SaaS Breakthrough – Featuring Ryan Kulp

demio saas breakthrough featuring ryan kulpAbout Ryan Kulp:

Ryan Kulp is the founder of Fomo, a social proof marketing platform.

He’s a self-taught developer, musician, and blogger at ryanckulp.com.

His new book “Fitness for Hackers” debuts in Spring 2019.


Show Notes:
02:00
The Online Equivalent of a Busy Store
03:15
Doubling The Customers Within a Few Months
04:05
The Power of Being a Cool Tool and The Network Effect
06:50
When Data Screams The Right Target Market
10:45
Fomo Open
14:10
The Author Approach For Content Distribution
16:20
Getting Referrals Outside Public Channels
18:00
Executing 50 "Creative Risks"
19:30
Sponsoring Pizza Parties
22:10
Coming Up With Different Ideas
23:40
The Fiverr Experiment
27:00
Reducing Churn By Offering Annual Pricing
29:25
Caring for Current Customers and Getting Product Ideas
30:30
Operation Seven: Series Of Projects to Get Churn Below 7%
31:45
Brand Love From Introducing Each Customer to Team Members
33:55
The Agency Plan That Failed Big Time
36:25
Sharing and Learning From the Failures
38:20
When You Build a Brand You Can Actually Do Less For More
40:20
Building a Brand By Just Being Genuine
42:20
Growth Metrics
42:50
Exciting Challenges For 2019
45:00
Lightning Questions
Transcript:

DA: 01:59
Hey Ryan, thanks so much for joining me today on the SaaS breakthrough podcast. I'm really thrilled to have you, have Fomo on the call today. How are you doing?

RK: 02:09
I'm great. Thanks David for having us. Excited to share what we've been up to.

DA: 02:13
Yeah, no, I'm really excited to learn from you here cause some of these different initiatives and experiments that you guys been running, but before we jump into some of that traction related content, why don't you give us a little bit of a background on Fomo? You know, when you founded it, who the customer base is and what you're doing uniquely in the marketplace.?

RK: 02:33
Sure. So the short end Fomo is we're the online equivalent of a busy store. So you plug Fomo into your website and we help you increase conversions, sales, trust and credibility. We started actually in March, 2016 I launched Fomo with my buddy Justin, who went on later to run some other businesses like Kettle and Fire and PerfectQuito. And we started it by acquiring a Shopify App actually called Notify. So over the first few months following that acquisition, we rebuilt and rebranded it and turn it into Fomo. But really we had already hit the ground running with initial customers. And ever since then we've just been developing features, getting in tune with our audience, expanding that addressable market and kind of hanging out.

DA: 03:18
When you bought the App, was there already a large customer base or what did that look like when you bought it?

RK: 03:24
Sure. There were several hundred customers and we were able to I think pretty quickly double that to just over 2000 customers within a few months. Really by a, kinda just blocking and tackling and, and listening to users and, and playing sort of a blissfully ignorant role, in terms of what people want and who Fomo is for.

DA: 03:47
So those first few months is coming in is doing customer interviews, trying to figure out like what you guys want to do, what, what was that marketing strategy like you said, blissfully ignorant. Like what, what did you do to double that user base and did that change your perspective on like kind of what you just bought, any mindset shifts where you're like, oh no, or anything like that?

RK: 04:08
Sure. Well, it's funny, I mean private equity companies and I even with my wife run a very small kind of micro private equity firm. It's really common to look at data and market and trends and your internal skills where you think things are headed in order to make a decision about an upcoming acquisition. But with Fomo. And again, we acquired a tool called Notify, our ignorance was that, you know, I saw notifying in a website and I thought that is so cool. And that was it. That was all the data we had about Fomo. And so we ran with that because if you, if you abstract from that, what you realize is that Fomo was a cool tool, right? We've all heard this phrase, cool tool, right? We go on ProductHunt to find cool tools. We don't really go on ProductHunt to find enterprise solutions. We go on Product Hunt to find stuff that's cool and maybe hopefully as a free trial and we can plug in right away and see what happens. Because marketers like to experiment. And so knowing that Fomo was a cool tool was enough to get to that 2000 customer mark because all you have to do with cool tools to grow them is share them with people, right? So exposure is really everything. Now later we had to do more than just exposure. But I've worked on a lot of products where the best way to get started, for example, was just direct sales, right? Or education, or seeding a marketplace, like a mobile App and giving people a painless onboarding experience so that you can have a bunch of people on one side waiting for upcoming people in another side. But with Fomo is, you know, our first thousand additional customers really just came from showing it to people.

RK: 05:45
And because of the nature of our product, it's, it's very visible on a website. Anytime someone saw Fomo and turn it on, that gave us a little bit of a network effect as well. And so again, after that initial traction we had to do more because it's common of course for your growth, your organic growth to hit an equilibrium with your churn. But initially that was it. So everything from very small batch cold email, answering questions on Quora about conversion rate optimization and social proof, getting linked from a lot of different articles by bloggers and agencies on their top five or top 10 favorite Shopify apps. Learning a little bit more about the Shopify App store. In terms of SEO and keywords, all those kinds of things. And that's why I think I just call it blocking and tackling in aggregate got us from the several hundred customers that Notify had to over 2000 within a few months. Nothing particularly, you know, special. We'd all like to think we're special. But it was really just a mixture of all those things. And since then of course we've had to do, we've had to do a little bit more sophisticated strategies to to keep the growth going.

