From Bootstrap Startup to an 8-Figure Exit with Rob Walling

Today, another serial entrepreneur, Rob Walling, joins us to discuss founding and generally running a bootstrap startup. We sat down and talked to Rob about his journey of getting his software startup off the ground, developed, and eventually sold with no outside funding.

Rob Walling is not only the co-founder of Drip, which recently sold for eight figures, he also writes a blog and hosts two podcasts for startups. He is most known for starting, running and selling Drip but he has also bought and sold several smaller SaaS applications, including HitTail. Finally, Rob is co-founder of Microconf, a bi-annual conference for software startups. Rob’s goal is to continue to acquire new businesses while maintaining the time-clock free lifestyle his years of software startup and acquisition experience have afforded him.

Episode Highlights:

  • The story behind Drip and what led Rob into marketing automation.
  • Building and growing a SaaS company. Launching a new software business without a lot of staff or cash.
  • Building the automation that ended up being the key factor that got Drip on the consumer radar.
  • How the company managed to compete against the larger players.
  • The luxury of being a small team and working primarily in person.
  • Why Rob would now choose remote over local.
  • Tips for hiring high quality candidates that fit in with your company’s principles.
  • When you know it is time to scale up your startup. Knowing when you have something that people really want.
  • How to recognize when the option to sell comes on the radar.
  • Knowing when you’ve found the right buyer.
  • The importance  of putting all the deal-breakers on the table and sticking to your guns.
  • What small startups learn in the acquisition and transition process and how that changes their teams.
  • The story behind Microconf, Rob’s bi-annual global software conference unlike any other.

Transcription:

Joe: So this morning we were deep into a program called GetDrip and it’s what we use for our automated email sequences. And I understand you had the founder of that gentleman … with that software as a service program on the podcast that’s all right?

Mark: That’s right and I think a lot of our listeners are probably familiar with Rob Walling. He writes over at Software by Rob. He is the host over at Start Ups for the Rest of Us Podcast. He’s the founder or co-founder I should say of MicroConf the SaaS conference. He is also the founder of HitTail an SEO software and of course Drip – Email Marketing Automation; one of the leading email marketing automation softwares out there which was acquired by Leadpages a few years ago in an eight figure acquisition. So really cool guy, tons of experience in a lot of different areas especially in that start up environment. And Joe you and I like to have these calls with people … these conversations with people where we try and like pull out a certain lesson or something else. Remember the episode with Mike Jackness and the crazy high open rates and returns that he gets on his Facebook marketing. I went into this without any specific agenda. I just want to talk to Rob about his story and kind of the adventure he’s been on since he started up Drip and some of the other things as well. But we didn’t get into much else because we just kind of talked about his journey with Drip which was fascinating. And one of the things to think about with Drip, they started off in a world where there was really big competitors. You had Infusionsoft, you had Klaviyo that was still big at the time, you had MailChimp which was absolutely a monster, AWeber which had been around forever. And here you have this little start up with no funding just a handful of coders working out of basically a closet as it were. And they ended up blowing up into one of the biggest email marketing automation softwares out there and being acquired for eight figures by Leadpages a few years later. And so we talked a lot about how they do it … how do they go through that, how does he hire people? We covered a lot of territory but it was fascinating.

Joe: Well I think you said founder maybe five or six times there so I would think you would have to be fascinating when you’re founding that many companies and that successful. So I don’t think anybody wants to hear you and I talk about this anymore. Let’s just go right to Rob.

Mark:  Yeah let’s get to him.

Mark: Rob thanks for coming on.

Rob: It’s my pleasure thanks for having me.

Mark: All right so you’ve listened at a couple of the episodes of the Quiet Light Podcast you know how we work. Why don’t you give people a quick introduction as to who you are?

