Micro-SaaS talk at B2B Rocks Paris

I gave a short talk on Micro-SaaS businesses at the B2B Rocks conference in Paris (July 2016). I really had fun with this presentation since most of the conference program and attendees were focused on venture-backed, enterprise, “big” SaaS topics. The full video is below. Big thanks to Alex for organizing and inviting me.

I’m killing my book project and moving it to the blog

More than a year ago I decided I would write an ebook on building Micro-SaaS businesses. I was really enjoying the experiment in radical transparency, sharing the metrics and details behind building my own small software company on blog. Readers were enjoying the long form blog posts and I felt I had enough material that was genuinely new and interesting to put together a longer writing project. On top of that I saw several folks having some real success with ebooks, and having just read Nathan Barry’s Authority ebook about selling ebooks, I also thought it would be cool to try out a new business/revenue stream.

After a ton of thought and feedback from friends and readers, I’m killing the ebook project and moving the content over to my blog, where it will be available for free. You can start reading the first three chapters now here.

Because I like to over-share. Here are the main reasons why I decided to kill the project despite really not wanting to give up on it.

The Process

A big part of what I preach in my ebook is the concept of shipping fast and iterating. It’s also what I’m actually pretty good at. Writing a book is the opposite of that. You sit there and write and write and edit and re-write endlessly perfecting the entire product and hope for a splashy launch. It works well for some people but I hated it.

I began to dread opening up my text editor. I procrastinated interminably. My blog posts dried up almost completely because I felt it was too indulgent to spend two hours on a blog post when I was so far behind on my book. So in the end nothing would get written for months at a time.

The Economics

Since I decided to write an ebook I’ve talked to, or found blog post or podcasts by, several ebook authors. Anecdotally it seems like, if you really crush it with an ebook, putting in nearly a year’s work of writing a great book, pre-marketing it, building an email list, doing guest posts on other blogs and in general doing a ton of non-sleazy self-promotion, you can earn $100,000/year for 1-3 years with an ebook project. This also seems to be outrageously rare. Most people with a medium-sized audience and a decent ebook can expect $5,000 – $20,000 unless it’s a total dud.

The email launch list, built only from my blog/Medium/Twitter is just over 1,000 people at this point. I don’t love doing some of the things that successful ebook marketers say, probably correctly, that you have to do to really sell a ton of ebooks. My honest assessment was that this ebook project would be a big success if I did $15k – $20k in sales in the first six months. Frankly compared to almost any other way I could spend my time that money just didn’t move the needle for me.

So the financial success of wrapping these ideas up in a package and putting a price tag on it just didn’t get me that excited. But more importantly, I just really did not like the idea of selling a book about how to make money on the internet. This is just the scammiest genre on the web and I was constantly re-writing sections of the book to strike a balance between having a strong confident opinion on something and not coming off as the 12-step sure fire plan for internet financial freedom.

I may find a way to make some money off this through speaking fees or transparent co-marketing or something, at the very to try to break-even on the 100s of hours I’ve spent writing about Micro-SaaS, but it just feels great to not be selling a book on it.

The Scope

Some day I would like to write a book-length something. Just as a personal goal if anything. But I made a big mistake in choosing the scope of this ebook. A lot of good books have already been written about the various components of building software businesses: launching, marketing, building fast, supporting customers, hiring and so on. My value-add is in writing about my particular take on a business like mine. So the sensible format for the book was to go through almost every major topic in building a Micro-SaaS business, synthesize the information I found most useful, and provide my own caveats, deviations and strategies that specifically applied to a small, bootstrapped, profitable SaaS company.

This turns out to be an enormous scope! The latest draft in my text editor was over 45,000 words. On top of that, I’m still working on this business, learning new things quickly and evolving my thinking on many of these topics. I found myself reviewing early chapters (initially written a year ago) and having to completely re-write major sections because my thinking had changed so substantially. This is just not the kind of scope that lends itself to the static, crystalized structure of a book. I never felt like the project was getting any closer to done, the more I learned in real life the more I felt I needed to change, edit or add to the ebook. And all this action is happening in the track changes section rather than in public where it would actually be useful to people.

But I’m really excited now

The decision has been made and it feels great. Having the book free and online feels like a much more natural fit for this content. I’m energized to get back in the flow of publishing content, getting feedback, being as helpful as I can.

I’m also going to take advantage of the format. Rather than just giving you the digitized version of dead trees, I’m looking to build more interactive tools.

The first one is an email mini-series on the process of actually generating a Micro-SaaS idea. By far the most common feedback when I sent out the initial draft to 400 readers was to go beyond the principles of what makes a good Micro-SaaS idea. So I’ve put together five days of exercises that I think will be helpful to build a list of SaaS business ideas. From there you can use Chapter 2 of the ebook to help refine them and figure which ones are worth testing and validating. If you put your email in this form below (even if you already subscribe to my newsletter) you’ll start the mini-series, or mini-course, I’m not sure what to call it.

Micro-SaaS Idea Generation Mini-Course

Get 5 days of exercises in your inbox to help you come up with your own profitable Micro-SaaS business idea. Even if you've already subscribed to the newsletter drop your email in here to start the course.

Powered by ConvertKit

Most of the content for each chapter is already written so hopefully I’ll be able to polish and publish them quickly from here on. If you want to get each chapter as they go live you should definitely put your email in one of the various forms on this blog. Thanks for reading and looking forward to getting this stuff out the door and in your inbox.

SaaS Is Here To Stay

Justin Jackson thinks we are at peak SaaS. We are not.

Justin asserted on Twitter that SaaS is ripe for disruption. SaaS founders, like myself, piled on arguments against the theory in a fun exchange. What follows is a thought-provoking article with a lot of great points but a dead wrong conclusion.

In this post I’ll tackle two specific, very good, questions he raised:

  1. If you are currently bootstrapping a software business (whether you intend to raise VC later or not) should you be thinking first and foremost about SaaS? Yes, absolutely.
  2. Is SaaS losing appeal relative to other software business models? Nope.

First I’ll look at some of Justin’s specific arguments, then I’ll add some support for my counter-claim: not only is SaaS not about to be imminently disrupted, but the software industry as a whole is inexorably shifting towards the as-a-Service model.

Continue reading

How to Get Startup Ideas: The Meat Grinder Approach

There are a million books and blog posts on how to get startup and business ideas. Many people think the biggest road block to successful entrepreneurial life is having that one great idea. Once you get even a modicum of success, lots of people will start asking you about how you got an idea like that, and for any tips and tricks on how to “come up” with a similar idea.

The concept is extremely tantalizing and sounds so imminently teachable that it’s a favorite tool of lifestyle business spammers everywhere. 7 Step Guide to Profitable Business Ideas. Join My Webinar on Finding Your Dream Business Plan.

But this is entirely the wrong way to think about it.

First of all you should be coming up with at least five possible business ideas every day. This part should be basically effortless. People trying to sell this part are scamming you.

If you are going to be a successful entrepreneur at all you should innately be looking around you at your life and the lives of others, thinking what are their problems. What are their desires. What do they spend money on. Which of those things are broken or could be done massively better or cheaper or faster. You should be constantly thinking this way. It should annoy people who spend a lot of time around you.

If you’re not doing that, you’re probably not going to be an entrepreneur… sorry. It’s okay. There are lots of other great life paths but this one isn’t for you.

There is one common exception to the rule. You might be hung up on one idea, and that stops the process of thinking of new ideas. It’s cool, you just need to build yourself a better meat grinder.

The secret to coming up with a successful business idea is putting hundreds of ideas through the meat grinder.

Continue reading