, and it's one of those things for him. We would never be able to pay him what he's getting, some options, a great company, everything else. Happy for him, super thankful for everything he did, but now it's like, "Okay, so now we gotta fill this hole." We're actually... It's the first time I ever used it, we're using Toptal, and so far so good. Their process is really easy. I think we're finding the same challenge that we've had in building our team. Again, there's not droves of Flutter developers out there. So far we've talked to one candidate, and that was okay.

0:14:32.9 AW: The other hard part is I feel like we're gonna compare him to Luke, who we're losing, who I just feel was really unique and really great in a bunch of ways that we're just... We're not gonna get a one-to-one replacement for him. But hopefully we get a couple more candidates sourced so that we can find someone to plug in and keep our momentum going.

0:14:54.1 DS: Yeah. Well, good luck with that, I'm really curious to hear how things work out with Toptal. I've looked at them a number of times, when I'm trying to source developers. I've looked at other ones, like Lemon.io is one that I've checked out before, they look interesting. There's a number of Toptal competitors out there now. But, yeah, I'd love to hear how that experience goes. We'll have to have a podcast episode on that one of these days.

0:15:15.4 AW: There you go, I'll keep you updated. With that, to transfer over to our main topic today, Darren. You had brought up in a text conversation that we were having that you wanted to talk about vision, mission, core values, just how do you create or edit or surmise those things from within the company. Tell me a little bit why did you bring that up. What's the...

0:15:45.8 DS: Yeah, for sure. Man, Whitespark has been in operation since 2005. So, what does that mean? Sixteen years? And I've never defined this, and so I'm really starting to think about my role as leader in this company and how it's like... We all have a very good general sense about what our why is, how we do it, what we do, but it just hasn't been formally defined. And I feel like that's a big gap in the company, and there's a lot of value to having the vision-mission statement, and so it's definitely time for me to define those. Long overdue, and so I've been exploring it and I thought it would be a great topic for the podcast since this is something you've been through a couple of times, and it's something I'm learning. I'll ask you questions, and you can provide your wisdom.

0:16:40.3 AW: Well, I don't know if it's wisdom. It's definitely experience, and I would say passion. I love this part of it. It's translating what the core of what the business is about and where you're trying to get to, and somewhat of how you're gonna get there, and doing it in this way that's both internally and externally translatable, where your team can rally around it, someone from the outside can rally around it, it can help guide your decisions, and it makes it really easy when you're even... I found, with GatherUp, I would use it as I pair it against what features that we were gonna create and why we would prioritize one over the other, because it's like this falls in line with our vision, this is exactly what we wanna be about.

0:17:34.6 DS: Yeah. And I think that's really important. In fact, if I think back on the last 15 years of Whitespark, the lack of that very clear vision and mission perhaps led us astray, because I would make decisions, like, "Oh, this is a really cool tool idea." And we would build this thing, but if I had been making decisions based off of our vision I would have recognized, "This is a cool thing, but it doesn't necessarily align with what we're trying to accomplish," and so I wouldn't have done it. And that would have been big time savings in terms of development, resources, my time, marketing time. All of that stuff that we've invested on multiple side projects over the year, the vision can really help focus you in on what's actually important to your company, and that's the big gap I'm recognizing and need to fix.

0:18:29.0 AW: I think that's a great take, and not as long of a timeframe, but we definitely have that at GatherUp, was the same kind of "There isn't anything existing, we're doing this work, we're making these decisions. We're loosely talking about our direction and what we're trying to do and giving explanations to how we decide and what our take is on it, but it was really just kind of messy. And there wasn't anything that everybody could anchor into. When you would listen to other people... I always found it interesting, say we're at a conference and there's three or four of us at the conference, and if somebody comes up and just does the normal, "So tell me what GatherUp does." And at the time, we were... This is GetFiveStars, we hadn't re-branded yet, and I'll talk how we used that, but I would listen and it was always a different answer. Right?

0:19:24.7 DS: Right.

0:19:25.2 AW: And so when you hear that and you'd hear how short one would be, how loose another would be, the different things mentioned, you just saw like, "Okay, that inconsistency isn't doing us any favors." And you can also see the person sometimes, and even myself would be guilty of it, you're just sometimes fumbling through because you don't have the words right then and there, or you're trying to piece it together in a new way, you're trying to find it yourself on the fly while you're in this discussion. So, I took it on that when we decided we were gonna re-brand GetFiveStars to GatherUp, that I wanted to institute these things. I wanted to create a vision, I wanted to create a mission statement, and I wanted to create core values for the company. And it really was... That was the funnest and most exciting part of the rebrand to me. Even more so than the visual of the logo and whatever else, I just loved working on defining what our DNA was and how we operated within that DNA.

