25: OK, 2020

Looking back on 2020, Aaron and Darren look at the many challenges of operating a SaaS company through a pandemic but still manage to find some of the bright spots.
[INTRO music]

0:00:11.4 Aaron Weiche: Episode 25. Okay 2020.

0:00:16.2 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.

0:00:44.1 AW: Welcome to the SaaS Venture podcast. I'm Aaron.

0:00:47.4 Darren Shaw: And I'm Darren.

0:00:49.7 AW: And we are here to look back at quite the year that we've had. Wouldn't you say?

0:00:57.6 DS: Let's say, yeah, it was a year for the history books, this one. It was... It was a bad year. 2020 really sucks for most of the world's population. It was a crummy year. But I guess... I don't know, I took some notes before the podcast and I have some positive things to look back on, but yeah, definitely it was a tough year.

0:01:18.8 AW: Yeah. As we break it down, I think for me, at the end of it is like, "Okay, we survived this year," right?

0:01:30.3 DS: Yeah.

0:01:31.3 AW: Being able to just make it through and not be as dinged up in some way or another as others, when you look around and there are certain industries that are completely shut down, have your doors closed. It's amazing when you think what it must be like to be in those types of industries.

0:01:54.3 DS: That weighs heavy on me, I really feel privileged to be in the digital marketing industry, building SaaS software that people still need and are actively looking to sign up for. We're just in such a fortunate position, whereas so many other industries have been devastated. And so I think about that all the time, about like, "Wow, we gotta recognize our privilege here."

0:02:24.7 AW: Absolutely. For better, for worse, however it happened, accidentally, on purpose, it isn't hard to look and be like, "Man, thank goodness, my industry has survived this well." Obviously, some aspects of our industry have absolutely taken off because of what COVID has forced.

0:02:45.9 DS: Yeah, totally.

0:02:47.9 AW: If you are at Zoom, a Zoom shareholder, any of those things, like you know how true that is. Or just probably any product in the video conferencing or live communications world has just sky-rocketed based on immediate demand across the board.

0:03:06.6 DS: Totally. I really wish I had thrown some money into Zoom when, back in like March, early March, be like, "Oh quick, put all of our investments into Zoom, it's gonna be huge."

0:03:21.0 AW: Back the dump trucks up to every tech stock in the last 10 months and you're not doing too bad anyway, right?

0:03:26.8 DS: Yeah, it's true.

0:03:28.5 AW: Oh man. What is your overall... It's like you have the feeling of survival and whatever else, but maybe let's start to dig a little deeper into that. Like when you look back, is there ways... Do you feel like there's any ways you could break down, you know, the year into thirds or quarters, or things like that? And how you feel about, like are there transitions where you guys felt differently about it or adjusted, like what are your thoughts on that?

0:03:57.2 DS: Yeah, that's a good way to look at it actually, because I come to the end of the year and I can think, "Alright, great, we have some... We survived. We even thrived in some places." And I can look back at that and feel overall the sense of, "We did it." But then... Gosh, if I think back to March, April, May, it was a dark period. We had to... We saw massive decline in revenue, we had to do some layoffs, we had to put... We had to get all the government programs in place. And it was stressful and it was like, it was this period of uncertainty for myself and for all of our team members.

0:04:40.4 DS: And so people were stressed and worried about the pandemic, and we came out of that after about three months, things just started to recover. It was almost like people instantly had this fear of the world falling apart, and so everyone really tightened up expenses and weren't spending any money. But then it was like, "Oh, well, I guess this is our new reality and life will go on and we still need to buy things," and so business picked up again. How did those first three months feel for you?

0:05:14.0 AW: Definitely when you're dealing with the unknown, that's one of the hardest things where there's no game plan for it. You can't research your way out of it, you're just taking sometimes hour by hour as it comes. And that same thing, I was just kind of wondering to myself while you were talking, I just wonder how much have people changed or where are they at in that progression.

