#16 SAAS Marketing Strategies with Ryan Battles

FEATURED DOWNLOAD: Read and download the full transcription of Episode 16. In this episode, our special guest Ryan Battles shares his struggles and success in his business.
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Biography:ryan battles

Ryan Battles is a web developer who builds and promotes digital products.

He is an entrepreneur and co-founder of Harpoon who builds web applications, strives to continuously improve personal productivity, and loves discussing business and marketing tactics.

 

Topics of Conversation:

[00:53] Introducing a SaaS developer
[01:27] Hard and fun vs. easy and relaxing
[02:55] Developing pains
[03:38] Reaching goals
[05:28] Reasonable expectations
[06:23] Validating ideas
[11:50] A little bit of restructuring
[13:00] Finding the missing pieces
[15:06] Positive vs. negative: a quick study in blogging
[18:06] Expanding your knowledge with writing
[21:09] Some fancy new tools
[24:53] A piece of advice
[25:24] In closing

Reach Out To Ryan Battles:

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Transcript:

[00:15] Hey guys! Stephen Esketzis here from Marketing on the Move.

We’ve got Ryan Battles here.

How areyou doing Ryan?

[00:20] I’m good. How are you doing?

[00:21] Good! It’s great having you on. I know you’re all the way on the other side of the world at the moment in America.

So what time is it over there?

[00:28] It’s 8:30 on Thursday evening.

[00:31] I think we’re in the future then because its 12:38 here on a Friday afternoon.

[00:36] That blows my mind.It’s cold and snowy here so what’s the weather like for you?

[00:41] Nice and sunny. So tell us, tell the audience, tell the listeners a bit about what you do. Give us a bit of insight into your world.

[00:53] Sure. I’m a web developer by trade turned entrepreneur and I have a couple of applications that I built with my business partner Andy Johnson. One of those is Harpoon which is a freelancing financial management tool. Financial planning and invoicing.

Kind of like FreshBooks but a little bit more. Like FreshBooks meets mint.

[01:17] Right, nice.

[01:20] Theother one is Find Bacon which is findbacon.com.It’s an online job board for web designers and developers.

[01:27] That’s fantastic and which one do you enjoy working on more?

[01:31] Man, that’s a tough question. One is built on a harder technology so it’s more fun to learn and more challenging I would say but I kind of like working on the one that’s more familiar too.

Sometimes after I’ve worked on the one that’s a little harder it’s nice to go back to the easier one for a little bit. It’s good to have both.

[01:53] Ya, beautiful. Which one did you get onto first? Which one came out first?

[01:59] Find Bacon. We’ve had Find Bacon going for almost three years now. Harpoon we started building a year ago and we’ve released it to a limited beta group.

Based off of that feedback we kind of went back to development mode to kick out a bunch of new features so we haven’t publicly launched yet but were hoping to in the next few months.We’ll be ready to take the world by storm, hopefully.

[02:27] Solisteners can just jump on and request an invite? How would it work or is it something you need to be involved in privately?

[02:35] No, if you go to harpoonapp.com there are signups all over the website for getting on our e-mail list to be notified.

[02:43] Fantastic because I know we have some freelancers out there and a few listeners which I think could definitely use it. So how did it come about? What made you jump to assess a sort of project like harpoon?

[02:55] As a developer, I was a freelance developer for 4 years, one of those pain points I had during that time was I used FreshBooks, which is a great tool for invoicing, but one of the problems was I never really knew what the overall health of my business was. For instance if I was making enough to be on track for the year, maybe my yearly goals.

My philosophy was taken on as much work as I could and make as much money as I can.

[03:25] I think that’s most person’s philosophy especially starting out in business.

[03:29] Yeah, so after I did that for a little bit you realize it’s just not sustainable to say yes to everything.

[03:37] Yeah.

[03:38] Eventually you need to start being locked in and sometimes I needed a kick in the pants to know ‘hey, you’re not hitting your goals for this month’ and sometimes I’d have a really good month. One of the things Harpoon does, for example, is if you start getting ahead of your yearly goal we start telling you how many vacation days it’s safe to take.