DA: 06:52
Yeah. And I want to hear about those more sophisticated strategies, but I do find it interesting when you start getting those like network effects or the virality of your products. A lot of times what happens is accidentally you can do that in the wrong market, like just a couple of people see it here and then you kind of explode in a market that maybe you weren't anticipating or you're not even really built ideally for that market. How did you guys find product market fit? And you were already a Shopify App, so you did have some of that exposure on the Shopify store as well. But you know, did you have to go through a learning phase of like who are we perfect for or were you perfect for everyone? And has that evolved as you guys have grown?

RK: 07:33
You know, I think that Northstar always been pretty intuitive and not because we're smart, but just because the data screams at us, you know who the right customers are. So for example, we started getting, we rebuilt Notify, it was just a Shopify App like you mentioned. And then we rebuilt it to just be a standalone platform with a Shopify connection on one end, but also an open API. And you know, we plug into all of the ECON cards. I think right now we have around 67 native integrations and we build a few new ones every month. and so when we did that, that really opened up potentially the flood gates for new use cases. And we do have a lot of use cases from SaaS websites to hotel booking engines to, you know, last week like a sex cam sign ups. I don't even know what to do with that.

RK: 08:19
But, from, from ideal customer perspective, you know, looking at ecommerce sites, they just stick around the longest and that's it, you know, so ecommerce sites, they sign up. In addition to, I think their customer lifetime value in terms of how many months they stay subscribed. We also analyze the traffic of the average Fomo customer who's, let's say a Shopify store versus someone who is a SaaS website and ecommerce websites just get a lot more traffic on average. So you can be, a small mom and pop side project on Shopify that gets 30 to 50,000 page views a month and only makes $3,000 a month. Well, if you're a SaaS tool and you're getting 30 to 50,000 hits a month to your homepage, you're probably making a lot more than $3,000 a month in MRR And so because Fomo bills based on notification volume for us, the more traffic someone has, essentially the more value we can add and the more money we can make from a customer.

RK: 09:17
And so that one small insight that ecommerce stores from our analysis, I think on an average of 1.8 times the traffic of any of our other customer types based on industry, that alone says, okay, well really every ecommerce stores worth 1.8 times as much as a non e commerce store. Now add to that, the typical metrics we're used to looking at in SaaS, right? So how many months do people stick around and what's the churn? And it kind of made it a no brainer to continue focusing on ecommerce, within ecommerce Shopify. And we've just been open to other use cases, but from a self service perspective, so we really don't spend ever, for example, finding crypto companies who want to do their ICO and use Fomo. That happens all the time. So crypto company will sign up and within a week, three out of crypto companies will sign up, they'll do their ICO, they'll use Fomo and they'll cancel after a month. Right? And so again, we just look at the data and that really the data just screams back at us who the right customers are.

DA: 10:17
That makes a ton of sense. And I've loved the fact that you guys, first of all it was, I guess I want to put this in air quotes easy for you guys to find the right target market based on the data. But it is still tough to figure that out. And I know that too, on our, you know the Demio side as well, we have that same data and it's just like, you know, it's always tough to figure that out and it's also tough to see those companies come in and use you for a month and then churn and then you realize, okay, it's just the specific use cases, but just part of the game there. Now, you mentioned that, you know, once you guys had kind of got that 2000 user mark area, you kind of hit that plateau of acquisition to churn and kind of growth, kind of studies that you guys had to go on a search for new initiatives that would really push you out into the marketplace. I know you guys have done a ton of creative things with your brand, with marketing, to get organic and free traffic. I would love to kinda hear more about some of those different initiatives that you guys took on to kind of break free of that plateau moment.