Rob: Yeah so my name is Rob Walling and I’m a serial software entrepreneur probably most known for running … founding and selling Drip which is email marketing or marketing automation software. I’ve also or run a number of other SaaS apps including HitTail which is an SEO tool. I co-founded MicroConf which is a conference for self-funded startups. And I have a couple of podcasts. One’s called Start Ups for the Rest of Us and the idea there is to help people … give people an option in starting software and SaaS companies that’s like you don’t need to raise funding to do it. And that podcast has been running since 2010 so we have like 400 something episodes. Another one is called ZenFounder it’s with my wife who’s a psychologist and we talk a lot about just trying to stay sane while running a business.

Mark: Well trying to stay sane while running a business that’s a pretty hard thing to be able to do.

Rob: It is, yeah.

Mark: Yeah. That’s pretty cool so we have a lot that we could talk about here. I want to talk a little bit about just building and growing a SaaS business. But one thing I want to start off with here is you’re kind of like a member of the very old guard when it comes to Internet entrepreneurs. When I started in the online world it was kind of expected that you do everything right? You code, you market, you design, and you do everything top to bottom and it’s a lot harder to do that today but you’ve been [inaudible 00:04:35.0] keeping up with that. So are you still actively doing a lot of the coding?

Rob: I am not. I backed away from it. I … you know we’ll software professionally for a paycheck from about 2008 and I really enjoyed that time and it basically gave me a leverage and a little bit of savings to be able to start acquiring businesses. I mean that’s what a lot of people don’t know is I really only started a couple of software companies. I’ve bought way more than I … products and websites and software SaaS apps than I started so … but around let’s say 2011, 2012 it just became … it just was no longer worth it for me to code. My time is more valuable doing all the other stuff … that pulling the big levers to move the business rather than sitting behind a [inaudible 00:15:19.12] even though I love it. I still write code on the weekends though. I hack with PHP scripts; I was scraping Twitter feeds and trying to do sentiment analysis. I was … it’s just myself having fun. It’s just fun to build things but I don’t … I have a push production code in probably five years.

Mark: Yeah, I used to code … I started to code out of necessity when I first was an entrepreneur and at first, I had no money so I was like I need to build this … I think I built a very basic pay per click search engine and kind of advertising platform. I did that and pearled all things and then yeah again self-taught myself and since then I’ve missed doing it but I just don’t have the time to jump back in. So the fact that you’re doing it on the weekends [inaudible 00:05:58.8] for sure. So let’s talk a little bit about building and growing a SaaS company because you’ve done it a couple times, you’ve done it successfully, and maybe also I didn’t know that you were active in the buying world so let’s talk a little bit about that. Let’s talk about what you look for when you are buying this SaaS Company and how do you go about some of those code challenges. So let’s start with a basic question; ball park number how many businesses do you … would you say that you bought over the last five or six years?

Rob: Let’s go back a little further because see … once I started Drip which was 2012 so I bought zero in the last six years. But before then from let’s say 2005 was my first acquisition and 2011 was my last so over that six year period I probably purchased I would say 25 or 30 different. They’re either software products, SaaS, or even … I mean I bought like half a dozen Ad Sense websites back in the day. So I really enjoyed it. I mean the idea of being able to skip product market fit and not have to do all the hard work up front and have a great history has always been attractive to me. Especially if someone … I mean when I was writing softwares I was doing, I was contracted, I was doing 125 an hour or 150 an hour sometimes and I mean my time was super valuable. I was booked 40, 50 hours a week and so I was like wait let me get this straight I couldn’t … back then it was Flippa, right? I mean it was before you guys, before FE and other folks, and I would go on Flippa and pay 18 months of net profit and sometimes I got totally hosed on it because Flippa can be a little bit dangerous but the ones that worked were life changing for me. By 2009 I was full time just on products. Sorry, that was a long answer but that’s the value I see in acquiring over. I’ve told my wife like if I do this again … because I don’t know if I’m going to do it [inaudible 00:07:44.5] have to but it’s just a lot of work, there’s no chance I’m doing it from scratch. Zero chance that I will do something from scratch for the rest of my life. I will always acquire from this point on.