0:20:32.9 DS: Yeah, so valuable to have that. And so I'm really... And I know that when GatherUp rebranded, it really did feel... For me, as a GetFiveStars customer, it really felt big, it was like a big next step. GetFiveStars was great, but GatherUp was like, "This is a brand. This is for real. This is a legit big brand, this is what we stand for, this is what we do." And it just really elevated the company to a whole another level. So, you did a great job on that.

0:21:05.5 AW: Thanks. It felt grown up. And I think it made our team feel grown up, too. I can easily point to a few things that really gave the team confidence in where we were at or what we had grown to, and that was one of them. When we made it into the Inc. 5000, that was another one where, okay, telling someone we're one of the 5000 fastest growing companies in the US, that's the kind of thing that you could tell your mom or your uncle or your brother, and they'd be like, "Oh, that's impressive, I get that." And there's so many times in our world where, yeah, people have no idea. I could go to someone in town and be like, "Hey, here's my software, and do you wanna use it?" And they just think I made it in my basement on my computer and I'm about to hand them like a floppy disk or a CD-ROM to make that. [laughter] 'Cause there's nothing tangible with it.

0:22:05.5 DS: Yeah. "It's shareware. I got a shareware version. I have GetFiveStars here."


0:22:12.0 AW: Oh, man. Yeah, it was just really interesting and fun. And the way I see this, especially the vision statement, I really do feel that's on the CEO, the leader, the founder, whoever has that visionary role, this is one that I see should be that person's vision. If you have co-founders and whatever else, definitely having those discussions, but I usually find there's someone in the group that should take the lead that is more of the visionary or has that. And that was kind of... We operated on there's four main partners, and we had our different roles and everything else, but I knew I was best equipped to handle that and create that. And when we created it for GatherUp it was thinking through a bunch of things like, one, I just started and just started to research anything I could find on other companies and reading about all these how-tos and everything else.

0:23:16.6 AW: And I wasn't looking for one to, like, "Here's the 12-step process to having a vision statement." I just wanted to... I like to consume a lot and then weed out what I think is really important or what matters to me. So, I took all that on. And then in reading that, I was really just trying to get a feel for what is it about theirs that makes you feel something, and makes them unique and helps position them. And so that's when you read through and you get these great ideas from the Nikes and the Zappos and the Amazons of the world and everything else, but you really have to focus on what makes us us, and be super comfortable and be okay with that.

0:24:00.6 AW: And in the case of GatherUp, it was already behind even our name change. We changed from GetFiveStars to GatherUp because we didn't wanna just be viewed as this review tool. We wanted to be about something bigger. We wanted to be about customer experience because that's how we all really viewed what we were doing, is listening to your customers, getting feedback, getting feedback in measurable ways, getting feedback in structured ways like reviews. Reviews is part of it, but our original name just really made it feel like it was all about reviews. And the last thing we wanted to be was like, "Oh, yeah, that's a review factory, you put this in one side and a review shoots out the other side." That's not what we were looking to be.

0:24:49.7 AW: So when we created the vision statement, having that in mind and knowing that was our direction, we arrived at the vision statement of "Make customer experience the backbone of your business." And we really looked at that... That elevates that customer experience is our guide, that's what we're working towards, and we view it in a way that it is the most important thing. A human cannot stand up without their spine, it is the most key item to the structure of your body functioning. And we looked at a business the same way, like if you don't have great customer experience you will topple over on yourself, you won't be able to grow and get to where you need to go to.

0:25:34.4 AW: That was one of those that was fun to create that, but we could already see it was just really taking apart the conversations and the way we are already loosely positioning ourselves to build that. And then working down from there, then into a mission statement, in front of a presentation, it was basically a pitch to a client one time, had broken down for him, like, "Our tool's here to do this. It's here to gather, manage, and market your customer experience." And that kind of gave us the pieces that we then worked into our mission statement in saying how are we going to execute on this vision, and allowed us to build that out.