RK: 11:19
Sure. So, you know, over over the last few years, and this is all public on our website as well. So we launched something called Fomo open. We're not the first startup to do that, so I'm not taking any credit for, you know, innovation there. But on Fomo.com/open you can see our signup charts, our users by plan, all that kind of stuff. We even launched an API so anyone could build their own dashboard of Fomo stats and our daily signups since 2016 have really been about the same, even our traffic overall month over month, getting rid of some spikes and outliers and press and stuff. It's been about the same. So we've gotten, I dunno, 30 signups, 20 signups a day for the last three years straight. And that compounds though. So our growth is more so come from targeting better and better audiences. So 20 signups a day in 2016 when our tool was 14.99 a month is not the same value as 20 signups a day, now our minimum plan is $39 a month. And so what's happened is not that we've tried to grow traffic over time, it's that the quality of our traffic has improved over time. And the way I think we've been able to do that, in a sentence is content. And I don't think that we are content marketers. A lot of people are way smarter than me and know way more about SEO and content than I do. I don't do any keyword research for our posts. I run experiments, I run SQL queries on our database, I take screenshots, I write about it and some people talk about it. So it's kind of a very, very long term ROI for us. But by creating this content, ultimately that builds our brand. And so it's this sequential strategy kind of step function of we put something out there that no one's ever done before. And I don't mean that in a hyperbolic way. I mean, you know, literally a patent pending software. We're doing things that hadn't been done before and that slowly finds its way back around to this, I think top down approach of, you know, the other industry or adjacent industry leaders, let's say you're at an agency for Shopify and you help build all of the Shopify plus brands that are coming out. Well, if you're familiar with Fomo and you're going to make Fomo part of your marketing tool belt for all of your new clients, we're now, we've just done this really killer one to many session where, because you saw one thing we wrote or one survey we put together for Shopify plus stores and we shared that with you, no strings attached, now Fomo is your go to for social proof conversion rate optimization solutions. So we didn't have to figure out clever ways to get in the inboxes of all of these multimillion dollar Shopify brands. We just have to exist, right? We just have to sort of be that cockroach and add value to the people who then can broker those relationships for us.

DA: 14:09
For your content itself, it's one thing to write great content. It's another thing to get it out there. And you mentioned you're not doing a lot of keyword research, which means you're not doing really optimization, but how are you syndicating the content to even start building the audience? Obviously you can put it out there and it can take time. Like you said, you can have that like, you know, long term mentality of, hey, someone's going to find this at some point, but you still need to gather that audience. Are you just emailing it to your list and then using that viral growth from your list? Like where are you actually getting some initial eyes and how did you kind of get that snowball rolling?

RK: 14:46
Sure. Right now, yes. I mean right now I definitely don't say this from a position of authority whatsoever. We don't do what we should be doing. And when it comes to distributing content we're sort of take, I think the author approach of like launch your book and then the very next thing you should do is start on the next book and hope for that, you know, compound interest. And I don't say hope in a sense of, of luck and chance, but just stay focused on what we do best, which is getting things done and not, you know, upvoting on Reddit for example. So we can do a lot of things better. And we've tried all of it. I think we've hired five full time marketers since 2016. I've fired all of them for different reasons. And I take all the blame for that by the way, but you know the way that it's worked for us, you know, you already mentioned it. So we have a list and anyone who signs up for a free trial of Fomo is added to our newsletter and of course they can unsubscribe any time. But even though right now we have 5,500 paying customers, our list is around 26,000 marketers who are subscribed. And so, you know, once a month we send a newsletter with our recent posts, people click through, share and they share with the right people. So we're not looking for, you know, viral hundred thousand page views for post. I've had that before. You know, it happened in Hacker News and you get exactly zero signups from that. So we don't really care about the page views. We care about someone forwarding that email to a friend that runs an agency. And then that person signed up 20 customers over the next few years. And we didn't really know that this was happening by the way, until we started going to events.

RK: 16:22
So last year we went to five or six or seven events around the world from Shopify Unite to sponsoring different booths and conferences and shop talk. And people came up to us in Toronto at Shopify Unite and said, oh you're the Fomo guys, I recommend all of my clients to. And we just had no clue this was happening because none of those things happen through public channels. Right? So some companies are great for public referrals, especially consumer channels. You know, you can monitor your social media, you can look at Alexa and try to figure out proxies for, you know, how are people growing and where people talking about this stuff. But with a product like Fomo, you know, a B2B solution, it provides a competitive edge. And you know, we work with slightly more premium brands who can afford, you know, to pay potentially hundreds of dollars a month for our tool. And, those referrals don't happen in easily trackable places, you know, so we can't just sign up for mentioning Google alerts to figure out how people are finding Fomo. All we can do is ask them and when we asked them, it's really been word of mouth since day one.

DA: 17:25
So powerful word of mouth. You know, we took a lot of the similar strategies that you're talking about right now, it has kind of been the same recipe for success that we've had, which was like word of mouth, focusing on product, focusing on great user experiences, focusing on long term things like content and just things that help the marketplace. So I completely stand behind everything that you're saying and I think it's fantastic to hear the validation that other companies have been able to do something like that by just focusing on serving, serving the marketplace. That's fantastic. That's really amazing to hear that you're getting such great validation and feedback and stuff like that. Any other marketing initiatives that really stand out for you?

RK: 18:07
You know, right now we're in the middle. We set a bunch of public goals for 2019 and they're at Fomo.com/reportcard and hopefully we hit all of them. We might not. Last year we set 27 goals and accomplished nine of them. And that's also public. But one of our goals is to execute 50 Creative Risks. And this term "creative risks" I got from the Wistia guys. So they wrote a blog post about paying back their investors and going back to sort of a bootstrap mentality and spending their profits on creative things versus you know, pure growth tactics like ads or whatever.

DA: 18:45
That's an amazing post btw. We'll link to it.

