Aug. 11, 2022

From Idea to SaaS with Cody Miles of Ashore

From Idea to SaaS with Cody Miles of Ashore

How do you think collaboration can take place smoothly such that the creatives don't get bogged down in meetings or do things counterproductive to their skills because clients are tough to access and provide extremely poor feedback? Discover the innovativ

How do you think collaboration can take place smoothly such that the creatives don't get bogged down in meetings or do things counterproductive to their skills because clients are tough to access and provide extremely poor feedback? Discover the innovative strategy used by a marketer and a creative to resolve this issue.

Today we have Cody Miles, Founder at Ashore and Creative Director at Brandcave. Join us as we look back on his journey from idea to a ground-breaking company that offers thousands of creatives an environment to work out an effective way to connect with their clients. 

Cody Miles is an Austin, TX-based entrepreneur and UX designer. After years of struggling to collaborate with his clients, Cody founded Ashore, an online proofing software for high-velocity creatives. Today, Cody utilizes his background to run both Ashore and his digital marketing agency, Brandcave.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • The two main problems of creative people
  • Dealing with non-creative people
  • What made Cody become an SaaS entrepreneur
  • Dealing with employee attrition as a founder of a creative agency


Cody Miles: We created an MVP of Ashore kind of a bubble gum and duct tape with one developer and doing a lot of the front end ourselves in 2017 and within about six months, it had acquired about 4,000 users. We have determined that the idea was validated, but the software was absolute junk. I mean, it did not work well. We had like a churn problem more than anything.
Speaker 1: Welcome to SaaS Origin Stories. Tune in to hear authentic conversations with founders as they share stories from the earlier days of their SaaS startups. We'll cover painful challenges, early wins, and actionable takeaways. You'll hear firsthand the do's and don'ts of building and growing a SaaS as well as inspirational stories to fuel you on your own SaaS journey. Here's your host, Phil Alves.
Phil Alves: Welcome to the podcast. Thank you very much for coming to the show. It's great to have you.
Cody Miles: Thanks, Phil. I'm excited to be here.
Phil: Awesome. First, could you tell us little bit about your SaaS Ashore and what problem does it solve?
Cody: Ashore was built out of the need for better digital collaboration. I had started my career in a creative agency context. There were two problems that I experienced thoroughly throughout my entire career and that was at first it's difficult to get feedback on digital collateral. The second is that it's difficult to understand feedback. The problem primarily is that people who are not creatives struggle to use the design language that creatives use. When we initially set out to build Ashore, we tried to do two things really, really well. The first was to automate the approval process. The second was to make feedback contextual so that we can reduce the number of meetings where we have to review feedback, reduce the number of iterations, and bring joy to everybody involved.
Phil: Awesome. I like it. In addition, it looks like it's more than a software. It's putting the right process in place so designers and customers can communicate in a way that they both understand. More than giving them a software, you're solving their communication problem. Is that a right conclusion?
Cody: That's 110% the problem. No, that's exactly it. The way that most people try to solve for this problem without software like Ashore is that they'll sit and like, let's say you're a print shop down the street from your office in Salt Lake and you have created a design for a sign. Let's just say it's just a proof of a sign. 9 times out of 10, the print shops are going to be sending that sign proof, that PDF, via email to people who are not tech-savvy, who are not creatives, who don't speak the same language to consumers. Those people might not respond. You have to remember to follow up with them. When they give feedback, they might be saying, I don't really like that ghosting effect that's on top of the image. What they really mean is like a dark overlay with like 50% opacity on the black-- You know what I mean.
What Ashore is trying to do is make sure we're all using the same language to describe things, so I can actually force you to point at something and say this thing is the thing I don't like. Then meanwhile, if you forget to review, there's things like automated reminders and multiple approval stage automation. I gave print shop as a really simple example, but the people that find Ashore the most useful, we call them high-velocity creatives. These tend to be people in creative agencies, promotional print, product apparel, people who are sending files for review all the time. Yes, that's kind of the problem we solve.
