How to launch your own product

Paul Boag

The Boagworld show is back. And on the first episode of Season 11 we’re joined by Rachel Andrew to discuss launching your own product.

Skip to the interview (10:58)

The transcription for this week’s show has been kindly provided by the team at Template Monster. Support the show

Paul Boag: Hello and welcome back to boagworld.com, the podcast for all those involved in designing, developing and running Web sites on a daily basis. My name is Paul. Joining me as always is Marcus. Hello Marcus?

Marcus Lillington:Hello Paul.

Paul Boag: Did you have a lovely Christmas?

Marcus Lillington:I’ve got to talk about the new music.

Paul Boag: Oh was there new music?

Marcus Lillington:That you haven’t heard yet. That’s quite funny, isn’t it?

Paul Boag: Do you know I had a dream about that last night? Now you’re saying it, because you told me there was going to be new music. And I dreamt last night, it was basically lots of embarrassing things that I’d said privately in the office. That you’d strung together and – what’s that thing where you kind of make people sound musical when they’re not, auto tune or something?

Marcus Lillington:That would take too long, Paul.

Paul Boag: Is that too much work?

Marcus Lillington:I’m not sure there is a strong enough auto tune out there to do that with …

Paul Boag: Are you implying that I am so unmusical that I’m impossible to tune?

Marcus Lillington:No, I wasn’t. Yes, I was.

Paul Boag: So what’s it like? Is it good?

Marcus Lillington:Of course it’s good. The previous theme was the rock theme and this is the country theme.

Paul Boag: Oh, no. How long is it?

Marcus Lillington:It’s not very long.

Paul Boag: You say that, but anything over about 15 seconds in my opinion, is too long.

Marcus Lillington:Oh it’s a bit longer than that. It’s about 30 I think.

Paul Boag: That’s all right. People have got better things to do than listen endlessly to your musical talents.

Marcus Lillington:Fiddling.

Paul Boag: Talents in air quotes.

Marcus Lillington:I deserve that after the auto tune quote. But yes I had a lovely Christmas and happy New Year, Paul.

Paul Boag: Yes.

Marcus Lillington:It was very nice indeed. It was nice to have that time off. A friend of mine wrote a very sarcastic post on Facebook about how much he was looking forward to going back to work on Sunday evening. About being tired, about being able to get out of bed when he felt like it, having the – having conversations with his family everyday.

Paul Boag: Well, that’s because he is doing work wrong. I get out bed when I like and I have conversations with my family everyday.

Marcus Lillington:Well, yes, that’s a good point, but he works for a bank in London and it’s lots of money.

Paul Boag: That’s own stupid fault. If he puts money above lifestyle, then he gets what he deserves.

Marcus Lillington:Well, I think, yes, that’s an easy said thing. I don’t think he would have a lot – any options, if he didn’t go there.

Paul Boag: But that’s grossly unfair. I’m sure he is a lovely person.

Marcus Lillington:He is actually. Very nice chap.

Paul Boag: I was quite looking forward to coming back to work. I go a little bit stir-crazy.

Marcus Lillington:I do as well. Well, actually, normally by about now. 10 o’clock on the second morning back that I’ve had enough, but all of yesterday I was like a little chirpy thing.

Paul Boag: I know it was weird.

Marcus Lillington:I always am. I was like that going back to school. First day back, great.

Paul Boag: I know I was never like that with school. I used to dread going back to school. But with work it’s like if I’m off for more than about a week, I start to get twitchy and kind of feel this need to fiddle with things.

Marcus Lillington:Yes, there is always something to do, because it’s like even though I kind of did ignore things mostly. There is something to do, so it’s like I ought to be getting on with that is what I’m thinking to myself.

Paul Boag: Yes, and I think Christmas is probably the best time to have a break, because everybody goes off.

Marcus Lillington:Exactly.

Paul Boag: So there is kind of this universal agreement, we’re not going to talk to one another for a week or two.

Marcus Lillington:Yes, I mean there is a few exceptions to that, but generally speaking it’s fine. I mean, we didn’t have any – no issues with sites going down or anything like that. So that’s always hurray.

Paul Boag: Yes, absolutely.

Marcus Lillington:Yes, it was lovely. Can I – as you now – yes, about mid morning Tuesday ready to go back on holiday again. Is that okay?

Paul Boag: Fine by me? You go for it, Marcus. I’m sure you deserve it. I suspect …

Marcus Lillington:I do, I deserve everything.

Paul Boag: Yesterday being a super productive day and you’ve justified your year’s salary.

Marcus Lillington:Yes, that’s right.

Paul Boag: Then alone.

Marcus Lillington:I will be all right by next Monday. That’s what – I could basically just work Mondays. That would be good.

Paul Boag: I think it’s supposed to be the other way round, isn’t it? I think you’re supposed to do a four day week is what people aim for.

Marcus Lillington:Yes well I’d like to do a one day week please.

Paul Boag: Not a one day week.

Marcus Lillington:That would be great though. You’d really enjoy the day, wouldn’t you?

Paul Boag: Have you ever read Tim Ferriss’ book, the Four Hour Work Week?

Marcus Lillington:I haven’t read it, because the description of it made be want to hit him with a stick.

Paul Boag: I know. He is – I’ll put a link in the show notes, but he doesn’t deserve it. Anybody – it’s basically a book of him gloating, because it’s set up as being this book that, oh you can do this too! No you can’t, it’s luck. He got lucky.

Marcus Lillington:Luck and being particularly hard-nosed, which I don’t like.

Paul Boag: No, I’m sure he has done very well. It’s just bitterness and anger that I’m not living his life.

Marcus Lillington:Yes, maybe.

Paul Boag: He is also – he is one of these annoying.

Marcus Lillington:Is he happy though, Pete? Pete?

Paul Boag: Pete?

Marcus Lillington:Is he happy though, Paul? Is he happy?

Paul Boag: Ask Pete? Is Pete there?

Marcus Lillington:Pete is not here actually. He will be here a bit later on. He has got children to deal with this morning or something. Then is going to a funeral, which is a bit sad.