RK: 18:47
Yeah. And so I basically told the founders that I'm going to steal this term, go for it. You know, it's all credit to them. And so Formo, wesSet a goal to do 50 creative risks this year. And we're in the middle of, I don't know, the seventh or eighth and ninth right now. Some of those have been experiments, like we just wrapped up sponsoring 10 email newsletters over six months. So this was a long term experiment and, you know, a few thousand word posts to recap it. The TLDR is it was not profitable at all, but I think a lot of people are interested in the metrics of email advertising. And when you search for email advertising, you find us right? And when you search for how to sponsor one of the potential newsletters we sponsored, you're going to find us as well as sort of an overview.

RK: 19:31
And so that's one risk. But another one that we just kicked off, for example, is sponsoring pizza parties. So if you think about CPM or CPC and ads, there's sort of this buffer zone of profits like if you pay for Google ads. Google gets paid, right? They have to modify search results to make the quality a little worse. They have to cover servers. There's all these margins in play. Whereas if someone's going to have a, a Shopify meetup and talk about Shopify apps and Shopify sales strategies and they want pizza, if you just pay the cost of that pizza, they're going to talk about you and there is no margin. You're paying for it, no profit margin. So we've been experimenting with sponsoring pizza parties from Paris to Chicago, wherever people will have us, where the market makes sense. SaaS, B2B, Shopify, et Cetera type people.

RK: 20:21
And you know, we give them a couple pieces of collateral about Fomo, we give them a referral link that makes it trackable. Little less of a soft marketing campaign. And some of those have been profitable for us. Right? You could spend 100 bucks on pizza, get five or six or seven customers, paying 40 bucks a month. Well, you've already made your payback in eight days. Now imagine doing a pizza party sponsorship every day of the week. So that's actually one thing we're looking forward to. And I, I was hesitant to mention this because I think it's such a potential temporary hack or loophole because there's just a zero margin profit on, on pizza parties sponsorships. But we're looking forward to sponsoring maybe even a hundred and more pizza parties for really every Shopify meet up we can find on the planet. Because these people are already going to know what Fomo is about. Some of the people in the room probably already use us. It's going to spark a conversation. We don't have to be there. It's a heck of a lot cheaper than sponsoring a booth. And that's just one of many tactics we're doing. Other stuff we're doing, you know what I'm most excited about? We're actually launching a free resource on honestmarketer.com and this today also is the first time I've mentioned this out loud, but honestmarketer.com is not going to be related to Fomo. It's just going to be powered by Fomo, run by our team. But it's going to be very, very light promotion if any. And what it is is it's a hopefully one day it can become a movement, right? But you can't self proclaim that, for marketers to become less dishonest, to stop lying in their copywriting, to stop making false claims, to stop being the Internet marketer people that a lot of people perceive us as and to do the right thing. And so we're trying to introduce ethics to marketing and you think again as a very longterm strategy that's going to find its way back to benefiting Fomo.

DA: 22:12
That's fantastic. I love these different ideas. I love these creative risks. How do you guys, kind of brainstorm these ideas because I think some of the best marketing is those creative risk is when you're just reaching beyond just doing, hey, I'm going to do a Facebook ad to a landing page. Let's do something unique that makes us stand out. Even if it's not directly related. And I can name off a variety of things that, you know, great companies that we know that Wistia and Mailchimp and all these great companies have done as far as I kind of just those creative risks. How do you guys come up with them? How are you, how are you even thinking of these new ideas?

RK: 22:45
I think first of all, we have to allow ourselves to think of these ideas. You know, I once heard this quote, I dunno, some finance guy who says, you know, when stuff at the grocery store is on sale, you run to the store and you buy it. But when companies are on sale and he was talking about like a recession stock market, everybody runs away. And so when we think about that paradigm applied to products versus marketing, all of us are trying to figure out cool product ideas for companies as well as (inaudible) ideas for existing products. And yet when it comes to marketing, we're all trying to find the how to guide. This is exactly how to do something that definitely will work. Okay. So we're trying to innovate our products and do things that haven't been done before. But then when we want to grow those products, we're trying to do the exact same thing everyone else is doing. And then we get mad when we get the exact same results. Whether that means it doesn't work or it kind of works, but like the CAC LTV, isn't positive? And so I think we have to first allow ourselves to try to be innovative when it comes to marketing. And so for example, other day on one of my personal blogs, I wanted to get a logo done. And this is just a very small project for me, so I didn't really want to hire a designer and do the whole thing. So I went on Fiverr and I got a logo done for 20 bucks. Then I thought, well, what else can you do on Fiverr? Could I spend $1,000? Like what would that look like? So I tweeted, hey, I'd like to spend $1,000 on Fiverr. Anyone interested in doing that? And I got 20 or 30 marketers direct messaging me within a few hours and I don't even have many followers.