0:05:44.9 AW: Those first few months were so uncertain and just as you outlined, like you can imagine this Doomsday scenario where what you've built, what you're working on, whatever else, where it almost collapses on itself. You kind of envisioned, "Oh, everybody holds up." Business is just kind of killed off in every way. It felt like, "What's gonna go on and continue on?" You entertain those kind of thoughts, and then as time goes on, some of that regresses in certain areas. In the world of software at least.

0:06:24.9 AW: And then you find, "Alright, well, here's the next thing we can do." And I think we started doing a lot of short-term focus things like, "Here's the 30-day plan, here's the next 30-day plan." And it was kind of focused on just taking small chunks, 'cause you can't predict or look at anything further than that.

0:06:40.1 AW: I think we saw... That was one thing that I took from some of the larger companies at some point when they were like, "Hey... " And I can't remember if it was Apple or Twitter or Google, or whoever did it first, but a couple of them definitely said like, "Hey, we're remote until June 2021." They just said, "Let's stop trying to look at this as like in two weeks, in two months, in two quarters."

0:07:05.9 AW: And they just said, "Yeah, well over a year from now, we're gonna revisit this. But that's not something we need to deal with right now, because it's just gonna be vacillating all over the board." And I almost kinda took that as like, and applied that to other areas and said, "Stop. Stop just vacillating on all the what ifs, you'll drive yourself crazy, and focus on the things that you can control and that you probably should control," and things like that.

0:07:35.2 DS: Yeah. It was funny to look back at some of the emails we got from that time, like in early March, it'd like, "We're closing our shop, but we expect to be reopened in three weeks." [chuckle] People were like, they really thought this was gonna be a short-term thing, in so many ways.

0:07:55.2 AW: Well, we've never experienced anything like it. So you just... No one knew, right? Everything was like... It depends on how much optimism you carried at the time. Or in some circumstances, and you can get this, a business would also look and be like, "Hey, anything longer than this and we are in trouble." That's where I feel with so many of these restaurants is like, they're not built to just shut down for a month, much less... Here in Minnesota, where I live, they're on their second six week to eight-week shutdown of no indoor dining at all, in any capacity, in any way.

0:08:34.8 AW: And then to top it off, there's this time around, there's absolutely nothing that's lined up for support of what they need or helping them out. It's just this really wonky scenario of the government saying, "You can't operate and we also can't help you." And my hope is they should have already had help lined up before they ask them to do this again, or mandated they did it again.

0:09:00.1 AW: But we're really starting to see some rumblings here between restaurants just all saying, "We're not gonna do what you're asking us to do because you give us no other choice to... You're basically saying, your business is dead. That's the only choice you have."

0:09:16.2 DS: It's gotta be so tough. Be it in the restaurant industry or in the travel industry right now, just like, "Oh man. How are we gonna get through this, right?"

0:09:26.3 AW: Yeah. When you look back, Darren, what's one thing that you feel like, okay, based on what took place this year, what's one decision you really feel good about that you're like, "Alright, I nailed that one. Pats on the back."?

0:09:43.5 DS: Well, it's tough to decide which one. I got two big wins over the past year. I think it was really a good move to launch, we came up with this concept of the Yext Replacement Service. And the timing was really good, right around the pandemic, right around when the pandemic first came out, because a lot of people were looking at their expenses or going through the credit card statement, and Yext stood out as a really expensive recurring fee. And people were like, "Is this something we still need?"

0:10:16.3 DS: And then I think so we launched our service at the right time where we could offer a better price, a better quality service, right when people were looking for it. And so that was a huge success, it actually managed to keep the whole citation side of our business, not just surviving, but we actually did better than usual. So, I think that was it, that was a smart pivot, a smart launch. I think we did that one just right. How about you? What's your biggest win?

0:10:48.0 AW: Before we get to that, I'm interested, did you guys look at keyword volume as well, of people typing like "Yext replacement or Yext option or Yext alternative," or what does that look like? Or did you look at that at all?