Paul Boag: Oh dear. Tim Ferriss, yes he is just one of these annoyingly talented people I think. Oh I had a fear of swimming, so I became a world champion swimmer.

Marcus Lillington:What’s his name? The guy in the ‘20s and ‘30s, who became the richest man in the world? Howard Hughes. Same sort of thing. He was the fastest man on earth and all this kind of stuff in his aeroplane.

Paul Boag: Overachievers.

Marcus Lillington:Yes. It got to him in the end, he will had a really, really bad case of OCD that he had to kind of lock himself in a one of those tents type of thing.

Paul Boag: Right, good. Serves him right. I don’t mean it at all. I’m just bitter. I’ve just discovered this holiday that basically, I’m going to completely contradict myself now, because basically I’m ready to retire. After saying that I get antsy after about a week.

Marcus Lillington:You can’t be ready to retire. You are only about 20, aren’t you?

Paul Boag: You wish. Then you would be 30 something? Wouldn’t that be nice?

Marcus Lillington:No, Paul. We got to – I’m 48 in a month or two.

Paul Boag: You’re going to be a granddad. We haven’t said that.

Marcus Lillington:Exactly, yes. I’m going to be a granddad.

Paul Boag: Are we allowed to say that? Oops.

Marcus Lillington:No, that’s absolutely fine. Yes, no problem at all. Yes, I was just thinking that this morning, because I was thinking oh I’m doing a podcast with Paul today. No, it was yesterday because I put a few little – the little Boagworld dividers on to the music; just to kind of label it Boagworld. And it’s my daughter who is pregnant now, who did that in 2005 when she was 13. So yes, 10 years ago she was just sort of effectively quite a little girl and now she is going to be a mom.

Paul Boag: So when you have your grandchild. You need to record your grandchild laughing and we will make that a divider.

Marcus Lillington:Absolutely.

Paul Boag: How awesome would that be?

Marcus Lillington:And then – and we will make sure its first word is Boagworld. Okay?

Paul Boag: That will be so sad. Don’t do that. That’s a terrible idea. Should we talk about this week – this season?

Marcus Lillington:Yes, talk about the season Paul.

Paul Boag: So I’m really excited about this season. We have an agenda, right. I’ve decided that learning stuff is hard work. And that as web designers we have to keep up with far too many different areas, okay. And there is so many different specialist areas that it’s hard to keep up with, hard to know about, all the rest of it. So I thought of myself I could sit down and I could read up about all of these areas and try and keep on top of things or I could do a podcast season where I get experts in all of those areas and get free consultancy from them.

Marcus Lillington:Well, I’ve been doing that since the start of the podcast, Paul.

Paul Boag: Is that what I’m for?

Marcus Lillington:Yes, you tell me what I need to know.

Paul Boag: Well, there you go. So this season everyone else is going to tell us what we need to know. And I’ve picked …

Marcus Lillington:Most excellent.

Paul Boag: … areas that I think we as a company or me as an individual or us or however you want to word it, are weaker at, right? Sometimes it’s not. There’s some areas that I’m a bit more confident on and in those areas I’m really kind of pushing down to kind of the real detailed stuff. So really as has always been the case with this podcast, this season it’s about me. It’s about what I want to learn and what I want to know.

Marcus Lillington:Well, it’s fair enough?

Paul Boag: Which I think is totally fair enough. So we’re going to kick off with Rachel Andrew, who we’ve had on the show before. And Rachel is one of these amazingly flexible kind of generalists. She is kind of a developer, well she is a developer. She has written like loads of books on development and CSS and front-end coding and that kind of stuff. Yet, in the same breath she is also quite a business entrepreneur and marketing person as well. So she is one of these very, very flexible people.

Marcus Lillington:It seems that, that’s her real passion as well which surprised me. But then, I’m getting ahead of the interview.

Paul Boag: You’re getting ahead of the interview. So she works with her husband Drew on a CMS called Perch, which I’m sure we’ve mentioned before in the show. We must have and we will put a link in the show notes to grabaperch.com. And it’s just – it’s a great little product that they’ve developed. Now I’ve got Rachel on the show because Perch has been a huge success unlike our attempt at a product which was a dismal failure. So I want to know what she did right and what we did wrong. So that’s why we’ve got this interview. So let’s kick off with it.

Interview with Rachel Andrew

Rachel Andrew
Rachel Andrew joins us to talk about launching your own product

Paul Boag: We are really excited to have you on the show today, Rachel. I have to admit, because you’re our very first interview. And its – you’re going to be the first that goes out as well. And the logic behind this is the whole kind of premise of this season is to focus on things that we’re weak at, that me and Marcus aren’t very knowledgeable on or need to dig a little deeper and nothing is a better example than that, than launching a product, because I’d say – would you agree, Marcus, that that was our biggest cock-up as Headscape?

Marcus Lillington:Yes, we didn’t – our hearts weren’t really in it, I think is probably the right way to put it.

Paul Boag: Yes.

Marcus Lillington:And I suspect that – well, I’m not going to put words in your mouth, Rachel, I’m going to let you talk as you said.

Paul Boag: I haven’t actually asked her anything yet. So tell us a little bit about Perch for those that don’t know.

Rachel Andrew: Okay. So, Perch is a small CMS, we launched it in 2009 really as a side project. Well, completely as a side project at the time we were a service business, sort of building stuff for clients. And so we built Perch as a downloadable CMS and launched it and had this idea that it would be really nice if we achieved the amazing success of selling one copy a day. So that was kind of the plan. We needed it. It was something we needed for our business, because we are building big solutions typically for clients who then would ask for something similar that was for smaller sites. So the kind of what – where it had come from was that we needed something like that. And when we started putting it together, we thought well hang on actually this feels like a separate product. It feels like something we could just sell as an off the shelf thing. So we thought we’d give that a go.

Paul Boag: Okay.

Rachel Andrew: So that’s really where it all started.

Paul Boag: So can I ask you a question and feel free to say no, or we can edit this bit out, but can I ask how many you sell per day now?