Mark: And obviously, we are big believers in that. I mean that from product fit and like you said and doing our work is difficult. When you started Drip … when did you start Drip?

Rob: We worked on the code in December of 2012 and then we launched in 2013.

Mark: Okay, and you were originally just sort of an add-on or a layer on top of existing software programs right?

Rob: That’s right.

Mark: So like AWeber and I think mail Chimp was one of the main vehicles.

Rob: Yeah, we were just like a pop up and auto responders but we also fed into mails because we didn’t … we couldn’t even send broadcast emails at the time.

Mark: Wow, all right so then you layered on top of that and did you always have in mind with Drip that it was going to be an automation; the sort of kind of logic sequence.

Rob: No, we didn’t. And in fact, we resisted it pretty heavily because I didn’t want to get into the marketing automation. It’s just a big … at least in my eyes at the time it seemed like this big, enterprisey, clunky, old, really hyper competitive space with a bunch of funny competitors; just not a market I want to get into. I tend to like really tight niche markets where you can just own that thing and you don’t have to … you’re not fighting red water every day with someone else. It’s not a feature race all the time. But it became clear about a year into running Drip … a year, year and a half that that was where the whole space was going. And not building that would have just relegated us to being undifferentiated; everybody just had another major product and by building an automation and building it in a way that was more elegant and … or you know at least I think so, more elegant, easier to use than Infusionsoft and Active Campaigns and some of the other competitors it … we became, that’s how we got on the radar. I mean we were an unfunded marketing automation platform in essence. We didn’t raise any money and we were five people basically in a closet in Fresno, California and we were number 12 on Data Analysis Marketing Automation List. And all the 11 ahead of us had raised … decked a million, some had raised nine figures, I mean it was crazy.

Mark: Well, that’s one of the things I find fascinating about your story. When I first saw Drip kind of pop up you had these really large players out there that you knew had significant revenues coming in, significant funding, very large programming teams of developers, how did you guys manage to stay agile like that at such a small footprint of a company but still put out incredible code? What were some of the things … I’m asking you to go back here and kind of think back but [inaudible 00:10:28.3] so what was all those things that you did to be able to compete against these larger players?

Rob: Yeah, that’s a really good question because Derek and I … so Derek is my co-founder with Drip and we are both software people. I’ve written code since I was a kid and so had he. And so we built the company. It was very much a product focused company you know a lot of [inaudible 00:10:47.7] tech companies launch and they’re very marketing focused and the software is kind of a piece of crap. And then you’ll see them get legacy over the years and eventually they can’t ship features so they ship very very slowly, one or two releases a year. And for a SaaS app that’s just not the way you need to do it. So Derek and I from day one built a very strong foundation. It took six months to get Drip into people’s hands and it really … we could have done it in three months but it would have been shitty code. And so we focused early on of not having a legacy, we took our time to build a really solid foundation architecturally, and then the first three hires that I made were Derek who was a contractor at the time and then became W2 and then eventually got chairs and was retroactively made him a co-founder and then two other developers. So when we were a team of four which was three developers and me and I did everything else. And that allowed us without the legacy; it allowed us to ship really fast. We were super agile. We used to get hub issues and we just … we were, I mean we would hammer out features. We would hammer out an entire integration in less than a day. Because there was one dude who had built … he built 35 integrations for us. And it was just this relentless focus, there were no meetings, there were no … if there was a question we stood up at a white board. It’s a luxury of A. being a small team and B. being in person. And I know if I build a team again it’s going to be really remote but we move way faster because we were in person two to three days a week and then we’re all at our houses the other two or three. And it was just perfect blend of like speed. I mean our velocity it’s funny you call that out because so many people call that out and even [inaudible 00:12:22.5] Leadpages called that out early on and said how are you … you’re like five people, how are you shipping this many features? And we were shipping multiple features a week and it was just getting in there. Our architecture was stable and the developers … also we hired really good developers we focused very much on that; Derek and I being two developers. We were super rigorous and super picky about who we hired and so there’s a lot goes into it and then you know I’m kind of been rambling but it was really this relentless focus on the product comes first and the product is what is we’re going to be really good at. And at the same time and I have some regrets you know of like I think I should have marketed it harder early on. I think I should have hired a marketer that was better than me. I think that you know there were certain things now that I look back that it’s like didn’t we focus on the product a little too much? But I don’t know in the end I think it worked out.

