Sujan Patel on Bootstrapping His Way to $100M
For the last few weeks, I’ve been releasing an episode on Tuesdays and Thursdays, to gear up for MicroConf the world’s biggest conference for self-funded software companies. These episodes have been focused on self-funded, often solo-founders.
Some are on the smaller side, while others have ARRs over 7-figures, but they all have valuable lessons to share for any founder and today we are wrapping up with the final episode of the series, and it’s a big one.
Today, I’m talking with Sujan Patel who has over 13 years of experience leading digital marketing strategy for companies like SalesForce, Mint, Zillow, and LinkedIn. Last year he helped drive over 8 million unique visitors to his client’s sites, and to top it all off he currently owns and runs 5 successful SaaS companies with his partner at Ramp Ventures.
Oh, and he has done all of this while remaining bootstrapped.
Sujan has given dozens of interviews before on all kinds of topics, so for our chat, I wanted to dive into something he hasn’t spoken much about, the inner workings of Ramp Ventures. Sujan’s goal is to build a $100 million dollar business and today we cover the high-level strategy and specific tactics he is using to get there.
00:29 Sujan discusses the journey that led him into the SaaS world and his success with Ramp Ventures.
- 02:10 His experiences working as VP of marketing for WhenIWork.com.
- 03:24 How directly addressing his weaker areas contributed to his success.
- 05:09 Building an audience and a following with the release of, "100 Days of Growth".
05:46 Discusses his first SaaS companies and how they each came about.
- 06:28 Growth strategies and the challenges for growth faced by an emerging SaaS product
- 07:57 The 80/20 Principle, or in Sujan's case, the 96/4 Principle.
08:15 Details on the operations of Ramp Ventures and how the team maintains high efficiency.
- 09:55 The matrix organization they use to manage multiple companies.
11:14 How Ramp Ventures proceeded to buy out SaaS companies to put under their umbrella.
- 11:32 The role of inbounding in these deals.
13:23 Ramp's long term vision and the roadmap to get there.
- 15:42 Ramp's three biggest marketing channels for growth.
- 16:39 Sujan answers whether there are companies that may not benefit from content marketing and influencer marketing.
18:29 Sujan's approach to entering competitive markets.
- 19:17 Expresses his two trains of thought with examples.
- 21:41 Sujan's concept of 10X marketing and the results of building a product ladder.
23:51 The future merge of Ramp Ventures with Sujan's consulting agency Web Profits.
- 26:15 Answers why they didn't grow in tandem from the start.
27:24 How Sujan keeps balance while managing and growing multiple businesses at the same time.
- 29:36 Why he doesn't focus on only one company at a time.
- 32:28 How lessons learned on one platform can be extended across the field.
- 35:23 Advice for founders. Focus on one thing or cast a wider net?
- 38:52 What do you spend too much time doing?
- 39:01 What do you not spend enough time doing?
- 39:13 What are you hoping to accomplish in tangible goals in the next quarter?
- 39:36 What are the potential obstacles to these goals?
ContentMarketer.io – Sujan's first company under the Ramp Venture's banner
- Rebranded as MailShake
- Narrow.io – The second SaaS company Sujan created
- Quuu.co – Sujan came on as a partner in this company
- LinkTexting – SaaS company bought by Ramp Ventures
- Pick.co – SaaS company bought by Ramp Ventures
- Web Profits – Sujan's consulting company
- An Inside Look Into Sujan Patel's Digital Marketing Plan for 2017
- How to Find Your User Acquisition Channels
Where to learn more:
You can always hear more from Sujan by checking out his blog, but he really does pride himself on being everywhere so don’t be surprised to see him on some of your favorite sites.
Andy: Sujan, thank you so much for coming on the show today.
Sujan: Yeah, my pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Andy: It honestly seems like you're absolutely everywhere. When I was doing some research for the show, just to find some different interviews to get a little bit more of a back story — Because I was already familiar with you, but I wanted to dive a little deeper. It was hard to just narrow it down to what to listen to because there was so much out there. And when I talked to you about it, you were like, "Yeah, in 2015 I just tried to be everywhere" and you've definitely succeeded with that.