Rachel Andrew: How many sales a day now, well, it really depends – but I mean it can be as many as 20 licenses a day. It might be three. It really depends on the day. I mean, we have customers who have upwards of 100 licenses, some of the design agencies use Perch. But there is a very long tail. There is lots and lots of people who have only got one or two licenses and then sort of there are people who do typically lots and lots of those kind of sort of small marketing landing page type sites. So we have people who have big clients who do lots of little campaigns and Perch is great for that. So we do have some people who have got an awful lot of licenses. And then, we’ve got freelancers and people who use it for their own site, who have just got one or two.

Paul Boag: Right. Interesting. So one of the things you said straight off the bat, which is the kind of thing that everybody says when they talk about building a product is to build something you need yourself. Do you think that was one of your great – one of the things you did right?

Rachel Andrew: Yes, because the thing is, I mean, the worst thing that could have happened actually when we launched Perch is that nobody else wanted it. We’d have still had that as an asset for our company. It would have still been useful. And I think that’s actually – if you are going to launch something really as a side project, that’s kind of a nice way to look to it, because you’re never going to feel like oh, I wasted all that time and now there is nobody is interested in this thing or only a small number of people are, it might not – you might launch it and it doesn’t take off as a full time business. I mean the fact that Perch is now all of our business is quite unbelievable really in a lot of ways. And it was never really what we thought would happen. So just a few people using it and us using it, that would have been enough for us to be continuing into develop and support it and things. And that would have been fine. If I was sat here talking to you and saying oh well, Perch sells a couple of copies a day and we maintain it alongside a client business, that would still be a successful thing. And I think we – it probably wouldn’t be to the extent it is now it wouldn’t have all the functionality it has now, because we wouldn’t be able to devote as much time to it, but it still could be useful.

Paul Boag: Yes. I mean, I think that’s where – that was probably one of the areas we went wrong. What do you say, Marcus? That it wasn’t – I mean we wanted something like it that we could use just for those that don’t know we try – we designed a system that allowed you to share design work with clients. And although it was something useful, and something that we kind of wanted, I don’t think by the time we actually got around to do doing it, I think we’d moved away from that kind of thinking and that kind of approach to stuff. Is that a fair comment, Marcus?

Marcus Lillington:I think well – it was a thing that we used on projects and people liked it. It was a product called GetSignOff and you may remember us talking about it, Rachel.

Rachel Andrew: Yes, I remember it, yes.

Marcus Lillington:We just took too long to get it up and running. That was the problem with it and I also – I was always a little bit skeptical that it was too niche. I mean, Perch is obviously something that isn’t too niche, because there is hundred and thousands of people using it. But I felt – I always felt that it was something that only kind of mid to large agencies would ever use. And I think I was right, or would pay for, let’s put it that way, I think most people were willing to have to use it, use the free version that we did of it. But I don’t think they were – I don’t think there was enough – there wasn’t enough desire out there for that kind of tool. Even though it was something that we could use, but the problem is we’re always changing how we want to communicate with clients. Sometime – some clients like regular face-to-face meetings of updates of what we’re doing; others we do videos for, others we would want to use a tool like GetSignOff. So it was – yes, a bit too niche maybe. But also as I said right at the start, I don’t think our hearts were in it, because it was only – it only related to kind of a small part of what we did and there was always client work getting in the way of it, which is an – which is what I kind of wanted to ask you about. I mean there must have been a point when it got quite difficult for you because you would have had clients pressurizing you saying we need this done, when are you going to get this done. You’re trying to launch this new product, which is going great guns. So how did you deal with that kind of client pressure I guess when your product is becoming a success.

Rachel Andrew: Yes, I think the – I mean, the thing I always say is that you have to make these side projects kind of a first class citizen. They’ve got to be as important as the client work. It might be that you can only give them, I don’t know half a day week for instance, if they’re not making much money yet. But that should be their time and then as obviously the project starts to bring in more money then you can assign it more time, it can become a bigger client as it were. And we tried to treat Perch very much as another client according to the amount of money it was bringing in. So that meant that as Perch became more successful, it warranted more of our time. And we were already working for lots of client. So it was a case of saying well, okay, so now Perch can kind of afford to have a day of our time, because that’s the amount of money that’s coming in. And that’s not to say it isn’t difficult and I think the hardest thing was when we got to about 50–50. And so we had a significant number of Perch customers and a significant amount of support and a significant amount of feature requests. But we still needed to make 50% of our turnover had to be from client work.

Marcus Lillington:Yes, you’re saying – did you have any horror stories or – not horror stories, a bit strong, but did you have any difficult situations with clients I guess. Because I think that’s where we might have fallen over a bit that we kind of – big important clients has a sudden important job that needs to be done quickly, so kind of that drop everything mentality. And I think we were guilty of doing that. So I guess that’s what I’m pushing for.

Rachel Andrew: Yes, I mean, I think that still – yes, I mean absolutely that still happened and sometimes we’d say we can’t – this week we can’t spend anymore than the bare minimum on Perch, and obviously we had to support it. So we’d always support it and that – that always happened even if that meant that we worked longer hours than we wanted to. But as much as possible in terms of planning, certainly make it a first class citizen. That’s really important. There is always going to be – I mean but it’s the same with multiple clients. You’ve planned to do something and then some big disaster happens and sometimes you’ve got to say to another client that I’m sorry we’re a bit late, this other thing has extended out. I mean that happens with client work. It happens unless you only ever work for one client. And even then, someone in the team is ill or whatever and things do get delayed unavoidably. So I think it is just about trying to treat it as much as possible like it’s client work, particularly once it’s bringing in money. When we launched it and we built it in our spare time, over the weekends and things. But once it started to take off or once we realized that actually this wasn’t going to be something that really we used and a few other people used. It was actually going to be a standalone product and there was real need for it. We have to kind of think we’ll we’ve got to fit it into the work that we’re doing.

Paul Boag: I think that’s the other – the other good thing that you guys did. You talked about you built it in evenings and weekends, but you also launched quite a minimal viable product if that makes sense.

Rachel Andrew: Yes, absolutely yes.