0:26:17.2 AW: And then really the part I loved the most was building out our core values. And people differ on core values. For some it's just a gimmick, or a marketing ploy, or a way to label some of the elements of culture, but I really care about them and think they serve just, again, a really great purpose to personal decisions and management decisions and things like that. And that one's the opposite, that's one where I went and I asked everyone in our team, "Give me four to five terms that you feel are important about our company, and how we operate, and how you wanna be viewed, and the standards you hold yourself to, and things like that." And so compiled that list and started working, and then pulled out five or six of those that felt really good that represented us, and then I hired a copywriter and we just basically versioned back and forth honing these and finding out how to talk to them so that each core value was this short statement, but then we built a two-sentence definition on how it applies to our business or how you see this in action, "What does that look like when we say... "

0:27:35.4 DS: "What does it mean to you as a customer?"

0:27:36.7 AW: Yes, exactly. And what does it mean to us internally, too, right? That was a super fun process and that was like... When we re-branded the site, that's the page I just loved, is our About page having vision, mission, and those core values, and then just seeing the pride in our team where they were like, "Yeah, that is us." And I felt like that one was really easy because all I had to do is just really plug into everything that was already going on there and define it, and shorten it, and dropping it down and making it concise and everything else. And that's probably the... That's the position you're in, where it's like there's a ton of things already there, you just need to figure out how to weed through it and find what really connects and what's most important that you wanna anchor to.

0:28:31.9 DS: Yeah, it does make me wonder when I listen to the journey that you went through for the GatherUp statements, whether my approach might be smartest to start with the core values. If I start with the core values and I put that out to the team, collect the feedback, start to define and build those out, whether or not those directly inform the vision statement, the ultimate vision statement that we go with as a company. I don't know if that's the best approach. I'm also interested to hear... Well, let me hear your response to that potential approach. What do you think about taking that route?

0:29:12.6 AW: Yeah. I don't know if I could comment on if there's a chicken or an egg with it, and which comes first. Myself, I tend towards defining vision because it's so directional. That's the pull in where you wanna go. That one, to me, is the more important one, to get that direction stated. And then the core values are what are we holding ourselves to and how will we operate to move in that direction. For me, personally, I feel like the direction is more important in defining first.

0:29:55.4 DS: Sure. All right.

0:29:56.4 AW: But also I don't think you could go wrong if you did it the other way.

0:30:02.0 DS: Right. You'd probably end up at the same place actually because...

0:30:05.4 AW: Yeah.

0:30:06.1 DS: And then I was wondering, so we've got three sections. You've got vision, mission, and core values. What's the difference between the vision statement and a mission statement?

0:30:17.1 AW: Yeah. Your vision statement is your "why." You're putting out there and you're basically stating, "Here's the big thing that we want to accomplish." For GatherUp, it was making customer experience the backbone of every business. And then the mission is to help every business gather, manage, and market their customer experience to improve their business. We believe listening is a business super power, so we're gonna transform conversations into data that drives improvements, bolsters reputation, fuels growth. That's more of the like, "Here's how we're gonna do our why.

0:30:57.4 AW: And for Leadferno, the vision is that we want to make connections, make delightful connections at speed. And then how we're gonna do that is we're gonna power business messaging to create conversations, close leads, close more leads faster, and getting into some of the tactical pieces. And to me that's a big thing I pulled out of immersing myself in vision statements, is like it becomes a void of what your features are or how you're gonna do it, any of those things, it's like, "We just want to arrive at accomplishing this. This is what's driving us." Right?

0:31:37.7 DS: Right.

0:31:38.8 AW: For Leadferno, right now, business messaging is an incredible way to create delightful connections at speed, but will that be the same in five or 10 years? Will we solve that problem? Will we move in that direction using the same tactical things of SMS and Facebook Messenger and things like that? 

0:32:01.0 DS: Yeah. Your "how" may change, but your "why" is pretty set in stone. "This is why we're doing it, this is what we wanna put out into the world, this is what we wanna give to the world." I think there's great value in defining that. "This is what we want people to get out of what we're creating here."

0:32:19.3 AW: Yep, absolutely.

0:32:20.9 DS: Yeah. All right, great. See, I'm excited, I'm excited to get this all written up for Whitespark and figure that out, my wheels are already turning with ideas.

0:32:31.7 AW: Yeah. It's a super fun exercise. And the cool thing is, what I found really helpful is, when we would talk about how... Especially at GatherUp, where you have thousands of customers, you have all these things you're doing, you're able to go back when you're trying to prioritize features and you're using these different elements to help prioritize, how many times is it requested, size of customers requesting it, what's a revenue opportunity by doing it. So you have all these other things that can fluctuate, they might be data points, it just might be the market, might be a gap you have from another product. 