0:11:02.6 DS: We were not analytical about it at all, it was just a complete gut feel, just like, "Quick, let's launch this thing." We were honestly in panic mode after seeing the decline of our revenue and being like, "We need to get something to replace that revenue as soon as possible." And we just built it, pulled the trigger and launched it as soon as possible. But yeah, we were not... We didn't really dig into it at all.

0:11:29.0 AW: See, here I am doing a search on quick Yext, and I just look at the related suggestions and Yext cancellation policy, what happens when you cancel Yext. And one of the suggested terms is "Whitespark Yext and Whitespark versus Yext."

0:11:44.5 DS: Sweet. Whatever, Google picked up on it. And we didn't even have to tell Google. [chuckle]

0:11:49.4 AW: The number one organic result. "The best Yext alternative, stop paying... " I don't know, it cuts off after that, but it probably says, "Your life away," right?

0:12:03.2 DS: Is that our result?

0:12:05.8 AW: Yeah, yeah, it's a landing page, Yext Replacement Service.

0:12:09.5 DS: Sweet. Yeah. That actually is intentional. [chuckle] "Stop paying... " People are gonna be like, "What? Stop paying what?" And then they will click through.

0:12:17.5 AW: I love it. But that's awesome, I'm glad for that, that win for you.

0:12:21.5 DS: Thanks.

0:12:22.3 AW: I don't know if I have anything as specific as that. I think the biggest thing for us is just focusing on what we do best, and that's building product. So we launched social sharing, we did a lot around Google review attributes. We went to work on our biggest feature yet to date, which isn't gonna roll out until January, but inbox that's around like a ticketing system and auto-forwarding based on what the review is about. And you can create rules around who gets a review to be able to reply to it and why, and things like that.

0:13:04.5 AW: So, we really just looked at it like, "Okay. Sales aren't... Sales aren't hot depending upon the industry and the size, extremely cold." We saw enterprise, large scale, like that market just went dead. Those guys definitely circled the wagons. As much as anything, I had a couple where they're just like, "Hey, we've got the budget, we wanna do this, but we can't switch gears or introduce a new service right now, like it would crush our team because the number of things that we are already doing."

0:13:40.3 AW: And so the change management is what became tough on that. So, I think that's our biggest thing. And it brought our team happiness. Every person in our org gets excited about a new feature and how it can help. Sales is excited to talk about it. Marketing is excited to write about it and create strategies around it. Customer Success is happy because it gives them likely a solution to something that customers have been asking for or wishing they could do easier. Engineering is proud of what they've created.

0:14:15.3 AW: So, that really helped us create a lot of internal wins by like, "Let's just keep building great things and let's put all of our focus there because that's the most controllable thing for us right now."

0:14:26.6 DS: Yeah. There's lots to look back and I think you should feel proud about what you've built and what you continue to iterate on at GatherUp. All those things are fantastic launches. You gotta think about, some companies, like I watch them, I'm like, "They haven't done anything in a year." I'm not gonna name names, but I keep wondering, I'm like, "What's going on over there?"

0:14:49.8 AW: Yeah, and who know, and it could just be... Again, if the name of the game is survival and depending upon how hard their revenue took a hit and you're going through staffing changes and things like that, that can definitely derail those. We saw some of that too. I mean, to transition into the toughest or decisions you didn't love or whatever else, like that, obviously, and I'm guessing probably you're in the same boat with that, is when we had to furlough a couple of people and eliminate a position, that was terrible.

0:15:29.6 AW: I talked about that openly on this episode. I sat and shed tears to eliminate a position of someone that was a great contributor to our org, but because of what the go-forward in the moment had to be, that position was a definite non-essential within that. And that was really excruciating.

0:15:51.1 DS: Oh man, yeah. I think that might be the hardest part of being a founder, being the person that runs the businesses, it's the layoffs. Gosh, I just hate that. It's the worst thing.