Paul Boag: It was very stripped down when it was – so you started making money quite early from it.

Rachel Andrew: Yes.

Paul Boag: And I think that was another mistake that we made is that we made the product too big, got to market, decided it wasn’t particularly going to take off and then it kind of dwindled and died. So was that – go on.

Rachel Andrew: So yes, well we’ve been in that situation before. We actually tried to build a product before Perch and we tried to build a bug tracking system. Now it’s kind of like a winning joke that every Web developer wants to build their own bug tracker and their own CMS and we’ve managed to do both. So we started out quite a while before Perch. We decided to build this bug tracker that was essentially based around getting things done methodology, which I’m a huge fan of. And yes, I mean, I like live by my to do list. But anyway, so we were …

Marcus Lillington:I will just wander off – I’m not required on this call.

Paul Boag: This is the point where me and Rachel could really gang up on you Marcus.

Rachel Andrew: So yes, a getting things done bug tracker, which actually I think the idea behind it was great. But what we did was we spent just far too long. I mean well over a year, we even had an intern in who helped us with it. We kept adding stuff to it and this thing became an absolute monster. And we never got it to launch, because we were never satisfied that it was done partly because we just – we kept dreaming up new features every time we’d talk about it, we could go with the whole raft of new features and want to stuff them in. And I think it was that experience that made us say we are not going to do this with Perch. Once we realised we were going to ship it as a product we were like what is the absolute minimum, what problem can we solve with this, that we can solve in a way that people would pay for, but that is – isn’t going to take us masses and masses of development time, we can see if people actually do to want this.

So I mean that problem was this issue of you built a static website then your client says oh I’d like to be able to edit the text on the homepage. And then suddenly you’re faced with, putting the whole thing into a WordPress theme or something. And that takes a bunch of time. And what we wanted, because this is what people have come to us with. What we wanted was just to be able to drop some tags on the page and say well, there you go now you can edit it and it would be very simple. From a client point of view as well, they don’t have to wade through a whole lot of stuff and understand that this post will then appear on the homepage and all that sort of stuff. So that was the problem and it – that was quite a small problem to solve. I mean obviously there is a bit of UI there and those admin interface and things but it’s a relatively small thing to solve and I think that’s the things to go for, is find a problem that is small enough that you can solve it fairly quickly and in a complete way and then sell that solution. And then see where it goes from there.

Paul Boag: Yes, absolutely. There is a couple of interesting things that come out of that mind. One is you did this before and you still decided to do it again. Now as somebody that…

Marcus Lillington:Different thing though.

Paul Boag: Yes, I know, but I mean think of it from our point of view, Marcus, right. We would be quite hesitant wouldn’t we to run into another product?

Marcus Lillington:It would depend on the idea. It really is – well, yes this is a short answer to that question, Paul. But I think it would depend entirely on the idea if we came up with an idea that we thought yes that really is something that we think would – could fly, then I think we’d be willing to invest in it. We haven’t had that idea yet.

Rachel Andrew: Yes, but I think – for us with Perch, it wasn’t – it really wasn’t oh, we desperately want to have a product. It was – because what was happening was we had a – we’d built this sort of big CMS framework that Drew tended to add new features to and I would do a lot of the implementation for clients. So I would actually build out the sites. And so then I was getting these clients who were design agencies typically coming and saying we’ve got this little site, I just need to put a CMS on, it doesn’t need your big framework, what would you suggest? And so I was saying to Drew we just need something that can just drop in, a bit like CushyCMS existed at the time, but that was hosted and obviously people didn’t really want to use a third-party. And so it really was just – oh well, let’s build this and it was once we started just specking it out and saying well what does it need to have? It just felt like a product. And so it was really a case of well, yes we could open source it, but then well when would we have time to work on it, because we already had things we were doing as a volunteer and open source stuff and things. So that was really, we thought well let’s put it out – let’s see if people will pay for it, because if they will then we can carry on working on it.

Paul Boag: Which is very cool.

Marcus Lillington:It’s the only thing you do, is that right?

Rachel Andrew: It’s essentially all we do as a company other than, I mean I do bits, obviously I’m a writer, I speak and things like that and do a little bit of sort of consultancy and workshop stuff if people ask, but not – I don’t really push that. So yes, it really is what we do as a company.

Marcus Lillington:Is there – I don’t know, there is no kind of easy way to ask this other than are you a bit bored with it now?

Rachel Andrew: Oh no, no.

Marcus Lillington:Is there variety?

Paul Boag: What keeps you interested?

Marcus Lillington:Yes.

Rachel Andrew: Yes, because it’s brilliant having your own thing. I mean, I think one of the things that happened to us a lot as a service business is that we’d build stuff for design agencies and we had very little contact with the end customer. We had very little contact with the person who really used our stuff. So we’d solve people’s problems and we’d build stuff that we thought was really good, but we never got to see the difference it made in people’s businesses. And with Perch, we get to see that all the time. So we have people who never been able to offer like a CMS to clients. They’ve never done that before, because they’ve just found it too difficult or not a developer and they want to know they’ve got support. So people say oh, you can use WordPress, but it’s actually quite difficult if you need your hand holding a bit as you get started. Where do you get that support from? We help people, that’s what we do. So I think …

Paul Boag: I mean there is a flipside to that, which is that you help people. And that means you have a lot of support.

Rachel Andrew: We do have a lot of support.

Paul Boag: And I’ve seen some less than happy tweets from you occasionally about your support. Do you miss the days when you only had a small number of clients to keep happy?

Rachel Andrew: No, most of the time – most of our customers are lovely. We actually only ever hear from – well we hear from about 25% of Perchers and we typically don’t hear from the people who have got hundreds of licenses. So we hear from a small number. We actually – we sort of figured out and there’s about 10% of people who have ever posted more than once for support.

Paul Boag: Okay.