RK: 24:14
Most of my followers probably (inaudible) me. And then we hired somebody right away who's been on this campaign just ripping it, gave him the Fomo credit card. He's logged into Fiverr and he's booking random services. There's no rule book. So he's getting like videos done, jingles, SEO audits, and you know, half of the value for us is just to learn, right? What can you do with Fiverr, right? If you're going to pay a full time employee for marketing, could you spend a fraction of that on Fiverr? I don't know, on 50 people instead of one person. And so this is an experiment that I just want to know what's going to happen and then to kind of double dip this or to get the holy grail right. And I'll air quote this ROI we're going to write about it. And so that's going to help this marketer create a case study for their own work, right? Because he's a freelancer we brought on and just what the heck happens when he spent $1,000 on Fiverr. And I tried to look online and I had, I haven't found anyone who's, you know, made that, that kind of bet like we have it. So let's do it. And I'm sure we'll rank page one and that's cool. So like the SEO is covered, but that's not really the point. That's just to kind of double dip. And so you have to allow yourself to be creative. You have to wonder. And, I also think, again, there's a, there's a way to bridge your personal life and your personal projects and go, well, hold on. I got this $20 logo down on my side project, but my company over here, Fomo, has way more than $20 it can spend on stuff. So how can I do what I'm already doing on my nights and weekends in a bigger way, bigger scale at Fomo at work. So that's step one. No real secret. Again though, you know, I used to drink a lot so I would maybe say drinking, but I don't drink anymore. So really now the ideas come from what marketers use, right? Spreadsheets, magic eight balls and Googling around and reading other people's marketing porn blog posts.

DA: 26:08
That's hilarious. I think wine is always the a good answer, but (inaudible) that makes a lot of sense. I think there is, like you said, the fundamental shift you have to make in your head that allowing yourself to be creative and thinking out of the box is something ok and I think you have to be okay with saying this campaign may not work and you also have to be deeply curious. That's what I keep hearing you say. Like, what would happen, how would this, you know, be curious about those things, about the small stuff and you know, I can also hear like your kind of passion for all this stuff come out. So it's really incredible to hear and you know, I'm excited to, to continue to see the creative risks that you guys take. I will definitely be following along with those different ones that you try just to see how they all work cause they just sound incredibly interesting.

DA: 26:56
So outside the box of your normal realm of, you know, the different quote unquote marketing channels that us digital marketers use. But I want to kind of switch from like, I guess acquisition initiatives to maybe more so retention. So one of the things you mentioned earlier is you kind of changed your target market, you went for a better customer base and you started retaining customers more that were in the right, the right market, maybe the Shopify seller. So obviously retention is a big thing and it's a big part of marketing that's not talked about a lot. What do you guys do specifically at Fomo to focus on marketing initiatives related to retention and you know, the reduction of churn and all that kind of stuff.

RK: 27:40
Sure. A few quick wins, I also hesitate to ever use words like low hanging fruit and quick wins. I think I picked that up from the DHH guys that, you know, when you call a specific initiative, like a quick win and you try to staff a new person on your team or whatever, to get it done. Oh, you know, if you just do this, you know, these results, it's like, well, if that was really a quick one, you would have already done it. But I will say things that are very straight forward for starters when it comes to reducing churn and retention, offer annual pricing, right? At the very least, no one will upgrade and you'll learn that your product isn't that good. And if you, if you offer annual pricing and people do upgrade, well now you've saved yourself a lot of potential headaches. And so for us, one thing that can happen when people cancel is they canceled just because they're, they're upset in the moment, you know, that they can't figure out some new feature or they've just onboarded or maybe they are in Europe and our guy, our support people in New York and San Francisco aren't up yet. And they want help. They want help right now. We're not on live chat and they cancel. Like, that's such a bummer. Right? And so, if you can offer annual pricing and potentially offer an incentive to upgrade, well now that customer has this eternal patience, right? Because they're not, they're not in this vibe of needing to get everything figured out right now. They're sort of in it with you. And so for us, annual pricing was one of the first things we offer, which again, solve the double dip, helps you figure out if you have product market fit. It helps you align incentives, you know, should you offer a discount, should you give people more features? Should you give people better support quality. And it also just lets everyone sort of take a breather. It makes everything a little less urgent, a little, a little more peaceful at work. That was the first thing we tried it.

RK: 29:26
Then we started to think about what are all the things companies do to take, I think advantage of customers or what are all the ways that people neglect their long time customers. And first, the first way is just by trying to spend all of your effort and resources on getting new customers. And so at Fomo, you know, you mentioned this too at Demio, we focus so much on product and that's why even though we've had five different marketers over time, everyone on the team right now, it's just about nine or 10 of us, is an engineer. So everyone's capable of touching the product and changing it. And so where do we get product ideas? Not from strangers on the Internet, right? We get product ideas from our customers. And so one way that we retain customers is simply by letting them know, every month, here's how we're spending your money. And that's what our newsletter is all about. So here's all the research studies we've done, right? Some of you volunteered, thank you. Here's all the case studies from the happy ones among you. If you want to be one of them, go here. And here's all the new features we built for you with your harder cash. And so by doing that, and again, aligns our interests. and then thirdly, and this is kind of a, I think the fun one, you know, a couple of times over the last two years, we're actually in the middle of one of these initiatives right now.