0:16:03.8 AW: Yeah, no, 'cause every time you hire, you feel like, "Okay, now I have responsibility for this person putting food on their table and taking care of their family and progressing their career." And you have all those things, and when you just bring a complete stop to it, especially in this case, where it's not from a like, "Hey, you never hit expectations, you were a poor performer, we gave you chances, we worked on an improvement plan and none of those things happened." That wasn't around this.

0:16:35.9 AW: It was just a, "Hey, we have to tighten the belt, and so we have to look at what is most non-essential as this belt is tightened and how things move forward." And when in your inside of an org, with us being acquired, it wasn't 100% all my say. And that... I wasn't... I can see where the company decided that. I personally wasn't personally aligned with it, and that made it even more conflicting. Just made it even harder.

0:17:07.4 DS: That's an awkward thing, like you've been used to calling all the shots and you're like, "Oh, wait a minute, someone else is calling some of these shots now."

0:17:15.3 AW: Yep, no, that is a massively difficult thing to adjust to if you're acquired and you stay on. Going from being able to lead in those ways, good or bad, to being someone that you might have some say or some influence, but ultimately you're probably doing more to carry out someone else's final decision, is a much different position.

0:17:38.5 DS: Yeah, totally.

0:17:41.4 AW: It's kind of like, Darren, I'm sure this happens to you. Your wife tells you, "Hey, we're not gonna hang out with those people. And you need to let them know, you have to be the bearer of bad news."


0:17:53.5 DS: Totally.

0:17:53.6 AW: "I'm not telling them, you are." Outside of that, so there are so many other things, let's maybe zoom out and take a look at some things outside of... We could obviously talk and who wants to really talk about COVID at length? I don't. I think we spent enough time on that and looking to transition out of that. But outside of that, what's another thing that was just an awesome challenge that went really well or really bad for you guys this year?

0:18:24.0 DS: Huge win was, and it had been in the works, pre-pandemic, we were really busy trying to launch our new local citation finder. And so if I look at our trajectory of subscription count, like it had been dropping week after week after week for about a year, just losing subscriptions, bleeding them. It had been horrible and we were like, "Oh my God, we gotta fix the system."

0:18:52.5 DS: And so we launched our new system, I think in April, and from that point on, it was a complete reversal in our subscriptions. We then shifted gears to a growth mode, and it has been growing week over week over week ever since we did that launch. And so it's the kind of thing that's like, "Oh, this is how a SaaS company is supposed to work, you should see week over week growth in your subscriptions." And so a big part of that, of course, is retention.

0:19:23.3 DS: So I think our new software really helps to keep people engaged and retain those people and continue to deliver value, which has been massive for us, so huge win. I'm so thrilled with it. I can't wait 'til we launch the next iteration on that software, which should come in early 2021, and that's when we're gonna raise prices, we've talked about that on the previous podcast. But for me, that was just, that's the most stand out win, business-wise, in 2020.

0:19:57.4 AW: And I would guess with that, it wasn't like... There were wins in how the product, the local citation finder performed, what you said, reducing churn and turning it into growth and things like that. But there's probably also bigger learnings that you took away from this and when to make a move, how to think about it, what's really important to a customer, what's important for your product to survive. That probably is invaluable, right?

0:20:31.9 DS: Yeah. And I think there's two big things. If I had to look at the success of the local citation finder, the two big things for me are continuing... The software has to continue to provide value, and it didn't before. And I think that that's probably pretty to anyone in SaaS. And then design.

0:20:51.8 DS: I really think that the updated design, the general like, "How does this thing feel to use? Do I enjoy using it? Does it feel modern? Is it... " 'Cause the old design was just such, it was just old and trash. It was outdated. I think that the design has a huge impact.