You can see right when you log in ‘hey, if I stop working for ten days I’d still be on track for the year’ so just nice little insights like that.How to run your business like a business as a freelancer.

[04:11] Have you found it was very difficult starting up? What were some of the challenges you faced when you first launched it?

[04:18] I don’t think we had too many challenges only that we didn’t do a very thorough job of validating it before we launched. Some of our projects before that I mentioned like Find Bacon were a little easier to develop because we built that on the expression engine content management system.

It’s just like plugging in some pre-made modules and mostly for an end work.A lot of our projects that Andy and I have done before we would just do over a weekend or two weeks would be the maximum development and design time we needed for one of these ideas we had.

We never spent time validating so when we got to harpoon it was…

[05:15] Yeah, for sure.

[05:16] After we launched it we realized it needs to have a few more features for it to really be the tool it needs to be. So we’re wrapping up those now and looking forward to launching again.

[05:28] Where do you see it going in the next 6-12 months?

[05:32] Hopefully a steady growth. We’re realistic with how long it takes for SaaS apps to grow the crucial userbase. FreshBooks has, I think they announced like, 5 million happy users or something like that. Our goal is to get 1000.

We would call it a success if we got 1000. It’s just a matter of slowly growing the app once we launch it to get up to that number but once we do it would be a sufficient amount to cover the expenses of us as founders.

[06:13] Yep, 100%. I think having a goal like that in place is very tangible and knowing if you reached it or not is a great thing to do in a SaaS company.

[06:22] Yeah.

[06:23] If someone was starting out a SaaS company, because I know we’ve got a lot of young entrepreneurs that are listeners here and people that have ideas that want to put something together, it seems you put together a system where after about two or three weeks you can sort of bring your first MVP to light and really see if the product is something you want to continue with.

What advice would you give someone who has got an idea for a SaaS company and how should they go down the road of proving the concept?

[06:49] The advice that I give out and that I’ve heard that I think is the best is to try to remove as much technical invitations from an MVP as possible. For example: if you have an app, if you plug in this number it will return that number, instead of building all the back end functionality start by just having people email you with their problem.

Try to solve it manually, if you can, and see if they’ll pay for that solution because we spend a lot of time working on the technical solution, getting everything to work just perfectly, but if you could do it in an analog way you could see whether or not people are actually interested in the solution.

Then you can make it more efficient after they’re happy with it they sign-on, hopefully, give you a little bit of money.

Then you know you’ve got validation but there are a lot of times people think they have a valid product because people are giving them positive verbal feedback but people also tend to be nice and sometimes what they say is a good idea is not actually something they would pay for.

[08:00] Yeah and that’s the funny thing because I’ve been reading a couple of blog posts recently and people have been saying you can have a thousand people that say they want to do it but when push comes to shove and they want to take money out of their wallets to see if they’d like to invest in a program that’s a whole different matter in itself.

[08:14] Right, yeah, totally.

[08:15] For validation would you recommend people taking pre-orders for their new application or maybe building an email list like a notify me coming soon page?

What’s the best way or I guess you guys have used a request an invite for your beta testers before thathow would you set it up?

[08:33] Pre-orders are great.The trick here with SaaS apps is it’s a one-time fee so I don’t know.

Maybe you could get people to pre-order several months ahead or give them some discount but if you can get that credit card number whether it’s through the format of pre-orders or just locking in a certain time period.That’s good validation but the e-mail list is decent validation.

It’s not horrible so with Harpoon after we launched our marketing site we spent a few hundred dollars on marketing. We ended up getting 2000 people on our email list.

[09:17] Fantastic!

[09:18] Yeah, it was exciting but it’s also like who knows if they’ll actually leave FreshBooks and come use this, if that’s what they’re currently using.It’s a bigger ask.Obviously not all 2000 will so the question is what percentage of that are actually people that are gonna join on and stay loyal customers.

You can only really tell when you launch.

FEATURED DOWNLOAD: Read and download the full transcription of Episode 16. In this episode, our special guest Ryan Battles shares his struggles and success in his business.
(Click Here to Download Transcription)
[09:47] I was gonna ask, have you tested any of those people that signed up on that list into your private beta or seen if any of them have signed on?