Rachel Andrew: So although – yes, we get a lot of support. We find that actually the support we get is from a very small number of our customers and it tends to be – some of it is people who just like doing interesting things and they are running into problems because they’re doing something a bit interesting and that’s fun. A lot of it is just the people who don’t read anything. And so they have to ask a question to be pointed out where it is. There is nothing you can do with those people. I mean they are a group of people who need kind of showing through stuff, I mean doing things like the videos we’ve done help a lot. They are a lot of people who find it easier to watch a video, I mean I can’t imagine anything worse for learning how to develop something is watch and sit through videos, but they’re really popular, people love them. There’s a lot you can do.

Paul Boag: That’s funny, I would – I like that as approach, I would be someone that would sit down and watch videos.

Rachel Andrew: I think that’s – yes, and that cut down our support a lot, because yes I’m not very visual at all. I mean, I really struggle to learn software. I can learn a programming language in no time at all. I’m absolutely terrible at learning software and I still use Git at the command line because I just can’t use any of the software. I mean I just can’t, I’ve tried. I’ve tried everything to learn it and it’s just like I get myself in a mess if I try and use it any of the GUI software, it just doesn’t work. I use the command line. So I think it just depends on how people are, I mean Drew was creating a mind map to write an article the other day and I was just like what why on earth would that be helpful. I’m just not visual at all. I just like – I just have like words, that’s it – so yes, it is about learning the different ways that people learn and supporting that. And that can help a lot with support and you get better at that as time goes on and realizing that you think your docs are great, but then they’re not so helpful to another person or whatever.

Paul Boag: So one of the things that interests me was – so you created this minimal viable product, great. And your attitude is if it doesn’t take off, then nothing lost because we can still use it ourselves. But there are some overheads to launching a product in terms of you had to create a website that supported that product, okay not that big a deal, but I’m imagining you needed to get some help with branding and design, because you guys aren’t designers. And then there is the kind of marketing side, can you talk us a little bit through that kind of launch process of, did you spend money, how did you go about doing that initial launch?

Rachel Andrew: Yes, the money we spent is – there was a bit of money in fact that was quite a bit of money on legal stuff just having a license agreement that sort of thing because we knew nothing about software licensing. So we did pay for that. We paid for UI design for the product and that was Nathan Pitman from ninefour, who still helps us out with UI stuff. So that – because we knew that it need to look good. We were going to target the design agencies so it had to look good and not sort of designed by a programmer. We did the design for the landing page initially. Sort of cobbled it together with stock clipart and things, it was like – because we were less worried about that than we were about the actual product itself. To be honest that’s still tends to be how things are. What else did we spend money on – yes, I mean bits and bobs obviously we had to get the site up and things, but we just did that. So yes, I mean it was minimal, but there was I don’t know probably a couple of grand, sort of £2500 cost to get it out there. And actually we made that money back within the first 24 hours.

Paul Boag: Oh, wow! Brilliant. That’s what you want to hear.

Rachel Andrew: So that was a surprise.

Paul Boag: Yes, because – the other I have to be honest and I think I’ve said this to you before when I heard what you were doing and what product you were launching, I thought you were absolutely crazy, because like you said every developer on the planet wants to build their own content management system. And the idea of putting another content management system into the marketplace in a really competitive marketplace with loads of other big players that are spending a lot of money, I just didn’t get. So what – from a kind of getting the word out there point of view and explaining what you were doing and why you were doing it. How did that work, because I remember seeing you at conferences quite early on?

Rachel Andrew: Yes, we did a little bit of that. We went to dConstruct and things. Although that isn’t really something that, I mean it did work in that – actually it mainly worked in that we got to speak to people and we got to show them things and get their initial feedback and what their perceptions were, which was interesting probably more so than it making sales of the product.

Paul Boag: Okay.

Rachel Andrew: I mean a lot of it came via our sort of personal networks. One of the sort of the big things was that Perch would never mess around with your markup. So and that was from the start, it’s template based and that was something that we’d done with our big CMS framework. So you could use, I mean, at the time people were still using XHTML, some people would want to start using HTML 5. And the fact that you could do that with Perch, because it was completely template based. And it gave you control of your mark up, it let you use any kind of plug in – jQuery plug in or whatever to do things. And that was – that’s always been sort of big part of Perch is this not messing with your markup. So we kind of were able to leverage our so that people knew about both Drew and I from like the web standards project and my writing about CSS and things. And so we used that a lot in the early days. So people, I think trusted that when we said this isn’t going to mess with your markup, you’ll be able to create valid sites using Perch, you’re not going to get loads of stuff stuck in. I think people trusted that and they were quite keen on that idea, because a lot of the – a lot of our competitors, and still make it quite difficult to do that.

Paul Boag: Yes, they do.

Rachel Andrew: So that’s something that you know things like – now you know we’ve got – people can use all the new responsive, the picture element for images and things like that, that’s trivial with Perch because of our template based way of working. Very, very difficult to do in a lot of other solutions. So that was really where we went with it was just sort of play on the things that people knew us for. So you know we’re not marketers. I mean – still that’s the hardest part of my job is trying to get the word out about Perch.

Paul Boag: Yes, so what – how has that evolved then? I mean, because obviously if you’re selling somewhere between 3 and 20 licenses per day or whatever it is, then it’s moved much beyond your network now.

Rachel Andrew: Yes.

Paul Boag: So how are you bringing in new customers now?

Rachel Andrew: Fairly minimal advertising really still – we try to be quite targeted with that, because we just don’t have the money to spend that the bigger companies have, so we will look at placing ads on specific sites that we think will have readers that are well matched with what we’re doing and will understand things like the structured content idea and so on. We have an ad we run on HTML 5 Doctor. So you can often do really well for not much money by being very selective on the sites that you pick to advertise on and advertising on things like podcasts and things like that. Just finding places where you think yes, you look at the site, read the articles that are on there and think yes, there is a lot of stuff here that would appeal to the sort of people who would also find the product useful. Rather than just doing these massive ad campaigns that someone like MailChimp, they’re just like – well this MailChimp is for anybody, anyone who has a Web site and therefore they’re going really, really broad so that they’re everywhere. And so when you think I need to send an email, I need to send an email newsletter, you just think MailChimp. And that’s kind of one way of doing it and you can only do that if you’ve got the money. So that’s kind of what your funded start-ups do, they’ve got a bunch of money they can throw into advertising. People like us can’t do that. So you have to be really targeted and say well which sites have a good amount of traffic. It doesn’t have to be a huge amount of traffic, because we’re quite small. But who is likely to send stuff through that is going to look at Perch and say oh yeah, that’s what I need. So I think it’s that, it’s being quite targeted and you can do that then if you’ve got – if you’ve had a good month or whatever and you’ve got the money you can put some of that into advertising and buy some ads for a month, I mean buysellads is great, I go through there and I sort of investigate the different sites. And you can get ads for not very much.