But at the end of the day, when you can really couple it and say, "Does this support our vision? Does this tie in to how we see this and where we want it to go?" That's what you want, because then you end up... You're building a tool. And every time you're introducing something, it's right in line with the direction you're going, so it's supporting it and it's just making even clearer why that is your vision and how passionate you are about it.

0:33:47.6 AW: So, as we moved along, there was just so many things where it's like, "Okay, yes, this exactly folds right into this and completely aligns with our vision why we're gonna do this over this other choice," because it has better alignment with where we wanna end up with what we're driving to.

0:34:08.0 DS: And that's exactly... That line of thinking is what brought me to this, because we've launched our new platform, we know what we're building next, but then what's after that and what's after that? So I started planning on my roadmap. This is the way... We've got 100 ideas floating around, and so I now need to take those and put them into a phase launch plan, like, "This is our Q3 launch, our Q4 launch plan, these are the things that we're gonna build." But as I started doing that, it really led back to this, like, "How do you prioritize those things?" 

And that leads you to your vision statement and your mission, and all of this, it's so important. It's funny to imagine how long we've been developing stuff without that guiding principle, and so building that guiding principle will really help me do that prioritization work on a roadmap. And so I kinda got stalled out on the roadmap, and I'm like, "Dang, I better build this vision statement first."

0:35:08.1 AW: Yeah. And I think this is such a great time for you because what you wanna do with the product next, with taking it from a handful of tools that operate independently into a cohesive platform, that's a great time. You're somewhat in a pretty big directional change, so you really should define that direction in words as well as what the product is gonna be.

0:35:33.1 DS: Yeah, I agree 100%. That's why I'm talking about it right now. That's why I'm writing that Google Docs and brainstorming exactly what this is gonna be. I think it's a super valuable exercise, yeah. I'm just curious, I look at it and I think, "All right, I can probably get a pretty good crack at it in an hour of just hammering at a Google Doc and doing a little bit of research," and then over time, over the next week, I feel like I should have a vision statement ready to go within a week. It should be there. What do you think the timeline is to develop a good vision statement? 

0:36:04.6 AW: Yeah. I would say I would be more interested in getting it to where you really feel great about it than a time frame. For me, both times, they were probably two to three-month processes, just from research, putting it down, whittling it down. So much is like remove, remove, remove, get more focused, things like that. And then that's when I got to the point where then I hired a copywriter and just said, "Hey, I basically wanna volley versions back and forth. Here's everything I have and where we're at right now, what stands out to you? Write a little bit about that, and it's just like back and forth." I can say each time it was somewhere between six to eight iterations back and forth.

0:36:52.9 DS: Wow.

0:36:54.0 AW: Yeah. And sometimes it was like we'd just be whittling on one sentence in one way, and we'd be doing it in email back and forth, and then be like, "Yes, that's it, nailed it. Boom. Yes, move on to the next one."

0:37:04.5 DS: Yeah, this is how Jesse and I write titles for our blog posts and headlines and whatnot. It's just like, "Here are seven variations," let's just keep riffing on them until we come up with the one we like the best.

0:37:18.0 AW: Absolutely, completely correct on that. And I really valued, too, the... I wanted someone completely outside to bounce this off of, and someone who is a bit of a wordsmith and a little more polished and craftier. Those were also the benefits for me, is they were gonna introduce some style and some other things to it that I know I couldn't bring. I get the representation and the passion and what it's about, but I wanted them to be able to tell these great little simple stories around it that I might not arrive at or come to.

0:38:00.6 DS: Yeah. A good copywriter can really take what you've written and then think about it from that outside perspective and make it resonate with a broader audience. I think there's super good value in hiring a copywriter for this. I'll definitely do the same. I think it's great advice.

0:38:17.3 AW: Yep. And so with core values, three of my... What did we have at GatherUp, if I pull up real quick. Four, five... We had six at GatherUp, and a couple of the ones that I love the most, and I also got to see with core values, this is something that your employees can apply to their decision making and what they put themselves behind. Right? 

0:38:38.0 DS: Yeah.