[09:56] Yeah,when we first launched we let 200 people, the first 200 people on the list, sign-up and we had about 20% of that list actually sign-up and give their credit cards which was great.

[10:10] That’s fantastic.

[10:11] Yeah, I think the industry standard that I’ve heard is about 10% so we were pretty happy about that but then again you enter your credit card but it’s a free 30 days.You just have to give your credit card to sign up and a lot of them bailed before the 30 days was up. I don’t blame them.

A lot of times we want to kick the tires on something and see what it’s all about. The only price is you have to cancel within 30 days so it’s no big deal.We didn’t take it to heart but we did have a few people stay on.

We got some good feedback.There were some people that were like ‘this is a regular part of our business meeting with my partner or with my spouse’ and ‘we use this tool to help us be alittle bit more professional with how we run our freelance business’ and that was great validation.

That’s the goal we had with the product and hearing that people felt that way gave us the energy to go ahead and build all those extra features that people were asking for.

[11:13] Yeah, for sure.So at the end of the day do you think you had a positive ROR on that list you had put together or do you think it was more for validation purpose?

[11:22] Well we’ll still see because we still have all those people on the list.

[11:26] Yeah, that’s true.

[11:27] So were going to hit them up again when we launch.

[11:31] Have we got any launch dates we can let out or is it all under wraps?

[11:36] It’s under wraps, not because I feel like being secretive, it’s because we honestly don’t know.

[11:43] Let’s call it a mixture of both then because I’m sure there are a lot of trade secrets going on under the Harpoon banner.

[11:50] We ran into a little bit of a hiccup this year with development not going as fast as we had hoped.It was one of those things when we kept thinking ‘okay were gonna launch here in one month or two months.’

Then the month would come and go and we weren’t really that much further along than we were before. We spent this last year like we were only a couple months away from launching and that’s exactly how I feel right now but we actually restructured our team.

We got rid of the developer we were working with and we brought on somebody else that we’ve worked with in the past who’s such a good developer we couldn’t afford to hire him so we made him a full partner. So now there are 3 partners.

[12:36] I think something like that where you know the value is so prevalent in them you can offer them equity and then have them on board because you know the value they provide in the long run is going to be so great.

[12:49] Yeah, he was one of the best developers we knew so we knew it was worth giving up our equity share to have him on and really make this the app that it needs to be.

[13:00] Fantastic.Now I know I get this question a lot and I’m sure you could probably give us a good answer and that is: if you’re a business person and you’ve got an idea for something which is a SaaS company or new software development how would you go about getting it developedif you don’t know the coding behind it?

How do you find a partner or how do you find a developer?

How do you move forward like that? Because it is difficult.

[13:25] Thereare websites out there that is like e-harmony for business partners.

[13:33] Oh, really? I’ve never heard of that.

[13:34] Yeah, I can’t think of the actual names of them yet but I’ve heardthem mentioned before. I think it’s like founderdating.com or something like that. That’s one route.

Honestly, my own experience has been it’s better to work within a network of people you’ve actually met and the only way you’re going to get to know a lot a people is by putting yourself out there.Going to conferences or meet-ups.If there are no meet-ups in your area start one.

Andy, my partner, and I we started one called Bootstrapping Beer.We wanted to see who in the city was bootstrapping their own products and have been doing that for a year now.We’ve met somegreat people in the city.

Just getting yourself out there, meeting some people in the area and talking a lot saying ‘hey, I’m looking for someone who can develop.

Do you know any good developers?’

Eventually some name will get dropped.If you follow up and have coffee with that person it could be the start of a business relationship.

[14:38] A great relationship, of course. I think that networking aspect is really important because it reflects how much passion you have for a business idea and how much you want it to come to fruition. I think that’s definitely a great way to get noticed.

Something I just noticed, I jumped on your website, and that’s your blog.It looks good, very clean, a lot of value coming in there as well.

How important is a blog in a SaaS company as a form of lead generation and just adding value?

[15:06] It’s been one of the best tools that I’ve used.It’s one of the traction tools available, one of many.The cool thing about a blog though is each post is like a tiny salesperson and it works for you day and night.

I have people coming to Harpoon’s site because of some of the blog articles that we wrote. I wrote the blog article and put it up there and even ones I’ve written months ago people are still coming to everyday and signing up for our app.