Mark: Obviously it worked out. And this is kind of an interesting thing I’ve seen with software companies. I’ve read a book by the founder of Zoosk [inaudible 00:13:16.3] and they talked about their ability to push out code and features rapidly. It would be we’ve come up with that idea in the morning and pushed it out by midafternoon because they were able to do that. What sort of approval process did you guys have in place to be able to ensure that you weren’t just getting all sorts of really conflicting features?

Rob: We had … well A. both Derek and I knew every feature that was shipping. And we knew that until we hit … I mean even … so I left Drip about three months ago it was acquired by the Leadpages you know I think it’s kind of the punch line that some people know about that, and even when we were 10 or 12 engineers Derek and I still knew everything we were shipping and so it’s just a product management. To be honest when there’s only three or four developers you can keep it all on your head or on a whiteboard you don’t even need that much process. Now soon as you tip to four or five then you need some type of can ban you know or something and then when you hit … when we hit seven or eight it was like all right we do need a weekly meeting now; 30 minute weekly meeting. But we had no standing meetings, none of that. I mean it was like you’re writing code 100% of the time or you’re talking about writing code. So we also had extensive unit test coverage. We had I think three lines of unit testing code of unit test for every line of production code so it allowed … that allowed us the safety of like pretty sure this is going to break anything because one of these tests would have caught it and then we do a sanity check on the server and push it. We … you know knock on wood we have very few over the five-ish, five and a half year run like production bugs that really did some damage. And we get a little things here and there but we only had maybe two that I can remember. It was like a scheduling issue, it’s like oh crap we forgot to send emails for an hour like that’s a big deal you know and that happened maybe once and there is [inaudible 00:14:58.5] so code quality was high and we focused on that.

Mark: So you mostly run your team local to some extent but at some point when you started to grow and before the acquisition with lead pages did you have a remote team?

Rob: We did yeah. Yes so there were 10 of us total by the acquisition and there were five of us in Fresno in office. And like I said we came in about two to two and a half days a week to that office and worked from home the other days and that was a great balance of there was enough time to whiteboard, there were enough days, every other day you’re going to see some people and ask questions but then you could go home and get a ton of work done right. And then we have five people who are all over the place really [inaudible 00:15:38.5] guy in Mexico and we had a developer in another part of California and somebody in New York and stuff so it was … it worked out.

Mark: So given … you said if you start something again here in the future it will probably be remote even though you’re not really convinced that’s necessarily the better way to go about it; why is that? Why would you choose a remote in the light of the fact that you might think it’s not the best way to go?

Rob: Yeah, I think the ideal way is that everybody can meet in a room a day or two a week. As I’ve said that was the best working environment I’ve ever had. I would go remote because it’s just so hard to find the right talent at the right price in any given metro area. It’s like you can go to Silicon Valley and yes there’s a lot of engineers but damn are they expensive. Or you can come to Minneapolis and they’re going to be less expensive but how many ruby developers are actually here and how many are going to leave Target or Best Buy to come work for me? It’s going to be tough. If I’m making a nationwide search or even as I tip tend to go three time zones in either direction, three hours in either direction from where I am; so I’ll go north to south. [inaudible 00:16:40.6] hire in Canada or Mexico Central South America you’re going to just find really people who sometimes live out in the middle of nowhere and if you’re able to work with them remotely then they can ship some really good stuff for you.

Mark: Yeah hiring people is always a challenge. I don’t think I’ve ever talked to an entrepreneur and business owner and I’ll throw myself in that ring as well, hiring people has an absolute pain. Do you have any insights that you want to give us right now?