But what I'm trying to do today, what I think would be really cool for the listeners, if we go into some uncharted territory. And so one thing I want to focus on is, you're a partner at Ramp Ventures, which owns five growing SaaS companies. What exactly is Ramp Ventures and how did it come about?
Sujan: Great question. 2015, my goal was to be everywhere, and it started with building an audience. In 2014, I started getting some momentum to build that audience. Why I'm saying this is actually Ramp started in 2014. I'd sold my agency called, Single Grain, and I was just burnt out of doing consulting. I'd always wanted to do something more, like a SaaS, products, service. It doesn't have to be SaaS, it could've just been software. E-commerce, whatever. Something where I'm not doing professional services.
And so while that's [inaudible 00:01:27] we try to do a bunch of things. Some of them have succeeded. Actually, we did a lot of lead generation sites in the insurance space, and mortgages and things like that, but they were not really the type of stuff that is super long-lasting. I made do with what I had. So, I knew in 2014 when I sold the business, I wanted to get my hands really dirty and deep into the SaaS. I knew I was going to be late, to be honest. I'm not really worried about that. I am really late to the game, which I think is ok. Everybody's going to be late.
So I decided to join one of my client's companies, WhenIWork.com, as the VP of marketing. [Inaudible 00:02:17] with them since they were about 100K ARR and I was the VP of marketing as a consultant through Single Grain, helped them from 100K to about a million ARR, and then joined as an employee at a million, and got them, helped them get to ten million.
Between 100 and a million, what happened is they got funding. And they were ready to grow the team, spend some real dollars on acquisition. When I was a consultant, we did SEO, we did lots of different strategies, but they were ready. So anyways, this company — the crazy thing is, I moved from San Francisco to Minnesota to join this company, and again, I was — I'm going to go get my MBA in SaaS. Everything fit with the company, I loved the CEO. He was a very product focused, designed focused, user experience focused CEO.
I'm a marketer. Marketers, we can drive the crap to the traffic, but when it comes to product, I don't think most marketers know enough about it. I think it is one of the weaknesses. So I knew that was a weakness of mine and so I was like, "I'm going to go do this". I moved away from my wife, who was at the time getting her MBA, so I was like, "You know what, I'm going to go get my MBA." While she's doing her MBA, I'm going to get mine and I'm going to do it in real-life situations.
I knew how to grow that business, really loved the company, invested in the company as well, and then joined as an employee. So they really give lots of different things. So Ramp Ventures started in 2014, and it started with this vision of wanting to build a SaaS company. I didn't really care what industry, I just knew what I was missing. And what I was missing was any real depth in SaaS. I worked with lots of different SaaS companies, but didn't know how to run a company. Joining one that worked — I was there for two years — I learned everything about it, and then in 2014 — because going from a business to a job I got bored. 9-5. A little bit more, whatever. Did not occupy my brain enough, plus I was in Minnesota, so I started building my personal brand.
And I knew that building my personal brand, and building an audience in the marketing space is going to help me open doors. Something is going to come out of this. And I was doing it for the next thing that I did. The reason I started building tools — if you notice are for Ramp Ventures — all of our tools are geared towards sales and marketers. That's just because I know sales and marketing. It's a problem I have, and so I started solving problems I have and I looked at like, "I have a problem, I have a problem, who else has this problem? Do enough people have this problem where it's worth pursuing?"
And so that's where the first company in February 2015 came about. Actually, we launched this Ebook called, "The 100 Days of Growth" — or I launched it. Again, that was a goal where planning on launching a SaaS company that year, targeting marketers. Content marketers specifically. So I built this big audience using my book.
We ended up getting about $40,000 sales over the last two years, and it really helped me, it helped me put my name on the map, build and audience, build an email list. People gave a crap. So that was step one. Again, I took 2014, starting an audience, and I really blew it up at the beginning of 2015, started with this company called ContentMarketer.io. And that was my first stab. And at the same time, I've always been desperate to find a dev who can build my vision, the same time I found another dev based in Minnesota to build Narrow.io. Both of those companies I decided as a crazy person, to do both at the same time. Because I was like…
Andy: What could go wrong.