Phil: I love it. Love it. Yes, for sure. It's a good problem to solve. I'm sure you have to have the experience in the area to understand that problem well. Of course, you say you can put the UX background, working the agencies. Now, you have their own agents. What made you drive to like, okay, I want to become an entrepreneur? What was the decision, how you went from working with agents to own your own agents?
Cody: Being super naive, probably. [chuckles] I became a full-time entrepreneur in February 2015. It's been just over seven years now. I started Brandcave, my first startup, because I was working at one of the fastest-growing PR agencies in Dallas. I was overworked and understaffed, underpaid. I thought at that time, it would be a smart idea to take the show on the road and hopefully make a similar amount of money or more and work less. It's kind of exactly the opposite. I worked a whole lot more and made a lot less initially and seven years later, I think we've started to figure it out. Brandcave is at nine employees.
Phil: Nine, zero?
Cody: No, nine. Under 10. Nine.
Phil: Nine. That's awesome. Okay. Cool. You made that switch. You have Brandcave for how long? You said about seven years?
Cody: Yes, that's right.
Phil: When did you start your SaaS? Was it less? When do you start getting [crosstalk]?
Cody: I kind of conceptualized the idea and the need for Ashore around 2017. We do a lot of UX. We initially began that process determining business and user requirements, creating flowcharts of the application, designing prototypes. Then me and my partner met with all the major creative agencies in Austin, all the creative directors at those agencies and just shot the idea to make sure that the issue that we're experiencing at Brandcave was the same issue that other agencies were also experiencing. The answer, of course, was yes.
We created an MVP of Ashore, kind of a bubble gum and duct tape with one developer and doing a lot of the front end ourselves in 2017. Within about six months we had acquired about 4,000 users and so we had determined that the idea was validated, but the software was absolute junk. I mean, it did not work well. We had like a churn problem more than anything. We actually ended up deciding to rebuild the product from scratch, made that decision in 2019, spent about six months rebuilding it, brought on a CTO to manage that process and launch the product fresh in 2020. That's the product that we've been going on since then and it's been incredible. It's been a huge, huge journey.
Phil: I look at your product, it looks amazing. I see a lot of people go through that same process. Sometimes people are afraid of going through the process, like put something together, take it to market, prove the concept, and then when you have more money, you build version two and that version two is a lot better. Again, so many times people are afraid of making that leap, taking products to market and just be better the second time. Talking about that leap and hiring the CTO, how was the process doing that for the second time? Tell us a little bit more about that.
Cody: Going into Ashore, we expected the product to be a low quality because just like you said, we were taking this very MVP. We didn't want to spend much. We wanted to validate the idea, validate the market fit. We knew at some point there would either need to be major refactoring or complete overhaul. It turned out that our architecture was just not suited for growth.
It really just comes down to having small iterations of success. Just being able to validate early and fail quickly and build out from there. They usually say there's no ROI in rebuilding a product. I think that's true for the most part. For us, the thing that it enabled for us was not just a more sustainable product that our customers love, but we also were able to increase our development velocity, because now we had architecture that we could lean on moving forward. Then also, we had taken all the experience from the previous years of Ashore and then fit that into a product that we knew was exactly what our users needed based on those user feedback from the 4,000 people who had signed up initially.
Phil: That's great. Congrats on making that leap. I understand that decision sometimes it's hard, but yes, sometimes you have to make it. That's pretty cool.
Cody: Yes.
Phil: I believe that the founder, it is who makes or breaks the SaaS. Why do you think you are the right founder for your SaaS? For Ashore, what do you think about you made you the right person to to lead the effort?
Cody: That's probably true but the way that I see myself in Ashore is an enabler. The model of leadership that I'm trying to adopt for myself and within the culture of our companies is one where it's not someone from the top shouting down, but it's someone who's enabling others to have ownership and to do their jobs really, really well. Ultimately, I see myself more as someone who provides the vision and then the resources for the people who are at Brandcave and Ashore to fulfill their role really, really well. Ultimately, as a leader, I want to enable economic flourishing for the people that work for me.