0:21:09.5 AW: Yeah, no, I'm a massive believer in that. I always get excited when I see user feedback that's raving about our user experience and interfaces. Especially when they've come from a competitor and they're just like, "Oh, it's so much more intuitive and organized and clean," and I'm just like, "Yes, feed my ego. Thank you." [chuckle]

0:21:31.9 DS: Especially as the world of SaaS evolves and you've got 10 competitors for every application, and they all basically have the same feature set, then what sets you apart? And it's, how does this system feel to use? Is it easy? Is it enjoyable? Is there any kind of fun in the application? All of those things, I think are so critical as things get more and more competitive to set yourself apart.

0:21:58.8 AW: Customer experience, baby.

0:22:03.3 DS: Yep, yeah. So, actually I'm right on the horizon, we may even, I don't know, we're talking today with the dev team about launching it on Monday, is our brand new Local Rank Tracker, which has exactly that. It doesn't really have much functionality improvement, a couple of things, but the design has been completely redone, which gives that great user feel, which I think will have a positive impact on both new sign-ups and retention. I can't wait to pull trigger on that one too.

0:22:29.5 AW: There you go. You can tell your users Merry Christmas with that one.

0:22:33.1 DS: That's a good idea, actually. Thank you.

0:22:34.4 AW: "There's a new local rank tracker in your stocking. Boom." [chuckle]

0:22:41.9 DS: Oh man, these are some good ideas. Wait until you see the email we send out, you'll be like, "I wrote that email."

0:22:46.6 AW: "There you go. Software stocking stuffers from Whitespark."


0:22:53.6 AW: I would also think, Darren, that you would have to agree, and I'm interested in even getting further out from it. And I think it was September, but your guys' Local Search Summit was definitely, I felt like it was a highlight because it allowed me to connect with a community I'm super close to that I didn't get those opportunities in 2020 to do that in person.

0:23:13.7 AW: But your guys' event, because of the speakers and the quality of speakers and the number of attendees, that was a big energy, a creative boost to me for sure. How do you feel about that? And especially getting months passed that, have you seen any residual benefits from it?

0:23:32.9 DS: Yeah. I think that the summit was huge in terms of brand positioning, brand establishing. We introduced our brand to a lot of new people, and I think... It's really hard to measure. We've been doing fine since the summit, haven't seen any massive explosive growth, but you never know if we would have seen declines if it wasn't for the summit.

0:24:00.2 DS: And so did the summit help keep us steady and with some small growth over the last little while? You know, it's hard to know. I think the summit for sure was a huge success, the amount of work that went into it was kind of unbelievable. It was a lot of work. But it's now firmly rooted as a thing in our industry. And we will continue to run it every year, and I think it's just gonna pay dividends every time we do it.

0:24:30.1 DS: I think there's huge value in it, it was wonderful. And it was also really great to just be able to connect with everybody. I personally did every one of those talks. I had the opening intro, watched the presentation, had the Q&A at the end. So it was just really nice to connect with everybody during a relatively unstable time.

0:24:53.0 AW: Yeah, no, it was really well done.

0:24:54.1 DS: Thank you.

0:24:56.0 AW: Another friend of mine just got done in the last week or two, carrying out, they're an association, and they have a giant annual conference that's usually held in Florida, and a ton of attendees from all over the country, they're all boat and marine dealers. And they had to switch to a virtual this year, and there was a lot of apprehension in their industry when you're dealing with a product that their expo floor are these giant boats and outboard engines. So different from a software conference where everybody's booth is just TV screens and demoing product.

0:25:35.2 AW: It was really interesting, and he and I walked through and he talked about, they went back and forth from a free to charging for it and everything else. And they ended up charging for and saying, "Nope, our content's great, and we get that relationships and connections are super valuable, but our content is amazing."

0:25:55.4 AW: And the long story short is like... They said it was... The feedback they got from their attendees was they were floored. They had more people attend because people didn't have to travel to go to it. They still... They basically doubled the amount of per-person attendees because the access was easier. And then they used a platform, I wanna say it's called Swapcard.

0:26:25.6 DS: Interesting.