Rob: Oh my gosh. We could do all episode on this.

Mark: You really could do all episode on this and so we’ll keep it a little bit short because I want to talk a little bit about MicroConf and also more a bit of the history of Drip but this is more for me [inaudible 00:17:19.9].

Rob: Totally, yeah I know some quick tips. One thing that Derek and I did was we hired a lot around personality. We really want … especially when we were small it was like I want to be able to hang around in a room with [inaudible 00:17:36.9] hours a day [inaudible 00:17:38.6] I don’t do that or I’ve worked at don’t do that they really do hire based on skills and talent and as a result we passed over some pretty good developers. But we could just tell they were edgy or they were a little to opinionated or let you know they were just things it was like we were super super careful. So we did hire slow and then our hiring process took a long time. We also presented it for what it was. The job postings were written very … almost like a blog post or like it was very conversational, oh it was more like a sales letter it would start my job descriptions and say it was all you language, it was like you’re an excellent developer the world is your oyster, you can go work at any company you want but here’s why you don’t want to work at an agency because that da da da da da, you know you could go here but come work for us, you can be fully remote you can be … and then I present the benefits. It was very much like either magic or writing a sales letter where you present the you language and then you’re going to present the problem and then what are the solution like come work for us. So as a result we got really high quality candidates and it was a very … I bet I would say look we do not pay, don’t come here if you want to make what you are going to make at a Fortune 500 company. We do not pay these exorbitant developer wages but here’s what you get in exchange, you get the freedom to do this, there are no set working hours, you’re fully remote we’re going to send you a MacBook Pro, we’re going to buy you two Dell monitors, we’re going to … you know just all the stuff that; some developers don’t want that. They just want the maximum paycheck and other developers loved it, there were people who came and said I can’t get this kind of flexibility in work. So having … like what is your differentiator? That’s what we figured out early on and we put it right from the start in the job description of like you … this is either awesome for you or this sounds terrible. And then the last thing on and I’ll stop is one thing that I learned once we went into Leadpages, because our hiring process took a long time. It was 20, 30 hours a week for me at times and once we got to Leadpages there were two in-house recruiters, just full time recruiters who were freaking phenomenal. And I … one thing that I would do if I were to do again is try to find someone like that on an hourly basis and not a contingency recruiter where they charge at 15% of the salary but just find somebody on Upwork or whatever who’s 50 bucks, 75 bucks an hour who I can have … I can train to do all these stuff, or they can train me frankly. Because once we get to Leadpages like they had bat it down. I mean they grew 50 people a year for a few years. So they had that process down and they taught me a ton of things that I wished I had outsourced more of that in essence is what I’m saying. I felt like as a founder I had to do all the hiring. But it turns out as long as I did the last mile and I would thumbs up or thumbs down someone it was plenty good and sort of the funnel was filtered so much for me. You know by the time we worked and we paid and so I was like I shouldn’t have been doing that type of funnel stuff and hiring process.

Mark: Yeah, I can tell you, I just went through the process of hiring somebody on for Quiet Light Brokerage and typically with Quiet Light the people that come on and work with us they approach me about coming on as a broker. But we needed some work on the marketing side and so I put out a job application. It’s a full time job and going through and trying to vet these people and you know you want to hire slowly but you’ve got a bunch of other stuff on your to do list. Outsourcing that and if you’re able to do so makes sense. So the tip that you gave as far as writing the job post in terms of you … you’re the second business owner that I’ve talked to recently that has given that tip. I think it’s a phenomenal way to go about it instead of just saying we need this, we need that, we … or you know this is what we need given the benefits that you attract that top talent is a good suggestion. Okay, let’s talk and go back again to Drip here, when did you realize that this was not just like a little project that you were going to have as like a super niche product and really something that could play with some of the big boys? I mean now you guys would be direct competitors with a Mail Chimp and with an AWeber and those guys have had to play catch up to you frankly in some ways or to what you built. So when was that realization? What made you turn and say okay I’m going to go all in on this for a while?