I want them to be happy, I want them to enjoy their job. I want them to be motivated by our mission. Ashore's mission is to make collaboration accessible to everyone. That's a really lofty mission and if I can get you to buy into that, then we can come up with some really great ideas to solve some huge communication issues. Am I the right founder? I have no idea. I feel like there's so many ways that I fail every day to be fair. I think it requires a certain level of resilience to be a good founder. There's so many days you're going to be hitting your head against a wall, and it's not going anywhere.
Then at some point, months later, a year later, there's a bit of a breakthrough and your head's sore but we freaking did it. There's that level of resilience. With that just paired with it, you have to have persistence. Also, you have to have perspective. You go six months and things are shit, it might make you want to give up. You're spinning, you can't figure it out. Having the perspective to know it gets better, you just have to work the system, and it does. I think those three qualities probably are required in every good entrepreneur and I think that's what I'm learning for myself as well.
Phil: Yes, for sure. Holding that vision, it is so hard, especially like you say when things are hard, when we as founders are afraid ourselves and have to keep holding the vision, keep moving the team forward. At the same time not micromanaging. [unintelligible 00:12:29] people in your team, you want them to bring ideas to the table, but you are the one that brings their vision. I would imagine that going through the miscommunication in your career, it's what made you think, I want to make communication easier and I want to empower those teams. Then you are able to propel the vision very well. I think that makes a huge difference too.
Cody: That's awesome. Thanks for saying that. It's true. When we look at creative agencies and creatives in general, the employee attrition is in most creative agencies around 25%. It's a huge amount of creative burnout. That primarily comes from working with clients. Every creative agency that the saying is, it'd be great to work at a creative agency if you didn't have clients.
Being able to bring the joy back to the lives of these people who their job is to create and when you're stuck in meetings, and you're stuck trying to understand feedback, and you're getting frustrated with all parties involved because you're going through these, dreading these approval processes, if we can bring joy back into those people's lives, I think we can accomplish this mission.
Phil: Yes, that's the mission. When you say that way, man, I want to go help you with that. That's amazing. I think that's why you get your team going. Yes, for sure. We want to solve that problem.
Cody: I was talking with a back end engineer and it was just an ad hoc meeting with him two days ago. He was like, "I've worked on other projects and I always go home at the end of the day, and I do whatever else, and I enjoy my life. For this project, I freaking dream about it." He was like, "I dream about solving some of the back-end features that we're working on in my dreams." I was like, that's how you know you're the right person for the job.
Phil: I would add more. That's when you know that the vision, it's getting to their heads, they understand the problem they are solving, that they're going to make people's lives easier because they are building the product that you're building. Definitely doing a good job as a laborer when you say I don't know if I'm the right founder. I'm sure you are. You understand the problem and you're taking a vow and you can see from your people as they're loving working on that. When did you know you did something that people love? At what point you're like, "Okay, I have something that people really love"? How did you know that?
Cody: I think it comes down to making sure you have market fit with your products. When you build software you- especially as a bootstraps software company like mine, you can't be all things to all men. You have to say, these are the people in particular that we're going to solve this issue for and we're going to solve it for them initially. If we can pick one people group, and in our case, we picked what we defined as high-velocity creatives, which really come down to two different demographics, if we can just solve this issue for them, then we can expand out from there.
Let's get market hold just on these people alone. It helps that I come from this world that I share the problems that they also have. I knew when I was solving the problem for myself, to some extent, I'd be solving it for others as well. We're definitely fitting an SMB model right now. There are plenty of them with similar issues. I think it comes down to really understanding who you're solving the product for. It helps if you're one of those people. Maybe that's how I should say it.