Paul Boag: Yes.

Rachel Andrew: And so that’s kind of the way I tend to approach the sort of advertising side of things is by being very selective.

Paul Boag: Cool. It’s really interesting to hear, because you’ve had to effectively learn quite a new set of skills to make this work, to move from client based out design to product based. Have you ever thought about bringing other people on board to do this or even to kind of – because at the moment it’s very much a kind of lifestyle product from the point of view that you’re not intending to take over the world or anything. Have you thought about expanding of getting venture capital in or anything like that?

Rachel Andrew: Not intending to get venture capital in no. I think we are going to have to get other people involved, I mean at the moment it’s Drew and myself and then contractors, we use people for design particularly and for bits of development, we’ve recently had the forums rebuilt and things. So we’re trying to – we try and put out things that aren’t the core product as much as possible which makes sense. And I think my role is very much moving to being – to running the business. I mean, I always did that kind of stuff, but there is an awful lot more of it with a product and especially with an international product. I mean, we’re 50% export sales and that leaves us in quite a difficult situation in terms of just complying with things like international VAT law which is all changing. And you’ll have seen me ranting about that. But it’s that sort of stuff that you run into as a small digital business, because you are on paper an exporter. But you’re not selling like steel machinery to China. I mean, but you actually run into the same problems and so a lot of my time is burned up by just like reading really boring documentation and trying to figure out whether it applies to us or not. And that’s always going to be the case, because that stuff as you know, it’s – as a business owner it’s your responsibility to understand it and even if you – even – we’ve got an accountant, we’ve got legal advice. But even so, it’s still lands on my head to make sure that we’re doing the right thing. And so we’re kind of moving to a model where that’s really what I’m doing a lot of. Drew remains sort of lead developer on Perch, the product itself. He’d would rather not have to deal with that. And I think we’re going to need to – I mean it’d be lovely to have another developer, so that as I move out of that really, Drew has got someone to bounce ideas off and things because I just don’t have the time to be doing a huge amount of actual php development at this point.

Paul Boag: Do you miss that?

Marcus Lillington:I was going to say, yes, you’ve kind of reached this Nirvana, that agencies like ourselves like us think oh wouldn’t it be great to have a product and eventually we can have this you know endless forecasting of we know what’s coming in every month but then which is wonderful, which is what you’ve reached but then you’re kind of you are not doing the job that you loved in the first place.

Rachel Andrew: The thing that I’ve always loved kind of solving these problems. I think had I never got into running my own business, I was looking at going for a sort of CTO type role, that would’ve been where I’d have seen myself.

Marcus Lillington:Okay, right.

Rachel Andrew: I am someone who is very, very interested in technology and possibilities and I am a very good problem solver and I can work right across the stack. I mean I do all of our operation stuff, so all of our servers, all that sort of stuff, I was off at Puppet Camp talking about configuration management the other day. So, I’ve got a very, very broad knowledge of a lot of stuff and that’s really what I kind of enjoy, I enjoy working out how we are going to solve problems possibly more than actually writing the code to do it and I don’t ever want to get into a position where I have somebody else in that role because I think that’s something that if I had to pick a skill I have, it’s that, it’s that ability to pull together all these different things and work out a technical direction for us.

Paul Boag: It’s interesting what you say mind about the one area that you are talking about hiring potentially is developer because the most obvious one I guess would be to get someone to help with the support – is that?

Rachel Andrew: I think that too, I think that’s a slightly different thing, I think we are probably where we could do with help with support is actually to cover time zones. I could do with someone probably on the west coast of the states because they’d be able to cover that time zone plus sort of Australia would be better covered by someone there and I think that’s a slightly different thing, that’s probably the sort of thing where we could find a few people who do a few hours a week and that’s more about kind of putting in place a system so that we can have people who do that and they can, even if it’s just frontline support, even if it’s just because someone in Australia posts something which is at midnight our time, if someone can then say to them, oh, we need to see your diagnosis report or can you post your template then at least when we wake up, we can answer their question.

Paul Boag: Yes.

Rachel Andrew: Rather than it becoming this whole another day because we say can we see your diagnostics report and then at midnight the next day they answer that and then so it goes around, so I think the support thing would be best covered by probably finding people in those different time zones on a sort of contract basis and maybe people who a few hours week of work is good for students or what have you, who have got a bit of technical knowledge because they do need to be technical, it’s people implementing stuff on their sites, a lot of the problem is actually to do with their hosting and things like that rather than anything to do with us, so you need people who’ve got a decent level of technical competence to help them but yes I mean that’s kind of an issue that yes we would like to address is to get some other people in doing the support.

Paul Boag: Because I am guessing you know when we’re recording this we’re just coming up to Christmas, do you guys ever get a break?

Rachel Andrew: No, we’ve answered support queries on Christmas Day because we are international, so like this last week obviously America’s been a bit quiet, because they’ve had Thanksgiving, yet over the Christmas period America – obviously Christmas Day that they might not be online but they don’t have the holiday we have at that time of year, so it kind of seems like they kick off a bit earlier, we sort of wait until after New Year and then it gets busy in January. Whereas, in America it seems to start ramping up before the New Year, you start seeing people who are obviously getting back to work, they’re starting to think about the next year’s projects and so on a bit earlier than we are. You start to see these things, you start to see you know as you reach out into other countries, you see that they are different to us in terms of when they are off and things like that, it’s quite interesting.