Sujan: I was like, "It's going to take awhile to build, it's not going to be…" — Frankly, what the hell do I do when somebody is building a product, I can't do marketing for it besides building a landing page and doing some stuff, and so that's exactly what we did. We built a landing page, through ContentMarketer.io. Narrow was a little further along, so we launched it pretty quickly. Anyways, I just started building a list, building an audience, building a blog and building, and continuing to grow that audience. For ContentMarketer.io, people started paying us money and subscribing to a service, because we let people pre-purchase. Pre-order essentially, without even knowing what the hell we did.
And so I knew I had something there. So now, I just had to build a product that matches all the hype I had. Eventually we launched — anyways, in your early days, and I'm sure a lot of people listening to this can relate, in your early days into a SaaS business, there's not really many things you can do to grow it. There's probably just a handful of things you can do to actually grow a SaaS business early on.
Primarily because one: You really don't know, you really don't know what — I guess you don't know your economics, you don't really know what's actually going to move the needle for you, and you don't have much money. And you may not even know your audience completely.
So, so many, so many unknowns, and so that's kind of why I was like, "You know what, I'm a freaking growth, I'm a growth guy, I know what's going to grow, what's going to grow a business and frankly, what's not going to grow a business." I know if I do cold email outreach, I know if I build an audience that's ultimately going to work. And because I know a lot of things that can work, I'm not just going to focus on throwing a bunch of crap at the wall.
That weeded out the need for me to do a lot of unnecessary marketing or unnecessary work for the business.
Andy: The 80/20 Principle.
Sujan: I would say — my business partner and I talk about 96/4. It's the 80/20 of 80/20. So anyways, that's how the first two came along. Long story short, we ended up — the third one I became a partner in, called Q. The fourth and fifth one, LinkTexting and Pick.co, we bought. And over the years, I have a partner, and his name is Robert Senoff for Ramp Ventures. He is the operations and finance guy. Ex VC. He is the glue which holds the business.
I get to keep my product hat on, I get to keep my marketing and growth hat on, and the last hat is the customer cheerleader. Meaning, because I know the audience, the audience is me. I talk to customers for MailShake and a couple of our products through Facebook, through SnapChat. Every single avenue possible to talk to a customer, somebody pings me on. I absolutely love it, even though it is super distracting and unproductive, I absolutely love it. Because they're just telling you what they want. And I'm building real connections with people.
So anyways, Robert is the operations guy. He's the reason we're able to do a lot of these companies at once. Great thing about running multiple companies under Ramp Ventures — Ramp Ventures is ultimately an operations and growth engine for all these businesses — is we that we get to build one really awesome team and they work on multiple projects.
And I learned this, and how to do this, at a job I had before I started my first agency. At that company, they had a matrix organization where they had a single marketing team, or single teams manage multiple business units. And so each business unit had a GM, and that GM would put together the team, the resources, whatever.
And I was the head of inbound marketing there, the director of inbound marketing or some, whatever manager level title. I managed about six or seven people, and each person fit into a different business unit. So I learned that from there, and again, going back to our theme, we have sales and marketing tools.
There's a lot of cross-promotion between them and that cross-promotion and synergy between helps us really glue that team together. Meaning, for us, when you become a MailShake customer, which is at ContentMarketer.io pivoted over to MailShake, which is an email outreach tool, you might actually become a Q, Pick, LinkTexting customer as well. So, we have so much of that, that that's happening. Everything works out for us.
Andy: I want to back up a little bit. So you've launched a couple of them, you've launched ContetMarketer and Narrow yourself with a developer and then you said you became a partner and went and bought the others. How did those deals come about? Were you actively looking to buy a piece of a company? Where you actively looking to buy entire companies? Where did those opportunities come from?