Phil: I think they make a huge difference if you're one of those people. Even the most successful sites out there, like [unintelligible 00:16:36] they were solving a problem for them. They need some money, and they was less rent, there's a space. I think that that's huge and I tell that people all the time, especially if you're building a SaaS in the B2B space, if you scratch your own itch, it makes a huge difference for the success of your product. You really de-risk it by a lot. How did you fund the product?
Cody: Ashore is bootstrapped. Initially, it was funded by Brandcave, my first startup. Even today, the resources from Brandcave in terms of people and deliverables, all the marketing for Ashore is done by Brandcave. Today Ashore, it's growing on its own, and it doesn't require the same amount of funding, and we have a really healthy growth rate. It's one of these things where we can keep reinvesting the software, the company back into itself and continue to grow it. It helps that we have these people and this talent from Brandcave that can continue building that funnel. That's in the model until now. I think that's a unique model. Most people don't have a creative agency with nine employees in their back pocket.
Phil: Well, what I would say that many people have, they many times have a service company they initially know well-
Cody: Oh, that's a good point.
Phil: -[unintelligible 00:18:06] the service company or to open new ventures. It's still like, let me serve people like me and do the software for the same service. I see that all the time. We have done software for companies like driving schools. You have the industry knowledge and you're an expert and that really helps you. Talk about marketing. Let's dive deep into marketing. How did you get your first 10 customers?
Cody: We built a landing page for Ashore. It was before the product, the MVP was released. It was for signup only. We had a lot of people guest blog on the site. Because of Brandcave and our inbound marketing prowess there, we knew SEO so we began building backlinks for the site through various efforts like HARO. We started writing content and targeting keyword phrases that were relevant to the company and the services that we were trying to sell. We ultimately just implemented the processes that we have in place today just early on before the product was released.
By the time we had actually launched the product, we only had the site up for maybe a few months. I think it was we launched the site in December of 2017. I think we launched officially in 2018 in February, so just three months or so, I think. I feel like the older I get, the more dates just start they don't mean anything anymore. I think in those three months we have acquired somewhere around 100 people that just signed up for beta and then we sent an email campaign out and said, "Hey, sign up for beta today." It's funny because actually, the very first customer we ever had on Ashore, some company I've never talked with out in Florida. They're still a customer on Ashore. That's kind of cool.
Phil: That's so great. What was the cool version, you still have 100 people in your email list. How many of those people actually became a customer?
Cody: I guess high in terms of an email campaign. There was about 20 who actually signed up for beta.
Phil: That's a bit.
Cody: For an email campaign, I'd probably call that successful. Yes.
Phil: That's super successful. I think there's a huge takeaway here for early SaaS founders. You start building the product and right away you start building the market and a new organic SEO. You build the landing page and the traffic start coming a lot before you had a product, and now you're doing is getting the email. We know SEO takes a little bit of time, but you plan ahead, you didn't wait, "Oh, I have a product, now let me go do SEO."
You started doing SEO the same time that you started building your product. I think that's a huge takeaway for people doing it for the first time. I think, like you say, it comes-- You are not-- It's not your first time. You are now a seasoned entrepreneur. You're thinking about the future like, "Okay, this is going to take a while, so let's just start with that right away." That's pretty cool. That gets your first 10 customers. I feel like many times people don't think about that.
Cody: It's such a great point. I've never heard anybody articulate it as well as you have just now, so, nice. I'm going to take that from you and use it in the future. Before you have a product, get a landing page out, start doing the things that you need to be doing. Don't wait to do it. SEO takes time. You have to build your domain authority for your domain. You have to start getting content. The thing is, it's like a-- What's the phrase about rising ships, rising tide, whatever?
When you have everything in place and your domain authority increases, all of your other pages that are targeting the various keywords, they also increase in performance. So, just start blogging. Get it out there. If you want to get them quicker, spend the money in PPC. To be honest with you, when you first launch your product, you probably don't have solid market fit. Surely if you have the money to spend, spend money in advertising to get users, but a lot of that advertising will not turn into bottom-line sales. That's just my thought. If you're going to bootstrap it, you're being penny-conscious, focus on SEO.