0:26:26.9 AW: A virtual event platform, and he just said it was unreal it, had a lot of really great built-in features. They had a sponsor provide like a DJ and a band in between sessions and things like that, and he's like... They had... And they literally had some of their boat dealers, they had set up viewing parties of the conference, they're sitting in like a pontoon boat they're selling with a 50-inch screen all watching the conference together.

0:26:56.4 AW: And so he just said all the things that went on with it were just unbelievable. And to me, it's really cool to see things like that that have adapted over the year, and having to do something completely different for the first time ever, and completely crushing at it. Because just as he said, there's plenty of people that were telling them like, "You'll never make it, it won't happen. The conference will flop, people won't like it. And then it's gonna hurt when you do it in person next year."

0:27:23.3 AW: There was a lot of people that were just like, "You shouldn't even do one." And so it was so great to see him persevere from charging for it, finding a great way to present it, getting more people involved. And now they're considering, "Even if we can do our event in person next year, we should do a virtual at the mid way to get more people involved."

0:27:42.6 DS: That's an interesting thing. I think about that too. It's like, we'll probably be virtual again in 2021, but then I would love to do an in-person event in 2022. But when I do that, I have to keep the virtual version too. You're gonna have to do both now, it's like you wanna come in person, awesome, let's meet, let's do this in-person thing, but we have to broadcast it, it has to... We have to leave it open because that is the future of events, I think. And the pandemic has created that for almost every conference.

0:28:16.3 AW: Yeah. We'll definitely see a lot more of it. What would you say is one thing that you learned as a leader in this last year with all of its challenges? 

0:28:27.2 DS: Yeah. I think one thing I learned as a leader was just the importance of regular communication, regular check-ins. Just really me trying to connect with my team better than I had been in the past. It was certainly really important during those difficult times to have very clear, regular communication with the team.

0:28:50.7 DS: And then I really ramped it up. We built... I personally built a whole new system for doing annual reviews and quarterly check-ins. I feel like that whole process has been really valuable. So just, for me, just dialing in our HR stuff, it's been super important. And it was definitely something I learned in 2020, and will serve me well going forward, I think.

0:29:16.5 AW: Yeah, no, I think that's awesome because it will pay dividends over and over again with your existing team. And as you grow, the new people you build on now you have so much better of a structure to do that and people understand their role and performance and their piece in the ecosystem, and all of that. So yeah, I think that'll pay dividends over and over again. That's awesome.

0:29:38.7 DS: Yeah, it feels like it was kind of an area that I wasn't good at before, it was like, "You know, I'm just some guy who started a company, and oh, now I've got a team of 30 people." It's like, "Oh, I guess I should learn how to be a better manager." And so I needed to dial into that stuff, how about you? What are some of the... What did you learn as a leader in 2020? 

0:30:00.7 AW: Yeah, it really showed me the importance in an area where I constantly have to work on, and I'll explain why it's so tough for me. But I think just empathy and self-care for the team really being a big thing. And how much connection and communication is important to them, some of the things that you talked about as well.

0:30:27.4 AW: But I'm so wired to be excited about the work. I am a workaholic, I fight that balance of not being in front of a screen or researching or reading or testing or doing whatever else. And I also have this, for right or for wrong, like my own maybe personal struggles or challenges, I don't bring those into work with me. And work a lot of times is almost an escape to that. I'm sure a psychologist would break me down and be like, "Well, you're just modeling that," and whatever.

0:31:05.2 AW: But it's like, yeah, I love that part. Work is like a hobby, it's a passion, all those kind of things. And so... But I have a hard time realizing that that's not true for a lot of people. That line is much thinner and they cross over it back and forth. And it really had me looking a lot at like, how do I make sure that people feel taken care of and protected? How do they have space to talk about how they feel? Whether it's uncertainty or confidence or whatever that might be.

0:31:41.4 AW: And some of it too, it wasn't just COVID that presented that, it was coming out of selling the company, where you're like pushing, pushing, pushing, and then you cross this line that really is a finish line to some extent, right? 