Sujan: So, we were a — it comes back to building that audience. I do a lot of marketing, I do a lot of education, writing, speaking, all that stuff. The whole kind of thing. And so, if I talk about stuff, people end up approaching me. Again, I'm a big fan of inbound marketing, so I knew that I could do this again, and so LinkTexting and Pick were inbound deals. People came to us. Not the actual seller, not the owner of the business at the time, but a friend that knew us both.
So he's like, "Hey Sujan, I see you want to buy. This company might be looking to sell, you should talk to them." So that happens. I also do a lot of Clarity calls, Clarity.fm. Also people ping me through my contact form on my blog, SujanPatel.com. And I just help people out.
The other day, a guy from Percolate, pinged me and said, "We're having trouble growing our business, I see you've been doing this and that, can we jump on a call and give us some pointers?" I'm like, "Sure, no big deal." Awesome guy. Chris, the CEO, co-founder, he's in the same situation we all are. We want to grow our SaaS businesses through bootstrap and whatnot.
So I do a lot of that, and sometimes out of that comes, "Do you want to partner up? Do you want to buy some shares? Can I give you a big portion of my company to help it grow." And sometimes I say yes.
Andy: And so when you're saying yes, because right now it seems like Ramp Ventures came out of all these opportunities, but now that you've had some time to wrangle with the structure a bit and put together a bigger vision, do you see yourself as a holding company?
Do you see yourself as someone who's going to build these companies and sell them? What is the long-term vision for all these different companies that you're running?
Sujan: So I see this as a — I look at this as like classes. It's a college class of 2015, which is MailShake and Narrow that is operating off of what we knew then. Now, we've made some improvements and we're smarter now in 2017 and so the newest businesses that we have are way more efficient. It's a lot lower costs and we get to pull the other two back into it.
So I think of all of these as one. One big business. The goal here is to build a 100 million dollar plus company. I'd rather not do it with 50 companies inside of it, I'd rather do it with minimal, but with 2015 versions of myself, it was an MBP, in 2016 we knew what we were doing and, "Holy crap, we actually have something here, let's make sure we structure the deals right. Let's make sure we dot our Is and cross our Ts.
Let's go back to the other companies and make sure we're all covered there." I ended up bringing on Robert into MailShake and a couple other deals so that — he had equity in it too, so we're really, truly a partnership. And partners on everything SaaS related. If that's what we're trying to do together.
So, anyways we want to build a 100 million dollar company. SaaS, ideally bootstrapped. If we do ever raise any money, this will not be a Series A, typical VC funding. This will be more on our terms. Again, we've figured out our growth engines, so you'll see we only buy or look at corporate companies that have — our top three channels for growth across all companies are one: Word of mouth, and that all comes from product marketing.
Something about the product is fricking amazing, and I'm not trying to gloat, because I didn't build most of these things, I work with smart people who built them, but something about these things are really, really sticky, and it causes this word of mouth. So that's our biggest channel. Number two is content marketing. Something I do and something I've had the most experience in. And number three would be influence marketing or other smart people that I'm connected with or again, it might be coming from that first bucket.
They just love the product and they just scream it from the rooftop, they write about it, whatever, and that generates a lot of traffic. So, we're only focusing on businesses that we can grow that use those channels or almost the other way around. We only want to work with businesses or grow businesses that we can apply what we're amazing at to those businesses. Otherwise, it won't work.
Andy: Interesting. And this is sort of a chicken and the egg question, but I can see the stickiness, I can see how having those features that people rave about that people talk about nonstop, I can see how that is more unique in terms of what's out there in the market. But for influencing marketing, for content marketing, what types of businesses, more generally speaking, would that not be a good fit for?
Sujan: That's the thing, most of them could apply to content marketing, or content marketing could apply to businesses, but you'd be surprised. For example, if we wouldn't — since we're in the business now of buying and growing businesses, because we already have enough that we've brewed from the beginning, frankly, Robert and I decided — we've come to the conclusion, we are not these are amazing visionaries that are going to come up with these badass ideas.