Phil: I think you choose-- Looks like you pick one channel and one channel only. It was the channel that you knew well, which was SEO. Maybe you could do PPC later on, but that was the channel that you knew well. Did you eventually incorporate other channels or SEO is still to this day your main channel to bring customers?
Cody: Organic is absolutely the number one channel for us. We do PPC today. It converts around 9% for AdWords, which is great. I'll do that all day long. It helps that we have a dedicated resource at Brandcave that just does PPC, so it does it for Ashore, no problem. We've done some other more unique things lately. We did a partnership with Dribbble. Are you familiar with Dribbble? It's a website for creatives. It's a--
Phil: Yes, I'm very familiar but the listeners though, tell us a little bit, what is Dribbble, if someone is not familiar with Dribbble?
Cody: Sure. A creative community where people who are graphic designers or UX designers post their work. Ultimately, it's a place where if you're a creative of any kind, you go to-- Dribbble is kind of the place you go to for inspiration, if you're working on a project. It's like the Pinterest for design communities, if I can say it like that.
Phil: That's a great description.
Cody: That was an interesting thing last year early on. We did a campaign with AppSumo, which I don't know that I would ever recommend anyone work with AppSumo, but it was an interesting learning experience. Probably for bootstrap companies, AppSumo is a really good way just to get a bunch of users and a lot of feedback really quickly if you don't have the time. I don't know that it was the right decision for us to have done it, but I can see really early-stage companies having a lot of value doing a campaign with AppSumo. Are you familiar with that, Phil?
Phil: Yes. Let's explore that. Why you think AppSumo could not be the right decision for you? Looks like you made a decision and you're like, "Oh, maybe I shouldn't have made that, learned from my mistakes." What did you learn? Why do you think AppSumo could not be the right decision to you? To the listeners that don't know AppSumo, it's basically a daily deal website for SaaS products. Most times they do a deal where it's a lifetime deal and they get a SaaS to your product. I would imagine that's kind of like what you did, but tell us a little bit more why you think that wasn't-- maybe not the best option for you guys.
Cody: I think it would've been a better option if we were super, super, super early stage, we were weeks out after launching, we didn't have any users yet. What we discovered with AppSumo-- We tried not to promote the AppSumo deal too much, but there was a bit of cannibalization from our user base, which that kind of sucked because you're going from MRR monthly subscriptions to people who are purchasing lifetime deals at a single cost.
The percentages that you get from AppSumo are very low, so you're hoping that you get quantities, but the problem that we experienced with AppSumo is even when we asked very specifically for it, there was absolutely zero transparency in their process. I don't want to get too deep into the specifics of it because I don't know if I signed something that probably prohibits me from talking about it, but just to be extra safe, I think the process for AppSumo, they intentionally devalue your product as much as possible in order to get you to create the absolute best deal that has no promise or advantage for you, but really great advantage for their users.
There's some promises like that they'll promote you to X amount of people and what you discover after you're in that process, which even if you ask for it they won't give it to you is that you actually don't hit as many people as they tell you that you're going to hit. There's certain things that you have to do in order to get more viewers. Anyway, it's a quantity game. You're getting really low percentages. These are lifetime deals. You have software that has monthly expenses.
Economically, you just have to be really, really careful if you're going to decide to put your product on AppSumo. If you're a product like us and you're streaming content, and there are real costs involved with running Ashore for any user, I'm talking about storing files up to two gigabytes in size for any given file, and let's just say that's a MP4 video file. You're streaming that to every approver you're working with. Today we have 40,000 users and there's quite a bit involved with that. I would just be extremely cautious of doing any sort of lifetime deal. That's what I would say.