RK: 30:39
We've analyzed our churn and decided this is not good, right? Like it's above 7% or 9%, whatever the numbers are. And if you're growing really quickly, you can kind of ignore that. But if you're growing mostly organically, like we are, you need single digit churn or you know, your organic growth in churn are going to kind of cancel each other out. And so what we instituted in and call it operations seven. So operation seven is a series of projects assigned to different people in the team that seeks to get our churn below 7%. And really all of these projects culminate into just adding more value to our users. So in the last few weeks, for example, we launched a few products that were just giving away 100% free to customers. And this is for retention. If our challenges were different, maybe we would launch these projects as upsells and cross sells you know and companies commonly do this, right? Here's our newest products. Go here to get a demo and we're going to upsell you and charge you twice as much. At Fomo we took the opposite approach, we're like, thanks for your money, here's a new product, have it for free because you're already covering our costs. And so that's, that's one thing we do.

RK: 31:45
We also just look at, you know, companies ignore their customers after their sort of set up. And they treat them as like this gym member, right? So if you have a gym, we all kind of intuitively I think understand that gyms only really make money when a bunch of their members don't go to the gym. And I think a lot of SaaS companies run that way too, right? If you have one or two people on your support team and a couple thousand customers, well this isn't really going to work, the numbers don't really work unless those customers either never bother you or they forget that they're a customer. And I think that's kind of borderline evil or at least unethical. And so what we do for example, is after you've been a customer for, I don't know, five weeks, you get an email from me, and this is automated, but it's an email from me that says, you know, introduction to David, meet Andrew, right? So I'll introduce you over email to our support engineering manager, Andrew. And so now if you have support queries, you don't have to go through a help center, a large chat, you can just ping Andrew. And similarly after two or three months of being a customer, I'll send you another email that will say, Hey David, introducing you to Chris, our VP Engineering. And now if you have feature requests, just ping Chris. And that email or that sequence of emails has gotten so many kind of exclamation marks, the shortest way to put it. So many resoundingly kind of kind of pieces of brand love because rather than forget about them and think to ourselves, well they're past the one month mark, they're past the three month mark, they must be happy. Everything's good. Let's try to keep it down. Instead we actually stir the pot again. And say, hey you've been with us a few months, remember us we're Fomo, let's get back in your face and try to add value, whether it's through free product, offers to join a Beta, feature you and backlink you on our blog or just introducing you one by one to our team members.

DA: 33:30
Your transparency here has been absolutely amazing. These are all fantastic ideas and thought processes and modalities that I think are amazing. Definitely love that. And it's really, I think, part of your, your value system that you have for business and the way you kind of approach how to run your business and how to treat your customers. And I love it. So, that's wonderful. And I guess, you know, these are all, all the things we've talked about so far, just great wins that you've had, things that you've learned. But what about things that didn't work out as well as you thought? Have you had any, things that you thought would be amazing that just kind of failed, but have you learned anything from them?

RK: 34:12
Sure. All the time. I'm actually hoping to, spend several hours this month talking about whether it's blog posts or, I'm not sure the best medium, talking about some of our many many failures, right? So you know, there's creative risks. For example, if someone were to take a calculator and, and try to measure them, we'd definitely be net negative for those just in general. So if you combine team labor, cash, whatever, almost all of those are failures, but it's sort of this thing where it's like, well, it's profit. You've got to do something with it. We don't have expensive lifestyles. We go on a team retreat once or twice a year. We don't have an office. Everyone owns their own machine. What else we're supposed to do? Let's just have fun and so we can fail.

RK: 34:53
But if it's, if it's fun and it adds value, whether it's just a laugh or a blog post or an experiment to our customers, again, that's going to come back around. We think in the long term. But one, one thing that failed for us big time, really big time actually was our agency plan. So it's still alive. And we have some customers for it, Fomo/agencies and the idea was, you know, we've learned that over the years, agencies on Shopify, marketing services agencies based all over the world, they refer Fomo to their customers. And so we thought, let's make it even easier for them to do that by giving them kind of an enterprisey platform that they can log into and provision teams. And those teams can have teams and sort of the hierarchy that you'd see in something like Unbounce or you know, a landing page builder. So you can have all these different containerized dashboards. And so we built this out, we built a beautiful useful landing page. We built specific features just for agencies that they would need that the average user doesn't. And then we launched it and we just didn't get any traction. I think our first month we didn't get a single customer. And again, this is the first time and talking about it publicly right now. But I'm, I'm hoping to kind of do a postmortem on it and share it with as many agencies as possible. Basically say, Hey, I thought I knew you, you know, I didn't, and maybe you'll get a kick out of this. And whether that ends up being this ironic now agencies are interested campaign. It could be or not, I don't care. Right. And so that's one fail of me. But back to the creative risks and sort of moving quickly and everyone on the team being a product person and everyone being able to write and push code on a daily basis, we don't have to stress out when one of our risks doesn't work because in any given moment we're running like 20 things to the lab.