That's just not what we do. That's not what I'm good at. But if you have a great idea and you've proven out a concept and you have some sort of MVP and you know how to grow the thing, that's where we come in. I guess, going back to your question. Some companies, if that's not the channel to help them grow, then it doesn't make sense. If you have a really crappy LTV or the customer that you're targeting, the potential customer who is in your market, doesn't use content marketing to grow, isn't influenced by content marketing, then that might not be a business. So it could be E-commerce — I guess in SaaS a lot of them fit, but certain categories would probably be weeded out.
Andy: I want to build on what you were saying. You don't see yourself as the visionary, it seems like you guys execute really well, you can grow a business, but it's that first stage that you don't necessarily have as much — you don't see yourself as experts in that area.
One thing I want to ask though, is how have you been able to enter, or why have you entered such competitive markets again and again? With MailShake, which you pivoted into the more general email outreach tool, when there's a ton of those. And same with Pick. There's a few other players out there, and so what makes you comfortable going into these very competitive markets?
Sujan: There's two trains of thought. You can enter a market that is super new and grow and be the leader in it. So if you think of chatbots right now, AI, any bot, you might be able to win it. That one I want to do, I want to go into more, and I want to begin in the industry early enough and ride the wave. Ride the wave up of the growth, but it's tough. And it's really more hit or miss. It really is just a hit or miss. It's a lot more luck than anything else. Luck in terms of timing. And luck in terms of you get the right feature, you do the right thing at the right time.
The flip side is, an industry that's been around. I'll give you a really crazy example, or a really big example: Warby Parker. They're disrupting a really competitive market. Lens Crafters and I think the parent company of Lenscrafters owns like five other properties and combined owns a majority share of the glasses industry, and they can charge an arm and a leg.
I'd rather be the Warby Parker of the world, where we come in late as hell, and we do it better because we know the customer better, we know the problems, we do it for cheaper, and again, we'll sacrifice margins. At least my thought today — I might have a different answer in two years — I'll sacrifice margins because to get market share, and I'll sacrifice margins and profitability to have happy, loyal customers. Because I know that that happy, loyal customer, just means that whatever I do next, whatever the next company is, they're likelier to purchase that thing.
Andy: I hadn't thought of it like that, because when you say it in those terms, when you're margins and your prices might be low on a single product, but you have a suite of complementary products, so if they come in to MailShake and absolutely love it, they're probably going to check out some of the other tools you offer. So, even if the individual product doesn't cost that much, it's very likely that over the whole suite of things, they could turn into a reasonably sized customer.
Sujan: That and also another part of this, which is not a part of Ramp Ventures, which is my own thing, and also partnership with another company. So, I have a singular marketing focus, I leverage cold email, virality, or viral loops within a product, great product marketing, some paid marketing, content marketing, SEO, influencer marketing, occasionally we build some epic content, or
I call it 10X content, or epic content, or micro-tools that are free, to generate buzz. Those are our channels that we use. I don't care if I'm — so I have a consulting businesses as well, it's called Web Profits.
I also do a lot of training, and I'm talking about training marketers, and usually every six months we have a course called, Content Marketing BootCamp, where we train about 100 people on how to do content marketing. And I also release a couple books and Ebooks, so if you look at it from the revenue stream, I have Ebooks that are kind of single digits to maybe 30 bucks. I have then SaaS businesses that are maybe, in terms of LTV, a few hundred bucks to a few thousand bucks.
Then we have training, which is 1000 to 2000 dollars and then we have clients. ACV on those things are typically about $100,000. 00:23:04 The same marketing strategy is used for everyone of those [inaudible 00:23:07] streams and I found a lot of people are moving downstream. Meaning, while I market my agency and my personal brand, most people can't afford 100,000 dollar annual services. But they want — they might want to learn how to do it themselves, hence the training. They might just want the tools to do it themselves.
Andy: Right. You're building on a product ladder.
Sujan: Exactly. And it's not necessarily — if you look at it today, it is probably the most clustered of monetization as possible. From the outside. But on the inside, the operations, the organization, is very, very streamlined to take advantage of this.
Andy: I'll be honest, looking in from the outside, it did seem all over the place, but hearing you describe it in those terms, has provided a bit of clarity and I can see how it all fits together. But this also ties into my next question.