Phil: Thank you very much. I think it's great to have that view from you, that someone that did and it did not work out for you. I spoke with other people of AppSumo before. I believe it's amazing if you're doing early stage, looks like if it's too late. I'm going to fund my product, I'm going to get a bunch of money and fund development for a couple months and I'm going to get a bunch of users, and get feedback from those users.
Basically, they're just funding the development. You were a little bit late in the process. You already had users. You already had market fit. Basically what I'm hearing from you is if you are learning the process, you have a market fit, you have a product people are buying, maybe it's not a great idea to go cannibalize what you offer to the AppSumo. That's what I got. I believe that it's going to be good for some SaaS, not good for others, and it amazing to get your feedback of someone that actually did and how the experience was for you. Thank you very much for being transparent and willing to share.
Cody: Sure. Hopefully, that AppSumo doesn't see this and send a nasty email. The other thing that we've done in looking for growth channels and opportunities is we've created some reseller relationships with other software companies who have wholly white-labeled our software into theirs. That's been a really interesting growth channel for us. When you're in a space like ours and you're dealing with digital collaboration there today, since the pandemic started, there are now 1,000,001 tools for digital collaboration. They're all kind of coming at the problem in different ways.
You have like Miro and FigJam, whatever, InVision, just put out, all these different whiteboarding tools, and that they're doing one thing of the creative collaboration process. You have a whole bunch of competitors to Ashore that have sprung up in the past couple years, and they're all very niche. They're either solving like website proofing or they're solving video proofing really, really well specifically. There's a whole bunch of this going on. In order for a product like Ashore to not only just sustain itself but grow in a really substantial way, it's important that we put ourselves in positions where we're not just a standalone product but we're an ecosystem of symbiotic products. These integrations are actually a really important growth model for us. Thankfully, when we rebuilt Ashore, you're a developer, so you understand this, we built back-end-first platforms on .NET Core, so we're API-first. That API is comprehensive, it's exhaustive, so our reseller partners have all of the same endpoints that our own front end does.
Phil: They can just create their own front end to what they want to do, but you're handling all the back end and you're part of the ecosystem. That allows you to keep growing.
Cody: That's right. That's right. Yes.
Phil: Very smart move.
Cody: No, it wasn't me. It was my partner, so I have to thank him for that.
Phil: [laughs] That's a very smart move. What was your biggest challenge to date?
Cody: Some of this I can't share the specifics with you. We just left a scenario. We were about to be acquired by a company that's very large and it was a really difficult scenario, situation, that we-- There was a lot of things that we were not comfortable with and we were pushing back on. I think, ultimately, we killed the deal. We sabotaged it a little bit. That was a really stressful and difficult situation to go through.
I've never sold a company before. We've always just grown companies ourselves, construct them ourselves. We're not in this VC world, we're not in this private equity world, but it looked to be a really interesting opportunity and we decided not to move forward. A bit of a mutual decision by the end of it, but that's how it went. Very difficult. Maybe one day when all of the NDAs have all expired, I can talk about that situation a little bit more.
Phil: That's definitely a hard decision for you to make as the founder. Like, is now the right time to sell? I'm sure you've looked at all the points, looked at your team. You believe you probably could keep growing the business individually without outside VCs and you had to make a decision. You called the shot the way that you thought would be the best for you and for the business, but I can see how hard of a decision that would be and probably going to look back on your career five years from now and you're going to be like, "That was the right decision or the wrong decision," but it's hard to know.
Cody: Yes, exactly.
Phil: It's super stressful to make that decision. [laughs]
Cody: That's right, but at the end of the day, we have employees and these people have trusted us with their careers, at least in this point of their lives. I take that really, really seriously, and so there are things that are major blockers for me to make sure that these people aren't put out. You know what I mean? There's baggage that comes with acquiring a company and with ours, you have to get our entire team because they built this and it's their product. That's how I feel about it. You know what I mean?