Rob: Yeah, it was a very difficult decision and it was a hard one to make as I said because I’ve had a lot of lifestyle businesses and I value my lifestyle very highly. And it was a decision of boy am I going to continue to have a lifestyle business or am I going to scale up like a startup? Do I want to go all in on this? And I was talking with Derek about it too but it was really a turning point for me. So we started doing our early access in mid-2013 and we launched to our launch list in November of 2013, and it took us until August of 2014 to hit product market fit. We were just struggling you know just adding and it was when we added automations, the initial automation there wasn’t even the work for us that are all visual it was just kind of almost like if this [inaudible 00:22:22.1] stuff. That was game changing because we started growing I don’t know 20% month over month. We’re already flailing around a bit until June as we start rolling out missions then it was like all right now we’re going 10%, now we’re going 15%, now we’re going 20% and it was like boy this is becoming a fact. You know this is we have built something that people really want and we at that point we weren’t ahead of … you know Infusionsoft had a visual builder and Active Campaign did too and I don’t know it was Klaviyo I mean there were competitors around. We weren’t ahead of them but we had just done a very elegant job. You know it’s kind of like we had built a really easy to use platform like on Mail Chimp and we added automation to it in a way that really didn’t exist quite in the same way. So that was when it was really towards the latter half year of 2014 it was like man this thing is growing fast and we have to hire lift the staff up like that was the realization.

Mark: Was that the point in time when you decided that possibly selling was on your radar?

Rob: No selling came on the radar in 2015. And it was we were staffing up and I realized [inaudible 00:23:29.7] Derek and I have a lot of conversations that’s like we can’t hire fast enough. Like we don’t have the money you know. Running Drip was … especially with the staffing and trying to keep up with everyone else it was just an expensive thing. I mean SaaS apps obviously have great margins and we had a great gross margin but our net margin was not very good because I kept hiring. You know it 10 grand of MRR and now I go out and hire another developer every time because I know we have to keep up with all these competitors. So that was when I realized you know we had a need to raise an angel round, like a seat round probably half a million or we may want to think about answering one of these e-mails we’re getting to acquire us. So we got maybe five pretty serious inquiries, we got more than that they were just you know whatever. You get weekly funding offers from a junior rep at a VC firm and every couple of months we get an email of like we’d like to acquire you and about five of them were people who companies or funds who actually had the money to do it. And that was when it was coming all right so what we do, do we take chips off the table you know cash out in essence, have a good outcome for us and the employees or do we push more tips and basically raise funding you know to at a valuation? Because we probably would have raised funding similar to the valuation we’re going to be acquired at and that puts you in for two three four five more years of doing it. So that was a big decision process for us and frankly, I was burning out a bit. I mean I was struggling to run the company. I didn’t delegate or outsource as much as I should have. Next time around I would it a little differently for sure.

Mark: So how did you decide Leadpages was going to be the partner that you’re going to work with? You had five serious potential acquirers.

Rob: Yeah, Leadpages was just the best strategic fit and I knew the CEO Clay Collins. We kind of ran in overlapping circles. He was in like the Internet marketing space and I was in more of the startup space but we overlapped a bit. He had been on my podcast and stuff so it wasn’t just like oh we have these five suitors and we’re going to pick Leadpages. It was kind of like well let’s kind of follow each of these tracks you know and then we had … and it didn’t all happen at once right it was over the course of maybe 18 months that like these five conversations happened. And so we just kind of followed each of them to the logical extent and the one that made the most sense and just kept coming back up again and again because deals fall apart like this right? Because someone puts a number on a piece of paper and you’re just like yeah that’s nowhere close and then it’s like all right well then we’re out you know. And then two months later you get an email and it’s like hey so we want to rekindle the … and that’s how these things go right. So it took 13 months from the first email when Clay reached out to when the deal closed. And it was really about six, seven months of hard negotiation during that.