Now that’s the good side of blogging.The negative side is that it takes about 6 months of consistent writing before you see that kind of return.

It’s really awesome once you hit it but it’s a long game.It’s not something where you can launch and say ‘you know I’m gonna throw up some blog posts and the world is going to flock to my site.’

That usually doesn’t happen so early on.Things like paying for advertising can be good short term solutions and then if you are building a blog at this time and you’re really addingvalue to the world and making some high quality content then you’re going to start getting pick up by other social media mentions.

SCL is gonna start working for you so then you’ll start seeing the rewards of the writing.

[16:32] Yeah and blogging is definitely not a short term thing so if anyone listening out there wants to start their own blog or has their own blog, my blog, stephenesketzis.com, I launched that on the first of January this year.Right at the beginning of the year. I thought I’m gonna do it.

I’m gonna take that step and it’s taken a long time before I’ve gotten any traction on it.A lot of consistent blogging and that’s the hardest part because I’m not a writer but even videos, any value you give it just has to remain consistent so people can say ‘this person is reliable, what he’s giving is valuable’ and that’s just how it works.That’s the same way I found your website and found value and thought this is definitely someone I want to have on the podcast.

Then it just expands intothis massive network because you find this one piece of value and then it leads to another and another and it’s just all packed together.

[17:23] It’s good when you can keep your blog kind of focused in on your target audience, on their needs or what their wondering about.For me to get ideas for what to write about I’ll sometimes just head over to quora or stack exchange.

Some of these sites where people ask questions and get answers and I’ll just look at what people is asking.

What are they?

What do they want to know?

What are they curious about?

I’ll do some research and just type up a 2000 word blog article on it and next thing you know people are like ‘this is exactly what I was looking for!’There’s a little bit of intentional engineering behind those posts but it does work out really well once you hit your stride.

[18:06] Yeah, of course. I 100% agree.Another thing I wanted to touch on: you have a book out for marketing essentials for SaaS companies.Tell us a bit about that and if you could give a couple of nuggets in there for people that they can quickly consume?

FEATURED DOWNLOAD: Read and download the full transcription of Episode 16. In this episode, our special guest Ryan Battles shares his struggles and success in his business.
(Click Here to Download Transcription)

[18:22] Sure.The reason I have a book is two fold.It’s a great way to consolidate a lot of the things that I’ve learned and put them in some kind of format that would be helpful for other people to take with them and go.A lot of the things that I share on my blog are nuggets and information that get distilled and expanded upon in the book.

When people go ‘this was a really good article’ I was like ‘oh good this will be some good content for the book.’It was kind of a way to reuse what I was already doing into something that might be a new medium and kind of valuable.

My second reason for writing the book was a way to push myself and learn more about SaaS marketing. I’ll be needing to market Harpoon so it’s been a great journey because I’ve had to dig into a lot of other people’s writings, read their books and blogs, listen to their podcasts and interview people.

I really like dig into some of the secrets of people who are successful with their SaaS apps and in doing that I’ve grown my own knowledge and it’s just gonna make me better at my own SaaS apps.Hopefully others who read the book will feel the same way about theirs.

[19:40] Yeah, of course.While were here where can people find the book?

[19:44] Ifyou go to ryanbattles.com there’s a link to the book up in the navigation.

[19:50] Fantastic. Awesome and I just want to quickly round it up with a couple of key questions about a SaaS model because I know a SaaS model is really appealing to a lot of people. You’ve got one to many, it’s very leveragable and it’s very powerful.

It’s really built to sell off as well so at any point in the future if you decide you want to sell it it’s very easy to be moved on to another party. I guess on that side of things how valuable is it?

Have you had any experience in selling any developments you have created and how’s that happened?

[20:21] I’ve never sold any of the properties that we’ve built.There’s one that we have that we’re thinking of selling.

It does bring in recurring income but it’s not something we want to give our mindshare to right now and there are some other people we know that would really benefit from having access to the audience that has signed up for that. So not only do you have a recurring revenue but you’ve got another asset as a SaaS business with all the e-mail addresses and names of all these people interested in purchasing your app.