0:31:55.8 DS: Yeah. You feel really good.

0:31:57.7 AW: Yeah. And then you get on the other side and then you realize like, "Oh well, I still want all these people to have the career that they want. And their finish line might not have been the company being acquired." And so you have to retrain your focus on those things. So for me, it's been just trying to balance those out and having more empathy as a leader for people's personal lives and how those things work.

0:32:21.7 AW: And realizing too sometimes, it's great that I can be so laser-focused, so heads down, so obsessive sometimes, but then I also need to realize for myself, I'm probably locking myself out of something else in my life I should be present in or deal with, or take care of, but I run to my go-to of, "Great, here's work," that allows me to be productive and focus on whatever else and run away from something else.

0:32:52.8 DS: Oh man.


0:32:55.4 DS: Do we have a therapist listening that could have a chat with us? 'Cause damn, all that stuff really resonates with me. It's just like, for me, I'm just like, "Oh, if some thing is difficult in my personal life then well, I've always got the work life." That it's just a continual source of positive reinforcement. It's like I know that I can push hard, do this thing, get recognition for it, see the success. And it's just this thing that I can always turn to. It's like a pick me up, I'm feeling bad, down about something. It's probably not healthy, but maybe it's healthier than other escapes, I would say.

0:33:42.4 AW: The other thing is, I know I do the opposite. If work is really hard and I'm getting kicked in the teeth there, I'll bring it into my personal life and ask Marcy, my wife, or family time, I'll use that to heal me or medicate me or do whatever else, but I don't... The opposite should probably be done to some extent too, where it's like, "Hey work, take a back seat to deal with these other things," or be more, just be more present.

0:34:08.9 DS: Yeah. I'm working on it too. I think we're both aware of it and working on it.

0:34:15.8 AW: I don't know, I probably need to work a lot harder on it. I'm maybe barely at the tip of awareness, but I can do... I definitely can do better with it. So, lastly, let's take a peak, what are you looking forward to in 2021? Let's say we get the pandemic under control. Now, I don't think, eradicated isn't the thing, but we get back to a 70-80% level of where we were normal, we're still making smarter decisions on contact and things like that. But what are you looking forward to next year? 

0:35:01.2 DS: I think I have low optimism about our ability to get back to normal, get back to seeing people in person. I don't think we're gonna see much of that until maybe by the end of the year, but I just, I think by summer we might be getting closer to it, depending on the state of vaccines. But then I worry about the fall again, the fall, the second surge type thing. Concerns me. So I just don't have a lot of optimism that we will be back to seeing people in person.

0:35:35.1 DS: But I can definitely look back and think about what I'm grateful for with the lockdown. And it was just this opportunity to get closer with my family during this time. It's like we spend every waking moment together, we are connected all the time. It's like we're learning how to care for each other better, we're learning how to argue better, we're just getting better at being together. And this closeness is growing, I feel closer to both my wife and my daughter than I ever have been.

0:36:10.0 DS: And so I can look back and be grateful for that, and I can look forward to strengthening that really, those relationships going forward. And then I feel unbelievably optimistic about where we're headed as a company. All of our legacy code is basically complete now. We don't have any more legacy stuff that we've been dealing with in our software, which opens us up to have much quicker sprints, release dates.

0:36:39.5 DS: I've recently promoted one of our developers into a team lead position. I just really feel like we've dialed that in and we're about to hit our stride with weekly releases of awesome new features, tons of stuff happening, really expanding our software and finally breaking free of some of the chains that have been holding us back for many years. So, I don't know, I feel extreme optimism about 2021, despite the pandemic.

0:37:06.6 AW: Yeah, no, that's awesome. Gratitude is definitely a healthy thing. I'm probably concerned with you if your wife and daughter are gonna get better at debating and arguments with you, like you are gonna be in a lot of trouble, my friend.