0:38:38.6 AW: Our number one core value was "Customers rule," and the definition of that was "Never underestimate the importance of the customer, they are your business. What customers share, say, and think is the pulse of any business. It's that simple." So, you can see both the external and how this reads to someone looking to work with you and buy your product, but internally it gave our entire team the knowledge, like, "Hey, making things right for the customer, taking care of them, they are our everything. We're gonna respect, we're gonna be responsive to them, and you need to make decisions based on that." So at the end of the day, you're able to say like, "Well, the customer rules, that's why I made this decision and this is what we did."

0:39:25.1 DS: Right, right. Yeah, it's definitely a two-way street. Your product is all about customer experience, so the person reading that is like, "Oh, this is speaking to what I'm trying to accomplish." But then internally your team is also operating by the same principle.

0:39:40.5 AW: Yep. Then the second one was, "Service sets us apart." We're obsessed with serving our customers. Every time we hear "Your customer service is the best I've ever experienced," we know that we've done our job. And this became something that I really treasured in a number of different ways, because we actually had this repeated back to us by clients. A couple of our clients, one basically said, "Well, we actually call it 'the GatherUp standard' now when we bring on a new vendor, and are they gonna be as organized, as easy to work with, as responsive, all of these things. And that's how we evaluate them. And until we worked with you guys, we didn't have a bar set." So, it was really awesome to understand, we made such an impact with how we interacted with them that we created a new tool of measurement. Like we were the tool of measurement, "Can they be as good as these guys? That's the kind of partners and vendors that we wanna work with." So, yeah, that was really cool.

0:40:45.5 AW: And multiple times I heard from other clients that are larger, that work with tons of vendors, where they're just like, "We wish every vendor was working with you guys. You are the easiest and the best to work with, we look forward to the meetings, we never wanna skip them." And so that's the kind of thing, like when you see that and then when someone would share, "Oh, here's what they just said in this email," we would just comment, we're like, "That's right, service sets us apart." And just realizing, especially as a smaller bootstrapped company, we needed that personal touch, we needed to do those things right, not automate every last thing, not drop the ball, not be loose about it but try to set a whole new category with it.

0:41:34.5 DS: It's so important, and that's why people would switch to you, right? They're not getting a great service from another vendor, or as they evaluate the vendors, they don't feel that they're gonna get the same kind of service, and stepping it up is just so important. That's a whole another episode. We've already talked about customer service before, but we can definitely do it again.

0:41:55.9 AW: Yeah. No, by far and away it can be like your ace up the sleeve, for sure, and I'm a huge believer in that. I'm just wired that way. I wanna do everything possible I can to help that customer. I'll do it to help a partner, I'll do it to help a friend. It's just in me, I just... I wanna squeeze the most out of every opportunity.

0:42:19.3 DS: Right, that's a good way to be. Leadferno's gonna be so successful, thanks to your helping nature.

0:42:27.0 AW: Well, I hope so. And some of it, too, is just finding a bunch of people that also feel and care that same way, that selection. And that's why you have these core values, then it's so easy when you go to hire, because then you can measure people against those. Like "Read our core values, is this something that excites you? Are you passionate about these things? 'Cause if not, this might not be the place for you, 'cause... "

0:42:50.1 DS: Has anyone ever said no in an interview? They're like, "No. No, I think those values kind of suck, they don't resonate with me at all."


0:42:55.6 AW: I've never asked anyone to go and read them, but the ones that mention it bring it up, that shows me... One, simply put, we're doing the research and whatever else. But when they bring them and be like, "Hey, here's a couple of things I read on the website that I really identified with, or got me excited, or said this is a place for me," those are some great tells and definitely factor in.

0:43:22.9 DS: Definitely, definitely. So many benefits: Aligns your team, aligns your customers, aligns your hires. Just so many benefits to having this stuff done. And it's actually surprising how many companies don't have it, and it's even more surprising that Whitespark still doesn't have it, so working on it.

0:43:40.0 AW: Well, you're there. Hey, you know that it's time to put that flag in the ground and...

0:43:43.5 DS: Yeah, definitely.

0:43:44.6 AW: And you'll get there. And on the opposite side, completely different experience to do this with Leadferno and not be surmising something that you're watching happening. And it's more a little bit with Leadferno is more building it to be aspirational, where I can draw on all my past experiences and other companies and what we want this to embody, but I didn't have, "Hey, here's years of how I've seen this happen, and all I'm doing is putting a good title on it and writing a good summary for it." That one's a little bit different, and I think it's good to revisit these things from time to time. It doesn't say, "Hey, this is going to be this forever." If it is, that's great. But as we grow, the different core values we have, there might be an addition, there might be something else that gets swapped out, you just don't know.