Phil: Yes, for sure. As a leader, you can't just throw your team under the bus. That's what make them work and do the amazing job that they do. You felt you have this responsibility for your team to keep providing for them and to keep helping them do those amazing products. I understand why you made the decision that you made. I'm sure you made that decision too because you think the product's going to last. You are pretty confident in your product. At what point did you get to the conclusion like, "We're building something that's here to stay. This product's going to last," and how did you get there?
Cody: I think when you start a company, you really don't know what you're getting into. You think you have a good idea, you think you have a product that's really good, you start getting positive feedback, maybe you have a little bit of organic growth, maybe you have some growth via paid means, but when you look at your market and how it's changing, especially in, as I mentioned, the creative collaboration market is a super competitive space and it's, in a lot of ways, our competitors are racing to the bottom.
When you make the decision to stay in a super competitive environment like this, it's either because you have a strategy and you have a certain level of certainty that it's going to work or you're stupid. [laughs] I think what we have is probably a growth model that is more unique than our competitors and I'm betting on it to win. If it doesn't, look, we got four offers this year to be acquired, so there's always that option.
Phil: I think you guys are on the right path. You believe in your growth model, you believe in your team, and that's what makes you think, "We're going to last. We're going to do well."
Cody: Yes.
Phil: We're getting to the end. There's a couple of questions that I'd like to ask for every founder. What are some things that you think the early-stage SaaS founders should start doing that most of them are not doing at this point? What are some things every early-stage SaaS founder, most of them, should start doing that you learned over the years?
Cody: Learn SQL.
Phil: Why?
Cody: Man, get to know your product. Have your hands in it. If you're a non-technical founder, it's probably very difficult to empathize. When we talk about software, we're talking about engineering. This isn't WordPress. We're not just throwing things together, we are actually engineering things. I think the closer you can get to your own product and understanding it, the better you will serve your team. Founders have a move-fast-and-break-things mentality. If you don't know all the details that you should know about your product, you'd probably move fast and break things and also break your team. You know what I mean? Learn SQL. Write your own front-end code, damn it.
Phil: [laughs] That's great advice. Please, everyone, follow this. I think as a founder, even if you're not coding, you need to be able to help your teammate technical tradeoff. The only way you're going to help your teammate go straight off is if you understand what's going on. When you understand-- Even if you are deciding to move fast and break things, but you understand and your team is 100% sure that you made that tradeoff knowing what's going on and then you're going to have to fix, then it's easier for you to keep your team happy, because it's a decision that you made understanding everything that's involved. I love that advice. I think every founder that's not technical--
You don't have to build the product but at least get to a point where you understand the tradeoffs you are doing and that you can communicate and then you can help your technical team understand and make decisions, and just ask questions. What's database? What's SQL? How things work. If you make even the most basic stuff, you're going to have enough knowledge to be more of a resource for your team because then you have the whole vision of where you're going and the vision of the decisions that you are making.
I love it. That's a great advice. [laughs] What should people stop doing that most people are doing? You're on social media, your friends-- You see most early-stage SaaS founders doing and you're like, "Dude, stop with that." [laughs]
Cody: Oh, man. You know, the problem with answering that is different things work for different industries. You know what I mean? I don't know that I'm in a position to tell another founder not to do something, unless they're doing something that's to the detriment of their team or their own health. Maybe that's how I'd answer that. Founders, please, take care of yourselves. Get enough sleep at night. Take a day off.
Man, I work seven days a week for years. I still. I'm in the office by 6:00 or 7:00 AM at the very latest. Most days, I work 12 hours a day, but there were years where I worked seven days a week, at least 12 hours a day, sometimes 14. If you want a family, prioritize them. Spend time with them on the weekends. Your business will-- It'll make it, I guess.
Phil: Again, that's a great advice. I think so many times, people work too hard and the problem there too is you start making bad decisions. If you're working 14 hours every day and then your team need you to make good decisions, but you're overworked and you start making bad decisions. You're thinking you're doing good for your business, but you're not. You're just ruining your own health, and you're making bad decisions for your business. That's just the culture of workaholic. I think that's changing a lot now, but it isn't [crosstalk]. People still think it's amazing to say, "Hey, I worked 80 hours this week." When I hear that I'm like, "Okay, what are you doing wrong?"