Marcus Lillington:Well, I would get work every Christmas because people do go on holiday but they decide to send out requests for proposals that they would like on their desk when they come back in January.

Rachel Andrew: Well, exactly, yes.

Marcus Lillington:So, even though I’ve supposedly got a week off usually, I am usually writing the odd proposal. He moaned and whined.

Rachel Andrew: Yes, that happened when we were doing client work as well because it was just Drew and myself so if a client had a screaming emergency on Christmas Eve, well, we were dealing with it. So, in some ways customers are a bit easier to kind of put off because it’s just one person. If someone’s being incredibly unreasonable that’s one customer who maybe has a single £50 license of Perch. Now, we don’t want people to be unhappy but if someone’s being completely unreasonable on Christmas Day then I am not too worried about saying, look, you are being unreasonable, it’s Christmas Day, I will deal with this tomorrow. Whereas with a customer who maybe is bringing in 20 grand of business into your agency, it’s very, very hard to turnaround and tell them, no, I am not going to help you today.

Marcus Lillington:Exactly, yes.

Paul Boag: That’s a really good point actually.

Rachel Andrew: So I think there is a different pressure, there is the pressure of lots and lots of people constantly coming to you with their problems rather than one or two but the sort of if someone is being totally outlandishly unreasonable then you can without too much damage to your business say, look, I am sorry, we can’t help you with that.

Paul Boag: Yes.

Marcus Lillington:Spreading the happiness or unhappiness.

Rachel Andrew: Yeah, I mean, it’s rare we are in that situation but there is that and that’s something to stress, it’s not like having thousands of clients.

Paul Boag: No, and to be honest I think that is the biggest appeal of a product based business is you are spreading the risk because you are talking about a lot of small purchases, it becomes a different model than having a small number of very important clients, I mean we’ve – over the 12 years we’ve been doing Headscape, there have been a few occasions where a major client has gone and you think, are we still going to be in business? And you don’t have that problem I’m guessing with product based…

Rachel Andrew: No, I mean you can, you start to see people aren’t buying our product as much maybe or maybe there is a problem you need to address but that happens far more slowly because there are – there is an awful lot of people who use only really the very basic functionality of Perch and they are very happy with that. I mean this is partly why we’ve sort of branched out into a second product to not make Perch itself too complex for the people who really do want very little more than what we launched with on that first day and there is an awful lot of them. So, for those people they are not really interested in what we change, in fact we did this survey and we asked people what they wanted, what features they needed and huge amount of people got back and said don’t change it, don’t make it more complex, they were really worried that we would be taking it away from what was useful to them in their business and many of those people were these people who’ve got lots and lots of licenses, which was really the driver for launching Perch runway which takes a more technical approach to this stuff because we didn’t want to destroy that core use case of Perch which so many people just find really useful.

Paul Boag: Good, this has been a hugely interesting conversation because it was an area where we felt or certainly I felt we missed an opportunity or not that we missed an opportunity, it was one of my bigger failures. So, it’s always fascinating to see someone who essentially went down on the very similar road and has made it work and yes, I’ve wanted to sit down and have a chat with you for a long time about this, this is going to be a great season, it’s basically picking the minds of all these people that are doing cool things, so I really appreciate you coming on this show, Rachel, and best of luck with Perch and Perch runway, where can people check out this stuff?

Rachel Andrew: Well, so Perch is at grabaperch.com and so you can find out about Perch and Perch runway there, if people just want to find out what I am doing, I write a quite a lot about this sort of businessy stuff that I am doing, although it’s mainly about VAT at the moment but I write quite a lot about this sort of stuff on my own site which is rachelandrew.co.uk and I am @RachelAndrew on Twitter and I am always happy to chat about businessy stuff. I have a sort of mailing list I send out to weekly where I sort of collect the things I am reading and send them out on sort of…

Paul Boag: I didn’t know that.

Rachel Andrew: Sort of business and sort of yes, sort of bootstrap startup type stuff I do a weekly email which you can find at rachelandrew.co.uk/list and that’s quite fun and I read a load of stuff and the things I think are useful I stick into that each week and send it out to people.

Paul Boag: I like people like you because you do all my curating for me.

Rachel Andrew: Yes, that’s it, I’m just content curating but that’s quite fun and people often email me with the sort of problems they are having you know and launching products and things and we have a chat, it’s a nice way to get to know other people who are doing this sort of stuff.

Paul Boag: Yes, okay, well, thank you very much for joining us and yes, good luck with Perch. It was a pleasure to talk to you.

Marcus Lillington:Thanks Rachel.

Rachel Andrew: Thank you.

Paul Boag: So what I loved so much about that interview is how honest Rachel is in it because so often there is this kind of, oh…

Marcus Lillington:People lie.

Paul Boag: …We got fed up with client work and like we build product and now we’re sitting on big piles of money.

Marcus Lillington:Who is that then?

Paul Boag: 37signals, maybe.

Marcus Lillington:Is that how they talk?

Paul Boag: Yes I’m sure. That’s how they talk in my head, I’ve never actually, actually that’s not true I have heard them talk and they talk in American-y.

Marcus Lillington:Sort of Chicago’s accents.

Paul Boag: I don’t know, actually I don’t know where they are from.

Marcus Lillington:Yes, I think they are.

Paul Boag: I should know, no, they are lovely as well, I am not slandering them either. I am in a bitchy mood today, aren’t I?

Marcus Lillington:You are a bit.

Paul Boag: Anyway, Rachel, she did a – she was really honest and gave a very balanced view of launching a product and I thought it was a brilliant interview. So that’s Rachel. I – yes, you know I haven’t listened to your music.

Marcus Lillington:Yes.

Paul Boag: Well, you haven’t listened to my pre-roll.

Marcus Lillington:No.

Paul Boag: And in the pre-roll I did I said the transcription of this week’s show is being kindly paid for by the team at Template Monster, that’s new.

Marcus Lillington:That is new, good for them.

Paul Boag: Do you know why?

Marcus Lillington:Because you asked them.

Paul Boag: Well yes, but because I’ve realized how freaking expensive our transcription is.