0:44:40.0 DS: Yeah, totally. But I think it's definitely the right approach to, when you start your brand new company, Leadferno, you started with the vision and the mission of core values. It's really great that you've started the company already with a guiding principle, it's so valuable right out of the gates.

0:44:58.4 AW: Well, I've already been a part of seeing all the wins you get out of it, so that was one of those, Darren, someday when you sell Whitespark and then you go to start the next thing, you just have this list of all these things that, like, okay, doing all of these things in half the time I did them before, or doing them right from the start, that's just where you get to learn from those things and you get a chance on a blank slate to do it all over again. I saw how big a wins these were and I'm like, "There's no reason not to do these from the start. They're gonna benefit us over and over again." And even if they morph or change... The foundational elements are there, even if the details change.

0:45:41.9 DS: Yeah, totally. It would be interesting to see if they do change. One would expect that they would as your company evolves.

0:45:48.8 AW: Yeah. No, I totally get it. Your culture can evolve, your people change, the environment changes, so many different things. You definitely can't look at it and say, "Oh, it'll be this forever, this is set in stone." And, yeah, you just gotta read and react to what matters to the people in your company and the direction you're going.

0:46:13.0 DS: Yep, yep.

0:46:16.7 AW: All right. Well, I think we burned that topic to the ground, I hope.

0:46:21.3 DS: I think so, yeah. I think we've talked about all the elements of it, definitely filled a podcast with it.

0:46:29.3 AW: Yeah. That went super fast. Like I said, I'm so passionate about this and I just... I love doing this stuff. It almost like... Getting it done for Leadferno felt really awesome, but then I was also kind of sad because I wasn't doing it anymore. It's like, when you're a kid, you get this awesome 1000-piece Lego kit, and you're so excited to get to the end and whatever else, and then you build it and it's beautiful, and you feel accomplishment, and the next day you're like, "Oh, what am I gonna do with the two hour... I miss building for two hours and getting it to the next stage and whatever." Yeah, a little bit, so I felt a little bit like, "Oh, this is so great." And then I was also like, "Oh, I can't... I don't need to work on this anymore for a while, and I really like this work."

0:47:17.7 DS: Yeah, I get it. Well, maybe you can help me with mine, that'd be great, if you really wanna get back into it.

0:47:24.9 AW: Absolutely, I would love to. When you do, as you're doing right now, right, the first step is this giant barf of throwing everything out onto paper, and then after that, the hard work is whittling it down and trying to get concise. That's when it's good to have other eyes and opinions and things like that on it, to help weed through all of what's there. 'Cause especially as business owners and marketers, I just say all the time, "We just use way too many words."

0:47:53.9 DS: Oh, definitely. Well, I'm glad to have a friend like you to walk me through some of this stuff.

0:48:00.0 AW: All right. Well be careful what you wish for. You might be like, "Hey, stop it."


0:48:04.9 DS: That's right. You're like, "Hey, Darren, can I come over?"

0:48:07.9 AW: "Can I come over? I just wanna look at these. I'm gonna be on the first flight to Edmonton."

0:48:11.9 DS: That's right.

0:48:14.9 AW: All right. Well, great catching up, Darren. Great topic, I'm glad you suggested this, and, yeah, I'm excited to see, in one of the next episodes we'll have to talk a little bit on what you came up with and see how it's been received by the team and your process for putting it together. I think that would be interesting to recap after you come out the other side on it.

0:48:36.1 DS: Totally, yeah, we can definitely talk about that on another episode. Looking forward to it.

0:48:40.8 AW: All right. Well, take care, my friend, and hopefully we'll hit record again in two or three weeks and find something new to wax philosophical about.

0:48:53.4 DS: I'm sure we will. All right. Thanks, Aaron.

0:48:53.9 AW: All right. Thanks, Darren. Thanks, everybody, for listening. As always, feel free to drop us a review in iTunes. If you love anything we've had to say today, please share socially, put that link to thesaasventure.com and this episode out on Facebook or Snapchat. I don't know if you can place links on Snapchat so...


0:49:15.1 DS: Snapchat.

0:49:16.1 AW: LinkedIn.

0:49:17.8 AW: Make a TikTok about the SaaS Venture, but just tell a friend, share the news about us, and we love to build our audience and talk to more people. All right. Take care, everybody, and we'll talk again soon.

0:49:30.9 DS: Bye, everybody.

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.
28: Vision and Mission
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