It seems that at Web Profits, you do a lot of the work that your team at Ramp Ventures does as well Why keep them separate? Why not have each of the products that Ramp Ventures owns be clients of Web Profits?
Sujan: At some point we will. My goal at some point is to get Web Profits to be the agency for Ramp Ventures and then we don't have to worry about anything. The reality is, when you're growing a SaaS business, I think it's very important for a lot of the people listening, when you're in the 10 to 30K MRR per company range, there's not a lot of value an agency or — there's not a lot you can do to grow. Again, going back to the same thing I started with. And so, you want to choose your channels appropriately. You wouldn't — for us, I don't have any one business right now.
If I were to go double down, or triple down, or I go full time on, then I can grow much faster than what I'm doing right now. I think that a lot of businesses stay in that area. You kind of have to build those channels, especially if you're bootstrapping. Because a funded company can go and say, we're going to spend a million bucks on advertising this year.
We want to make it work, because we know that when we get more money, we're going to want to scale that channel. And it's not necessarily a zero sum game, but they're trying to grow as fast as possible, whereas a bootstrap SaaS is more — let's go as healthy as possible with what we have to do with.
Andy: And so what about — a lot of agencies spin off SaaS products as internal projects. Because it seems like every service business wants to get into software. And so couldn't Web Profits just have been the holding company and these had been internal projects? Or did you really just want to keep them very distinct until the companies that Ramp Ventures could they actually afford to pay Web Profits?
Sujan: It's more so that all the companies were too far along, — so they were too far along for Web Profits — Because I started things in 2015 on the SaaS and Ramp Venture side and then mid-2016 almost 18 months later on the Web Profit's side, there's not a really clean convergence of two companies, and frankly, I would have the most to lose at the point in converging everything. So it just doesn't quite make sense.
And yeah, so we built two different teams. But the crazy thing is, we learn from each other. One day I come in with this crazy idea for Ramp and we test it on a company and next month we apply it to clients because it's proven on the Web Profit side. So, there's a lot of convergence but to keep the companies and business organizations clean — now again, going back, is that the best way to do it? Heck no. But that's the reality I live in.
Andy: I like that. You're honest. If you're going to create this from scratch, this would be a structure I chose. But this is what we have with the factors we had going into it and this makes sense for now and this is what we're looking to do in the future.
So I think does make sense now that you lay it all out there like that. But one thing I'm sure all listeners are wondering, is how do you possibly balance all of these moving parts in this growth machine?
Sujan: I think a part of this is, one of my strengths in life is, or one of my weaknesses is, I turn it into a strength, I get really bored of things easily. So early in my career I hopped around a lot of jobs and the agency thing is probably the best for me because I can work on multiple projects, because while I'm waiting for something to happen on one thing, I'm moving on.
My brain is like, "Ok Sujan you go on to the next thing while this thing is waiting." So, that's just how my brain works best, and so I would always quit jobs really quickly or I would just be really impatient and push people too hard. So I'd just be an annoying or bad employee. And so, working on multiple things is something I'm frankly, my brain works well that way.
Is it stressful? Yes. So, the simple answer is, I've kind of programmed my brain to compartmentalize things, but really I'm working 13+ hour days, typically six days a week. And I was working until 11:30 last night and woke up at 6:00am and started again.
Is that sustainable? Heck no. But that's not something I plan on doing forever. But if you're an early stage founder and you don't have access to capital — and even if you do, I'm bootstrapping these companies with 100s of thousands of dollars of my own money into these things, and that's not time included. That's what I have to do to get these things off the ground or to grow these businesses.
Andy: With that said, before you had mentioned the 96/4 view of things. Is there one company in your portfolio where if you focused all your time on it, would be able to produce disproportionate returns and spreading your attention across all of them.