Mark: Sure yeah and that walking away right? That’s so typical on a lot of these deals especially in a strategic deal, being able to walk away and you know people just set goals and objectives change over that time as well so they can re-evaluate things. What was some of the things that you learned going from a complete startup environment where you’re a super agile small team that you’re building and that kind of hanging on to this year past sort of growth and then being absorbed by a company that had raised tens of millions of dollars and much different sort of environment; what sort of transition was that?

Rob: The transition, it was probably one of the best that I’ve heard about. They did a really good job of kind of leaving us alone for three to four months because we just … we were all shell shocked. I was … it was so crazy I mean we [inaudible 00:27:00.2] moved here and then go on [inaudible 00:27:02.5] pick off [inaudible 00:27:03.0] people we were and it was just this culture shock for us. So they made it as good as it could have been I think. They didn’t screw with the product nobody said [inaudible 00:27:11.5] all our people came on board and joined the team. So I feel like the transition went as good as it could have but it was still hard on me and hard on some of the team members because it … we have been just this tiny little team and then you get kind of absorbed into 170 person company. But I mean to Clay’s credit he set it up really well. So I learned a bunch of stuff … the interesting transition, there was a mental transition at a certain point is we’ve gone from basically being kind of cash strapped to having tens of millions of dollars in the bank as you said from the funding they raised. And I just realized we had to think about things totally differently. Like I needed to stop every week checking our AWS bill and trying to turn servers off and adjust things on the weekends. It’s like that was no longer … it was not worth saving $500 a month for all that time. And you have to be cognizant of the money but it’s like 500 bucks a month is just a rounding error. They probably spend that on toilet paper in a month and it’s like focus on some … if I’m going to spend that mental damage do it on something that grows the bottom line or that improves the product. It was things like that and we … when we can finally pay everybody market rate salaries it was so so cool. We had to hire a lot of junior people and train them up [inaudible 00:28:22.5] up so we … it took us a while for people to really hit the ground running. And once we got here and it’s like oh man we can pay market rate. We’re able to hire senior engineers for the first time ever and that was another game changer of like the luxury of having someone come in and like come with code three days into their job because the code base is solid and they are super advanced. They’ve been doing it for seven years instead of six months like some of the folks that … who are great developers now but they were just very junior when we hired them.

Mark: You have a lot of other projects besides Drip obviously over the years. You’ve had Start Ups for the Rest of Us, you’ve had MicroConf; they were totally cool with you just continuing on with those projects?

Rob: Yeah that was the nice part is you know as Clay and I talked through the whole acquisition it was like … I was like Clay here are my deal breakers number one we can’t … I’m not going to fire anybody like I do not want to lay people off and we didn’t. Number two I do not want to screw our customers like please don’t pivot us into some crazy niche or leave the customers behind that we already have, shut the product down you know let’s not do damage to that. And [inaudible 00:29:23.3] deal breakers although I have like a price, oh I want it … I said it kind of needs to be for enough money that I never have to work again. Like that was one of my things and so we figured all that out. Oh and that was … the third one I was like look I do MicroConf and he knew that and I do the podcast and I don’t spend that much time on them. In all honesty like the podcast is about 30, 40 minutes a week and MicroConf typically was off hours and it might be 20 hours aside from when I would go there [inaudible 00:29:54.0] offer and he said yeah that’s good. And I said I do a lot of public speaking too and I said you know I’ll be representing Drip and Leadpages at that point so it’s actually a … perhaps of benefit to the company so it was good. That would’ve been a really … I was going say be tough but I just that would’ve been a deal breaker. I don’t think I would have not stunned the podcast or the conferences it’s just something I’ve done forever you know.

Mark: Yeah, let’s talk about MicroConf for a quick … for people that don’t know what is MicroConf?