RK: 36:43
You know what I mean? So we don't actually call it Fomo labs. Maybe one day we talk about it, but it's kind of replayed. But we're doing 20 things right now. So we're launching multiple products, we're doing stuff in ad tech, we have our core products, we're doing stuff with nonprofits. It kind of doesn't matter if something fails and that's the right, well we like to think the right attitude to have the very least, because otherwise you do something, a campaign and fails and your morale dips, once your morale dips it doesn't even matter how many resources you have. It doesn't matter how much talent you have, if people don't believe in themselves they'll never get anything accomplished. And so kind of brushing each failure off, learning from it, writing a postmortem, sharing that.Aand now there's places to do that more and more. Failure.com, startupcosts.co I was looking at today, there's a lot of ways to share your wins and your losses and we're open to all of it. That helps us move on to the next one and hopefully do a better job that time.

DA: 37:35
I love it. And I recently read a post from Josh at Baremetrics about intros and how they spent, a ton of times building that, I'm sure you read that too, and they shut it down without a single customer. So we'd love to read that post mortem and you're absolutely right, like the mindset shift that you have to make to be able to accept those losses and accept those failures, but knowing that they're guiding you towards the successful experiments, understanding what works, so you have to have that mindset or you will be, yeah, a little bit destroyed on that side. Those are amazing. And I love to hear those because first of all, on the outside looking at companies, it's always easy to think man they get everything figured out. They're doing so great. It's like everything, we're all learning and we're all just trying and figuring it out as we go. So just so great to hear that stuff. And you know, thinking back to when you bought Notify and the couple of hundred customers you had to where you are now, where have you, where have you driven growth in about three years now?

RK: 38:34
Yeah, there's some long time fans and the value of a true fan, right. For us, this will be someone who was a Notify customer, got migrated to Fomo, potentially painfully. And we've written a little bit about that as well. Migrating between multiple servers multiple times over the years. That one customer might have referred to us a hundred customers in the last couple of years and they don't ask for a commission and they don't really gloat to us about it. It's just a part of their life. Right. So I, when I grew up in Atlanta, I really like Chickfilet and I would take friends to Chickfilet, and that was great. There was no sort of like savvy within me that thought, well shouldn't you (inaudible) paying me right? Or anyone wearing a Polo shirt, they're doing the same thing. And that's because they love the brand. And so the best way, and it's not as tactical and I'm not trying to avoid tactics here, but the best way I think we've maintained growth over the years has actually just been building a brand because Notify was the first product to do what it does. We were first to market and I'm very proud of that. Over the last few years, dozens of competitors have spun up. And in the Seth Godin sense, right? If, if all you do is build a product that does a thing, then people just want you to do more for less. And that's it. But when you build a brand, you can do more for more. (inaudible) you do, when you build a brand, you can actually do less for more. And so for us, building that brand and having a team that thinks about our vision, for example, on a day to day basis, that I think makes a big impact. And I think consumers are getting smarter than ever and they've always been smart, but they're finally, not afraid to, to tell us they're smarter than ever and they don't really fall for the gimmicky stuff in marketing..

RK: 40:19
So our competitors in some cases seem to be going that route, like the quick win marketing growth hacky route, whereas we're taking this perspective of like Fomo is nine due to drink coffee and, and this is what we're all about. Here's what we believe in and we write all of it down on this blog right here. So that, again, kind of abstract, but building a brand and not calling it brand building, building a brand by just being genuine, I think has been number one for us because like I said, we're getting 20 to 30 signups a day since 2016. Right? More people Know Fomo exists now than they did back then. But we still get the end of the day, literally end of the today, get 20 to 30 signups a day. So what are we doing in between there that's changing the quality of those signups. But I think it's doing things that haven't been done before with products, with intellectual property, doing things or saying things that haven't been said before. In terms of, you know, the other day, for example, when we wrote about how we don't back link our product just about every single SaaS product that has a widget component, backlinks their product, right? It's, it's such an easy thing to do to drive traffic. Well, we don't do it. We think it's unethical. We don't do it. We don't get extra sales because of it. That's a bummer, but I don't care. We don't do it. And that alone actually inspired some other SaaS companies and tweeted about this to also remove the backlink from their product. And so that's the sort of impact we're trying to have now where we don't say, oh, I tweeted this, I wrote this post, here's the traffic, here's the signup conversions. It's kind of are we really in the direction of our vision and do we think this vision makes any sense at all? And if it does, again long term, you know, we're not going anywhere. We're not venture funded, we don't have a timeline, we don't have to maintain a certain month (inaudible) it's so far been been working and again, we have down months, we have up months, in terms of revenue in terms of, you know, morale or whatever. So I'm not pretending everything's always amazing, but everything's always good. You know, everything's always on point with, with who we are as a brand.

DA: 42:19
It's part of the journey the ups and downs there. And you said before you have about 5,500 customers. What is the MRR at these days?

RK: 42:28
MRR, best month was two months ago. It was 111 and over the last couple of months, that's when we instituted a new operations seven version 2.0 and it's basically just a Trello board, a 15 kind of punch list items we're working through to improve activation, improve onboarding. We're big fans of AARRR metrics framework and...