There’s some interesting cross sellingthat some people can do if they acquire an application that could be pretty valuable as well.

[21:09] Yeah, of course.Give us two or 3 of your favourite SaaS applications currently available.

[21:15] Oh, okay…

[21:17] Orany tool at that.Not only SaaS but any tools that you’re currently using in your business or something that you think is quite handy.

[21:27] There’s3 things that SaaS has that I can think of off the top of my head that I’m happy to pay for every month.One is a development tool called Beanstalk and that’s for any developer out there that uses git or any other version control.

It’s a really handy tool with a great team behind it.It helps to manage your code and deploy it to your server so I pay a monthly fee for that. On the marketing side I use Buffer.

I use the awesome plan with them.It’s only $10 but it helps you to load up your twitter queue with interesting articles, thoughts or quotes that you have in your mind so you don’t post them all at once. You can load them up and space them out throughout the day or the week.

I’ve gotten a lot of great value out of that tool. The third one is actually one called justunfollow.com.

[22:22] Haven’t heard of that one before.

[22:25] Yeah, you gotta check this one out. It’s a twitter tool.The name is unfortunate because you don’t want people to unfollow you nor do I really have the desire to unfollow a bunch of people.

What’s cool about it though is it allows you to follow other people rather easily who are following other interesting people. What I do is I find somebody who’s similar to me as far as what I talk about, what I tweet about, and I see the people that are following them.

They get a little notification ‘Ryan Battles has started following you’ then they go check out my profile.‘Oh who’s this guy? He’s got a blog.

He’s tweeting about stuff I like.I’ll follow him too.’Using stuff like that has helped me to not only grow my twitter following list but more importantly to get people to know about my brand, come to my site and sign-up for my newsletter.

That’s actually been a really cool tool.

[23:28] It sounds like it’s very similar to Facebook’s timeline feature where you can say ‘people who are interested in this’ and it shows you everyone else who is interested in whatever it might be. Tony Robins, whoever it might be, I don’t know.

It really gives you an idea of people following similar people in your industry and whatnot.That’s fantastic.

How much is that a month?

[23:50] It is. They are still running their Black Friday sale strangely enough.It’s half price.It’s $5 a month but it’s normally $10.

[24:00] That’sa pretty good value. I’m thinking we’ll have to check that one out. Well that’ll definitely been in the show.

That’s alright but all the racehorses we’ve mentioned will be in the show.It’s been fantastic talking to you Ryan.

I think everyone has grabbed a lot of value. I know I’ve definitely been looking at it in a different sort of light: the way a SaaS company is sort of built and marketed. We’ll all be on Harpoon now so whenever your launch comes, like you said, in the next 2-3 months, hopefully, I think you’re going to get a bunch of new invites.

[24:28] Thanks! Yeah and the book too. I’m done writing it. I’m just putting together some interview videos right now.

I’ve been talking to some pretty interesting people on the SaaS world and marketers. I think maybe your audience would be interested in checking that out.

So sign-up, head over and sign-up, at ryanbattles.com for the bookto be notified when it launches and you can see all the interviews and insights that I’m packaging with it.

[24:53] Sounds fantastic.We will put all the links up on the website so people can go have a look.Is there anything you wanted to leave our readers with?

Any business advice that would serve them well going ahead?

[25:04] I say start before you’re ready, don’t get all your ducks in a row, just start building, try to launch quickly and measure your feedback early and often.

[25:18] I think that’s definitely a piece of value.Get your MVP out, get it working and have something up there.

[25:22] Yeah, for sure.

[25:24] 100%.Well it’s been fantastic talking to you Ryan. I think everyone is going to be absolutely blown away by the end of this interview and I think we’ll have to chat very soon.

[25:33] Thanks a lot Stephen.Thanks for reaching out and having me on.It’s been a great honour for you to share your audience with me so that’s great thanks.

[25:41] Awesome.Alright, guys I’ll speak to you soon. Take care, bye.

[25:45] Bye-bye.

 

FEATURED DOWNLOAD: Read and download the full transcription of Episode 16. In this episode, our special guest Ryan Battles shares his struggles and success in his business.
(Click Here to Download Transcription)

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