Rob: Yeah MicroConf is a conference that’s run twice a year in Las Vegas and then in Europe and it is a conference for self-funded startups, so bootstrap startups. And we’re not anti-funding. It doesn’t mean that companies that raise funding can’t come because certainly a lot of … 80% of what funded and unfunded companies worry about is the same thing. It’s hiring and it’s marketing and it’s building a good product and then there’s just 20% percent that we just don’t talk much about at MicroConf. And so we get about … we have a Growth Edition which is for businesses that are providing a full time income or more. So it’s a lot of six seven and some eight figure businesses but it’s definitely smaller. Its SaaS focused but we do get e-commerce people we do get Word Press plugins and info marketers and stuff. And that conference the growth one is about 250 people and it sells out every year. And then we have the Starter Edition which is from idea to full time income and that’s at the same time right around the same time in Vegas and then we have of course the Europe edition which is here in a few months in Croatia; it’s in October. And I’m excited to go to Croatia and now we started selling tickets for that a couple weeks ago. So we try to get … we wanted to build a conference that we wanted to attend. Like Mike and I who was my co-host with the conference, it was like I go to these conferences and there’s multi-tracks and there’s the vendor halls and there’s all this bullshit. I really just want to come, I want to meet entrepreneurs. I want the attendees to be top notch. I don’t want it to be the marketing guy, the C level guy from this oracle or it’s like that no that doesn’t help me you know. I want the attendees to almost all be entrepreneurs in a similar space. And then we want to keep it small. They tend to be about 120 to 250 attendees. And then we want to get really good speakers that may not … these are not like the big name speaker who comes up and pumps you up and you know there’s time and place for that but it’s super super tactical and so that’s what we’ve … it’s kind of like if you want tactics and some inspiration come to our conference. If you want just pure inspiration and you just want to get pumped up then go see Tony Robbins or go to the World Domination Summit. It’s just a very very different thing. So that’s my spiel on it. That’s MicroConf.com if folks are interested.

Mark: Yeah absolutely and I absolutely love those smaller conferences the 100 to 150 attendees, you know 200 attendees but where it’s really focused again on the people that you get to know from those conferences. I just find that you do get to know people so much better and the partnerships and relationships that come out of that more than pay for any sort of price that you’re going to have to pay. Your location is Croatia, are you kidding? That’s incredible.

Rob: Ain’t that awesome? Yeah, I’m stoked. We did it in Barcelona … we did in Prague for two years, Barcelona for two years, and then we did it in Lisbon, Portugal last year, and this year we’re upping the game. It’s going to be a little harder to get to but man we’re stoked because I’ve never been to Croatia. We do try to like put it in places that A. people would want to go to but that we want to go to as well. You know it’s an excuse to visit a cool country.

Mark: Yeah absolutely, all right we’re up against a clock here but what does the future hold for you? You left there a few months ago.

Rob: Yup.

Mark: What are you looking at the doing here in the future?

Rob: I don’t know yet. I started writing a book about my experience. I’ve written a couple books about software startups and that kind of stuff. And I started writing another one and then I kind of … I got about 12,000 words in and I was like you know I don’t know that I want to do this right now. It was all about my experience with Drip and everything and it was funny I just kind of petered out. So I don’t know if I’ll come back to that. I don’t have a deep desire to do anything bigger than Drip. I think I’m going to take another few months off and I know something will come up and I’m probably going to acquire something is what’s going to happen. And but I wanted to do something that like it needs to make money for my personality you know like I just I have to that’s how we keep score right? But I kind of want to do something in like … even in the hobby space that I really enjoy. I can’t imagine going back and then doing another SaaS app. It’s just I’ve been there I’ve done that what’s new? Like could it be a just a completely different thing that I really enjoy that it also makes some money but maybe it’s not some big fancy startup that’s acquired.

Mark: Well awesome. Well, good luck with all of that and let’s make sure that we stay in touch especially being local to each other here. But let’s make sure that we stay in touch. Thanks so much for joining me.

Rob: Absolutely Thanks for having me on

Links and Resources:

Rob’s Website

Startups for the Rest of Us Podcast

Zen Founder Podcast

Microconf

Rob’s blog

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