0:37:20.8 DS: No, no. They've always been way superior to me, I'm just stepping up a tiny bit. [chuckle]

0:37:26.3 AW: Oh, nice. You're gaining ground. Good, good.

0:37:29.3 DS: I'm learning how to argue a bit better, yeah.


0:37:32.0 AW: That's awesome. And yeah, man, that is so freeing when you hit points and things where you reduce technical debt and you just feel like, okay, now we have an opportunity for an efficiency sweet spot because we don't have these hidden "oh-ohs" or these things that just kinda hold us back that you kinda look at and you're just like, "Why is it that that's holding us back? Something that almost feels irrelevant to some point, but it's like this invisible hurdle that is very, very real to get over.

0:38:08.9 DS: Yeah, and we deal with it on a weekly basis. Like our legacy summer, our legacy software, particularly, it's our account system, which is like it distracts our developers non-stop from progressing on new initiatives. And that is... Early 2021, we'll be launching our new account system, and then building a whole system on top of it, which, man, can't wait. How about you? What are you looking forward to most in 2021? 

0:38:35.9 AW: Yeah, well. I can't share everything yet, but let's just say probably the next time you and I record in January, we're a week out of Christmas right now and this will probably post just before Christmas. But I will probably have some news to share that's some pretty big changes.

0:38:55.7 DS: Oh, exciting.

0:38:56.3 AW: Let's just say I'm excited about change and maybe getting back to some roots of some things, but that a lot of excitement, a lot of big ideas, and I think I'm gonna make some of those happen in 2021.

0:39:12.1 DS: Yeah, yep. I have a little bit of inside knowledge on some of that, and I'm excited for your 2021. I think it's gonna be amazing.

0:39:19.8 AW: Me too. I'll either... I'll either go down in a ball of burning flames or I'll just be constantly on fire, I don't know.

0:39:30.1 DS: It's the opposite, you're gonna be rising up like a phoenix from the flames.


0:39:32.9 AW: Alright, I'll take that, I'll take that all day long. Anyway, I think as far as this podcast, which I'm also super grateful for the time that you and I get to sit down and talk every month and...

0:39:49.5 DS: Same.

0:39:50.3 AW: Catch up before we hit "record" and get to do the episodes together and banter and share. I'm looking forward to the content that we'll be talking about next year, just based on some of that stuff, I think it'll be fun. It'll be fun to be talking about the stages of something new, I think will be pretty exciting.

0:40:11.8 DS: Yeah. Also looking forward to that. So much to talk about in 2021. We got big plans, you and I.

0:40:17.2 AW: There we go, we're gonna... 2021, we're gonna take over the world.

0:40:21.8 DS: At least part of it. A small, a small tiny piece of the world.

0:40:26.6 AW: 10 miles north of the Canadian border and 10 miles south of the Canadian border, we're gonna take that part over.

0:40:32.0 DS: Wow, that'd be huge. If we can get that much. That's good.


0:40:34.1 AW: Awesome. Well, cool, let's wrap it up, Darren. I wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy New Year, all of that stuff. And maybe we'll sneak in some time to chat in between the holidays. But if not, I can't wait to talk to you to start off, 2021.

0:40:56.5 DS: Yeah, I would love to sneak in some time to chat, and you know, wishing you and your family a great holiday break. And yeah, to all our listeners too, I hope you all have a wonderful holiday break. I know it's weird times, enjoy Zooming with your family as much as you can, and yeah, look forward to continuing this podcast journey with you all in 2021.

0:41:21.1 AW: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks everyone for listening throughout 2020, you've probably had more podcast minutes logged than ever before. And happy if we're one of the ones you've chosen to be in your rotation.

0:41:32.7 DS: Yep. Thanks.

0:41:34.1 AW: Alright, take care, Darren.

0:41:36.1 DS: Thanks, you too.

0:41:36.2 AW: Alright.

0:41:36.5 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.
25: OK, 2020
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