Sujan: Not yet. We're looking for that. The next move we want to make is to find that. I think the reality is that it's a bit more on timing. UFQ((?)) has 30,000 plus users, MailShake has 7,000 plus customers. We have — these numbers are getting bigger and more and more meaningful, which is awesome, but what I'm realizing is that it's simply a time game. And we're on the lookout for that. And so, we — that is probably something that I don't know if I'll do, but definitely consider it. I would say I'm on the prowl for it. I'm always looking for that data, that number, but we just don't have it yet.
Andy: And so do you see a lot of this as making a bunch of, not little bets, but small bets spread across a few things? And if you do see a potential outlier, it's at least worth considering doubling, tripling, quadrupling down on that one?
Sujan: Yeah, but at this point — so six months ago I would've said yes, I would just dump everything and go on to that one. Now, mid-2017 me, or early 2017 me, my brain, we've actually figured out a way to go 4X, or double-down, 4X in a business without giving up anything.
We've figured out how to do that with external resources and other team members and scaling so I can continue what I'm amazing at, but also not to give up stuff. I think that as we go and do this and grow we've just gotten smarter and better and more effective at things. Not effective, more efficient. So that we can use our time more effectively.
I have doubled down on MailShake, because it's growing rapidly. We're growing by a couple hundred customers a month. We actually have held off on a lot of the marketing because I want to make sure that our servers and our system — we have one dev on this and I want to make sure that he doesn't go crazy and die. So I'm trying to avoid death for my partners, so I'm backing off the marketing.
Ultimately, we'll definitely dive in deeper, but as we grow, so does our cash flow, our pool of cash for all of these companies and so that just means when I double down, we can double down and hire more people instead of our time.
Andy: This question could lead to a wormhole of other questions, so I'm going to hope we can keep it somewhat together on this, but generally speaking is the reason why you were able to increase your effort multiple times by using external resources, is that because you develop processes and systems and just know how that allows you to replicate this more? Or is there some other secret sauce that you've applied to get these results?
Sujan: No, so I keep it simple right. We've got the simplest thing. Customers are important. As we grow, this becomes an increasing time and resource allocation for us. I was trying to think of the word and not say it in a negative way, because I think it is really important. But, we figured it out. Our first SaaS — when we first launched the first SaaS business, I was like, "Oh crap, how do I do this? What's the system?"
We use our marketing stack, our support stack, our operation stack…is solid. We use HelpScout, we have all these systems in place. If you look at — if you're a customer of MailShake you realize that when you go to ask a question at support, you're prompted with searching for the answer, you know. I always say the answer lies within.
Just look into the support logs and so it minimizes support. So we learned that and we did it with other companies. We learned how to add virility to products. We did it for every single company. Not 100% the same, but the premise, if it works, is applied the same way. To add virality to your company or to add that to your arsenal is complicated, but because I figured it out once and I could apply it five times, that means I don't have to put in that time four other times.
Andy: It makes perfect sense. It's not like you're trying to figure things out, you're not trying to learn to make fire for the first time at five different things at once. You've figured it out. You know the process, you know what works, you understand the best practices so when you do it again, and again, and again, it gets easier and easier.
Sujan: Definitely. And to be honest, is this the best way for me to make money? Heck no. I can go make a lot more money doing something — I could go make a lot more money just doing one of these businesses, raising money, or doing it the more conventional way. But to be honest, I absolutely love what I do. Every day I get to wake up, solve a new problem and when I solve it, I get to solve it five times over and apply it. I get to talk to customers. I'm usually absolutely exhausted every day. Mentally and physically. But it's fun, even if I know there's a better way for me to earn income, because that's not the end goal for me.
Andy: To wrap things up a little bit, I want to ask for some advice for founders who maybe don't necessarily have that passion that drives them to do a bunch of different things at once. They're trying to decide if they should really focus on one thing or maybe cast their net a little wider. Maybe it's adding more features, maybe it's adding another product to their product suite.
How would you say for someone, how should they make that decision on. Basically, I'm asking if you were to give someone advice who isn't you, how would you suggest that they make the decision on if they should be doubling down on something or trying to cast a wider net?
Sujan: Yeah, I think you should always focus. Even if I don't follow my own advice, I remember Nathan Barry tells me this all the time when I hang out with him. He's like, "You have to focus. Just focus on the one thing." I'll repeat and echo that advice. Don't try to make things — don't try to do more, try to do things better.