Marcus Lillington:No, that’s great, well done, Paul, and well done them.

Paul Boag: I know, I was really impressed at them actually, they instantly said yes when I asked them. They were the first to step up, we’ve got three – we are going to have three sponsors across the season that are going to pay for the transcription because transcription is one of those things that is massively important because I am a great believer in you know obviously the podcast being as accessible to as many people as possible, so it’s a really important thing to do but to transcribe one of our seasons costs over a thousand pounds.

Marcus Lillington:That seems like a bargain to me the amount we waffle, but there we go.

Paul Boag: To be fair, yes, it is a bargain and the guys at podsinprint.com, I will put a link in the show notes do a really good job and I am really pleased with what they do. So I am not in any way quibbling over the price but it is lot to pay when you don’t make any money out of the podcast.

Marcus Lillington:Exactly, yes, we don’t – we do this for the love.

Paul Boag: Well that and a bit of marketing. But I am not convinced it actually does us any good from a marketing point of view any more.

Marcus Lillington:It puts people off.

Paul Boag: I think so, truth be told. So yes, we decided to get some sponsorship and yes Template Monster were the first to go for it which is great. I mean it’s really interesting, this gets on to a little subject we’ve been talking about Marcus offline which is this kind of commoditization of design and the fact that I wrote about this in a Creative Bloq article which again I will put a link the show notes to that, about this idea that it’s hard for – some of these templates these days are so good, they are fully responsive, some of them come, if you look around Template Monster, some of them are designed to integrate directly into WordPress, they’re WordPress templates or ecommerce templates or whatever else and it is hard to justify fully bespoke design with smaller clients and because you can take these templates and obviously customize them. So it’s an interesting way the market is going and yes sure there is definitely still room for bespoke design but with some clients I think we may be selling them bespoke design when they don’t really need it.

Marcus Lillington:Yes, it’s a funny one, I think at the moment this very morning, Paul, I responded to an inquiry basically giving them a couple of options saying this is the kind of we can go down the templated route for X or we can do your bespoke design for Y and that seems to be where we are going these days, for the smaller type things, this is a gallery in London and that was a perfect example. I don’t think though that this is a bit of circular thing that I think there will be maybe in a year or two time we’ll see more bespoke design coming back because there will be examples of people who have chosen templated options that don’t really deliver. So I think it’s a bit of to and fro, at the moment we are at the point at the moment where people are testing out templated designs more than bespoke but I think it might swing back the other way.

Paul Boag: What I quite like about this as well is it doesn’t need to be an either or decision, you can start with a templated design from something like Template Monster and then you can kind of customize that design to some degree and then as the client is beginning to see returns generated from the website then it can become more bespoke and you can kind of build on that. So I quite like these kind of template approaches as a starting point, they are not the be all and end all but they are certainly very, very interesting. I was gobsmacked at the number of templates that Template Monster have, I have never seen so many. Anyway, we’ve talked about this for too long because we’ll be mentioning them over the next couple of episodes or few episodes. So check them out at Templatemonster.com, I really appreciate that. Sorry for the advertizing but it’s not normal advertizing, it’s like they are supporting the accessibility of this podcast, hoorah for them.

Marcus Lillington:Exactly.

Paul Boag: Right.

Marcus Lillington:Who is on next?

Paul Boag: Nobody. It’s the end of the show.

Marcus Lillington:Next week.

Paul Boag: Oh, next week. You want to know what’s on next week – see now you have caught me off guard, I wasn’t ready for that question. Dropbox, archive, podcast, season 11, episode two, oh, it’s a good one next week, Kristina Halvorson.

Marcus Lillington:Oh, right. The one I missed that I really didn’t want to but I had to do something else. I can’t remember what – it was something important.

Paul Boag: I am sure, everything you do is important.

Marcus Lillington:Of course it is, no, this was a presentation to a client so I was kind of like…

Paul Boag: Okay, well that does count.

Marcus Lillington:Yes.

Paul Boag: Yes, so Kristina is going to come on and talk about content strategy which is such a good interview. So that’s going to be really good next week. We’ve got so many good interviews, in fact you can check out the different interviews that are coming up, who we are interviewing and what we are talking about by going to boagworld.com/season/11 and I’ve kind of listed them all there. So that means you can know what’s coming in the season and you can pick and choose which episodes you want to listen to, so if you don’t want to listen to some people, just skip them. Be harsh I say, we’ve all got too much, too much information.

Marcus Lillington:I think people are, you don’t need to tell them, they just are.

Paul Boag: Yes, right, joke.

Marcus Lillington:Joke.

Paul Boag: We could get a sponsor for the joke.

Marcus Lillington:I bet you might find that a little harder.

Paul Boag: No, I reckon we can do it. I am going to find a sponsor for the joke.

Marcus Lillington:Well this is a joke from the wonderful Tim Vine, obviously a one liner, as they always are. One armed butlers, they can take it but they can’t dish it out.

Paul Boag: That’s actually quite clever.

Marcus Lillington:Exactly, well it’s a Tim Vine joke.

Paul Boag: No, I like it.

Marcus Lillington:Thought we’d start a year with a good one.

Paul Boag: That’s a good one. See if you carry on at that standard we will get a sponsor.

Marcus Lillington:What are the chances.

Paul Boag: I am going to go for it. I’ve got an idea as well of how I might be able to swing it.

Marcus Lillington:Okay.

Paul Boag: Let’s see if we can manage that.

Marcus Lillington:This week’s joke is sponsored by Marks & Spencer.

Paul Boag: Yes.

Marcus Lillington:Or Shell Oil.

Paul Boag: I think we ought to start finding completely inappropriate sponsors for the joke. Something like so and so funeral home. Yes, so there we go, alright, so that was a good show. It feels really weird, doesn’t it, because we pre-recorded the interview, so it feels like we’ve been talking for like five minutes.

Marcus Lillington:We have managed nearly 20 though, well done us.

Paul Boag: Okay, let’s shut up then and let people get on with their days, we will talk to you again next week, bye, bye.

Marcus Lillington:Bye.

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