Phil: Something has to change.
Cody: Yes. Someone told me really early on--
Phil: It's okay for two or three weeks, but if you're doing that forever, it's something wrong.
Cody: Yes. Well, someone told me really early on, if you're working those kind of hours, it's either because you're not good at your job, or you have too much work and you need to delegate. That's what it comes down to. It's like, do you have your processes in place to scale? Or do you just need to develop your own skill set? Both might be true. Anyway, yes. No, I certainly haven't figured it out.
Phil: If you were there, I think you should just make a go, I'm here, I can get out of here. I'm here, I'm working too much. What is my way out?
Cody: That's right.
Phil: It's not an honor to be here. It's not something cool to be doing.
Cody: Yes. I made some hard rules for myself. I work early, but I make hard stops at 5:30 at the latest. The problem is, if you're going to work, work at times when your family is sleeping. Don't lose the family time. Make a hard rule that at least one day a week that you will not work, you know what I mean? Just make some rules for yourself, even if you don't feel like you can get past them.
Phil: Yes, I think so. I feel like you feel so much more in control once you're able to make those rules. For me, I don't work Fridays.
Cody: Yes, that's awesome.
Phil: I'm not going to be here. [laughs] I don't work Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Three days a week, I'm out.
Cody: That's awesome.
Phil: Of course, my company is in a different position now, but you feel like I'm in control of the business. The business is not in control of me when you do things like that. I'm going to stop working at 5:30. You are in control. I think we've become founders because we want to have certain kinds of control of our own life and our future. That's a little step towards that.
Cody: Yes, that's a great point. Yes. People don't realize that when you get into owning your own business, you have this initial mentality that's like yes, I'm going to be working for myself. Really, it just means you have exponential number of bosses. [laughs] You just have bosses, bosses, and bosses [crosstalk]
Phil: They think that much worse at first.
Cody: Yes, that's right.
Phil: [laughs] Exactly. Who, in the world of SaaS you'd love to take for lunch? Who is this person that you'd love to take for lunch and pick on their brain?
Cody: Probably Paul Graham. Are you familiar with him? He's behind Y Combinator. He started the Yahoo store way back in the day. He wrote a book that was really, really influential for me really early on in my career called Hackers & Painters. It's just a collection of essays. I think the guy is just an absolute super genius. Really, really appreciate him and I would love to sit down with him for a solid coffee.
Phil: Yes, that'd be awesome. Yes, for sure. That's good. I know him. I watch his YouTube videos. What's that book? I'm going to definitely read that book. What's the name again?
Cody: It came out several years ago, it's called Hackers & Painters. It's just a collection of the essays that he has posted for free on his website. Not all of them have aged super well. One of the essays is on Lisp, a programming language that literally no one uses today and he's singing the praises of Lisp.
Cody: One of the essays is called Hackers and Painters in which he draws the connection between being a good programmer, which he distinguishes programmers from hackers. Also, he has an art history degree. He thinks similarly about good hackers and people who are like Renaissance painters, and the connections there are just interesting. There's so much in software where we think in engineering terms and then we think programmatically. We think in formulas, and someone like him, who has helped start the most successful software companies in the world thinks very differently. It's a really interesting and unique perspective.
Phil: Yes. Of course, we want to learn from that because it's the difference that makes the difference. [laughs]
Cody: Yes, that's right.
Phil: Cody, thank you very much for coming to the show. It was amazing. I learned a lot from you today. Some of our biggest takeaways, start marketing right away [laughs] and be careful with the deals you do. Yes. Again, thank you very much for coming, and congrats on your product. I hope you keep growing.
Cody: Thanks, Phil.
Phil: It's been amazing to spend some time with you today.
Cody: I appreciate it. Thank you so much.
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