DA: 42:51
Pirate metrics?

RK: 42:51
Yeah that's right.

DA: 42:51
That's awesome. And what do you think looking forward in 2019 some of the biggest challenges or opportunities you'll find this year?

RK: 42:59
Our biggest challenge will be making honestmarketer.com a success. You know, it's going to be, it's free. So free ideas spread a lot faster than, than paid ones, you know that. But none of us have experienced building or running communities. I can write a blog post, but that's very different as we talked about earlier from encouraging 10,000 people to read that post. Very, very different skill sets. And so it's going to take a lot of, I think, personal growth, hopefully some new humility on my part to get there. But, we believe in what honestmarketer is all about. And so growing that community, we don't have any specific goals yet, log ins, whatever. But growing that community to try to make a dent in the, the perception of marketers is, is a big hairy, you know, the BAG type of goal. And that's going to be our biggest challenge this year. On the product side, you know, things are getting more and more fun, you know, so non non braggy way but I think any team that works together for a couple few years, you start to get in each other's head, you know, whereas 2016, I would write a very detailed a page spec and I would, I would map out attributes for table names and as a user stories and all the edge cases nowadays we come up with feature ideas and we can articulate it in a sentence and the other person's like, oh yeah, that sounds cool. And then it's just done. Right. So the next day you see the pull request and it's done. So we're, we're so in sync, I think as a team that building products just get easier over time. Building the right products, maybe remains a challenge. But when you have 5,500 customers, it's easier to ask those customers if you're building the right product. So no complaints on that side. It's really a, these kinds of social endeavors, you know, and and, and keeping the, keeping the morale high.

DA: 44:46
I'm excited to see how it all turns out with the different endeavors. And the team building stuff is always just part of the balance part of the journey. But it sounds like you guys have really hit some amazing strides with them being able to talk about a feature request in one line. That's incredible. But based on time here, what I want to do is ship over to our lightning round questions. Just five quick questions, you can answer with the best first thought that comes to mind. You ready to get started?

RK: 45:09
Sure.

DA: 45:10
All right, let's do this thing. What advice would you give for early stage SaaS companies starting today?

RK: 45:18
Find a niche, find a niche within the niche and find another niche within that and then cut it (inaudible).

DA: 45:23
That's like a inception times three. What skill do you think is vital for marketing teams to improve and build on today?

RK: 45:32
Definitely design. Design is a marketing channel, whether you like it or not and it builds trust, it builds credibility. It's fun to look at. It helps differentiate you from competitors running bootstrap. Just learn design or hire someone who does know it.

DA: 45:47
And it helps with that brand building. Right. What about a best educational resource that you recommend for learning about marketing or growth?

RK: 45:56
I'll go with the classic here "22 laws of marketing" by I think Al Ries and Jack Trout.

DA: 46:02
I have not read that. I'll have to read that. That sounds awesome. What about a favorite tool you can't live without?

RK: 46:08
Definitely Sequel, I'm running queries all the time to learn about our users, to learn about opportunities for growth, to learn why they're canceling, everything. All the above. You know of SQL.

DA: 46:20
That's crazy. Yeah, not heard that one before and we're not really doing anything with that. We definitely got to start playing with it more. What about a brand, a business or a team that you admire today?

RK: 46:31
I'm big fans of Clearbit. You know, they have an excellent API. We paid for maybe three marketing tools total. We spend 300 something dollars a month on our entire marketing budget and 99 of that is for Clearbit, so we use it to enrich new signups. We use it to learn more about our customers. The API just works and that kind of quote just works, it's so critical for APIs and they just do a phenomenal job, from the end points to the log end. They're also building a brand, writing ebooks. And so yeah, if I had to have just one tool to a, you know, one subscription for a new SaaS, it'd be Clearbit.

DA: 47:09
That's crazy. You only have three marketing subscriptions. I think I just checked our Intercom bill was over a thousand dollars for last month alone, so ouch. That hurts. But but that's awesome and really appreciate you jumping on today, Ryan. You were incredibly transparent. You talked about a bunch of stuff that you haven't even mentioned before, like you said, openly. So I appreciate your honesty, your openness, and just your ability to, to provide so much value. Thank you again for jumping on today with us.

RK: 47:35
Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.

DA: 47:37
It was a real pleasure and we will talk to you soon. Thank you.

DA: 47:44
A huge shout out to Ryan and the entire Fomo team for first of all, creating such an incredible platform for being such great thought leaders and influencers in the SaaS marketing space. (...)

Resources:
The Blog Post by Wistia about Creative Risks:
https://wistia.com/learn/culture/investing-in-creativity-isnt-just-a-money-problem
Learn More About Fomo:
https://fomo.com/
Connect With Ryan:
https://twitter.com/ryanckulp
Follow along on Our Journey to $100k MRR
A shaky start? No doubt. Yet, three years later, we've got our eyes set on $100k MRR. We'll be sharing everything along the way.