I always find that it's not about more features. Our product MailShake, it has less features than everybody out there. But what people say is that it's the easiest thing to use. So I would try to find those things and really double down on the depth of your product and not so much doing more things.
Most people are not in the situation that I'm in now, and if you look back at the history of my situation, I didn't do five companies all at once. I did one company — I did two companies at once, and then one every so often after that.
Andy: That's great advice and anytime you can throw in a Nathan Barry quote, it's always good advice in my opinion.
Sujan: He's a wise man.
Andy: He really is. Random: Have you gone to MicroConf before?
Sujan: I have not. I'm actually speaking there this year. I'm excited. I'm speaking at the start of the conference, so it should be fun. Rob Willing, big fan of his work, been following him for some time, and so I saw he's not at Leaked Pages((?)), and so yeah, I'm definitely somewhat connected to that network.
I've actually stayed outside of that whole space, because I just — even though I didn't focus on one company, I still focused on just doing the things I know how to do, and every time I got stuck, I pinged a few people, and that's how I grew my network.
That's actually how I think I got connected to Rob and Nathan. I was like, "Hey guys, I see you're doing this, I'm in a desperate situation here, how do I do this?" Nathan, he does the concierge on-boarding, and set-up to the tee. We do concierge on-boarding too, it works amazing for us, but anyways. So it's just problems and things like that and that's why I love the whole micro-entrepreneur and bootstrap founder network, because everyone is so fricking helpful.
Andy: Yup. And you're going to fit right in with that, because honestly, you — this interview is just the tip of the iceberg for all the content you've put out to help other entrepreneurs out there. So, before I say goodbye and we wrap up, I like to ask all my guests just a few rapid fire questions. They're going to be quick, but your answers don't have to be. And so, the first one is just, what do you spend too much time doing?
Sujan: Admin work. The little things.
Andy: What do you not spend enough time doing?
Sujan: Free head space. Like walking in the park.
Andy: What are you hoping to accomplish in tangible goals in the next quarter?
Sujan: I think we just want to keep growing. My tangible goal for the year is to get all these businesses to [Inaudible 00:39:32].
Andy: And then obviously you have your systems and processes in place, you know what you're doing, so a lot of it is just execution, but are you bumping into any growing pains at this point? Are there any potential obstacles getting in the way of achieving that goal?
Sujan: Yeah, I mean growing pains all the time. We are trying to build and grow a business while managing customers and a need, using a very, very small team. So, if one or two things start breaking — like so, if we have to end up spending more time managing our customers and then things start breaking, that gets in the way of the resource allocation we have for growing it. So I think that's my biggest — I would say — it's not a fear, but it's my biggest concern.
Andy: Interesting. Honestly, you've given us an absolute ton of information today. This was a really actionable interview, but it was also one that was interesting to see into a different mindset and seeing how someone at a different stage of things approaches it.
I'm sure that is going to help listeners think about how they can start approaching their own business and think about things. So I want to say thanks so much. But before I say goodbye entirely though, if listeners want to hear more from you, where is the best place for them to go?
Sujan: Just check out my blog, SujanPatel.com and first of all, thank you for having me, it's been a pleasure. I've been dying to talk about this publicly, because I've had a lot of closed room conversations about this and so it's good to get this off my chest. Anyways, SujanPatel.com, you can follow me on Twitter. Again, I pride myself on being everywhere, so hopefully you [inaudible 00:41:21] and get me.
Andy: If they search for your name, they're going to be overwhelmed with all the options, so like I was saying before, I'm going to do my best to link up to a few of the good interviews that you've done, covering some of your background. I'm also going to link up to some of the resources that go into the nitty gritty of how you actually grow these businesses, how you apply the content marketing, how you apply the virality, how you do these things, so there's going to be a ton in these show notes, so for any listeners tuning in to the call, on the phone, whatever, please check those out, there's going to be a lot there. But Sujan, thank you so much, this has been a lot of fun.